It had been four days since the mass summoning, and an unpleasant energy was circling the Blanche plaza. 1500 people were busy stewing in the stench of rotting flesh without any food or water. There were no conversations, just constant glares from across the plaza.
The sound of plastic rustled from one corner of the plaza. Several hundred pairs of eyes shot towards the man that was pulling something from his clothes. It was just an empty cigarette carton.
“Anyone…Anyone have some cigs…?”
The man kept asking with hollow eyes even as his voice grew taut. A few of the men standing nearby spat out profanities as they started beating him up. Nobody tried to stop them, and not even his pitiful screams could stir up any sort of reaction.
After the beating was finished, the man kept on muttering as he lay on the ground.
Sungchul unconsciously recognized the face. It was the face of the idiotic guy who had asked for some cigs on the first day. Looking at the man’s crooked nose and his bruised eyes, he estimated that the man had two more days left at most, or perhaps he wouldn’t even last the night. His spirit looked to be even more dead than his body was.
Sungchul only cared about how to best spend his time here; he refocused his mind on his objectives.
‘In the end, I didn’t manage to find any Hidden Quests.’
There weren’t any more gatherings of the Preselected after they left the Forsaken Cathedral. It was completely against his expectations; he had hoped that some of the Preselected would be called away one at a time, but none of them had moved discreetly. The most he could do was keep track of what they did throughout the day.
They had taken over the northern corner of the plaza and the training center located there. The Preselected were inside, training with the practice and spinning dummies. There were also ordinary people who were pointing at and mocking them as if they were lunatics.
“Tsk tsk. There’s nothing to eat, and they’re just wasting their energy. They’re just asking to die faster.”
“They gone crazy, is all. Those idiots.”
These people were just ignorant. The Preselected would quickly grow strong inside the training center.
“Haha, the sound of your punch on the dummy is becoming crisp! How much strength do you have now?”
“22 now. The sound changed after I hit 20.”
“I haven’t hit 20 yet. I gotta try harder myself!”
A small, yet distinct disparity was beginning to grow. This would become a critical factor to them during the future crisis.
Sungchul thoughtlessly punched a dummy in the corner of the training center and continued with his eavesdropping. There were two people worth taking notice of in this group.
Yuhoon Lee: A natural-born leader whose wit could charm any person coupled with a calm voice that even an announcer would envy.
And then Ahram Park: He had arrived conspicuously even on his first day, and revealed himself to be backed by one of the most powerful factions. He had already proven his authority over the Drill Sergeant and was more noteworthy than the former due to his powerful background. The chances of him being granted a Hidden Quest was quite large. The problem was, Ahram seemed to be more interested in his sexual conquests than any training.
“Do you have a boyfriend? It looks like you might have one…but maybe not anymore? Keke.”
He didn’t even pretend to be training. He avoided any form of labor, including hitting the dummies and had become even more of a bother with his endless supply of pick-up lines. The women who were interested at first due to his powerful supporter and fashionably late entrance quickly lost interest due to his lecherous and flighty attitude.
“Ah…why does everyone hate me? It’s a short life anyway. I might as well enjoy it while I can.”
He was eventually turned away by all of the Preselected women and now turned to women outside of the group. Their faces all looked tired and despondent, but some still retained some of their former beauty. He drooled lecherously as he held his rations under his arms.
“Ah…what should I do? What am I to do?”
Sungchul thought that Ahram looked like an animal in heat, locked in a cage; he predicted that Ahram would cause a major incident in not too distant future. Sungchul didn’t have to wait for long. Ahram left with a pretty young thing beyond the wall, but he returned alone. Only Sungchul knew what had really transpired.
Within an isolated area covered in foliage, there was the corpse of a naked woman. Sungchul acknowledged it without showing emotion. There was a distinct handprint around her neck; she had died from asphyxiation. The most incriminating piece of evidence was the slight bit of blood and skin embedded underneath her nails. Few rations were left next to the body as if to mock the victim.
‘What a broken person.’
He had felt that Ahram was twisted from the start, but being granted so much authority so quickly could only make things worse. Who knew how many more would be sacrificed. It was up to Sungchul to find an opportunity to put an end to this.
‘I need to set up some sort of special experience for him and his Guide.’
Sungchul closed the woman’s eyes that were left open frozen in fear, and quietly whispered under his breath.
“May you find happiness in the afterlife.”
He turned away from the woman and put the dangers of the dark forest behind him.
After sundown, the Preselected would gather beyond the walls to eat their food while sitting on the forest floor. The rations they’d been provided by the Drill Sergeant only contained stale bread and small beads that would turn into a mouthful of water when placed into their mouth. It wasn’t tasty, but it was still something precious. They were the only ones among the 1500 that would be able to eat something in this week. Sungchul sat a distance away from the group, but he was still listening to their conversations.
“What did you do before?”
“College. I was still attending when I was suddenly dragged here.”
“Same here. I’m a college student as well.”
“Oh, is that right? What major?”
“I was a Music major.”
That was the brand-name girl. People tended to talk more during their meals. Conversation acted to close the gaps in people’s hearts and could bolster a person’s spirits even in situations like these. However, all conversations stopped when a group of three drew near.
The Preselected exchanged glances with each other. The cold calculating glances gave proof of an unspoken consensus that they would commit murder together.
“Wow, there really is food here!”
The man briefly exclaimed before he suddenly fell silent as if his mouth was sealed. Obnoxious chewing sounds could be heard.
Crunch. Smack. Chew.
The sound dissipated, and the uninvited guests licked their lips longingly before leaving.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know.”
The Preselected who were riled up then dropped their murderous intent and resumed their meal, continuing with their conversations. No one had noticed Sungchul’s disappearance.
Sungchul stared down at the crimson slime wedged under a heavy rock. Its name was ‘Blood Pudding’, it was usually a green herbivore that was about the size of an adult woman. But during its mating season, it would turn red and become extremely aggressive and start devouring everything in sight. The problem, though, was that this species’ mating ritual was very unusual.
Sungchul lightly pushed away the rock holding the slime in place. Freed from its binding, the slime leaped aggressively towards Sungchul.
The Blood Pudding exploded with a single punch.
“Any other fuckers want to try?”
Sungchul spoke coldly towards the slimy, crimson silhouettes deeper in the forest. Several hundred Blood Puddings resided within the forest, and the naked woman’s carcass had lured some of them into this pit. Sungchul was keeping them away from the pit. Two more tried jumping out at him.
The results were no different. Next, dozens of slime attacked simultaneously but their crimson ooze splattered everywhere following sounds of heavy impact. This was a genocide; the Blood Puddings of the forest were at a risk of extinction.
The Blood Puddings which surrounded him broke the encirclement and ran away from Sungchul. It was for a simple reason; Sungchul had managed to teach a creature lacking sentience to fear him, that he was the bane of their existence. He covered the corpse in the pit with dirt by using his feet and noted the direction the Blood Puddings were heading in.
“Hm? What is this?”
The Preselected only discovered the Blood Puddings after the unwelcome guests had left. A few men who had grown bored after having their meals began approaching the Blood Puddings.
As they approached the Blood Pudding, the Observer’s Eye began transmitting the Mage’s warnings. However, it was too late. The stationary Blood Puddings suddenly jumped into the air and swallowed one of the men.
The man’s clothing slowly started being digested by the Blood Pudding’s digestive fluid.
“Hey! Let me go!”
The man next to him tried attacking the Blood Pudding with his blade, but it was to no avail. A slime’s constitution made them impervious to physical attacks, which made them very difficult for newcomers to handle. While the men continued to make their futile resistance with the swords, the slime finally enveloped the victim’s face.
The man’s face being dissolved as he drowned in the digestive fluid was clearly visible from outside the slime’s transparent body.
The other one abandoned his sword and fled the scene.
The rest of the group finally realized that something had occurred, and quickly rose from their meal. However, by now, the forest was crawling with crimson slimes. The Preselected finally experienced fear in their hearts. Only Ahram still didn’t fully understand the situation.
“What? What happened?”
They abandoned Ahram with his ignorant question and scattered into the forest exit. Ahram figured something was up and started to stand up. His eyes caught sight of a man sitting with his back turned towards him. The man was wearing ragged jeans with military fatigues.
‘Ah, that smelly loner bitch.’
“Hey, Mister. What happ-?”
His vision suddenly turned yellow. When he awoke, he was surrounded by overgrown grass and could feel the dirt on the ground.
He couldn’t remember what had happened. However, he did feel a sharp pain coming from his ankles.
“AAAAUGH! Shit! What the fuck!”
Something had broken his ankle. He had barely managed to lift himself when countless Blood Puddings came rushing in his direction.
The Blood Pudding’s slick body crawled up on Ahram’s sneakers.
Ahram began foaming at the mouth and lost his consciousness at the sight of his sneakers being dissolved from the acid.
At that moment, a Magic formation appeared.
From the seal, a lightly dressed woman appeared and swung her staff. Her hair was red, but her eyes were dead cold.
“Damn it. Stuck with such an annoying bastard…”
The young woman spat on to Ahram’s face and continued swinging her staff. The destructive blizzard of frost annihilated the nearby Blood Puddings.
“Haaa…What do I do with this son of a bitch? It’s not like I can kill him.”
The woman in question looked at Ahram with an annoyed expression and disappeared after shoving a healing potion down his throat. It was the epitome of a hit-and-run. But despite her best efforts, there was one person who had still witnessed everything from start to finish.
His name was none other than Sungchul Kim.
‘Dolorence Winterer. She must be at least a mid-grade Mage.’
The number of well-trained Mages was low. In turn, they also received better treatment. Mid-grade Mages would even be able to manage a whole division of a small Guild. For this type of person to be stuck with this man meant Ahram must be of utmost importance to the backers. Sungchul digested the information, and then nonchalantly picked up Ahram before heading back to the group.
Two days later, Ahram disappeared into the forest without anyone’s knowledge. The Drill Sergeant was there waiting for him.
“I have been waiting, Great Human!”
The Drill Sergeant led Ahram through the forest to a cliff using its usual tottering sort of steps. Below the cliff, there was a cave entrance. Ahram silently entered the forest, then popped out after an hour.
“Haa, haa…Shit…it’s still too hard.”
“Kekeke! Great human! There is no need to rush! There will definitely be progress if you challenge it again tomorrow!”
Sungchul carefully stepped out towards the cave after the pair had left.
He stepped in without a second thought. A series of brightly lit letters appeared before him.
[Vestiare of the Seven Heroes’ Memorial]
[You have entered Vestiare’s Dream World]
[Which dream of the Seven Heroes do you wish to view?]
[The difficulty varies with each dream.]
There were six different dreams listed ascending in difficulty.
[A Summer Day’s Dream]
[False Dream of Spring]
[Dream of Troubled Sleep]
[Memories of the Divine War]
“One of the Seven Heroes, Vestiare.”
Seven Heroes, they were the legendary figures once known for having saved the Other World. However, their names had been listed at second among the five Calamities. Sungchul’s lips curled into a frosty smile. He chose one of the six dreams.
[You have dared to select Vestiare of the Seven Heroes’ Eternal Nightmare]
[Be prepared to face death within the eternal darkness!]