After they finished their meal, they left to get a few beers at a pub. Coincidentally, Shin Su-yeong did not have to work the next day, so she could let go and stay out for longer.
Su-hyeun hurried to bed after returning home a little after midnight. He woke up again in the wee hours of the morning and left his room after finishing his preparations.
“Su-hyeun, you’re leaving?”
Shin Su-yeong met Su-hyeun at the front door with a disheveled face. Wanting to leave quietly, Su-hyeun nodded and said, “Yes. I’ll be back.”
“You said you’re going on a trip? For how long?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll head to wherever my feet take me.”
After his exam results were released, Su-hyeun had said that he would be going on a trip. As much as he studied over the past year, Shin Su-yeong did not oppose it.
“Don’t stay out too late. And call me when you can.”
“Don’t worry. My phone will be switched off, so don’t call me.”
“You’re doing it again. ”
“It’s not the first time. I’ll be back.” Su-hyeun grabbed his backpack and left. As if it were a daily routine, Su-hyeun took a deep breath before heading deep into the mountains.
It took a while. Although it took just a little over a year, he still made it here.
Tenth floor. It was the minimum criteria he had in mind. He had no intention of breaking it himself. But Su-hyeun realized that his initial goal was harder to achieve than expected.
It took longer than I had expected. His goal was to clear all the trials with almost perfect records. He thought it would be possible to complete the tenth floor within a year when he was clearing the first two floors. But it eventually took over a year. The level 10 trial was much more formidable than anyone could have imagined.
Rip—! Once again, Su-hyeun opened the doors to the Tower of Trials.
* * *
The city on the tenth floor was always dark and dull. Unlike the city on the second floor, it was hard to even come across a dweller in this empty and quiet place.
The world that people avoid the most. The Tower of Trials was a world packed with numerous floors, and each floor had its own world. Although it was a gigantic tower, each had its own environment, climate, and culture.
Amongst them, most would avoid the tenth floor. The sun never rose, and the dwellers always looked depressed. Even those who wanted to forget and live anew in the tower also avoided the tenth floor.
Su-hyeun walked north to the ends of the tenth floor, where the route was blocked by a black wall. People often called this place the “end of the world.” There was a massive portal in front.
“Are you going in?”
A gatekeeper was guarding it. A middle-aged man with a long, stiff face sat on the floor and looked up at Su-hyeun. He was the gatekeeper who guarded the portal.
“Payment.” The gatekeeper reached out his hand towards Su-hyeun. Others may have misunderstood him as a beggar asking for money, but Su-hyeun knew.
He was the so-called informant, the one and only informant who would provide you with legitimate information about the tenth floor. How he knew the details of each awakener’s trials was a mystery. However, the information he gave was credible.
Su-hyeun grabbed his outreached hand. And...
[You have used 5,000 achievement points.]
Quite a bit of achievement points were used in a flash. Even though Su-hyeun had accumulated quite a considerable amount of achievement points as he ascended the floors, using this many points was still quite a burden.
But Su-hyeun made the payment in a heartbeat. The gatekeeper’s eyes grew. “You’re quite generous.”
“Because you’re that valuable.”
The gatekeeper smiled at his answer. “Thanks for the compliment. Which trial do you wish to attempt?”
“Level 10. I want the highest difficulty.” The gatekeeper’s eyes grew even bigger. His expression had changed drastically as compared to his stiff face.
As his expressionless face returned, he said, “It’s as if I’ve taken a hit. I must provide you with some information after receiving so much.”
It seemed that paying the gatekeeper a high amount was the right choice. The gatekeeper felt conflicted for a while, contemplating on what information to provide.
Hopefully, it’s a piece of valid information.... For those who climbed the tower, the tenth floor was a form of crisis.
This was because the trials’ difficulty jumped every 10 floors. Some would say that the 11th and 12th floors were more manageable than the 10th. Moreover, Su-hyeun was challenging the trial with the highest level of difficulty.
No one had yet to clear the level 10 trial at the 10th floor as of yet, to Su-hyeun’s knowledge. Normally, certain sections on the tenth floor have their level of difficulty reduced by one or two levels.
It was a tip that could be easily obtained through Abyss Online, but Su-hyeun knew how harmful it was. If the difficulty gets lowered once, the following floors would also become a crisis.
Once one started, one would never be able to advance further. Instead, one would continue to find ways to lower the level of difficulty.
Su-hyeun decided that it would be better to pay more to the gatekeeper to continue receiving reliable information and challenge higher difficulty trials than to reduce them. The still contemplating gatekeeper finally said, “Beware of the village chief.”
“The village chief?”
“That’s all I can say. I wish you all the best.” The gatekeeper ended the conversation.
The information felt a little off. It was too vague to be worth 5,000 points. The prices of intel seemed to increase as the level of the trials gets higher.
Beware of the village chief.... Su-hyeun repeatedly reminded himself of those words. There was no reason for the gatekeeper to lie to him.
Su-hyeun walked towards the portal. The view before Su-hyeun turned white as he stood on the portal, and a familiar message popped up.
[Kim Su-hyeun, the 10th-floor trial begins now.]
[Please choose the level of difficulty.]
[Level 1 ~ 10.]
[The level of difficulty and rewards obtained increases as the level gets higher.]
It was the start. A good amount of nervousness filled his chest every time a new trial began. He always gave the same answer.
[Level 10. The 10th-floor trial starts now.]
The white scene before him changed once more. The landscape of a village appeared before him. The sky was black. A dark atmosphere and stale air filled the village, similar to a simple and quiet countryside.
Su-hyeun looked up to the sky. The landscape looked strangely familiar.
[The trial begins now.]
[You have entered an unfamiliar village. The village is now in a massive crisis.]
[Rescue the village.]
[The reward varies according to your performance.]
The trial’s explanation was straightforward. He wondered if there was a better explanation, since it was frustrating that it did not provide clear instructions. There were loopholes in the explanation.
Rescue the village. Survive. Survive what?
He recalled the gatekeeper’s words. He said to take extra notice of the village chief.
He thought that he should find the village chief first. A warning to be careful of the village chief could have also meant that the chief would be the key to clearing this trial.
Su-hyeun started walking into the village. Instead of looking around the village, Su-hyeun looked up at the sky. Su-hyeun’s face darkened. “It feels... more familiar here.”
The awkward black sky seemed to be inked. The black sky felt different from a moonlit sky. Su-hyeun had not seen this sky for over a year.
He suddenly felt awkward at the thought of a clear, blue sky. The color of this sky, which he often saw in his illusions, felt more familiar. It was the same for this village.
He then felt eyes on him. It was one of the strangers looking at him. A skinny mother with a baby in her hand, an old man, and a few other men. They stood at a distance, unable to get close to Su-hyeun. They looked frightened in the dark.
People. It wasn’t the first time he met people in the trials. But it was his first to see such realistic expressions and reactions. It felt that way for their familiar reactions.
I have definitely... He recalled. In the future, he had felt similar eyes from a particular village.
“So that was it.” He seemed to have understood what the theme of this tutorial was. This place must have been part of their destroyed world. No, more accurately, it was a world close to destruction.
“Excuse me.” Su-hyeun smiled and approached the villagers.
The villagers did not hide their defensive response towards Su-hyeun. When the child tried to approach Su-hyeun, the mother pulled him back.
My, I’m hurt. As it was his first time to see people so afraid of him, he did not know how to respond.
Su-hyeun sighed before continuing. “I want to stay here for a few days before leaving. Is there any way I can do that?”
The question was directed towards everyone, but not one of them responded. It would have been better to point out someone to talk to...
“Where is the village chief?”
...like the village chief. A commotion stirred amongst the people as he questioned. It seemed the people, too, thought that it would be better to talk to the village chief.
Su-hyeun observed the villagers silently. He was certain about one thing just by observing them.
They are uncomfortable with outsiders. It could be from their experience.
Drugs, murders. The societal problems that surfaced in a collapsing world. It was the same, even though the civilizations are different. Human nature was not much different anywhere.
It was a pity. It would have been better to cooperate and help each other out at times like this.
It’s a utopia. Anyone could paint a utopia in their minds, but it was literally nothing more than just an ideal world. Such worlds would never exist unless the evil in human nature was removed.
The man who Su-hyeun was waiting for finally appeared.
“I’m the village chief here.”
A hunchbacked old man walked out towards Su-hyeun.
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