Chapter 30. Consume (5)
High-purity Magic Stones are the base material for crafting higher-grade artifacts. There's a limited number of buyers, so their price is usually constant. However, despite naming an exorbitant price, the mysterious merchant still purchased the stones. This meant that there must have been a sudden increase in demand for Magic Stones. The number of rankers couldn’t have changed, so it could only lead to one conclusion.
‘The only reason to mass produce higher-grade artifacts. It must be a war.'
During the time when his brother was in The Tower, Arthia had been targeted by numerous clans and rankers due to their rapid growth. Then their enemies formed an alliance, leading Arthia to its downfall.
Now, it had been quite a long time since Arthia had disappeared. Their alliance had petered out, which resulted in confrontations between themselves.
No major antagonism must have taken place yet. If it had, it would have affected the tutorial to some extent. But at least, it was clear that some preparations were happening behind the scenes. This arms race was proof of it.
‘That’s right. They may have made a temporary alliance in order to face a common enemy, but peace will never be everlasting in a world full of wolves.’
Yeon-woo laughed happily at the fact that his prediction was coming true. The more they bite each other, the more vulnerable they’ll become.
‘It’s not the time yet.'
Yeon-woo wasn’t even in The Tower yet.
It would take him a long time to finally bite into their necks. So his plans were still a long way off.
* * *
Kahn and Doyle were astonished at Yeon-woo’s ability to haggle, and at the same time they were so glad that all the troubles were finally over. With Hargan’s Crown in their hands, their efforts seemed to have paid off. They had even gone all the way back to Section B’s waiting room just for this.
And now, it was time to move on to the next stage.
Kahn and Doyle secretly exchanged glances with each other. They were already close enough to understand each other's feelings without having to talk. The mere glance was enough to exchange their thoughts.
Kahn came forward and asked Yeon-woo.
"What are you going to do now?"
Yeon-woo turned to look at Kahn while fastening his dagger to his belt.
"I’m talking about your schedule. What's your plan? You must have collected tons of Tokens by now. Are you gonna go straight to Section F?"
Yeon-woo did not immediately answer Kahn's questions, instead, he briefly checked the tutorial rankings.
1. Edora (63,101 Points)
2. Phante (57,612 Points)
3. Kahn (55,212 Points)
52. Unknown (32,594 Points) (You)
‘That was roughly a ten thousand points increase.'
His rank suddenly jumped from 150th to 52nd. The Tokens he earned from the trade must have contributed to this increase. The speed was insanely fast.
‘But still, the gap between me and the first rank... That’s even crazier.'
The Karma points in Phante’s score remained almost unchanged. Thanks to the 5,000 points Kahn earned through Hargan's Lair quest, Kahn was now only a small distance behind of him.
However, Edora was different. It wasn’t sure if he had places to farm points or if he was so determined to secure his spot, but he had also accumulated more than 6,000 points in this short period of time. However, Yeon-woo didn’t think it was impossible to pull ahead of him.
‘I still have my ace in the hole.'
The guy that dwelled in Section E. The best hidden piece concealed in the tutorial. It was the target Yeon-woo had been aiming for from the very beginning.
‘The time is now.'
The vessel was complete, and he had everything he needed. Yeon-woo was going to part ways with his party and head over there.
Moreover, he had seen the pain his brother had gone through. Yeon-woo had a great distrust towards the concept of teams and clans.
So he shook his head in denial.
"No. I’m not going directly to Section F."
The Kahn's complexion visibly brightened.
"Then, do you want to…."
"But I have a business to attend to."
Kahn had to stop mid sentence.
"A business to attend to?"
As Kahn was lost for words, Doyle intervened in the conversation.
"Hyung, there’s something we’ve been wanting to ask you. Will you come with us?"
"Come with you?"
"Yes. Until the tutorial is over. No, even after we enter The Tower."
Looking at Yeon-woo, Doyle's eyes were glistening.
"In fact, Kahn and I have talked about this a lot. You and us, we really clicked together. And we achieved more than we had expected, right? Maybe if the three of us team up...!"
Doyle poured out a flurry of words in excitement.
"No. I can’t."
Yeon-woo’s response was emphatic.
Doyle asked discreetly.
"Can I ask you why?"
"As I said, I have something I need to do."
"If that's the case, you can still join us later after you take care of it….”
Yeon-woo calmly shook his head.
"In the first place, I'm not really interested in being in a team. I don't like being tied up."
"Is that so? Okay."
Doyle's shoulders dropped. He was so sad he almost looked like a puppy under the rain. Then Kahn came next to Doyle and patted him on the shoulder.
"We can't help it. People have different personalities. It’s not like we can force him to stay with us. And things like this are gonna happen more often once we get in The Tower. Anyway, you're still staying with us until we get out of here, right?”
Kahn gave a big laugh and turned towards the exit.
"Then let's go back out. People are waiting outside."
* * *
The northern swamp was very wide. It could take quite a lot of time to get out. There were also a lot of Lizardmen wandering around, so Yeon-woo decided to accompany them only until he got out of the swamp.
The other players were dangling after the three of them. If they were separated from the party here, they were dead men. However, they kept a certain distance from the three. They all had witnessed the scene of Kahn oppressing Brend.
Eventually, the players created a strange sight where they were too terrified to come close to Kahn and Doyle but had no choice but to follow them. Kahn and Doyle were also uncomfortable with their ambiguous attitude.
"What are you going to do now with those people?"
Yeon-woo asked, taking a quick peek at the players behind.
Kahn and Doyle also looked perplexed.
Kahn sighed lightly.
"Well, we can’t do anything about them for now. We'll have to escort them out of this swamp.”
As a matter of fact, Kahn and Doyle also had a place to go, just like Yeon-woo.
Since they got the Hargan’s Crown they wanted, they didn't have any reason to hang around here any longer. The tutorial’s remaining time was passing quickly.
"It’s not your duty to keep them safe."
"Hey, I have a human heart, you know? How can I leave them here?"
Kahn scowled at Yeon-woo, but Yeon-woo looked calm.
A human heart. In the tutorial?
There was something he had always felt was weird about them. On one hand they could be stern, but on the other hand they were too soft. They were too nice to other people. Sometimes that attitude could be poisonous. Not to mention, they were currently in a place where there were a lot of hyenas just looking for a chance to bite off their necks.
Yeon-woo had a lot of advice he wanted to give them, but he decided not to because it was obvious that they wouldn't listen to his advice. Also, he was going to have to leave them soon.
* * *
It wasn't long before Yeon-woo's concerns turned out to be real.
"Uhm, c, can you, uh, give me some food?”
It wasn't much of a deal at first. All they did was to come hesitantly and beg for food. These people had been held captive and couldn't eat properly. Doyle apologized for not sharing the food in advance and he handed out some of the food he had.
The player hugged the jerky he received tightly in his arms and returned to his seat. When the eyes of the other players gathered up on him, the player made eye contact with Ethan. The player then nodded silently. It was a cue to let him know his plan seemed feasible.
‘Is that so?'
Ethan rolled up the corners of his mouth.
In fact, it was Ethan's order that sent him to beg for food.
‘I had a feeling when they tried to take care of this many people, but they are actually a couple of pushovers.'
In fact, the plan Ethan had presented to Brend was very simple.
‘My teammates and I will make a scene in order to slow them down. And then, you will come forward and ask them for a break. Do you remember the place where three rocks are placed outside the swamp? Lead them that way.'
‘What’s about next?’
‘The three of them must be exhausted from raiding Lizardman King, so I bet they aren’t gonna say no. Then while we’re on a break, he's going to make his move. And then... You know what happens after that, right?’
Their plan was to lure Yeon-woo’s party to a designated location under the excuse of taking a break, and to catch Kahn and Doyle off guard to steal their items.
‘Judging by what I’ve observed, it's a perfectly feasible plan.’
Ethan's trait was ‘Capture'. His trait allowed him to infer other players’ personalities and tendencies after observing their habits. Thanks to this trait, Ethan had been able to come up to Section E by only relying on his wits and words, even though he didn't have any special talent.
And he had examined Kahn very closely when he was humiliating Brend. After that, he had figured out something from it. What Kahn valued the most was neither money nor honor, but ‘loyalty’.
Each person has a different set values and different standards. And when people’s values collide, they tend to believe that the values they pursue are the absolute ‘justice’.
In Ethan's view, the loyalty Kahn and Doyle valued could be easily exploited. People like them often got caught up in their loyalty and ended up digging their own grave. They could have ignored the players or leave them after saving them. However, they were protecting the them merely out of the sense of responsibility. That was the evidence. He even disliked talking behind his teammate’s back.
‘In other words, if I don't cross the line, I can exploit them as much as I want.’
So Ethan sent his man to probe that line, and now he was getting the gist of it.
‘No touching your loyalty or your pride, is it? Well, that’s easy. Huhu.'
But there was something that had been nagging on his mind.
‘If there's anything fishy about it, it's him.'
Ethan took a quick glance at the masked man who silently followed Kahn and Doyle. It was Yeon-woo.
‘That guy... I can't tell anything no matter how hard I try.'
He was the one who was said to have made the most contribution in killing the Lizardman King. Even with that much skill, it was strange his name remained anonymous within the tutorial.
Normally, there could be only one case. A person who doesn't reveal himself, has strict self-discipline, and knows how to calmly judge the situation.
Ethan’s trait did not show anything from him. Moreover, whenever he watched Yeon-woo with his minions to find out about him, whether it was a coincidence or not, Yeon-woo also turned his head his way and caught his eyes.
Beneath the white mask, two eyes were coldly shining. He felt naked before the two floating Will-o’-wisp-like eyes that seemed to be able to see right through him. They gave him chills all over his body.
But that didn’t stop Ethan’s plan. No matter how suspicious he was, there was no way he could have noticed them plotting something.
‘Brend, that idiot’s gonna take the bullet and set the table for us.’
Ethan scoffed at how dumb Brend could be. In fact, the plan he had told Brend wasn’t the end of it, it was only the first step. The real deal would happen right after that.
Drawing their attention while his friend stole a little bit of their artifacts and Tokens? It was all a lie.
‘Stealing isn’t enough. They are Kahn and Doyle we’re dealing with. The 3rd and the 11th ranks! And the other guy is the one who destroyed the Lizardman King. If I can take them all down... Taking the first place won’t be just a dream.'
Ethan licked his lips, his eyes giving off a cruel look.
The most important part of the plan was the finesse and timing. And the masked man would never get out of this trap either.
Ethan then gave a signal to his minions.
Some players suddenly began to throw tantrums.
"Kahn, my friend is not feeling well right now…."
"Can we slow down a little? I, I’m getting really tired."
"I’m sorry, but I need to use a bathroom."
Later on, some people even started to lay down on the floor and refused to move..
"I’m not going to move any more! I’m not! I don't have anything right now. If I go out there, I’ll just be monsters' food. Then, I’d rather sit here all day!"
Kahn and Doyle were slightly annoyed. They had a long way to go, but these players were dragging their feet down. No, it wasn't just dragging them. It was almost as if they were intentionally blocking their way. They were now more like shackles instead of burdens.
Doyle looked at Kahn asking what should they do.
Kahn frowned and sighed briefly.
It wasn’t like he couldn’t understand them feeling hopeless towards their future, but he couldn't just indulge all of them. He even thought that it might be better to give away some of his Tokens and leave them here.
It was at this moment,
Ethan immediately signaled Brend.
Brend was the player who had taken the role of representing the others. If such a person stepped up and mediated, they might listen to him.
Brend nodded and slowly approached Kahn.
"Well, I think the long captivity had them mentally tired. I realize you are busy, but I’d really appreciate if we can take a break around here.”
Kahn stopped walking and started to contemplate. Then, he looked back at Doyle and Yeon-woo and asked for their opinions.
Ethan, watching from behind, gave a wicked grin.
‘Come on now. I’ve got lots of friends waiting for you to show up.’
It wasn't just a couple of players waiting in the vacant lot. Several troops with dozens of players in it. The scavengers were waiting inside.
As soon as they enter the designated place, the traps would activate and Kahn and the rest of the party would fall into their hands.
The moment when he licked his lips with a surge of greed.
Ethan noticed there was someone staring at him, so he turned towards the direction he felt the gaze coming from. And there, he found a couple of eyes curved upward underneath the white mask.
‘Is he… smiling?'
The moment when the thought came to his mind,
Ethan instinctively stepped backward. He didn't know how Yeon-woo had noticed him, but for now, he had to run away.
He saw something flashing right in front of him and,
As he felt a stinging pain right in the middle of his forehead, the whole world turned red.