The man who walked out of the hat grew bigger and bigger until he became life size, like he was a magic trick of sorts. He was a middle aged man in a black suit who bowed slightly towards Su Jin and seemed very gentlemanly.
On the contrary, Su Jin’s eyes were bloodshot and he held the Boning Knife in his hand. Even though he knew that there was no way he could win a fight against this man, he felt the urge to attack him right now.
“You’re very angry…very good, very good!” The middle aged man gave Su Jin a pleased nod as he said with a smile, “I haven’t introduced myself. They call me…”
“The Mad Hatter!” Su Jin spat his name out before the man could introduce himself. The Demon Lord’s Eye had become his heart now, so he activated its skill when the middle aged man appeared, but the only information he got was his name.
“That’s right, I’m the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland!” The Mad Hatter smiled.
“I don’t care where you’re from or what you are!” shouted Su Jin angrily.
The Mad Hatter shook his head and smiled gently. “I can understand why you’re so angry. When Alice died…I was just like you, or even angrier. You have no idea how hard I searched for a way to revive Alice.”
“You…” Su Jin blinked. He could see where the Mad Hatter was going with this and asked, “Did you succeed?”
“No, I failed! Alice had died for too long, so the method I found could not revive her.” The Mad Hatter shook his head and Su Jin could see the deep pain and regret in his eyes.
Su Jin and Chu Yi’s hearts started pounding. What the Mad Hatter was implying was clear. There was a way to revive the dead, but they must not be dead for too long.
“I get it now. This was your plan right from the start. You dangled a carrot in front of the other owners and tricked them into killing my friends in order to force me into getting that item for you. What is it you want? Is it the fruit from the Tree of Life?” After putting the Mad Hatter’s words together with everything that had happened so far, Su Jin more or less understood what the Mad Hatter was up to.
Su Jin realized that the missions he saw in the Handbook were probably filled with misinformation too. The reward for finding seven treasures had been too good to be true. The ones who needed seven treasures were actually Pinocchio and the Mad Hatter!
The Mad Hatter nodded. “That’s right. I need that item and your team’s performance thus far has been fairly impressive, since you managed to get five items. So, take your pick. I can send you into the story of the Tree of Life and you can pick its fruit to save your friends, or if you prefer, I can consider these items to be mission accomplished and end the Challenge right now.”
He was certain that Su Jin would accede to his request.
Su Jin didn’t even need to think. He took a deep breath and said, “Open the portal to the Tree of Life’s world!”
The Mad Hatter nodded. “Very well. But let me remind you, you must bring back three of the Tree of Life’s fruits.”
“And why should we listen to everything you say? Even if we agree to it now, what makes you trust our word?” retorted Chu Yi. He was very upset by how the Mad Hatter seemed to be completely in control of this situation.
“Firstly, we are more than able to make sure that even if you only bring one fruit back, that fruit will be mine. Secondly, the fruit can only revive them for a short time and they will still need to return to their Hell Domains in order to be fully restored, otherwise they’ll still die. And we are the only ones who can send you back,” explained Pinocchio with a gleeful smile.
Su Jin and Chu Yi quickly realized that they simply had no choice. There was no way for them to fight back nor to say no, or they’d all perish here.
“Ning Meng, this whole thing has nothing to do with you, so you can just stay here and wait,” Su Jin said to Ning Meng. She had been an innocent victim in this whole situation and there was no need for her to risk her life for two dead people she didn’t even know. Furthermore, she wasn’t of any help to Su Jin and Chu Yi, and was probably more of a burden than anything else. They would probably end up having to spend additional energy to take care of her if she came along.
Ning Meng knew what Su Jin meant and didn’t raise any objections. Every portal represented great danger, so if she didn’t have to be part of it, she didn’t want to either.
“Open the portal to the Tree of Life!” Su Jin said to the Mad Hatter.
The Mad Hatter quietly tipped his hat and a portal door appeared. The Mad Hatter said to Su Jin and Chu Yi, “A reminder to the both of you, the fruit of the Tree of Life must be consumed immediately after they have been plucked from the Tree of Life. Once you get all three, I will send you back here. One of them will be for me, and the other two must be given to your friends immediately.”
Su Jin nodded, then he and Chu Yi glanced at their dead companions lying on the floor before dashing into the world of the Tree of Life with determined looks on their faces.
After the two of them had left, Pinocchio asked the Mad Hatter a little worriedly, “Back then…the Tree of Life was a demigod. We’ve left for so many years, so it might have reached the next level. Do you think they’d be able to accomplish this? Why didn’t you get them to go into another story instead?”
“We don’t have a choice. If we want to open that door, we need the purest form of energy, so a fruit from the Tree of Life would be our best choice. If I could send them elsewhere, I wouldn’t have caused the deaths of their friends in order to force them into the world of the Tree of Life.” The Mad Hatter shook his head. Su Jin and his team weren’t the first team of owners to arrive at this Challenge, but almost all of them had died by this juncture. Only a small number had found some treasures and chose to leave. Not a single one had actually accomplished what the Mad Hatter wanted.
Of course, if the Mad Hatter pulled together a group of the most powerful veterans, the chances of completing this mission would be much higher. But high level veterans were extremely powerful and might not listen to him, so the Mad Hatter had to find owners who could remain under his control. Su Jin and his team had worked out perfectly so far and there was just one last step to go.
After stepping through the portal door, Su Jin and Chu Yi found themselves atop a hill. This world was very dim and dark clouds covered the sky. Barely any sunlight made it through the dark clouds, so this world seemed especially cold and dreary.
“Brother Su, I suppose the Mad Hatter and Pinocchio are trying to make us find seven treasures, right? But even if we manage to get all the fruits they want, it would only be six treasures in total. We can’t let them have their way! Let’s think of a way to escape when we get back!” Chu Yi now bore a grudge against Pinocchio and the Mad Hatter, so he refused to let the two Elder Gods have their way.
But Su Jin sighed listlessly and said, “It’s no use. Besides, they don’t need seven. They just need six. The mission was a lie to begin with and they put this mission there so that we wouldn’t realize that it was all a sham.”
“As long as I became tempted by the prize we would get from collecting so many treasures, I would have fallen for the Mad Hatter’s scheme already. When we got five treasures, the Mad Hatter made use of their ability to affect the other owners to make them try to kill one of us. As long as at least one of us died, the rest of the team would be forced to enter the world of the Tree of Life to find its fruits and they would have the right number of treasures.”
Su Jin was so angry with himself now. In the words of Situ Jin, all intelligent people were complacent. Su Jin had underestimated the difficulty of a Level C Challenge. He thought that a group of old timers wouldn’t have any trouble completing it and would be able to deal with any problems that came their way.
“So…they only need six treasures?”
“No, they need seven. But…they already have the seventh one,” said Su Jin with a sigh as he shook his head.
Chu Yi frowned for a moment, then he suddenly realized what the seventh item was. “That hat! One of the treasures needed is the Mad Hatter’s hat!”
“You finally realized it?” Su Jin chuckled as he patted Chu Yi’s shoulder, then looked serious again as he said, “In any case, we still have time to reverse this situation. As long as we find the fruits of the Tree of Life, we’ll be able to save Mai and Yang Mo!”
They walked down the hill and wandered about within this unknown world. But their hearts grew more and more anxious as time passed because no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t see the tree anywhere.
“Were we sent to a part of the world that’s super far from the Tree of Life?” Chu Yi couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t find the tree at all.
Su Jin shook his head. “I don’t think so. The Mad Hatter needs this fruit as urgently as we do, so there’s no reason why he would make things difficult for us if he didn’t have to…did we miss out something?”
He looked around but the entire world seemed to look exactly the same. It was dim, gloomy and void of any structures, as if no humans had ever lived here.
“Wait a minute!” A thought struck Su Jin. He activated the Demon Lord’s Eye skill and looked in a random direction. His eyes instantly widened in shock.
“The Tree of Life, a magical plant that exists only in the World of Fairytales has fruits that can grant long life to humans and also raise the dead to life (only if the person has been dead for no more than seven days). After going through the long passage of time, the Tree of Life has begun to merge with the World of Fairytales!”
Su Jin gasped. If he understood this piece of information correctly, the Tree of Life had become the world itself. They didn’t need to find the Tree of Life because they had been on it the whole time.
“Brother Su, did you manage to find the Tree of Life?” Chu Yi asked curiously when he noticed the change in Su Jin’s expression.
Su Jin nodded and looked at Chu Yi. “I’ve found it!”
“Where is it?”
“It’s everywhere! These mountains, these vast lands, everything!”
“Seriously? That’s insane!” Chu Yi’s eyes widened as well as he looked around him.
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