Chapter 2 - Prelude

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Throb!

The hangover that came up strongly was accompanied by a throbbing headache.

“Ugh…”

Jin-hyuk held his temples as he got up from his bed. With a burning thirst in his throat, he ended up drinking 1 liter of ice water he had stored in the refrigerator.

As the cold water washed down his throat, he felt his mind become more aware.

Haa…

‘I might live now.’

The ramen was quite spicy, but he had to do something else now.

‘First of all, I have to edit and upload the first view of the 50th floor I recorded yesterday before someone else uploads it.’

He hadn’t seen the shadow of other players since the 20th floor, so the odds of that happening were unlikely…

Still, because of human nature, nothing was certain.

Click!

Jin-hyuk turned on his computer and tried to find the right music to accompany him while he worked on his Viewtube video.

But…

“Uh?”

A Viewtuber that he frequently watched was broadcasting something live…

‘The Tower of Trials becomes a reality! With…’

The aggressive title was common in this industry to get viewers… but to have over 300,000 viewers watching live.

Something big seemed to have happened.

Jin-hyuk moved his mouse.

Pound! Pound!

His heart was beating quickly inside his chest despite there being no reason to.

The moment he clicked the video, everything changed.

Click!

As he tuned into the live stream, the audio began to fill his ears.

[Wow! Bro! that! Do you see that? Everyone is watching this, right?]

On his computer screen, the Viewtuber was exclaiming loudly.

A large tower was visible on the screen. It really was something ridiculous.

It was a tower in the middle of Seoul.

The sight of which was all too familiar.

[User Melon Flavored Watermelon had just reported that this tower was from a game called [Tower of Trials] released 11 years ago. Can you believe this? Uh? Wait!]

Just then, the Viewtuber raised his hand, and the screen in the video began to turn red.

It wasn’t a sunset. Why would the sun start setting at 10 AM?

‘No…’

Jin-hyuk gulped.

He knew what this was.

It was an omen that appeared when he first played [Tower of Trials].

[The first update of the reboot version of 'Tower of Trials' has been completed.]

The boundaries between reality and the virtual world were blurring.

The reality was being shown on the screen in front of him. Then, at that exact moment, a blue status window flickered into existence in front of his eyes.

It’s started.

[All players; conquer the next level of the tower within 90 days.]

The world that humanity once knew was falling apart.

[[If you fail, humanity will perish.]

Just like that, the game had become the world’s new reality.


His mind was confused, feeling like a computer that lacked computational power, but Jin-hyuk still managed to gather his thoughts.

“Phew. Phew. Phew.”

He calmed his breathing and cooled his head.

If [Tower of Trials] did become a reality, then hesitating here wasn’t the right move.

‘I need to hurry.’

Jin-hyuk got up from his chair in a rush, causing it to fall back, but he didn’t have time to put it back upright.

He had to go.

Outside.

To be precise, he needed to go where he could get that ‘item.’

Jin-hyuk exited his door and sprinted out, his breath running out as he rushed down the stairs.

But still.

This excitement and anticipation didn’t put him under any pressure or make him consider the difficulty.

Rather…

He endured it.

His heart warmed at the fact that he was running with a destination in mind rather than just on a treadmill.

For how many minutes did he run? He soon arrived at the city’s center, which was crowded with people.

“W-what is the fastest departure time to Busan?’

“Shit! Busan or whatever, I cannot be in Korea! A foreign nation. I will go and live abroad.”

“The tower popped up everywhere in the world. Where would you even go?”

“Then where do we go?”

“Whatever it is, not in Seoul! Have you ever seen that kind of movie? I am not stupid enough to remain here and die!”

Most of them were trying to escape from Seoul.

‘They all must be feeling anxious.’

It was the innate instinct of all living things to feat the unknown. However, in a crisis, there was always opportunity.

Now wasn’t the time to run away but to press onwards.

‘On the Korean server, this place was selected as one of the places [Outside the Tower].’

If you added up all the spots across South Korea, there would be 30 spots.

The reason he chose this place out of all of them was because it was the closest.

Jin-hyuk, who was looking down into the basement area, took the escalator down.

[Entering the event area.]

The basement was quiet.

A tower had suddenly appeared, the sky had turned red, and the destruction of humanity was suddenly announced. No wonder no one was there to do business.

There were even a few people there sitting around eating hamburgers.

Of course.

“…”

“…”

Not everyone was doing that.

As expected.

Jin-hyuk narrowed his eyes while looking at the dozens of people scattered around the fountain.

He knew without asking any of them that they were people who had played at least the early stages of the game.

They all looked at each other in this silence, with not even a hint of conversation.

Right, this was the way it would be.

Items would soon appear here, but only in limited numbers. The total numbers that spawned would be around five or so.

On the other hand, there were over 20 people here.

Low supply and high demand.

That meant that the majority wouldn’t get an item.

It was then…

“You… are Kang Jin-hyuk, right?”

A young man’s voice addressed him from behind.

‘I remember this voice…?’

When Jin-hyuk turned his head, he saw a man around 180 cm tall with hair dyed yellow.

Lee Jong-soo.

To see this brat here.

“Haha. Right. You are Kang Jin-hyuk! You are here too! Even you ended up moving your body from staring at your computer all day.”

Lee Jong-soo approached him with a grin.

He was a Paprika TV partner BJ.

He had around 500,000 subscribers on Viewtube and significant follower numbers on Instagram.

He was one of those so-called good-looking popular types.

‘At the same time, he’s also the representative of the company I belong to.’

“Shouldn’t you be in the middle of broadcasting right now?”

Jin-hyuk opened his mouth.

“Ah. In a situation like this, how could I even broadcast?”

Lee Jong-soo shrugged.

“What is this situation?”

“Don’t pretend like you don’t know. You were pretty hardcore for this game. Tell me more. How many floors did you end up conquering? Let’s not hide things as colleagues from the same industry and stick together.”

Colleagues?

Did he say… colleagues?

Jin-hyuk felt like he had been hit on the head with a hammer. He still remembered what this trash said to him once.

‘The company this bastard founded deceived various BJs with unfair contracts.’

They had promised BJs support with editors and various content fees, but it was all lies. Since the contract ripped off around 60% of the BJ’s total revenue, the more diligent you broadcasted, the more you lost.

There were even protests, but nothing worked.

Its because this bastard had the most famous law firm in Korea behind him.

The contracts were written and signed with mutual consent. Ultimately, the BJs could only act like slaves and ended their broadcasts with tears.

Colleagues.

Friends who rose with him from the bottom.

One by one, they all left him.

“You are good at games. I know that your mukbangs go well too. I will make the terms of contracts a bit better, okay?”

Lee Jong-soo patted Jin-hyuk on the shoulder.

Disgusting. Not a single word being said had any worth.

“… Lee Jong-soo.”

“Yah. Yah. You cannot call the representative of the company you work for with their name.”

Ah. Right. He was the CEO… right?

He had realized that with every step of his life in this world. Only bad people continued to live well.

Additionally, in order to not become their victims, you had to become even more vicious and cruel.

Those are the two things that humans need to know.

“If you are the CEO, then act like one. Then I will call you CEO.”

“What?”

Lee Jong-soo’s expression changed, and Jin-hyuk continued.

“Don’t remember? You handed a business card to a female BJ that ended with you kicking at the crying girl and screaming while causing a scene, right?”

It was a pity that only Jin-hyuk saw that.

He should have made a video of it.

“And was that all? You said you wouldn’t give up and stalked her address and her home, and when reported, you were brought to the police station and warned. Ha, a fucking bastard you are. If it were me, I would have died from shame.”

“Y-You are you insane?! I can bury you so far that you’d never get to be a BJ again!”

Lee Jong-soo grabbed Jin-hyuk by the collar

“I am sorry, but I’ve retired since yesterday.”

And…

“Don’t be rude, you fucking bastard. I am older than you.”

Kwang!

Jin-hyuk hit Lee Jong-soo in the face with his head.

“Kuak!’

Lee Jong-soo moved back with broken teeth and blood dripping from his mouth.

‘So cool.’

It felt like something that had gone missing for ten years was fixed instantly at seeing that tooth fly.

“Ugh…”

Jin-hyuk grabbed his face, but it was only for a short moment.

‘The time has come for it to appear.’

The very moment he thought that.

Kukukuku!

Drops of water rose violently from the fountain, making the people wonder why a calm water fixture would shake like that.

Puak!

A 4-meter-tall tree rose from the fountain.

‘Finally, it appears.’

“Ohh!”

“The mangrove!”

“As expected, I knew I was right.”

The people that had been waiting there all spoke.

[The 'Mangrove of Greed' appears]
[One fruit can be consumed by one person.\]

It was one of the skills that could be attained even before entering the Tower of Trials.

Jin-hyuk looked at the fruits hanging from the tree. The fruits, all ripe enough to eat, had the effect of raising strength, agility, stamina, and magic stats.

They were good items.

That was an undeniable fact. But the problem was…

The number.

‘All in all, there’s just four…’

24 people were waiting there, so the competition ratio was 6:1.

Jin-hyuk bit his lower lip.

‘It’s gonna be pretty intense.’

The advantage of raising your stats during the early stages was a factor that must not be compromised upon.

“M-Mine!”

“Don’t make me laugh! It is mine!

“Kuaaak!”

Everyone rushed for the tree.

Somehow, no matter what they had to do, they had to get it before others.

Soon, the Central City Underground devolved into chaos as people scrambled over each other to climb the tree.


“D-damn it! I am so late!’

Lee Jong-soo took a deep breath.

As he had said, he had come too late to the fountain.

Step!

“E-enough!”

Someone had already picked one fruit and put it in their mouth. Sooner or later, the rest of the fruits would end up in someone’s mouth.

“It’ll be a win-win if a fruit is cut in half and shared with me!”

Lee Jong-soo yelled, but Jin-hyuk didn’t respond. There was no need to.

In the first place, this wasn’t what he was aiming for.

‘It isn’t time yet.’

Ordinary players would only know about the fruits. Those who played the game just a few times would aim for the fruits.

And then they would take it.

Instead, the perverted, sadistic players who enjoyed the process would know that there was more.

The reason was simple.

The bigger reward was still yet to come.

Finally, the fruits all disappeared.

Right as the last fruit was consumed.

Kiiik.

The tree howled.

Since all the fruits had been taken away, everyone who had been there for them began running away in panic.

“R-right. It was dangerous to eat all the fruits!”

“Damn it! It was so long ago that I forgot it!”

“Uh, ahhhh! Bail right now! I have died 50 times here!”

People who realized the seriousness of the situation began to run away. They had to withdraw now.

There was no chance a level 1 player without a weapon could defeat this tree.

“Um…”

Lee Jong-soo also staggered and got up.

“Are you giving up?”

Jin-hyuk asked.

“O-of course! Everyone knows they’ll get killed in this place.”

“Is that so? That is sad. The real reward for this event comes when all the fruits get eaten.”

Lee Jong-soo, who was walking away, went stiff.

“Are you telling the truth?”

“If it was a lie, would I be standing here?”

“…”

Lee Jong-soo turned his head.

He had noticed that Jin-hyuk hadn’t been too interested in the fruits. Was this the reason?

If you assumed that there was a bigger reward, then it made sense.

‘There is no way it is a lie because he is someone who played this game a lot.’

Ignoring any potential dangers, this chance was too sweet to pass up.

“Assuming what you said is true. What are we to do?”

“Dig into it.”

Jin-hyuk pointed at the tree.

“If we moved individually, we would be easy targets, so we need to approach it from the sides.”

“You mean to distract the gaze.’

“Exactly that.”

The other people were already escaping, and only the two men were left in the basement.

“Keep in mind that if either of us hesitates, our lives will be in danger.”

Jin-hyuk lowered his body and moved to the right.

“Don’t worry. I played this game a couple times too.”

Lee Jong-soo moved to the left, and the two squatted in wait.

At that moment,

“Now!”

Jin-hyuk gave the signal.

In an instant, the tree moved to Jin-hyuk.

But…

Lee Jongo-soo didn’t get up. He only showed his white teeth with a smile.

“Fucking dumbass. Did you think I would listen to you? Go and be bait for me. And then I will get the treasure.”

Tak!

And he then ran to the center of the tree.

At that, Jin-hyuk thought.

… thank god this fucker’s character didn’t change

‘If he had done anything out of character, I would have felt so upset,’

Then, with a roar.

Kwang!

In an instant, a tree trunk hidden in the fountain jumped up.

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