Leveling with the Gods - Chapter 52
‘The test of the Heavenly Demon, huh…’
The content of the message had changed. It went from the “Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test” to the “Heavenly Demon’s test.”
A reclusive group, one that couldn’t—no, hadn’t let a single player through to the next floor out of stubbornness or even obstinance, it was only natural that the Heavenly Demonic Cult became weaker as the ages passed. Yet despite that, the Martial Realm as a whole still considered the Demonic Cult as the greatest school of martial arts.
It was all due to the existence of one man. The living legend of the Martial Realm. An ancient High Ranker who was alive even before the Martial Realm entered the Tower. The one synonymous with the Heavenly Demonic Cult, the Heavenly Demon.
Wind blew inside the room, despite there being no open doors. The room became dark. Now all YuWon could see was the person’s back.
“I shall ask you.”
The man didn’t turn around.
That’s when YuWon finally realized that this place must have been a different location than what he was seeing, that he must have been standing somewhere that wasn’t actually this dinky little room.
“At what point did you find out?” the man asked.
YuWon had passed the test, so he wondered why he had prepared a meeting like this with him.
“Is that what you want to know?”
“This is also a test.”
The Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test was just as rumored. Unlike the tests of the other schools, the Cult’s test did not have a pre-set frame or rules.
‘So this question is a part of the test, huh.’
The man was quite shameless.
The system never lied. If this was a real test, he would have gotten a message that said the next test had started.
But it didn’t matter to YuWon whether this was a real test or not. It wasn’t something he needed to keep secret.
“Since the beginning.”
“You’ve been observing me since before I even entered the barrier. That’s when the test started.”
The reason was simple.
“What kind of a test would only require me to follow someone?”
YuWon had heard plenty about the Cult’s notoriety. The Demonic Cult that YuWon remembered was a group entirely about combat and battling. So there was no way that the Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test, especially the Heavenly Demon’s, would only require you to walk behind someone.
“So you at least know how to find your way through properly.”
There was a sense of satisfaction in the man’s voice.
The scenery around YuWon started to fade. The dark room grew brighter, and the cramped room disappeared, revealing a view of the outside.
The Heavenly Demon’s back could no longer be seen.
YuWon could hear the voice inside his head.
There was no message. The question just now wasn’t registered separately as a test. It was simply a personal test by the Heavenly Demon.
YuWon guessed that the Heavenly Demon would have treated him differently depending on his response.
‘A ‘pass’ he says…’
It seemed that he had managed to be seen a bit favorably, at the very least.
‘I guess I’m going to have a rough time for a bit, pleasing this ahjussi.’
YuWon looked at the torches that lined the street.
There was a large village. Despite it being past sunset in the mountains, it was bustling with people.
YuWon couldn’t believe there was such a village deep in the mountains.
‘So this is the Heavenly Demonic Cult.’
YuWon stood still for a second and took it in. There were people carrying rice and various grains, chickens, cows, pigs, and other livestock down the mountain, as well as martial artists armed with swords and spears.
Some martial schools said that the devil lives in the Heavenly Demonic Cult. That was all baloney. YuWon knew a real devil.
YuWon took in his surroundings. This was also a place where people lived, just like in the rest of the Martial Realm.
While YuWon was taking a moment to admire the village…
“Y-You!” HaMuk, who finally passed through the barrier, shouted after finding YuWon. “How are you here?”
HaMuk was quite surprised to find YuWon had come back in one piece after thinking that he’d fallen prey to the barrier.
YuWon thought about telling him the truth, that he had just met the Heavenly Demon. But the Heavenly Demon was the icon of the Heavenly Demonic Cult. Nothing good would come from bringing him up, not to mention the fact that they hadn’t even talked face-to-face.
“I just walked here first.”
HaMuk’s eyes widened. That meant that YuWon had managed to get through the barrier by himself.
Though the Cult might not have been known for having the strongest barrier, it should still have been impossible for a normal 10th Floor player to get through it on their own. Even HaMuk wasn’t sure he could make his way through the barrier if he hadn’t been taught the proper path.
Yet here was YuWon, who had managed to cross the barrier faster than them, and they knew the right path. In other words, YuWon had crossed the barrier with ease.
“Is that important? I’m tired, so let’s go. Or does the Heavenly Demonic Cult not provide lodging to testees?” YuWon spoke shamelessly before trudging along to the village.
HaMuk was speechless as he watched YuWon walk away. He had now been a part of the cult for over 50 years, and in that time, not a single player had managed to cross the barrier by themself. In fact, he had never heard of a player doing such a thing, ever.
* * *
HaMuk ordered his subordinates to show YuWon to his lodgings. Then, he started looking into Kim YuWon.
It was clear to him that YuWon was skilled. After confirming that he was a player that had just ascended to the 10th Floor by using the player kit , it was likely YuWon wasn’t lying about his identity either.
HaMuk figured that his name must have been somewhat well-known in the lower floors. He was sure that if he had his subordinates look into it, he’d be able to find detailed information regarding YuWon…
… But he didn’t think it’d be this easy.
After giving the orders to a few of his men, HaMuk was able to learn about YuWon right away.
“Yes. A few guilds from above are already trying to recruit Kim YuWon.”
The Heavenly Demonic Cult had long stopped caring about the matters of the lower floors. Because of that, except for martial artists from the Cult that were active outside of Mt. Heaven or merchants that came to trade with them, they rarely heard information about the lower floors.
This was the reason why HaMuk hadn’t heard of YuWon.
“If that’s true, then the Martial Alliance must have already tried to approach him.”
The Martial Alliance, formally known as the Martial Artists’ Alliance, was a mid-sized guild with many Rankers. As an alliance of various noble clans, it was a place with enough influence to possess an entire floor in the Tower.
“I’ll have to look into it further, but it is likely.”
“Yet he came all the way here? Even though it’s so far away?”
“From what I heard, he passed all the tests of the previous floors with high marks. Seeing as how he even topped the 1st Floor Colosseum’s rankings, he probably wants to set another record here as well.”
“So that’s why he picked the Heavenly Demonic Cult…”
The Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test was uncleared by any player thus far. The Heavenly Demon was stubborn, refusing to adjust the difficulty of his test, unlike the other martial schools. In addition, the Heavenly Demon was the one that gave the test and had such high standards that it was impossible for anyone to pass.
“I guess some people are just built differently.”
Gwang HaMuk remembered the 1st Floor’s Colosseum.
Born inside the Cult, he was a Pure-Blood from the Heavenly Demonic Cult. So having mastered quite a lot of martial arts, he was able to easily make his way through the Tutorial.
Normally, players with the innate talent to become Rankers were able to at least pass the tenth trial.
Knowing this fact, the Colosseum’s trials felt like hitting a wall to HaMuk. When he got to the seventh trial, he had felt his limits for the first time in his life. With martial arts and the power of the system, he thought he’d be able to reach the top of the Tower in one go, but the Colosseum ended up completely shattering HaMuk’s self-confidence.
“Captain, have you ever taken our cult’s test?”
HaMuk nodded his head at his subordinate’s question.
His loyalty to the Cult was exceptional. From a young age, he dreamed of one day becoming a player and passing the Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test.
Unfortunately, he was unable to pass it. The Cult’s test was a wall that was even taller and harder than the one he had faced during the Colosseum’s trials.
“How was the test?”
HaMuk shook his head in response.
“I don’t know.”
“I failed as soon as I started.”
“What do you mean, sir…?”
His subordinate couldn’t understand. Failing the test as soon as he had started?
Seeing the subordinate waiting for an explanation, HaMuk decided to unravel his pent up frustrations.
“He told me I didn’t have the qualifications.”
A hot, steaming bath was drawn.
Once the female servants finished filling the tub with water, YuWon sent everyone out and immersed himself in the hot water.
As the bath overflowed, more steam rose to the top.
He felt the fatigue from the 10-day-long journey melt away. His muscles loosened up as he closed his eyes inside the circular wooden tub for a moment.
He indulged in the luxury for a few minutes. Then he opened his eyes and looked around.
It was a small bathing area located outside.
Just by looking at this place he could tell.
“… It’s small. Like, really small.”
Well, rather than being small, the Heavenly Demonic Cult wasn’t affluent, which was inevitable.
The current Heavenly Demonic Cult was behind the times. The recruitment of new players, revenue through collecting points from new recruits, and connections to the outside world from the players and Rankers trained by the Cult… There was none of that, and the Cult was simply a husk of its former glory.
‘That ahjussi is so stubborn.’
So much could change by just slightly lowering the difficulty of the test.
YuWon thought that he was the same as always.
‘Though I’m sure he has his reasons.’
The Tower’s system never malfunctioned. This fact was true in all the Tower’s long history, and it held true even in the distant future.
The Tower also always gave a bigger reward the harder the test. That’s why, when thinking about the 10th Floor, everyone came to the same conclusion.
“The Heavenly Demonic Cult.”
“Yep, it should be the Demonic Cult.”
“There really is no other option.”
During the meeting where they discussed what to do after the Tutorial, naturally the Heavenly Demonic Cult was brought up for the 10th Floor’s test.
“The Grand Martial Arts Tournament really is the jewel of the Martial Realm, but…”
“The Grand Martial Arts Tournament is an attractive option. If you win, not only would you receive a Great Scarlet Medicine Ball, but you’d be able to learn the best secret arts of the NamGung Clan, the Shaolin Temple, or wherever you want.”
“But is there even anyone here who hasn’t managed to win the Grand Martial Arts Tournament?”
“I haven’t either. Are you trying to pick a fight right now?”
… YuWon remembered that there was a bit of a commotion regarding that, making him let out a small laugh.
It seemed that there had been a few present who either didn’t know about the Tournament or had participated and didn’t win.
The one that had caused the biggest ruckus was Son OhGong. Apparently he went onto the next floor as soon as he passed his test, so he didn’t get a chance to participate in the Tournament.
‘He’s the kind of guy who would have never missed a tournament like that.’
Anyway, YuWon was one of the people who showed interest in the Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test. It was a test that, even far in the future, no one had ever managed to pass.
“It’s a shame the Heavenly Demon died early on.”
“If he was still alive, we’d be able to at least figure out something.”
“He’s already a goner. Missing him will do nothing for us.”
The Heavenly Demon lost his life early on in the fight against the Outer Gods. And since 「Chronos’s Clock Movement」 was made after the Heavenly Demon’s death, they were unable to ask him anything.
So in the end, nothing was known about the Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test.
‘I guess there’s no choice but to face it head on.’
YuWon knew nothing. Not what the Heavenly Demonic Cult’s test was, not why, compared to all the other tests, this one was particularly more difficult. And…
“So, what’s with the Heavenly Demonic Cult? Does anyone know anything?”
“There’s definitely something.”
“So we just don’t know what that something is.”
“Whatever it is, it won’t be anything ordinary. Because out of everyone here, not a single one of us has ever passed the Demonic Cult’s test.”
“Isn’t it a gamble? What if it’s a dud?”
“The Tower never betrays one’s efforts and hard work. We can’t be certain what the result might be, but there’s no way it’ll be a dud.”
YuWon’s first order of agenda was to find out what it was that the Cult was hiding. There was only a very slim chance, but he couldn’t risk it actually being a dud.
[「?’s Egg」 wiggles.]
It seemed that it wasn’t a dud.
“It’s been a while.”
The unknown egg wiggled inside his inventory. And seeing the Egg awaken after so long made him think back to when he had just passed the 1st Floor’s test…