Kain the Puppeteer.
The setting of my novel became more and more vague the farther it went, but Kain was an especially ambiguous character.
The keywords I used to describe him were [puppeteer], [slimy], [emotionless], and [cruel]. Since he wasn’t meant to be an important character, I didn’t write anything more than what was necessary about him.
Although Kim Suho easily cut him down in the original story, we had to be wary of him now, with the co-author having changed many things.
—…Meetings are always beautiful. A meeting like ours is especially so.
Kain’s soliloquy continued while I was thinking. It felt like I was being licked by his slimy voice.
“What is that crazy guy saying…”
Aileen frowned as she activated her skill.
Blue aura rose up from the ground and seeped into her body. She was using a special skill called [Magic Power Amplification].
But at that moment, Aileen clenched her heart and kneeled on one leg.
She got up before anyone could say a thing.
Cold sweat formed on her forehead, but she didn’t outwardly show any signs of exhaustion and glared at Kain who was dancing on the chandelier.
—Dance like a puppet, smile silently.
Kain’s subdued voice approached me frighteningly.
Aileen pointed her finger at him.
“You, come down.”
Magic power seeped into those three words.
“Spirit Speech dictating actions won’t work well.”
I stopped her, knowing that it would be useless. As I said before, the Demon King’s mid-bosses were all protected by his Authority.
Of course, it could be overpowered with enough magic power, but that would only be a waste of magic power at this point.
More importantly, Aileen’s Spirit Speech was powerful even if she didn’t force someone’s action.
Aileen released her magic power into the air and formed a spear.
“This spear is going to pierce your heart.”
Her words shot the spear forward. It was impossible to dodge the spear, as Spirit Speech had determined an absolute result.
The Spirit Speech spear pierced Kain’s heart.
But what should have been an easy attack caused Aileen to agonize in pain.
“Uk… Become light.”
She continued even while groaning.
The spear piercing Kain’s heart released light and exploded.
Along with a burst of light, the chandelier fell along with Kain.
His body scattered into dust without touching the ground.
“W-What, he was just a smallfry?”
The battle had seemingly ended easily.
Dumbfounded, Aileen furrowed her brows, but I shook my head.
It wasn’t over yet.
“No, he’s probably—”
As if he was waiting for me to speak, organ music began to flow from the darkness underneath. It was the prelude to the continuation of the battle.
—Sing with the flowers… a silent song….
Kain’s voice rang out with a sinister organ sound.
There wasn’t just one voice.
Many voices were singing together as if a choir was present.
—Humans are dirty, but they possess one beautiful thing….
Then suddenly, all sound cut off.
Aileen flinched inside the sudden silence.
Next, a bright spotlight lit up the room.
—Slaughtering, dismembering… flower birthed from death…
Hundreds of Kain appeared before us.
There wasn’t a distinction between his real body and clones. As Kain created puppets using his heart as material, each puppet was equivalent to his real self.
—Let there be blood!
The puppets shot out blood-colored magic power.
A wave of magic power shot toward us, dancing as though it were on stage.
Standing in front of it, Aileen shouted confidently.
“You can’t pierce my Barrier—!”
Aileen created a barrier around both of us, blocking the magic power shot by the puppets. However, the puppets’ attacks were endless. There were many that began to charge at us with weapons. Although it seemed impossible for any of them to pierce Aileen’s Barrier, just staying on the defensive wouldn’t allow us to win.
I glanced at Aileen.
She was having a hard time just keeping up her Barrier. Although her curse had been healed, the ‘scar’ it left behind must be reacting to the Demon King’s demonic energy. If I was right, then it was impossible for Aileen to advance any further.
“Hold on just a bit.”
I took out the Desert Eagle.
Kain was a bad opponent for me.
Although it was my specialty to fight against many, I was limited in Stigma, which was what I needed to kill Kain.
I could easily kill six demons with [Punishment and Discipline], but Kain’s puppets were all considered individual demons. With hundreds of them being here, this Authority had little use.
I transformed my gun into its assault rifle form. There was no need to worry about anything. I just had to buy time until Cheok Jungyeong got here.
I had about a thousand bullets. That was more than enough.
I began to fire inside Aileen’s Barrier. The barrage of bullets all flew toward each puppets’ vital points – their joints. I emptied a magazine in less than second, and puppets without limbs fell to the ground.
The puppets tried to avoid my bullets, but it was futile. None of my bullets missed. I was only shooting as my instincts told me to, but as expected of grade-2 Master Sharpshooter, its accuracy was godly.
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Then suddenly, a puppet jumped on Aileen’s Barrier. The puppet’s body began to bulk up. It was using the best attack to destroy a barrier – self-destruction.
“A storm will push you away!”
Aileen muttered quickly. The self-detonating puppet was sent flying, where it then exploded with a huge boom. Though most of the damage was mitigated, Aileen’s Barrier was weakened nonetheless.
“Do a better job so they can’t do that.”
I activated Bullet Time and began focusing on shooting down the closest puppets. I fully utilized Reinforced Bullet, the new subordinate Gift I got when Master Sharpshooter was promoted to grade-2. The power provided to each bullet by this Gift was enough to push back the puppets who had powerful resistance.
—What a beautiful flow. Tragedy strikes heavier the more desperate one struggles…
I attacked while Aileen defended. But as time passed, Aileen was getting more and more exhausted.
Her breaths were getting rougher, while the Barrier was getting thinner.
But this was enough.
I whispered to Aileen.
“You can rest now.”
“Don’t say strange things. I’m perfectly fine.”
As soon as she said that, an arm of a puppet flew at her Barrier and exploded.
The earth trembled, but Aileen’s Barrier was fine. Still, Aileen was struck by a huge recoil from the shock, causing her to kneel in pain.
“You don’t look fine.”
“…I can still go on. Run while I can still maintain this barrier. I got your back.”
I was touched, but I had no plans to run away.
At that moment, Kain muttered arrogantly.
—What I want is a banquet of death. It isn’t bad for a dwarf and a human to die together…
…It seemed Aileen was determined to be a dwarf.
“T-That son of a bitch.”
Aileen reacted sensitively to the word ‘dwarf’.
I took off my coat silently. Then, I put it over Aileen’s trembling shoulders.
I placed my hand on Aileen’s head.
“I’ll finish the rest.”
“Are you crazy? Whose head do you think you’re touch… huh…?”
I released Stigma’s magic power, sending it inside Aileen’s body.
“Ah… hey, what did you do… I’m getting… sleepy….”
Those were her last words.
The barrier protecting us disappeared, but I didn’t need one anymore.
The reason was simple.
It was because the world’s most reliable ally had finally arrived.
A deep voice rang out behind me. I picked Aileen up and took a step back.
Cheok Jungyeong frowned.
“Why are you with that brat?”
“It just turned out this way. The enemy is in front of us. You can see him, right?”
“Yeah, there sure are a lot of them though.”
His displeasure at seeing Aileen only lasted a moment, as a big grin emerged on his face.
He was simply happy to be able to fight. His opponent’s strength only made him excited.
—A new actor joins the fray.
“But what’s up with those guys? They all look the same.”
Cheok Jungyeong asked as he cracked his knuckles.
“The guy’s a puppeteer. Oh, and a psychopath.”
I didn’t need to give Cheok Jungyeong a detailed explanation. He nodded his head and began to stretch.
“So I just have to slaughter them all?”
As soon as Cheok Jungyeong finished stretching, Kain’s voice rang out.
—I am the art-loving maestro…
Cheok Jungyeong activated [Secret March]. His steel-like body turned even tougher.
Cheok Jungyeong activated yet another skill.
Unique skill – [Infinite Magic]
A skill that gave its user an infinite supply of magic power. Once this skill was activated, Cheok Jungyeong was completely unrestrained.
“I’m the same.”
Blue aura erupted from Cheok Jungyeong’s body.
—I found the actor who can become a part of…
Cheok Jungyeong shot forward like a beast before Kain could even finish talking.
A terrifying ball of energy was concentrated on his huge hand.
With the roar of a beast, he jumped into the sea of puppets. Although the puppets immediately began to counterattack, their attacks all scratched the air.
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Kain’s flustered voice rang out.
Cheok Jungyeong’s laughter thundered.
He jammed his Energy Blast into the ground.
The Energy Blast destroyed the ground with an earth-shaking rumble.
Blasts of energy shot up like volcanic eruptions and destroyed the puppets.
I stared at the scene of destruction in a daze.
A cloud of dust rose up, hindering one’s normal field of vision.
I chased after Cheok Jungyeong with my Thousand-Mile Eyes. He was smashing one puppet after another with his bare hands. There was no gap in his movements, and once caught, no puppet could survive.
His overwhelming battle prowess took me by surprise.
Cheok Jungyeong had gotten several times stronger than in the original story.
Cheok Jungyeong roared once again amidst the rising torrent of magic power.
I caught sight of Cheok Jungyeong’s burning eyes. A chill immediately ran down my back.
[8F, Crevon – Knight Hall]
Meanwhile, Jin Sahyuk was in the middle of a boring meeting in Crevon. As its Knight Commander, she had to determine how to lead the knight order. Of course, she was only there to appear dignifying. The important talk was done by other staff members.
“Then in exchange for increasing the number of knights on night patrol, the royal court can increase welfare for the knights and their families….”
Jin Sahyuk shot up from her seat as soon as the discussion reached a decision.
“Okay, that’s the end of the meeting.”
“Yes, Knight Commander. Ah, we still have to talk about the 9th floor.”
“We can do that later. No, actually, just record your discussion in a crystal ball. I’ll look over it.”
Jin Sahyuk shooed the staff members away with her hand. Was it because she just finished the 7th floor’s Unique Trait Reinforcement Surgery? She was especially sleepy today.
“““Yes, take care, Knight Commander!”””
Jin Sahyuk left the meeting room while yawning.
After walking down the Knight Hall’s stairs, she visited the stable. Her beloved steed, ‘Ataly’, neighed in happiness.
“Knight Commander Shin Jahyuk-nim?”
When she was about to hop on her trusted steed, a silvery voice rang out. Jin Sahyuk turned around.
Rachel was standing there. She gave Jin Sahyuk a gentle smile. It was the smile of a real noble, tender and not capricious. Looking at her, Jin Sahyuk decided to give her some time.
“Ah, there’s something I wanted to give you.”
“You? To me?”
Jin Sahyuk tilted her head, as Rachel handed her a bracelet and a leather jacket.
“…What are these?”
She didn’t care much about the bracelet, but she liked the black leather jacket. Jin Sahyuk glanced at Rachel, then put the jacket on.
“Thanks, but why?”
Rachel answered without much thought, “It’s a memento. To celebrate you joining Club Fenrir.”
“There’s a symbol of a wolf on the back.”
Jin Sahyuk became speechless.
Club Fenrir. It was a group formed by fans of Kim Hajin.
“If you continue to work hard….”
Rachel glanced around for a moment, then whispered quietly.
“I can let you meet him. He owes me a small favor.”
Jin Sahyuk was taken aback. But Rachel only smiled brightly.
…To explain this situation, a past event had to be explained.
‘Kim Hajin is Kindspring.’ To resolve her suspicion, Jin Sahyuk had secretly asked Rachel about Kim Hajin.
At first, Rachel answered her without much thought. Kim Hajin was famous as ‘Fenrir’ and ‘Lotus Killer’, so it wasn’t surprising for someone to want to know about him.
But once Jin Sahyuk’s questioning increased, Rachel began to grow suspicious. Jin Sahyuk gave her the following excuse.
“I, I’m also Fenrir’s fan.”
It was the best excuse she could come up with at the time.
In fact, she still couldn’t think of a better excuse.
Returning to the current situation at hand, Jin Sahyuk replied with an awkward smile.
“Uh, yeah, thanks.”
“Do your best!”
Rachel smiled back and gave Jin Sahyuk a fighting pose. Jin Sahyuk stared at her dumbfoundedly and then nodded reluctantly.
“…Yeah, I will.”
“Great. I’ll keep my promise too.”’
For some reason, Rachel had recently started to smile more often.
Of course, Jin Sahyuk wasn’t bothered by it. She had a good impression of Rachel, who never showed displeasure at her rude behavior and even gave up the Knight Commander seat to her.
“Okay. Then I’ll be returning to Earth now.”
“Uh, yeah, take care.”
Rachel went back to Earth after a short goodbye.
The wind blew. Left alone, Jin Sahyuk stared at the bracelet in her hand. It was a simplistic bracelet with the symbol of a black wolf.
“Fan my ass….”
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She was about to chuck it away…
But put it in her inventory instead.
There wasn’t much meaning behind it.
Jin Sahyuk herself didn’t know why.
She just did as she felt.
[28F – Demon King’s Castle]
Aileen slowly opened her eyes.
Was this Heaven or Hell? That was the first thing she wanted to know.
But her body moved well for someone who was dead. The intense pain that bothered her disappeared as well.
“What’s going on?”
“Ah, you woke up?”
Aileen widened her eyes at the sudden voice. Kim Hajin was staring at her from the side.
‘Why is he here…? Oh right, I was fighting the puppet guy with him.’
She remembered the memory she had momentarily lost.
“Where are we…?”
Aileen asked carefully. They seemed to be in an enclosed space, like the inside of a tent. It felt comfortable and safe… were they back in the Colosseum?
“It’s a level 8 tent. We used it last time, remember?”
Kim Hajin had prepared this tent knowing that he would have to sleep outside starting from the 27th floor. As the tent had an air-purifying functionality, Aileen could recover somewhat after resting here for 8 hours.
Aileen rubbed her eyes in a daze. She stretched a few times, then raised her upper body.
“You fainted, so I—”
“No, not that. I mean the crazy 8th-grade syndrome guy.”
Kim Hajin grinned.
Aileen crawled over and pushed the tent’s cloth entrance to the side.
Immediately, her mind blanked out.
She couldn’t understand the sight she was seeing.
It seemed as though a natural disaster had swept the land. Or perhaps, there was a stampede of a beast horde of thousands of monsters.
There were apocalyptic cracks all over the ground, with broken puppets littered everywhere.
“I told you to rest easy, didn’t I?”
Kim Hajin approached her. He handed her a pot that gave off a tantalizing smell.
“…What is it?”
Aileen looked at Kim Hajin and thought, ‘I wasn’t in my best condition, but that puppet guy wasn’t weak. In fact, he was incredibly strong. Kim Hajin really did all this with just a gun? I thought this last time, but this guy… he really is super strong….’
Seeing Aileen in a daze, Kim Hajin picked up the porridge and fed her.
“Ah, what are you doing? I don’t want it….”
Aileen’s mouth said no, but her body said other otherwise.
The moment she tasted the porridge, her eyes widened. She immediately began to salivate.
“It’s good, right?”
“Uh… yeah, a bit.”
Aileen nodded. Kim Hajin gave a bright smile.
Aileen’s heart skipped a beat when she saw this smile. She looked up at Kim Hajin with a slightly dazed expression.
He gave her another spoonful of porridge, and Aileen carefully opened her mouth. A warm, aromatic porridge entered her mouth.
Aileen’s face was slightly flushed as she nibbled on the porridge. That was how good Kim Hajin’s cooking was.
[28F – Heart of the Demon King’s Castle]
Kim Suho’s party reached the heart of the castle after working through a maze and killing monsters. To be honest, it wasn’t all that difficult. The occasional monsters were all ordinary, so they were able to advance quickly and easily.
It was about time for something difficult to happen. Kim Suho’s party stepped forward with such a thought.
“…There’s someone there, Suho.”
At that moment, Jin Seyeon pointed at a beautiful woman standing in front of a huge door.
“It’s the witch.”
Kim Suho answered.
The woman in front of them was the same woman who had tricked them into entering the Colosseum.
—You’ve finally come.
The witch’s voice rang out.
Kim Suho and the others stopped to hear her out.
—I am here to test whether you have the qualifications to challenge the King.
Testing whether they were qualified. Everyone knew what this meant.
—…Now, follow me, everyone.
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The huge door opened, and the witch walked in.