Izel Ethart Blind, a unique yet fragile and fairly brown-skinned baby, cried softly as he lay wrapped in a silk white cloth, nestled in his mother’s trembling arms. Amid his infantile cries, unexpected words barely reached the child’s delicate ears.
“That thing is disgusting.”
These harsh words were the first his father uttered bitterly upon Izel’s birth. Exhausted from labor, his mother wept helplessly, her expression twisted in disgust. “What curse has befallen us to bear such a child…?”
– – – –
The E-rank dungeon raid starts in 23 minutes and 5 seconds.
Izel stirred from his slumber as the next raid timer stung his ears, urging him to open his dull-sharp eyes with scarred golden pupils. As usual, he couldn’t see a thing.
Three days had passed since he accepted an invitation to raid the fortress of dungeons, yet Izel doubted he would ever get used to this harsh schedule.
Ruffling his chin-length curled white-silver hair, he got up from the comfy bed in the room’s center and sighed. Despite being here for three days, he had only completed two tutorials and an F-rank dungeon.
“When will this raid end?” he murmured reluctantly. A few days ago, he spent his time in his room listening to the bunky television about famous Hunters—those who hunt monsters—all day.
“When can I go home?” he wondered, unable to answer that question. He flinched bitterly as painful memories of the last raid flashed vividly in his mind. The despair and terror he had endured evoked a desire to return to his peaceful yet boring life.
Feeling a bit dizzy and mentally exhausted as if he had a hangover, the blind man was greeted with the notification of the next dungeon raid, even though he had only gotten three hours of sleep since his previous raid.
Half-asleep, he began his daily morning exercise. A while later, after completing a hundred push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and jumping jacks each, sweat seeped down his body, making him feel more relaxed and freshened up.
Healing all injuries and status fatigue. This effect is consistently applied in the waiting room.
After receiving the notification, gray vapors gushed out of his body while a rush of colorful light embraced him, swiftly healing any muscle tears and relieving his fatigue.
Experiencing this healing effect within the room had become practical during his workouts. It was more than mere healing; it was almost extraordinary. Izel had tested this phenomenon a few days ago by causing a minor flesh wound. To his astonishment, the spilled blood reversed its flow back into the wound before sealing it shut.
He speculated that this was a restorative ability, perhaps involving temporal manipulation, as the blood re-entered his body rather than the wound simply regenerating instantly. Nevertheless, these supernatural effects granted Izel the advantage he needed to train more efficiently in this perilous, isolated world.
Surviving in this isolated world alone had its dangers. High stakes and high gains defined the difficulty he faced within his first two days at the fortress. He narrowly escaped death when chased by hordes of hideous zombies armed with poisonous weapons, adapted to gargantuan insects with razor-sharp teeth in each tutorial, and barely managed to slay (though failed to subjugate) the ginormous ‘mother worm’ in the F-rank dungeon using a non-graded sword provided.
“My rewards in the F-rank dungeon were halved because of it, which was disappointing.” Izel exhaled deeply, feeling he was starting to get the hang of things
[Verde remaining: 2]
As the currency of the fortress, he clicked his tongue in frustration at the small announcement that stung his mind while purchasing breakfast. He bought some dry strips of jerky, a loaf of bread, and a full waterskin. Despite being essential for survival, food and water were expensive in the Fortress of Dungeons.
Each pack of jerky strips cost five Verdes, making it the most expensive use of his currency, but survival depended on it. He couldn’t afford anything else, so he considered them the most efficient option, despite their high price.
Izel placed a dry strip of jerky in his mouth and chewed through its tough and somewhat salty texture, eating bit by bit. After a few bites of the loaf, he tore off the water bottle’s lid and eagerly gulped down the water, relieving his parched throat.
Once he completed his daily rituals, the raid timer signaled the deactivation of the Fortress system, its echoing sound in his ears.
Deactivating the ‘Extreme’ difficulty—fortress operating system; the Broker, Trading Center, Inventory, and Forums.
The E-rank dungeon raid starts in 9 seconds.
8… 7… 6…
In quick succession, Izel stored some waterskins inside a pocket-sized bag around his waist. He then tied a black blindfold around his eyes, recalling the effect and activating the [Flawlation] skill of his special blindfold—only sold in the fortress.
[Flawlation (F) had been activated.]
[Effect: Within a radius of 360 degrees, the world would be composed of only black lines on a white background. Objects and soundwaves perceived consisted of only black lines illustrating their outline. While ‘mana’ can be sensed in color.
Demerit: The host remains blind.]
5… 4… 3…
As the clock counted down, anticipation hazed his mind, and he nervously clenched his fists, awaiting what came next
2… 1… [Break over!]
The E-rank dungeon raid is now starting.
Immediately after the timer ended, a notification echoed in his ears.
Do you wish to enter the E-rank dungeon?
Without hesitation, he selected “Yes.” From nothingness emerged a beam-sized black hole. It swiftly expanded: from the size of a coin to that of a volleyball, eventually growing large enough for a person to walk through. The flat oval shape swirled with an infinitely deep crimson coloration; however, the blind man could only perceive it as a blood-red glowing outline. One moment it was open space, the next a portal into the unknown; he couldn’t help but be amazed by the mysterious phenomena.
Compared to the darkness that once enveloped him, now that Izel wore the blindfold, he could observe the black croquis contours of both stationary and animated subjects against a white background. The blindfold not only supplemented ordinary vision but also allowed him to see the patterns of mana concepts and the invisible shockwaves of sound. It synergized neatly with his [sound reading] skill.
[Passive Skill: Sound Reading (innate)]
[Effect: To analyze and detect sound waves and types of frequencies, determine the location of objects in the environment by using reflected sound waves while perceiving multiple different body languages at once at a rate of 30% accuracy,
Demerit: high-pitched, screeching sounds as well as those in the upper mid-frequency range can cause physical discomfort or a pain response to the ears and might cause bleeding. High-pressure waves stimulate the overly sensitive nociception, causing a sensation of discomfort or pain, which could lead to headaches and mental strain.]
Finally prepared, he strode into the portal, which then slowly shrank to nothingness. His surroundings veered toward a cozy, cavern-like passageway with no apparent end.
Entering the dungeon.
Starting the E-rank raid.
Objective: Slay the boss monster “Albino (?)”.
Raid Reward: [Soul Assimilation] skill.
Raid Failure: Death.
“Damn, I can never get used to this…” As he walked out of the portal, Izel pondered aloud, “So I’ll risk my life for soul assimilation? Not bad.” A faint smile formed on his face soon after. It was a good skill to risk his life for the power to transmute all forms of souls into ‘essence’ and then allow its caster to devour it, as per his knowledge, albeit as a low-rank hunter. His body slightly twitched in anticipation of the opportunity.
Starting the E-rank dungeon theme.
Izel initially believed the dark surroundings to be a place devoid of sound. However, as he examined the darkness, he noticed an oscillating pattern darting about. Fortunately, he didn’t perceive any immediate danger.
‘Could this be a random horror dungeon? Heck, could anyone even call this place a horror dungeon?’ The blind man absentmindedly pondered how this new location differed from the previous dungeon he had faced. The mostly empty cavern-like passageway was rather hideous, crammed with fragments of broken weapons and potion bottles. A mild smell of dust and rusty, sour iron permeated the air.
Moving further along, a few pieces of scenery began to reveal themselves. With dried gore and flesh scattered about, it appeared that other Walkers had passed through this dungeon as well.
“In short, it seems I wasn’t the only one who had braved the extreme difficulty.” Izel felt a mix of relief and anxiety, wondering how many walkers had died just to reach this point.
It was such a remarkably atrocious scene that anyone here would be terrified by the hazy, pitch-black darkness around them. It felt like a vast and spacious, yet synthetic, world that even his blindfold gear skill couldn’t visualize beyond.
“This… is rather ominous. Alright.” He thought aloud, tilting his head. Recognizing that the only way forward was through the enchanted darkness, the blind man resolved to explore it in search of the boss monster.
The Albino Goblin King is approaching!
His fulfillment remained elusive, disrupted as something from beyond the unknown decided to approach him first.
An eerie shout reverberated through the passage, its roaring sound so loud it threatened to burst his eardrums, causing them to bleed. Without granting him a moment to recover, the entire floor quaked. From the darkest depths emerged an unsightly entity.
Nearly ten feet tall, it possessed unkempt brown hair and beaked eyes brimming with savagery. Despite being drenched in flesh and gore, its gray skin and grotesque saunter were evident. Each step it took sent tremors through the ground, the monster wielding a gigantic axe in its right hand.
Within Izel’s sight, the gargantuan silhouette of the lumbering creature pulsed with magical power.
Menacingly, the monster shrieked, seizing control of the moment and startling Izel’s heart. At the same time, he heard another notification.
Defeat the Albino Goblin King!
Time left: 9 minutes. 59 seconds.
“Grrrrrrrrr… Is it the Little Hobbit? Krrr… I’m hungry… Stay still…”
“Wait, it can talk?” Izel inquired in amazement. It was the native language of the monster family, and although he couldn’t understand what it meant, he was still surprised that a monster could speak at all. Even though his fragile mind hadn’t gotten over the past F-rank Dungeon, every thought about it seemed to be displaced as soon as he confronted the disastrous shout of the impending Goblin King.
“… Forget it!” The blind man was unable to fake ignorance, even if he tried. Izel took out his longsword from its scabbard on his wrist and mentally prepared himself for the fight.
[Iron longsword (ungraded)
A brittle and one-handed iron longsword.
Effect: Damage +10
Demerit: The lower the durability, the more the blade becomes rusted and weakened.]
The equipped item notification provided new details about the longsword obtained in the F-rank dungeon a day ago. Despite being a non-graded weapon, it had weathered numerous battles with monsters, with its durability decreasing by only 1.5 during that time. This familiarity offered hope that the 15 hours of training would pay off when faced with the grey king’s threat.
“KRAAAAA… HOBBIT… STAY STILL!”
The sudden exclamation jolted the blind man from his doubts as the towering grey king, armed with a honed axe, closed in on him.
“What is this feeling? The air is suffocating. I can’t breathe.” He gasped desperately. Compared to the monsters in tutorials and the F-rank dungeon, this intimidation shook him to his core. Every hair on his body stood on end as the fear engulfed him.
‘Should I run away?’ The blind man’s mind raced, longing to escape the danger by sprinting into the dark passage. But fleeing would increase the chance of a pitiful demise. Izel gritted his teeth, resisting the overwhelming pressure, summoning the fighting spirit he had honed.
It felt like a gravitational pull, akin to a black hole, held him captive. The thunderous approach of the enemy outpaced his attempts to move. Facing such overwhelming terror for the first time since the initial tutorial, he couldn’t budge an inch. His legs trembled in fear.
‘What should I do now? Fight or run? Wait or die?’ Thoughts whirled in his mind, analyzing every possible action. His only hope lay in the time limit that echoed every few seconds and the long aisle ahead as the goblin closed in.
Time remaining: 9 minutes and 45 seconds.
“What? Only 15 seconds had passed!” Izel’s expression distorted in astonishment. The blind man couldn’t believe he was lost in his thoughts for 15 seconds, during which the thudding sound of the Goblin King became clearer, but it felt like five minutes had passed.
“No way…” He disapproved. Accepting the invitation, he wanted to become stronger than his pitiful self; he would rather not be a helpless blind man. Therefore, he knew the answer to his query.
“I have to fight…!” He decided, his hands tightly clenching the hilt of the longsword in his hand as his dull golden eyes narrowed underneath his blindfold. He’d fight to get stronger than lay helplessly to any of his enemies, regardless of whether that be now or in the future.
Soon, he focused his [Flawlation] upfront, trying to auscultate the mana surging from the goblin king. As if the gray albino employed the darkest haze to conceal his magic power, which disrupted Izel’s vision and erased any frequencies around and within the black haze.
[Soundless Mist Steps] is one of the skills in the Goblin King’s arsenal and is presently activated. However, it was not known by ex-hunters or walkers, including Izel, making his opponent more perilous than any monsters he had faced.
As the heartbeat resounded throughout his body, Izel nervously focused on every direction to inspect the reflected sound waves and ‘body language’. Although ‘that’ is only about 30%.
‘It’s faint, but it’s all over the place. It’s like the goblin king’s thudding ripples and body language are all over the darkness.’ The fairly brown-skinned man concentrated deeply. ‘What direction would it spawn from?’ He traced all the faint bouncing waves and body language piece by piece with both [flawation] and [sound reading], trying to find that certain direction.
Amidst that concentration, he began to doubt if his sword would be able to do anything to the Goblin King. A non-graded weapon that had decreased in durability had a low probability of impaling through the thick skin of the goblin king.
“Damnit, if only the F-rank dungeon was lucrative in its reward…” He regretfully murmured. If that had occurred, he would have gotten enough ‘Verdes’ to get himself a better weapon, but that wasn’t the case.
Regardless, he had to fight, even if it cost his life. It was then, with the pitch-black haze dissolving, the gray menace zoomed out and swung his axe through the air at Izel stealthily.
Dazed at the impending metal swerving through the air, the blind man couldn’t help but pause his initial thinking as his [Flawlation] and his ears—[Sound Reading]—caught a glimpse of the mana’s signature and sudden bodily responses.
In the end, he coerced his body to evade the axe at the last second, which smashed the ground with a great impact. At that moment, Izel found that he could sense the creature if it left the haze.
‘In that case, I would only have to attack it as soon as it appeared from the darkness.’ He concluded, per his premonition. Shortly after the attack from the left wing failed and its discovery, the dark haze enveloped the Goblin King and disappeared again.
“What a crafty monster.” In short, it was as if the monster was trained as an assassin and predicted his reaction. The blind man reluctantly curled his tongue as a red line drew itself across his cheek as blood seeped from within.
‘I dodged it too late.’ Instead of panicking at this realization, he could have been dead if he had been even a tiny bit later. Izel kept himself cool-headed, realizing there was no use for panic. After all, that would only cause irrational decisions and an inability to think things through.
“Come to think of it…” He mused. One of the things Izel learned from listening to Hunter news, monster outbreaks, and successful raid articles from the most experienced hunters was that monsters had mana ‘fragments’.
Low-tier boss monsters like the Goblin King couldn’t completely hide it within their bodies due to their passive mana-gathering innate abilities.
Knowing this, a sneer spread across his lips as his expression grew cold. Presumably, he was now well aware of its weakness and also ‘how to attack it’. ‘I would just have to break that fragment as soon as it showed itself.’ He confidently concluded, taking a deep breath to relax the tension and nervousness within him while trying to grasp even the tiniest responses and sounds of the gray giant.
‘Found it.’ A glimpse of light shone forth from behind Izel as the surging wave of mana bounced back after sticking to the fragment bulging from its body, identifying its location. At that moment, the blind man released his calves and threw himself up, stylishly backflipping with precision over the impending axe from the darkness.
“I could sense it now,” In other words, its stir, its mana signature, its frequencies, heartbeat, breathing pattern, blood pressure, and other body languages.
With its axe stuck in the wall, the Goblin King thrust in quick succession an unexpectedly hefty punch from the darkness towards him. Of course, it was discernible since [Flawlation] had no blindspots, but Izel’s reaction speed itself was on the slow side.
“Argh!” His mouth widened, and blood spatter from the impact caused his body to go impassive as he was sent flying into the darkness. Of course, if he hadn’t twisted his body at the last second, mitigating the impact and preserving vital organs, he would have died.
Despite the throbbing pain, Izel was filled with diverse thoughts. He wasn’t certain he could get close to it; even if he were able to get close by chance, how would he damage the fragment with his sword?
‘How much strength should I exert to deal with that damage?’ Of course, since his strength had risen past that of an F-rank walker, his weapon wasn’t durable enough to apply all of his strength here. Hell, those thoughts were palpable, as there was a possibility that the sword wouldn’t be able to leave a scratch on it.
Izel doubted while many ideas rushed in and out of his mind, akin to a roll of film steering through a recorder. Meanwhile, he focused on his surroundings, trying to find where the Goblin King would appear again.
If the sword wasn’t able to damage the core, he needed to at least attempt the only possibility he thought might work. He needed to react faster since this monster was smarter at utilizing its surroundings to its advantage.
His 360-degree X-ray-like visual expanded in every direction amid the swarming darkness.
‘Would I be able to react quickly enough to dodge its attacks?’ He wondered. ‘Who knew how many it would attempt this time?’ Izel shouldn’t ponder like that, he thought, but his trembling arms and troubled breathing made it difficult to think, let alone fight. Despite much contemplation, he couldn’t find a way out of the desperate situation.
“Above!” he realized, detecting the goblin king and feeling a faint ripple of the grey boss monster. His heart shrank; he felt like spewing profanity, yet his determination to get stronger jolted him awake. With strangely strong mental fortitude, he dodged the swinging magical axe.
The axe shuddered, creating a deep crater on the ground. Seemingly seeing an opening, the enemy threw a surprise attack, but Izel, anticipating the move, reacted swiftly.
“Same pattern, King!” he analyzed aloud. The blind man contorted his body, murmuring, “… Not going to work on me twice!” He bent his knees, avoiding the sharp magical swing, then sprang toward the monster’s base.
“HOBBIT…! STAY STILL!!”
However, the Goblin King’s hefty hand swiped the weapon down, descending upon him again.
Now, the mana coating was denser, capable of tearing him to shreds instantly. “It seemed you were getting serious,” Izel nervously realized the drastic change in its body language and breathing pattern.
The deadly axe approached close to his head. Feeling the air, he decided firmly at the last second, lowering his body as mana imbued his legs. The erratic mana power tore his ankles and calves apart, causing intense pain as he dashed past the axe’s blade.
The king’s attack struck the ground, exploding through Izel’s ruptured eardrums. Focused on combat, the blind man thrust his sword into both of its feet, causing agonizing screams and unbalancing the king.
“Don’t be a coward facing me from high up; come down to my level!” Izel yelled, blood splattering as he struck the king rapidly