Soulmancer – Chapter 48: Entertainment Section III

The sturdy, middle-aged hunter looked cautious at first glance. His name was Mattis Dean Karl, the Head Hunter of the [Entertainment Section’s Metropolitan Border Hunter Agency]. He appeared directly in front of the [Red Heaven Tower].

Even in the presence of a Hunter of SS+ rank, Izel remained composed. Few could adeptly conceal the telltale signs of emotional turmoil evident through various cues: eyes, speech, breathing pattern, posture, aura, scent, and most notably, mana. Thus, whenever Mattis Dean Karl encountered individuals – be they Hunters, Merchants, Acolytes, Hidden Hunters, or even Superior Beings and monsters he ever encountered in Labyrinth – he meticulously analyzed these traits. ‘Umm,’ He briefly mused as soon as he began reading the teen before him, he felt his many years of belief shake.

The teen’s characteristics were completely unperturbed. It wasn’t a matter of him revealing or hiding his emotions; it seemed that his emotions were deleted altogether. ‘Could this kid even be considered human?’ he pondered inwardly. Even a monster from a labyrinth wouldn’t wouldn’t be like that. No, he had seen those characteristics on a monster once before. It was… the Gatekeeper.

A shadowy humanoid, wielding a humorous axe brimming with a rivulet of thousand chirps of birds on its shoulder, was the entity he met in an S-rank subterranean labyrinth in the [Zenie Section] when he was commissioned to deal with some Acolyte bastards led by a Hidden Hunter attempting to plunder the loots from Greenhorns. Not only did he not know that it was a double Labyrinth after his team rescued the Greenhorns, but they also lost the loot—at least the hunters were alive. But the real problem was the terrifying-looking humanoid with a symbiote-like maw, slightly taller than 3.5 meters, surging with mana as though searing with crimson-like flame. It was enough to single-handedly fight equally with him, almost overwhelming him when he landed a hit. Indeed, it materialized an eerie, opaque knight-like armor, healing up completely. It was enough to confuse and suffocate any hunter’s mind. Even Mattis Dean Karl only managed to defeat it with his [Job-related trait]. Yet, even that was extremely difficult.

And this teen’s lack of body characteristics whatsoever reminded him of that entity. He felt the spine of his back get cold. He didn’t know how many skill or job-related traits the teen, seemingly not above 20, actually had, but a person with such blank characteristics couldn’t be ordinary. Could it perhaps be a High-Hunter pretending to be a B-rank Hunter just at the 1999th position in the Continental rank? No, Mattis Dean Karl contradicted his ‘own’ thoughts. If it were true, why hadn’t he, somehow, heard rumors about such a young genius or prodigy in the First District? After all, all Guilds, Superior Beings, the Bureau, and even ‘The Freelancer Organization’ would attempt to grab such a one-in-a-million-years genius for themselves with an enticing contract. But since that wasn’t the case, he doubted.

But… Only then did he understand the words of his Border Hunters who had run away with their tails between their legs from Red Heaven Tower.

“He was a strange kid, with a strength of perhaps over 50. No, we couldn’t even lift him.”

“Right. He also used a strange attack that would make one lose their memory permanently. Look at Ben; he couldn’t remember he broke his virginity in the Red Heaven Tower.”

“Not only that, he used a bizarre mage-type Flame attack! He just swung his hand, and then suddenly I couldn’t breathe! If… If not for Miss Jane’s healing, he wouldn’t have died from such agonizing pain.”

“Despite being blind, he walked, ate, and had sex like a full human does. And when he opened his unfocused golden eyes… I-I c-can’t explain it in words, b-but it was really scary. I-It was like s-staring at a bottomless pit of hell—enough to make anyone o-overwhelmed.”

As he had eyes like that, why was he closing them? Mattis Dean Karl was quite confused, but the answer soon tickled his mind. As an intelligent man, he knew it was a way a blind teen would focus on his other senses rather than the eyes he couldn’t see through. In any case, the reaction of his fellow Border Hunters was fitting. He too was unable to contain his reluctance toward the teen.

However, Mattis Dean Karl, the Head of the Border Hunter of the Entertainment section’s Metropolitan Border Hunter Agency stationed in the Entertainment Section, stepped forward. But when he saw with his eyes, he unconsciously stepped back, his face, which had been held high, falling to the height of the teen, and he swallowed dry spit in the relentless rain. Some might call him—who regulates and manages the strict security of the Entertainment section against any dangers—stupid or weak, but in Eliluam, particularly the First District, protecting one’s life was the most important thing. After all, when one’s still alive, one could recover whatever was lost in any way possible.

However, as a Hunter who came from the grass to grace, he knew full well that a person whose face has fallen beyond a level would be ridiculed by the people, media, other Hunters, and even one’s relatives, loved ones, and friends, making it impossible to recover. Mattis Dean Karl, well aware of Eliluam’s physiology, had no choice but to hesitate to step back. He said as he approached the blind teen, “My name is Mattis Dean Karl. I’m the Head Border Hunter of the Entertainment Section’s Metropolitan Border Hunter Agency. What is your name?”

“Izel Ethalt Blind!” The teen replied. There was no use hiding his real name; his details were already scanned before he entered the Section.

“Izel Ethalt Blind? Huh?” The Head Hunter repeated. He already knew that, but what he was most curious about was, “Where are you from?”

“Why do I have to tell you?” It was a polite yet awkwardly rude response. At Izel’s words, Mattis Dean Karl’s expression hardened.

“It seems our young friend here sure is short-tempered. Could it be that you’re not taught to be polite by your parents?”

“That’s right! My parents never taught me any of those manners,” he replied calmly. Eerie purplish lightning flashed, accompanied by resonating thunder amid the downpour that showed no sign of stopping. Of course, Izel was never taught what seemed to be manners. No, it was more like, when his parents left him, he was too little to know such meanings. All he learned in all his years on Eliluam was how to effectively show respect when necessary, not politeness when dealing with Hunters—most of whom were trying to look down on him.

“Where are your parents? I’ll have to meet them and ask them,” the Head Hunter continued his questioning.

“Gone.” It was a vague answer. Izel didn’t even know which response was befitting of the question.

“What?” Mattis Dean Karl remarked.

“They left a long time ago. I haven’t seen them ever since,” he calmly replied. There was no tremble in his lips or body language; he was quite casual in speaking of it.

“What—?” At the teen’s answer, the Head Hunter felt speechless.

“I did look for them, but what and where can a blind kid search for his parents in a cruel and chaotic world all by himself? So, if you have anything to say, you can go ahead and ask me.”

Izel approached Mattis Dean Karl. For a moment, the head hunter felt that the teen’s movements were different from those of Hunters of B-rank. It was clear that he saw him move. Even his senses alerted him that the latter’s boots did move between the water-soaked paved road, but there was hardly any sound. It was as though a reaper was the one that approached him. It was at this point that Mattis Dean Karl realized that Izel must have been a greater Hunter just like he previously thought.

‘This—!’ He briefly mused as the lightning flashed, the disappointment etched across his face covered by the bamboo hat. But, unlike him, the fellow Border Hunters didn’t understand the atmosphere…

“That damned bastard dares to tell the boss this scrap—”

“He’s being so disrespectful, I can’t take it anymore.”

“—Right, I feel so irritated, looking at this dumbfuck!”

… and burst in anger. The image of Izel appearing in such a disrespectful way to their boss, whom they gazed up to akin to the skies, made the veins in their foreheads pop, leaving Mattis Dean to cry out desperately in his heart, ‘You bastards! That’s not it!’ He wanted to get out of here. However, if his subordinates escalate the problem to such a greater extent, it might be impossible for them to back down.

“Damn it! You brat, be polite to your elders—”

“Bow your head at least, fucker—”

“—Tsk, kids these days, need to be taught a lesson before they get it!”

Before Mattis Dean Karl could turn and talk some sense to his fellow Border Hunter subordinates, three men sprang out and attacked Izel. They were triplets with slightly different bodies but the same face. In the Entertainment and Ether Sections, they were famous for their alias of ‘Three Heads Tiger’—this alias was derived from their shared vision with a specific range forming a 180-degree supervision—trapping and confusing enemies until they were hunted. These three sturdy Border Hunters, with white armors made from the prestigious company ‘Dunaleff,’ usually thought of Mattis Dean Karl as the skies—their mentor and master—so, when they thought that he was being insulted by a blind kid, whom they had never heard of before, their anger soared to the top of their heads.

“Oh, no…” Mattis Dean Karl couldn’t help but murmur to himself as he tried to stop them belatedly, but their attack was already on the verge of stacking up on Izel.

At that moment, Izel swept his surroundings with ‘echolocation,’ ensuring no bystanders, Hookers, or Joytoys loitered in the vicinity—presumably due to the Head Hunter had ordered the establishments’ closure until matters were settled, though Izel couldn’t be certain; It was all good, though; Izel’s focus shifted to his [Sound Reading], detecting sound ripples and mana amidst the chaotic weather. As three triplets approached, each with distinct attacks converging on him at three points, seemingly they shared a peculiar synchronization. Although merely speculation, he lacked the means to confirm it, opting instead since it’s better to end it quickly than wasting any more time. Coating his [Cloud boots] with mana, he prepared to confront them head-on…

[Cloud Boots had been detected.]

[Special Condition had been met.]

[Agility had solely been added to Movement Speed.]

“…!”

“…!”

… disappeared from his position in a split second as though trying to escape their shared vision. Yet, the relentless triplets persisted, launching themselves at Izel. When one of the triplets caught sight of the teen’s position, his blade glinted in the lightning flashes as it sliced through the rain. Izel’s instincts kicked in, and he vanished once more.

The gaze of the other triplet swiftly shifted to where the blind teen was likely to reappear. The remaining two moved in tandem, their blades cutting through the moist air, sending blasts of wind as Izel, with a swift step, narrowly evaded their deadly strikes.

Again and again, the blades sliced through empty moist air, undeterred by the absence of their target. As S-rank Hunters, their movements were fluid, menacing, and coordinated, driven by their [job-related traits.

Another swing followed, the crackling energy of their combined magical attack leaving a perfectly connected, zigzagging trail in the air, bisecting raindrops as it missed its mark. Izel’s heart raced as he couldn’t help but feel astonished by their [Job-related trait], he lacked, thought about finishing the quick spar.

His mana-pulsing calves tensed as he vanished just before their successive blows could connect. And just like that, he disappeared completely, leaving the triplets momentarily bewildered, unable to sense or foresee his next move.

[Movement speed has increased by 50%.]

Only a fraction of the Cardigan Cloak activates, causing it to shimmer faintly, while the boots emit a subtle whitish-blue glow—bright, yet not overwhelmingly luminous. His left fist clenched tightly, and embers ignited in his other hand…

[‘Hellflame (?)’ has been activated.]

“Fucking come out, you disrespectful punk!”

“Right, hiding like a rat won’t make us forgive you!”

“No matter where you hide, we can see you!”

Amid the torrential downpour, the triplets descended into chaos as their shared visions played tricks on them, leaving the only feeling of impending agonizing pain with each eerie lightning strike.

“Argh!”

“Kuk!”

“H-hoek, D-damn it!”

It had happened in a minute to the triplets, but to the Head Hunter observing, it had happened in a flash as the three screamed and trembled on the water-drenched ground in extreme pain, veins bulging all over their bodies. The pain felt like tens of thousands of ants crawling along their veins and biting them internally, driving them crazy.

“S-stop!”

“S-Spare us!”

“R-Right, F-Forgive us!”

The three brothers begged with foam in their mouths, thinking that as a reaper he would ‘definitely’ take their lives. However, there was no change in Izel’s expression as he looked at them. He was thinking about other things, alongside never taking therapy sessions for more hours than usual. That pleasure, yet good shit, cost more. And—.

‘[Grandmaster of mana] does nice wonders more than expected.’

Since acquiring that skill from the ‘Moderator’ in the Magical train, his mana and inferno—purplish-black energy—that usually leaked out of him like a deflating balloon as soon as he unleashed the power of HellFlame had decreased in consumption considerably. Though it might be exorbitant if utilized excessively, the last time he used the principle of [Mana Coating] with Hellflame, it demanded only half of all his ‘inferno’ and a quarter of his mana just to morph it around his palm. Of course, he hadn’t tried whether the conditions remained the same if he morphed it into a manageable orb-like hellflame yet, but he would have to try that later.

Letting out a rueful sigh, Izel briefly pondered, “My skill utility has improved once more.” It was quite unexpected that the Grandmaster of Mana would now balance, control, and rule over his mana usage, management, and control even before its proficiency grew. Despite this progress, he couldn’t help but wonder how much more beneficial it would be with just a 1% increase. Although he still needed extensive training to master it perfectly, with its stabilization improving, more practice was necessary to become accustomed to it.

He thought that even as he tried his absolute best, the destructive power only caused agonizing pain to the three Hunters but wouldn’t result in death. This feat was accomplished solely by his confidence, gentle heart, and also 2% proficiency in [Hellflame]. With pride, Izel walked up to the triplets as the relentless downpour drenched their armor.

Their agonizing cries pervaded the rain. While the triplets couldn’t see or sense the foreign energy, they felt the [Hellflame] flowing through their veins. Only Izel could feel and sense how it crawled across their every blood vessel. It might not be agonizing like the heterochromatic aura of the Shortsword, but it could stiffen the veins in their muscles, thus disabling them from swinging swords and blades.

“This… High Hunter—!”

Mattis Dean Karl shouted in surprise at the display of analysis that Izel had put so much effort into. Exploring the weakness of the triplets, it seemed like a veteran who had gone through countless cruel trials. The tactics, speed, and senses to back it up were akin to those of a High-Hunter in his eyes. It was the same for the other Border Hunters. Even if they knew, they couldn’t figure it out, and at their rank, no matter what they did, they couldn’t understand the reality the blind teen just showed them.

“Kekkeuk—!”

“Garrghhh—!”

“Krghhhh—!”

The three brothers were on the verge of dying. Still, neither Mattis Dean Karl nor the other Border Hunters of the [Entertainment Section] dared to attack Izel. But his presence was overwhelming. It wasn’t because he did any remarkable skill beyond speed, tactics, coating his fists with mysterious mage-type flame, or using overwhelming violence; he just performed a simple reality of figuring out their weakness and defeating them blatantly. But they instinctively felt that this unknown blind teen in front of them was something different. The fact that there was something primal in him that made people doubt their ‘own’ strength, thus making those who had a shaking mind become fearful of that reality.

‘I’ll be… devoured.’

Mattis Dean Karl once again recalled the Gatekeeper he had faced in the S-rank subterranean labyrinth in [Zenie Section]. Although he was the best Hunter among the Border Hunters stationed in this Section, he was nothing more than a Sectional leader. Even the Border Hunters in [Ether Section] and [Numbers Section] didn’t even consider him a proper needle in a haystack because he wasn’t in the High-Hunter rank yet. He forgot his pride and bowed his head slightly and changed his tone in a way not to still lose too much face, and prevent any rumors from spreading.

“Young master! Forgive me, it was I who was too ignorant to see your greatness. Please let those fools go!”

Mattis Dean Karl used to live with pride. Life used to be more important after saving face, but right now, trying to save a considerable amount of face with sweet words and a polite tone is better than his head flying. He felt a deep tickling in his soul that he mustn’t attack this teen. It might not be the first feeling of death in his life, but this one was skin-crawling. Indeed, his senses were going numb with cold sweat running down his back. It doesn’t matter if he’s alone, but if he makes a mistake, not only will he lose his life, but forget saving face. As a relentless downpour tickled down his bamboo hat and long white cloak, he sighed.

Unbeknownst to the head Hunter, Izel would ‘definitely’ not kill him; in truth, he was in a hurry. His accumulated Trauma might have been reduced to 10%, but not gone completely. And the Runic stone he used to return to Eliluam has been vibrating slightly in his pocket since early, seemingly to remind him—half of Seven days is already gone—so, Izel turned to look at Mattis Dean Karl. He changed his attitude from earlier, and his tone is now polite, yet it also feels that this Head-hunter had the wrong thought about him. But, with the lightning occasionally flashing, he had no intention to change such thoughts about him.

As steps splashing droplets approached Izel, its familiar ripples throbbed in his Sound Reading, indicating a middle-aged woman—seemingly Sirin Milia, the owner of the Red Heaven Tower. Shielded by a flowered embellishment umbrella, she bowed her head slightly as Izel turned to her. She handed him something.

“Jane Austen packed a few things for you to eat on the way. You’ll be able to fill up your stomach when you go out,” she said, slightly flustered, turning her face in embarrassment as rain pitter-pattered down her umbrella. She couldn’t believe it when Jane cunningly sent her on this embarrassing errand. ‘Tsk.’ Bringing out the very compact container of food and soda, Izel noticed that Sirin Milia was quite wise. She didn’t ask Izel to forgive her or them, or just leave; rather, she just gave him the utmost care she could—though, it was also Jane’s opinion—and that alone greatly eased the harsh chaotic atmosphere. Her experience of working in the Entertainment Industry for a long time served as a buffer between Izel and Mattis Dean Karl.

‘Quite astounding…’

The act of changing the atmosphere in an instant was never easy, particularly for a person with inadequate human relationships like the blind teen. He couldn’t emulate the act. Izel smiled and retracted the [Hellflame] in those triplets. Immediately after, their agonizing pain stopped as they breathed heavily, rain pitter-pattered down their faces, soaking their already-drenched hair. Their faces were full of fear and embarrassment as they closed their eyes, unable to even look at Izel.

Having confirmed the new use of [Hellflame], there was no longer any use for them to be tortured when they had surrendered. Izel silently accepted the package from Sirin Milia. It seemed that it was not just food that was packed since the weight was heavy; still, he appreciated it with a “Thank you.”

The cold, embarrassment, and fluster were too much for the owner of the [Red Heaven Tower]. She could only nod blankly. Izel stepped forward toward the Head Hunter with austere words, “Please, don’t be polite; take care of the [Entertainment Section].”

“Y-yes, s-sir!” Mattis Dean Karl was shaking slightly as sweat trickled down his body even in the rain and could barely answer. “I-I will do my best.” He didn’t dare to stop Izel to ask him what he meant by that.

Izel passed through the crowds and exited the Entertainment Section toward the Ether Section, but not before. He leaped into buildings around skyscrapers, making his appearance disappear amid the chaotic weather.

With that over, Jane Austen, who was observing from a particular window, was looking forward to the next meeting, while Mattis Dean Karl, Sirin Milia, and other Border Hunters breathed a sigh of relief.

“Phew—!”

“Haa…—”

In that brief encounter, they met the blind teen who, formerly a weakling, couldn’t grab their attention. Now, they experienced the reality of a reaper away from Hell. It was the first time they realized that a once weakling could ‘actually’ become strong, making the people around him seem so scary.

Sirin Milia came to Mattis Dean Karl’s side. “Ahem… Sir Mattis, are you okay?”

“Yes… is that ‘really’ the blind teen who visited the Entertainment section up until 47 days ago?”

“Yes, even I am caught in the loop of surprises,” she said, removing the part that felt quite coquettish from just his scent alone. His golden gaze was that of rich honey she wanted to lick all day. Indeed, her lover was never meant to know this.

“I wonder what he went through in those days for him to feel so overwhelming, even to an S+ Hunter like me.”

Sirin Milia gazed up at the Red Heaven Tower, fixating on a certain window where Jane Austen, the person who spent the longest time with the blind teen, might know the answer to the question. Of course, she did have the answer, as Jane smiled briefly before shaking her head to indicate she couldn’t divulge a patient’s details.

“Haa… Looks like the storm has passed. What a mess,” Mattis Dean Karl shook his head. In that brief moment, his face looked much older. Sirin Milia understood what he meant. It was because she was also nervous while Izel was staying at the Red Heaven Tower. Even now, both her mind and body were a mess. Fortunately, things went well. Amidst the flashes of lightning and rumble of thunder that shook the earth beneath, she comforted the Head Hunter, “You did well, Sir. Your quick and good judgment saved the Entertainment Section’s Metropolitan Border Hunter Agency.”

“I think it’s time to get stronger. I saw the reaper in front of me and didn’t recognize it,” he replied.

“Ohh, that was unexpected.”

“That’s so comforting to hear,” he faintly smiled even at that response. A Greenhorn made his blood boil to train to get stronger. He turned his head toward the way the teen disappeared, “Where do you think his next destination is?”

“How would I know that? But I think I know one thing though,” in her mind, Sirin Milia reflected on the reality the teen had showcased: making simple abilities and stats seem mysterious with a veteran fighting style.

“What is that?” The Head Hunter asked, his curiosity piqued.

“That a terrifying entity has appeared in the First District,” Sirin declared.

“Huuu… I feel the same way. Where and how was such a blind teen, not even twenty years old, this strong? Sooner or later, The First District will be turned upside down,” Mattis Dean Karl hypothesized.

“Will you inform the other Sections’ Metropolitan Border Hunter Agency Head-Hunters?” Sirin remarked.

“Why would I tell them?”

“They’re the Border Hunters that regulate the security of a Section—”

Sirin Milia was interrupted by the Head Hunter as he spoke.

“Will they even listen to an S+ rank Hunter? They’ll just ridicule us, saying it’s mere nonsense from an S+-ranked Metropolitan Border Hunter Agency. One humiliation is enough.”

Mattis Dean Karl shook his head and gazed up at the billions of needle-like rain piercing down from the gloomy skies with sparks of eerie lightning while feeling the rumble of thunder underneath his feet. He added, “They have to experience it themselves to learn a lesson.”

— — — — —

After leaving the Entertainment Section, he strolled eastward toward [Zenie Section], a hub interconnected with various other sections. While [Velk Section] boasted renowned Hunters within the 2,000th rank of the ‘Eliluam Continental Ranks’, [Zenie Section] stood as the nucleus of numerous companies, esteemed factories, and the lurking labyrinths of criminals.

Izel’s true destination was the [Dirty Jobs Audition bar] in [Zenie Section], precisely where Jenna had suggested he embark on his [Dirty Job] journey and raid some [subterranean labyrinths]. Though four days had elapsed since his stint in the Runic Stone, there were loose ends to tie up, and Izel needed to ascend the Continental ranks, even if only by a few notches.

He contemplated returning to the Fortress of Dungeons. After all, according to the chatter within the fortress following the E-rank Dungeon raid…

Anonymous 4362: Right! They could get stronger and go back to the real world to fight.

Anonymous 3567: But why hasn’t anyone returned? Even I thought it was a lie when I hadn’t heard of some returning.

Anonymous 4783: Hmm, because only the higher-ranking Walkers could get the chance to go back. Big guilds would find them first and recruit them, shutting off any news of them getting out.

…Since both the Bureau and the Acolytes failed to recruit him, he was the lone Walker freely wandering the First District. No one else knew anything post-Fortress of Dungeons unless other Walkers started appearing like fireflies. And since rumors spread among the media like wildfire, everyone would soon put two and two together. But since that hadn’t happened, he was just a free-spirited teen, akin to the chilly wind billowing and fluttering in his path. If he stayed still and enjoyed himself, the new Walkers might soon swarm out like bees, overcrowding the continental ranks with newly recruited and veteran walkers, potentially causing his ‘own’ rank to drop rapidly, hindering his advancement.

He might just be a B-rank Hunter ranked 1999th in the Continental Ranks, but he was well aware that if he didn’t shake off such a rank and continued to mope, he wouldn’t be able to take even a single step toward his goals. But he wasn’t the kind of person who stuck to one rank. It might be slow, but from the moment he was invited into the Fortress of Dungeons and forcibly turned into a Walker, even though it was by his own volition for choosing ‘Extreme’ difficulty, he never forgot the sufferings he went through, not even for a single day.

Although his accumulated trauma, depression, burdens, and grievances had been alleviated to 10%, he knew them quite well. The root cause, the Fortress of Dungeons, was more than what it ‘actually’ was. Even after an SS rank raid when the Fortress of Dungeons would permit Walkers to permanently leave the Fortress, Izel wouldn’t leave it alone. He would continue to take advantage of it to reach his goals.

Jane Austen might have seen the alternate World as part of the trauma, but others didn’t know that such a cruel and bloody world existed. Since the Entertainment Section was just a lively place with no proper information coming in except Merchants and Hunters’ news one could read from one’s kits. In any case, Izel headed toward a slum amid the downpour. He might be in a hurry, but he never walked like he was in one. He wanted to feel the world as usual. So he walked slowly as much as possible, fully taking in the scenery around him through [Sound Reading].

Emerging from the slum and walking alone in the relentless weather, he entered the main square of [Zenie Section], where a large screen displayed the news. Numerous people, donning bamboo hats, hoodies, different armors, and umbrellas, gathered around, watching intently.

Unable to see the flashing screen that pierced through the partially misty atmosphere, Izel paid attention to his ears as he walked past the crowd. The half-elf reflecting on the large screen was a male reporter, wearing a raincoat, standing next to a missing banner on a ship deck.

[Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, these are the banners of the missing people, ranging from different ages—15 to 48 years old—that had vanished from a few months ago to a few years ago. They have never been found, ] the reporter announced. [According to the [Bureau] and renowned Guilds, quite a considerable number of both civilians and Hunters, estimated to be a quarter of the population of the [First District], other censors of other Districts are still unknown. But messages of comfort and confidence from the Head Chairman of [Bureau] and other renowned Guilds assure us that they will be trying their best to find them and return them to their loved ones as soon as they are found.]

Izel lifted his brows and stopped. So… the [Bureau] refuses to relay to the public the reason for their disappearance to their relatives, huh? ‘Tch,’ He couldn’t help but click his tongue at their cover-up stories as he paid more attention to the screen.

[Cascade Guild and Dragon Fang Guild have responded to our questions—we originally weren’t allowed to disclose the details, but as reporters of the people and for the people, we have the right,] the male-elf reporter continued. [In some of the questions answered, responses stood out amid them—it was an alternate world called Fortress of Dungeons.]

[According to two renowned Guilds that happened to reply…] The male-elf reporter continued, [This mysterious niche only invites individuals it deems worthy, giving them a choice of difficulties to choose voluntarily. And immediately the individuals did, they instantly disappeared. Of course, any further questions were ignored.]

Right after he said that the relentless rain intensified as the crowds began murmuring among themselves.

“Is that ‘really’ true—?”

“Do you think it might be a fib?”

“I don’t expect the renowned Guilds of the [First District] to lie about such things that concern the citizens—!”

“Why didn’t [Bureau] answer the questions—?”

“Maybe, because they don’t know—?”

Murmurs with hints of doubts pervaded the air from the crowd; they couldn’t believe an alternate world akin to Fortress ‘actually’ existed.

“If it’s true, then where did those missing people ‘actually’ go—?”

Within the crowd, some began to put two and two together, thus figuring it out.

“Hiiik! Could it be that they are facing some difficult trials according to the choices they make—?”

“That’s scary! I’m glad I wasn’t invited—”

“Can you guys please shut up? No one knows yet whether all this is true. My husband will return—”

“Right, my uncle will come back alive—!”

“I trust the [Bureau] and the [Guilds] to do their work, Tch—!”

Amid the crowd, some people didn’t like the commotion, seemingly disliking the scary negativity.

As though not caring about their intention, the news on the large screen continued until the two demon hosts wrapped up the news, [If any more news needs to be relayed to the citizens, we will update you all as soon as we know what happens. After this, we return to our regular news.]

On the square, neon street lights flashed vibrant and lively despite the gloomy weather. Everyone was chatting loudly among themselves. The news had also changed to the next piece that was trending on the internet and even on Kits.

Fortress of Dungeons

36 minutes ago | Trending

Choices of Difficulty

7 minutes ago | Trending

Alternative World

1 minute ago | Report

Missing individuals

54 seconds ago | Trending

…..

Izel hastened his steps, swiftly departing the Square. Events were unfolding faster than expected, yet still within his anticipation. After walking for a while, his stomach grumbled with hunger. He settled in a suitable spot, unpacking his luggage. From it emerged a rectangular plastic container of food, prepared by Jane Austen. Inside lay rice and simple side dishes, but something else caught his attention.

A slip of directions to her suggested Dirty Jobs Audition bar appeared in Braille, ensuring Izel could understand without straining his brain. It seemed Jane was, as usual, looking out for him. Since the day she mysteriously found and fought for him in that alley, she had been the one to understand and care for him physically, mentally, and emotionally. Izel lingered over the slip for a moment, fully comprehending the directions to the [Dirty Jobs Audition bar], before tucking it into his cloak. Then, placing the container of food on his lap, he began to eat.

He knew that as long as Jane Austen was the one, who cooked the meals, the food would be delicious. Even the simple fare at Red Heaven Tower held a rich flavor. Thanks to this, Izel enjoyed a pleasant, traditional meal. Filtering out the rain’s cacophony, his tranquil mind focused on relishing each bite. As he indulged, he rediscovered his humanity. Surviving the First tutorial Raid had left him feeling like a maniac, but he refused to regress into that state. Though the E-rank Dungeons had clarified his goals, the weight on his shoulders remained heavy, burdening his mind. Yet, he was determined not to succumb to despair.

Before he could finish his thought, the stew’s soft texture and the rice’s firmness danced on his taste buds, reminding him of his vitality. Euphoria washed over him as he savored each mouthful.

Then, a fresh wind stirred, unfamiliar yet strangely familiar. Izel paused, sensing its nuances—the ripples, frequencies, and direction. A wealth of information lay within its gentle gust.

“It’s going to stop raining soon,” he murmured.

The wind, unlike the others, bore warmth and dryness, signaling an end to the relentless downpour that had persisted for days.

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