One of the dead Hunters today happened to be Mister Park, a personal friend to Mister Kim.
Exploring the dual dungeon was decided with the vote involving everyone, but Kim had already erased that memory off his head after losing much of his reasoning.
Mister Song spoke to Kim.
“I’d like to walk on my own volition, so can you put the sword away?”
Of course, Kim refused right away.
“How can I trust you, old man? Stop wasting time and start moving already.”
Song sighed softly under his breath and walked towards the altar. Kim pointed his sword at the older man’s back and followed on afterwards.
Jin-Woo bit his lower lip while watching the two men walk away.
‘This isn’t the fault of Mister Song.’
More than half of the group agreed to do it together. Just because things had gone south, blaming Song for everything was simply too cowardly, he thought.
Jin-Woo unfortunately did not possess enough strength to stop Kim here.
Kim, thought to be one of the best among the rank D, and Seong Jin-Woo, easily the worst of the rank E. The difference in their strengths was all too clear for him to see. Not only that, Jin-Woo had even lost a leg.
If he tried to confront Kim as he was now, there was a chance that him and even Ju-Hui, who had been focusing solely on healing him, could meet with disaster.
Jin-Woo squeezed his eyes shut. He never hated his own powerlessness as much as he did today.
In the meantime, Song had stepped up on the raised altar.
Suddenly, a red flame lit up near the outer perimeter of the altar as soon as he did. Everyone nervously swallowed their saliva and observed the unfolding situation carefully.
However, nothing else happened. Just a single flame came to life, and that was it.
They waited for a while but there was no visible change at all. Not only Kim, but everyone else got flustered by this situation.
Kim quickly turned his head and spoke to Jin-Woo.
“Look here, Mister Seong. This wasn’t it?”
Jin-Woo also shook his head.
He too thought that once a person chosen as the sacrifice stepped up on the altar, the third law of ‘prove one’s piety’ would be completed.
‘It’s not about offering up a sacrifice?’
If so, then it was not necessarily bad news. If the law was not about sacrifices, then it meant Mister Song could still saved.
Jin-Woo’s expression brightened somewhat.
He sweated bucket-loads as he tried to stand up, and two Hunters nearby quickly lent their assistance.
“Please take me closer to the altar so I can study it.”
“Mister Jin-Woo, your injuries are….”
Ju-Hui also got up from her spot to follow after Jin-Woo. Her complexion was rather pale after expending too much of her magical energy.
But because she had worked so hard, Jin-Woo’s blood loss had been temporarily halted and the pain he felt was reduced to a barely noticeable degree.
‘I gotta hurry up.’
The current condition of Ju-Hui, Kim’s boiling rage, Song’s injuries, and the frightened Hunters – he didn’t have a lot of time here.
Jin-Woo eventually arrived at the altar with the help from other Hunters.
“Let’s climb up on the altar.”
The two Hunters flinched from his statement, but they trusted Jin-Woo and stepped up. Then, three more flames lit up. Right away, Jin-Woo’s eyes gleamed brightly.
‘It’s the same number as the people on the altar.’
Mister Song and Jin-Woo, plus two others who helped the youth – indeed, the flames lit up to match the number of people standing on the altar.
And it kind of looked like that these four flames were drawing a circle outside the altar.
‘If I take into consideration the space between the flames, two more will complete the circle.’
It seemed that all the remaining people had to climb up on the altar for something, anything, to get started. Jin-Woo turned his head to ask Song.
“If we wait here, do you think other Hunters will come to rescue us?”
Song shook his head.
“Today is the seventh day since the Gate showed up. These things will start moving first before the help arrives.”
“Because it’s a Gate ranked D, I see that it’s been left alone for far too long.”
“Well, that’s how the Association operates, isn’t it.”
A Gate would open up fully after the seventh day. The real meaning of a raid was to kill the dungeon’s boss monster and therefore close the Gate before that happened. When failing to do so, the monsters trapped in the dungeons would be set free from the dungeon and they would be able to roam the outside world.
Jin-Woo looked behind him.
The giant god statue was still looking down on them with an overbearing, arrogant expression from its throne.
‘If that thing manages to go outside, then….’
The ensuing chaos would be unimaginable. Of course, before that happened, Hunters coming to this chamber to rescue them would all be killed by the statues first.
He was now sure of the fact that they could not wait here forever. Jin-Woo called out to Ju-Hui and Kim.
“Both of you, climb up.”
Ju-Hui stepped up on the altar first. The hesitant Kim also followed suit soon afterwards. Two more flames lit up and the circle was now complete.
Hunters were grandly stunned by what happened next.
“What the hell?!”
“What’s going on here?”
As Jin-Woo had suspected, yet another change took place.
From the outer most edge of the altar, small blue flames floated upwards and began drawing a circle of their own as well. There looked to be at least thirty of these blue flames, placed real tightly next to each other.
’34. 35. 36….’
Jin-Woo quickly counted them all as the blue flames completed the circle and he realised that there were 36 of them.
‘The six red flames that lit up to match the number of people. And the 36 blue flames that appeared outside them. What could be the significance behind that number?’
It was then.
Without a warning, the resolutely-shut door suddenly opened up wide. Hunters reflexively flinched.
They all wanted so bad to run towards the wide-open doorway, but having seen the final moments of the choirboy Hunter, they found it hard to take the first step. If one tried to be the first, just who knew what might happen to them?
Everyone’s gaze fixed on Jin-Woo as if to demand an answer from him. However, Jin-Woo’s lips remained tightly shut.
He couldn’t come up with a guess at the moment. He didn’t know whether the open door was a trap, or they were now allowed to go out after they upheld the final law successfully.
Too bad for him, just as everyone was looking at Jin-Woo, a horrifying noise filled up the entire chamber.
The heads of all six Hunters quickly snapped around to look.
“What was that?!”
“It, it’s coming closer!!”
“Those d*mn things are all moving now!!”
Hunters’ breathing quickened in an instant.
The stone statues that had only moved when a person got near were now several steps closer to the group. Jin-Woo only needed a short moment to figure out what happened, of course.
‘No, the statues didn’t move. It’s the plinths below them that moved.’
That horrifying screech from earlier on most likely came from the plinths beneath the statues grating against the stone floor.
“….They are not moving anymore?”
Kim wiped the droplets of sweat on his forehead as he spoke.
While everyone was still staring at the statues, Jin-Woo’s focus was on the blue flames. They had been going out one by one, and three of them had flickered out of existence already.
Hearing that screech, someone cried out.
“Wha-what was that?! Where did it come from?”
Jin-Woo quickly raised his head. The noise had come from his general direction. The stone statues facing him had moved a little bit closer.
‘Why only my side….?’
Was it because he looked at somewhere else briefly?
In order to confirm, Jin-Woo closed his eyes.
The noise resounded out again.
As soon as he opened his eyes, the noise stopped.
“What the f*ck is going on here?!”
“What, what are we supposed to do about this?!”
Jin-Woo quickly shouted at others.
“Don’t take your eyes off the statues, no matter what!”
When he thought about it, he realised that the statues first began moving closer to the group when others were busy looking at him.
‘They creep closer when we are not looking at them.’
It was right then, another blue flame disappeared. However, there was still no discernible change to either the group or the statues.
‘Could it be…?’
Cautiously raising his arm, Jin-Woo did his best not to take his eyes off the statues while checking the time with his wristwatch.
‘As I thought.’
At an interval of one minute, a blue flame was being extinguished.
‘The blue flames are the timer.’
It was quite likely that one of the main points of the third law was to stay within the altar until all 36 blue flames died out.
In other words, as long as everyone was keeping close watch on the statues, they’d be safe. It was quite possible that no one had to die at this final huddle.
Wanting to be more accurate about the remaining time, Jin-Woo began recounting the number of blue flames once more.
‘There are thirty remaining….’
They only needed to endure thirty more minutes!
Unfortunately, Jin-Woo made a huge mistake, just then.
While he was counting the number of blue flames, his eyes wandered away for a brief moment, and that resulted in the statues creeping closer…
The man standing on the opposite side screamed and ran towards the door. He simply couldn’t hold on any longer as the horrifying screeching noise coming from his back frightened him so much.
As soon as he left the altar, one of the red flames disappeared.
Jin-Woo cried out urgently.
However, the man running as if he had gone crazy escaped through the open doorway without meeting a grizzly fate, which took everyone by surprise.
“What, what the hell?! Mister Seong! What’s going on? That guy made it out alive!”
Kim shouted out, flustered.
Jin-Woo was standing with his back to the doorway so he couldn’t really tell what was going on.
“Did something change?”
“The door…. The door has closed just a little.”
“The door’s closing?”
“No, no. After that guy left, the door moved a little bit, but then stopped.”
Jin-Woo then recalled one of the red flames disappearing as soon as that man left the altar.
‘God d*mn it!!’
He immediately felt his heart go cold.
One of the questions that he couldn’t quite figure out until now as he stood on top of this altar finally had an answer.
How could standing on an altar be a proof of one’s piety?
Indeed, he now had the answer to this quandary.
And that answer was probably the worst one for Jin-Woo, who had only one leg now and needed other’s help just to keep his balance.
That ‘open’ doorway was a trap.
A false hope right in front of one’s eyes!
If people saw the open door and climbed off the altar at the same time, the red flames would’ve gone out and the doorway would be closed shut again. And then, the banquet of raining blood and screams would inevitably follow next.
On the other hand, the ‘altar’ was the proverbial promised land.
If each one did what they had to do in their positions until the timer ran out, then their survival would be guaranteed.
So, it was between the false hope right in front of one’s eyes, or the unseen promise of salvation.
The third law was a test to see if one could defend one’s position without falling into the sweet temptation over yonder while constantly being under the encroaching threat of death.
However, two flies in the ointment happened in this situation.
The first one was Jin-Woo.
Originally, the remaining group of people would’ve ran straight for the open door, but they stopped first to listen to what Jin-Woo had to say and that helped them avoid the trap being sprung in the first place.
‘We got lucky there.’
Indeed, that had to be the only explanation.
Such a thing was only possible because Jin-Woo managed to figure out the first two laws all by himself and earned the trust of others.
Unfortunately for him, the second fly also happened – something he didn’t foresee: a deserter had appeared among their midst.
How would human beings react when there was a hope of survival right in front of their eyes? It was way too obvious.
The man helping Jin-Woo up abandoned the youth and bolted as well. Song hurriedly reached out and propped Jin-Woo up from his back.
When that man left the altar, yet another red flame disappeared and as expected, the door closed a little bit more.
Kim dazedly pointed at the second deserter, but just like the first person to abandon them, he too safely escaped past the doorway.
Jin-Woo confirmed the number of remaining red flames and shouted out.
“We must not move! Any more than this, then it’ll be the end!”
< Chapter 6 > Fin