However, You Die (1)
A word that reduced many Hunters to tears.
Conditions for awakening a skill vary from person to person:
- I struck a scarecrow 10,000 times in the training room. Then, it naturally appeared.
- One day, I suddenly heard a voice from God!
- Magic? I was able to use it soon after entering the Tower.
Hunters with good personalities and strong willpower struggled to climb to higher heights because they lacked skills. In contrast, there were Hunters with dog shit personalities living good lives thanks to their skills. The Flame Emperor, who represented Rank 1, was the latter.
If we compared life to a game, wouldn’t the Flame Emperor be playing a game where luck was a skill? He could get anything he wanted with his luck skill.
In contrast… my life was comparable to a typical shitty RNG game.
I grumbled and heaved as I stumbled along who knew where. I’d left the bar after getting shit-wasted, but I couldn’t remember when that was. I entered an alley and more sludge spewed from my mouth. I swayed, my eyes focusing on my vomit: I recognized some of the food I’d eaten before.
“You are unlucky” is what my vomit seemed to be telling me.
“Shit…” I slurred. “If I am supposed to be unlucky, then don’t give me any luck at all. This false hope has killed me.”
When you play a game, when do you feel despair?
Those who have played gacha games on their phones would understand. It is not when you can’t get a single 5-Star unit after multiple pulls—It’s when you get that 5-Star that just happens to be utter garbage. A 5-Star that’s worse than a 3-Star.
Hell, my 5-Star was worse than a 1-Star.
I hurled again but nothing came out except a sob. “Fuck!”
Yeah. My life was truly a shitty RNG game.
Normally after awakening a skill, you had to report it to the Hunter Bureau. But I didn’t report it. Like hell I would. This shit was too depressing. Too embarrassing. Why the hell should I show them such a trash skill? Like, what would I say or how would it go:
- “Hello, Hunter-nim,” they would say. “ How did you awaken your skill?”
- What could I say? “Uh—I was envious of the Rank 1.”
- “Excuse me?” Their faces would distort in confusion.
- So, just to make it all better, I’d expound further. “I thought I would go insane because of my envy and jealousy. Then the Tower tossed me a skill like it was telling me to eat this and get lost.” Here was where I’d flourish my hand as if I was discussing a fine reward I casually got. “It even told me that I’m an ugly person with the greatest envy,” I’d say with a laugh. Haha. Right.
It’s not like I could say that! As if there was any way to tell anyone about this. I alone would laugh and be miserable at my unlucky, shitty life.
So I drank to my heart’s content and ended up wobbling around in a remote alley.
Though, nothing had changed—I was still failing. I couldn’t even wobble properly. Without realizing, I’d staggered into an unknown alley. I couldn’t remember how or when I got here. Where the fuck I was, that was anyone’s guess.
Could I just fall asleep on the floor like this? ‘Ah. This is sad.’ So unlucky. I held back my tears.
A faint scream rose on the night’s air. It came from the other side of the alley.
The pained voice begged, “…please, ugh! Why are you…”
Instantly, my drowsiness disappeared.
That voice was too real to be mistaken as a drunken hallucination. While I could not know who it was, I understood that what was happening was life threatening.
‘What’s going on?’ I wondered, treading silently. Instinctively, I held my breath. One step at a time, I quietly stepped towards the alley where the scream originated.
As I approached, the voices became clearer.
“F-Flame Emperor-nim. Why are you suddenly—” a female voice said.
“—No use. No one is nearby to—” a male voice said.
—This was—the second stupid mistake I made today.
The first mistake—drinking until my mind fuse broke. Throughout my entire life, I never got dead drunk. However, today was an exception. I was extremely furious to find out that my first S-Rank skill was shit, so I ended up drinking makgeolli like water. 
My second mistake—not running away as soon as I heard the scream.
“I’ve poisoned your drinking cup in advance,” the male voice said. I couldn’t figure out why he sounded so familiar.
“P-poison? Flame Emperor-nim, I can’t understand what you are saying.” Even the woman’s voice. She sounded altruistic.
“Hey, your acting is pretty good. If someone else saw you, they would be fooled.”
A dead end.
In the dark alley without any street lights, there was indeed a man and a woman. Perhaps it was weird to describe them as simply being there. The man was threatening the woman and the woman was being threatened.
“Basilisk’s stomach acid,” the man said. “Originally, you would have poisoned my drinking cup with this. Wow. If it wasn’t for my skill, I would have been in deep trouble. Hm? What’s wrong? You look pale, Miss Saintess.”
“Is it the Ten Thousand Poison Immunity (萬毒不侵)…? I-impossible! You shouldn’t have such a skill.”
“Of course not.” The man laughed, the up and down of it echoing softly. “But I have a skill that’s slightly better than the Ten Thousand Poison Immunity.”
Finally, I realized who this man was. No matter how dark the alley was, I could see the man’s back—I couldn’t possibly miss that ponytail. I’d seen him and his feats surround me in my room every single day for the last ten years. And I’d seen him from TV just last night. I’d always wished to be just like him.
‘It is actually the real Flame Emperor!’ I goggled.
The Rank 1 Hunter. The protagonist of this era. An idol who tens of thousands of people looked up to. And because of that, he was the hero who received all the attention and envy… especially my envy.
Additionally, ‘Isn’t she the Saintess!?’
I covered my mouth to hold my breath. The Saintess. A Rank 9 Hunter who was selected by the Bureau. She is rumored to be dating the Flame Emperor. It was her recent behavior that sparked the entire scandal. The greatest beauty, who I’ve only seen from Internet photos and videos, was right there.
“But playtime is over,” the Flame Emperor said. “It’s time to pay the price for going against me.”
And she wasn’t just standing there. She was being threatened. “W-wait a moment, Flame Emperor-nim,” she begged. “You must have misunderstood… I only wish to clear the Tower with you as a team!”
“I thought so too, but that wasn’t the case,” the Flame Emperor said.
“Please wait a moment! Think about it. If we team up, we can easily clear up to the 40th floor! We might even clear up to the 50th floor in a year! That’s right! It’s the place that humanity has not reached yet, but if it’s the two of us—”
“I thought so too, but that wasn’t the case,” he said again.
Dumbfounded, I thought, ‘Weren’t those two… dating?’ The Internet said so. Even broadcasters discussed the two heroes’ passionate love. But the scene in front of me had no elements of romance whatsoever. It was difficult to even joke about it being a lover’s quarrel.
Murderous intent (殺意).
I only saw a man who wanted to murder and a woman who clung on for dear life.
“Please! Let’s just talk to clear up the misunderstanding,” she cried.
“Talk? Ah, talk. Alright. It’s the courteous thing to do.” The Flame Emperor seized the Saintess’ neck.
Her voice let out a loud choking noise before her air was completely cut off. After that, only small groans sounded.
“But, I’ll decide the rules and who gets to talk,” he growled.
The Saintess struggled as she suffocated. I watched her struggle and I also felt like suffocating. Unbelievable. Oh my God. Something that shouldn’t be happening was happening in front of me.
“I’ll ask the questions. Just answer me. Ah, you don’t need to talk. Simply nod your head to answer. Okay?”
She strove to nod, whimpering. I gulped in fear and sympathy.
“If you answer sincerely, I’ll let you live. I’ll even give you the antidote. But if you ignore my personal consideration… Well, do I need to explain further? I heard you graduated from Oxford. Use your smart head.”
The Saintess desperately attacked the Flame Emperor’s arm latched onto her neck.
The sound of her scrambling made its way to my ears but nothing happened. It was impossible for the the Saintess, who was well known as one of the best healers, to physically win against the Flame Emperor.
“Truthfully speaking, I only have one question for you.”
The Saintess fought for air.
“Who commanded you to kill me. Just answer me that. Was it the Black Dragon’s Witch?”
The Saintess flinched and stopped struggling.
“Think carefully before you answer,” the Flame Emperor said. “I might not have Ten Thousand Poison Immunity, but I do have a Lie Detection skill. If you lie to me and I find it out, I’ll burn even your bones into ashes.”
The Saintess didn’t answer right away. In the dark alley, it was difficult to see her face. However, you could feel her silence. While the Flame Emperor was watching, the Saintess slowly nodded her head.
“I knew it.” His small laughter rose in the air between them. “Goodbye, Saintess Isabelle.”
The fire swallowed the entire alley. It spread from the Flame Emperor’s grasp to the Saintess’ neck and then her entire body was engulfed in flames. She started to desperately struggle. It was her last resort to live. But no matter how hard she floundered against him, she could not escape the Flame Emperor’s grasp.
The Flame Emperor merely gazed at the burning Saintess. Untouched by his own affairs.
In front of the scorching flames, the Flame Emperor was calm. Being perfectly calm, he held onto the Saintess’ neck until the very end. The Saintess swung both of her arms. She dug her nails into the Flame Emperor’s arm and tried to scratch it. In the end, she reached towards the sky… and stopped soon after.
She went limp.
And she did not move anymore.
Emotions roiled in my stomach and smashed into my chest. ‘That crazy bastard!’
A hero of humanity died right in front of me. It was wrong to even say she simply died. That’s right-—her death was not normal.
She was murdered. Murdered by another hero of humanity, the Flame Emperor.
The Saintess was now just a burnt corpse. Even so, the flames did not stop. The Flame Emperor did not stop there. He burned everything until her flesh and bones melted. He did so with an emotionless face from beginning to end.
‘He is not sane.’ I took a step back. ‘I need to leave immediately.’
And thus, I made the third mistake of today. My final mistake—
It was a small sound. I didn’t step on a can. Instead, it was a small glass shard.
Perhaps it was a glass shard from a shattered soju bottle.  Maybe it was carried by the wind from another place… I didn’t fucking know how it got there. Rather, there was no need to know.
Instead, there two things I really needed to understand:
First, I’d made a retarded mistake.
“…Hoh,” the Flame Emperor’s voice turned towards where I was hiding.
And second, the Flame Emperor was not a predator who would miss out on another person’s mistake.
“I thought I took care of all the rats nearby. I guess one slipped.” His eyes found mine.
I ran without looking back. Those were the eyes of a murderer. Not someone who killed one or two but someone who killed tens. Perhaps even more. His eyes were like a fucking demon.
And that demon was trying to kill me.
“Ha? How cute.” As soon as the Flame Emperor sneered, a hot sensation pierced near my ankle, and in the next moment, I rolled along the ground. At first, I couldn’t understand how I tripped.
At least not until I saw my legs on the floor.
“H-hiik…!?” A screech escaped my lips.
My legs were severed. My legs. Both of them were chopped. Left and right. They were still wearing shoes, too.
I could even see the famous brand logo drawn on the side of the sneakers.
“P-please let me live! Please!” I begged. Just like the Saintess.
“Then why did you run? You fucking scared me,” the Flame Emperor said, bending over. He picked up one of my legs. Then he started playing catch with it like it was a baseball. “Hey. Did you see?” he asked.
My eyes followed the up and down of my leg in the air. To his hands. And then back in the air. “I d-didn’t see anything!”
The Flame Emperor approached closer. “What did you not see?”
“I don’t know anything! Ugh. Please. I don’t know…”
“What do you not know?”
“Please… Flame Emperor-nim. Please… let me live. I won’t say anything. I won’t tell anyone.”
I felt his presence above my head.
He was bending his knees to look down on me. “Wow. So you’re telling me that you saw me and even recognized me? You might as well have seen it all. You probably know everything, too.”
“Hyung-ssi, you’re disappointing me.  Why are you acting like you know nothing?” The Flame Emperor probed my leg. “Tell me. Who sent you? Is it the Black Dragon again?”
“I… really don’t know… anything…”
“You’re still telling me that you don’t know anything but happened to watch over me and the Saintess from there? Silently, like a fucking rat? Hey, now. Hyung-ssi, your story is so reliable. If I was a bit more retarded, I would have probably believed you.”
The Flame Emperor grinned. “But you see, I’m not a retard. Are you fucking mocking me?”
Sparks of fire erupted in front of me. Flames erupted from the Flame Emperor’s palm and it spread onto my legs. The burst of fire eating my legs sounded like a barbecue, the wafting smell of roasting meat reached my overwhelmed senses.
He burned everything, leaving nothing behind. Not even the famous brand logo. Not even the shoes I’d worn for so long. Not even my legs, which were part of me for even longer.
All of it disappeared.
“Next will be your head. Answer me straight.”
My mind became all white.
This demon… was insane.
He was a madman. There was no point in talking to a madman. He didn’t care about what others thought, and he firmly believed he was always right. He was a fucking psychopath who would kill innocent people for no reason.
As someone who represented Rank 1. As a person, how could he do this?
You’re telling me that I was obsessed over someone like him?
Many people—including me—believed he was a hero. We liked him for being upfront and honest. We praised him as someone with a refreshing personality. This fucking lunatic?
“L-lie…” I stumbled.
“What?” he asked.
“Lie Detection skill… I heard you have a Lie Detection skill.” I desperately continued talking. “You told the Saintess that you can tell when someone lies. And that she should answer sincerely.”
When the Flame Emperor didn’t react, I continued, “So test me with that skill. Test me to see if my words are a lie or not. Flame Emperor-nim… I just happen to, really coincidentally, pass by. Please believe in me!”
The Flame Emperor’s expression became strange. “I made that up,” he said.
 Makgeolli is a popular Korean rice wine.
 Soju is a popular Korean alcohol. It’s a distilled spirit that comes in a variety of flavors.
 Hyung-ssi is a Korean honorification used by younger males when they speak to older males. Hyung directly translates to ‘older brother,’ which doesn’t sound as cool. -ssi is added at the end when the person is a stranger.