“.... You accept the test?”
Ja Guk Lyung’s eyes shone.
“What do I have to do?”
“It’s simple. All you have to do is answer my questions.”
She smiled brightly.
“Everyone, could you close your eyes?”
Everyone in the arena, including Jae Hwan, closed their eyes. They felt the atmosphere get colder inside the darkness of their closed eyes. The test had begun.
When Jae Hwan opened his eyes, he was standing on a vast ocean.
The audience exclaimed, and Ja Guk Lyung continued.
“The stage this time for the test is the sea where I live. As you know, around Dryad, the waves are very strong. That is why shipwrecks like these happen often.”
She pointed towards a capsized vessel buried between a pile of seaweeds. They could see the passengers desperately trying to swim.
Unfortunately, most of them soon felt the piercing cold of the Ocean and were taken by the currents before long. The scene was too real to be called merely an illusion.
A rescue squad soon arrived and started loading their boats with the drowning victims. They succeeded in filling up their rescue boat, but a problem arose.
-We have to board one more person!
A 10 max capacity boat. There was still one more remaining.
The members of the rescue squad shouted.
-If we take in any more, we will sink!
-Give up! We can’t save everyone!
And Jae Hwan realized that he was the captain of that group. One of the sailors took hold of him.
-Captain! Give us your orders!
Jae Hwan’s lips opened and closed.
‘Is that so. The test is something like this.’
He saw the faint smile of Ja Guk Lyung. His options floated in front of him.
[1. “We all can’t die. Abandon that one.”]
[2. “Even if we all die, board him!”]
Strictly speaking, there are no correct answers to tests like these. No matter what he chooses, he has to give something up. In this case, if Jae Hwan chooses 1, the audience will despise him, and if he chooses 2, they will censure his leadership. Both of those answers lead him to failure. This was an intricate trap laid by Ja Guk Lyung.
“Lord, what will you do?”
Jae Hwan quietly looked at his options, and said,
“I pick option three.”
“....Excuse me? Three does not exist.”
Jae Hwan shook his head.
“Three. Save all of them, and escape safely.”
Ja Guk Lyung paled.
‘How did he know…?’
Unlike morality tests that does not have a definite answer, her tests are required to include a correct solution. The third option, the only ‘correct answer’, that appears when the respondent can resolve the situation by his actions.
[3. “I cannot abandon any of them. Save the man, and take turns going into the water until another rescue squad arrives.”]
The option that shows compassion, and also their strategic thinking ability. Ja Guk Lyung was going to reveal the 3rd option when Jae Hwan had chosen either 1 or 2, to disparage his decision even more.
‘He found the third choice?’
She barely composed herself and asked,
“Let's hear it out. What exactly is this third option you are talking about?”
Jae Hwan answered,
“The reason why that person drowns is because the sea exists.”
“Then I split the sea.”
Ja Guk Lyung wanted to hide her face in her hands.
‘W, what… what is this guy? Did he give up?’
She saw this nonsensical answer as the evidence of Jae Hwan’s capitulation.
But the next moment, Jae Hwan swung Self-Will.
“Wait! What are you doing?!” Ja Guk Lyung shouted in panic.
The air around the tip of his sword swirled, and a blinding light poured out from his thrust. An unbelievable scene unfolded. The vast Ocean, made of illusions, roared up with violent gust of waves and separated into two.
-The sea is dividing!
-It’s a miracle!
-T, thank you captain!
Those on the rescue boat cried and hung onto Jae Hwan.
[A system error has occurred.]
[The test will be force closed.]
The illusion collapsed, and the arena was revealed once again.
Ja Guk Lyung, with her hair a mess form Jae Hwan’s thrust, shouted in rage,
“What is this, lord!”
She, including the members of her sect, unsheathed their blades.
Jae Hwan gazed at her with chilling eyes.
“Enough of your farce.”
Ja Guk Lyung twitched. Jae Hwan’s sudden change in ambience made her wary.
But the next moment,
[This is an alert from the Chancellor!]
[From this point on, all commercial activities will be cancelled, and the fortress gate will be sealed.]
[‘Gorgon one’ will be issued.]
[Please evacuate swiftly to the north streets.]
‘Gorgon one’ is the highest degree of emergency evacuation warning. It was a warning never used before, an alarm for hypothetical dangers that could potentially put the fortress at risk of obliteration.
The audiences murmured hesitantly. They were filled with unease and scepticism.
“They say it’s a deceased.”
From unease to confusion, and from confusion to horror.
The crowd struggled against each other to escape with the desperation of a mouse cornered. From the middle of that disorder, Jae Hwan received a message.
[Lord, please come to the south gate.]
Jae Hwan quietly started towards the south gate. But the other Arks and a few of the strong fighters noticed his movement and followed him. Soon, a substantial number of the strongest that represent Chaos all gathered by the south gate.
They all saw it together, and lost their voices.
The southern woodland region was dyed in pitch darkness. Whenever the dead grazed a being possessing a soul, they crumbled. The gaksus that usually colored the forest with animation also had disappeared without a trace. The wave of blackness contacted the wall and screeched an ineffably horrible screech.
For the first time, Ja Guk Lyung saw the wall she was standing on not merely as an ornament of the fortress, but as what it truly was: a rampart.
And she realized that this wall was not built to defend against the gaksus. It was built for the thing amidst the black sea; the thing the strongest gaksus are insubstantial to in comparison.
“Shin, you there?”
Shin replied to Chung Heo.
“Identical to 900 years ago, eh?”
“The time we went to his palace?”
“.... Just why is ‘Hand walking Magrit’ in this place…?”
The monster that made this infinitely high fortress look like a toy. One of the three colossal deceased, hand walking Magrit. The name of the disaster that made Chaos tremble in fear.
Chung Heo thought back on a few days ago, when Catastrophe descended in the inner palace of Gorgon. The neglected are known to call other neglected. Middle rank deceased calls for lower rank ones to gather, and high rank deceased made middle ranks congregate. What did the king of all deceased, Catastrophe call?
“We probably might die here.”
Yun Yong spat, with uncontrollable shaking.
“Kuku. Did you try to enter the Abyss Expedition when you can't even handle something like this?” Kang Hwang said,
“Elder, your knees seem to be shaking more than mine?”
“.... Shut up.”
Chung Heo smirked upon hearing them. Kang Hwan and Yun Yong were both youngsters who were not yet 900; this would be the first time they experience something like this. But they were one of the main actors in today's stage. Including those near them who also threw jokes between each other to forget their fears - albeit for a moment - or those who looked forward with an expressionless face, to mask their trepidation from themselves.
Chung Heo immersed himself in this.
‘To be able to see this again before I die.’
Limitless, North Sea, Seminary, Holy Maid, Fire Monarch, and Thunder god. Six Arks were gathered here. And in front of them stood an army of ten thousands, but that was not all. There were over dozens of high rank deceased, and behind them was the colossal deceased, Magrit.
Some flew back north, unable to endure Magrit’s pressure. Han Myong Gwan, the Virtuous sword, was one of them.
They fled, because they knew this couldn’t be overcome. Gorgon will fall. Some might survive, and some will die - but the results were the same.
The moment they saw Magrit, they all faced their own test of morality, in their own hearts.
Chung Heo did not stop those who fled. Had he the right to stop those who wanted to live?
From the earth, dark columns of light shot up towards the sky. As gravity distorted, people started to float, and their sight was reversed. Magrit had just displayed the might of her gift, ‘Phantasmagoric’. The strong who had tightened their lips and the Arks who had hardened their hearts all curled up spontaneously like a frightened infant. They could not unsheathe their weapons against the approaching army, and froze in midair with despair and dread.
A black beam shot out of Magrit’s orifices and turned a few into dust. Han Myong Gwan had the haplessness to be hit from the distance.
They were impotent.
All of them.
This was a world that returned vacuity no matter how much they tried. What was the point of a test of morality in a world like this? How could they answer a question which itself was impossible in the first place? How could they salvage hope?
But a single blade of sword reflected in the eyes of those who were hugging their knees.
It was a dark and lean blade. Unutterably lonely, and indescribably sharp.
The sword slowly passed between them, and approached the army without any hesitation. The Arks saw it in their darkness of fear. They said, ‘stop…’
They squeezed those words out, but it did not ring. He had to be stopped, but they could not stop him.
A black hail fell down from the sky onto the man. They shut their eyes to this sight, and waited.
When they mustered up the courage to pry open their eyelids, they were met with a sight they would never forget.
The dark hail was being cut in two. A single glare of light made a path as it pierced the torrent of dark masses. Phantasmagoric was repelled, and their lost senses came back, as they sat at the spot they were standing before.
That awe inspiring monster, ‘Hand walking Magrit’, was letting out a hideous scream.
-’Then I split the sea’
The Ark of the Holy maid sect heard the words Jae Hwan had said before over and over again in her head. But it was not only she who felt it; it was everyone present.
They felt that this was the perfect ‘nonsensical answer’ to that ‘impossible question’.
Some shivered, and some groaned. And some said,
“This cannot be reasoned.”
It was Shin, who had been enduring Magrit’s skill by stabbing his sword into the wall.
“Yes. It cannot be explained by logic.”
“And it’s foolish beyond words.”
Chung Heo laughed.
“And his answer is foolish, it is honest.”
It was the answer they all knew, but had refused to say. An answer that became considered incorrect by the limit called reality. Chung Heo looked at the back of the man who paved his own path at the bottom of the sea of darkness.
“That foolishness is what I promised myself to protect.”
And Chung Heo rushed into the wave.
‘Is that so. Is that your resolve.’
Shin knew that this was a path to failure. It was a path that he would not be able to return from if he entered, enticed by this promised miracle. Despite that, Shin said,
“Then I must join you.”
Shin’s sword let out a fierce roar. As the spirit power of the sky was instilled into the sword, the dead began to be cut by the indigo colored blade.
However, endless deceased filled up the gaps once again.
Those who came down at this time to hold the path that started to thin appeared.
“.... For one of the ten Ark’s, you’re a mess.”
“I have no excuse.”
It was Kaiman and Jae Gal Myong.
Chung Heo protected the path paved by Jae Hwan, and Shin in turn widened that path together with the rest of the Arks. They all looked quite unconscious, as if they did not really understand what was going on. But they still fought.
A road to failure, and an impossible story.
To protect that they swung their blades. And little by little they became a part of that story. It was a story that Chaos has waited for centuries.
Even if everything were to collapse to despair once again, it was a story that still made them want to listen to the very end.
Yun Yong said in a sentimental voice,
“.... Excuse me, Fire Monarch elder?”
“What? I'm busy.”
“This is kind of embarrassing, but I really want to say this to someone right now.”
“Right now, don't I look really cool?”
Around ten minor deceased fell by Kang Hwang’s sword. The mob that rushed in from behind him was disposed by Yun Yong. But there was still more. They slashed, slashed, slashed, and slashed. At some point, Kwang Hwang started to tire.
The path was slowly starting to thin.
‘Can we defend it?’ he doubted.
But still he continued to slash. Even if this was the end, even if they had no hope, he would guard this until he died.
As he slashed and slashed with his tiring body, faraway voices were heard.
Kang Hwang looked back. And soon, there was no more doubt in Kang Hwang’s eyes. Only certainty. He relaxed and continued his dance. He was certain; this opening created by Jae Hwan will be safe.
Because everyone in Gorgon came to help protect it.
A week later, the news that the 3rd order deceased, [Magrit] was defeated, propagated throughout Chaos.