“This place is complete mayhem, too.” Kahn arrived approximately an hour later, covered in wounds, his eyes still bright with ferocity. It was clear that he’d been involved in an intense battle, as well.
He carelessly tossed an object that he’d been carrying on his back to the ground in front of Yeon-woo. Dis Pluto turned to look at the two, only realizing just then that Kahn and Paneth’s party had disappeared during the fight with Iapetos. They were curious to find out what had happened since conflict between the two sides would be a big concern.
However, they couldn’t tell what Kahn had tossed on the ground. It was covered in blood but since it was squirming, it was clearly alive. However, it didn’t look human. At closer inspection, they realized that all of its limbs had been cut off, and its face and body were covered in burns and frostbite.
It finally registered to Lam whom the familiar aura belonged to. “Is that…Paneth?”
She wriggled in response to Lam’s words. Lam’s eyes widened. She’d guessed that they had ended up in a fight with Yeon-woo’s party, but she never imagined that Paneth would return in this state. She was a hero who’d made remarkable contributions in the past few months, the master of the Family of Divine Blood, the face of the Elohim, and she was backed by several greater gods in Olympus.
Although Lam was stronger than Paneth, she still acknowledged Paneth. Along with the others, she looked in shock at Kahn, who only snorted and crossed his arms over his chest like it was no big deal.
* * *
‘Do you feel better now?’ Yeon-woo talked to Jeong-woo as he recovered, curious to know how his meeting with Aether had gone.
『I don’t know. Just…』 After a short silence, Jeong-woo answered from inside the pocket watch. 『I feel better, but also like shit.』
Yeon-woo nodded in understanding. The stress of reliving the past must’ve been greater than the relief of vengeance. The special benefit had also crammed innumerable memories and experiences into Jeong-woo’s head, which made it even more difficult.
『But hyung, what are you gonna do about this?』
『This bastard. Are you gonna lug him around?』
He pointed at Aether’s soul, which was making depressed noises inside the Soul Collection. It had no memory of its previous life and only remembered the fear of death.
‘I want to turn it into a supplement that I can give my subordinates, but you can have it if you want it.’
『I don’t.』 Jeong-woo answered casually with a laugh. 『You know what I want the most, right?』
Yeon-woo laughed as well. Then, his eyelids lowered slightly and he muttered, ‘Just wait a little longer.’
* * *
The footsteps of the injured Dis Pluto were heavier when they returned, but the Temple of King of the Underworld greeted them heartily. They could finally feel Hades’ holy power after the ascension of the four columns of light. Along with their defeat of Iapetos, this kept their spirits high even though they had sustained a great deal of damage. They had made huge progress in the war, and they were overjoyed that they could hope for support from Olympus now that the light columns had risen. It was possible to see the end of the interminable war.
However, the news about Paneth and her party’s treachery shocked Dis Pluto. They’d seen them as comrades and heroes, and yet they’d resorted to such cowardly and despicable acts. Everyone knew that there was bad blood between Paneth’s party and Yeon-woo’s party, but this was simply unacceptable.
It was a grave crime to betray a comrade in Dis Pluto, and it was punishable by death, especially if the betrayal happened on a battlefield. It was a relief that most of Paneth’s party had died on the spot, but the mastermind was still alive. Although she was on the brink of death, healing magic could still fix her a bit since the Divine Blood in her kept her breathing. It was a blessing that perhaps seemed more like a curse for Paneth now.
“What a grotesque state.” Hades laughed incredulously after listening to what happened. He’d been expecting some kind of treachery, but it was a pleasant surprise that it had ended in futility. However, what truly stunned him was that Poseidon and the goddesses were pretending not to know anything about the whole thing. As he felt the gazes of his brothers and sisters, Hades clucked his tongue. ‘Those shameless fools. They grew more arrogant in the time that I’ve been gone.’
Although they were family, they had a hierarchy. Zeus might be the leader, but Hades was still the oldest among them, and even Zeus listened to him. Besides that, Hades was the King of the Underworld, and everything that occurred there was under his jurisdiction.
Just a thousand years ago, Olympus couldn’t even interfere in Tartarus, and Olympus had surrendered to him several times. Had too much time passed? Or did they think he would look past their actions since they were the only ones who could help Tartarus? They hadn’t said a single word of apology after humiliating Hades. In fact, they stood even taller, as if they had nothing to be ashamed of. It seemed as if they were implying that they would only send support if everyone accepted that only Paneth was to blame, muddying the waters.
“I apologize. I accept all punishment willingly.” Lam bowed in shame to Hades, who was deep in thought.
Hades grinned. “What do you have to be sorry about?”
“I should have known this would happen…”
“It’s fine. You’ve accomplished great things. You deserve to be rewarded, how can you expect me to punish you? The fault lies with those who planned this. It’s not as if you can predict the future.”
Lam bowed her head even more. The incident had happened because she’d stubbornly pushed for the expedition despite Hades’ reluctance. It seemed that he’d been anticipating that something like it would occur. However, she hadn’t understood him despite being his Apostle. Instead, she had been too eager for a victory. Although the raids were successful, they’d been humiliated by Olympus and lost the advantage in their battle of wits. She felt the injustice of the situation keenly. Olympus was the one at fault, but Tartarus was the one who had to worry about causing offense.
And if Olympus sent their support and Tartarus was at peace again, it was obvious who would have the upper hand. Hades’ divine level would fall, and this frustrated Lam. And yet, at the same time, they couldn’t reject any support. She felt crushed.
However, Hades grinned again. “How can you still not know me after serving me for a hundred years?”
Lam’s eyes widened. She didn’t understand his meaning, and Hades’ smile grew bigger. As usual, it was a lopsided smile that looked cynical, but Lam could tell that Hades was truly enjoying himself. “I’m more offended that a mere player is testing me.”
“What do you mean, sir?”
“Why don’t you come in now?”
Suddenly, the door to the temple burst open, and Yeon-woo slowly walked in looking as though he’d already regained all of his strength. If he’d learned anything from this experience, it was that the Demonic Divine Draconic Body was better at recovering than he thought. He could now control his body better after testing its limits. The Demonic Divine Draconic Body was full of potential, and even Jeong-woo was amazed after observing Yeon-woo.
If Yeon-woo was successful with the fourth- and fifth-step awakenings and gained the Giant Factor on top of that, how powerful would he be? To Yeon-woo, completing his body was as important as the Black King’s power. It would play an important role in finishing his right wing.
“I’ll leave her disposal to you. You may take her away.”
“Thank you.” Yeon-woo bowed. His shadow stretched out like taffy and swallowed Paneth’s body. Leaving Paneth to Yeon-woo meant that Hades didn’t care at all what happened to her. Poseidon and the goddesses might think that Hades had bent to their will, but Yeon-woo knew different. ‘What an old fox.’
Hades had caught on to what Yeon-woo was planning to do with Paneth. Hades would never ignore his siblings’ impertinence regardless of Tartarus’ situation. He was going to return what they did to him and pretend not to know anything.
Yeon-woo quietly left the temple. Lam’s eyes narrowed as she watched him. What did Hades mean by saying that Yeon-woo had tested him? There seemed to be a silent agreement between them, but she had no idea what it was.
* * *
Only one thought ran through Paneth’s head: ‘I want to die, please let me die in peace.’ Her thoughts rushed through her head without a chance of being spoken when suddenly, she felt her body revitalized, and she could see again. Her reason returned as she grew more alert. The first thing she saw was a demon in a black mask.
“G-go away!” Traumatic memories made her convulse as she struggled to escape. It was only then that she realized that she no longer had arms and legs. “Aaahh! Ugh!” Paneth screamed at her hideous state. It was impossible. She was the leader of the mighty Protogenoi tribe, someone who was going to become a god and enter the heavenly world. There was no way she could be reduced to this state.
Yeon-woo blocked her screams with his hand and growled in annoyance. “Shut up.”
Paneth couldn’t move after seeing his eyes. She was overwhelmed with fear. She wanted to shake the fear off, but she couldn’t.
Yeon-woo looked down at her as though she were a bug. It was a look that she had always given others, not one that she ever expected to receive herself. “You Protogenoi are always acting like you’re the best when you’ve got nothing to show after your top layer has been peeled off. You’re all the same.”
Paneth couldn’t muster the courage to deny it.
“I wonder what the real gods are like.” As he spoke, he pulled up the power of the Soulstone and blew it into Paneth.
“Mm! Mmmph!” Paneth realized what Yeon-woo was trying to do and thrashed around. If he succeeded, she would never get out alive. She hoped for death, but her soul would be destroyed as well. She didn’t want to just vanish like this, but there was nothing she could do. Her body stiffened like a block of wood, and the whites of her eyes showed. A magical energy began to flow out of her burned body, which turned white as her spirit form appeared.
It was a familiar sight to Yeon-woo. It was the same thing that occurred when Poseidon descended before Benteke died. However, back then, Poseidon had forced the manifestation. This time, it was Yeon-woo who was pulling it out. He used the data from the Channel that had given Paneth blessings and favors and restored the Channel. It was nearly impossible for a player to force a god’s manifestation, but Paneth’s special blood and the traces of the Channel made it possible. Even if he couldn’t pull the god down all the way, he could summon a part of their being.
Also, Yeon-woo was second to none at controlling Channels, and the energy of the Soulstone helped. Four spirit forms appeared as Paneth disappeared: Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera. He had succeeded in restoring all four Channels.
『A human cannot dare…!』 Poseidon’s faint image growled. However, the manifestation was weak, so he couldn’t apply too much pressure on Yeon-woo. The same went for the goddesses.
Yeon-woo didn’t reply and instead, he quietly opened his left hand. “Devour.”
Clack, clack. Sharp fangs appeared on the black bumps.