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    Sky Road.

    Does it mean a road to ascend to the sky?

    The labyrinth he had entered this time was a place that perfectly suited that name.

    —It’s high.

    “…Indeed it is.”

    A tall mountain whose peak was barely visible. The view was so obscured by clouds and fog that one could barely see a few steps ahead.

    All that could be seen were stone stairs that looked like they belonged in a temple.

    “Could this also be some kind of trace of a civilization?”

    —How would I know? Even if I did, you would know better.

    Wise words indeed.

    However, Do-joon didn’t know that much about the labyrinth either.

    He had seen many structures that seemed like they belonged to some civilization before.

    The first labyrinth, the Catacombs, was a maze that was a building itself, and in the third one, the Ruined Temple, there was a temple and walls built by Sivellin’s colleagues.

    In the fourth, the Middle Orc Kingdom, a wooden fence built by the orcs and Kalish were discovered.

    And this place was the fifth labyrinth.

    A place with just a single mountain standing alone and stairs placed on it, nothing more.

    ‘Are there no monsters either?’

    Do-joon narrowed his eyes and surveyed the surroundings. He even used the Sight Enhancement skill to look around, but there were no traces of living creatures at all.

    Not even the sound of grasshoppers or cicadas could be heard. The lack of any sound along with the fog created a strange sense of silence.

    —For now, if we climb up, something might appear.

    “I suppose so.”

    Do-joon nodded at Kalish’s advice.

    Whenever he entered a new labyrinth, he would survey the surrounding area and act accordingly, but there was nothing more to examine here. The only thing present was a staircase leading upwards.

    Tap tap.

    Do-joon tapped the ground with the tip of his foot and prepared himself. Then, he began ascending the stairs with large strides.

    Skipping two or three steps at a time, his figure quickly moved upwards.

    His vision rapidly passed by. However, nothing special was reflected in the passing scenery. Only endless stairs continued.

    “……”

    It was about 3 minutes into the climb when he sensed something strange. Still, Do-joon kept moving his feet for now. Although he had a peculiar feeling, there was nothing particularly worth stopping for yet.

    Another 5 minutes passed, and then another 5 minutes on top of that.

    Tap.

    Do-joon stopped.

    “Phew……”

    He took a moment to regulate his breathing while standing in the middle of the stairs. It wasn’t because he was running out of stamina but to replenish his mana.

    Perhaps because it was a mountain, the air was exceptionally clean. The pure mana within it began to fill Do-joon’s body.

    While catching his breath, Do-joon finally spoke about what had been bothering him.

    “There’s… really nothing here.”

    —That’s right.

    Kalish also responded as if it was absurd.

    The discomfort Do-joon felt. It was the fact that despite climbing this far, there was absolutely no change in the scenery.

    The only difference was that the ground at the starting point was now obscured by fog.

    In other words, Do-joon was currently in a situation where he had stopped in the middle of a staircase, surrounded by fog and clouds above and below.

    “I’ve been running for over 10 minutes……”

    —Even if your footsteps aren’t refined, you should be much faster than an ordinary person.

    As he said, Do-joon’s speed while climbing the stairs was quite fast. It was natural since he had generously infused mana into his legs while running.

    He hadn’t used his full speed in case something appeared midway, but even so, it was enough to be described as being like the wind.

    “This is the first time I’ve encountered a labyrinth like this. Until now, there were always monsters to hunt……”

    —What kind of places did you say you went to before?

    Do-joon briefly explained the labyrinths he had experienced so far. Kalish listened attentively, making a “hmm……” sound, but…

    —I’m sorry, but I don’t know either. It definitely seems out of the ordinary here.

    He also didn’t have a clear answer.

    Do-joon frowned.

    What he had naturally expected was, of course, new monsters.

    Monsters with a much higher matching rate than orcs and dropping new items!

    Wasn’t the reason he had entered the labyrinth to defeat them and grow rapidly?

    But instead, it was making him climb stairs like some dog training?

    —Since it’s come to this, there’s no other choice.

    At that moment, Kalish spoke in a nonchalant tone. Do-joon looked at him with puzzled eyes.

    —How about using this opportunity to learn the art of running?

    “The art of running?”

    —Originally, I was planning to teach you a bit later, but since your progress is quite fast, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea now.

    The art of running.

    Do-joon had briefly heard about it from Kalish before. The spear techniques of Knox, the God of Storms, included something about the art of movement.

    If he mastered it, he would be able to run much faster than the auto-whatchamacallit of this world.

    —It’s not just about being fast. If you truly excel at it, you’ll even be able to step on air.

    “…Pardon?”

    Do-joon blinked and asked back at Kalish’s words. Stepping on air?

    “Are you saying I’ll be able to fly? With my bare body, without any equipment?”

    —It’s quite different from flying. That’s something magicians do… This technique is much more useful than such simple magic.

    Kalish spoke cheerfully.

    Do-joon imagined him grinning mischievously. The image of a muscular old man with a mischievous smile.

    “…That doesn’t sound like ‘the art of running’ anymore.”

    Do-joon spoke as if dumbfounded while looking at the giggling Kalish.

    *

    Whoosh!

    Wind erupted from the tips of his feet.

    Using that force as propulsion, Do-joon’s body soared and leaped over several steps of the stairs.

    —Too much waste. Compress it more. Gather the mana to a single point!

    Kalish’s instructions continuously rang in his ears.

    Do-joon adjusted his mana, taking each of those instructions to heart. As he said, to compress the mana smaller and denser.

    However, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

    Crack!

    The slightest mistake would immediately cause the wind to escape and lose its power. The painstakingly compressed mana would scatter like a punctured balloon, losing its shape.

    But that wasn’t the only problem.

    —Your rhythm is off. Step with a feeling of thump, thump-thump, thump. I’m telling you, the art of movement isn’t for immediate use in combat. Before applying it, you need to follow the most efficient fundamentals first!

    Do-joon tried to match the rhythm as Kalish instructed, stepping accordingly.

    The first few times were fine. He could more or less match it. But as he continued, it inevitably went off-beat.

    He didn’t know how many times this had repeated. Kalish stared at Do-joon and suddenly spoke.

    —You… Could it be that when you were young, you struggled to learn musical instruments or something like that?

    “……”

    There was no response from Do-joon. His footsteps gradually slowed down and eventually came to a stop in the middle of the stairs.

    He let out a soft sigh and nodded.

    “Actually… I’ve always been tone-deaf when it comes to music.”

    No matter how well he could write, his practical skills were almost at the bottom. Especially bad was the sense of rhythm that Kalish was emphasizing now.

    “One time, the entire class had to do a chorus for a talent show……”

    —And?

    Do-joon spoke while slightly averting his eyes from the spear.

    “On the morning of the event, the teacher told me that it was okay if I didn’t sing and just lip-synced.”

    —Lip-synced?

    Kalish couldn’t understand the unfamiliar term “lip-syncing” at once. When Do-joon explained what it meant, Kalish let out a sigh.

    —There was a teacher like that? What a nasty fellow!

    Do-joon was grateful for Kalish’s supportive words, but what he wanted to talk about now wasn’t about the teacher back then. It was about his own sense of rhythm.

    “I guess I was that terrible.”

    —I see……

    Kalish seemed to be pondering.

    Do-joon’s eyes sparkled slightly with anticipation. Maybe he would come up with a solution?

    —Well, don’t worry. I have a surefire method.

    “A surefire method? What is it?”

    Kalish replied as if it was truly a great method.

    —It’s simple. You do it until you get it.

    “…Pardon?”

    —Practice with the resolve that your feet will be torn to shreds. When you feel like you’re really going to die, take one more step. Originally, overcoming weaknesses is done like this. And it just so happens……

    Kalish continued.

    —Isn’t this the perfect place to practice?

    At his words, Do-joon raised his head and looked up. At the sky where only clouds, mountains, and stairs could be seen.

    There was nothing here. Nothing to distract his attention or disturb his concentration.

    A space where he could focus solely on himself. That’s why it was the perfect space for this kind of training.

    “I understand.”

    Do-joon replied with a determined expression. And he began to move his feet again.

    Once again, mana enveloped his legs and wrapped around his feet. The wind gathered at the tips of his toes and seemed to compress finely.

    Bang!

    It exploded. His figure soared above the stairs.

    It was still clumsy. Originally, all the mana should be compressed to a single point, making no sound at all like an alley cat.

    But Do-joon’s wind didn’t gather properly and scattered here and there, making a loud noise for no reason, and mana kept leaking out.

    Nevertheless, Do-joon’s expression didn’t falter at all.

    Now, in his mind, whether he was doing well or poorly was of no importance. Only one thing mattered.

    To become a little more skilled than his previous step.

    In this place with no distractions, he focused solely on himself and moved his feet.

    After who knows how long.

    When his mana was almost depleted and his steel-like stamina was beginning to emit a sour smell from his mouth.

    He arrived at the end of the stairs, no, the midpoint.

    It was a place where stone statues holding giant crescent moon blades stood on both sides.

    *

    “China has already assembled a large-scale exploration team. I heard the government took the lead and quickly gathered them. The U.S. side will also finish forming their team soon.”

    At the loud voice coming from one side, the chairman rubbed his aching forehead. He spoke while looking at the guild leader of Lightone who had just spoken.

    “That place is completely unknown territory. Who knows, powerful enemies like the elves from back then might be there. For safety, wouldn’t it be one of the options to wait until they bring back the results?”

    “It will be too late then! Besides, do you think they will share the information?”

    “Even so, just the fact that the exploration team has returned should allow us to infer the level of danger to some extent.”

    “That’s too passive of an approach.”

    The guild leader shook his head as if rejecting the idea without even listening.

    Yeah, it won’t work.

    Son Chang-il nodded with a sigh. He hadn’t brought it up thinking it would work anyway.

    ‘When the roots first appeared… So many people went in without knowing better and ended up dead.’

    Many died because of the monsters that came out of the roots, but just as many died after going inside.

    At least outside the roots, modern weapons and military systems were guarding, but inside, even that was absent.

    However, not everyone who went in died. There were those who achieved results and returned.

    They were the first-generation hunters, the established forces now represented by the four major guilds.

    ‘The dead… In the end, they were only reduced to numbers. But those who survived became immense powers.’

    That was precisely the reason why Light One and other guilds wanted to quickly enter the stem.

    They didn’t know how many people had died in the roots. They knew the numbers on paper but couldn’t feel it in their skin.

    In contrast, weren’t the four major guilds like predators right next to them?

    For the guilds that always lived under their breath, it was understandable that the desire for power they could gain from the stem was greater than the unknown dangers within.

    “……”

    “……”

    In contrast to them, the representatives from the four major guilds maintained their silence.

    They were the ones who already held power. It wasn’t their wish for the tables to be turned on this occasion.

    But the chairman could tell. Even though they were observing for now, they would eventually participate in the exploration as well. To maintain their current positions.

    “If an exploration team is formed, our guild leader says he will personally volunteer.”

    A member of the Mir Guild spoke. Normally, they would have thought he was scheming something worthless again to use this incident for his own gain.

    In fact, people from other guilds were sending wary glances.

    However, the merit of Shin Yoo-sung, the guild leader of Mir, participating was so great that they couldn’t bring themselves to oppose it.

    Son Chang-il thought a little differently.

    ‘The guild leader of Mir had some decency as a person.’

    He had come to know a bit more about him through the recent incident in Hwaseong.

    Of course, it would be a lie to say he had no ulterior motives at all, but at least he would do his best to fulfill his role as a healer.

    That much, he could trust.

    “It’s too big of a matter to entrust to a single guild anyway. If we form an alliance…”

    “But if all the guilds say they want to participate, won’t the scale just grow unnecessarily large? It’s also a problem if there are too many people holding us back. Even if it’s a small number, we need to fill it with those who can definitely pull their weight…”

    “How are we even supposed to select them? Are you thinking of conducting interviews? Didn’t you say that would take too long?”

    Amidst the unproductive arguments going back and forth, one person quietly spoke up.

    “Chairman, I heard that you personally requested a special promotion for a certain individual.”

    At the low but firm voice, people naturally focused on his words.

    The chairman made a displeased expression. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but he hadn’t been going around revealing it either.

    Where did he hear that from…?

    “That’s true, but isn’t it unrelated to the current agenda?”

    “I heard that the individual was the one who defeated the elf that appeared in Seoul. It seems quite relevant.”

    The one who said that was Oh Tae-jin, the acting guild leader of Karma.

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