Chapter 1.?An invitation from a pocket watch (1)
March 21st, 2018. Incheon Airport.
Yeon-woo adjusted his clothes as he walked across the airport terminal.
A shaved head with a neatly arranged military uniform. A Korean flag shined brightly on his arm, indicating his belonging to a military contingent.
After organizing his backpack, he made a phone call.
“Sergeant Cha reporting in from Korea.”
[Understood. Take it easy and try to comfort your parents while you are there.]
After expressing his gratitude, Yeon-woo ended the call and put his phone down.
Coming back from a three-year stay in Africa, he felt much warmer and peaceful in Korea than in Africa.
However, Yeon-woo’s mind was in distress.
With a cigarette in his mouth, he took out something from his pocket. It was a letter he received during his mission.
The word ‘Obituary’ was written on the letter. His younger brother had disappeared five years ago, and this obituary was now notifying him of his brother’s death.
The funeral had ended.
His brother’s ashes were scattered at the sea in front of Taejongdae, his brother’s favorite place.
Yeon-woo hadn’t heard any news him during the last five years, but now he had returned to him inside a cold urn.
“This is what he was holding when the body was found.”
The person who discovered his brother’s body took out a small box.
Yeon-woo opened it with care. The box contained two things.
One was a faded photograph, and the other….
In the photograph, his brother was in front of a shabby looking house, wearing some kind of medieval armor, next to some people with unusual appearances.
Was he filming a movie somewhere? He thought.
Yeon-woo had roamed around all sorts of places, but he had never seen anything like this.
As Yeon-woo was unconsciously touching his brother’s figure in the photograph, the man’s interjection brought him back to his senses.
At the same time, a question came to his mind, but it wasn’t an appropriate place to ask it, so Yeon-woo only thanked the man and returned home.
He quietly looked at the photograph in his room. In it, his brother was still smiling.
They were twins. Born with identical faces and features, and yet they were so different.
His brother was a model student, but weak and introverted. He enjoyed reading books and watching movies.
Yeon-woo, on the other hand, was very extroverted. He was also athletic, thus he applied both to PE as a major, and to the military academy.
People around them were surprised by how different they could be.
Nonetheless, the two of them had always stuck together.
The little brother would hold onto his scatterbrained brother and teach him how to study, and the older brother would tell his brother lying in bed, about how fun and exciting things were outside, several times a day. Both of them were so devoted to one another.
But then, with only one day before the CSAT, his younger brother had disappeared.
And so many things had changed since then.
His mother, who was originally suffering from a chronic disease, had passed away. After searching for his brother for over two years to no avail, Yeon-woo had given up on everything. He enlisted in the military as a non-commissioned officer, volunteered himself to be dispatched to Africa and left Korea.
It was at that time that he became less of an extrovert and grew to be more cynical.
From that point on, contact with Korea had naturally been cut off. He thought he would never return to Korea, ever again.
But now, five years later, his brother had returned to him as an obituary letter.
At first, he had been mad at his brother, who disappeared without a word and now had become like this. The first thing that had come to his mind was that his brother was so self-indulgent.
But as the funeral began, he started to feel empty, as if his soul was being torn apart. And by the time he had scattered his brother’s ashes in Taejongdae, his heart had been bursting at the seams.
He wanted to ask what had happened to his brother, what had he been doing, and why did he have to return like this.
But his brother in the photograph did not say a word. Just like how he hadn’t said anything during the past five years.
Yeon-woo put the photograph down and checked on the pocket watch.
It was worn out and badly thumbed, as if it were more than a hundred years old.
Only ‘XII’, the roman numeral for 12, and the hour hand was left of the watch, and it was not working. He took it to a jeweler to repair, but the only answer he got was that it was too rusty to fix.
‘This is the present that I gave my brother back then.’
When they were 19 years old, the year they became third graders in high school, the brothers gave each other a present on their birthday. The younger brother gave him a book for him to study, and Yeon-woo gave his brother a pocket watch to wish him luck on his CSAT.
This was that pocket watch.
Yeon-woo grabbed the pocket watch, it slipped and clung perfectly into his palm. It was just the right size.
He remembered how he wandered around every jeweler, looking for a pocket watch that would perfectly fit in one hand.
Then Yeon-woo flipped the watch over, and on the backside saw a name written in cursive on one corner.
“Whoa! I really needed a watch. Thanks bro. Compared to a digital watch, this is way cooler.”
“Puhaha! How is it? Your big brother’s got a nice fashion sense.
“But what is this written on here? Looks like J. W. is my name, but CAH? *pft*”
“Hmm? That’s our family name, ‘Cha’.”
“How is this ‘Cha’? It’s spelled CHA!”
“What? Dammit! Give it to me.”
“I’m gonna talk to the guy from the jeweler to fix it.”
“It’s OK, don’t bother. I’ll take it. From now on, I’ll just write CAH whenever I write my name.”
Then, the younger brother confidently put the pocket watch into his pocket.
After that, the younger brother proudly wrote ‘CAH’ as his name when he went to apply for a passport.
At that time, Yeon-woo had felt both sorry and grateful at the same time.
Yeon-woo chuckled as he recalled his past memory.
While he was running his hand over the pocket watch, he pressed on a knob by accident.
Wasn’t it broken? He thought.
The knob slid inside the watch.
The hour hand that seemed to be stopped started to run.
To my older brother who will listen to this sometime in the future.
A familiar voice was heard inside his head.
Yeon-woo subconsciously sprang up to his feet.
It was a voice he hadn’t heard in five years. It was a voice he thought he would never hear again. It was his brother’s voice.
His heart started to pound like crazy.
By the time you hear this, I guess I will be already dead.
It was not a hallucination.
Yeon-woo checked if there was a recorder inside the pocket watch, but it was nowhere to be found.
The voice was clearly ringing inside his head.
How is this possible? He thought.
I am sorry. Everyone had a hard time because of me, didn’t you? I just wanted to find a medicine for mom. I thought I could return home soon, but time had gone by too quickly.
It was at this moment when his eyes got strained.
Suddenly, in front of his eyes, a flood of his brother’s memories passed by like a panorama.
A strange text message arrived on my phone. It said it will fulfill whatever I wish for. Nothing else was written in it, only buttons to decide whether I want to join or not.
Normally, I would have ignored the message, but I couldn’t help thinking about mom in the hospital looking more and more haggard everyday.
So I pressed the ‘yes’ button just in case my mom would be cured.
I felt very hollow. In the end, it was just a prank.
But from that day on, I started having a strange dream.
It was a dream about climbing what seemed like an infinitely tall, 99-story tower.
It was definitely not a dream!
Everything was clear. It was a real world.
A world where not only different races like elves and dwarves, but also monsters like orcs, trolls and dragons exist, and a world where several universes and dimensions intersect in one place.
The tower is sitting in the middle, waiting for people from all over the world to climb it. The moment when a person breaks through the ninety ninth floor, he or she will become a god, or that’s what I heard someone saying.
People pointed at the tower and called it,
The Tower of the Sun God,
But that doesn’t mean a thing to me. Instead, the only thing that matters is that somewhere in this tower exists an elixir that can cure all diseases, the Panacea.
With that in my hand, I could save mom from her illness.
I was able to team up with some like-minded friends and started climbing up the tower.
Still, it wasn’t easy at all.
We had to kill all sorts of monsters, and each and every time we faced mortal dangers. This place, it may look like a game, but it’s not. It’s reality. If you die, everything is over.
But my teammates and I are talented. Back in reality, my far-from-well body always caused worries for my family, but in this world, through runes I was able to see the light.
We were told that we were the first team to ever break through the first ten floors within four days.
Since then, I began to seriously consider.
I would not be able to live both my life in the real world and in the tower at the same time.
I tried explaining to my brother about this place. But whenever I faced him, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Do I say, ‘there’s a world named The Tower, and I’m trying to salvage some medicine in there’?
But my brother, even though he looks gruff on the outside, he has such a warm heart on the inside. What would he say? I bet he would volunteer to take my place instead.
So in the end, I decided to leave home. They will be looking for me, but it will only take about half a year.
I’m sure I can find the elixir by that time. And just like that, I disconnected myself from the real world.
My teammates and I named ourselves ‘Arthia’.
We then rapidly broke through several floors, and there is no one in the tower who doesn’t know our name.
I might be able to get a hold of the Elixir much faster than I thought.
Our climbing speed has slowed down. I thought I would only need half a year, but now I might need one more year.
We had a fight with some high ranking clans who regards us as an eyesore. We now have more obstacles to overcome.
Negotiations have broken down.
The alliance of clans we fought against has just collapsed.
Arthia, which originally started with only twelve people, has now grown into one of the ten largest clans, all of our teammates have become high rankers.
And I, Arthia’s leader, have risen up to ninth place. It is said that I’m the fastest ranker to ever get into the top ten.
However, I can’t just stand here and celebrate.
Because of the war, we haven’t had time to find the elixir. We need to pick up our speed and climb the tower.
I’ve found someone I love.
Another war has begun.
An enmity between Arthia who wants to climb higher and other high ranking clans who want to maintain the status quo has arisen. I’ve been trying my best to persuade them, but it isn’t easy.
To make matters worse, some of our teammates agree with their ideas. They just can’t voice out their opinions because they are worried.
Even though I was fully aware of this, I pressed on our clan to continue climbing up the tower, so we couldn’t avoid conflicts.
But even now, time keeps flowing.
I feel like I’m going crazy.
Arthia is now ranked in fifth place. However, the war hasn’t ended yet, and everyone is too tired.
We found a traitor in our clan.
We were able to kill him before he could rise up, but it was enough to cause a rift amongst our teammates. Everyone has started to distrust one another.
Our members are leaving the clan one by one.
My body feels heavier.
I have been poisoned.
Half of our members have already left the clan. We keep on losing battles, and now we don’t dare to climb to higher floors. I tried asking all around to look for the elixir, but I couldn’t obtain any kind of information about it.
And my body is slowly breaking down.
The person I loved left me with a dagger stabbed into my heart.
I was barely able to block it with my skill, but I was unable to continue suppressing the poison. My body is starting to rot.
I am the only one left in Arthia.
Why did things go so wrong?
Was it because I trusted people too much? Or was it because I was too absorbed in satisfying my own needs, and forgot to look after my teammates?
Was it because I left my family?
On the last day of February, I finally got my hands on the elixir.
Now I need to find a way to send it home, but there’s no way I can. I can’t leave the Tower even if I want to, I’m being surrounded by other people.
Maybe they think I will treat my poison with it if I leave.
Everyone is coming to kill me. There was no one left by my side.
The fact that there is only one person I can trust.
But I cannot show them my weakness.