The Hero Returns

Chapter 378



Chapter 378: Chapter 378

* * *

The sky above changed for the first time when the fog rose to blanket the heavens, and as the dark clouds covered the span of the sky, the surroundings rapidly became dark.

Gugu, gugugugu—

The ground began rumbling next, causing Su-hyeun to lower his gaze.

“Something from beneath…?”

Kwa-gaaaak, rumble, shatter—!

Soon afterward, the ground overturned, and another type of “ground” rose from beneath.

Su-hyeun quickly regained his balance and took a look around himself. He observed that the new ground that was breaking through the old one was slowly rising.

“What is the meaning of…?”

“You shouldn’t get too flustered so soon,” said Luslec who maintained a serene face—this wasn’t his first time, after all. “It’s not the right time to get shocked, anyway.”

“…”

Su-hyeun stared at the ground beneath him that continued to rise higher before shifting his gaze over to the scenery that was growing smaller below him.

Then, he noticed large green-colored leaves sprouting out from here and there.

“This wasn’t a regular ground at all,” he thought.

Su-hyeun lightly tapped on the brown-colored ground with his foot. Although it did feel hard, the sensation he got back was different from “earth.”

“It’s a tree.”

Rumble, gugugugu—

The tree that had planted its roots in the blink of an eye to rise up to the heavens continued to grow larger while spreading its branches in every direction.

Su-hyeun and Luslec, as well as the participants of the upcoming mission nearby, were actually standing on one such branch all this time.

Su-hyeun asked, “Just how much bigger will this thing grow?”

“It’s only just started, you see. It’ll still be some time before it’s fully grown.”

The tree had already broken through the clouds covering the sky by now. With the way it continued to spread its branches out, the tree seemed large enough already to completely wrap around a single world.

“But it’s going to keep getting bigger?” he thought.

It was like this thing was an infinitely-growing tree. While watching this tree that only got bigger and bigger, Su-hyeun began picturing a certain image in his mind.

“The World Tree…”

It would be a gigantic tree large enough to blanket the entirety of the sky, one that also functioned as a world in itself. The tree that appeared in this place definitely fit that description.

Just like what Luslec said earlier, the tree continued to get larger for a long while. At the same time, the branches got warped and bent, while the leaves overlapped to create several “floors” in the process.

And so, the gigantic tree that seemingly broke through the heavens to grow bigger ended up expanding to the size of this small world by several folds.

“Looks like it’s almost finished, and I get a feeling that it’s gotten bigger than the last time I was here,” said Luslec.

“Is this really the World Tree?” Su-hyeun asked, sounding mystified.

He had gone through trials related to myths and personally experienced many different worlds, but this was still his first time witnessing a World Tree. As such, even someone like him was stunned by this amazing spectacle.

“Eh? Who told you that this is a World Tree?” But somewhat ironically, Luslec’s reaction was different from what Su-hyeun was expecting. Luslec was resolutely shaking his head instead. “The real World Tree isn’t this small, you know.”

“You…are saying this is small?”

“Well, yes. But that’s when comparing it to the World Tree you’re referring to, Mister Su-hyeun. If I am to make a comparison here, then this one’s size is kind of like the World Tree’s seed.”

“Not even a sapling, but…a seed?”

If Luslec said “sapling,” then it might have been understandable. For one thing, the world he and Su-hyeun found themselves in wasn’t all that big. To put it in perspective, this planet was slightly smaller than Earth’s moon.

As such, if there was indeed a World Tree capable of supporting a world far bigger than this place, then he would have understood the reason for calling this tree that appeared before their eyes as a World Tree’s sapling.

But now, it was not even a sapling but a mere seed?

“This tree can’t even be compared to the real World Tree, you know. I mean, a World Tree doesn’t just maintain one world but also supports several other dimensions and the worlds found inside them, after all.”

“In that case, just how large is it?”

“Please imagine the smallest tree you can think of.”

“…?”

“That, and this tree, well, I guess the difference is around that.”

Even though Su-hyeun heard the explanation, his mind could only come up with a blank.

After Luslec prompted him, what Su-hyeun pictured in his mind as the smallest tree was a sapling so small that calling it a “tree” was being a bit too optimistic. But now, Luslec was saying that the difference was kind of like that sapling and this ginormous tree that Su-hyeun couldn’t even take in with one glance…

“A tree that connects dimensions, is it?” Su-hyeun chuckled wryly to himself. The whole concept just didn’t sink in, and because of that, he didn’t feel anything much from it.

He even wondered whether Luslec was blowing some hot air here or not.

“Well, then—?”

Before Su-hyeun’s questions had time to be resolved…

“It’s about to begin.”

Luslec narrowed his eyes just as several messages floated up.

[The first assignment will now begin.]

[Please acquire a golden leaf of the fake World Tree.]

[Additional rewards will be awarded depending on the number of golden leaves procured.]

[Anyone not in possession of a golden leaf half a day later will be disqualified.]

[Remaining time: 12:00:00]

Swiiiiiish—

Pah-bak, pa-babababak—!

Ka-boom—!

A sudden bombardment enveloped the location Su-hyeun and Luslec were standing on. Leaping up in the air almost at the same time, Su-hyeun confirmed with his eyes the culprits responsible for that sneak attack.

“So, it’s those guys from earlier?”

It was the group of people that joined forces just before the fake World Tree appeared. It seemed that they became confident after shoring up their inadequate strength with headcount and then decided to attack first.

“Nezha.”

Shu-wuwuwu…

Prince Nezha’s figure appeared before Su-hyeun’s eyes as he flew up high in the air. “You know what needs to be done, right?” Su-hyeun asked.

Nezha nodded once before directly flying toward the group of 10 down there.

Individually, none of them were all that impressive. At the very least, none of the 10 was the apostle Luslec was talking about earlier.

“Finding the golden leaves takes priority.”

The time limit given was 12 hours, and only the ones found to be in possession of the golden leaves after that period would pass the first mission.

What a nasty mission this was. One could see its nastiness simply from the fact that a person wouldn’t immediately earn the right to move on to the next stage by acquiring a golden leaf but only after they managed to hold onto at least one for the next 12 hours.

“It’s to encourage competition, in other words.”

What a transparent scheme that was—attack the ones who acquired the golden leaves first and then take them away. However, it was inevitable that one would end up as yet another target after acquiring the leaves.

In the end, acquiring the golden leaves early on wasn’t necessarily the best strategy.

Shu-wuwuwu—

Bluish light swirled within Su-hyeun’s eyes. After activating the Sage’s Eye, he felt like the entirety of this enormous tree’s branches could be surveyed with just one glance.

Then, he spotted faint little lights among the branches.

“The golden leaf.”

Unlike the other leaves that were practically the sizes of mountains, the golden leaves were no bigger than a person’s palm.

They had sprouted in remote edges and were hard to spot, but it seemed that several participants had already noticed their existence by now.

“One, two, three, four…five in the near vicinity.”

Su-hyeun counted the number of the golden leaves and looked back at Luslec. As expected, the latter’s eyes had changed to black. He must’ve activated a special skill similar to the Sage’s Eye that enhanced his vision.

Luslec asked first, “You’ve located where they are, yes?”

“Yes. What about you, Mister Luslec?”

“Yes, I have as well. I’ll go and procure the ones on this side.”

“In that case, I’ll procure the ones on the other side.”

Paht, paht—

The figures of Su-hyeun and Luslec vanished from the spot at the same time.

[Leap]

Pow, poooow—

Swhooooosh—

Su-hyeun’s body seemingly became a single streak that flew forward. At some distance away, he could see several participants surrounding a golden leaf, busy waging a war of nerves at the moment.

Paht—

Landing right in between them, Su-hyeun easily snatched up the golden leaf.

A deathly silence instantly descended on the area.

“Do carry on with what you’ve been doing, everyone.”

[Leap]

Pah-aaaahng—!

Su-hyeun activated Leap once more and flew up high.

Almost at the same time, the glares of the participants locked on Su-hyeun’s fleeing figure.

“Catch that son of a b*tch—!”

Whoosh, fwhoooosh—

Bang, ka-boom—!

Projectiles made of magical energy and various types of weapons flew in toward him. Su-hyeun used Leap continuously and evaded them all before looking below his position.

“Looks like they’re planning to chase me down until the end.”

But that would be obvious.

The whole reason for these people being here was to acquire the elixir no matter what, and the golden leaf that Su-hyeun held in his hand was one of the ways to acquire that elixir.

Fighting was inevitable as long as their goal clashed with his.

“Well, in that case…”

Rumbleee—

Su-hyeun transformed his hand into a purple-hued flame through his godhood before clenching his transformed fist and powerfully thrusting it forward.

RUMBLE—

Kwa-fwhooooooosh—!

“F—fire?!”

“Dodge it—!”

The six participants hurriedly scattered in different directions to evade the huge pillar of flames exploding forth from Su-hyeun’s fist.

The purplish flames spread out at a lazy speed and melted the surface of the tree down before enveloping the surroundings in dense flames.

Creak, tumble—

A fairly deep crater was formed on the “floor.” However, the flame itself didn’t spread out as much as Su-hyeun expected and went out quite quickly as well.

Since the floor was wood, he figured it would burn pretty well, but that assumption turned out to be wrong.

“It’s tougher than it looks. It also doesn’t burn easily.”

Su-hyeun was inwardly worried about burning the whole tree down by mistake, so he did feel somewhat relieved by this revelation and nodded in contemplation.

“Well, this much should be enough for them to get the hint.”

There wasn’t really a need to keep fighting them here. Judging from their current expressions, they no longer seemed to harbor any thoughts of attacking him.

Bang, swhoooosh—

Su-hyeun activated Leap once more and flew toward the designated location where he’d meet up with Luslec.

Meanwhile, below him, the six participants who were currently lying near the wide crater created by the intense flames melting the tree were staring with their jaws on the floor.

“This thing just now…the World Tree melted for real, right?”

“Y—yeah, it looks that way.”

“What the hell was that guy…?”

Even though the giant tree was a “fake,” it was supporting this world nevertheless. Therefore, there being a fire strong enough to melt down such a tree should be, at least according to their common sense, completely impossible.

For one, even an ability user capable of producing flames hotter than magma wouldn’t be able to melt down this fake World Tree.

“Looks like it’s a bust this time, too.”

“I’m giving up.”

“Yeah, me too…”

* * *

[Remaining time: 00:33:11]

Gu-wuuuuong—

A hammer dropped to the floor, and the branch of the fake World Tree trembled ever so slightly. Su-hyeun reached out toward the participant who was currently trapped under the hammer. “Give it to me,” Su-hyeun ordered.

“H—here…”

Su-hyeun “confiscated” the golden leaf from the participant whose legs were trapped under the hammer.

The golden leaf was the ticket that allowed one to enter the next mission, and confiscating a lot of it had the effect of decreasing the number of competition.

Moreover, just as important, there seemed to be some other merit in collecting additional golden leaves as well.

“With this, I now have six.”

The total number of golden leaves Su-hyeun acquired until now was six. The minimum number required was one leaf, so he had a spare of five, which equaled to him securing himself additional merit as well.

“I wonder, has he also secured as many as I did?”

Su-hyeun had teamed up with Luslec, and to procure more golden leaves, the two of them were working in opposite directions.

Even if they had formed a team, it was unlikely for them to run into an extraordinary participant from the get-go. Also, if one was aiming to acquire as many golden leaves as possible, it was a wise decision to widen one’s area of activity.

“Those who acquired the golden leaves are now in hiding, and it’s getting harder to find them…”

After securing the last leaf, Su-hyeun decided he should stop there despite feeling a bit unsatisfied. When around 30 minutes remained, he thought that finding and securing one more leaf during that period would be a bit too difficult to pull off.

“I guess I should go back to… Mm?”

Just as he turned around to return to the meeting place with Luslec, he sensed an unexpected bloodlust directed in his way coming from behind him.

It kind of felt familiar.

He turned his head to look and spotted a man with a hulking physique sitting on the fake World Tree’s leaf some distance away.

“It’s that apostle from earlier.”

It was the same apostle who sat around the midway point of the rock mountain and held a steady gaze at Su-hyeun and Luslec before the World Tree revealed itself.

“Looks like he has a golden leaf as well…”

Su-hyeun smirked deeply. Then, while looking straight into the eyes of the man in the distance, he mouthed the following words, “Come at me, then.”

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