A Player Who Eats Metal - Chapter 61
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< Chapter 61: Conclusion, Declaration, Hero – 1 >
The Great Condor was gliding above the clouds.
Lee Hyunwook sat in seiza on it with his eyes closed.
“There’s no moving metal around here.”
By moving through the clouds like this, there was no fear of being attacked by a swarm of ironclad beetles.
However, being at a high altitude, the cold began to seep into his body, but by activating ‘Hardening’ throughout his body and as well as a ‘Mana Shield’, the cold was somewhat blocked.
Lastly, he pulled out a ‘Mana Recovery Potion’ from his waist and gulped it down.
[Mana recovery rate increases exponentially for 10 minutes. (+200%)]
With that, he was ready.
“Let’s go down!”
With his shout, the Great Condor began to descend vertically.
As he passed through a layer of clouds, the ground—Cheongryong Mountain came into view.
There, grey and black flickers were emanating. The grey flicker was actual smoke rising from the embers, but that black embers… it was the collective dance of a disgusting swarm of beetles.
“I have to break through that.”
Lee Hyunwook, without any hesitation, jumped off the body of the Great Condor.
He straightened his body towards Cheongryong Mountain, free-falling vertically with his eyes still closed.
Noticing his appearance, a streak of black started shooting towards him.
The exact number was 374—Lee Hyunwook ‘detected’ each of their movements.
And then, he stretched out his left hand.
Dozens burst all at once.
Following that, dozens more,
Then again, dozens shattered into pieces.
As his left hand slowly traced a circle, every ironclad beetle caught in its path exploded.
Thus, all 374 ironclad beetles dispersed into thousands of metal fragments.
“As I thought, using shatter recklessly drains too much mana.”
The Metal Shatter skill was undeniably a one-hit kill attack when dealing with those creatures.
However, the number of ironclad beetles was overwhelmingly large,
And even if he poured out all his mana, it wouldn’t significantly reduce their numbers.
‘But the only thing I need to eliminate for sure is the Erosion Factor .’
Even if he couldn’t get rid of all of them, he could at least clear the immediate path ahead.
The resulting ‘metal fragments’ assembled near Lee Hyunwook, rotating sharply into orbits around his body.
Then, another swarm of ironclad beetles flew up.
This time, there were a total of 1,188.
It was an overwhelming number.
‘I’ll pierce them, just break straight through!’
Lee Hyunwook crossed his arms over his head, covering it as best as he could, and concentrated ‘Hardening’ on his forearms.
Then, he pulled the ‘metal fragments’ floating around him to the front of his arms and used ‘Metal Morphing’ to entwine them around his forearms. This created a heavy metal shield—a kind of bumper.
“Now’s the time! Accelerate me!”
At his words, the ‘Wind Spirit’ Haneul, who had been perched on Lee Hyunwook’s shoulder, moved.
As it began to circle around Lee Hyunwook’s body, a whirlwind wrapped around him.
Acceleration was added to Lee Hyunwook’s already rapid fall.
Like a projectile, a knight wearing steel, he descended at an incredible speed—
And soon, he collided head-on with the 1,188 ironclad beetles.
Single point breakthrough.
He rammed straight through the oncoming swarm of ironclad beetles in one breath.
While they tried to circumvent and chase after Lee Hyunwook, they couldn’t catch up with his descending speed.
His eyes never having opened in this ordeal, began to focus on all the metal below him, especially on what little remained of the Cheongryong Mountain.
‘…I have to find it.’
One could not possibly discern the location of the Erosion Factor with the naked eye.
This was precisely the concern that Kim Kang-seok, Choi Jung-chul, and Kim Se-hee had.
Even if they reached Cheongryong Mountain, which had weakened defenses,
With thousands of beetles still covering the surface of Cheongryong Mountain, it was not easy to quickly locate the Erosion Factor.
In other words, it was impossible to eliminate the Erosion Factor through a surprise attack.
To this, Lee Hyunwook responded,
‘…I can do it.’
Yes, only Lee Hyunwook was capable of that.
‘Since their shells are made of metal, I can detect and analyze their movements.’
‘Through that method, I can infer the location of the Erosion Factor .’
The swarm of ironclad beetles surrounded the Erosion Factor with their bodies, much like bees protecting their hive.
Therefore, even when Choi Jung-chul’s ‘Semi Armageddon’ hit, they could still protect the Erosion Factor.
In other words, the point where an unusually large number of ironclad beetles gathered was precisely where the Erosion Factor was. Furthermore, they still surged continuously from the Gate near it and this influx was detectable.
‘Damn, there’s so many of them…’
The amount of metal movement detected on the surface of Cheongryong Mountain was so immense that it was making his head spin and ache.
Detecting thousands of movements simultaneously made him feel his senses being vastly overloaded.
Meanwhile, his altitude rapidly decreased.
‘I must find it before reaching the ground. If I can’t handle it in one go, I will die.’
Coincidentally, he noticed an area with an unusual sensation.
A spot where an unusually large number of ironclad beetles gathered, forming a very thick swarm,
And for some reason, their movements were somewhat slower and more cautious there,
Their movements resembled worker ants surrounding and protecting their queen ant.
‘Yes, it’s somewhere around there.’
Lee Hyunwook adjusted his trajectory towards that point.
And just before colliding with the ground, he endowed his body with the power to control metal.
His body floated in the opposite direction of gravity, and he landed on the scorched, pitch-black ground.
Immediately after landing, the thousands of metal fragments that were falling with him rained down like a metal hailstorm.
The ironclad beetles sitting near the landing spot were swept away by those fragments, and the whirlwind surrounding Lee Hyunwook, courtesy of Haneul, burst outwards, pushing away a vast number of ironclad beetles in the vicinity.
However, that was only akin to scooping a handful of sand from a vast beach.
Thousands of ironclad beetles charged at Lee Hyunwook all at once.
It was as if a black tidal wave was crashing down on him.
But Lee Hyunwook could control that wave.
He raised both hands and spread his palms.
Lee Hyunwook drew numerous metal fragments to him, making them rotate at high speed around his body. Haneul, the Wind Spirit, created a whirlwind along the same trajectory, significantly increasing the rotation speed of the metal fragments.
Thus, a whirlwind of steel rose and enveloped Lee Hyunwook.
Control over metal and the spirit of the wind,
It was a powerful inertial shield that couldn’t be formed without either of them.
Against weaker enemies, it would be more accurate to call it a blender, but sadly the armors of the beetles were too solid to be cut so easily.”
Thump—! Thump—! Thump—! Thump—!
They tried to penetrate the steel whirlwind, but they were repelled and swept away.
However, this was just a temporary solution.
‘It probably won’t hold out for long.’
Soon, they’d gather together and forcefully break through the steel whirlwind…
Lee Hyunwook felt as if he was standing between the teeth of a monster.
If he delayed even a little longer, he’d be shredded and swallowed up.
‘The Erosion Factor is nearby. But I need to pinpoint its exact location.’
He closed his eyes again.
The moment the intruder, Lee Hyunwook, appeared, the ironclad beetles showed two types of movements.
While the majority charged at Lee Hyunwook, a significant number headed in an entirely different direction.
‘…That is a formation to protect the Erosion Factor .’
Lee Hyunwook read their movements.
“That’s it, right there?”
He pinpointed a single spot, the exact coordinates.
Guiding the steel whirlwind, Lee Hyunwook walked towards that point.
At that moment, something massive surged up from the ground.
[Boss Monster ‘Ironclad Colossus Beetle’ has appeared]
A monster, with more resemblance to a truck than a beetle, and easily measuring 7-8 meters in size rose,
It had forelegs shaped like scissors, and a horn resembling a lance attached to its head.
And on its mouth, there was a tube for spraying acid.
‘I’ve finally reached the last barrier.’
The appearance of a boss monster meant that he was on the right track.
‘Ironclad Colossus Beetle, this creature is a sort of protective cover for the Erosion Factor .’
Like the Hell Rat Mutant, it was a ‘Guardian’ type of boss monster guarding the gate.
With its sturdy body, it likely shielded the Erosion Factor from external attacks.
However, as Lee Hyunwook approached closely, it had no choice but to confront him directly.
The creature advanced towards Lee Hyunwook.
‘Good, come out a little more… so that the Erosion Factor gets fully exposed…’
Kicking off the ground, the beast lowered its horn towards Lee Hyunwook, charging like a rhinoceros.
If one were to be hit by it, even an armored vehicle would be pierced through.
The creature effortlessly broke through the steel whirlwind, and soon lunged at Lee Hyunwook.
However, its lance-like horn was stopped by something.
A golden shield enveloped Lee Hyunwook.
“Seo Eunha… indeed, my first shield.”
The bracelet on his wrist was emitting light.
It was the bracelet that Seo Eunha had given to Lee Hyunwook just before the Steel Battalion set out.
In the meantime, Lee Hyunwook moved to the side and inserted his storm sword into the gap of the creature’s shell.
The electric shock emitted from the tip of the blade tore through every corner of the creature’s body.
The massive creature shivered and was momentarily paralyzed.
It was the perfect opportunity.
With his shout, Haneul launched the steel whirlwind forward, blowing everything away in its path.
And then, at last…
‘There it is!’
A red gem buried in the ground, the appearance of the World Stone (Erosion Factor), was clearly revealed.
Target identification, precision aiming, and clear trajectory path were already completed.
Above it, something heavy was falling like a meteor.
Naturally, it was ‘Mogley’.
The Factor was in a state where it had lost its physical defense against that strike.
A deafening explosion— anything beneath it couldn’t possibly remain intact, given its immense force.
[‘You have destroyed the World Stone (Wave)’!]
The highly anticipated system message indicating the end of everything appeared.
The blitzkrieg operation, which only Lee Hyunwook could perform, was successfully completed.
Lee Hyunwook exhaled a hot breath and looked up at the sky.
The gate would close now, but thousands of ironclad beetles still filled the sky.
However, as if they had lost their purpose, they scattered in all directions.
“Command breakdown… It’s all over.”
Command breakdown was a phenomenon where a monster, which moved not by its own will but by some kind of spell, loses its objective and wanders off when the ‘spell caster’ disappears. After all, with the failure of their quest, all villains should have been terminated by the system.
In other words, for the time being, they would lose their aggressiveness.
Of course, their very existence was a threat, so extermination operations would need to be carried out for some time, but that was a matter for later.
And about 20 meters away, the gate was collapsing.
Lee Hyunwook approached it.
As expected, at the point where the gate collapsed, one item appeared.
[You have acquired the Ring of Gygax (Heroic).]
-Name: Ring of Gygax (Heroic)
-Effect: When mana is infused, it grants invisibility for 30 seconds. (Cooldown: 30 minutes)
‘Several heroes disappeared in vain because of this item…’
With this, he had effectively saved their lives.
And that wasn’t all.
[Congratulations! You have successfully completed the event quest <Expedition of Catastrophe>!]
[As you achieved the highest result, you are awarded the ‘1st Place’ reward.]
“Ah, the quest…”
Come to think of it, a quest was given to the entire Steel Battalion after they tackled the first Erosion Factor.
He hadn’t paid much attention to it, but of course, Lee Hyunwook, who contributed the most, claimed the top spot.
Two lights appeared before Lee Hyunwook’s eyes.
He reached out and grabbed them.
[You have acquired the Trait Awakening (Special)]
-This item binds to you upon acquisition.
‘I can’t believe I got this again…’
And the other item was…
‘What is this?’
[You have acquired the ‘Master Key’ of Ancient Legacy]
-This item binds to you upon acquisition.
Even for Lee Hyunwook, it was an item completely unfamiliar.
* * *
In the school’s 1st-floor lobby, a player shouted that.
True to his words, the black swarms that had blanketed the sky were dispersing in all directions.
Even the iron-shelled bugs that had invaded the school were now flying out through the windows.
It was an undeniably abrupt end to the situation.
“What… What just happened?”
Players who had been in a life-and-death situation and felt the approach of demise and the breath of death were in shock.
They cautiously stepped outside the school and looked up at the sky.
The swarm of bugs had indeed disappeared completely, and the violet hue that had stained the sky was also fading.
All these phenomena indicated that the wave had ended.
Meaning, that someone had taken down the Erosion Factor.
“Who on earth destroyed the Erosion Factor ?”
“Oh! Is it the An-Yang duo?”
“Huh? I heard they hadn’t arrived yet…”
Then, someone mentioned another name.
“I heard earlier that the commander of the Steel Battalion went on his own to cover the rear.”
“Really? By himself… Is that even possible?”
“Well… I’m not sure about that.”
If that were true, it would undoubtedly be a monumental event in history.
“So, essentially, the Steel Battalion dominated the entire wave?”
“Yeah, seriously… I really wonder who they are.”
It was a clear fact that the name “Steel Battalion” was the highlight of this wave.
Meanwhile, Choi Jung-chul and Kim Kang-seok also climbed to the roof of a building and surveyed the surroundings.
“… General, Sergeant Lee Hyunwook really pulled it off.”
Kim Kang-seok said, with a hint of disbelief in his voice.
“Yes, he accomplished something unbelievable. Again.”
“Did you also think it would be difficult for him to achieve?”
To be honest, the plan that Lee Hyunwook came up with lacked credibility.
The idea that because he had the ability to detect metal, he could infer the location of the Erosion Factor from their movements while infiltrating from high altitudes, and then drop the giant sword Mogley from the sky to precisely strike and destroy it…
‘Yes, honestly, I thought it was almost like a suicide attempt.’
But, it was Lee Hyunwook, and no one else, who confidently proposed this, and since there was no other way at the time, they approved the plan. However, they had regretted not stopping him until the very last moment.
“Yes, that’s right. I trusted Lee Hyunwook’s skills, but… I’m not one to believe in miracles.”
Choi Jung-chul chuckled at that.
“But then, a miracle happened.”
“Yes, truly… It feels like we’ve been saved.”
“Haha, well, now we should be getting external support soon, so we should…”
However, Choi Jung-chul’s next words were drowned out.
A familiar booming sound resonated from somewhere.
A heavy vibration shook the sky, it was the bell signaling a global announcement.
However, unlike the eerie bell they heard before, this sound was somewhat clear and uplifting.
And the letters that appeared in the sky were not red, but green.
[Congratulations! For the first time in history, you’ve successfully cleared a ‘Wave’!]
-A very special reward will be given to Seoul.
At the same time, everyone cheered.
“It’s real! Seoul is safe!”
Although they had already sensed it, seeing the official announcement made it feel real.
They had managed to save Seoul without much lasting damage.
But their cheers soon came to a halt.
Because that ‘very special reward’ started to appear in the sky.
“Whoa! What’s that?”
To the west, above the area around Seoul Station, a giant gate opened.
And from there, something began to descend.
It was so massive that its shadow began to eclipse the top part of Seoul.
People could only stand and stare with their mouths agape at the sight.
Yes, a planet – or rather, from their angle of view, it seemed like a satellite, like the moon, was descending upon Earth.
“No, no… it’s just floating in the sky. And there’s something strange about the top.”
Above the hemispherical bottom, there were structures that looked like buildings erected everywhere.
It was clear to everyone.
It was a floating city.
[‘Laputa’ appears in the Seoul region!]
-The proficiency of all ‘crafting skills’ increases dramatically.
-The ‘success rate of item creation’ increases significantly.
-The ‘progress in magical engineering research’ rises substantially.
-A ‘mana ecosystem’ is established in the area.
An incredibly long message appeared before the eyes of every player present.
Seoul, having just escaped from hell, was now poised to become the world’s top city.
* * *
After a while, Chu Gyoyong and other members of the Taesan Guild were found dead in a classroom, their faces distorted by fear and unwillingness.
The reason was announced as unknown, but Lee Hyunwook had a hunch about it.
‘It’s game over because they failed the Villain Quest.’
The consequences of a Villain Quest were usually brutal.
It seemed that while they were plotting another strategy, Lee Hyunwook had destroyed the Erosion Factor.
With the end of the wave, 8,000 AMT forces were deployed throughout Seoul,
and 6,900 players from various guilds were also deployed to ensure safety and recovery.
Under the command of General Seo Baek-jin, the commander of the AMT Holy Knights Brigade, the Seoul clearing and restoration operation was conducted.
A considerable number of undead monsters were still roaming around Seoul, necessitating the cleanup operation.
‘…What should have been a recapture operation in the original history has now turned into a clearing operation.’
And the order given to the Steel Battalion was to rest.
‘Yeah, now I really need to get some sleep…’
Upon arriving at the dormitory, Lee Hyunwook took a quick shower and immediately collapsed on his bed.
* * *
How much time had passed? His eyes opened on their own.
[Metal Absorption has been completed. Tiny Flash (Rare)]
[Congratulations! You have met a special condition and are granted a new ‘Skill’]
-Metal Absorption has been completed. (Mana Heart)
-Metal Absorption has been completed. (Mana Heart)
-Metal Absorption has been completed. (Mana Heart)
Several messages appeared before him all at once.
They were from the Cheoncheol (Heavenly Metal) ring he had eaten and the ‘Mana Generators’ he had obtained from Chu Gyoyong’s ‘Black Orcs’.
However, the ‘Dwarf-made Great Mountain Engine’ had still not been fully absorbed yet.
Its absorption time was marked as ‘Unknown,’ so he couldn’t predict how many more days, weeks, or even months it would take.
Just then, the door to the dormitory opened, and someone entered.
Park Junmo, who had just woke up, stiffly saluted.
It was the battalion commander, Kim Kang-seok, who had come to the dormitory.
“No, don’t mind me, continue resting.”
He approached Lee Hyunwook.
Lee Hyunwook rose from his bed and saluted.
“So, Lee Hyunwook, did you get some rest?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, you should rest more, but there are several people looking for you.”
Lee Hyunwook couldn’t guess who might be searching for him to the extent that the battalion commander would personally come to inform him.
After quickly getting ready, Lee Hyunwook followed him to the commander’s office.
There, besides General Choi Jung-chul, two other individuals were seated.
‘Truly influential figures have graced us with their presence.’
Both were familiar faces.
They were Kang Seo-yoon, the guild master of Zumnarae, and Woo Seong-moon, the head of the National Gate Response Strategy Office.
Even without their titles, they were giants in their own right, ranked 3rd and 9th in South Korea, respectively.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the major contributor to our recent operation, Sergeant Lee Hyunwook.”
Lee Hyunwook bowed his head and took a seat in front of them.
Despite them being some of the strongest figures in South Korea, Lee Hyunwook wasn’t too nervous.
That’s because he had met these individuals numerous times in his past life.
‘Moreover, both of them are trustworthy individuals.’
Kang Seo-yoon offered her business card first.
“Sergeant Lee Hyunwook, you dealt with three Erosion Factors personally, didn’t you?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“And have you heard about the reward associated with it?”
Lee Hyunwook nodded.
“I came today to deliver that reward.”
For each erosion factor, there’s a reward of 50 million dollars and an item of hero grade.
Furthermore, for the player who displayed the best performance, a legendary weapon ‘Gae-Bolg’, whose value is immeasurable, is granted.
“But the reason I suddenly visited… While I have my reasons, I’m not sure why Director Woo is here. He didn’t initially plan to come, but suddenly decided to follow when I said I was going?”
Kang Seo-yoon said, glaring at Woo Seong-moon.
“Haha, if someone as esteemed as Miss Kang is trying to recruit a national asset, who else but me can stop it?”
A dazed expression naturally appeared on Lee Hyunwook’s face.
It seemed inevitable that he would be wooed by such influential figures right after waking up.
What a headache.
“Oh, really? Mr. Lee Hyunwook, I’ll equip you with hero-grade gear from head to toe.”
“So, once you’re discharged, come join our <Zumnarae>.”
At that comment, Kim Kang-seok’s face stiffened.
The elite raid guild <Zumnarae> was a guild synonymous with South Korea’s identity.
In terms of size, <Cheonghwa> had an overwhelming image of being the number one guild.
But with many of South Korea’s top-ranked players, <Zumnarae> was essentially the strongest guild.
Above all, South Korea’s rank 1 ‘Gravity Mage’, Lee Seong-yoon, was a member of <Zumnarae>.
Following that, Woo Seong-moon’s business card was presented to him.
“Sergeant Lee Hyunwook, I am Woo Seong-moon, the Director of the National Gate Response Strategy Office. We had a conversation once via Mana Messenger, remember? I was the one who granted you access to the government’s second armory.”
It felt like he was informal back then, but now he seems inexplicably more polite.
“Oh, yes, your help was invaluable at that time.”
“The great assistance was what you provided to all of us. Moreover… if you’re willing to work for the country, we’re ready to offer immense support. We are also considering establishing a special unit with the Steel Battalion specifically for you.”
It wasn’t only about offering an officer’s commission, but also creating an entire unit under his command.
Then again, for someone of Woo Seong-moon’s caliber, such extraordinary measures were possible.
Upon hearing this, Lee Hyunwook blinked in surprise.
Just waking up and being bombarded with such offers, he was a bit taken aback.
He glanced down at the two business cards in front of him.
“Well, for now…”
Everyone was looking at his lips.
He hesitated for a moment, then slowly raised his head.
And after making eye contact with each of the two one by one, he opened his mouth.
“…I think my worth might be higher than you think.”
Everyone wore a puzzled expression.
No one had expected him to say something like that.
“Ah, we know you’ve accomplished a great feat. That means we’re willing to compensate you accordingly.”
“Sergeant Lee Hyunwook,”
Kang Seoyoon and Woo Seongmoon added their remarks in turn.
However, Lee Hyunwook shook his head.
Until now, he had always tried to hide his abilities.
It was more beneficial for him to grow discreetly, without drawing attention.
‘But now, I’ve truly reached my limit.’
The main reason he hid his abilities was to operate freely, away from many prying eyes.
But now, since he had magnificently failed his goal by achieving increasingly significant feats repetitively, he couldn’t continue as before and needed a different strategy.
“I… have awakened as an S-rank player with this achievement.”
Upon his declaration, dead silence enveloped the room.
No one reacted at all.
It was that shocking.
“So, no matter what the two of you offer, it won’t be an appropriate price.”
There were only 33 known S-rank players in total, and only three of them were in Korea.
From now on, he intended to stand out confidently and blatantly leverage his advantages.