The Han residence's door creaked open, breaking the tense silence between the two individuals. Mrs. Han strode inside, her face a canvas revealing the intensity of her emotions. Flynn followed, softly closing the door behind him, his eyes fixated on his mother, who swiftly donned an apron and made her way to the kitchen.
'I must have picked the wrong moment,' Flynn reflected, setting the groceries on the small dining table before sitting on one side, sliding his feet comfortably underneath.
As Mrs. Han went around the kitchen, the sound of utensils clinking and the aroma of freshly prepared food filled the air. The lovely glow of the overhead lights produced a pleasant and soothing atmosphere, contrasting with the tension between them.
"Please wait a little. I'll prepare something for us to eat," Mrs. Han remarked, her tone serious and resolute. Flynn had never seen his mom like this before. Even in the face of trouble, Mrs. Han always found a way to bring light to their lives. Feeling hesitant about approaching the situation, Flynn opted to sit back and watch, hoping that time might soften Mrs. Han's emotions.
The modest ticking of the clock felt deafening in the heavy darkness. Flynn's eyes scoured the open space, searching for something fresh, something different that might grab his attention. Other than the newly developed cobwebs in one corner of the ceiling, there wasn't anything. Hence, Flynn's focus rapidly shifted back to his mother, who seemed to have just finished cooking.
"Let's eat," Mrs. Han stated as she placed a potful of food on the table, bringing in two bowls of rice and a few side dishes shortly after.
Dinner proved to be no different as the stillness continued. Flynn attempted numerous times to speak up, but Mrs. Han's piercing look stopped him every time. However, Flynn wasn't one to back down, especially over subjects he thought crucial. He waited in silence as they finished the food in peace. His eyes took repeated glances, affirming Mrs. Han's emotions. However, to his dismay, the woman also looked firm in her resolve. As a seasoned assassin, Flynn knew when to give up. He exhaled heavily, knowing that it would be best to retreat.
Time moved slowly, every moment lingering like a balloon about to explode. However, neither spoke nor had enough appetite to enjoy their meal. The rice bowl captured Mrs. Han's attention, but her mind seemed to have been carried away by the cool night breeze. Flynn struggled to break the silence, knowing they needed to escape for the night and converse when dawn came.
In an attempt to bring Mrs. Han back to the present, Flynn faked a cough, his eyes finding the pained gaze of his mother.
"You can leave your plate in the sink. I will do the dishes later," Mrs. Han stated, her energy depleted as she cleared her side of the table before rapidly rushing to her room. Left alone in the dining room, which felt more spacious than usual, perhaps due to the rising tension, Flynn stood up and did as requested, moving to his own room afterward.
In his bedroom, the night outside cast a gloomy shadow on the walls, and the pale glow of a lone lamp brought some solace. Flynn lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, lost in thought. The events of the evening had left him unsettled. As he closed his eyes, flashes of the imaginary world he saw on the television screen flashed before him. He realized that to unravel the secrets of the past and perhaps find solutions to his present, he had to journey into that world, the world of the <Second World>.
Yet, the weight of Mrs. Han's feelings kept him back. She seemed to strongly resent Suyeon, and Flynn couldn't deny the sorrow he saw in her eyes. How could he pursue this path when it caused such misery to the woman who had shown him love and care? The conflict within him was as chaotic as a storm at sea.
Flynn's mind roamed between the two worlds as the night drew on. The moonlight seeped through the curtains, casting a silver tint. At the same time, the peaceful buzz of the city outside offered a delicate accompaniment to his thoughts.
In the middle of this introspection, Flynn felt a sense of tiredness welling up inside him. He had so much to think about, knowing he couldn't let fear or doubt hold him back. There were questions that required answers, mysteries that needed unraveling, and his promise to Cheol. However, each passing second made his eyelids heavier. Soon, Flynn's mind crossed to the world of dreams, leaving his problems behind in the terrible, tangible world.
"Behold, on the left side of the stage, let us welcome the valiant underdogs of the tournament!" A man with thick black sunglasses and a brilliant red suit stood alone on the stage, his powerful voice ringing through the vast stadium. As he spoke, smoke billowed and swirled about the arena, and numerous fireworks erupted in a stunning display, signifying the grand entrance of one team.
"The Chinese nationals, RDG <Radiant DraGons>!" the MC's voice boomed, prompting a thunderous shout from the crowd as they poured their undying support upon the eSports squad. Six players sporting striking black jerseys embroidered with regal golden lining and a majestic coiling gold dragon logo. With unwavering pride, they stood tall on the right side of the stage, their names illuminated on the holographic screen, imparting an aura of majesty to the awe-inspiring tournament.
"Now, on the right side, let us welcome the creators of miracles, the unparalleled geniuses of the virtual gaming era!" The MC's voice stretched with anticipation, echoing the suspenseful drum rolls reverberating throughout the stadium.
"The Korean nationals, DPX <Divine PhoeniX>!" the MC's excitement was evident, and the second round of fireworks ignited the atmosphere once more as another group of six young athletes stepped into the arena. The crowd broke into an even greater frenzy, a testament to their fervent support for the Korean team. Clad in white jackets, adorned with vibrant hues of fire, and displaying the symbol of a blazing bird in flight, the <Divine Phoenix> team emanated unity and formidable might. Their names were introduced on the screen, heightening the anticipation of the electrified crowd.
"Today, these two teams will clash, and the triumphant adventurers will be crowned as the revered <Another World> 6th World Champions!" the MC's voice, filled with boundless enthusiasm, resonated throughout the stadium. The crowd's battle cries flew high in response, producing a thrilling and electrifying atmosphere that captured every spectator.
"Today marks the finals! This is the ultimate showdown!" Cheol Han exclaimed, his eyes burning with an unyielding hunger for success.
"After this match, history will remember us as the strongest team in the world, and we will make history as the strongest newbie to ever exist!!" Cheol added his youthful grin, mirroring the enthusiastic determination courting the team. Extending his hand, five others joined him, their tight circle a symbol of unity and unyielding resolve. With hearts brimming with determination, they unleashed a fierce war cry that rang through the very core of the stadium.
"Divine Phoenix, let's take the trophy home!" Six clenched fists, their grip firm and resolute, soared into the air, carrying these aspiring champions' collective hopes and dreams.
Both teams, comprising six outstanding athletes each, took their places at their respective VR Divers, the awe-inspiring device that transported their consciousness into the virtual realm. As the countdown commenced, the VR Divers sealed shut, marking the commencement of the epic battle. An array of holographic panels surrounded the stage, meticulously tracking the movements of every player.
Within the virtual realm, an enticing terrain materialized, produced at random. The teams virtually spawned on either end of a sprawling elliptical arena. The battle format was straightforward: Both teams received blessings from the statues on their bases, bestowing them extraordinary powers to dominate their enemies. Their ultimate goal was to destroy the opposing team's statue, rendering them powerless and triumphing over the virtual realm. While an all-out battle could spell victory, such a dangerous gambit was typically averted, and infiltration tactics were more commonly deployed. The Chinese nationals, however, broke convention, embracing a daring all-in-one deathmatch fiesta that had endeared them to the crowd.
"Everyone, assemble!" Cheol said, standing tall as the captain and monitoring the general strategy of the team. Mindful of each member's mentality, he meticulously made the final decisions.
"RDG is likely to deploy their off-meta strategy, the one that carried them through the tournament. Judging from their practice matches, they're not planning to employ the current infiltration meta at all," Cheol remarked, bringing out a virtual map from his inventory and laying it on the ground. With solid focus, he conveyed the strategy to each member, the pre-battle discussion now bearing fruit.
"Yujin, as always, you will be our rear guard. I trust you have prepared the crowd control scrolls and traps. Position them further away from the statue," Cheol said, fixing his gaze on the man with brown curly hair. "The enemy boasts five ranged attackers, so if an infiltrator does approach, they are likely to strike from a distance," he said.
"Yes, captain!" Yujin answered, his voice radiating eagerness.
"Suyeon, as our sole sharpshooter, you shall be the heart of our ranged combat. The enemy also has five players of similar prowess as you. They may prioritize neutralizing you to mitigate our range diversity. Proceed with utmost caution," Cheol cautioned, his concern clear. The team members shared amused glances, familiar with the underlying reason.
"Rest assured, your girlfriend will succeed. Besides, isn't today your first anniversary?" Yujin joked, only to be hushed by the murderous look from Cheol, diverting his attention to the skies above.
"I understand. I'll scout some places to hide and set traps in preparation, so avoid engaging combat until I'm done. Rest assured, I shall provide aerial support," Suyeon said, her golden hair and pointed ears imbuing her with regal grace comparable to an elven queen of the ancient forests.
"Excellent. I have faith in your abilities. Next, Haneul." Cheol focused his gaze on the woman with beautifully braided black hair ornamented with pink ribbons. Her frightened reaction came up, "Y-yes?"
"As fellow mid-range battle mages, you and I will lead the infiltration. I know this strategy isn't fully refined, but we will take charge of it in this battle," Cheol announced, his nonchalant tone concealing the astonishment mirrored in the eyes of each team member.
"WHAT!" the others exclaimed simultaneously, only to be surpassed by the horrified gasp escaping the mouth of the battle mage girl.
"I admit it's sudden, but among our opponents is a brilliant strategist. That's precisely how they devised their effective all-brawl tactic. If we adhere to our usual plan, we might face unforeseen challenges," Flynn further revealed. Pointing at two areas on the map, he divided them into the east and west.
"Gowoon and Dojin, as our assassins, you shall flank from both the east and west sides. You will be the vanguards of direct battle," Cheol continued, knowing well that Gowoon and Dojin, accustomed to their responsibilities as infiltrators, stood in bewilderment, mouths open, doubts floating around them. However, their captain soon comforted them as Cheol said, "We shall only implement this strategy should the enemy resort to infiltration. Otherwise, we shall adapt and swap our roles back midway."
"Yes, captain!" Both of them replied, their voices firm and determined.
A countdown timer emerged, filling the skies, its digits decreasing steadily. As the count hit zero, the plasma shield enclosing both bases smoothly dissipated, indicating the official opening of the first round of the fight.
"Let's go!" Cheol commanded.
At the captain's orders, everyone but the rearguard, Yujin, emerged from the base. The first to make their move was Suyeon, famed for her nimble footwork, acquired from a successful raid a year earlier. Only her afterimage remained in the base, as the rest had yet to depart.
Her swiftness was vital; she had to place traps and survey locations before any of the five rangers from the opposition squad claimed those positions. The setting this time consisted of a beautiful woodland, a region where Suyeon's sniping skills shone with unsurpassed brilliance. However, this advantage also favored the opposing team since they boasted five range attackers, including one archer, one magic archer, two snipers, and one magic gunner.
Cheol and Haneul moved quickly, their strides eliciting faint rustling sounds as they deftly crossed the woodland. The terrain extended roughly 3 kilometers this time, affording them adequate time to reach the midpoint of the map.
"<Magic Sensor!>" Cheol's voice resounded as he activated a spell limited to mages, which produced faint waves of light, detecting all life forms and magic within a radius. A transparent map appeared before him, presenting the findings recorded by the sensory magic. To Cheol's dismay, no single dot appeared on the map, suggesting a lack of detection. He instantly turned to his communication device, hoping to reach his separated companions.
"Everyone, exercise caution. I am not detecting any signs of the enemy on our side." Cheol's urgent message reached the crew.
"Captain, could it be that they are too far for detection? The radius of that skill should be around 500 meters, so I believe they must be close to their base," Dowoon provided his analysis.
"No, it cannot be. We watched their semi-final match against the US, and their movement buff skill is exceptionally overpowering," Suyeon chipped in. "I used my <Hawkeye> skill, and I can confirm there is no detection in my vicinity. However... What? Traces of magic seem to be directing toward your location, captain!"
Surprise painted Cheol's face as many dazzling bolts of light surged toward their location, verifying Suyeon's claims.
"Haneul, dodge!" Cheol commanded, his eyes wide with shock as the brilliance of the lights surrounded the area and a loud roar rippled through the woodland.
With incredible agility, Haneul dodged the incoming assault, swiftly shifting position with a nimble roll. The mesmerizing display of light and sound was magnificent and alarming, leaving DPX momentarily astonished by the ferocity of the attack.
"Everyone, take cover!" Cheol yelled, his voice authoritative. The Divine Phoenix crew, seasoned adventurers, rapidly dispersed, finding cover behind thick trees and boulders.