Chapter 1: Is Anyone Here?
Sigh… I’m exhausted… completely drained.”
Despite his monthly salary barely reaching 2 million won, Sejun manages to save 1 million won each month by cutting down on living expenses after paying his rent and student loan installments.
This has allowed him to accumulate a sum of 12 million won in his savings account.
However, even though this is a considerable amount, it falls short of Sejun’s goal.
When will I ever be able to buy a ticket? Can I even afford one?”
Sejun sighed, overwhelmed by his challenging objective.
A mysterious 99-story black tower appeared out of nowhere in the heart of Gangnam, Seoul, ten years ago.
The tower boasted geometric patterns and a structure defying the laws of physics.
Towers of a similar nature appeared simultaneously in 100 cities across the globe.
Although each country conducted an investigation into the tower that emerged within their borders, they reaped little benefit from their findings.
The information they uncovered revealed that the tower stood 990 meters tall, constructed from a material so strong that even a nuclear bomb couldn’t damage it, and had no visible entrance.
In an unexpected turn of events, people started emerging from the tower one by one.
They seemed to pass through the walls of the tower naturally.
Investigators swiftly identified these individuals, learning that they were people who had recently vanished.
“How did you enter the tower?”
Responding to the investigators’ questions, they explained that they hadn’t entered the tower but had been sucked into a black hole.
When they regained consciousness, they found themselves on the first floor of the tower.
Thus, information about the tower began to unfold through the accounts of those who emerged from it.
The 100 towers are interconnected as a single entity.
Upon entering the tower, you awaken and assume the role of either a magician or a warrior.
Monsters inhabit the tower from the second floor upward, growing stronger as the floors ascend.
Rewards are given for clearing each floor, with the value of rewards increasing with each level.
However, there are no rewards for clearing the same floor twice.
No one understood the purpose of these towers.
But one thing was certain: climbing the tower generated wealth.
Items obtained within the tower fetched high prices on Earth.
Among the items was something called a “ticket.” Tickets were one of the primary sources of income for the awakened, with a high probability of obtaining one or more tickets upon clearing a floor.
Those who had already awakened didn’t require a ticket to enter the tower.
However, ordinary people with tickets could access the tower.
Once inside the tower, they would awaken and gain the qualification to ascend.
Consequently, tickets were neither cheap nor easy to acquire.
In Korea, for example, the Korean Awakened Association purchased tickets from hunters in bulk and resold them.
The price was set at 150 million won per ticket.
Due to high demand, news surfaced that the price would soar to 200 million won within a week.
Hundreds of people had already paid in advance, eagerly awaiting their chance to purchase a ticket.
“I can’t give up!”
Upon seeing frequent news about people getting rich through tower tickets, Sejun made a bold decision.
Grow crops at home!
It was a way to tighten his belt even further.
He didn’t intend to cultivate anything extraordinary; he planned to grow a few low-maintenance plants to save on living expenses.
“I’ll start today.”
With that, he bought some green onions and a few other items at the supermarket before heading home.
Sejun hummed a tune, filled with determination.
If I start growing fruits and vegetables at home, I can save a lot on food expenses and enjoy an abundance of produce.
“This is how I’ll save money to buy a ticket and enter the tower.
Then, I’ll earn loads of money in the tower for Serang and me…”
Sejun daydreamed about Serang, a member of Korea’s top girl group Moonlight Fairy.
In other words, it was Sejun’s own fantasy.
While Sejun was lost in his daydream and walking with a goofy grin, a black hole appeared in the empty space in front of him.
It began to suck in everything around it.
“What?! What is this?!”
Sejun was greatly startled upon discovering the black hole, which didn’t reveal its other side.
“It’s a Vanishing!”
Vanishing was a phenomenon where people were sucked into to the tower.
All the first awakened ones went through a Vanishing…
Anyway, it’s very fortunate, harder to come by than winning the lottery!
Sejun hurriedly sent messages to his family, worried that they might look for him if he disappeared without a word.
When he finished sending the messages,
“Why am I still here?”
“Even if I got sucked into a hole, I should have been sucked in a long time ago…”
Sejun kept staring at the black hole, waiting for it to take him.
But there was no sign that the suction force was getting stronger.
“Hurry up and take me already! Huh?! Why is it shrinking?!”
The hole was even closing.
“No! My future! Serang!!!”
Sejun made up his mind.
The future was for pioneers.
“That’s right! I’m going in!”
Sejun charged into the hole.
With that, he disappeared into the pitch-black darkness.
“Where am I?”
As soon as Sejun exited the hole, he realized something was off.
The information he heard about the first floor of the tower was very different from what he saw.
On the first floor of the tower, there were supposed to be luxurious chandeliers lighting up the area, white marble floors, a spacious plaza with shops selling equipment and potions, and training centers where warriors and magicians could learn skills.
But this place was a cave made of rocks, not even a single shop or training center in sight.
The only similarity with the first floor of the tower was that it was spacious.
The only saving grace was that there was no luxurious chandelier lighting, but a single beam of sunlight illuminated the cave through a hole in the ceiling.
“Let’s find the exit first.”
Sejun looked around for a way out.
The first place he marked as a potential exit was the hole in the cave ceiling.
However, climbing the wall to reach the arched hole in the ceiling seemed impossible unless he was Spider-Man.
“Let’s look for another place.”
Sejun placed his bag on a rock and began to explore the cave.
A moment later.
“Why is this place so vast…”
The cave was much more extensive than he had thought.
The far end of the cave was so dark that he could hardly see anything since the sunlight couldn’t reach it.
“I have to conserve power, but…”
Sejun reluctantly turned on his smartphone’s flashlight on a low setting and continued exploring the cave.
Three hours later.
The cave exploration was over.
The cave was completely blocked off in all directions.
He checked every gap between the rocks and weak points, but there was no place that seemed like a possible exit.
“There’s no exit… Did I end up stranded?”
Sejun mumbled as if he had lost his mind, and trudged back to the place where the sun was shining through the hole in the cave ceiling.
“What should I do…”
He had to admit it.
It was impossible for him to get out of here alone.
“Hello-! Is anyone there-!!!”
Sejun shouted desperately towards the hole in the cave ceiling.
“Hey~ I’m here~!”
Sejun’s desperate shout couldn’t escape the hole and only circled inside the cave.
“Hello! Is there someone here?!”
Sejun screamed until his throat was about to burst.
But not a single person, let alone anything, passed by near the hole.
“Damn it! Can anyone hear me?!!!”
Sejun couldn’t hold back his anger and kicked the ground for no reason.
And so, a day had passed.
Day 2 of being lost.
[May 11th, 6 AM]
The alarm he had set for work rang.
Sejun got up with difficulty from the uncomfortable sleeping place and turned off the alarm on his smartphone.
Sejun, who had just woken up, stared at the hole in the cave ceiling all day.
Even after several hours had passed, no one passed by.
“Is there anyone?!”
Sejun’s shout was only reflected off the damp rocks and returned as a gloomy echo.
Sejun’s stomach grumbled.
Although he was worried, he had to eat to survive.
“Ugh… I’m really hungry.”
He realized that he hadn’t eaten anything since he left work.
‘What should I eat?’
Sejun found a flat rock to sit on and settled down.
He took out an apple wrapped in a plastic bag from his bag.
It was a washed apple given to him by a coworker at the office.
‘Thank you, Minjun.’
Sejun decided that if he ever got out of here, he would repay Minjun with sweet and sour pork.
It’s not that Minjun liked sweet and sour pork, but Sejun was craving it with black bean noodles right now.
So, Sejun resolved to treat Minjun to sweet and sour pork and ripped open the plastic packaging to take a big bite of the apple.
The sweet and sour juice of the apple filled his mouth.
‘It’s so delicious!’
As his appetite returned, his hunger became uncontrollable.
Sejun was devouring the apple as if he was possessed.
He stared at the remaining apple core and seeds with a forlorn expression.
The amount was insufficient.
Sejun dug a shallow hole with his foot and buried the apple seeds and core together.
Then, he started to take out the items from his bag.
A laptop, 500ml of water left from the office, green onions, cherry tomatoes, and sweet potatoes he had bought to grow at home.
“One, two, three…”
Sejun began to count the cherry tomatoes in the plastic container.
He wanted to accurately understand the amount of food he had.
27 cherry tomatoes, 10 green onion stalks, and 7 sweet potatoes .
For now, he planted all the green onions, 3 cherry tomatoes, and 2 sweet potatoes, and left the rest as food.
Cherry tomatoes have many seeds inside, so even just three of them can yield a lot of plants.
As for sweet potatoes, they were the only available food that could provide carbohydrates, but he couldn’t plant many of them.
‘First, let’s fill up my stomach.’
Sejun washed a sweet potato and five cherry tomatoes in the small pond.
It was fortunate that there was a small pond in the corner of the cave.
At least he could find water.
‘It would have been nice if there were fish too…’
There were no creatures the size of tadpoles in the pond.
Sejun realized there were no insects or small animals like mice in the cave either.
Sejun would normally be scared by insects or mice, but now that there were none, it felt strange.
He had seen many scenes in movies where people ate insects or mice when there was no food.
‘Really, if the food runs out, I might have to eat something like that.’
Of course, it would be best to escape this place before the food runs out.
As he chewed the sweet potato, the crisp sound made his scattered thoughts disappear.
Now was the time to focus on the sweet potato.
It was delicious! The more he chewed, the sweeter it became.
He always boiled or roasted sweet potatoes, but he thought it was fine to eat them raw sometimes.
“Now, let’s get to work.”
After finishing one sweet potato and five cherry tomatoes, Sejun picked up a green onion.
He broke off about one-third of the green leafy part from the root of the onion, placed it separately on the ground.
‘I’ll eat it later.’
Although it wouldn’t taste good, he might have to eat it to survive.
Sejun buried the white part of the onion root in the soft soil where the sunlight entered.
Then he planted two sweet potatoes on the left side and cherry tomatoes on the right side.
He simply buried the sweet potatoes in the ground and planted the seeds that came out of the crushed cherry tomatoes.
He sucked the tomato juice off his hands and went to the pond.
He filled a 500mL water bottle with pond water and watered the crops he had just planted.
When the work was finished, Sejun lay down on a rock, looking at the ceiling, and waited for someone to pass by.
He tried to minimize energy consumption due to the lack of food and occasionally shouted, “Is anyone here?!”
But no one passed by.
[May 12th, 6 AM]
Day 3 of being lost.
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