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Chapter 1: The Player Who Can’t Level Up (1)

“Squeeeakk!” The green goblin shrieked as it went down.

“Nice work, everyone.”

“Thank you for your work, Guide.”

“Good job!”

“Killing goblins is pretty easy now!”

The players chatted as they put away their weapons. The man addressed as “Guide” was the last player to put his sword away.

“Did everyone level up?” the guide asked.

“Yes,” answered one of the players.

“We didn’t even kill that many, but we’ve already leveled up,” added another one from the group.

“It’s because you level up quicker in the beginner levels.” The guide turned around and continued, “Then, we will climb the second floor tomorrow.”

“Okay!”

“I’ll see you at the entrance in the morning.” The guide said his goodbyes and left first. The remaining players were still packing their stuff; when he was out of earshot, they began talking in hushed tones.

“So, is that guy really that famous?”

“Totally.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of him too!”

The goblin corpse had disappeared by now, leaving a murky crystal in its place. One of the players picked it up and continued, “I’m not completely sure about it, but rumor has it that he can’t level up.”

“What?” asked the curious one in the group.

“He’s the player who can’t level up. I know there isn’t a numerical ranking system; if there were, he would be dead last, no doubt.”

“Really? He can’t level up?”

“Yes. Another rumor is that he possesses a unique ability. However, if that were true, what’s he doing helping newbies like us?” said the crystal-carrying player to no one in particular.

“That’s true.” Lost in thought, the group of newbie players nodded and looked in the direction in which the guide left.

***

Gi-Gyu, the guide who left the hunting ground alone, was busy checking his schedule. His guiding appointments were done for the day, which meant it was time for him to hunt.

Gi-Gyu watched the forest as he walked by. Like clockwork, he had been following the exact same routine for the last five years. Every day, he would spend a chunk of his time guiding people around the Tower; then, he would use what’s left of his day for hunting. This had been his everyday routine ever since he entered the Tower as a player.

Gi-Gyu headed toward his regular hunting ground to avoid the other players. After wandering around the Tower for five years, he found a secluded corner where he could hunt in peace. For now, no one seemed to be aware of this spot; it was his secret spot.

This secret spot had a unique feature of sorts—a goblin would spawn here every day.

Today’s goblin was looking around, waiting for its prey.

“Krrrk? Krrrk?”

Schwing!

Gi-Gyu unsheathed his sword from his waist and trod quietly toward it. Every step he took was filled with caution.

‘A well-placed strike to the goblin’s vulnerable spot when it’s unaware should be enough to kill it. This should be an easy hunt.’

“Squeeakk!” However, the goblin spotted Gi-Gyu and screeched.

“Tsk.”

Today’s hunt turned out to be another problematic one. His surprise attack succeeded at odd times, but times like those were sporadic. Consequently, most of his hunts turned out to be problematic.

“Squeeakk!”

Dodging the spear, Gi-Gyu jumped toward the goblin.

***

After a long one-hour hunt, Gi-Gyu was drained. He had been hunting goblins in the same place for five years, so he should’ve been getting faster at it. But even now, it still took him over an hour to kill a single goblin.

Gi-Gyu exercised diligently in the hope of improving his stamina. However, he failed to build even a single muscle, let alone gain a stamina point.

When the Tower and the Gate appeared in this world, a handful of people awakened as “players.” Those who obtained unlimited potential ascended the Tower and closed the Gate, creating their own powerful group.

Now, the world was so dependent on the players that it could not survive without them. A player was an admired hero and a symbol of wealth since the beings called players literally controlled the world economy. So, when Gi-Gyu awakened as a player, he was ecstatic.

“Status screen.” Lying on the ground, Gi-Gyu called up his status screen.

[Level 1]

[Unique Ability ???]

He was still at Level 1, and his unique ability was still something unknown. Looking at the screen, Gi-Gyu frowned bitterly.

A unique ability was something that only a select few called the Chosen Ones could acquire. Usually, this unique ability awakened into a special skill. Gi-Gyu was one of those Chosen Ones, but the problem was, he didn’t know what his ability was. His unique ability remained a bunch of question marks despite his best efforts. After Kim Gi-Gyu became a player with a unique ability, he believed he had an easy life ahead of him. But of course, the reality wasn’t what he had expected.

“Who knew there could be a player like me?!” Gi-Gyu grumbled to himself. He was a player with a unique ability, one of the Chosen Ones. However, his unique ability was the great unknown, he couldn’t level up, and he was as strong as an average human at best. All these factors resulted in Gi-Gyu being an unprecedented player.

***

The Gate that led to the Tower was located in the Seoul branch of the Player Association.

“This is your pay for the day.”

“Thank you.”

Gi-Gyu received three 50,000 won bills. For Gi-Gyu, this was a lot of money. Gi-Gyu worked as a tutorial guide for the novice players in the Tower. His job was to appraise the newly awakened players about the Tower, the other players, and the battles. He accompanied them from the first to the fourth floors, called the tutorial floors.

Gi-Gyu complained, “Ahh… Each day I’m getting fewer customers than the last.”

Recently, the number of novice players requesting a tutorial guide has decreased. This was because the guilds offered their own guides in hopes of seducing novice players into their guilds. The new players, in turn, preferred the guides from the guilds they planned on joining rather than the association’s guides. Such preference guaranteed that they could hunt with the same guides even after the tutorial levels.

Unfortunately, this meant less work for Gi-Gyu. He missed the days when he made a lucrative living as an association guide.

“Haa…” Gi-Gyu sighed deeply. His income was progressively decreasing, and his level refused to go up. He had to make much more than what he was making if he wanted to continue paying for his mother’s hospital bills, the rent, and his family’s living expenses.

“At this rate, I might have to get a part-time job,” Gi-Gyu lamented. Perhaps he needed to give up his hunting time and find a part-time job. He knew he wouldn’t be able to live as a player anymore if it came to that.

Gi-Gyu headed toward the payment office nearby. Whenever a monster was killed in the Tower or at the Gate, a crystal appeared in its place. A player’s primary income came from exchanging these crystals for money at the payment office.

“That’ll be 20,000 won.”

Since all Gi-Gyu brought was a single small crystal he got from killing the goblin, his pay was meager. Putting away the money in his pocket, Gi-Gyu turned around. It was time to go home.

***

Gi-Gyu’s home was located atop a shabby apartment complex; it was an even shabbier rooftop attic. He opened the door and entered with a big smile.

“I’m home!” Gi-Gyu greeted.

“Welcome back, Gi-Gyu.” His mother returned the greeting.

“How are you feeling today, Mother?” he asked.

“Welcome home,” chirped in his younger sister, Yoo-Jung.

In this tiny place’s corner was a hospital bed where Gi-Gyu’s mother rested. A particularly nasty accident torpefied her lower body, leaving her immotile.

“Oppa[1], you haven’t had dinner yet, right? I’ll make you something,” Yoo-Jung offered.

“Okay,” Gi-Gyu answered as he walked up to his mother and began massaging her. And this was his everyday routine after getting out of work and returning home. His mother was paralyzed from a spinal injury, and she needed frequent massages to prevent further muscle stiffening.

“I’m sorry, Gi-Gyu,” his mother apologized suddenly.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry about, Mother,” Gi-Gyu consoled her.

Gi-Gyu’s father passed away from an accident when he was young. That same accident was also responsible for his mother’s spinal injury. After his father’s death, Gi-Gyu had to mature overnight to care for his mother and younger sister. When Gi-Gyu was still at an innocent young age, he was suddenly burdened with the responsibility of being the only breadwinner in his family.

He learned early on the cruelty of capitalism. He lived in a world where medical treatments were only for those with money, so Gi-Gyu quit school and began working. He spent a better part of his early years working odd jobs, taking on any and all jobs he could find. Just when he made peace with the fact that he would spend the rest of his life delivering food and working part-time jobs full-time, he awakened as a player.

‘What an unfair world.’

Gi-Gyu frowned as he remembered his past. Meanwhile, he didn’t forget to keep his hands busy. Using the wet towel Yoo-Jung had brought him earlier, he washed his mother’s back.

“Oppa, dinner’s ready!” Yoo-Jung called out.

“Go ahead and eat, Son. You must be so tired,” his mother urged.

“Okay,” Gi-Gyu responded.

Yoo-Jung set the metal table with rice, kimchi, and a fried egg.

“Where did you get the egg from?”

“The chicken we’re raising at school laid some, so I brought them home. Hehe!” Yoo-Jung answered with a bright laugh, making Gi-Gyu’s fatigue melt away.

“Thanks. It looks delicious,” said Gi-Gyu, showing his appreciation.

“Hurry up and eat.”

Beep!

He sat down at the table and turned on the old TV. After all these years, this had become a ritual of sorts. Every night, he would watch the Player Channel while eating dinner since it was the only time he could update himself on the daily trivia regarding the other players and the world.

-Angela Guild announced its plan to advance to the 75th floor recently.

-Indeed. They claimed they’d conquer the 75th floor, which hasn’t been cleared so far.

-Hmm…

Angela Guild was a multinational guild that ranked amongst the top three in the world. It was led by a Korean guild master, Lee Sun-Ho. He was a high ranker and a Chosen one, someone with a unique ability. Surprisingly, he was Gi-Gyu’s age but was already deemed the strongest by the global population.

-They have announced that they’ll hold a departing ceremony at the Gate in Seoul tomorrow morning.

-Wow, what an event!

-Indeed. Our hero is a subject of great pride for Koreans worldwide.

-I wish him success in conquering the 75th floor.

-What’s our next story?

-Our next story is related to the Gate and might shock you all. There have been sightings of an S-Class Gate in the US!

-Pardon?!

One of the announcers shouted in shock.

In the entire history of mankind, there hadn’t been a single gate that could triumph over the difficulty that an S-Class Gate posed. Even closing one S-Class Gate required at least ten high rankers.

-Currently, the US government plans on making an official request for help to the Korean Player Association. It has promised a hefty reward for every participating player.

-Along with Angela Guild’s announcement, such news must be causing incredible excitement among the players.

-Yes, I agree.

Beep!

Gi-Gyu turned off the TV. These were important news, but they didn’t concern him.

“I sent the fee for your class trip, so have fun, Yoo-Jung,” Gi-Gyu said.

“W…what?” It came as a surprise to Yoo-Jung.

When Yoo-Jung looked at him in confusion, Gi-Gyu added, “Mother’s sleeping, so let’s talk quietly. You have a class trip tomorrow, right? Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

“Well…” Yoo-Jung hesitated.

“Is it because I’m not making enough money?” Gi-Gyu asked.

“Why would you say that?!” Yoo-Jung yelled angrily. When Gi-Gyu saw his mother rustle in her bed, he said to his sister, “Let’s talk outside.”

“O-okay.” Yoo-Jung agreed. Gi-Gyu took her out to the roof, and they both sat down on small chairs.

“I know why you didn’t tell me, but you still should have. It’s an important class trip, after all,” Gi-Gyu continued the interrupted conversation.

“But… I don’t have to go. It’s just…” Yoo-Jung tried to explain.

Gi-Gyu shook his head and added, “I never got to do those things when I was young. Yoo-Jung, I want you to have a better life. I want to give you a chance to try everything. It’s hard right now, but I will eventually pay back our family debt. I’ve also already begun saving for your university tuition—”

“But the university…”

“I’m not saying you have to go. If you want to try something else, just know that you have my complete support and I’ll help you to the best of my ability. That’s my duty as your older brother.”

Yoo-Jung lowered her face quietly.

“Do you understand, Yoo-Jung?”

“Yeah…”

“I called for an in-house nurse for the next three days, so you can enjoy your trip. Don’t worry about Mother.”

Then, Gi-Gyu handed her all the money he earned from the crystal and the day’s guiding work.

“N-no! I don’t need the money…” Yoo-Jung tried to turn it down.

“Just take it. Go have fun with your friends. Now, you should pack and go to bed.”

“Oppa…”

“Hurry!”

“Okay…”

Yoo-Jung went inside, and Gi-Gyu sat alone outside for a long time with a grim face.

1. A term used to address an older brother or an older male by a younger sister or a younger girl. ☜

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