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SL Chapter 245 - 254

Kircala Jun 13th, 2019 (edited) 157 Never
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  1. Chapter 245:
  2. Side Story 2
  3.  
  4. Reunion (1)
  5. Ash continued to fall from the sky like snowflakes.
  6.  
  7. Jin-Woo bade farewell to his Shadow Soldiers as their time to part drew near, and without a shred of hesitation, turned around to face the leader of the Rulers.
  8.  
  9. "I'm ready."
  10.  
  11. The 'Brightest Fragment of Brilliant Light' summoned out a stunningly beautiful chalice, its expression slightly sorrowful. Jin-Woo's eyes shone with interest when he saw that artefact.
  12.  
  13. 'So, that's the Tool of God that can turn back time, the Chalice of Rebirth....'
  14.  
  15. Gulp.
  16.  
  17. Right after he realized that the moment when everything was over and would begin anew, he swallowed hard. Jin-Woo's face was filled with tension. Seeing him like this, the Fragment of Brilliant Light asked him one more time.
  18.  
  19. [Truly... will you not regret this decision?]
  20.  
  21. It had spent eons fighting against Sovereigns and knew better than anyone how heavy the burden a war of this magnitude imposed on one's soul was. Meaning, it understood full well the weight of that burden this Shadow Sovereign was about to bear all by himself.
  22.  
  23. The second Shadow Sovereign, Jin-Woo, nodded his head.
  24.  
  25. He won the first battle. The second battle should be that much easier. He had to ensure that would be the case.
  26.  
  27. He formed an expression half-filled with grim determination and confidence. The Brilliant Light also nodded its head.
  28.  
  29. This man's drive to save all those lost in this war – how could this angel not know his determination when it too raised a flag of rebellion against its master, the Absolute Being, all for the sake of countless subordinates that died during the course of this everlasting war?
  30.  
  31. [I pray that your courage will save your world one more time.]
  32.  
  33. The Fragment of Brilliant Light made a heartfelt prayer and flipped the Chalice of Rebirth around. When it did, light filling up the Chalice poured down onto the ground, gently and gradually soaking it.
  34.  
  35. The most blinding veil of light slowly began enveloping the whole world.
  36.  
  37. Everyone – injured soldiers waiting in the battlefields, their families learning of their fate through TV, those praying for the safety of their loved ones, those with pale complexions after hearing ominous news broadcasts, those dropping their heads lower in despair….
  38.  
  39. In their houses, inside their cars, inside hospitals, inside schools, inside their workplaces….
  40.  
  41. Everyone saw the blinding light gently permeating through their windows.
  42.  
  43. Eventually, the whole planet became awash with pure light.
  44.  
  45. And then, the light silently blanketing the whole world, quietly dissipated and disappeared without a trace, just like when it first appeared.
  46.  
  47. ***
  48.  
  49. Morning.
  50.  
  51. Past the closed eyelids, the rays of morning sun signaling the start of yet another day could be felt. Jin-Woo kept his eyes closed for the time being and while lying on his back, stroked the familiar material of the bed sheet.
  52.  
  53. Although he wasn't fully awake yet, his perception that had far surpassed the boundaries of a human being could pick up on the unfolding situation of his immediate vicinity with ease.
  54.  
  55. 'Jin-Ah is coming out of the bathroom after washing up, the smell of the boiling stew, sounds coming from the cutting board, and then, the air in my room with this familiar smell....'
  56.  
  57. This was his home.
  58.  
  59. He had returned back home.
  60.  
  61. Jin-Woo's heartbeat began quickening bit by bit from the realization. He then heard his mom's voice through the closed door.
  62.  
  63. "Jin-Ah? Can you go and wake your brother up?"
  64.  
  65. That's right.
  66.  
  67. His little sister Jin-Ah really liked sleeping, as befitting a growing girl of her age, but oddly enough, she always woke up early in the morning. And almost always, Mom would ask her to go and wake her oppa up every day like this.
  68.  
  69. "Okay!"
  70.  
  71. After realizing that the memories of the childhood he dreamed of reliving were now playing out so vividly in front of his eyes, a wide grin quickly floated up on Jin-Woo's face.
  72.  
  73. Clunk.
  74.  
  75. "Oppaaaa..."
  76.  
  77. Before his sister could fully open the door, he slowly pushed himself up from the bed.
  78.  
  79. "Uhh? When did you wake up?"
  80.  
  81. She stared at his already-awake figure with wide-open eyes, and Jin-Woo formed a deep smile as his reply. In front of his eyes stood Jin-Ah, who hadn't lost her friends to the monsters yet.
  82.  
  83. Jin-Woo stood up from the bed and walked past his sister to enter the living room.
  84.  
  85. "Son? You're up?"
  86.  
  87. Mom stopped preparing breakfast and looked behind her after hearing his footsteps. From today onwards, he'd never get to see the sight of her trying her hardest to escape from the clutches of the Eternal Sleep that no one could wake up from.
  88.  
  89. But, the most welcoming scene that he really wanted to see again was...
  90.  
  91. Jin-Woo heard the sounds of a newspaper page turning and quickly shifted his gaze towards the dining table. His father, waiting for breakfast to arrive by quietly reading the newspaper, felt his gaze and raised his head.
  92.  
  93. The moment their gazes met, Jin-Woo felt this rush of breathless emotion.
  94.  
  95. "Father...."
  96.  
  97. He muttered the word 'father' out unbeknownst even to himself.
  98.  
  99. Seong Il-Hwan formed a puzzled expression after hearing his son use a rather grown-up word when the boy always used the term 'Dad' up until now.
  100.  
  101. Did his boy wake up after experiencing a scary dream?
  102.  
  103. The young Jin-Woo now looked to be struggling to suppress his tears, so the alarmed Seong Il-Hwan quickly got up from his chair and approached his son.
  104.  
  105. "Son? What's the matter?"
  106.  
  107. The voice of his dad, now coming from right in front of Jin-Woo's nose. He could still vividly remember that feeling of his father scattering away like dust from his grasp, so this moment came across like a dream come true.
  108.  
  109. However, this was not a dream. No, it's THE reality that he needed to protect, no matter what. Tears of happiness briefly welled up in his eyes, but soon enough, they were replaced by the gritty determination, instead.
  110.  
  111. Both his mom and dad were studying him with worried expressions on their faces. Jin-Woo forcibly changed his own expression and formed a grin.
  112.  
  113. "....I must've had a nightmare."
  114.  
  115. Indeed.
  116.  
  117. His nightmare was over.
  118.  
  119. The nightmare was over, and his young sister, his healthy mother, and his father, who hadn't vanished, were all here.
  120.  
  121. He was given one last chance to make everything right. And he swore never to let this chance slip through his fingers. He'd rewrite the future with his own two hands.
  122.  
  123. His eyes gleamed brightly as his resolve firmed up even further.
  124.  
  125. ***
  126.  
  127. It felt like only a couple of days ago when he told himself that, but...
  128.  
  129. ….A week flew by already.
  130.  
  131. Jin-Woo failed to grasp the right timing to enter the gap between dimensions until now. He rested his chin on his hand and dazedly stared outside his classroom's window. Beru began talking to him from his shadow.
  132.  
  133. [Oh, my king....]
  134.  
  135. 'Yeah, I know.'
  136.  
  137. Indeed, he knew.
  138.  
  139. He knew that the Sovereigns desiring after this land were getting ready to deploy a gigantic Gate just beyond the blue sky above his head.
  140.  
  141. However, these last few days had been like a holiday for him, someone who had ended a big fight not too long ago. For a little while longer…. Wouldn't it be fine for him to fully enjoy these peaceful times for a little bit longer? Especially as a reward for his hard work so far.
  142.  
  143. '…..'
  144.  
  145. As he spent his time worrying about this and that, the much-welcomed sound rang around the classroom.
  146.  
  147. Ding-dong…. Ding-dong….
  148.  
  149. The bells signaling the end of school noisily resounded out from the speakers.
  150.  
  151. Kids all looked to be slowly wasting away until then, but renewed vitality suddenly seeped into their expressions. Going with the flow, Jin-Woo formed a bright expression as well.
  152.  
  153. Even if the inside was a young man aged twenty-four, no, twenty-five, his outer appearance was that of a child only fourteen years old or so.
  154.  
  155. The after-class goodbyes with the homeroom teacher came to a quick end in a heightened, noisy, and boisterous atmosphere. Soon, though, schoolboys sporting buzz cut hairstyles quickly crowded around Jin-Woo.
  156.  
  157. "Hey, Jin-Woo!"
  158.  
  159. "You're stopping by at the internet cafe today, right?"
  160.  
  161. Jin-Woo checked out the excited faces of the kids and grinned softly before nodding his head.
  162.  
  163. "Oww yeah!"
  164.  
  165. "Hey, hey! Jin-Woo's playing for our team today!"
  166.  
  167. "What? What're you on about?! He played for your team yesterday already."
  168.  
  169. "But, we also took in Jong-Shik too, you know. And he's the worst player here."
  170.  
  171. "Ah, ah, fine. We'll take Jong-Shik and Min-Pyo too, so Jin-Woo is on our team."
  172.  
  173. "Let's decide with rock-paper-scissors!"
  174.  
  175. "Deal!"
  176.  
  177. Around this time period in the classrooms of the nation's middle schools saw the boom in the RTS video game genre. Jin-Woo's stunning reflexes and perception were more than enough to show these kids a whole new world out there.
  178.  
  179. For the middle school boys, top skills in a video game meant that you were the most popular kid in school. Just about every kid out there competed hard to be in the same team as Jin-Woo.
  180.  
  181. The matches of rock-paper-scissors were supposed to be decided on the best out of three but soon morphed into best out of five.
  182.  
  183. Meanwhile, middle school girls, clearly not interested in the matters of video games, stared at the boys intensely competing in the warfare to steal Jin-Woo away with eyes reserved for looking at helpless idiots and left the classroom.
  184.  
  185. Also, right by the rear door of the classroom, there was this kid who kept stealing glances in the direction of the crowd while he belatedly packed his school bag.
  186.  
  187. He liked playing the video game like everyone else, but was no good in making friends. Such kids could only look on with envy at the rest of their classmates going around in groups like that.
  188.  
  189. Smirk.
  190.  
  191. Jin-Woo quietly smirked to himself.
  192.  
  193. He began noticing things that he wasn't conscious of before as a kid one by one. Was it because he was an adult now? Or, because of his perception that had exceeded the norms of humanity?
  194.  
  195. Even in this cramped space of the classroom, so, so many emotions swirled around and collided against one another to form a small world of its own.
  196.  
  197. In the meantime...
  198.  
  199. "Wow-!"
  200.  
  201. Kids who finally found themselves in Jin-Woo's team exclaimed out loudly without a shred of embarrassment.
  202.  
  203. Jin-Woo inwardly clicked his tongue.
  204.  
  205. 'This is why girls are looking at you like that....'
  206.  
  207. The victors of the rock-paper-scissors battlefield left behind the dejected kids and hurriedly crowded around Jin-Woo once more.
  208.  
  209. "Alright, let's go, Jin-Woo!"
  210.  
  211. Before he did that, though, he pointed to the back of the classroom.
  212.  
  213. "Hey, I want to form a team with him."
  214.  
  215. "Uh?"
  216.  
  217. In the direction the boys turned their heads to, there was only that lone kid packing up his bag in silence. He flinched from surprise after realizing that everyone was looking at him, his eyes growing larger in panic.
  218.  
  219. "Uh....? Me?"
  220.  
  221. Jin-Woo replied back.
  222.  
  223. "Yup, you."
  224.  
  225. At that moment, he found countless traces of agonizing dilemma flit in and out of the boy's expression. He just smirked again and asked.
  226.  
  227. "What's the matter? You don't wanna?"
  228.  
  229. "N-no....."
  230.  
  231. The boy was now forming a shy but happy smile. Seeing that he was successful in his mission, Jin-Woo picked up his bag and spoke up.
  232.  
  233. "Okay, let's go."
  234.  
  235. The boy quickly picked up his bag and nodded his head.
  236.  
  237. "Y-yeah!"
  238.  
  239. Jin-Woo grinned brightly again.
  240.  
  241. For a little bit longer.
  242.  
  243. This feeling – just for a little bit longer.
  244.  
  245. 'If these moments that I'm living my life aren't harming anyone, let me enjoy them at least for another day.
  246.  
  247. Let me stay for a bit longer....'
  248.  
  249. Jin-Woo's steps taking him outside the classroom alongside his friends were cheery and light, but at the same time, also incomparably heavy as well.
  250.  
  251. The sun leaning against the mountain behind the school was already dyeing the sky amber. Jin-Woo came to a stop for a moment there and looked up at the heavens above, prompting his friends to call out to him.
  252.  
  253. "Hey, Jin-Woo? What are you doing?"
  254.  
  255. "Our spots in the internet cafe will get taken over at this rate!"
  256.  
  257. 'These guys, trying to hurry me and all....'
  258.  
  259. "Yeah, yeah, I'm coming."
  260.  
  261. Jin-Woo caught up to the rest of his friends walking a step ahead. They were noisily chatting about their famous victories soon to be written in history with voices full of anticipation.
  262.  
  263. Jin-Woo didn't really need to enter the conversations to sense their excitement and hear their throbbing heartbeats.
  264.  
  265. And so….
  266.  
  267. Under the skies dyeing in the colors of vivid copper, Jin-Woo walked on these streets with friends he met again after what felt like an eternity.
  268.  
  269. He walked with a wide smile still etched on his face.
  270.  
  271. < Chapter 245 > Fin.
  272.  
  273. Chapter 246:
  274. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  275.  
  276. Side Story 3
  277.  
  278. Reunion (2)
  279. After entering the gap between dimensions, Jin-Woo developed a habit he never had before. And that would be jotting down things he saw and experienced on that day on a notebook.
  280.  
  281. He wasn't doing it with some lofty purpose of leaving behind the records of his bitter life-or-death struggle against the Sovereigns.
  282.  
  283. The gap between dimension was a perfectly 'empty' space, pretty similar to the land of eternal rest. Without battles against his enemies, this world of nothingness where only the eternal darkness existed would have been incredibly dreary and lonesome - he'd have difficult time trying to keep his sanity as a result.
  284.  
  285. However, his reason wasn't as simple as there being nothing to do in here.
  286.  
  287. Jin-Woo now possessed the experience of living the same timeline twice and because of that, realized something crucial – the perspective on an event would shift depending on when you were looking at it.
  288.  
  289. Meaning, after some time had passed, he might see some things he previously failed to notice.
  290.  
  291. And that was why he became rather curious as to how he'd feel after going through these records again when his memories started to fade away and grew indistinct in the distant future.
  292.  
  293. Would he become embarrassed that he left behind written records? Or would he feel regret, thinking that he could've done it better? Or, maybe even miss this war, although he felt almost completely fed up with it right now?
  294.  
  295. That was his reason for writing a diary whenever he had a chance.
  296.  
  297. Jot, jot...
  298.  
  299. Within this endlessly deep darkness, only the sounds of a pen softly scratching on the surface of a paper quietly rang out. As he continued to jot down the records of the day's events, a smirk suddenly formed on his lips.
  300.  
  301. '….Even still, I'm pretty sure I'll never miss the stuff that happened here in the future.'
  302.  
  303. Jin-Woo raised his head and caught the sight of the monster corpses too numerous to even count strewn about in the darkness.
  304.  
  305. Yet again, Jin-Woo tasted victory in the battle against the Sovereigns, and through this particular engagement, killed the 'Sovereign of Transfiguration' – the one that gave him the most headache so far.
  306.  
  307. It had already been 27 years since he entered the gap between dimensions. Finally, the closing curtains of this long, dangerous, and monotone warfare was in sight.
  308.  
  309. The only remaining enemies were the Dragon Emperor and its direct subordinates, the 'Army of Destruction'. His heart briefly beat faster from knowing that he'd go home soon.
  310.  
  311. 'What a relief that the time flow in here and outside is different.'
  312.  
  313. Only around two years should have gone by on the outside.
  314.  
  315. Coming home after two years of absence, was it?
  316.  
  317. How much would Jin-Ah have changed? What about Dad? Mom? Were they holding up well? Should he have explained a bit better before coming here?
  318.  
  319. All sorts of worries briefly fleeted in and out of his head.
  320.  
  321. 'No, hang on.'
  322.  
  323. Jin-Woo shook his head as if to get rid of all distracting thoughts. Now wasn't the time to focus his attention on how to decorate the last pages of his 'diary'.
  324.  
  325. With excellent timing, Bellion walked closer and bowed his head.
  326.  
  327. [My liege, the surroundings have been tidied up. There are no living enemies left.]
  328.  
  329. Jin-Woo took a look around him.
  330.  
  331. The Shadow Soldiers had finished sweeping up the battlefield and massacred all the still-breathing enemies, and now, they stood in near-infinite columns as far as his eyes could see, silently waiting for his next command.
  332.  
  333. Guooooh….
  334.  
  335. He had already given up counting the number of his current soldiers quite a while ago. With a chuckle, Jin-Woo closed the diary.
  336.  
  337. "Alright."
  338.  
  339. He stored both the notebook and the pen within the subspace and descended from the top of a hill made out of the monster corpses.
  340.  
  341. It was now the time – time to meet his greatest enemy. The one he so badly wanted to meet.
  342.  
  343. It was time to go and greet the 'one' who handed him his first defeat ever since becoming the Shadow Sovereign. The Rulers intervened and the end result was flipped on its head, but without a doubt, Jin-Woo did lose to the Dragon Emperor in that battle.
  344.  
  345. '….I won't lose again.'
  346.  
  347. A cold gleam dangerously flickered within Jin-Woo's eyes.
  348.  
  349. His heart beat only softly when he thought about going home soon, yet now his eardrums were hurting from its vigorous, thunderous pounding.
  350.  
  351. Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump!!
  352.  
  353. What if...
  354.  
  355. Jin-Woo focused on the sounds of his beating heart, only to begin wondering if there would come a day in the distant future when he'd really start missing this war.
  356.  
  357. He then wordlessly turned in the direction where the aura of the Dragon Emperor could be felt. And, along with the soldiers that would participate in the final battle….
  358.  
  359. "Rise up."
  360.  
  361. From next to the countless dead monsters strewn about everywhere, an equal number of shadows rose up after hearing the command of the Shadow Sovereign.
  362.  
  363. Right behind Jin-Woo, his three Marshals, Bellion, Beru, and Igrit, plus many commanders, stood in an orderly fashion.
  364.  
  365. And behind them, the enormous army, more than large enough to cover an entire continent, quietly waited on standby for his next command.
  366.  
  367. '…....'
  368.  
  369. Although this world lacked the flow of air, it still felt like a wind signaling the end of the war was faintly blowing around.
  370.  
  371. Jin-Woo quietly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. And when he opened his eyes, he uttered out the words that ushered in the end of this lengthy war.
  372.  
  373. "We march forward to attack the Dragon Emperor."
  374.  
  375. The Dragon Emperor also felt it.
  376.  
  377. It felt that a truly gigantic horde with a scale that couldn't even be estimated heading in its direction.
  378.  
  379. Since when did it start?
  380.  
  381. When was it that the Shadow Sovereign, initially starting off with the repeated tactic of hit-and-run to shave away the massive Army of the Chaos World, began to openly hit his enemies with the full might of his army, instead?
  382.  
  383. The position of the army chasing him down had suddenly reversed and now, they were being chased down by him.
  384.  
  385. Out of all the armies that had been scattered around on their own, only the Army of Destruction remained. So, it wasn't all that difficult to guess where the attention of the Shadow Sovereign would land next.
  386.  
  387. The final, deciding battle.
  388.  
  389. Although the Dragon Emperor never imagined that the seemingly-everlasting war would end not with a grand battle against the Rulers but as a conflict between Sovereigns, it still believed that the upcoming battle would be a perfect finale nevertheless.
  390.  
  391. Indeed, didn't its blood boil from just remembering the battle against the Shadow Sovereign that took place decades ago?
  392.  
  393. '….'
  394.  
  395. The Dragon Emperor quietly stood still and glared in one particular spot. In the meantime, one of its subordinates cautiously approached it.
  396.  
  397. [Oh, my Emperor....]
  398.  
  399. The Dragon Emperor standing there with its arms crossed quickly replied.
  400.  
  401. [Yugumunt has died.]
  402.  
  403. After hearing the news of the Sovereign of Transfiguration dying, the subordinate formed a stunned expression before bowing its head again.
  404.  
  405. [That is why... perhaps it is advisable to move to somewhere more distant....]
  406.  
  407. [No.]
  408.  
  409. The Dragon Emperor bared its fangs as murderous aura rose up from its body in a red mist.
  410.  
  411. [I'm already sick and tired of running away. We shall fight the bastard right here.]
  412.  
  413. That man had spent over twenty years to hunt and whittle down the armies of the Sovereigns. So, he'd not even give his enemies sufficient time to regroup and reform their army.
  414.  
  415. If it was impossible to escape from his siege, then the Dragon Emperor would fight back head-on and decide everything. Now that would be a choice befitting of the King of Berserk Dragons.
  416.  
  417. [Get ready for battle!]
  418.  
  419. One command from their Sovereign and the Army of Destruction got ready to fight in an instant.
  420.  
  421. Kuwaaaah-!!
  422.  
  423. The Ancient-grade Dragons, Dragonewts, and the Sky Dragons they were riding on, all raised their heads up high and roared out.
  424.  
  425. 'He's coming!'
  426.  
  427. The Dragon Emperor's head snapped in the direction where it just detected the movement of a gigantic power.
  428.  
  429. There was a clear reason why the Army of the Chaos World was defeated by the lone Shadow Sovereign.
  430.  
  431. '….Outstanding mobility.'
  432.  
  433. No one could even come remotely close to the mobility of the Shadow Army that could be summoned freely by their Sovereign whenever he felt like it.
  434.  
  435. No matter how close one was, the distance would grow in an instant, and no matter how far away they were, they could close the distance in the blink of an eye, too.
  436.  
  437. And right this moment, the Dragon Emperor was looking at the reason why the Sovereigns' armies had been so thoroughly defeated. The Shadow Sovereign slowly rose up from the darkness. And at the same time, millions upon millions of black soldiers lined up behind him.
  438.  
  439. The Shadow Sovereign!!
  440.  
  441. The fighting spirit emitted from the entirety of the Shadow Army standing behind him was so great that it even made the Dragon Emperor shudder from this slight sense of disgust for a moment there.
  442.  
  443. Two decades of war later, he had finally got himself the greatest army imaginable.
  444.  
  445. [Kuhahahaha!!]
  446.  
  447. The Dragon Emperor roared out with boisterous laughter after coming face-to-face with this incredible army.
  448.  
  449. [Amazing. Truly amazing, oh, King of Shadows.]
  450.  
  451. Fight the smaller number with overwhelming numbers – the situation back then when he first faced off against his enemies had now completely turned on its head.
  452.  
  453. [I never imagined that you alone would be capable of completely shaking up the entire army. Who would have thought that we'd arrive here?]
  454.  
  455. The Shadow Sovereign, currently outfitted in jet-black armour, wordlessly stared at the king of all Dragons.
  456.  
  457. The previous immaturity of the Shadow Sovereign had been replaced by this still weightiness and he emitted a much stronger aura than ever before.
  458.  
  459. Flinch, flinch….
  460.  
  461. The Dragon Emperor's body shuddered from excitement, as a truly powerful enemy stood before it.
  462.  
  463. It so desperately wanted to rip him into pieces.
  464.  
  465. It so badly wanted to rip him into several pieces and devour him.
  466.  
  467. The nature of a berserk Dragon began wiggling madly from within the Dragon Emperor. However, it was still too early to confirm whether this encounter was a celebration or a punishment. It wanted to enjoy this moment as it trembled from the anticipation for a little bit longer.
  468.  
  469. [I want to ask you one thing.]
  470.  
  471. Also, there was this thing it was quite curious about as well, which was rather convenient.
  472.  
  473. [Why did the Rulers use the 'Chalice of Rebirth'? Why did they revive all the dead Sovereigns and their soldiers?]
  474.  
  475. There was no doubt that on that day, the Dragon Emperor's life came to an end at the hands of the Rulers. The pain from the spears that pierced into its body was still vividly etched in its memory.
  476.  
  477. The grand army of the Chaos World would have crumbled pretty quickly after their leadership was lost through the Dragon Emperor's death. And with that, the lengthy war between the Sovereigns and Rulers would have come to its natural end. With the Rulers as the final victors.
  478.  
  479. It'd have been a perfect defeat for the Sovereigns, with not even a bit of room for any excuses whatsoever.
  480.  
  481. However, they went ahead and revived every Sovereign for some unknown reason, by reversing the time through the 'Chalice of Rebirth'.
  482.  
  483. Ever since that day, it tried to decipher the intentions of the Rulers over and over again, but failed to even come close to guessing the reason. That was why it simply had to ask the Shadow Sovereign, who was with them at the time.
  484.  
  485. And then...
  486.  
  487. [Because I wanted it.]
  488.  
  489. ….That completely unexpected answer caused the brows of the Dragon Emperor to shoot up.
  490.  
  491. [What did you say...?]
  492.  
  493. Jin-Woo slowly spoke again, enunciating every word clearly so his opponent could understand him.
  494.  
  495. [I wanted to kill you lot with my own hands again so I asked them for the favour of using the 'Chalice of Rebirth'.]
  496.  
  497. Crazy son of a bitch!
  498.  
  499. The Dragon Emperor somehow managed to suppress a torrent of swearing that rushed up to the tip of its tongue. To attack an army of over ten million-strong soldiers with just one hundred thousand combatants, he resorted to using a Tool of God to reverse time?!
  500.  
  501. Although it was a truly nonsensical declaration, but at least, it did resolve one of the questions burning up inside the Dragon Emperor's head.
  502.  
  503. The reason for the Rulers using the Chalice of Rebirth, and the Shadow Sovereign suddenly going on a rampage – these two matters were actually related, as it turned out.
  504.  
  505. [Haha…. Ahahahaha!!]
  506.  
  507. As if it found the whole thing too absurd, the Dragon Emperor shook its head helplessly and roared out in a burst of loud laughter.
  508.  
  509. The Shadow Sovereign wanted to fight the massive army of the Chaos World again on his own volition, and just as he wished, managed to succeed in driving his enemies to a corner.
  510.  
  511. This feat demanded a level of respect that transcended all types of respect. The Dragon Emperor had no other way to express its opinion on the Shadow Sovereign who had managed to almost succeed in a challenge that seemed utterly impossible to accomplish in the face of it.
  512.  
  513. And he was now staring down on one final hurdle of that challenge.
  514.  
  515. Whether to devour, or be devoured.
  516.  
  517. For the first time ever, the Dragon Emperor became curious about the name of its opponent, the one that would either devour it, or end up getting devoured by it, instead.
  518.  
  519. [My name is Antares.]
  520.  
  521. The name bestowed unto it by the Absolute Being, but revealed to no one until now – the Dragon Emperor readily revealed its name to the Shadow Sovereign.
  522.  
  523. [That is my name. Remember it well.]
  524.  
  525. It did so, in order to learn the Shadow Sovereign's name.
  526.  
  527. With a somber, serious expression on its face, the King of Dragons asked its question.
  528.  
  529. [What is your name?]
  530.  
  531. The Shadow Sovereign, Jin-Woo, decided to answer what could very well be the last-ever question of the Dragon Emperor.
  532.  
  533. [It's Seong Jin-Woo.]
  534.  
  535. And then, he spoke up in a tone of voice implying that there wouldn't be any further Q&A session after this.
  536.  
  537. [Is there anything else you want to say?]
  538.  
  539. The power of death in a pitch-black aura ominously quivered and rose up above Jin-Woo's shoulders.
  540.  
  541. The gap between dimensions was very similar to the world of eternal rest and it was rather easy to summon out the power of death in this place. The Shadow Soldiers that were resonating as one with their Sovereign's power also raised up their fighting spirit higher.
  542.  
  543. Uwaaaaahh-!!!
  544.  
  545. The entirety of the Shadow Army seethed and writhed. The corners of the Dragon Emperor's lips curled up as it witnessed this spectacle.
  546.  
  547. 'Anything else I'd like to say, is it?'
  548.  
  549. Would there be a need for any further discussion when there was this grand feast laid out before its eyes?
  550.  
  551. [….I don't have any.]
  552.  
  553. The Dragon Emperor transformed into a burning Dragon and stood before Jin-Woo, who also transformed into a humongous black giant as well.
  554.  
  555. A mountain against another mountain.
  556.  
  557. The two gigantic existences glared at each other just before the final battle. But, that lull only lasted for a moment.
  558.  
  559. Kuwaaaaaah-!!!
  560.  
  561. The Dragon Emperor roared out loudly as if to shake the dimensions themselves, and the entirety of the Army of Destruction charged forward.
  562.  
  563. Jin-Woo was far quieter than his opponent as he simply pointed to his forward. Right away, near-ten million soldiers made their move.
  564.  
  565. At the same time, he too dashed forward towards the Dragon Emperor with everything he had.
  566.  
  567. The end of the lengthy war was here. He had been waiting with bated breaths this reunion with the Dragon Emperor just so he could witness the end.
  568.  
  569. A chilling ray of light began gathering within the Dragon Emperor's maw.
  570.  
  571. It was now Jin-Woo's chance to display the amount of growth he had gone through due to the experiences he earned before reversing time, as well as things he learned during this long war.
  572.  
  573. The flow of time slowed down to a crawl and only him and the Dragon Emperor remained within Jin-Woo's vision.
  574.  
  575. Just as the light of destruction exploded out slowly from the maw of a burning Dragon, Jin-Woo's fist enveloped in jet-black aura was thrust forward.
  576.  
  577. And so, light and darkness clashed once more inside the gap between dimensions.
  578.  
  579. < Chapter 246 > Fin.
  580.  
  581. Chapter 247:
  582. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  583.  
  584. Side Story 4
  585.  
  586. Return
  587. The entirety of the United States of America became rather noisy when a certain fortune-teller made an announcement.
  588.  
  589. "Not too long from now, the God of Death will descend on this land!"
  590.  
  591. Now normally, a prophecy like this, one better suited for a spot on a comic book cover, wouldn't have garnered any attention from the public. However, the big issue here was that this prophecy had been made by none other than Madam 'Norma Selner'.
  592.  
  593. Just who was this woman?
  594.  
  595. After abruptly opening her 'Heavenly Eye' around two years ago, she accurately predicted the death of North Korea's leader, terrorists kidnapping an airplane full of passengers, the stock market crash brought about by the sudden collapse of the housing markets, etc., and she had been the center of many controversies for a while now.
  596.  
  597. And such a person made an announcement that implied the end of the world was coming, so it'd only be obvious that everyone would start freaking out.
  598.  
  599. Madam Norma Selner was also known as the 'prophet who is never wrong'. The mass media that saddled her with that label went into full-on panic mode and tripped over themselves to get an interview with her.
  600.  
  601. Too bad for them, though, she refused to speak to every reporter save for one person, who just so happened to be a personal friend of hers. It became known later that she had invited him privately and gave him a message.
  602.  
  603. The God of Death will descend on our land accompanied by countless soldiers of death. Just as we can't escape from the grip of death, we cannot run away from the God of Death, either.
  604. And the very next day.
  605.  
  606. A gigantic black hole suddenly opened up in the skies of Seoul, one large enough to almost completely cover up the capital city. And Madam's prophecy dominated the headlines of every newspaper in the world.
  607.  
  608. Meanwhile, inside said Gate….
  609.  
  610. Jin-Woo could only let out a gasp of surprise after spotting the humongous sea of people, as if the humans of the entire world had gathered in one spot, right below him.
  611.  
  612. "Huh-uh...."
  613.  
  614. How wonderfully moving would it have been if all those people were here to welcome him back? Unfortunately, Jin-Woo knew better than anyone that would not be the case and could only form a wry smile.
  615.  
  616. Soon, this Gate would open up. To all those watching on from the ground, this portal might be a source of sheer terror, but to him, it was an important doorway back home.
  617.  
  618. Home.
  619.  
  620. Jin-Woo's heart was rapidly filling up with warm emotions from the knowledge that the pathway to his home that he missed so much would soon open up.
  621.  
  622. 'Now that I think about it, isn't this my first time looking at the outside from the inside of a Gate?'
  623.  
  624. The outside world was in full display from inside the Gate. That was how Jin-Woo got to spectate on the sea of people below his feet. He placed his hand on the 'wall' of the Gate that separated the two spaces.
  625.  
  626. In the past, he needed to give it his all in the battle against the Dragon Emperor in order to break this wall down, but now...
  627.  
  628. 'Now, I....'
  629.  
  630. Jin-Woo lightly pressed down, causing minute cracks to form on the wall with sharp noises. If he pushed a bit harder, then this wall would surely break down without much resistance.
  631.  
  632. For a short moment there, Jin-Woo pondered whether he should do that and make his descent now or not, but eventually, he shook his head with a gentle smile on his face.
  633.  
  634. '….No, I shouldn't.'
  635.  
  636. People on the ground were scared already, so there was no need to alarm them even further. Besides, he'd been waiting for this moment for almost 30 years, so it was not a problem to wait for a few more days.
  637.  
  638. Jin-Woo carefully withdrew his hand, only to discover something else.
  639.  
  640. 'Hold up. Just who would think that this is the hand of a third-year middle school student??'
  641.  
  642. Indeed, he just realized that his hand was simply too big now. Having spent 27 years in the gap between dimensions, Jin-Woo had naturally become a middle-aged man.
  643.  
  644. His physical age had already surpassed his own father's now. However, he'd been missing for only two years on the outside.
  645.  
  646. He needed to adjust his physical age to that of the outside one so that he could avoid the situation of people who knew him freaking out after seeing how much he had changed.
  647.  
  648. Although, he wasn't that keen on looking young to other people…. Hang on, maybe he was?
  649.  
  650. ...In any case.
  651.  
  652. "I guess there's no helping it."
  653.  
  654. Jin-Woo grinned and looked down at his body before activating his powers. With him being able to perfectly control the powers of the Shadow Sovereign, the biological clock of his physical body posed no problem at all.
  655.  
  656. Soon enough, Jin-Woo's figure shrunk back down to that of a middle school student.
  657.  
  658. Shururuk....
  659.  
  660. The bearded face of a middle-aged man became that of a fresh-faced teenage boy with a bright complexion in no time at all.
  661.  
  662. The black smoke enveloped him for a brief moment and when it receded away, even the clothing had changed to the school uniform he wore on the day he went 'missing'.
  663.  
  664. 'This should be enough, right?'
  665.  
  666. Jin-Woo formed a satisfied smile after confirming his new look, which was definitely that of a student no matter who took a gander at him.
  667.  
  668. Both his mind and body were now ready to go home and meet his family.
  669.  
  670. The only thing remaining was to wait.
  671.  
  672. 'Two more days left....'
  673.  
  674. Even the wait until the Gate opened up proved to be something to enjoy to Jin-Woo, who was nearing the end of one hell of a long journey.
  675.  
  676. "Uh... Uh?? H-hey, it's opening up!!"
  677.  
  678. "The hole is opening up!!"
  679.  
  680. The crowd of people screamed and pointed at the Gate now beginning to open up.
  681.  
  682. Aaaah-!!
  683.  
  684. Kyahhack!
  685.  
  686. However, only the interior of the Gate connected to some other place was revealed to the waiting eyes outside. No feared events of scary things jumping out from there happened.
  687.  
  688. "....??"
  689.  
  690. "What's this?"
  691.  
  692. "It's over, just like that?"
  693.  
  694. The folks from all corners of the globe, here to spectate on the giant Gate, began murmuring in uncertainty as they watched the mysterious portal slowly dissipate.
  695.  
  696. In the meantime, Jin-Woo blended in with the completely-unawares crowd and upon arriving at a quiet, deserted street, undid his Stealth.
  697.  
  698. Since pretty much everyone was focusing on the disappearing Gate, none of them paid much attention to a middle school student that popped up out of seemingly nowhere.
  699.  
  700. Jin-Woo briefly observed the crowd of onlookers for a bit, before turning around to head towards his home.
  701.  
  702. It was precisely at that moment he discovered a young man holding an expensive-looking bouquet of flowers standing before him.
  703.  
  704. This man smiled brightly and addressed Jin-Woo.
  705.  
  706. "Welcome back home safe and sound, Mister Seong Jin-Woo. Or, should I address you as the Shadow Sovereign, instead?"
  707.  
  708. He had never met this guy before. However, he didn't sense any malice from this unknown dude, either. So, he decided to lower his vigilance.
  709.  
  710. "It doesn't matter what you address me as."
  711.  
  712. Jin-Woo received the bouquet of flowers from the man and smirked softly.
  713.  
  714. "Having at least one person welcome me back isn't so bad, I guess."
  715.  
  716. He leaned in and took a sniff at the flowers before raising his head up again. The man spoke as if he was genuinely surprised.
  717.  
  718. "Honestly…. I've never imagined that you would successfully finish your mission and return home like this. By the way, I see that your steps carry the weight of ten million soldiers."
  719.  
  720. The 'Army' was defeated, and without a single exception, the denizens of the Chaos World that made up its fighting force came under the influence of the Shadow Sovereign.
  721.  
  722. Jin-Woo now wielded the biggest fighting force when both the Sovereigns and Rulers were taken into account. He lowered the bouquet and asked the stranger.
  723.  
  724. "I'm sure you didn't come here to hand me this bundle of flowers, so... What does the emissary of the Rulers want with me?"
  725.  
  726. Quite different from the tone of his voice that could've come across as overbearing, his expression was filled with a relaxed composure.
  727.  
  728. A lion would never fear a lamb, after all.
  729.  
  730. His overwhelming strength, honed even further through the lengthy war, was more than enough to make this unknown man shudder slightly in fear, even though the latter already knew who he was dealing with today.
  731.  
  732. Indeed, it was the role of the lamb to fear the opponent, not the other way around.
  733.  
  734. Now faced with the dignified air of the Sovereign that was not too dissimilar to a king of all predators, the unknown man chose to politely lower his head first.
  735.  
  736. "The Rulers have sent you a message, Shadow Sovereign. Our conversation might take a while, so may I inquire if it's fine with you for us to go elsewhere?"
  737.  
  738. "Fine."
  739.  
  740. Jin-Woo walked past the smiling man and took the lead.
  741.  
  742. "I just remembered a place I wanted to stop by, anyway."
  743.  
  744. "...."
  745.  
  746. The unknown man wordlessly stared at the bowl of ice cream presented before him for a bit and raised his head.
  747.  
  748. "The place you wanted to stop by was an ice cream parlor?"
  749.  
  750. Sure, just because he became younger-looking, that didn't mean his tastes had changed, as well.
  751.  
  752. It was just that...
  753.  
  754. "Well, staying in a distant 'place' for a long time does make you hanker for something sweet, you see."
  755.  
  756. Jin-Woo replied with a grin and began scooping the delicious ice cream into his mouth.
  757.  
  758. This wonderful, refreshing coldness transmitted from his tongue. And then, followed by this thrilling sweetness.
  759.  
  760. Only now did it strike home that he had returned for real.
  761.  
  762. The unknown man tried to get to the main topic several times but Jin-Woo stopped him again and again. Only after he cleaned out the ice cream bowl did he open his mouth to speak.
  763.  
  764. "So, what did the Rulers say?"
  765.  
  766. The unknown man had been dazedly watching the Shadow Sovereign's snack time until then. He hurriedly regained his wits and spoke up.
  767.  
  768. "Oh. First of all, they wish to express their genuine gratitude...."
  769.  
  770. "Why don't we skip the perfunctory greetings and move on?"
  771.  
  772. The Rulers should not have any further business with this world, yet they still sent an envoy to speak to him like this. Jin-Woo deduced that the matter at hand must be something extraordinary, so he wanted to skip the opening remarks.
  773.  
  774. "Did a new problem pop up from somewhere?"
  775.  
  776. "No, not at all. It's nothing like that. Rather, I'm here to speak to you because all the problems had been resolved, instead."
  777.  
  778. Came to speak to him because all problems had been solved, he said.
  779.  
  780. The light in Jin-Woo's eyes became even more serious. The unknown man greeted that somber look and gulped out of sheer nervousness. Still, one shouldn't forget to perform one's duty just because the other party happened to be quite a scary person.
  781.  
  782. The man opened his mouth with some difficulty.
  783.  
  784. "The Rulers, they…. They are worried about the potential side effects your powers might have on this world, Sovereign-nim. As you may well know, the powers you possess are not something this world can cope with."
  785.  
  786. "....Okay, so?"
  787.  
  788. "Without the presence of Mana, this world is just too fragile. If it's okay with you, we'd like to transfer you to a world that can take on your powers, Sovereign-nim."
  789.  
  790. "Or, they can just go ahead and seal me up instead of transferring me around, saving us from potential headaches."
  791.  
  792. "Of course, that is an option...."
  793.  
  794. Bang!
  795.  
  796. Jin-Woo lightly slapped the table, causing the unknown man to flinch and stop his attempt to reply, his bright complexion frozen solid mid-speech.
  797.  
  798. The heavy voice of the Shadow Sovereign slowly came out of Jin-Woo's mouth.
  799.  
  800. "So, they wish to get rid of me since I'm no longer useful, is that it? Because they fear the power that I possess?"
  801.  
  802. Jin-Woo maintained a smile, but the glare in his eyes was incomparable colder than before. The unknown man nearly jumped up in fright and quickly waved his hands around.
  803.  
  804. "N-no, that's not true! I swear, it's not like that!"
  805.  
  806. He then presented Jin-Woo with a certain newspaper he had prepared earlier. Jin-Woo took the paper and read the article dominating the front page.
  807.  
  808. That's when he spotted a rather familiar face there.
  809.  
  810. The article was about a prophecy made by one Madam Norma Selner, who used to work as the 'Upgrader' in the previous timeline.
  811.  
  812. Not too long from now, the God of Death will descend on this land!
  813. Jin-Woo's brows quivered a little at the words 'God of Death'.
  814.  
  815. "She wasn't originally an exceptional soothsayer even back in the erased timeline. However, coming into contact with our world has changed her life a great deal."
  816.  
  817. Jin-Woo's gaze stopped at a certain part of the article, the part about when she had abruptly opened up the so-called 'Heavenly Eye'. It was around two years ago.
  818.  
  819. Her 'awakening' matching up with the exact point in time he found himself after the timeline had been reset using the Tool of God couldn't be chalked down to simple coincidence.
  820.  
  821. "So, what you're saying is, my existence can potentially cause other changes like this one?"
  822.  
  823. "Yes, that's correct, Sovereign-nim."
  824.  
  825. Once Jin-Woo showed signs of calming down, the unknown man spat out a sigh of relief.
  826.  
  827. "The Rulers' thoughts are to present you with a suitable location where you can stay, if that's what you decide, with their intentions being to prevent the potential adverse change taking place in this world."
  828.  
  829. "..."
  830.  
  831. Jin-Woo leaned against the chair.
  832.  
  833. He still couldn't sense any malice from this unknown man. The Rulers connected to this man were making this offer out of good-will and other similar emotions.
  834.  
  835. However...
  836.  
  837. To think, he'd have to hear such news on the first day of his return.
  838.  
  839. Jin-Woo had been in a state of anticipation from the thoughts of going home, so he found it hard to hide how disappointed he was.
  840.  
  841. He definitely didn't want to discuss stuff like this right now. And he didn't bother to hide his thoughts on that matter.
  842.  
  843. "Can you come back some other time?"
  844.  
  845. "....I shall do so, oh, great Sovereign."
  846.  
  847. The unknown man performed a smart, courteous bow towards the greatest hero who brought to an end the war between Sovereigns and Rulers. The only thing remaining after the man had left was a black-on-both-sides business card.
  848.  
  849. Most likely, that signified the unknown man requesting him to call the number on the card when Jin-Woo had made up his mind.
  850.  
  851. He studied the face and the back of this card before stuffing it in the inner pocket of his school uniform, a bitter smile slowly spreading on his face.
  852.  
  853. The bubbles of anticipation and excitement from coming home had burst for good now. Many thoughts swirled in his head, almost making him dizzy.
  854.  
  855. 'If all living creatures have a clear goal, a purpose in their lives....'
  856.  
  857. He was certain of one thing.
  858.  
  859. As the Shadow Sovereign, he had fulfilled his purpose after stopping the invasion of the Sovereigns, as well as making sure that no weird phenomena occurred on Earth.
  860.  
  861. Meaning, he had accomplished his goal.
  862.  
  863. So, the enormous power that served its purpose would only become a headache that was hard to dispose of, just like the nuclear waste at the end of its life cycle.
  864.  
  865. In that case – a question suddenly popped up in his head.
  866.  
  867. 'In the end, have I become an existence surplus to this world?'
  868.  
  869. When the chain of his thoughts reached there, he spotted a certain familiar face jogging past the ice cream shop. As if he was entranced, Jin-Woo got up, pushed open the front door, and stepped outside.
  870.  
  871. Without a doubt that moving forward, there would come many occasions in the future where he'd have to ponder whether remaining in this world was a good idea or not.
  872.  
  873. However….
  874.  
  875. 'As long as there is a reason for me to stay, even if it's just one, then....'
  876.  
  877. A teenage girl kitted out in an athletics uniform stopped jogging and turned around to look behind her.
  878.  
  879. At the place where the scent she really liked was coming from, she discovered an unfamiliar teenage boy standing in front of the wide-open exit of an ice cream parlor.
  880.  
  881. 'What's going on? Did ice cream smell this good before?'
  882.  
  883. The teenage girl tilted her head this way and that while glancing behind her, but in the end, she failed to solve her confusion and continued with her jogging.
  884.  
  885. Seeing her departing back, a brief smile formed on Jin-Woo's face.
  886.  
  887. 'There are still people that I love in this world.
  888.  
  889. And also, those who love me, and those who used to love me exist in this place, too.
  890.  
  891. That is more than enough reason for me to stay here.'
  892.  
  893. Jin-Woo smiled and inwardly told himself to find other reasons to stay in this world.
  894.  
  895. < Chapter 247 > Fin.
  896.  
  897. Chapter 248:
  898. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  899.  
  900. Side Story 5
  901.  
  902. Igrit's memories
  903. The first time I met 'him' was inside the irregular space created out of my liege's power. My mission was to test the human about to enter this place.
  904.  
  905. Although my liege said that he wished to find out if this human was fit to become his vessel, I knew the truth, somehow.
  906.  
  907. I knew that this order might be the last one my liege would ever give me. My liege had lost all interest in warfare after forgiving the Rulers. From that point alone, I knew that he had harbored a deeper meaning in why he was so focused on this rather unremarkable human being.
  908.  
  909. I began guessing that I'd soon bid farewell to my liege. However, the command issued by my liege was still absolute. I had no thoughts of questioning his motives or changing his mind. All I could do was to comply with his command.
  910.  
  911. That was all I could do.
  912.  
  913. And so, after most of my powers were sealed away, I was made to stand all alone in the space where the testing of that human would take place.
  914.  
  915. 'Humans of this world call spaces such as this one ‘dungeons’, don't they?'
  916.  
  917. At the far end of this imaginary dungeon shaped to resemble an audience chamber of a king's castle, I saw a large throne. I combed through my fading memories of the time when I was still human and studied this place.
  918.  
  919. 'As expected…. You have certainly created quite a detailed stage with my liege's power, haven't you?'
  920.  
  921. I continued to touch and feel each large pillar lined up from the entrance to the plinth where the throne was and expressed my admiration towards the abilities of the architect, who had created all these.
  922.  
  923. As the fruit of this meticulous planning, that human's body would continuously be modified to accept my liege's power.
  924.  
  925. It was then.
  926.  
  927. I sensed the presence of someone approaching this place.
  928.  
  929. 'He's here already....?'
  930.  
  931. I panicked at this unexpectedly fast arrival of the test subject and ended up sitting down on the throne.
  932.  
  933. However….
  934.  
  935. "....."
  936.  
  937. After I settled down on the throne, I began wondering if me sitting here would be seen as a bit 'insolent'.
  938.  
  939. The consciousness of my liege had already taken root within the human I was supposed to test, so I couldn't help but wonder if me sitting on a throne like this, in front of my master, would be seen as me being disrespectful.
  940.  
  941. '…..'
  942.  
  943. In the end, I judged that I should refrain from displaying any uncouth sight and hurriedly climbed off the throne to hide behind the nearest pillar.
  944.  
  945. Geuh-gugugugu-!!
  946.  
  947. With a truly gobsmacking timing, the massive entrance opened up, but thanks to the surroundings being too dark, that human failed to discover me panicking grandly like that.
  948.  
  949. What a relief that was.
  950.  
  951. It'd be no good to make this serious test my liege had planned out into a farce with my mistakes, now would it?
  952.  
  953. I inwardly spat out a sigh of relief and when the human was about ten steps away from me, I slowly walked out from behind the pillar to block his path.
  954.  
  955. '….!'
  956.  
  957. Through the still air, I sensed his nervousness.
  958.  
  959. He was a young man.
  960.  
  961. Obviously, my gaze lingering on him couldn't be described as favorable.
  962.  
  963. 'So, he's the one my liege has chosen...'
  964.  
  965. Even if this mission wasn't the final order bestowed unto me, I never planned to go easy during this fight. If I believed that he wasn't qualified, I'd kill him with my own hands.
  966.  
  967. And so, as I stood there, igniting my fighting spirit...
  968.  
  969. ….This young man suddenly clenched his fists tightly and put his dukes up.
  970.  
  971. '…..??'
  972.  
  973. Wait, could he be thinking of using his bare fists to defeat me?
  974.  
  975. I briefly thought about how praiseworthy his bravery was, for a human being. To fight him in equal conditions, I took off my cape and removed my weapons one by one.
  976.  
  977. '….!!'
  978.  
  979. Why was he getting so surprised by every single thing I did, anyway? Sure, his eyes filled with drive were rather likeable, but did he possess the same level of abilities to match those eyes, I wonder?
  980.  
  981. So, time to check it out...
  982.  
  983. ….And the results came out pretty quickly.
  984.  
  985. "Keo-heok!"
  986.  
  987. Plop.
  988.  
  989. Even though I was forbidden from bringing out my full power, he was already kneeling before me. What a disappointment that was.
  990.  
  991. However, just as I felt disappointed, I also felt an equal amount of relief. Because, if the one supposed to inherit the power of my liege turned out to be not qualified, then that meant my liege would remain as he was for a little while longer.
  992.  
  993. For the first time ever, and also for the last time, too, I felt relieved by my liege's failure.
  994.  
  995. And then, I decided to bestow a fitting end matching the level of bravery this man had shown me even though he was a mere human being. I used the 'authority' briefly granted to me by my liege and dragged along the sword discarded to a distant location.
  996.  
  997. Cutting his head off in one go and sending him off on his way with minimal pain was what I planned to do. I figured that such a gesture would be the best form of mercy I could show this human.
  998.  
  999. Perhaps he had read my mind, he even presented his neck before me.
  1000.  
  1001. 'You made the right decision. Wisdom matching your bravery…. Although your loss is lamentable, there is no way other than this to change my liege's mind.'
  1002.  
  1003. For the sake of the man choosing an honorable death, I performed the beheading. But then – he seemed to have accepted his fate without a struggle, but the light in his eyes changed abruptly at that moment.
  1004.  
  1005. Clang!!
  1006.  
  1007. My sword was blocked off by his hand, and instead, his dagger stabbed deeply into my face next.
  1008.  
  1009. Stab!!
  1010.  
  1011. Kuwaaaaah-!!
  1012.  
  1013. I was stunned.
  1014.  
  1015. Not by the fact that he managed to block my blade, no, but from the fact that he never gave up on his life right up until the end, even under the current circumstances.
  1016.  
  1017. Also, although it was for a brief moment, I saw the light coldly gleaming in his eyes and belatedly realized that it was uncannily similar to the light within my liege's eyes.
  1018.  
  1019. 'Ah, ah... That was why my liege has...'
  1020.  
  1021. I completely lost all of my desire to fight, and was unable to respond to any of the continuous streams of attacks landing on me.
  1022.  
  1023. I was slammed into the wall, and...
  1024.  
  1025. Ku-waahng!!
  1026.  
  1027. ….And, I was stabbed repeatedly.
  1028.  
  1029. Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
  1030.  
  1031. Eventually, the metal protector surrounding my neck couldn't endure and broke off.
  1032.  
  1033. Crack!!
  1034.  
  1035. The strength he possessed, and then, the one I possessed – since this was a test to confirm whether he possessed enough of a qualification, I should possess higher stats than he did.
  1036.  
  1037. However, I still lost.
  1038.  
  1039. And quite obviously, too.
  1040.  
  1041. Was this the result of me underestimating him after seeing him as just another human being, or a miracle brought on about by his tenacious nature that didn't know the meaning of giving up?
  1042.  
  1043. As my consciousness blurred, I caught the sight of him raising both his hands up high to celebrate.
  1044.  
  1045. "Uwahh-!!"
  1046.  
  1047. Well, now. Since I began chuckling while watching him be like that, it could only mean that I wasn't right of mind, no?
  1048.  
  1049. My consciousness blurred even further as my gaze drifted up towards the ceiling.
  1050.  
  1051. It was too dark up there, and I couldn't tell what these endlessly-stretching pillars were connected to. However, I was just a bit saddened by the thought that the distant darkness above seemed to signify my own growing distance away from my liege.
  1052.  
  1053. 'Am I supposed to feel happy that my liege's choice turned out to be correct, or feel sad that I couldn't manage to change his decision....?'
  1054.  
  1055. I couldn't decide, and that's how I lost my consciousness.
  1056.  
  1057. That was... until that man came closer and shouted out 'Rise up' in my direction.
  1058.  
  1059. He really cherished me.
  1060.  
  1061. Was it because I was his very first soldier – no, technically speaking, not his first but someone very close to being one?
  1062.  
  1063. There were many occasions where I thanked him for the kindness I felt from him. And there were many things that remained etched in my memories, such as…. Indeed, that one time.
  1064.  
  1065. On a certain day, he said this to me.
  1066.  
  1067. "I'm sure you'll be able to talk once your grade goes up, right?"
  1068.  
  1069. How was I supposed to describe the state of my mind that nearly overloaded with emotions when I saw his bright smile? I wasn't sure of what he thought of me, but at least to me, he was my master, my friend, and my ally.
  1070.  
  1071. He and I overcame many battles together.
  1072.  
  1073. At times, against denizens of the Chaos World, sometimes against monsters of the instant dungeons, and sometimes, even against other Hunters.
  1074.  
  1075. When he was happy, I too was happy, and when he was struggling, I too struggled. And when he was sad, I also felt sad, as well.
  1076.  
  1077. I knew that the deeper my loyalty to him became, the longing towards my former master would get fainter and fainter. Despite that, though, I gradually grew to accept my new liege.
  1078.  
  1079. Of course, it was not always smooth sailing, either. There were moments that I was actually sweating buckets.
  1080.  
  1081. "Use this."
  1082.  
  1083. Such as, when I fought against a much stronger female Hunter while still being under several restrictions, with only a sword that could shoot out some lightning bolts.
  1084.  
  1085. "Was the black knight you brought out really your strongest summon?"
  1086.  
  1087. '…..'
  1088.  
  1089. I was even subjected to such insults, too.
  1090.  
  1091. And then, I even became a 'roommate' with a Shadow Soldier who possessed an abnormal fighting strength rather unexpectedly, as well.
  1092.  
  1093. Kiiiieeehhhk-!!
  1094.  
  1095. '…...'
  1096.  
  1097. Now I found myself saddled with a 'roommate' who, although very loyal by nature, his nature also happened to be quite vicious. You have no idea how badly I missed my dignified comrades from the past.
  1098.  
  1099. That's how I felt when I met Bellion again. And if I were being honest.... when he taught Beru a lesson, I felt just a tiny bit refreshed.
  1100.  
  1101. Just a bit.
  1102.  
  1103. Too bad, my joy at reuniting with my old comrade didn't last long.
  1104.  
  1105. Because, not much time passed by before Bellion became influenced by Beru's antics, too!
  1106.  
  1107. [Look, Igrit. This black flag... if we plant it on top of this castle, don't you think our liege will become happy?]
  1108.  
  1109. [….Are you being serious?]
  1110.  
  1111. [I don't possess any skills to craft things like ants do, but if it is to make my liege happy, I'm prepared to do anything.]
  1112.  
  1113. [N-no, that's not what I meant....]
  1114.  
  1115. [Kiieehk-hehehet, is that the flag for our liege?]
  1116.  
  1117. […..I give up.]
  1118.  
  1119. Of course, there was no need to even mention the reaction of our new master.
  1120.  
  1121. In any case, our boss's powers became even greater after absorbing the original Shadow Army that had been patiently waiting for his summons from the gap between dimensions.
  1122.  
  1123. Contrary to my worries, he didn't treat the 'soldiers from the previous liege' any differently from his own, and after uniting under one banner, we were now fully prepared to sacrifice our lives regardless of what battle it was, all for his sake.
  1124.  
  1125. Our training time came and went way too quickly, and...
  1126.  
  1127. ….And, our determination was fully put to the test in the war against the Sovereigns.
  1128.  
  1129. We fought with everything we had for his sake and successfully ended the war against the Sovereigns in our decisive victory.
  1130.  
  1131. When he was fighting against the Dragon Emperor, we watched with bated breath, this incredible life-or-death battle, from inside the shadow. The brilliant face-off of the two Sovereigns was so beautiful that I was almost overcome with emotions.
  1132.  
  1133. [Kiiehhk? What's this? Igrit, are you crying?]
  1134.  
  1135. [….Shut up.]
  1136.  
  1137. The entirety of the Shadow Army was up in arms inside our liege's shadow, thinking that a seriously dangerous moment was upon their master, but then, the armies of the Rulers opened up the doorway in the sky and decided to crash the party.
  1138.  
  1139. Waaaahhh-!!
  1140.  
  1141. We all cried out in elation after seeing the reinforcements blotting out the sky.
  1142.  
  1143. [You lazy bums, couldn't you have come a bit earlier?!]
  1144.  
  1145. [Wait, could they have deliberately waited until now to make us anxious as heck before making their entrance??]
  1146.  
  1147. [If I was standing outside, I'd have kicked their asses already!!]
  1148.  
  1149. We were pouring out our complaints and dissatisfactions, but inwardly, we were celebrating our master's victory with great relish.
  1150.  
  1151. Unfortunately, we didn't get to sing our songs of celebration for long.
  1152.  
  1153. Because… our liege spoke.
  1154.  
  1155. "One more time…. Can you use the 'Chalice of Rebirth' one more time?"
  1156.  
  1157. He said that he wanted to reverse the time and completely erase any signs of Sovereigns and Rulers from this world he was living in.
  1158.  
  1159. Back when I was still a human being, I too had people that I wanted to protect, so I could easily sympathize with his emotions. Maybe, I'd have chosen the same path if I was allowed to make the same decision.
  1160.  
  1161. I completely respected his choice.
  1162.  
  1163. Myself and my comrades were fully prepared to clash against any opponents once more, whether they be the armies of the Sovereigns or not, as long as it was for our master's sake.
  1164.  
  1165. Regrettably, though, not everyone was invited to this battle.
  1166.  
  1167. When we learned that some of us would disappear when the time was reversed, those soldiers that fell under that condition all plopped down and began to sorrowfully cry out.
  1168.  
  1169. All I could do was to console Iron who had been with us for a long time, Greed who got on the liege's bad books from the get-go and ended up going through a lot of hardships, as well as other wailing soldiers.
  1170.  
  1171. And so, the moment of farewells came to an end like that. We returned to the past and were gifted with a brand-new battlefield.
  1172.  
  1173. Our master became more and more adept at warfare, and following after our master's growth, we too, became stronger in turn, as well.
  1174.  
  1175. We faced several dangerous crises, both big and small. However, he grew even stronger every time he overcame them, to a point that it was getting harder to keep up with him.
  1176.  
  1177. That's how almost 30 years flew by.
  1178.  
  1179. All of our enemies were defeated, bar the 'Army of Destruction'.
  1180.  
  1181. The desperate clash of our liege against the Dragon Emperor.
  1182.  
  1183. While our master was fighting against the leader of the enemy forces, we faced off against the Ancient-grade Dragons.
  1184.  
  1185. One of them named Granodeh decided to engage me in a chat as I was mercilessly and crazily cutting down the army of Dragons.
  1186.  
  1187. [IGRIT!!! You were supposed to be one of the twin wings of the Shadow Army, yet you follow the orders of a Sovereign who is a measly human?! Are you not ashamed of yourself??]
  1188.  
  1189. Not even possessing enough energy to maintain its Dragonic form anymore, the bastard had reverted back to a humanoid appearance, panting laboriously as it clutched the sword sticking out its chest. I ended up staring at the dying creature with dazed eyes for a long time after hearing its final words.
  1190.  
  1191. Indeed, I had forgotten it.
  1192.  
  1193. The moments spent with my new master had been so glorious that I had completely forgotten about the previous liege.
  1194.  
  1195. Since when did this happen?
  1196.  
  1197. Since when did the previous liege completely disappear from my mind?
  1198.  
  1199. Granodeh's breathing came to a stop a long time ago, and fierce skirmishes continued to break out all around me, but I just couldn't bring myself to leave this spot for a while.
  1200.  
  1201. I thought that my master was everything to me – but, in reality, he meant so little to me?
  1202.  
  1203. Such feelings of doubt caused the inside of my mind to blank out.
  1204.  
  1205. But then, this happened.
  1206.  
  1207. I heard a loud yell coming from somewhere that woke me up real fast.
  1208.  
  1209. "Igrit!!"
  1210.  
  1211. It was the voice of my liege.
  1212.  
  1213. I urgently raised my head to look. In the direction my gaze landed in next, I was greeted by a ray of blinding light.
  1214.  
  1215. 'Breath of Destruction!!'
  1216.  
  1217. The Dragon Emperor had spent most of its energy after battling my liege and reverted back to its humanoid figure as well. But, for some reason, it was firing a Breath in my direction.
  1218.  
  1219. No, wait.
  1220.  
  1221. That bastard wasn't aiming at me. It just so happened that I was standing in the path of the Breath, that was all.
  1222.  
  1223. Indeed, I was rather unlucky. The truth was, most of the accidents happened because of some bad luck, and the victim at the end would lose his life. And it was my turn to become that victim.
  1224.  
  1225. Khuwaaaahh-!!
  1226.  
  1227. I realized that it was too late to do anything after seeing the ray of blinding light about to swallow me up. I couldn't even do anything and just stood there, frozen.
  1228.  
  1229. I resigned myself to my fate.
  1230.  
  1231. While facing the light enveloping my entire vision, I began thinking to myself. Maybe this was... a punishment for completely forgetting about my pledge of allegiance to the previous liege?
  1232.  
  1233. 'If so, then I shall gladly accept it.'
  1234.  
  1235. After all, I was a sinner, wasn't I?
  1236.  
  1237. And so, as I quietly waited for my final moments approaching me at the speed of light...
  1238.  
  1239. ...In that blink of a moment, someone stood before me and extended his hand out to block the 'Breath of Destruction'.
  1240.  
  1241. Kuwaaaaahhhhh-!!!
  1242.  
  1243. His left hand was burning away from the horrifying attack of the Dragon Emperor, but he showed no signs of pulling away.
  1244.  
  1245. I watched him defending against the flames capable of burning away everything in the universe for my sake and even before I had realized it, I was calling out in desperation.
  1246.  
  1247. [My liege!!]
  1248.  
  1249. Once the Breath of Destruction came to its end, my liege turned to look at me with rebuking eyes.
  1250.  
  1251. '….!!'
  1252.  
  1253. Just like back when he loudly yelled out my name, I woke up again with a start just now. My liege scanned my condition for a moment or two, before dashing towards the Dragon Emperor again.
  1254.  
  1255. I too, raised up my sword in order to cut down the Dragonewts trying to surround me.
  1256.  
  1257. Clang!!
  1258.  
  1259. Blades clashed with blades once more to create flying sparks, and the Dragonewts being cut down by my sword screamed out in anguish.
  1260.  
  1261. 'That's right.'
  1262.  
  1263. I had never forgotten about my previous liege. My loyalty to that person simply had been extended to my current liege, that was all.
  1264.  
  1265. How could me staying loyal with all my being to the inheritor the previous liege had personally chosen, be seen as a bad thing, a sin?
  1266.  
  1267. 'I am a knight.'
  1268.  
  1269. I was a sword of my liege.
  1270.  
  1271. I was one of the twin wings that led the Shadow Army.
  1272.  
  1273. If a one in ten thousand chance occurred... if I were to face the moment where I had to part ways with the current liege, then I'd add the words of farewell I didn't get to say to the previous liege as well.
  1274.  
  1275. Every day I fought under my liege had been honour and privilege to me.
  1276.  
  1277. [Uwaaaahhhh-!!!]
  1278.  
  1279. I roared out viciously and pounced on the Dragons dashing towards my direction.
  1280.  
  1281. The lengthy war ended safely, and we all returned to the liege's home world.
  1282.  
  1283. Jot, jot….
  1284.  
  1285. My liege was focused on studying until late at night. Hidden inside his shadow and sharing his vision, I decided to offer my advice.
  1286.  
  1287. [My liege, the answer to the 14th question was not the first one, but the second option.]
  1288.  
  1289. "Ah, really? Thanks."
  1290.  
  1291. Thanks to not being able to meet the minimum required number of school attendance days, my liege was unfairly expelled from this institution called 'middle school' and now found himself stepping into a brand-new battlefield, called 'GED'.
  1292.  
  1293. Although he maintained near-perfect score in every mock test he participated in, there were still a few problems that did slip through the cracks of inattention every now and then.
  1294.  
  1295. But, whenever something like that happened, just who was qualified to lend the liege his aid?
  1296.  
  1297. Grand-Marshal Bellion, who only had his huge physique and nothing else? Or Marshal Beru, who could legitimately claim to be pretty smart but ultimately, still a lousy insect at heart?
  1298.  
  1299. In the end, it fell upon myself to counsel our liege, as I had graduated the knight training school with top marks when I was still a human being.
  1300.  
  1301. "Hey, by the way, here, it says that the answer to the 14th question is... the first one? Igrit, can you really stake your life on the second one?"
  1302.  
  1303. My liege opened up the answer sheet and pointed out my flaw with razor-sharp accuracy. So, as befitting a knight, I owned up to it.
  1304.  
  1305. [It seems that my training is still quite lacking, my liege. I shall devote myself even further to my liege's cause.]
  1306.  
  1307. '….....'
  1308.  
  1309. I am my liege's knight.
  1310.  
  1311. My liege's sword.
  1312.  
  1313. The battlefield of my liege is my battlefield; now that he had stepped into a new war, it seemed that my glorious days would continue on for a little while longer.
  1314.  
  1315. < Chapter 248 > Fin.
  1316.  
  1317. Chapter 249:
  1318. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  1319.  
  1320. Side Story 6
  1321.  
  1322. Your daily routine (1)
  1323. Every once in a while, Woo Jin-Cheol felt this inexplicable sense of loss in his heart. One heck of a weird thing this was, as if he had forgotten something really important to him.
  1324.  
  1325. However, no matter how hard he combed through his memories, he knew that he had definitely not forgotten anything. Only, the emptiness in his heart would grow larger and larger the more he thought about it, that was all.
  1326.  
  1327. "Hey, senior. What are you thinking about so deeply like that?"
  1328.  
  1329. The youngest detective in the unit asked him while handing over a cup of warm coffee taken from a vending machine. Woo Jin-Cheol shrugged his shoulders to say that it was nothing important and received the coffee.
  1330.  
  1331. "Thank you."
  1332.  
  1333. Once this aromatic smell of coffee entered his nostrils, it felt as if the emptiness in his heart was filling up just a little bit.
  1334.  
  1335. His name was Woo Jin-Cheol, a fourth-year detective in the National Police Agency's Violent Crimes Investigation Unit.
  1336.  
  1337. It wasn't as if he lived a soft life where his mind would sway gently from the warm breezes of the incoming spring, but still, this sense of loss started chasing after him out of the blue, about three years ago.
  1338.  
  1339. When he mentioned this to his acquaintances, they all promptly reminded him with the cruel fact that he had no family to call his own, even though he was already at a ripe old age, and that must've been the reason for his restlessness.
  1340.  
  1341. Just like the bitter aftertaste of the coffee, Woo Jin-Cheol formed a bitter smile, too, and emptied out the paper cup in no time at all.
  1342.  
  1343. '….That's right.'
  1344.  
  1345. Didn't someone say that a busy bee had no time to feel sad, or something like that? The best medicine to heal this trivial depression of his was, traditionally speaking, more work.
  1346.  
  1347. With excellent timing, Woo Jin-Cheol's sharp gaze landed on the backs of some men sitting in a line as soon as he stepped into the offices of the Violent Crimes Unit.
  1348.  
  1349. He crushed the empty paper cup with his hand and pointed at these three men with his chin.
  1350.  
  1351. "What's their story?"
  1352.  
  1353. "Ah... those bastards? Well, uh...."
  1354.  
  1355. Woo Jin-Cheol heard the youngest detective's somewhat hesitant voice and walked over quickly to stand before them.
  1356.  
  1357. Sure enough....
  1358.  
  1359. These men's facial complexions were whiter than snow as if they had seen something they shouldn't have. They couldn't even meet his gaze and continued to shiver like a lone leaf in the wind.
  1360.  
  1361. Seeing their faces, Woo Jin-Cheol began muttering to himself.
  1362.  
  1363. "It's the Shadow Monster again...?"
  1364.  
  1365. It wasn't all that rare to see criminals turning themselves in and confessing to their wrongdoings out of the sheer weight of guilt, or out of fear of getting caught.
  1366.  
  1367. However, it was a completely different story to see a bunch of hardened career criminals, scared shitless, begging the cops to throw them into jail cells as quickly as possible.
  1368.  
  1369. And for the last several months, the so-called 'not rare at all' spectacle repeated itself over and over again.
  1370.  
  1371. "S-Shadows…. The... the, the shadow stood up from the ground... and spoke to me. If, if I don't turn myself in during the next 24 hours, I'll end up regretting that I'm even alive…. D-detective, I'm a bad guy, so please, please! Throw me inside the slammer! I beg you!!"
  1372.  
  1373. They all generally retold the same story.
  1374.  
  1375. When similar situations kept repeating itself, the higher-ups got fed up and had ordered their underlings to get to the bottom of this matter right away.
  1376.  
  1377. Woo Jin-Cheol's voice rose up higher.
  1378.  
  1379. "So, what you're saying is, you all saw the Shadow Monster?"
  1380.  
  1381. "T-that's right!! Right!"
  1382.  
  1383. Woo Jin-Cheol began writing up his report with the testimonies of these criminals, and when he got to the part called 'the reason for turning oneself in', he spat out a long, long sigh.
  1384.  
  1385. 'How am I supposed to write a report about this, again?!'
  1386.  
  1387. His head began developing a migraine just from thinking about writing yet another report on the unbelievable story of the 'Shadow Monster' cursing people.
  1388.  
  1389. It was then.
  1390.  
  1391. Tap, tap.
  1392.  
  1393. Someone tapped him on the shoulder so he took a glance back, and that's when he spotted a senior detective standing behind him.
  1394.  
  1395. "Hey, Jin-Cheol-ah? Let the junior here take over writing up the report. Can you come to the conference room for a sec?"
  1396.  
  1397. 'The conference room?'
  1398.  
  1399. What with the blindingly wonderful antics of the Shadow Monster reducing the number of violent crimes recently, there shouldn't be a need to use the conference room anymore, but he was being summoned there without a prior heads-up, regardless? What was going on?
  1400.  
  1401. The senior detective left behind the puzzled gaze of the younger officer and headed straight to the conference room; Woo Jin-Cheol tilted his head a bit before standing up from his seat as well.
  1402.  
  1403. "Senior, I'll take care of this."
  1404.  
  1405. "Good luck."
  1406.  
  1407. Woo Jin-Cheol encouraged the junior, now charged with finishing up the miscellaneous work, and headed towards the conference room along with other detectives.
  1408.  
  1409. "Pardon? You want to release the suspects back on the street?!"
  1410.  
  1411. "Uh-huh! Lower your voice, Detective Woo! Someone might hear us from the outside and get the wrong idea."
  1412.  
  1413. Woo Jin-Cheol asked again in a disbelieving voice.
  1414.  
  1415. "What do you mean by releasing the suspects back on the street, sir??"
  1416.  
  1417. "It's not 'releasing', but we just let one of them outside for 24 hours and observe what happens afterwards."
  1418.  
  1419. After listening to the opinion of the senior detective, one of Woo Jin-Cheol's colleagues formed a deep frown before voicing his own.
  1420.  
  1421. "Senior, I'm telling you, these bastards are talking bullshit after getting themselves high on drugs. This crap about monsters and whatnot, it's definitely them having a new type of bad trip from the shit they've been taking."
  1422.  
  1423. "But, their drug test came back negative, didn't it? I personally went to Forensics to confirm it myself, didn't I?"
  1424.  
  1425. "Well, that..."
  1426.  
  1427. "Besides, just because of some nasty side effect of a drug, these bastards without any connection between them saw the exact same thing and decided to turn themselves in?"
  1428.  
  1429. "..."
  1430.  
  1431. In the end, the colleague shut his mouth as if he had nothing else to say. The meeting of the detectives continued on.
  1432.  
  1433. "The brass told us to get to the bottom of this a while ago, but look at us, we haven't even gotten anywhere. What choice do we have? We gotta do something this drastic so that, at least, we can find us some clues."
  1434.  
  1435. The detectives, initially unmoved and hesitant, began sneaking glances at each other and nodded their heads.
  1436.  
  1437. Since every single one of them saw the exact same type of hallucination, then there had to be some kind of a clue from the rubbish they were all spewing at the same time.
  1438.  
  1439. "So, like…. What I'm saying here is, let's create an opportunity for them to continue spewing rubbish."
  1440.  
  1441. Woo Jin-Cheol, quietly listening on until then, opened his mouth.
  1442.  
  1443. "But, what if something really does happen?"
  1444.  
  1445. "....??"
  1446.  
  1447. "....?"
  1448.  
  1449. The gazes of every detective seriously contemplating their next actions all shifted in Woo Jin-Cheol's direction at once.
  1450.  
  1451. Smirk, smirk….
  1452.  
  1453. The corners of their lips began curling up next.
  1454.  
  1455. "Detective Woo, you believed in ghosts and stuff?"
  1456.  
  1457. "I didn't take you for someone like that, but I guess our Woo Jin-Cheol has an unexpectedly sensitive side, doesn't he?"
  1458.  
  1459. "Hahaha..."
  1460.  
  1461. Of course, Woo Jin-Cheol wasn't foolishly believing them, taking some nonsense story about monsters at face value. However – if everyone was seeing the same hallucination, then there should be a reasonable explanation for that, no?
  1462.  
  1463. For some reason, he felt this ominous foreboding that, through the testimonies of the suspects, he was now meeting some kind of a gaze that was staring straight at him from beyond the darkness.
  1464.  
  1465. He got this feeling that he shouldn't poke his nose in this matter.
  1466.  
  1467. The squad captain must've interpreted Woo Jin-Cheol's concerns in a different manner, since he said the following words while lightly tapping on the shoulder of his detective forming a worried expression.
  1468.  
  1469. "There shouldn't be any accidents, Detective Woo. We'll just take one suspect, place him inside a quiet storage facility somewhere and see if anything pops out. I mean, several burly and healthy officers will be watching him like hawks, so with what miracle will he escape from us?"
  1470.  
  1471. The squad captain looked at him with eyes that said 'You can't possibly be believing in this supernatural hocus pocus, can you?' and Woo Jin-Cheol could only nod his head in defeat.
  1472.  
  1473. That elicited a burst of manly laughter from the captain.
  1474.  
  1475. "Right. Let's say that 24-hour time limit elapses, and a monster does appear to do something to the bastard. If that's the case, isn't that something we can also feel thankful for, in a way?"
  1476.  
  1477. These criminals were serious, vicious offenders who specifically targeted the homes of senior citizens to rob and even ended up beating a couple of pensioners to death just because the victims dared to resist.
  1478.  
  1479. The captain then spoke half-jokingly, but also half-seriously, that, rather than such bastards staying in the slammer getting fed three times a day, it was only right that they got ripped to shreds by a monster.
  1480.  
  1481. "So, now we need volunteers...."
  1482.  
  1483. The captain shifted his gaze over to Woo Jin-Cheol and formed a rather sly grin.
  1484.  
  1485. "Detective Woo, you can sit this one out if you're still hesitant about it."
  1486.  
  1487. "....."
  1488.  
  1489. Anyone who had lived in society for a while should already know this – those words definitely meant "Don't sit this one out".
  1490.  
  1491. Woo Jin-Cheol still felt unconvinced so he had to deliberate on this for a little bit, before eventually making his reply.
  1492.  
  1493. "No, sir. I shall come along as well."
  1494.  
  1495. "D-Detective-nims!! N-no! You can't! You seriously can't! I'll die!"
  1496.  
  1497. "Just be still. I told you, we have stuff to confirm."
  1498.  
  1499. "I will die!!"
  1500.  
  1501. "Hey, man. Just who's going to die here? Can't you see us protecting you? Detective Kim? How long do we have until the 24-hour mark comes to an end?"
  1502.  
  1503. "Let me see…. I think roughly 30 minutes?"
  1504.  
  1505. "Is it? Uh-whew, it's pretty cold tonight."
  1506.  
  1507. The air of spring remained frigid and white steam rose up from the lips of the waiting detectives.
  1508.  
  1509. They were currently inside a quiet storage building, the time being in the middle of dawn. To observe the 'change' that might take place with their suspect, detectives were waiting around with nothing much to keep them company.
  1510.  
  1511. Only one among them – Woo Jin-Cheol – kept a close watch on his surroundings, his glare remaining sharp.
  1512.  
  1513. 'Something's different....'
  1514.  
  1515. For some reason, the surrounding air felt different from the norm. It even vaguely felt like something he should never be near was approaching this location.
  1516.  
  1517. He prayed inwardly that this feeling would prove to be nothing but a simple fuss….
  1518.  
  1519. Woo Jin-Cheol sucked in the cold air repeatedly in order to calm his breathing that tried to get faster and faster.
  1520.  
  1521. And so – the hour warned by the existence called the 'Shadow Monster' slowly encroached upon them.
  1522.  
  1523. "Uhm…. It's time now, everyone."
  1524.  
  1525. "Really?"
  1526.  
  1527. One of the detectives took a look at his watch and stood up from his chair.
  1528.  
  1529. Tick, tock.
  1530.  
  1531. The 24-hour mark the suspect was strongly emphasizing earlier on had come and gone now.
  1532.  
  1533. "...."
  1534.  
  1535. "...."
  1536.  
  1537. Should one say that this turn of events was entirely not unexpected? Nothing had happened, and there was no sign of anything about to happen, either.
  1538.  
  1539. "What the heck?"
  1540.  
  1541. The detective with a short fuse began glaring at the suspect, prompting the criminal to stop shivering in fear and peek his head out before forming a dumbfounded expression himself.
  1542.  
  1543. "Uh....?"
  1544.  
  1545. Since there was no one watching anyway, the detectives surrounding the criminal began mercilessly shouting at him.
  1546.  
  1547. "Hey, you little shit! You assholes probably got high as a damn group, didn't you?!"
  1548.  
  1549. "Stop wasting our time and just be clean with it, will ya? Why don't you make all of our lives easier, ah?"
  1550.  
  1551. The suspect shifted his head this way and that while blinking non-stop, but when nothing happened even after a long time passed by, he began sheepishly scratching the back of his head.
  1552.  
  1553. "No, hang on, the thing was…. We definitely saw it, you see? Actually, there were four of....."
  1554.  
  1555. When his words arrived there...
  1556.  
  1557. Woo Jin-Cheol, who always stayed a couple of steps away from the group and watched the surroundings, quickly turned around towards his fellow detectives and urgently cried out.
  1558.  
  1559. "Get away!! Get away from there!!"
  1560.  
  1561. What was he trying to say now?
  1562.  
  1563. The faces of the detectives seemed to be asking that question as they looked at Woo Jin-Cheol, but then, they were all blown away on their backsides without warning.
  1564.  
  1565. "Uwahk!!"
  1566.  
  1567. "Keok!!"
  1568.  
  1569. Detectives rolled along the ground and, as if they had lost their consciousness just like that, remained dead-still in their sleep after coming to a stop.
  1570.  
  1571. Woo Jin-Cheol tried to run towards his colleagues, but after discovering something, his steps came to an abrupt halt. His irises were engraved with the images of 'monsters' slowly rising up from the shadow on the ground.
  1572.  
  1573. "Ah....."
  1574.  
  1575. He couldn't say anything.
  1576.  
  1577. His breathing suddenly felt stifled, choked up.
  1578.  
  1579. These…. No, hang on, these things were definitely not human.
  1580.  
  1581. They were 'insects' that just so happened to possess the arms and legs of a human being; above their necks sat the head of an ant, rather than that of a human.
  1582.  
  1583. Woo Jin-Cheol's eyes quaked in fear.
  1584.  
  1585. 'There are three such monsters?!'
  1586.  
  1587. These suspects definitely didn't see any hallucinations, nor were they suffering from adverse side effects of some strange narcotics, either. Their testimony had contained not one shred of falsehood, as it turned out.
  1588.  
  1589. "U-uwaaaaaahhhk!!"
  1590.  
  1591. Now completely surrounded by these ant monsters, the suspect began screaming at the top of his head.
  1592.  
  1593. It was the most desperate, frightened, and sorrowful scream a human could emit. It was unmistakably the death throes of a dying man.
  1594.  
  1595. The ant monsters ripped the suspect apart without hesitation and began devouring him.
  1596.  
  1597. "Uwaaahk!!"
  1598.  
  1599. His scream didn't last for long.
  1600.  
  1601. Only some splotches of blood and bits of flesh remained on the spot where the feast of ants took place.
  1602.  
  1603. Woo Jin-Cheol dazedly stared at that spectacle. And then, two of the ant monsters also discovered the dazed detective after ending their meal.
  1604.  
  1605. Kiiehk.
  1606.  
  1607. And their gazes were now fixed on him.
  1608.  
  1609. Woo Jin-Cheol thought of turning around in a hurry to escape, but his feet didn't want to move. His legs had frozen up solid and he couldn't lift them up at all.
  1610.  
  1611. "P-please...."
  1612.  
  1613. It was then.
  1614.  
  1615. The biggest ant monster with wings, situated behind the two other ants, stopped his comrades (?) from going any further.
  1616.  
  1617. The winged ant grabbed their shoulders and turned them away, and for some reason, he formed the kind of expression that said, "Hey, nice to see you again". Heck, he even formed a grin, too.
  1618.  
  1619. "....??"
  1620.  
  1621. An ant... was smiling?
  1622.  
  1623. No, hang on a minute.
  1624.  
  1625. 'Never mind the fact that an ant is smiling – how the heck can I even tell that it's making a delighted expression?'
  1626.  
  1627. It was so, so strange.
  1628.  
  1629. Even though he now found himself in this deeply horrifying, frightening situation, Woo Jin-Cheol was suddenly overcome with this sense of longing.
  1630.  
  1631. As if, there once had been a time that he was quite familiar with situations such as this one.
  1632.  
  1633. 'But…. How?'
  1634.  
  1635. Woo Jin-Cheol fell into a state of confusion and panic, only to realize that the ants were disappearing into the shadow.
  1636.  
  1637. "H-hey!! Hold on!! Wait!"
  1638.  
  1639. Too bad, despite how desperately he called out, the ant monsters were gone without a trace, in the blink of an eye.
  1640.  
  1641. By the time he ran over and stood above the shadow itself, there was not a single trace of them left anywhere.
  1642.  
  1643. He felt this sense of loss assaulting him again and bent down to slowly rub the shadow that the ants had disappeared into.
  1644.  
  1645. Just how long passed by like that?
  1646.  
  1647. "M-mm...."
  1648.  
  1649. Woo Jin-Cheol belatedly regained his wits after listening to his colleagues toss and turn behind him.
  1650.  
  1651. "H-hey, are you alright?"
  1652.  
  1653. He checked out their current conditions and quickly called the emergency services. Even after he did that, though – even when ambulances arrived on the scene to take his colleagues away to the hospital, his gaze remained fixed to the shadow.
  1654.  
  1655. "Brilliant!! Absolutely fucking brilliant!!!"
  1656.  
  1657. The squad captain was, understandably, up in arms.
  1658.  
  1659. But, that was to be expected.
  1660.  
  1661. The suspect had completely vanished without a trace, while the detectives supposed to watch over the man were struck unconscious by something and couldn't remember a thing.
  1662.  
  1663. The captain looked at the two detectives covered in bandages here and there with their heads hanging low in embarrassment, and spat out a long sigh. He then shifted his gaze over to Woo Jin-Cheol.
  1664.  
  1665. "Detective Woo? What about you?"
  1666.  
  1667. "..."
  1668.  
  1669. "You called the ambulance, didn't you? Can't you remember anything?"
  1670.  
  1671. "My apologies, captain. When I came to, I saw my colleagues unconscious, so I just...."
  1672.  
  1673. "God damn it!!"
  1674.  
  1675. Captain pounded on his chest as if the frustration was about to kill him and sighed out again.
  1676.  
  1677. "Thankfully, this matter hasn't been reported to the higher-ups yet, so all of you, keep your mouths shut, okay? And you two, you got hurt by mistake while trying to investigate the gangs in the Guro-gu district. Got it?"
  1678.  
  1679. "Yes, sir."
  1680.  
  1681. "Yes, captain."
  1682.  
  1683. Along with the listless replies from the two detectives, this incident had come to its conclusion – for the time being.
  1684.  
  1685. The Violent Crimes Unit became rather quiet for a while afterwards.
  1686.  
  1687. "Senior? You know, you look a lot better nowadays. Did something good happen to you lately?"
  1688.  
  1689. The youngest detective in the squad asked while handing over a cup of steaming coffee taken from the vending machine to Woo Jin-Cheol.
  1690.  
  1691. "Well, I wonder."
  1692.  
  1693. Woo Jin-Cheol shrugged his shoulders as if to say there was nothing to see here and received the cup.
  1694.  
  1695. The thing was, though – the youngest detective's words of something good happening weren't entirely off the mark.
  1696.  
  1697. After that day, after meeting those ant monsters, it felt as if that emptiness in his heart had been filled by a little, for some unfathomable reason.
  1698.  
  1699. 'There's definitely something here.'
  1700.  
  1701. Without a doubt!
  1702.  
  1703. The instincts of a veteran detective, no, the instincts of a human being named Woo Jin-Cheol, were telling him that there was definitely something there.
  1704.  
  1705. The youngest detective stole a glance over Woo In-Cheol's shoulder to see what was on the pages of a small memo pad the latter was concentrating so hard on.
  1706.  
  1707. "Uh? Uhh? Senior? You're still investigating that missing suspect incident? But, didn't the captain say....."
  1708.  
  1709. "I know, I know. It's something I'm looking into in my spare time."
  1710.  
  1711. Woo Jin-Cheol made sure that his junior wouldn't run his mouth off and finished off his share of coffee. However, unlike in the past, the junior didn't shut his mouth up immediately.
  1712.  
  1713. "Wowsers…. There are quite a lot of suspects turning themselves in because of the Shadow Monster beside our precinct, isn't it?"
  1714.  
  1715. "...."
  1716.  
  1717. He couldn't simply treat this young detective badly when the number of hopeful officers applying to join the Violent Crimes Unit was in decline lately.
  1718.  
  1719. Although he was slightly annoyed by this unnecessary attention, Woo Jin-Cheol still did his best not to show it and replied calmly.
  1720.  
  1721. "That's what I heard."
  1722.  
  1723. "Mm...."
  1724.  
  1725. The junior stared hard at the contents of the memo pad, before asking another question.
  1726.  
  1727. "Huh? Wait, why did the number of suspects turning themselves in suddenly decrease by a lot between the end of February and the beginning of March?"
  1728.  
  1729. After hearing that astute observation made by the junior, the veteran's eyes gleamed brightly.
  1730.  
  1731. "Hey, can you think of something?"
  1732.  
  1733. "Ah, well, it's actually nothing much, but…. My aunt used to run a small book rental shop, you see."
  1734.  
  1735. "....Okay, so?"
  1736.  
  1737. "I just remembered that she used to whine about business going downhill during the end of February and the beginning of March, because the new school semester started around then, senior. Haha, it really was nothing much, wasn't it?"
  1738.  
  1739. Perhaps he felt a bit sheepish, the junior scratched the back of his head with a smile. But then, he gasped out in sheer surprise when he saw Woo Jin-Cheol carefully jot down what was said on the memo pad.
  1740.  
  1741. "S-Senior??"
  1742.  
  1743. "Well, you never know."
  1744.  
  1745. School opening, students, semester.
  1746.  
  1747. Those four simple words with no adjectives or modifiers attached were quietly added into Woo Jin-Cheol's memo pad.
  1748.  
  1749. Meanwhile, in XX High School.
  1750.  
  1751. A day before the entrance ceremony for the new students, the headmaster of the school secretly summoned the teacher serving as the director of the students' affairs department to his office.
  1752.  
  1753. "We'll be welcoming a problem child in our school tomorrow."
  1754.  
  1755. "Pardon me, sir?"
  1756.  
  1757. The headmaster pushed forward a set of prepared documents. The director of the students' affairs scanned the profile of a certain student written on the document and tilted his head.
  1758.  
  1759. "His father is a firefighter, his mom is a regular housewife. His academic records aren't too shabby, and I failed to see anything major with this child, sir."
  1760.  
  1761. "Uh-huh. This fella. Look at the bottom. Look at the details on his expulsion."
  1762.  
  1763. ".....!!"
  1764.  
  1765. The student had run away from home for two years when he was only a first-year middle school student. Rather obviously, he was expelled from his previous school.
  1766.  
  1767. But then, he 'completed' the middle school diploma through GED and applied to enter their high school.
  1768.  
  1769. 'Not even as a high school freshman, but a child who just graduated from the elementary school ran away from home for two years?'
  1770.  
  1771. The director sensed the entrance of a powerful adversary and his eyes began quaking ever so imperceptibly. Meanwhile, the headmaster spoke in a hushed voice.
  1772.  
  1773. "What do you think? This student, do you think you can handle him?"
  1774.  
  1775. The director of the students' affairs took a deep, deep breath and closed the file of this problem child.
  1776.  
  1777. Tap.
  1778.  
  1779. "Sir, you know very well already why I'm called the 'Venomous Snake'. No matter what kind of a problem child he is, just leave him to me. I shall make sure to discipline him correctly so he won't go around causing trouble."
  1780.  
  1781. His eyes were now shining with a sense of duty and unbridled confidence. The headmaster nodded his head in approval.
  1782.  
  1783. "Very good, then. I shall trust your judgement in this case, Teacher Park."
  1784.  
  1785. The expression on the headmaster softened after hearing the assurance straight from the mouth of the director. A thin smile crept up on the latter's lips.
  1786.  
  1787. The fated encounter would take place the next day.
  1788.  
  1789. His heart was racing already from his determination to suppress the troublemaker in one fell swoop during the welcoming ceremony before the kid had a chance to start anything.
  1790.  
  1791. < Extra Spin-off > Beru's Memories
  1792.  
  1793. Kiiiieeehhhk-!!
  1794.  
  1795. Kiiahk!
  1796.  
  1797. Kiiieeehk, kiiiieeehk, kiiehk, kkiiieehhk.
  1798.  
  1799. Khaahk, kiiieeehh, kiiek.
  1800.  
  1801. Kkiiieehk!
  1802.  
  1803. Kiehhehehehehehet~!
  1804.  
  1805. Kkieeehhk! Kiiaaahk!
  1806.  
  1807. Kaahrurururururuk-!
  1808.  
  1809. Kihak.
  1810.  
  1811. < Chapter 249 > Fin.
  1812.  
  1813. Chapter 250:
  1814. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  1815.  
  1816. Side Story 7
  1817.  
  1818. Your daily routine (2)
  1819. The high school freshmen were gathered in the school's athletics field for the entrance ceremony.
  1820.  
  1821. Noisy, noisy….
  1822.  
  1823. The new students used the gap created by the still-lax surveillance of the teachers to form small groups comprising of the graduates from the same middle schools and noisily chatted away.
  1824.  
  1825. It was then.
  1826.  
  1827. "Silence!!"
  1828.  
  1829. Like a lone shark scything its way into a school of sardines, the 'Venomous Snake', Teacher Park Gi-Sool, made his sudden entrance and shot a scary glare, prompting the new students to hurriedly shut their mouths up at once.
  1830.  
  1831. "Who dares to make a noise? Who??"
  1832.  
  1833. Rather unfitting for his name, Teacher Park Gi-Sool was in charge of the physical training. But, fitting for a man who competed in amateur wrestling in his youth, he was blessed with cauliflower ears, a thick neck, broad shoulders, as well as muscular thighs.
  1834.  
  1835. Everywhere Teacher Park Gi-Sool's glare landed, kids quickly dropped their heads lower. The war of aura – nerves – at the beginning of school life wasn't exclusively fought between the students, oh no.
  1836.  
  1837. If one took into consideration the potential atmosphere for the rest of the academic year, or even the classroom itself, then the war of nerves between the teacher and students would be far more important than the one taking place between the headstrong students.
  1838.  
  1839. And as far as his track record for this kind of war was concerned, 'Venomous Snake' Teacher Park Gi-Sool had never tasted defeat before.
  1840.  
  1841. Starting from ten years ago, when he took his first step into the teaching profession, last year, and the year before that too, never had he failed his mission. He was planning to extend the streak to this year, as well.
  1842.  
  1843. The school of sardines in front of the shark, no, the new students in front of Teacher Park Gi-Sool couldn't withstand his fierce glare and quickly lowered their gazes.
  1844.  
  1845. All the noisy kids shut their mouths for good wherever he walked past. Meanwhile, his colleagues watching on from the sidelines could only look on with eyes of pure respect.
  1846.  
  1847. "As expected of Park Teacher-nim...."
  1848.  
  1849. "Looks like we can rely on the director of students' affairs for another trouble-free year, as well."
  1850.  
  1851. Park Gi-Sool scanned the new students and their broken fighting spirit while forming a content smile on his face.
  1852.  
  1853. 'Right, that's how it should be.'
  1854.  
  1855. However, he couldn't be satisfied with this much of 'victory' yet. Not today. Didn't he already have a real target in mind for today, the one the headmaster personally entrusted him with?
  1856.  
  1857. As long as he didn't break that problem child's fighting spirit, then it'd be rather difficult to claim that he had performed his duty of guiding these students properly today.
  1858.  
  1859. Park Gi-Sool continued to scan the faces of the new students and eventually located the problem kid in question.
  1860.  
  1861. 'There he is.'
  1862.  
  1863. The moment he located his target, that content smile was wiped off from his face immediately.
  1864.  
  1865. Even at a casual glance from far away, one could tell that the boy was no ordinary challenge, what with his height far taller than his peers, the hints of firm muscles all over his figure, as well as powerful vitality that could be gleaned from his eyes.
  1866.  
  1867. 'So, that kid is Seong Jin-Woo….'
  1868.  
  1869. The thing was, an expert would be able to recognize other experts.
  1870.  
  1871. No matter how wild they were as a student, they all would become a well-behaved sheep in front of him before long. And in case the boy decided to show off with inadvisable bravado, then Teacher Park simply had to reveal just a wee bit of what was in store for unruly children.
  1872.  
  1873. There hadn't been a single problem kid that 'Venomous Snake' Park Gi-Sool failed to discipline properly. His confidence oozed out from every pore of his body like an actual aura.
  1874.  
  1875. 'Alright....'
  1876.  
  1877. ….Time to get started.
  1878.  
  1879. Before that, though, Park Gi-Sool's snake-like eyes quickly scanned the problem kid from top to bottom. And then, his eyes gleamed brightly.
  1880.  
  1881. 'That's it!'
  1882.  
  1883. There was a black glove on one of the problem kid's hands.
  1884.  
  1885. A teacher in the student affairs department couldn't possibly ignore the problem kid violating the dress code, such as wearing hats or gloves, while standing in the middle of the athletics field, now could he?
  1886.  
  1887. Of course, it wasn't as if he had forgotten about the small fact that the boy's left hand had a serious scar and needed to wear a glove all the time.
  1888.  
  1889. Such a thing was already written within the student's records, after all.
  1890.  
  1891. However, Park Gi-Sool needed a pretext, however small, to butt in and start his operation of breaking that problem kid's fighting spirit.
  1892.  
  1893. Indeed, what could be a better pretext to scold a student than the violation of the school's dress code?
  1894.  
  1895. Having discovered a suitable gap to dig in, Park Gi-Sool's eyes gleamed sharply like a real venomous snake, and he quickly made his way over to the problem kid in question.
  1896.  
  1897. It seemed that the boy hadn't sensed his approach yet, which was good. A surprise attack was very effective in breaking the enemy's fighting spirit, after all.
  1898.  
  1899. Once he got close enough distance where a whispered name could be heard by the other party, Teacher Park Gi-Sool's brows shot up as he got ready.
  1900.  
  1901. "Hey, you fool! Where do you think you are to wear a glo...."
  1902.  
  1903. The loud, energetic roar coming from Teacher Park Gi-Sool prompted Jin-Woo to turn his head around. And then, his eyes met Park Gi-Sool's.
  1904.  
  1905. In that moment….
  1906.  
  1907. "Uh, uhhh....??"
  1908.  
  1909. ….Teacher Park Gi-Sool saw 'it'.
  1910.  
  1911. He saw the countless black monsters, standing seemingly endlessly behind this 'problem kid'.
  1912.  
  1913. The entirety of the athletics field, filled with students, disappeared in darkness from Park Gi-Sool's view, only to be replaced by the sight of a massive army of ten million soldiers standing in columns that stretched endlessly towards the distant horizon.
  1914.  
  1915. "Heok!!"
  1916.  
  1917. Teacher Park Gi-Sool was instantly shoved away by the absolutely overwhelming pressure and tumbled on his backside while loudly screaming out.
  1918.  
  1919. "Teacher-nim?!"
  1920.  
  1921. "Park Teacher-nim! Are you alright??"
  1922.  
  1923. Other teachers in the vicinity hurriedly rushed over there and supported Park Gi-Sool. His complexion was as white as a sheet of paper. He took another look at Jin-Woo, but by then, his view had reverted back to normal.
  1924.  
  1925. "B-but, how....??"
  1926.  
  1927. He roughly shook his head and blinked his eyes several times while the attention of the surrounding students began falling on him.
  1928.  
  1929. Noisy, noisy….
  1930.  
  1931. "Everyone, keep quiet!"
  1932.  
  1933. "Park Teacher-nim, maybe you're feeling unwell somewhere?"
  1934.  
  1935. Now being on the receiving end of the worried gazes of his colleagues, as well as unsettled looks from the students, Park Gi-Sool's face reddened up considerably from embarrassment.
  1936.  
  1937. "I, I'm fine."
  1938.  
  1939. He shook off the support from his colleagues and quickly made his escape from the area.
  1940.  
  1941. Bellion hiding in his master's shadow quietly whispered to Jin-Woo while watching the departing man's back grow further away.
  1942.  
  1943. [My liege, that man must've...]
  1944.  
  1945. 'Yeah. It seems that he has seen you guys.'
  1946.  
  1947. Jin-Woo nodded his head.
  1948.  
  1949. There were some people who possessed far keener senses than other regular folks, although there weren't that many. Such people would sometimes – not very often, mind you – discover that Jin-Woo was a bit different from everybody else.
  1950.  
  1951. Just like now.
  1952.  
  1953. '….Could this be one of the adverse influences I have on this world, too?'
  1954.  
  1955. He couldn't tell for sure. Jin-Woo recalled the pale, frightened face of the urgently-escaping teacher and tutted softly to himself.
  1956.  
  1957. It was then.
  1958.  
  1959. The speakers located in the athletics field issued ear-piercing static before commencing with the campus broadcast in earnest.
  1960.  
  1961. The Headmaster-nim will now address the new students and welcome them to the school.
  1962. Jin-Woo stopped looking in the direction where Park Gi-Sool had disappeared to and shifted his gaze forward, just as the broadcast ordered everyone to do so.
  1963.  
  1964. It was a brilliantly sunny spring day.
  1965.  
  1966. Under the warm rays of the sun gently beating down on Earth, the headmaster's smooth forehead blindingly reflected the excitement these new students were feeling right now.
  1967.  
  1968. For a reason only known to him, Jin-Woo deliberately applied to a high school that was some distance away from his house. And naturally, he recognized no one in the new class.
  1969.  
  1970. 'Well…. Isn't that obvious?'
  1971.  
  1972. He scanned the faces of other kids without feeling bummed out about it, a smirk slowly creeping up on his face.
  1973.  
  1974. He was already well past the age where his heart would start beating nervously from the burden of sharing a classroom with kids he didn't know.
  1975.  
  1976. If it was him in the past, he'd start greeting others even while under the vicious assault of awkwardness, but now? It just felt too annoying, so he didn't even bother.
  1977.  
  1978. While other kids were busy scanning their classmates to see what was what, Jin-Woo simply took out a book he brought from home and opened it up.
  1979.  
  1980. Maybe spending such a long time in the gap between dimensions, where there was not a sound to be heard, had changed him somehow, because he gained a renewed appreciation for reading a book in quiet stillness.
  1981.  
  1982. Besides, even though they were ostensibly his classmates, there was the age difference of several decades to consider here, so what could he possibly say to these kids, anyway?
  1983.  
  1984. Indeed, it'd be more preferable to share a wordless conversation with a good book, instead.
  1985.  
  1986. But then, just as he got ready to spend some quiet time with himself, someone actually approached him to engage in conversation.
  1987.  
  1988. "Uh-uhm…. Could you be...?"
  1989.  
  1990. The voice sounded a bit powerless. Jin-Woo raised his head towards where that voice came from.
  1991.  
  1992. The owner of the voice flinched a bit when their gazes met, but when he confirmed Jin-Woo's face, he seemed to have gained a boost to his courage.
  1993.  
  1994. "Y-you are Jin-Woo from XX Middle School... Seong Jin-Woo, right?"
  1995.  
  1996. Who could this kid be? Jin-Woo's eyes narrowed slightly.
  1997.  
  1998. 'Huh. He does look kinda familiar....'
  1999.  
  2000. However, they must not have been all that close, because he couldn't immediately recall this boy's name or things they did together. He tried to dig deeper into his memories, but then….
  2001.  
  2002. "Uhm, I...."
  2003.  
  2004. As if this sort of situation was a common occurrence for him, the boy with a rather faint sense of existence re-introduced himself without minding it at all.
  2005.  
  2006. "I'm Oh Young-Gil…. We belonged to the same class during freshmen year in middle school."
  2007.  
  2008. "...Ah-!"
  2009.  
  2010. Hearing the name helped Jin-Woo to remember.
  2011.  
  2012. He was none other than the boy that kept glancing at the group of kids getting ready to go to the internet cafe with envious eyes. The boy with the buzz cut hairstyle had grown up to become a high schooler now.
  2013.  
  2014. His facial expression now half made up of amazement and delight, Jin-Woo extended his hand for a shake.
  2015.  
  2016. "Hey, good to see you, Young-Gil-ah."
  2017.  
  2018. "Uhm....."
  2019.  
  2020. It seemed that shaking hands was a gesture still too foreign for a boy just entering high school life, because Oh Young-Gil was hesitating somewhat on what to do next, but eventually, he cautiously grasped the offered hand with a sheepish expression.
  2021.  
  2022. "Y-yeah, me too...."
  2023.  
  2024. As they shook hands, Jin-Woo felt this great sense of relief coming from the boy. Indeed, one would certainly feel relieved after finding a familiar face, a friend even, when entering a new school and a new class.
  2025.  
  2026. Jin-Woo formed a warm smile so the friend he met after a long time could feel relaxed now. It must've been pretty effective, because Young-Gil grew just a bit chattier than before.
  2027.  
  2028. "You live around here? My family moved house to the area nearby."
  2029.  
  2030. But, just as the boy's words reached there, Jin-Woo had no choice but to stop him for a bit, slightly peeved by the fact that he was unable to enjoy this unlikely reunion with a friend to its fullest.
  2031.  
  2032. "Hang on."
  2033.  
  2034. Jin-Woo turned his head to the side, and that was when four kids who didn't look to be a nice sort, even at a casual glance, surrounded him and Young-Gil.
  2035.  
  2036. "Hee~ya, hey man. You must be somebody important, right? You even have a glove?"
  2037.  
  2038. The hooligans pointed at Jin-Woo's left hand and cackled among themselves. Meanwhile, Young-Gil's complexion grew gloomier at the rather obvious approach of these fools.
  2039.  
  2040. 'He's supposed to be a man, but he's just too timid...'
  2041.  
  2042. Jin-Woo found it rather unfortunate that his friend's expression was hardening like that and he shifted his gaze over to these four hooligans surrounding him.
  2043.  
  2044. The kind of faces and glare in eyes best described as worthless were the only things he saw.
  2045.  
  2046. These four might not have graduated from the same middle school, but they had been acting as local hoodlums for a bit and had become acquaintances as a result. After finding themselves in the same class, they took a look at the faces of their classmates and arrived at a consensus that there was only one hindrance to their plan of taking over this class.
  2047.  
  2048. And so, they were here to prod this potential hindrance a little and see what would happen. Other kids in the class were scared and couldn't even meet these four's glare, but in Jin-Woo's view, who had been fighting non-stop for almost thirty years, these four were….
  2049.  
  2050. ….Quite adorable, actually.
  2051.  
  2052. The quartet, oblivious of how they were being judged, continued their mission to provoke Jin-Woo who had grown silent now.
  2053.  
  2054. "Hey, hey. Why don't you take off that glove? I wanna try it on, too."
  2055.  
  2056. "By the way, why did you put a glove on only one hand? Maybe, you have a Dark Flame Dragon on your arm, too?"
  2057.  
  2058. "Euh, euh, euh-! My hand! My right hand's Dark Flame is roaring out!"
  2059.  
  2060. Ahahaha!
  2061.  
  2062. They must've found something really funny, because all four of them burst out into boisterous laughter. Seeing them react like that, Jin-Woo formed a derisive smirk at them.
  2063.  
  2064. When he did, the glare in the four hooligans' eyes changed.
  2065.  
  2066. "Oh, you think this is funny?"
  2067.  
  2068. "Seriously, did this bastard plug his ears with crap or something? We told him to take the damn glove off, yet he ignores us?"
  2069.  
  2070. "What? What gives? You have a tattoo there or something?"
  2071.  
  2072. It was then.
  2073.  
  2074. From his shadow, Jin-Woo heard the extremely agitated voice of Beru crying out.
  2075.  
  2076. [Oh, my king!!! Grant me the permission so that I can tear the heads and limbs off of these fools and make sure they can never ever disparage you in this manner!!]
  2077.  
  2078. 'I ain't giving you permission.'
  2079.  
  2080. [H-however!]
  2081.  
  2082. 'Stop it.'
  2083.  
  2084. Jin-Woo reprimanded Beru, and before the ant soldier's rage could be fueled even further, he took his glove off and showed the hooligans his hand. When he did that, a hideous burn scar starting from his palm to his wrist was revealed for all to see.
  2085.  
  2086. "...."
  2087.  
  2088. "...."
  2089.  
  2090. The quartet of troublemakers became speechless from the scar that implied a pretty serious tale even at a casual glance, before they began mouthing some vague excuses.
  2091.  
  2092. "T-this guy, we were just fooling around, so why are you getting serious?"
  2093.  
  2094. "H-hey, dude. Put your glove back on. I might have nightmares about it now."
  2095.  
  2096. "Whoa..."
  2097.  
  2098. Perhaps realizing that this should be enough, the quartet withdrew from there. Jin-Woo didn't say anything and put his glove back on, before powerfully stomping on a certain blotch of shadow on the floor sneaking towards the departing quartet.
  2099.  
  2100. 'What were you planning to do after catching up to them?!'
  2101.  
  2102. [K-kkiieehk-!]
  2103.  
  2104. Beru was really incensed by those kids that dared to insult his liege, but Jin-Woo was ultimately successful in holding back the irate ant soldier. He raised his head again afterwards.
  2105.  
  2106. Wasn't this good?
  2107.  
  2108. He had already killed all the enemies that bared their fangs at him back in the gap between dimensions. Enemies that threatened him inside dungeons also lost their lives, too.
  2109.  
  2110. However, this place was Seoul, the Republic of Korea, where there were no Gates and no monsters to worry about. This was a place filled with peaceful, everyday normal stuff.
  2111.  
  2112. Jin-Woo was enjoying to the fullest this peace he achieved with his own two hands, so such a little provocation was nothing more than minor stuff to simply chuckle over and forget about it.
  2113.  
  2114. And that was why...
  2115.  
  2116. 'I'm sure this much is fine.'
  2117.  
  2118. Jin-Woo's gaze shifted over to the back of the quartet.
  2119.  
  2120. When he did – the hooligans making their way to the rear of the classroom got tripped by the 'invisible something' and fell on their faces as a group.
  2121.  
  2122. Tumble, crash!!
  2123.  
  2124. Beru, currently being pushed down by Jin-Woo's foot, watched the boys tumble ungainly like that and shifted his dumbfounded gaze back to his liege.
  2125.  
  2126. [Uhm... Oh, my king....?]
  2127.  
  2128. 'I did that for a laugh. You know, so I can laugh.'
  2129.  
  2130. Since that was humorous, everything was fine now.
  2131.  
  2132. Jin-Woo smirked softly and settled down on his seat again after seeing the flustered expression of the female teacher, who just so happened to enter the classroom at that exact moment to discover that four of her students had fallen face-first on the floor.
  2133.  
  2134. With that, his high school life began for the second time.
  2135.  
  2136. < Chapter 250 > Fin.
  2137.  
  2138. Chapter 251
  2139. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  2140.  
  2141. Side Story 8
  2142.  
  2143. Your daily routine (3)
  2144. Ding, dong. Ding, dong….
  2145.  
  2146. From the elementary school kids who'd find the embrace of their mothers more comfortable than their respective classrooms, right up to those teachers with greying hair and only a little bit left on their clock until retirement...
  2147.  
  2148. ….The sound of the end-of-school bell, capable of re-energizing pretty much everyone who heard it, rang around noisily throughout the school.
  2149.  
  2150. Most of the kids in the classroom formed expressions of ecstasy as if they were about to fly away. Meanwhile, Jin-Woo, sitting among them, carried a carefree face as he greeted the end to his school day in this place.
  2151.  
  2152. "Everyone, don't go home late because you want to hang out with new friends you made today, okay! Understand?"
  2153.  
  2154. Yeees-!
  2155.  
  2156. After the token replies, half consisting of mischievous voices of the male students and the other half high-pitched tones of the girls were made, the classroom became empty in no time at all now that the day's schedule had come to its end.
  2157.  
  2158. Jin-Woo deliberately took his time packing up his bag, before he spotted Young-Gil hesitantly and slowly approaching him like a full-bellied tortoise.
  2159.  
  2160. '….?'
  2161.  
  2162. Jin-Woo stopped packing his bag when Young-Gil cautiously asked him a question.
  2163.  
  2164. "Uhm... I'm heading off in the direction of the 'Gigamart', but what about you?"
  2165.  
  2166. 'Ah, I guess he wants to get close to me.'
  2167.  
  2168. An easy-to-read relaxed smile formed on Jin-Woo's face.
  2169.  
  2170. 'A minor favor shown when young can also become the start of a relationship later on like this, huh?'
  2171.  
  2172. Jin-Woo smiled for a little while, before shaking his head.
  2173.  
  2174. "Well, yeah, it's in the same direction, but there's something I gotta do first."
  2175.  
  2176. "Oh...."
  2177.  
  2178. As Young-Gil stood there in disappointment, Jin-Woo lightly tapped the boy on the shoulder and grinned brightly.
  2179.  
  2180. "Let's go."
  2181.  
  2182. Not too long afterwards, both of them exited from the school building.
  2183.  
  2184. "What? Track and field club??"
  2185.  
  2186. Young-Gil asked with a surprised voice, while Jin-Woo nodded calmly as his reply.
  2187.  
  2188. "Yup."
  2189.  
  2190. The reason why Jin-Woo chose this school, far from his home, instead of those nearby was because it was only this particular one that happened to have a track and field athletics department.
  2191.  
  2192. Young-Gil could only tilt his head when Jin-Woo replied that he'd join the track and field team from today.
  2193.  
  2194. 'Was Jin-Woo good at track in the past?'
  2195.  
  2196. He remembered hanging around Jin-Woo for only about a month or so. The memories of him playing that game really well were the only thing that came to the boy's head, but he just couldn't recall Jin-Woo doing anything particularly outstanding during physical training or club activities.
  2197.  
  2198. No, Young-Gil simply remembered Jin-Woo doing pretty much everything at his pace – which was leisurely.
  2199.  
  2200. 'A high school track and field club should be operated by only the talented students, though....?'
  2201.  
  2202. The boy suddenly felt worried about Jin-Woo and found himself unconsciously chasing after his friend. Meanwhile, Jin-Woo crossed the athletics field and approached the group of athletes loosening themselves up in the corner of the field.
  2203.  
  2204. "Mm...?"
  2205.  
  2206. Their attention soon shifted towards the incoming duo of freshmen. They initially expected the two to walk past them or change their heading, but their expectation turned out to be off the mark. The senior with the biggest physique took a step forward and 'greeted' the duo.
  2207.  
  2208. "What do you two want now?"
  2209.  
  2210. Jin-Woo briefly scanned the atmosphere of the team members and replied with a smile.
  2211.  
  2212. "I'd like to join the athletics club."
  2213.  
  2214. The senior with big physique, the captain of the track and field team Choi Tae-Woong, alternated his gaze between Jin-Woo and a shorter kid with a rather unhealthy complexion.
  2215.  
  2216. "You wanna join the club?"
  2217.  
  2218. "Yes."
  2219.  
  2220. "Both of you?"
  2221.  
  2222. Jin-Woo looked behind, and Young-Gil hurriedly shook his head.
  2223.  
  2224. "...No, just me."
  2225.  
  2226. After seeing Jin-Woo's continuously-smiling mug, the seniors grew interested and gathered around the freshmen.
  2227.  
  2228. "Ohh, what's this? We have an applicant wanting to join us?"
  2229.  
  2230. "This is my first time seeing a freshman barging in here and wanting to join the team, though."
  2231.  
  2232. "He's not playing around, is he?"
  2233.  
  2234. Choi Tae-Woong scratched the top of his head and scanned Jin-Woo from top to bottom before asking another question.
  2235.  
  2236. "You a student-athlete?"
  2237.  
  2238. "No, I'm not."
  2239.  
  2240. "Okay, you have experience running track in middle school?"
  2241.  
  2242. Although Jin-Woo was rather experienced in running all over the gap between dimensions to kill Sovereigns, that wasn't something he could refer to as his middle school days, or running track competitively, so he could only shake his head with a wry smile.
  2243.  
  2244. "No, I don't."
  2245.  
  2246. The seniors in the athletics club were ready to welcome this enthusiastic newcomer right up until that answer. But now, their complexions were hardening drastically.
  2247.  
  2248. A freshman who hadn't even run track competitively wanted to enter the athletics club comprised only of student-athletes?
  2249.  
  2250. Wasn't this kid taking high school track & field way too lightly?
  2251.  
  2252. One of the seniors blessed with a short fuse suddenly jumped into the conversation from the side.
  2253.  
  2254. "You haven't run track before, so why do you want to enter the team?"
  2255.  
  2256. Jin-Woo's reply was rather simple.
  2257.  
  2258. "There's someone I'd like to meet during the athletic meet, you see."
  2259.  
  2260. She was still in the middle school division, but without a doubt, she possessed enough talent to participate in the regional competition.
  2261.  
  2262. Well, she used to be an excellent athlete before she had to give up on that dream after becoming a high-ranked Hunter, didn't she?
  2263.  
  2264. If it was an athletic meet featuring participants from both middle and high schools, then wouldn't he be able to naturally run into her there?
  2265.  
  2266. Jin-Woo judged that, rather than forcibly get close to her and insert himself into her life that way, this might be a far better approach for both of them.
  2267.  
  2268. However, judging from the expressions of the seniors, it seemed that they didn't share his thought process.
  2269.  
  2270. "Athletic meet....??"
  2271.  
  2272. The expression of the senior with the short fuse, Jeong Gu-Shik, hardened like stone. Even if one was to look down on running track, there was a line one shouldn't cross.
  2273.  
  2274. Jeong Gu-Shik's anger shot up to the top of his head and he was about to roar out some choice words to chase away the freshmen, but then, captain Choi Tae-Woong formed a grin and gave his permission.
  2275.  
  2276. "Fine."
  2277.  
  2278. Jeong Gu-Shik looked back at his captain with an expression of a man failing to comprehend the situation.
  2279.  
  2280. "What?!"
  2281.  
  2282. "However, there is a condition."
  2283.  
  2284. Choi Tae-Woong used an expression that said 'Be quiet' to defeat Jeong Gu-Shik, and pointed at a glasses-wearing student busy stretching his muscles over yonder.
  2285.  
  2286. "You see that friend over there?"
  2287.  
  2288. Jin-Woo followed after the pointing finger and nodded his head.
  2289.  
  2290. "Yes."
  2291.  
  2292. "That friend is the worst runner in our team, a reserve from the second year. Meaning, you gotta at least beat that friend to earn the right to enter our team."
  2293.  
  2294. That was a bold-faced lie.
  2295.  
  2296. Even before he heard the explanation, Jin-Woo had already analyzed that particular second-year student's abilities, and as a result, he began chuckling inwardly.
  2297.  
  2298. 'At first glance, that student's thighs and calves look lean and thin, but they are actually hard and well trained. And confidence simply oozes from the rest of his body....'
  2299.  
  2300. Spying from the student's steady, relaxed breathing or his upright posture, Jin-Woo knew immediately that he was looking at no ordinary athlete here.
  2301.  
  2302. Meaning, the third-year seniors were trying to make fun of him. How could Jin-Woo not laugh when their intentions were so easy to read like this?
  2303.  
  2304. Jeong Gu-Shik also belatedly realized what Choi Tae-Woong was trying to do and quickly changed his expression.
  2305.  
  2306. "Ahh, right! You said that you're aiming to enter the athletic meet, right? Well, in that case, a simple little admittance test like this is no problem for you, right?"
  2307.  
  2308. Jin-Woo didn't like the way this guy was grinning slyly like that, but still, asked back in a calm manner nonetheless.
  2309.  
  2310. "That senior…. Is he really a reserve?"
  2311.  
  2312. "I guarantee it."
  2313.  
  2314. Choi Tae-Woong replied in a confident voice, and the rest of the athletic team members had to try their best to hold back their laughter.
  2315.  
  2316. 'He's a reserve, alright. Well, the truth is, he did finish third place in last year's regional meet, but he sprained his ankle during winter training so he's been demoted to a reserve spot, for the time being.'
  2317.  
  2318. If he were to get technical here, then Choi Tae-Woong wasn't really, really lying by saying that the glasses-wearing guy was the worst 'runner' here due to the lengthy unscheduled lay-off, and that he was in the reserve spot because of the injury.
  2319.  
  2320. Jin-Woo then replied in an easy-going manner to captain Choi Tae-Woong and his insidious smile.
  2321.  
  2322. "Very well, I understand. Let me try."
  2323.  
  2324. This bastard, he fell for it!!
  2325.  
  2326. Not just Jeong Gu-Shik, but everyone in the athletics club shouted out "Hooray!" in their heads.
  2327.  
  2328. 'A guy who can't even recognize the third-place finisher from the regionals last year wants to join the track and field team? Gimme a break.'
  2329.  
  2330. Choi Tae-Woong, standing in front of the group to deal with Jin-Woo, did his utmost best to hide his laughter threatening to break through his lips.
  2331.  
  2332. "Very good. However, just running the track like that wouldn't be any fun, so…. How about this? If you win, you get to join the team, but if you lose, you do the team's laundry and cleaning for one month, free of charge."
  2333.  
  2334. "Sounds good."
  2335.  
  2336. "J-Jin-Woo...."
  2337.  
  2338. Young-Gil tried to stop him, but Jin-Woo simply formed a smile that said: "It's fine."
  2339.  
  2340. 'Let's see how long you can keep that relaxed face of yours.'
  2341.  
  2342. Choi Tae-Woong looked towards the 'reserve' student and shouted out loudly.
  2343.  
  2344. "Hey, Sahng-In-ah! Looks like you'll have to take to the track for this one."
  2345.  
  2346. The ace of the team, Woo Sahng-In finished his stretching exercise and raised his body up.
  2347.  
  2348. "It's not a problem."
  2349.  
  2350. He took off his glasses and entrusted it to another member of the club, suspiciously ominous aura shooting out from his eyes. Jin-Woo held the senior's fierce gaze while handing over his school bag and his jacket to Young-Gil next to him.
  2351.  
  2352. While the members of the track and field club were thinking that here was a chance to let a freshman taste the bitterness of life, Jin-Woo was deeply pondering inwardly just how seriously he should run so that the sheer mental shock his seniors no doubt feel wouldn't be as high.
  2353.  
  2354. "Hey, freshman, are you ready?"
  2355.  
  2356. "Yes, I am."
  2357.  
  2358. "Sahng-In, what about you?"
  2359.  
  2360. "I'm ready."
  2361.  
  2362. Jin-Woo and Woo Sahng-Min stood side by side on the starting line.
  2363.  
  2364. The former assumed a posture that best optimized one's ability to rapidly change directions and enter a battle at any time, while the latter assumed a posture solely designed for track competition.
  2365.  
  2366. This time, the team members didn't bother to hide their ridiculing laughter at Jin-Woo's weird posture.
  2367.  
  2368. "What the hell is up with this idiot?"
  2369.  
  2370. "And he still wants to join the athletics club? But, isn't he a damn beginner who doesn't even know anything about running track?"
  2371.  
  2372. Jin-Woo didn't pay any attention to their mocking words and controlled his breathing.
  2373.  
  2374. "Ready?"
  2375.  
  2376. Soon, Choi Tae-Woong's baritone voice signaling the start could be heard.
  2377.  
  2378. "Start!"
  2379.  
  2380. "Teacher-nim? How are you feeling now?"
  2381.  
  2382. "Ah.... yes, well...."
  2383.  
  2384. 'Venomous Snake' Teacher Park Gi-Sool replied half-heartedly at his colleague's question after they ran into each other on the corridor, and with hurried steps, he quickly walked past the confused-looking fellow teacher.
  2385.  
  2386. Park Gi-Sool's crumpled expression easily spoke of his current mood.
  2387.  
  2388. 'I ended up making a fool of myself in front of all the gathered students today....'
  2389.  
  2390. He definitely must have made a mistake. Without a doubt, his strange hallucination was the fault of not eating a proper breakfast earlier today.
  2391.  
  2392. It felt as if every student was laughing at his expense. He quickly evaded their gazes and slipped into the teacher's lounge, before spitting out a sigh rushing out from the deepest part of his chest.
  2393.  
  2394. "Fuu-woo...."
  2395.  
  2396. 'Should I smoke to take the edge off?'
  2397.  
  2398. Since almost every teacher was a smoker, smoking in the lounge was permitted, which meant that this place was like a safe haven for the current Park Gi-Sool.
  2399.  
  2400. He stuffed a cigarette between his lips and stood next to the windows while lighting it up. Just as he mindlessly shifted his gaze down to the athletics field.....
  2401.  
  2402. ….His eyes grew extra-large and he hurriedly lowered himself below the windows while spinning around.
  2403.  
  2404. 'W-what the hell?! Why is that kid running around the track with the rest of the athletics club members??'
  2405.  
  2406. It was then, the director of the track and field team entered the lounge and discovered crouching Park Gi-Sool.
  2407.  
  2408. "Ah, Park Teacher-nim!"
  2409.  
  2410. Wondering if the dizzy spell from the morning had come back again, the director hurriedly ran over to Park Gi-Sool and helped him up.
  2411.  
  2412. "Are you alright? You sure you don't need to stop by at a hospital?"
  2413.  
  2414. "I, I'm fine, thank you. Just feeling a bit dizzy, that's all...."
  2415.  
  2416. Park Gi-Sool made an evasive answer before asking back.
  2417.  
  2418. "B-by the way…. Why is the student named Seong Jin-Woo running together with the kids from the athletics team?"
  2419.  
  2420. "Ahhh…. That? So, that student's name is Seong Jin-Woo?"
  2421.  
  2422. The director took a look outside the window over Park Gi-Sool's shoulder and formed a wry chuckle as if he still couldn't believe it.
  2423.  
  2424. "It seems that a freshman just showed up and said that he wanted to join the team. Kids tested him out, and as it turned out, he has a talent, so they just couldn't chase him away. Apparently, what they are doing now is to test his stamina."
  2425.  
  2426. "H-his stamina, you say??"
  2427.  
  2428. "Yes. That's his 20th lap already. Just watching him going around is exhausting, so I quit first and came up here."
  2429.  
  2430. Sports, and sports clubs.
  2431.  
  2432. There was no better alternative to get rid of one's overflowing hot-bloodedness of youth than sports.
  2433.  
  2434. Several thoughts crisscrossed within Teacher Park Gi-Sool's mind, then. Student Seong Jin-Woo, the one he pre-judged to be a troublemaker, seemed to be trying his best to discipline himself by joining a sports club.
  2435.  
  2436. 'It's possible that…. That I have been holding the wrong idea about him....'
  2437.  
  2438. Now that he thought about it closely, there was simply no way that a boy walking around with monsters would exist in reality.
  2439.  
  2440. Student Seong Jin-Woo was just another exceedingly normal learner still searching for a place to call home within the fields of academia and sports, after a lengthy spell of aimlessly wandering around in his life.
  2441.  
  2442. But here was a teacher busy going on about seeing monsters and phantoms and whatnot from a regular student like that…. The reputation of the 'Venomous Snake' had been thoroughly stained with this matter, indeed.
  2443.  
  2444. Park Gi-Sool chuckled meekly, stopped hiding, and stood back up.
  2445.  
  2446. 'That's right…. I should look at him without judging him first. I'm sure that will help resolve all the misunderstanding.'
  2447.  
  2448. Seeing Park Gi-Sool form a serious expression before breaking into a chuckle, the director looked at him with a concerned face.
  2449.  
  2450. "Park Teacher-nim....?"
  2451.  
  2452. "Ah, no. It's fine now. I don't feel dizzy anymore."
  2453.  
  2454. "Oh... In that case, that's a relief."
  2455.  
  2456. Park Gi-Sool successfully made the director withdraw and slowly turned around to look behind him. He could now see a boy, covered in sweat and running diligently around the track while being showered by the bright, warm spring sunlight.
  2457.  
  2458. How could anyone point fingers at such a boy?
  2459.  
  2460. He focused his gaze on Jin-Woo, currently running steadily and unflustered even after lapping the panting and breathless members of the track and field team several times already.
  2461.  
  2462. 'Indeed, this morning was....'
  2463.  
  2464. Too bad, even before he could celebrate himself...
  2465.  
  2466. ….Without any warning whatsoever, Park Gi-Sool's entire field of vision was dyed in black and the spectacular sight of the Shadow Army stretching on endlessly entered his eyes.
  2467.  
  2468. He nearly toppled over from fright, but he forced his legs to steady himself and gritted his teeth.
  2469.  
  2470. 'This, this is a hallucination. This isn't real!!'
  2471.  
  2472. It was then.
  2473.  
  2474. A certain ant monster standing in the front-most row of the soldiers kitted out in black armor, gazed straight at him and opened its maw wide.
  2475.  
  2476. [Khak!!]
  2477.  
  2478. "U-uwaahk?!"
  2479.  
  2480. In the end, Teacher Park Go-Sool did fall on his butt and lost consciousness.
  2481.  
  2482. [….]
  2483.  
  2484. Within the subspace in Jin-Woo's shadow, Igrit watched Beru's action and used his elbow to rib the former ant king in the side.
  2485.  
  2486. [I told you to stop that, didn't I?]
  2487.  
  2488. [Kiieehh…. That human can really see us, can't he?]
  2489.  
  2490. Beru lightly scratched the side of his head and before his liege could order him to, planted his head firmly on the ground first.
  2491.  
  2492. Late at night.
  2493.  
  2494. Detective Woo Jin-Cheol and the youngest detective in the squad stopped by a diner that served 'gopchang'.
  2495.  
  2496. Once enough alcohol entered their bloodstreams, stories they found hard to talk about during the day came out – mostly from the youngest's mouth, actually.
  2497.  
  2498. "Excuse me, Senior Woo....?"
  2499.  
  2500. "Mm?"
  2501.  
  2502. "You've been investigating that missing prisoner case until now, yes?"
  2503.  
  2504. What was this guy trying to say here?
  2505.  
  2506. Woo Jin-Cheol tipped his glass filled with booze, his head beginning to develop an ache already.
  2507.  
  2508. Unfortunately, completely oblivious of his senior's wishes, the youngest detective continued with his questioning time.
  2509.  
  2510. "That day... you really did see something, didn't you?"
  2511.  
  2512. "What day?"
  2513.  
  2514. Woo Jin-Cheol played dumb deliberately, but the youngest simply grinned and replied.
  2515.  
  2516. "Eii, senior, you... You already know, don't you? I'm talking about that day when the suspect went missing. Didn't you really see something that day?"
  2517.  
  2518. This kid, he had this habit of catching people off-guard when they least expected it.
  2519.  
  2520. 'Well, that's a good talent to have as a detective.'
  2521.  
  2522. Woo Jin-Cheol recalled his own newbie days and formed a slight chuckle as he replied.
  2523.  
  2524. "What if I did?"
  2525.  
  2526. "Really?"
  2527.  
  2528. The youngest looked to be adequately drunk until then, but his eyes suddenly began sparkling and his ears even physically perked up. That wasn't so surprising, considering that the youngest was closer in age to being a student than a full-fledged member of society, anyway.
  2529.  
  2530. That was probably why he applied to the Violent Crimes Investigation Unit of the National Police Agency, reputed to be the worst paid but with the highest amount of workload.
  2531.  
  2532. Maybe the power of the booze circulating in him was to blame, or maybe, he just wanted to use this opportunity to get some stuff off his chest – Woo Jin-Cheol began speaking of things that he'd never even think about uttering in normal times.
  2533.  
  2534. "An ant…. Ant monsters."
  2535.  
  2536. Gulp.
  2537.  
  2538. The swallowing sound from the youngest detective could be heard from where he was sitting.
  2539.  
  2540. "Even I can't tell for sure what I saw back then. In any case, those things looked like ants."
  2541.  
  2542. "Ant monsters, is it? Are you saying that giant insects like ants came out?"
  2543.  
  2544. "No, not that. Well, they were ants, but...."
  2545.  
  2546. It was right then.
  2547.  
  2548. Just as Woo Jin-Cheol spoke up to there, a certain man unsteadily tottering about, as if he had one too many to drink, stopped walking past the duo and addressed them.
  2549.  
  2550. "T-those ant monsters, are they monsters with the heads of ants, but bodies that look like humans??"
  2551.  
  2552. The heads of the two detectives, Woo Jin-Cheol and his junior, raised up towards the owner of the voice.
  2553.  
  2554. < Chapter 251 > Fin.
  2555.  
  2556. Chapter 252:
  2557. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  2558.  
  2559. Side Story 9
  2560.  
  2561. Your daily routine (4)
  2562. Didn't someone say that the ground would harden after the rain had fallen?
  2563.  
  2564. Now normally, people would grow much closer when they made up after a big fight. But then, the bond between young boys created through sweat and drive to succeed was far hotter and stickier than any old saying could intimate.
  2565.  
  2566. "One, two! One, two!"
  2567.  
  2568. As the early dawn's fog thickly covered the school's athletics field, every member of the track team was energetically roaring out their rallying cries.
  2569.  
  2570. "Hey, Jin-Woo! How about it? Isn't this doable?"
  2571.  
  2572. Before anyone had noticed it, Jin-Woo was now permitted to run alongside the captain of the team, Choi Tae-Woong. The former replied in a refreshing manner.
  2573.  
  2574. "Yes, it is doable!"
  2575.  
  2576. "Very goooood! One, two! One, two!"
  2577.  
  2578. Choi Tae-Woong raised his speed just a bit higher and shouted out.
  2579.  
  2580. "Our goal is to conquer the whole country!"
  2581.  
  2582. "Our goal is to.....??"
  2583.  
  2584. The members almost subconsciously chanted after their captain's words, but they quickly caught onto the fact that their war cry had changed and began questioning their leader.
  2585.  
  2586. "Hey, captain! I thought our goal was the overall win in the regionals?"
  2587.  
  2588. "Uh-huh!! You're aiming far too low in front of our new ace! Again! Our goal is to conquer the whole country!"
  2589.  
  2590. "Conquer the whole country!!"
  2591.  
  2592. "The whole country!!!"
  2593.  
  2594. Glance.
  2595.  
  2596. The captain glanced at Woo Sahng-In, currently running behind him.
  2597.  
  2598. "Hey, Sahng-In-ah, are you crying right now?"
  2599.  
  2600. "N-no, captain!"
  2601.  
  2602. "Don't give up yet, ace of the second year! Although the ace of the team has changed, how can we conquer the nation without your aid?!"
  2603.  
  2604. "I... I shall do my best, captain!!"
  2605.  
  2606. "Very goooood-!! Conquer the whole country!!"
  2607.  
  2608. "The whole country!! The country!"
  2609.  
  2610. "Conquer the country! The whole country!!"
  2611.  
  2612. While the members of the team lapped around the athletics field, positively buzzing with a heightened fighting spirit, only Oh Young-Gil's complexion was turning blue amongst all the runners present. The poor kid ended up following after Jin-Woo and inadvertently entered the team as well.
  2613.  
  2614. "Pant, paaant, paaant...."
  2615.  
  2616. Jin-Woo, running out in front, heard Young-Gil's heavy, rough breathing and tutted inwardly.
  2617.  
  2618. He wanted to improve the boy's rather feeble constitution, so he said yes to the idea of one-plus-one admittance to the athletics club, but this….
  2619.  
  2620. ….It was only a matter of time before someone keeled over at the rate things were going.
  2621.  
  2622. But then again, it'd not be an easy task to let Young-Gil escape in this atmosphere when the fighting spirit of the seniors had reached a brand-new height that they had never seen before.
  2623.  
  2624. Left with no choice, Jin-Woo loaded just a little bit of Mana and sent it behind him. Like dandelion seeds being carried in the wind, the lump of Mana gently floated in the air and entered Young-Gil's nose and mouth.
  2625.  
  2626. ".....??"
  2627.  
  2628. The effects of Jin-Woo's Mana were an immediate stamina recovery, as well as a temporary boost to one's muscular endurance, reaction times, flexibility, and to one's rate of stamina recovery, etc….
  2629.  
  2630. Basically, it was a comprehensive buff gift set, filled with his desire to help out a friend.
  2631.  
  2632. Since it was a gift set straight from the Shadow Sovereign who reigned over in another world as basically a god, the effects of the buffs were rather incredible.
  2633.  
  2634. "Eh? Uh? Uhhh????"
  2635.  
  2636. Young-Gil's eyes opened wider and wider as soon as he inhaled the comprehensive buff set.
  2637.  
  2638. 'Wha-what's going on?! My body, it... It's getting hotter?!'
  2639.  
  2640. Thick veins rose up on the boy's legs as they powerfully kicked the ground away.
  2641.  
  2642. Paht, paht, paht!!
  2643.  
  2644. One by one, seniors running ahead of Young-Gil were left behind, and then....
  2645.  
  2646. "Ohh, ohh!!"
  2647.  
  2648. Then, Young-Gil's solo sprint began in earnest.
  2649.  
  2650. 'N-no, hang on a minute...?'
  2651.  
  2652. Choi Tae-Woong was instantly impressed by Young-Gil who managed to shoot past ahead of everyone. The captain loudly shouted out in excitement.
  2653.  
  2654. "Look at our newbie's fighting spirit burning up like that! How can us folks calling ourselves his seniors remain lukewarm when things are like this??"
  2655.  
  2656. "No, we can't!!"
  2657.  
  2658. "Definitely not!"
  2659.  
  2660. "We chase after the newbie with everything we've got! Let's go!"
  2661.  
  2662. "Let's do it!"
  2663.  
  2664. "Let's go!!"
  2665.  
  2666. Jin-Woo was inwardly worried whether he had given Young-Gil too much energy or not, but that only lasted for a brief moment.
  2667.  
  2668. The bright flames of the athletics team swept across the track today, as well.
  2669.  
  2670. While performing his duties of guiding incoming students from next to the school's gate, 'Venomous Snake' Teacher Park Gi-Sool was keeping tabs on the track and field team diligently going through their morning training regime at a distance.
  2671.  
  2672. Contrary to his initial worries, it seemed that Student Seong Jin-Woo was getting used to the life in the track team without any problems whatsoever.
  2673.  
  2674. Heck, the headmaster even thanked Park Gi-Sool out of nowhere, too.
  2675.  
  2676. I heard from the director of the track team that you, Park Teacher-nim, is always watching over Student Seong Jin-Woo.
  2677. Ah, that…. Yes, more or less….
  2678. Isn't the problem child behaving himself so well a fruit of your hard labor? With you around, Park Teacher-nim, I can truly rest easy.
  2679. Oh, uh.....
  2680. The only thing Park Gi-Sool had done so far was to watch Student Seong Jin-Woo until he fell or lost consciousness. He became so embarrassed that he'd rather become a potted plant that the headmaster was watering at that moment.
  2681.  
  2682. That happened earlier in the morning.
  2683.  
  2684. Park Gi-Sool tasted this bitterness deep within his core whenever he thought about the headmaster's high expectation of him versus his own pathetic situation where he couldn't even look Student Seong Jin-Woo straight in the eye.
  2685.  
  2686. And that was why... Because of his circumstances, he ended up getting piss drunk and unloaded all the useless stuff off his chest to a couple of people he'd never even seen before in his entire life.
  2687.  
  2688. 'Now why did I have to go and do something like that....?'
  2689.  
  2690. Just from recalling that night's events, Park Gi-Sool felt like tearing out all of his hair.
  2691.  
  2692. A few days ago, in a certain diner he stopped by out of sheer frustration….
  2693.  
  2694. "T-those ant monsters, are they monsters with the heads of ants, but bodies that look like humans??"
  2695.  
  2696. With their conversation being interrupted rather rudely like this, the two men shifted their curious gazes at the same time towards Park Gi-Sool, and that helped the school teacher to sober up real fast.
  2697.  
  2698. "Ah…. What on Earth am I saying... I'm very sorry. Looks like I must be really drunk. Both of you, please don't mind me and carry on."
  2699.  
  2700. Park Gi-Sool politely bowed his head and turned around to head back to his own spot, but then, Woo Jin-Cheol actually called out and stopped him in his tracks.
  2701.  
  2702. "Excuse me."
  2703.  
  2704. The school teacher turned his alcohol-reddened face behind him and saw that Woo Jin-Cheol had gotten up from his seat to pull a chair closer to his own table.
  2705.  
  2706. "That tale of the ant monster…. Can you tell me more about it?"
  2707.  
  2708. Just where would anyone be able to safely tell the story of a teacher seeing strange things when looking at a student?
  2709.  
  2710. After being admitted to a mental hospital? Now, which parents would entrust their kids to a teacher who frequented the mental health institution's hallways?
  2711.  
  2712. Park Gi-Sool had been silently suffering all by himself, unable to tell a soul what he saw, but now that he was given a chance, he came completely clean as teardrops formed at the corners of his eyes.
  2713.  
  2714. "You see, I am someone who teaches his students with his charisma. Charisma, you know? So, where can I possibly go and speak of these things?"
  2715.  
  2716. Still, he felt a bit more refreshed, a load off his shoulders, now that he got to say the things he wanted to say. With that, he was given enough leeway to take a gander at his surroundings.
  2717.  
  2718. Even though what he said sounded like a lame joke, the two detectives next to him were listening to his tale with serious expressions on their faces. It was at this point that Park Gi-Sool grew quite curious as to what these people's story might be.
  2719.  
  2720. "By the way…. Why were two police detectives like yourselves discussing stuff like monsters in a place like this diner?"
  2721.  
  2722. Woo Jin-Cheol exchanged glances with the junior detective before explaining their circumstances – minus the bit about him actually witnessing the real monsters, of course.
  2723.  
  2724. "....And so, the brass ordered us to look into this matter, but well, it's really difficult to even find a single clue, you see. Right now, I wouldn't mind grasping at straws if that will help us."
  2725.  
  2726. Woo Jin-Cheol pulled out his business card and handed it over to Park Gi-Sool as he continued on.
  2727.  
  2728. "That's why, I'd like to stop by at the school sometime later on, but will that be fine with you?"
  2729.  
  2730. "Ahh, of course. Of course, we must help with the police's investigation. You can come and visit us at any time."
  2731.  
  2732. And so, the booze-shared diner experience came to a rather friendly end in that manner, but now...
  2733.  
  2734. Some time had passed since then, and after thinking about it for a little while, Park Gi-Sool couldn't help but wonder if he had unnecessarily made the situation even worse than what it was.
  2735.  
  2736. 'How can a student have anything to do with the case of missing suspects...?'
  2737.  
  2738. Especially a boy who was wholeheartedly focusing on the club activities since early dawn?
  2739.  
  2740. Fearful that he might see another weird thing again, Park Gi-Sool couldn't stare for too long in Jin-Woo's direction, so he could only afford to sneak quick glances at the boy, instead. Eventually, he shook his head in resignation.
  2741.  
  2742. Then, he spoke to another teacher manning the school gate alongside him.
  2743.  
  2744. "Teacher Yun, my apologies, but I had a bit too much to drink last night and my innards are...."
  2745.  
  2746. "Ahaha, come on now, Park Teacher-nim. No need to apologize for that. Please, go back inside and take a break. I'll cover for you and keep an eye out here."
  2747.  
  2748. "Mm, thank you."
  2749.  
  2750. Before he went away, Park Gi-Sool took another quick glance at Jin-Woo and slunk off into the school building.
  2751.  
  2752. Only then did Jin-Woo shift his gaze towards the departing teacher, even though he hadn't shown any signs of noticing the glances right up until then.
  2753.  
  2754. '…..'
  2755.  
  2756. Recently, a teacher was staring at him in a rather open manner. He couldn't just gloss over what was happening here. From inside the darkness of his shadow, Grand-Marshal Bellion's quiet voice entered his ears.
  2757.  
  2758. [My liege…. Wouldn't it be better to erase that human's memories and take away his abilities?]
  2759.  
  2760. Back when he returned home from the gap between dimensions, after ending the war – as Jin-Woo stepped onto the ground of his home, feeling rightly emotional about his return, a proxy of the Rulers showed up and left behind some advice of sorts.
  2761.  
  2762. He said that, even if it was only a tiny bit of the Sovereign's powers, it'd end up causing a humongous change to this world. And that was why Jin-Woo had been avoiding interfering directly unless it was something utterly necessary.
  2763.  
  2764. 'For now…. Let's just observe him for a little while longer.'
  2765.  
  2766. [I understand, my liege.]
  2767.  
  2768. Jin-Woo wordlessly stared at the entrance Teacher Park Gi-Sool had disappeared to, before turning around to leave himself.
  2769.  
  2770. The members of the athletics club who were heading off to the club room before him were waving their hands towards him.
  2771.  
  2772. Woo Jin-Cheol found himself hesitating several times in front of the school gate.
  2773.  
  2774. It had been a week already since he was gifted an unthinkable piece of a lead in a gopchang diner. Starting from then, right up until now, all sorts of thoughts crisscrossed in his head.
  2775.  
  2776. He could have treated that testimony as a crazed teacher rambling on about some incoherent nonsense. However, every now and then, a link would suddenly be established between two seemingly unrelated cases and that would lead to an untangling of a dark web that seemed impossible to unravel initially.
  2777.  
  2778. 'The suspects that encountered monsters, and the monsters of a student that only one teacher can see....'
  2779.  
  2780. Woo Jin-Cheol found a vague link between these two disparate incidents. This was from the instincts of a detective, something that couldn't be explained by logic.
  2781.  
  2782. However, there was a problem – there was a massive hurdle to overcome here. If there was indeed a link, then what should he say exactly to the student in question?
  2783.  
  2784. He couldn't just bet everything on that drunken teacher's words and start questioning this student named Seong Jin-Woo about monsters and stuff, now could he?
  2785.  
  2786. As for asking a question in a roundabout way, the nature of the question itself was too broad for that, too.
  2787.  
  2788. By any chance, do you know anything about these Shadow Monsters? What about ants that stand up and walk around like people?
  2789. No matter how hard he practiced it in his head, he just couldn't picture the interview going down well at all. Woo Jin-Cheol pored at the memo pad containing detailed records of the investigation so far and spat out a long, long sigh.
  2790.  
  2791. 'It'd be a miracle not to be labelled as a madman while asking around these sorts of questions....'
  2792.  
  2793. At the end of a long, long dilemma, Woo Jin-Cheol turned around to leave. He might come back later after thinking up another pretext, but for now, it didn't seem like the time was right.
  2794.  
  2795. And so, as Woo Jin-Cheol took steps to get out of there, he lowered his gaze to the ground without thinking much about his actions.
  2796.  
  2797. Shuk.
  2798.  
  2799. If it wasn't him, famed even among the fellow detectives for possessing a pretty keen pair of eyes, but someone else not as sharp, they would have missed a faint movement on the ground.
  2800.  
  2801. Without a shred of doubt, he noticed a blob of shadow move from the shade of a tree towards the school's wall.
  2802.  
  2803. He definitely saw it.
  2804.  
  2805. Goosebumps broke out all over his body and he hurriedly spun his head back towards the school.
  2806.  
  2807. 'There is... there is definitely something here!!'
  2808.  
  2809. Woo Jin-Cheol's determination firmed up, then. He no longer cared if people pointed at him, calling him insane.
  2810.  
  2811. As long as he could find out the reason for this sense of loss that continued to plague him every now and then; as long as he could find out the exact cause why he felt his mind relax for a little while after encountering those ant monsters, then he'd not hesitate to pay any price.
  2812.  
  2813. With a hardened expression, Woo Jin-Cheol began walking towards the grounds of this high school.
  2814.  
  2815. At the same time.
  2816.  
  2817. Jin-Woo was spinning a pen with his fingers as he listened to the droning sounds of the geography lesson while the heads of many kids were dozing off all around him.
  2818.  
  2819. 'Did he see the sentry I posted there?'
  2820.  
  2821. As expected of Woo Jin-Cheol, the former President of the Hunter's Association. He should no longer have any memory of his previous life, yet his sharp eyes must've remained intact.
  2822.  
  2823. Jin-Woo closed his eyes and recalled the very last image he had of Woo Jin-Cheol.
  2824.  
  2825. The image of him tearing up when Jin-Woo revealed his plans of waging war against the Sovereigns all by himself remained vividly etched in his brain.
  2826.  
  2827. Back when the late President Goh Gun-Hui died, the voice requesting for revenge also remained, unforgotten, in Jin-Woo's mind, as well.
  2828.  
  2829. Was that why?
  2830.  
  2831. Even though this 'visit' would prove to be rather troublesome in his efforts to maintain his current lifestyle of pretending to be a normal person, the smile etched on Jin-Woo's lips didn't want to leave him all that easily.
  2832.  
  2833. Soon enough, the knocking on the classroom's door resounded out, followed by the surprised voice of the geography teacher.
  2834.  
  2835. "A d-detective?"
  2836.  
  2837. "It's not a big issue, actually. It's just that, I have some questions to ask a student named Seong Jin-Woo."
  2838.  
  2839. Ohhh-!!
  2840.  
  2841. At the announcement that a detective had shown up, kids let out gasps of amazement and shifted their gazes to Jin-Woo.
  2842.  
  2843. The thing that was coming had come.
  2844.  
  2845. Jin-Woo's eyes remained closed throughout, but then, with that grin getting deeper, they opened calmly again.
  2846.  
  2847. At that moment, Woo Jin-Cheol was entering the classroom's door and his gaze met with a certain student's. Even though the geography teacher didn't specifically point the boy out, the seasoned detective knew that student was Seong Jin-Woo with just one look.
  2848.  
  2849. Ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump….
  2850.  
  2851. Woo Jin-Cheol's heart began pounding away, as if it wanted to explode.
  2852.  
  2853. < Chapter 252 > Fin.
  2854.  
  2855. Chapter 253:
  2856. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  2857.  
  2858. Side Story 10
  2859.  
  2860. Your daily routine (5)
  2861. Woo Jin-Cheol led Jin-Woo to the end of the school corridor. He only stopped walking once they got to a distance far away from the classroom where their conversation wouldn't be overheard by someone else.
  2862.  
  2863. Jin-Woo, quietly following behind the detective, also came to a stop as a result. He sneaked a glance towards the classroom.
  2864.  
  2865. For some reason, this sense of distance he felt by being a student that was looking into the classroom from the outside seemed rather large.
  2866.  
  2867. Perhaps Woo Jin-Cheol was conscious of that too, because the first thing he did was to apologize to Jin-Woo who was still looking back at the class.
  2868.  
  2869. "Sorry about dragging you out in the middle of class like this."
  2870.  
  2871. "No, it's fine."
  2872.  
  2873. Jin-Woo held back the words of 'I wanted to escape from there anyway because it was so boring', in consideration of the teacher doing his best to teach the classroom full of kids.
  2874.  
  2875. Rather than say anything, Jin-Woo looked up at Woo Jin-Cheol, instead.
  2876.  
  2877. The detective was young.
  2878.  
  2879. Since Jin-Woo had changed his physique to match that of a high school freshman, Woo Jin-Cheol was now actually a good head taller than he was, with much broader shoulders, as well.
  2880.  
  2881. 'A guy who looked like he'd give a gangster a run for his money was actually working as a detective.'
  2882.  
  2883. A smile abruptly bloomed on his face after seeing a friend's face in what felt like eons.
  2884.  
  2885. It had been years – no, decades actually, if he added the time spent wandering around the gap between dimensions – since he last saw the Association President Woo Jin-Cheol.
  2886.  
  2887. Even though Jin-Woo didn't want to show anything outwardly, there was not much he could do about his expression betraying him with a hint of happiness.
  2888.  
  2889. '…...?'
  2890.  
  2891. However, Woo Jin-Cheol was immediately beset with confusion after discovering the smile on the student's face.
  2892.  
  2893. There would be only a handful of people alive who'd remain unflustered after suddenly being visited by a cop, and not only that, a detective with such a threatening face like his.
  2894.  
  2895. More than that, was there a reason to say anything else when the person in question was just a high school student?
  2896.  
  2897. However, this kid in front of his eyes was actually smiling.
  2898.  
  2899. 'This boy…. Something's different about him.'
  2900.  
  2901. Woo Jin-Cheol felt it the moment he stepped into that classroom – this kid was different.
  2902.  
  2903. Thanks to his job being what it was, he had run into his fair share of murderers who killed many people, or gangsters that lorded over the backstreets with iron fists.
  2904.  
  2905. However, not even once had he meet anyone with a pair of eyes as calm as this boy.
  2906.  
  2907. 'How can a student possess eyes like that?'
  2908.  
  2909. Gulp.
  2910.  
  2911. Unbeknownst to him, Woo Jin-Cheol gulped from all this tension in the air. Starting from the moment he saw the boy, his heart was still violently pounding away for reasons unknown to him.
  2912.  
  2913. To dissolve the many questions swirling and circling inside his head, Woo Jin-Cheol pulled out his memo pad and began looking into it.
  2914.  
  2915. "By any chance, Shadow... no, wait. Ants...."
  2916.  
  2917. Woo Jin-Cheol was looking at the contents of his memo pad, but no matter what he did, he just couldn't form any coherent sentences. So, he pulled out a pen from his inner pocket, instead.
  2918.  
  2919. Jot, jot….
  2920.  
  2921. While Jin-Woo watched on with an interested gaze, Woo Jin-Cheol quickly drew something on the page of the pad and presented the resulting artwork.
  2922.  
  2923. "....."
  2924.  
  2925. Jin-Woo inwardly praised the detective's effort.
  2926.  
  2927. 'This dude, he's actually a lot more talented in art than I thought.'
  2928.  
  2929. What Woo Jin-Cheol sketched just now was the general appearance of Beru.
  2930.  
  2931. Although it couldn't be called exact description, still, he got right the head of an ant, human-like hands and feet, the sharp claws, as well as the ant's wings on the back, etc, etc.
  2932.  
  2933. Anyone who knew what Beru looked like, they would recognize him from this drawing in an instant. Woo Jin-Cheol asked his question then.
  2934.  
  2935. "By any chance, can you think of something when you look at this image?"
  2936.  
  2937. Jin-Woo looked at the drawing for a bit before raising his head and spotted Woo Jin-Cheol and his slightly-blushing face. Even he should be aware of how ridiculous this whole thing must've looked.
  2938.  
  2939. But regardless of all that, he seemed to be desperate to recover the memories of things that happened to him, but were later taken away, even if that meant he'd have to resort to doing something like this.
  2940.  
  2941. Containing all of his desperation….
  2942.  
  2943. "....Do you know what this is?"
  2944.  
  2945. ….Woo Jin-Cheol asked one more time.
  2946.  
  2947. Before the hints of embarrassment, as evident in the detective's voice, could grow larger, Jin-Woo quickly answered him.
  2948.  
  2949. "Yes."
  2950.  
  2951. Ba-dump.
  2952.  
  2953. Woo Jin-Cheol's heart powerfully rocked and pounded on his chest.
  2954.  
  2955. "Y-you know what this is??"
  2956.  
  2957. The detective's voice grew louder. But, Jin-Woo's expression was utterly calm in his demeanor, a complete contrast to Woo Jin-Cheol's.
  2958.  
  2959. "Yes."
  2960.  
  2961. Woo Jin-Cheol's eyes trembled violently.
  2962.  
  2963. Finally.
  2964.  
  2965. He finally found it.
  2966.  
  2967. His breathing quickened considerably, and his voice picked up just as the greatly urgent questions flew out of his mouth.
  2968.  
  2969. "What is this ant monster? And what is your real identity?"
  2970.  
  2971. Jin-Woo took a step back in order to avoid the agitated Woo Jin-Cheol. The latter realized that he made a mistake and quickly calmed himself down.
  2972.  
  2973. "Ah, I got too carried away there for a second. I've been chasing after this case for a while, you see."
  2974.  
  2975. One by one – he would dig into what this student knew, step by step. Didn't he have to go through so much hardship to find this clue already? So, there was no need to be too hasty now.
  2976.  
  2977. Woo Jin-Cheol managed to tide over his pulsing heart with those thoughts and spoke up with a much calmer voice.
  2978.  
  2979. "Alright. So, you know something about the creature in this image?"
  2980.  
  2981. "Yes."
  2982.  
  2983. Jin-Woo replied briefly with a nod of his head, before an 'innocent' expression formed on his face.
  2984.  
  2985. "Isn't that a monster that pops out from one of those special effects dramas that kids like to watch? Like, Kamen Rider?"
  2986.  
  2987. "Ah..."
  2988.  
  2989. Woo Jin-Cheol was immediately overcome with this sense of despondency, akin to watching a sand castle he built all day long get washed away by a single incoming wave. A small but heartbroken sigh leaked out of his mouth.
  2990.  
  2991. Since his expectation had been great, the ensuing disappointment was just as great, too. His hand holding the memo pad naturally dropped lower.
  2992.  
  2993. He looked so fatigued right now, so tired that he couldn't even hold that little pad up anymore.
  2994.  
  2995. For a brief moment there, he grew angry at this boy for needlessly stringing him along with his vague answers. But, well, what crime did this student commit exactly, when he spoke only of the things he knew about?
  2996.  
  2997. Woo Jin-Cheol forced a smile on his face.
  2998.  
  2999. "Thank you for your cooperation."
  3000.  
  3001. "Is that all?"
  3002.  
  3003. "Yes. I spoke to your teacher, so there shouldn't be any issues when you go back."
  3004.  
  3005. Woo Jin-Cheol spoke up to here and was about to pocket the memo pad, but then, Jin-Woo quickly addressed him.
  3006.  
  3007. "That image of a monster, can I have it as a souvenir?"
  3008.  
  3009. The detective looked at the student's bright expression, and a genuine smile floated up on his face. He opened his memo pad and stared at the sketch for a little while, before tearing the page out cleanly and handing it over to Jin-Woo.
  3010.  
  3011. "Here."
  3012.  
  3013. "Thank you."
  3014.  
  3015. As if he didn't want to get arrested by any lingering emotions, Woo Jin-Cheol spun on his heels and jogged down the steps as soon as the student bade him goodbye.
  3016.  
  3017. '…...'
  3018.  
  3019. Jin-Woo remained in his spot and listened to the detective's footsteps echoing down the staircase. In the meantime, his shadow sneakily expanded to the side like spilt water and Igrit quietly emerged from there.
  3020.  
  3021. [My liege.]
  3022.  
  3023. "Mm?"
  3024.  
  3025. [Why... didn't you tell that person the truth?]
  3026.  
  3027. Igrit retained his memories from back when he was still a human, and thanks to that, he knew better than anyone just how sad and difficult it was for a person to be forgotten from the minds of those he cared about.
  3028.  
  3029. And that was why he thought of the Detective Woo Jin-Cheol's entrance as perhaps the most ideal opportunity that came knocking so far. Even if it was just one individual, wouldn't it be a good thing for the Sovereign to let someone know how he had saved this world?
  3030.  
  3031. There was this distinct hint of rueful longing in Igrit's voice.
  3032.  
  3033. Still, Jin-Woo shook his head.
  3034.  
  3035. "Being able to forget is supposed to be a god's gift to humans, you know."
  3036.  
  3037. Even if that was an artificially created result after using a Tool of God; Jin-Woo thought that he didn't possess the qualifications to choose which memories to erase and which ones to keep.
  3038.  
  3039. Only a god should do something like that. That was why he decided to let the former Association President Woo Jin-Cheol go in this manner.
  3040.  
  3041. [Are you sure about this, my liege?]
  3042.  
  3043. "Yeah."
  3044.  
  3045. It was then, Jin-Woo abruptly looked down on his left hand.
  3046.  
  3047. There it was, the evidence of the Dragon Emperor's powerful attack.
  3048.  
  3049. The burn scar on this left hand, earned from blocking the 'Breath of Destruction' head-on, couldn't be healed no matter what he tried. An unpleasant memory that couldn't be forgotten was rather similar to this scar – a wound that couldn't be healed.
  3050.  
  3051. Even if the person in question wanted it, was there really a need to deliberately bring those painful memories back?
  3052.  
  3053. Right now, not a trace of pain and misery that was suffered at the hands of the monsters and Sovereigns remained in the memories of people living on this planet.
  3054.  
  3055. And that was why Jin-Woo didn't want to let the memories of the past remain in the mind of the former Association President Woo Jin-Cheol.
  3056.  
  3057. [I understand, my liege.]
  3058.  
  3059. Igrit silently submerged back into the shadow, as if he accepted the explanation.
  3060.  
  3061. Jin-Woo remained standing on the spot looking down at the bottom of the stairs before turning around to enter the classroom.
  3062.  
  3063. Once the break came, the boiling interests of the kids finally focused on Jin-Woo.
  3064.  
  3065. Seriously now, just when would these kids get to experience a TV drama-like situation of a police detective suddenly barging into their classroom? It was only obvious that their unbridled attention would be focused on the protagonist of that tale.
  3066.  
  3067. Even the girls who were interested in Jin-Woo before but couldn't say it outright hurriedly rushed towards him and soon, a rather sizeable horde of people formed around his desk.
  3068.  
  3069. "What happened just now?"
  3070.  
  3071. "Hey, Jin-Woo? Why did a detective-nim come to school??"
  3072.  
  3073. Jin-Woo grinned softly at the burning curiosity of his classmates and spoke of the fresh excuse he just cooked up on the spot.
  3074.  
  3075. "Well, he's someone that I know, and he just stopped by to ask me about something, that's all."
  3076.  
  3077. "Wowsers, that's awesome."
  3078.  
  3079. "You're an acquaintance with an actual detective?"
  3080.  
  3081. "Jin-Woo, I'm so envious, you know?"
  3082.  
  3083. Jin-Woo found it hard to keep his laughter in check as the kids' interest began heading down a slightly unexpected direction.
  3084.  
  3085. 'Young-Gil-ah, why are your eyes sparkling like that now?'
  3086.  
  3087. Still, thanks to the detective-nim's unannounced visit, it felt as if the invisible wall these kids felt around Jin-Woo had crumbled just a little. Girls took this opportunity to ask about those things they were dying to know.
  3088.  
  3089. "I heard from other boys that you got a killer body?"
  3090.  
  3091. "Really? Are you an athlete or something?"
  3092.  
  3093. "Ahh! I saw Jin-Woo running on the track with the seniors from the school's track team the day before yesterday."
  3094.  
  3095. "Wahh, look how broad his shoulders are."
  3096.  
  3097. Kyahk, kyahk....
  3098.  
  3099. As the girls surrounded him from all sides, Jin-Woo began pondering how he should go about making them quietly return to their seats, but then...
  3100.  
  3101. The quartet of the hooligans found one person hogging all the attention quite displeasing and decided to interrupt the fun.
  3102.  
  3103. "Hey, you. Aren't you getting really popular now? Even a cop came to see you and all."
  3104.  
  3105. Once this quartet entered the scene, the boys quickly retreated to their seats, while the girls began to quietly back away.
  3106.  
  3107. A boy named Nam Joon-Shik, the one with the highest position within the quartet, began slapping Jin-Woo's shoulder that played host to the curious touches of high school girls not too long ago. The corners of his eyes began curling up.
  3108.  
  3109. "Does me being mischievous like this count as school bullying? Are you going to report me to the detective-nim now?"
  3110.  
  3111. '….It's your hand that's gonna hurt if you keep hitting me like that, though.'
  3112.  
  3113. Jin-Woo stared at the dumb kid with apathetic eyes, and sure enough, Nam Joon-Shik's complexion began reddening gradually when he realized that his hand hurt like hell, but despite his efforts, his target's reaction seemed way too lukewarm.
  3114.  
  3115. "Argh, just why the hell are this punk's eyes so shitty, man?"
  3116.  
  3117. Nam Joon-Shik then swiped everything away on Jin-Woo's desk. Textbooks, notebooks, and his pencil case, plus a couple of other things tumbled to the floor.
  3118.  
  3119. Ten million-strong Shadow Army hiding in Jin-Woo's shadow all roared out in anger after they witness this show of force from the teenaged fool.
  3120.  
  3121. The teen hooligan didn't stop there and reached out to grab the collars of Jin-Woo, whose complexion had hardened just then.
  3122.  
  3123. "What? You wanna have a go? You better loosen up while I'm still being civil, got it?"
  3124.  
  3125. It was then.
  3126.  
  3127. A massive arm suddenly pounced from above and wrapped tightly around Nam Joon-Shik's throat.
  3128.  
  3129. "Keok!!"
  3130.  
  3131. The hooligan grabbed at the thick arm as he began choking pathetically, and in the meantime, a familiar face revealed itself above the pale-faced kid.
  3132.  
  3133. "You have business with our beloved ace of the track and field club, boy?"
  3134.  
  3135. That face belonged to none other than the captain of the club, the third year senior Choi Tae-Woong, and he was being accompanied by another third year, the senior with a short fuse, Jeong Gu-Shik.
  3136.  
  3137. All four members of the quartet found themselves trapped in armlocks and headlocks of their seniors, their complexions paling gradually from the lack of oxygen.
  3138.  
  3139. Jin-Woo wordlessly got up from his seat and picked up the pencil case. Jin-Ah bought this case as a gift to commemorate his successful admittance to the high school, so these four hooligans wouldn't have gotten away scot-free if anything had happened to it.
  3140.  
  3141. He dusted the case and placed it back on the desk before asking his question.
  3142.  
  3143. "Seniors, what brings you all here?"
  3144.  
  3145. "We showed up to dissuade our ace from beating the living crap out of four idiots."
  3146.  
  3147. "No, please. Be serious."
  3148.  
  3149. "Ahahahat-!"
  3150.  
  3151. Choi Tae-Woong's large framed quaked as he roared out in a peal of loud laughter before he continued on.
  3152.  
  3153. "I forgot to tell you guys that we were planning to hold a welcoming party for our new members later today, you see. You and Young-Gil both have free time today, right?"
  3154.  
  3155. Jin-Woo glanced at Young-Gil and the latter nodded his head.
  3156.  
  3157. "Yes, we do."
  3158.  
  3159. "In that case, see you both after school."
  3160.  
  3161. Still smiling, the seniors began leaving one by one, but then, Jin-Woo called out to them to stop their march out of the classroom.
  3162.  
  3163. "Seniors? Where are you taking those four still stuck under your arms?"
  3164.  
  3165. "Ahaha, these idiots?"
  3166.  
  3167. Choi Tae-Woong exchanged some knowing glances with Jeong Gu-Shik.
  3168.  
  3169. "Well, what should we do with them?"
  3170.  
  3171. "How about we do an easy lap around the track, captain?"
  3172.  
  3173. "Sounds gooood!"
  3174.  
  3175. Soon afterwards, the loud shouts of "Conquer the whole country!" slowly got further away from the classroom's interior.
  3176.  
  3177. Ding, dong. Ding, dong.
  3178.  
  3179. Several end-of-school bells rang around, and then, quite a few more bells later.
  3180.  
  3181. Jin-Woo stepped out of the school's gate along with the rest of the track and field club members.
  3182.  
  3183. Young-Gil had now grown to appreciate the joys of sweating after getting used to the training regime of the club, although he did receive a few timely boosts from Jin-Woo every now and then.
  3184.  
  3185. While Young-Gil was listening to the advice of the seniors as he walked among them, Jin-Woo remained a step behind and eavesdropped on the unfolding conversations.
  3186.  
  3187. It was, without a doubt, a peaceful sight of a normal day.
  3188.  
  3189. Jeong Gu-Shik walking up ahead and turned his head towards Jin-Woo and asked.
  3190.  
  3191. "Ah, right. Hey, Jin-Woo? What was up with those idiots earlier in the day? Should we the seniors speak to them 'nicely' so they won't start anything stupid later on?"
  3192.  
  3193. Jin-Woo replied with an unconcerned expression.
  3194.  
  3195. "Nah, it's fine."
  3196.  
  3197. "I'm not doing this because I'm worried about you. No, I just don't want to see problems suddenly crop up and prevent you from participating in the regional meet because of those idiots."
  3198.  
  3199. Jin-Woo grinned refreshingly.
  3200.  
  3201. "Don't worry. I won't let that happen."
  3202.  
  3203. It was then.
  3204.  
  3205. Someone suddenly popped out from behind the shadow of the gate's wall and called out to Jin-Woo.
  3206.  
  3207. "Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim."
  3208.  
  3209. It was as if time itself had come to a standstill, just then. Jin-Woo froze up on the spot, and slowly shifted his head in the direction of that voice.
  3210.  
  3211. Detective Woo Jin-Cheol had been waiting for Jin-Woo until now.
  3212.  
  3213. The latter's voice trembled slightly.
  3214.  
  3215. "But, how...?"
  3216.  
  3217. Having finally gotten his confirmation from Jin-Woo's reply, Detective Woo Jin-Cheol's eyes began tearing up.
  3218.  
  3219. "As I thought... you are him."
  3220.  
  3221. < Chapter 253 > Fin.
  3222.  
  3223. Chapter 254:
  3224. Translator: None Editor: Chugong
  3225.  
  3226. Side Story 11
  3227.  
  3228. Your daily routine (6)
  3229. "That image of a monster, can I have it as a souvenir?"
  3230.  
  3231. A few hours ago.
  3232.  
  3233. As a souvenir for his reunion with Woo Jin-Cheol, Jin-Woo wanted the sketch of Beru the detective had drawn up on the spot.
  3234.  
  3235. 'Well, it does kind of resemble Beru, so I want it because of that....'
  3236.  
  3237. Of course, a certain someone hiding in his shadow didn't think the same as his liege, though.
  3238.  
  3239. [Oh, my kinggggg!! I beg thee not to fall for that shoddy and crude doodling of a plebeian!!]
  3240.  
  3241. Beru desperately pleaded with his liege that he was nowhere near that ugly in the sketch, but Jin-Woo simply let that whining enter one ear and go out the other.
  3242.  
  3243. In the meantime, Woo Jin-Cheol stared at his own drawing for a bit as if to let go of all his lingering attachments.
  3244.  
  3245. Soon, though...
  3246.  
  3247. Riiip...
  3248.  
  3249. ….He cleanly tore the page off the memo pad. Woo Jin-Cheol extended his hand holding the drawing to Jin-Woo.
  3250.  
  3251. "Here."
  3252.  
  3253. "Thank you."
  3254.  
  3255. Jin-Woo gladly accepted the sketch.
  3256.  
  3257. And during that process, the detective's hand briefly touched the tip of Jin-Woo's finger.
  3258.  
  3259. It was surely nothing important in the grand scheme of things. However, massive events that left their mark in history books sometimes began with seemingly insignificant little things.
  3260.  
  3261. Woo Jin-Cheol turned around and hurriedly descended the staircase.
  3262.  
  3263. 'I knew it, this whole thing was a dumb mistake.'
  3264.  
  3265. Regret was rapidly filling him up.
  3266.  
  3267. Because he got too hyped up from the prospect of finding a clue, he ended up doing something that he'd be unable to explain even to the youngest detective in the squad with a straight face.
  3268.  
  3269. The sense of embarrassment and regret rushed in like the incoming tides, now that this was all he had to show for his efforts.
  3270.  
  3271. 'Stairs always feel so damn long only on days like today, don't they?'
  3272.  
  3273. Detective Woo Jin-Cheol bitterly muttered to himself as he climbed down the staircase, but then, his steps had to come to an abrupt halt.
  3274.  
  3275. 'Mm....?'
  3276.  
  3277. He suddenly heard a voice from somewhere, that was why.
  3278.  
  3279. Association President. Do you trust me?
  3280. '…..??'
  3281.  
  3282. Woo Jin-Cheol froze up when a chill-inducing feeling crept up on his spine and he quickly scanned up and down where he was. He saw not one person coming down from the stairs or climbing up from below.
  3283.  
  3284. Classes were still ongoing, so the steps of the school were quite literally, quiet and still.
  3285.  
  3286. Woo Jin-Cheol tilted his head this way and that, before he tried to climb down the remaining few steps to the ground floor only to hear another voice again.
  3287.  
  3288. Yes, of course, I trust you.
  3289. This time, it was his own voice.
  3290.  
  3291. 'W-what the heck is this?!'
  3292.  
  3293. A person with an easily-scared personality would squat down or start screaming from fear by now. However, Woo Jin-Cheol wasn't one. He simply remained calm while he scanned his surroundings once more, before pulling out a memo pad and a pen as a somber expression formed on his face.
  3294.  
  3295. 'I'm suddenly hearing auditory hallucinations. Could it be that the sense of loss I feel or the ant monster I witnessed were evidence of something wrong with my brain?'
  3296.  
  3297. The end of a brief observation was signed off with a question mark scribbled on with his pen.
  3298.  
  3299. Woo Jin-Cheol felt rather weirded out now. He stuffed the memo pad inside his inner pocket and hurriedly descended the rest of the steps. And with a speed far quicker than that, he escaped from the school building.
  3300.  
  3301. But then….
  3302.  
  3303. ….Yet another auditory hallucination rocked the inside of his head.
  3304.  
  3305. In that case, I hope you will believe everything I'm about to show you.
  3306. "Euhk!!"
  3307.  
  3308. Woo Jin-Cheol gritted his teeth and covered both of his ears.
  3309.  
  3310. The voice he had never heard before and his own words that he never uttered before as well, began making a mess out of his mind. An intense bout of confusion crashed into him like an unstoppable tide.
  3311.  
  3312. "W-what the hell is this?!"
  3313.  
  3314. And then, out of all those voices swirling in his head, there was this one phrase that kept ringing so clearly in his head.
  3315.  
  3316. Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.
  3317. Hunter-nim.
  3318. In that case, what should we…. No, what should I do to help you, Hunter-nim?
  3319. Hunter-nim!
  3320. Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim!!
  3321. A name that didn't want to leave his head alone. The name of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo.
  3322.  
  3323. 'If it's Seong Jin-Woo, then…. Isn't that the name of the student I just met?'
  3324.  
  3325. He heard that patients suffering from mental disorders often came up with crazy stories that featured people from their lives. Could such a thing be happening inside his head now?
  3326.  
  3327. Woo Jin-Cheol walked forward as his body swayed unsteadily. He kept frowning in pain as a migraine viciously pounded away at his temples.
  3328.  
  3329. Even then, even if the inside of his head had become so complicated and messy to the point that he didn't know how to unravel all the tangled thoughts in there – every time he recalled the name 'Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim', it felt like the big hole in his heart was slowly filling back up for some weird reason.
  3330.  
  3331. Woo Jin-Cheol crashed down on a park bench and began murmuring repeatedly the name that continued to swim inside his mind.
  3332.  
  3333. 'Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo...
  3334.  
  3335. That name holds the clue.
  3336.  
  3337. I definitely know that name, Seong Jin-Woo.
  3338.  
  3339. I must remember it.
  3340.  
  3341. I must drag it out into the open.
  3342.  
  3343. I must find all the memories of him, and the reason why those memories are erased from my mind.'
  3344.  
  3345. "Euh-euhk!!"
  3346.  
  3347. While still under an extreme case of a migraine, Woo Jin-Cheol fought hard to recall his memories and eventually, a certain scene popped up in his head.
  3348.  
  3349. "Association President. Do you trust me?"
  3350.  
  3351. "Yes, of course, I trust you."
  3352.  
  3353. "In that case, I hope you will believe everything I'm about to show you."
  3354.  
  3355. "Excuse me?"
  3356.  
  3357. The tip of a finger belonging to someone approached his forehead. The moment it touched his skin, darkness dyed his view for a short while but during that time, a countless number of images flashed past his eyes.
  3358.  
  3359. Those were the memories that connected the past, the present, and the future. And they contained the stories of Gates, monsters, Hunters, Rulers, and Sovereigns.
  3360.  
  3361. "This, this can't be…. Just how can such a thing be....?"
  3362.  
  3363. Woo Jin-Cheol couldn't finish what he wanted to say, and Jin-Woo, now the Shadow Sovereign, replied with a lonesome expression.
  3364.  
  3365. "Well, a higher being's memories aren't affected by the flow of time, you see."
  3366.  
  3367. Indeed, a Sovereign's memories easily transcended the boundaries of time itself.
  3368.  
  3369. "Pant, pant...."
  3370.  
  3371. Woo Jin-Cheol panted heavily and with great difficulty after emerging from the flashback of the 'past'. For a short moment in time that no longer existed, his consciousness was connected to Jin-Woo, who was a higher existence.
  3372.  
  3373. And it happened then; memories sealed tightly away somewhere within his soul had been unlocked through yet another contact with Jin-Woo, and were brought back up to the territory of his consciousness.
  3374.  
  3375. "Oh, my god...."
  3376.  
  3377. The sense of emptiness that felt as if there was a hole in the corner of his heart slowly filled back up, and warm tears began trickling down from Woo Jin-Cheol's eyes.
  3378.  
  3379. He then remembered the question he asked Jin-Woo after learning of what the latter was planning to do.
  3380.  
  3381. Seong Hunter-nim…. Are you planning to fight these things? All by yourself?
  3382. The answer to that question, it was right in front of his eyes now.
  3383.  
  3384. A young man whose name was unknown, walking past the park bench while listening to music through a pair of earphones; a pair of lovers brushing past him while whispering their undying love to each other….
  3385.  
  3386. An old man out to walk his dog, and people loosening their muscles near the exercise equipment in the park….
  3387.  
  3388. In this world, in this place, there were no Gates. No monsters. No battles.
  3389.  
  3390. Woo Jin-Cheol now bore witness to the miracle that man had created through his hands, this incredible peace, and thicker, hotter tears began flooding out from his eyes.
  3391.  
  3392. "Seong Hunter-nim, you... did it."
  3393.  
  3394. Woo Jin-Cheol recalled the screams of so many people meeting their ends at the monsters and continued to weep for a long, long time.
  3395.  
  3396. '….No, hang on. I, I shouldn't be doing this.'
  3397.  
  3398. The veteran detective's rough, calloused hands busily moved about to wipe away the tears.
  3399.  
  3400. Even if the entire world had forgotten about the truth, Woo Jin-Cheol had to go and tell Seong Jin-Woo that at least there was one person who knew the latter had battled for the sake of the world itself.
  3401.  
  3402. Such a sense of duty began welling up in his heart, but at the same time, a sense of uncertainty also entered him, wondering if what he was about to do was for the sake of that man.
  3403.  
  3404. 'He's spending his time as a regular student now, having willfully forgotten about his past as a Hunter.'
  3405.  
  3406. If he wanted to remind Woo Jin-Cheol of the past, then there were ample chances to do so. Jin-Woo could've answered his questions, or just like before, transmit a whole section of memories through nothing but a fingertip.
  3407.  
  3408. However, the youth didn't show any reactions when a detective showed up in this place through a series of coincidences, before quietly letting him be on his way.
  3409.  
  3410. Could it be that... he didn't want his peaceful everyday life to be interrupted?
  3411.  
  3412. If that was the case, then wouldn't them going back to their regular lives, while pretending to be none the wiser, be for the better for Hunter Seong Jin-Woo in the end?
  3413.  
  3414. Woo Jin-Cheol fell into a dilemma.
  3415.  
  3416. His dilemma grew heavier and harder to resolve and he remained stuck with it right up until students began leaving the school for the day. However, watching them cross the park one by one did help Woo Jin-Cheol with coming to a rather tough conclusion.
  3417.  
  3418. '….Right.
  3419.  
  3420. Rather than me deciding this, let's leave it to Hunter Seong Jin-Woo.
  3421.  
  3422. I'll call out to him, and if he pretends to not understand me, then I shall respect his choice.
  3423.  
  3424. However.
  3425.  
  3426. Even if there is a small reaction, then I....'
  3427.  
  3428. Woo Jin-Cheol hurriedly returned to Jin-Woo's high school. And then, he didn't leave the side of the school gate even when no more students walked past him.
  3429.  
  3430. He was currently acting on this groundless assumption that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo hadn't left the school yet.
  3431.  
  3432. And so, as he stood there for several dozen more minutes, while anxiously sucking on one poor cigarette after another….
  3433.  
  3434. "....I just don't want to see problems suddenly crop up and prevent you from participating in the regional meet because of those idiots."
  3435.  
  3436. "Don't worry. I won't let that happen."
  3437.  
  3438. ….He finally got to discover Jin-Woo walking out of the school gates. Feeling genuinely happy now, he took a large stride forward and called out the youth's name.
  3439.  
  3440. "Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim."
  3441.  
  3442. Ba-dump.
  3443.  
  3444. Just how much courage did he require to mutter out those simple words? Woo Jin-Cheol felt his heart madly pound away and waited for Jin-Woo's reaction.
  3445.  
  3446. Sure enough, the youth turned around to look, his entire body now completely frozen stiff. There was an expression of genuine surprise etched on his face.
  3447.  
  3448. "But, how....?"
  3449.  
  3450. The light in Jin-Woo's eyes told everything there was to know.
  3451.  
  3452. Having finally gotten his confirmation from Jin-Woo's eyes, Detective Woo Jin-Cheol began tearing up once more.
  3453.  
  3454. "As I thought.... you are him."
  3455.  
  3456. The two of them moved to the park in the vicinity of the school, the very location where Woo Jin-Cheol recovered his memories.
  3457.  
  3458. Sunlight reflected on the gently undulating surface of a small pond located in the middle of the park, creating ripples of ripe gold.
  3459.  
  3460. Woo Jin-Cheol stopped walking around there and opened his mouth first.
  3461.  
  3462. "I hope I didn't cause a problem between you and your club seniors."
  3463.  
  3464. Jin-Woo formed a thin smile and shook his head.
  3465.  
  3466. "They are good seniors. Sure, their competitive streak can be a bit much at times, but....."
  3467.  
  3468. Woo Jin-Cheol asked Jin-Woo if they could speak for a while, and the latter had to ask his seniors for their understanding on this one. Since there was a prior engagement, the older kids could've easily gotten unhappy at this situation, but….
  3469.  
  3470. "Don't be too late!"
  3471.  
  3472. "Until you show up to the welcoming party, we're holding Young-Gil as our hostage, okay?"
  3473.  
  3474. "S-senior?!"
  3475.  
  3476. The seniors from the track and field team didn't sweat it and left for the party venue ahead. Jin-Woo recalled Young-Gil's tearful face as he got dragged away by the seniors and smirked softly to himself.
  3477.  
  3478. "Still, the life of my friend is hanging in the balance here, so I can't stay for too long."
  3479.  
  3480. Woo Jin-Cheol broke into a gentle chuckle after seeing the youth's expression that showed how much he was enjoying his current life.
  3481.  
  3482. "In that case, I understand. Let me get to the main topic, then."
  3483.  
  3484. The smile was gone in an instant from the detective's face after he finished those words.
  3485.  
  3486. "How long... how long have you been fighting against those creatures in the gap between dimensions?"
  3487.  
  3488. According to the records, Jin-Woo was missing for around two years.
  3489.  
  3490. However, Woo Jin-Cheol had seen the overall combat force of the Sovereigns through the memories of the Shadow Sovereign, and he knew that the two years were simply not enough to defeat them all.
  3491.  
  3492. Jin-Woo cautiously replied.
  3493.  
  3494. "27 years...."
  3495.  
  3496. The moment he heard that reply, Woo Jin-Cheol sucked in his breath.
  3497.  
  3498. To think, he had to fight against over ten million enemies for nearly 30 years in the gap between the walls of different dimensions, where not a single thing could exist….
  3499.  
  3500. Woo Jin-Cheol couldn't even begin to imagine how difficult and arduous the battles must've been. For a long while there, he failed to come up with something to say, but eventually, forced his lips to part just a little.
  3501.  
  3502. ".....You don't regret anything?"
  3503.  
  3504. Jin-Woo's reply this time was instantaneous.
  3505.  
  3506. "No, I don't."
  3507.  
  3508. He could say this with absolute confidence.
  3509.  
  3510. "If I were to be given the same opportunity over and over again, I will make the same decision every single time."
  3511.  
  3512. Everything that happened – from when he and his father went to a baseball game while holding hands during the latter's off day; the doenjang stew mom cooked with so much care and love; his little sister's smile, bright and unclouded by the fear of the monsters….
  3513.  
  3514. ….All of these were precious things that couldn't be measured with any financial value.
  3515.  
  3516. If the price he had to pay for all of these things was to carry the weighty burden by himself, then he'd not hesitate to carry it over and over again.
  3517.  
  3518. "I don't regret anything."
  3519.  
  3520. Woo Jin-Cheol heard Jin-Woo's composed voice and in that instant, felt his nose sting once more.
  3521.  
  3522. 'Thank you, Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.'
  3523.  
  3524. He barely managed to swallow back those words that almost came out of his mouth. He knew that these simple words of gratitude could never convey his true feelings to Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, that's why.
  3525.  
  3526. He took a quick look at his wristwatch while thinking about the 'life' of the hostage and raised his head.
  3527.  
  3528. "It looks like you're living a wonderful life now."
  3529.  
  3530. Jin-Woo smirked softly.
  3531.  
  3532. "It is satisfactory, yes. Well, other than my body not ageing anymore so I need to constantly modify my body shape, that is."
  3533.  
  3534. 'Eternal youth and immortality.'
  3535.  
  3536. Hunter Seong Jin-Woo had now possessed god-like powers after becoming the Shadow Sovereign. However, even though he possessed such powers, he chose to live the life of a simple, normal person. If that was his decision, then….
  3537.  
  3538. "May I ask whether you thought about what you'd like to do in the future?"
  3539.  
  3540. "I haven't thought that far ahead yet, unfortunately."
  3541.  
  3542. "In that case…. How about, you know, joining this side?"
  3543.  
  3544. Woo Jin-Cheol displayed the police identification card inside his wallet.
  3545.  
  3546. "You mean... the National Police?"
  3547.  
  3548. "Recently, many hardened criminals visiting our offices are all whining about the exact same thing. They say that it's hard to make a living with Shadow Monsters around."
  3549.  
  3550. Jin-Woo studied the identification card for a while and returned the wallet with a grin on his face.
  3551.  
  3552. "But, if I become a police officer, other cops won't have anything to do anymore, you know?"
  3553.  
  3554. "That's precisely why we're working very hard, you see – to create a world like that."
  3555.  
  3556. He hadn't changed.
  3557.  
  3558. From when he was the Chief of the Association's Monitoring Division, and when he was the President of the Hunter's Association itself, the expressions Woo Jin-Cheol had shown back then remained as he continued his life as a police detective now.
  3559.  
  3560. "I'll think about it."
  3561.  
  3562. Jin-Woo replied so and turned around to leave as he began to worry slightly about his friend's safety. Woo Jin-Cheol quickly bade him goodbye.
  3563.  
  3564. "I shall wait for your favorable reply."
  3565.  
  3566. "Please don't. I heard that there's a crap ton of work but the pay is pretty bad."
  3567.  
  3568. Jin-Woo waved his hand as he walked away, and Woo Jin-Cheol smiled gently as his silent reply.
  3569.  
  3570. 'Lots of work, but rubbish pay, is it?'
  3571.  
  3572. A wry chuckle leaked out automatically from his mouth after hearing that wonderfully succinct assessment that left no room for a rebuttal. At the same time, he recalled the face of the youngest detective who actually volunteered to join such a squad out of his own free will.
  3573.  
  3574. 'Isn't he off today, that kid?'
  3575.  
  3576. Well, so what if it was the junior's off day?
  3577.  
  3578. While thinking that he'd just call out the youngest and treat the kid to a hearty meal, Woo Jin-Cheol politely bowed his head towards Jin-Woo's departing back, now a faint silhouette in the distance.
  3579.  
  3580. As the only man who knew of that youth's sacrifice, he stood for everyone in this world and expressed his gratitude, perhaps for the first and the last time.
  3581.  
  3582. < Chapter 254 > Fin.
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