The desperate and gruelling battle between the two Sovereigns also left its mark up in the sky, as well. Ash, scattered into the heavens from the aftermath of the fight, quietly fell like snowflakes.
Jin-Woo watched the grey ash settling down on his shoulders one by one and lifted his head up.
From the distance far away, somewhere above him – the soldiers of the Rulers utterly blanketing the sky were moving to another location via countless Gates.
The spectacle of tens of millions of soldiers all marching in unison according to their Rulers’ bidding was truly an overwhelming spectacle to behold.
Their aim was to completely eliminate the remaining forces of the Sovereigns. Now that not just the Dragon Emperor, but several other Sovereigns, had died, there was no chance in hell that the Army of the Chaos World would be able to survive.
That was why the soldiers of the heavens were marching forward to announce the end of this war that had been going on for far too long.
Jin-Woo felt his chest become numb for some reason while watching their deployment. While he was stewing in his emotions, the ‘most Brilliant Light’ finished giving commands to its soldiers and returned to where he was.
A truly beautiful lifeform that no known expression in human language could adequately describe folded its proudly-unfurled six wings at once, after landing in front of Jin-Woo. Other Rulers also landed behind the ‘most Brilliant Light’ one by one.
It studied Jin-Woo’s current condition. At a casual glance, he seemed to be any other regular human being.
‘However, this lone human managed to bring an end to the war between us and the Sovereigns.’
Who could have imagined such a thing?
Who could have thought that the curtains on the eternal war, with seemingly no end in sight, as designed by the Absolute Being, would be closed by a weak existence in a world so far away?
At the least, this angel had never imagined it.
And that was why its initial surprise had morphed into pure respect for Jin-Woo’s accomplishments.
[You have ended our war. I do not know how to even properly express my gratitude.]
Jin-Woo wordlessly looked at the ash falling from the sky before shifting his gaze to look at the Brilliant Light.
“There’s a favour I want to ask you, although it might come across as a bit too big for a gesture of saying thanks.”
The Brilliant Light formed a slightly puzzled expression.
The power of the Shadow Sovereign could very well be on the same level, no, maybe even greater than its own. However, such a being was asking for a favour?
As if to lessen the confusion within the head of the Brilliant Light, Jin-Woo answered first before the obvious question could be asked.
“It’s something only you can do.”
The angel with six wings nodded its head.
[If it’s within my power to make it happen, I pledge to aid you to my fullest.]
The Shadow Sovereign played an important role in killing the Dragon Emperor and the Rulers now owed him a large debt of gratitude that couldn’t easily be repaid. There certainly was no excuse not to do fulfil his favour.
However, a rather difficult favour came out from Jin-Woo’s mouth.
“One more time…. Can you use the ‘Chalice of Rebirth’ one more time?”
The Brilliant Light felt a shock akin to someone hitting it at the back of its head. Even the other Rulers standing behind it couldn’t hide their astonishment.
As their leader, the Brilliant Light simply had to confirm it again.
[Did you ask me for the usage of the ‘Chalice of Rebirth’, and to reverse time once more?]
Jin-Woo nodded his head and explained himself.
“And after reversing the time flow, I’d like you to not send anything to Earth. I shall kill the Sovereigns, and their armies, in the gap between the dimensions.”
The Brilliant Light was left flabbergasted by what Jin-Woo wanted to do after the time reversal and couldn’t immediately say the words stuck in his mouth.
‘Alone… He wishes to fight this war all by himself?’
Jin-Woo had heard the explanation on the ‘Chalice of Rebirth’ from the former Shadow Sovereign.
Even if the tool of God was used and time was reversed, the higher-beings such as Rulers and Sovereigns would keep their memories. In that case, since he had inherited the power of the Shadow Sovereign through becoming one with Osborne’s ego, his current abilities wouldn’t disappear.
Jin-Woo was planning to take this power, as well as his memories, and willingly enter the gap between dimensions.
[You wish to fight them all by yourself?!]
The Brilliant Light spoke in a disbelieving voice.
[But, why do you want to do that? We have used the ‘Chalice of Rebirth’ many times before, but never did we achieve a result better than this.]
Jin-Woo looked down at his father’s shortsword and calmly made his reply.
“Far too many lives were lost during this battle. I just wish to bring them back, that’s all.”
If it meant he could bring them back by reversing time itself, then Jin-Woo was fully prepared to fight the Sovereigns one more time.
The Brilliant Light closed its eyes to give itself some time to think, and suddenly realised that it did empathise with Jin-Woo’s answer. Regardless of what, though, reversing time remained a very dangerous action to take.
[The ‘Chalice of Rebirth’ is nearing its limit. In case you fail in your objective, it is likely that we won’t be able to reverse the time itself.]
Those words implied that a future far more cruel and horrible might be in store for this world. Meaning, the current development might be the best end result for everyone.
[If you wish for it, you could remain in the memories of everyone, forever, as a hero who has single-handedly stopped the invasion of the Sovereigns. But, instead….]
An all-too-easy to see sorrow suffused on the expression of the Brilliant Light.
[The battle you wish to start will be remembered by none except yourself. If you are defeated, annihilation awaits. And even when you emerge victorious, no one will celebrate your accomplishments.]
The six-winged angel confirmed Jin-Woo decision for the last time.
[Even then, do you still wish to turn back the time?]
Before he answered, Jin-Woo quietly closed his eyes and thought of the important people in his life. The eyes of the Shadow Soldiers inserted into their shadows allowed him to see them in real time.
His mom and young sister were holding each other’s hands with worried faces, anxiously watching the news coming from Japan on their TV.
Cha Hae-In had her eyes deeply closed as if she was ardently praying to someone. Meanwhile, the Association President Woo Jin-Cheol was also watching the news broadcast with tearful eyes.
Jin-Woo felt their heartfelt emotions and a certain corner of his chest warmed up gradually. And when he opened his eyes, his mind was already made up.
“I’m going back.”
….To those people who still remained, and even to those who were no longer here.
The faces of Association President Goh Gun-Hui, Adam White, and his father all brushed past his mind. Lots more people besides them were sacrificed in this war. Jin-Woo swore that no one else would be lost ever again.
The Brilliant Light clearly saw his unwavering determination.
The reason why the Rulers went as far as to use the ‘tool of God that should never be used’ and save this world was because this planet was originally unrelated to their ongoing war.
However, a denizen of this world and a hero who saved it came to a decision. He said that he’d save not just a portion, but the entire world with his own powers.
And that he’d bear that burden all by himself.
For a moment there, the angel thought the face of the former Shadow Sovereign had overlapped with that of Jin-Woo’s just now.
It was the face of its stubborn comrade that refused to step aside even though the soldiers of heavens completely blanketing the skies threatened him so he could protect its master, the Absolute Being.
He might have been a scary enemy, but at the same time, the angel greatly respected him.
‘….They resemble each other.’
A thin smile formed on the lips of the Brilliant Light after recalling Osborne’s face.
[I understand. I shall pray for your success.]
Jin-Woo quickly asked a question.
“What will happen to my Shadow Soldiers that didn’t exist in the past?”
For instance, soldiers like Beru.
Osborne’s original soldiers would still remain within his shadow, sure, but what about others like Greed who was a human named ‘Hwang Dong-Su’ back ten years ago, or Beru, who didn’t even exist back then?
The Brilliant Light explained according to what it knew.
[Those that ends up being overlapped with the time flow of the past will be erased, while those that don’t will remain as they are.]
That meant that Beru would continue to exist, while Greed would disappear. He could now hear the soldiers crying out in sorrow from inside his shadow.
Jin-Woo bade his goodbyes in his mind to those soldiers about to part ways with him and raised his head up with a smile.
The Brilliant Light summoned out the ‘Chalice of Rebirth’ from subspace and nodded its head.
[I pray that your courage will save your world one more time.]
The blinding light enveloped the entire world.
A small, easy-to-miss article about a middle school student who went missing after leaving behind a letter with the words ‘I’ve something to do’ appeared on the corner of a certain local newspaper.
And about two years later.
The world became noisy for a brief moment after the middle school student who went missing suddenly came back home completely fine, as if everything had been a dream. But everything soon returned to its usual calmness, as it should.
And then, time marched on, quietly.
No incidents of Gates, monsters, or Hunters stepping forward to hunt those monsters ever happened again.
Yu Jin-Ho found himself in the middle of a freshman welcoming party but his expression remained quite stiff.
The enticing odour of pork belly strips sizzling on the grill coming from here and there tickled his nose, but thanks to how tense he felt, he just couldn’t work up his appetite at all.
But, how could this be?
Although he was hiding his family background, for the time being, he still lived a life fitting for the last born son of a wealthy ‘Chaebol’. For some reason, though, this diner specialising in the frozen pork belly didn’t feel unfamiliar to him.
‘But, how come?’
Yu Jin-Ho tilted his head this way and that, leading one of his university seniors to lightly tap him on the shoulder.
“Hey, Jin-Ho? C’mon, man. Loosen up, dude. Someone might think you’re being led into a slaughterhouse or something.”
Yu Jin-Ho got flustered and his voice naturally rose higher.
“N-no, that’s not it, Senior!”
“What I’m saying here is, stop doing that for the time being, alright?”
The senior guffawed mischievously but then, sneakily withdrew his laughter.
“Ahh, right. I think, you know, it’ll be prudent to behave yourself in front of ‘that’ senior, just in case. We have this really scary senior in our faculty, you see.”
Yu Jin-Ho’s expression stiffened a lot worse now.
“You know, that kind of a guy? He doesn’t just punish or discipline the juniors for no reason, but just by standing next to him, his incredible charisma is so…..”
If one were to talk about such a person, Yu Jin-Ho also knew someone like that pretty close by, too.
He briefly recalled his father’s face, often referred to as the CEO of Iron Blood, before roughly shaking his head in order to get rid of the distracting thoughts.
Perhaps he was getting properly drunk now, the senior began talking enthusiastically about this mysterious and scary ‘senior’ all of a sudden.
“Hey, you know that athlete named Cha Hae-In?”
“Uhm…. Are you talking about Cha Hae-In who became really famous not too long ago as the idol of the athletics world?”
“Right, right. Her. That Cha Hae-In is the GF of our scary senior, you see? Aigoo, here he comes.”
The senior jumped up from his seat after seeing a certain man enter the diner and hurriedly bowed his waist.
“Senior-nim, thank you for coming!”
After seeing the polite, disciplined greetings of his seniors, Yu Jin-Ho realised that the drunk senior hadn’t been exaggerating a thing until now. With the entrance of one single man, the atmosphere of the noisy, boisterous freshman welcoming party changed instantly.
The useless nervousness he felt right now was good for nothing other than to make his dry saliva slide down his throat quite painfully.
The thing was, though – an unlucky man would supposedly break his nose even when falling on his butt. Yu Jin-Ho couldn’t even raise his head from all the fear he felt, but for some reason, that scary senior in question settled down on the spot right next to him.
‘Ah….. Dear senior-nim, why did you have to choose the spot next to mine when there are so many available elsewhere?!’
Yu Jin-Ho spat out a sigh deep inside his heart, his head still lowered in dejection, but then, that scary senior suddenly presented him with a glass filled with a clear liquid.
“Take a cup from me.”
To think, a glass of booze given to a freshman was not one of those tiny little soju cups but an actual glass cup??
Yu Jin-Ho thought that this action was as expected of a hardcore senior and cautiously took the offered cup, hoping to not make any mistakes here.
‘I’m actually not that good with alcohol, though….’
He squeezed his eyes shut real tightly and forced the liquid down his throat. But then, his eyes shot open wide in surprise and he ended up asking a question at this unexpected development.
“S-senior? Isn’t this soda?”
That supposedly-scary senior was making an expression that was definitely not scary at all as he shook around a soda bottle.
“Why don’t you and I drink this, instead?”
For an unknown reason, the senior was forming the face of a person running into someone he really wanted to see after a long, long time of separation.
“Oh, and Jin-Ho? I’m gonna feel really bad about myself if you keep calling me senior this and senior that, okay?”
The senior filled the empty glass up with soda and spoke in a friendly tone of voice.
“From now on, call me ‘hyung’.”
“What, you don’t want to?”
The once-affectionate eyes of the scary senior suddenly changed to something far more serious. Yu Jin-Ho instinctively straightened his back and energetically shouted out his reply.
“N-no, I shall, hyung-nim!!”
After involuntarily spitting out the words ‘hyung-nim’, Yu Jin-Ho suddenly grew puzzled by how they felt so familiar to his tongue.
‘Besides… Hang on, have I ever told the senior what my name is before?’
He continued to tilt his head this way and that, and in the meantime, the senior lightly clinked their glasses.
For some reason, Yu Jin-Ho realised that grin on the senior’s face was not unfamiliar at all; the corners of his eyes grew reddened with moisture as he energetically clinked his own cup with the senior’s once more.
Yu Jin-Ho’s somewhat dissatisfied voice came out from the phone’s speaker.
– “Ah, hyung-nim? Why haven’t you come to the faculty classroom yet?”
Jin-Woo replied with a grin.
“I’ve got a small errand to run today, you see. Ah, that’s right. Hey, Jin-Ho?”
– “Yes, hyung-nim?”
“There’s this really important matter I gotta take care of first, so can you sub for me during the afternoon class? Thanks.”
– “Eh? Hyung-nim? Hyung-nim!!”
Jin-Woo distanced his ear away from the voice desperately calling out to him and ended the call.
Jin-Woo raised his head and caught the name of the hospital written in large font right before his face.
‘Seoul Il-Sin General Hospital.’
There was someone he had to meet staying in this place.
He stopped walking for a bit to fix his attire. Then, just as he took a step towards the hospital, a rather familiar face brushed past him.
He didn’t mean to get noticed, but perhaps because his gaze had lingered on for a moment too long on her, she stopped and turned around to face him.
It was Ju-Hui.
The rank B Healer who got scared often but still entered the Association and did her best so that the power given to her wouldn’t be wasted.
She used to be like that, but now, she was staring at Jin-Woo with the appearance of a regular university student. He ended up forming a gentle smile after realising just how well not being a Hunter suited her.
Ju-Hui intensely studied Jin-Woo for a long time before she opened her mouth in a hesitant manner.
“Uhm, excuse me…? Have we met somewhere before?”
The words of happy greeting rushed up all the way to the tip of his tongue. However, he chose to shake his head, instead.
“No, I don’t think so.”
And then, turned around to leave without looking back.
For a little while there, Ju-Hui tilted her head this way and that as she looked at Jin-Woo’s departing back before she too continued on her path. He heard her distancing footsteps and formed a satisfied expression.
He had protected her.
He had protected the peaceful everyday lives.
Whenever he ran into the evidence of peace created from his sacrifice, it felt as if he had reaped the benefits of all his hard work.
That was why….
‘That’s enough for me.’
….That was enough for him.
Jin-Woo stood before the entrance of the hospital and took a look at his left palm with untreatable burned skin. He then slowly stepped inside the building.
If someone asked him about this wound, he’d always reply like this:
That he got this injury while saving the world.
When the doctor in charge walked into a hospital room, a certain patient lying on the bed gestured at him to come closer.
“Can you… help me sit up, please?”
The doctor hurriedly ran up to the bed and cautiously helped the upper torso of the patient lying on his back to sit up.
It was then, the doctor spotted a wooden bottle he had never seen before on top of a table next to the patient’s bed.
“What is this, Chairman?”
The gaunt patient, as thin as a desiccated tree, painfully coughed and wheezed before making his reply.
“A young man gave it to me just now.”
The doctor formed a flustered expression.
This was a VIP patient’s room in the hospital, which meant that there were two guards constantly manning the front entrance. No one could enter without express permission from the doctor himself.
But just who managed to sneak in here to leave behind that bottle?
“It is a truly strange thing, indeed…. However, what that young man told me was even more incredible.”
That young man told the tale of a time now long overwritten, when the patient used to battle ‘monsters’ alongside him. The young man continued on and said that he came to visit him with this gift as a thank you for everything that happened back then.
“And then, he just simply vanished. As if he was a mirage, as if he was never here, to begin with.”
If it weren’t for the physical evidence, even the doctor in charge wouldn’t have believed it. But there it was, the gift supposedly left behind by that young man.
While the doctor stood there wondering how should he respond in a situation like this, the patient’s trembling finger was now pointing at the wooden bottle.
“Give it… to me.”
The doctor picked the bottle up and placed it in the patient’s hand. The old man sitting up in the bed studied the bottle and chuckled.
“He said that, as long as I drink what’s inside this thing, my disease will be completely cured as if being washed away. Huh-huh.”
“C-Chairman. You can’t possibly be believing in the words of a…..”
The Chairman cut the doctor off.
“Let me ask you this one thing. Even if I don’t drink this, how long do I have left anyway?”
The doctor couldn’t make his reply.
Even now, the absolute best that modern medicine had to offer only barely managed to keep the patient breathing, that was all.
At this point, one could even claim it a miracle that he was still alive.
The ‘Chairman’ lightly tutted as the doctor was unable to say anything.
“If I drink this and things go wrong…. I want you to write this down on my gravestone. Chairman Goh Gun-Hui, buried in this place, having never given up, and fought against his illness right until the end.”
As a doctor, he knew it was his duty to stop this, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so when Chairman Goh Gun-Hui formed a determined expression on his face while opening the lid of the bottle.
He then began drinking the liquid inside with some difficulty.
After making sure that every drop had entered his throat, Goh Gun-Hui began recalling the face of that young man who left this bottle behind. He recalled those eyes, specifically.
Goh Gun-Hui felt that it was definitely worth it to trust a man with such a powerful pair of eyes.
Once he finished drinking every drop of this medicine…
Ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump.
His dying heart began pounding healthily once more.
His heart… was beating again.
[Only I Level Up – Fin.]
<< Author’s afterword >>
Hello, everyone. It’s Chugong speaking.
Actually, after I wrote ‘hello everyone’, I’ve been stuck deliberating on what to write next for almost ten minutes now. But, it’s as expected.
If the afterword at the novel’s completion is a letter from the author, then as I thought, there can only be one thing I should say.
Thank you very much.
I’d like to thank you from the depths of my heart for following these lacking words of an untalented wordsmith, for liking and following them, and for waiting patiently as much as you liked them.
We’re at the end now.
A few of you have expressed your worries that the end has come too abruptly, but honestly speaking, this conclusion had been planned from the very beginning.
Things like Jin-Woo reversing time, Ju-Hui that made her appearance at the beginning of the novel appearing again at the end, or even him healing Goh Gun-Hui’s illness, all of these.
Although, I did add the reunion with Yu Jin-Ho a bit later on after writing the diner scene between Jin-Woo and him, thinking that it’d be fun.
And so, at the end of the almost-250-episode-long march, [Only I Level Up] has come to an end in this fashion.
When I asked other authors on what they felt after ending their novels, they all said that it was a mixture of relief and sorrow, but why do I not feel any relief, just sadness?
Even as I write this afterword, tears threaten to break out my eyes.
I can’t even act my age, it seems.
I might be feeling sad for some reason, but truth be told, I’m thinking of taking about a week off before coming to visit you again with a series of side stories.
I pray that you will all remain unscathed until then!
And since I’m writing this afterword, I might as well burn some page real estate and take this opportunity to express my gratitude towards those who helped me to make [Only I Level Up] a success: my greatest partner, Goh Dong-Nahm Deputy Manager-nim, Lee Seok-Won Associate Editor-nim, who helped me in various ways, as well as Author Leltree, the rising star of our Unique Team.
In all honesty, I thought it’d be awkward to thank just two people so I added Author Lel as well, but after I did that, I was reminded of me whining to him over the phone whenever I got stuck in the writer’s block and now I feel really apologetic about almost forgetting him.
I’m really sorry, Leltree!
And so, I’d like to announce once more the end of [Only I Level Up] created out of 10% whining, 39% hard work, and 50% love from all of you, dear readers.
One more time, I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Although it was quite tough during the writing of this novel, I still found the journey very enjoyable because of you, my readers, who chose to accompany me on this ride.
I shall prepare even more thoroughly and come back to you better than ever before next time.
Everyone, stay healthy, and farewell!
– Author Chugong, signing off.