Side Story 4

3. Return

The entirety of the United States of America became rather noisy when a certain fortune-teller made an announcement.

“Not too long from now, the God of Death will descend on this land!”

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’.

Just who was this woman?

After abruptly opening her ‘Heavenly Eye’ around two years ago, she accurately predicted the death of North Korea’s leader, terrorists kidnapping an aeroplane full of passengers, the stock market crash brought about by the sudden collapse of the housing markets, etc., and she had been the centre of many controversies for a while now.

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.

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.

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.

– 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.

And the very next day.

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.

***

Meanwhile, inside said Gate….

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.

“Huh-uh….”

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.

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.

Home.

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.

‘Now that I think about it, isn’t this my first time looking at the outside from the inside of a Gate?’

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.

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…

‘Now, I….’

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.

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.

‘….No, I shouldn’t.’

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.

Jin-Woo carefully withdrew his hand, only to discover something else.

‘Hold up. Just who would think that this is the hand of a third-year middle school student??’

Indeed, he just realised 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.

His physical age had already surpassed his own father’s now. However, he’d been missing for only two years on the outside.

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.

Although, he wasn’t that keen on looking young to other people…. Hang on, maybe he was?

…In any case.

“I guess there’s no helping it.”

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.

Soon enough, Jin-Woo’s figure shrunk back down to that of a middle school student.

Shururuk….

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.

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’.

‘This should be enough, right?’

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.

Both his mind and body were now ready to go home and meet his family.

The only thing remaining was to wait.

‘Two more days left….’

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.

“Uh… Uh?? H-hey, it’s opening up!!”

“The hole is opening up!!”

The crowd of people screamed and pointed at the Gate now beginning to open up.

Aaaah-!!

Kyahhack!

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.

“….??”

“What’s this?”

“It’s over, just like that?”

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.

In the meantime, Jin-Woo blended in with the completely-unawares crowd and upon arriving at a quiet, deserted street, undid his Stealth.

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.

Jin-Woo briefly observed the crowd of onlookers for a bit, before turning around to head towards his home.

It was precisely at that moment he discovered a young man holding an expensive-looking bouquet of flowers standing before him.

This man smiled brightly and addressed Jin-Woo.

“Welcome back home safe and sound, Mister Seong Jin-Woo. Or, should I address you as the Shadow Sovereign, instead?”

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.

“It doesn’t matter what you address me as.”

Jin-Woo received the bouquet of flowers from the man and smirked softly.

“Having at least one person welcome me back isn’t so bad, I guess.”

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

“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?”

Quite different from the tone of his voice that could’ve come across as overbearing, his expression was filled with a relaxed composure.

A lion would never fear a lamb, after all.

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.

Indeed, it was the role of the lamb to fear the opponent, not the other way around.

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.

“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?”

“Fine.”

Jin-Woo walked past the smiling man and took the lead.

“I just remembered a place I wanted to stop by, anyway.”

“….”

The unknown man wordlessly stared at the bowl of ice cream presented before him for a bit and raised his head.

“The place you wanted to stop by was an ice cream parlour?”

Sure, just because he became younger-looking, that didn’t mean his tastes had changed, as well.

It was just that…

“Well, staying in a distant ‘place’ for a long time does make you hanker for something sweet, you see.”

Jin-Woo replied with a grin and began scooping the delicious ice cream into his mouth.

This wonderful, refreshing coldness transmitted from his tongue. And then, followed by this thrilling sweetness.

Only now did it strike home that he had returned for real.

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.

“So, what did the Rulers say?”

The unknown man had been dazedly watching the Shadow Sovereign’s snack time until then. He hurriedly regained his wits and spoke up.

“Oh. First of all, they wish to express their genuine gratitude….”

“Why don’t we skip the perfunctory greetings and move on?”

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.

“Did a new problem pop up from somewhere?”

“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.”

Came to speak to him because all problems had been solved, he said.

The light in Jin-Woo’s eyes became even more serious. The unknown man greeted that sombre look and gulped down his dry saliva 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.

The man opened his mouth with some difficulty.

“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.”

“….Okay, so?”

“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.”

“Or, they can just go ahead and seal me up instead of transferring me around, saving us from potential headaches.”

“Of course, that is an option….”

Bang!

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.

The heavy voice of the Shadow Sovereign slowly came out of Jin-Woo’s mouth.

“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?”

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.

“N-no, that’s not true! I swear, it’s not like that!”

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.

That’s when he spotted a rather familiar face there.

The article was about a prophecy made by one Madam Norma Selner, who used to work as the ‘Upgrader’ in the previous timeline.

– Not too long from now, the God of Death will descend on this land!

Jin-Woo’s brows quivered a little at the words ‘God of Death’.

“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.”

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.

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.

“So, what you’re saying is, my existence can potentially cause other changes like this one?”

“Yes, that’s correct, Sovereign-nim.”

Once Jin-Woo showed signs of calming down, the unknown man spat out a sigh of relief.

“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.”

“…”

Jin-Woo leaned against the chair.

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.

However…

To think, he’d have to hear such news on the first day of his return.

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.

He definitely didn’t want to discuss stuff like this right now. And he didn’t bother to hide his thoughts on that matter.

“Can you come back some other time?”

“….I shall do so, oh, great Sovereign.”

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.

Most likely, that signified the unknown man requesting him to call the number on the card when Jin-Woo had made up his mind.

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.

The bubbles of anticipation and excitement from coming home had burst for good now. Many thoughts swirled in his head, almost making him dizzy.

‘If all living creatures have a clear goal, a purpose in their lives….’

He was certain of one thing.

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.

Meaning, he had accomplished his goal.

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.

In that case – a question suddenly popped up in his head.

‘In the end, have I become an existence surplus to this world?’

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.

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.

However….

‘As long as there is a reason for me to stay, even if it’s just one, then….’

A teenage girl kitted out in an athletics uniform stopped jogging and turned around to look behind her.

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 parlour.

‘What’s going on? Did ice cream smell this good before?’

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.

Seeing her departing back, a brief smile formed on Jin-Woo’s face.

‘There are still people that I love in this world.

And also, those who love me, and those who used to love me exist in this place, too.

That is more than enough reason for me to stay here.’

Jin-Woo smiled and inwardly told himself to find other reasons to stay in this world.

< Chapter 247 > Fin.

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