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They say one's life is a continuation of choices. But if the end was predetermined from the beginning, what significance did these 'choices' have?
The world was headed towards its destruction, and I had tried to impede the inevitable with all my might. I survived in the battlefield where I should have been killed dozens, even hundreds of times while cutting down those who stood in my path.
From a certain moment, people started calling me a hero, because I was able to single-handedly prevent the descent of the Demon Lord.
The ultimate hero, Oh Hansung.
But the Demon Lord was only the beginning. Even more powerful beings were crouching within the abyss. The end had already been predetermined from the beginning. Furthermore, monsters from the abyss weren't the only trouble we had.
Enemies from within. Alethea, the evil doctrine.
"Sir, that is the holy ground of the Order of Alethea."
There was a colossal tower standing in between the mountains.
I nodded my head. This long game of hide-and-seek would finally come to an end.
"It took us a time span of a decade to find this place. Please give us the command."
A rough gust of wind blew.
On board the Ark, the behemothic vessel, I slowly opened my mouth. Behind me were a thousand silver knights awaiting my command. Alethea. Vermin-like existences who were rearing monsters from the abyss to attack humanity.
If we wipe these worms out today, mankind would be preserved by at least another year. Today, they will be annihilated.
Throwing myself from the ship's railing, I uttered.
"Destroy…. Them all."
Inside the interior of the spear-shaped tower that was seemingly reaching the skies.
On top of the tower that took thousands of dead bodies' to build, a man who was impaled on both hands by a nail could be seen.
The priests around him were in the middle of memorizing prayers while drawing a figure of a circle.
"We were given permission by Cronos himself! Do you really think you can stop us!"
The head priest screamed towards me who had slaughtered a plethora of monsters on the way here. They were full of confidence towards us even though we had arrived in front of their doorstep.
I soon realized where their confidence was stemming from.
A black dragon rose from beneath the altar with its behemoth wings and appeared before us.
A Demon Dragon!
I clicked my tongue. These b.a.s.t.a.r.ds were crazy enough to breed even a dragon. Demon Dragons, in particular, were the most powerful amongst the various dragon races. It would be difficult to say the least for my warriors and me to handle that clash with that dragon.
'I will not die.'
However, I firmly shook my head.
If I was destined to be killed by a mere Demon Dragon, I wouldn't have been able to kill the seemingly invincible Demon Lord.
But I didn't die.
If so, I would surely not die today.
I raised a blade in my right hand and galvanized the magic of the temple in my left.
The man who was tied in the middle of the altar, Minshik, a friend who remembers me, and also the last friend I remember.
I had a rough idea of what was going on. He was chosen to be Alethea's human sacrifice!
Minshik's body moved as if he heard my voice. That was enough. As long as he was living, it was enough.
"Oh Demon Dragon! Kill these heretics!"
I materialized the power of lightning in my hand as soon as the priest finished speaking. A Demon Dragon's main weakness was its vulnerability to lightning.
As I channeled the power of lightning into my sword, the blade began to flow with currents of electricity and exuded a powerful aura.
'I, will not die.'
I leaped towards the Demon Dragon.
My entire body was soaked in blood, and my consciousness was on the verge of fading out.
After killing the Demon Dragon and slaughtering every last priest, not even half of my silver knights were remaining. But we won.
The sacrificial ceremony had been prevented. However, my eyes burned in fury. I walked over to Minshik, the man who was tied in the middle of the altar, to listen to his dying words.
'This d.a.m.ned curse… He won't make it'
Amongst my followers, there were those who had the ability to heal, but when I saw the face of Kronos engraved onto Minshik's heart, I shook my head. The curse had altered his body beyond repair; even I had never seen a curse of this magnitude before. Why would the religious fanatics of the temple choose Minshik as the human sacrifice?
"Sorry….. I'm sorry….."
This was Minshik.
He was still alive, but the flames of life were already dwindling.
"What are you sorry for?"
"Everything. If our G.o.d reversed the flow of time, I wanted to be a greater hero thanyouu…"
"Time cannot be reversed."
"You… never know."
With that, Minshik forcefully smiled. I could not return the grin.
"You have not paid the price for your sins yet. It's too early for you to die."
He was originally a kind person. But he changed after joining Alethea. Minshik had personally raised monsters himself using them to attack civilians. There was no room for compa.s.sion here. Minshik extended his hands and touched my cheeks, as if he was pa.s.sing his dying will to me.
"If I were to be born again… I will not live with any regrets again. Every sin that I committed in this lifetime, I will pay back."
I did not answer.
Minshik opened his mouth again.
"Hansung… You were my hero and a role model that I have always looked up to. I always envied you… Almost too much envy…"
I understood. It was understandable to envy a friend who seemed to be a stark contrast from themselves.
"Everything I did was foolish. I'm… really sorry…."
His hands fell to the ground; his heartbeat stopped beating. My friend was… dead.
'Hansung, Lord Kronos will reverse time for me. I will go back. I will go back and be a hero like you.'
'Did you think I came into this place of my own free will? I want to shine like you!!! Hansung, I have no other options if a worthless man like myself were to survive in this G.o.d forsaken world'
The last I saw him was five years ago. He was a villain. A common mid level boss, if you will. At that time, he said this to me. 'Lord Chronos will return you back in time and grant infinite glory to you if worship him and sacrifice everything you have.' I told him to stop babbling and wake up to reality, but his desire to become a hero still remain.
".... Yeah, I hope you will be a hero."
I carefully placed Minshik's body on the ground.
I turned my head to see one of my warriors who was covered in blood. His sword was mottled with spots of flesh and fur.
"We have to take care of the remaining monsters and return as fast as we can. The President called for our service."
I crinkled my eyebrows.
"John Bross, the president of World United. He requested us to stop the Level 9 calamity that appeared in LA. The situation over there is code 'Andanius'."
How long had it been since we've attacked the Holy land of Alethea? Still, we were ordered again to take part in another battle. The world was uncaring; there was no rest for us. I couldn't help but smile.
"Level 9? LA will be destroyed in 3 hours."
"We do not have time to discuss this. The only one who can prevent a Level 9 calamity is the hero, Oh Hansung."
"Tell them to wait."
"Countless lives are being.."
"There are others besides me!! The Flowing Mountain, Sword Saint Arken, Saintess Sariah! Tell him to ask these guys for help."
"They're all dead sir."
I was the only individual left who could be t.i.tled a hero. The Demon Lord. He annihilated everyone. I was the sole survivor amongst the 500 heroes of our world. I refrained from cursing out loud. And at that moment, I felt a sudden chill across my head.
".... Although we chose to walk different paths, he was the only person who remembered me. Korea, my home country, was wiped off the map, my parents were killed… He was the only one I had."
Was this how it felt to be the lone survivor of this calamity? This mad world…. It made me want to go mad. I turned my eyes towards the carca.s.s of Minshik.
I've known him since we were a kid. He was compa.s.sionate to the point of being selfless back then. I grabbed a ring off from Minshik's palms. Even in death, he was tightly holding onto this ring. This was the ring he had always treasured as his own life since forever.
'Being a hero. What good will that do.'
If I could go back in time, I will never become a hero again. Would he realize that it was harder to forcefully smile than kill monsters?
I stood up. My responsibility as the last hero was complete.
I let out a long-winded breath while coughing out a mouthful of blood.
My half-mottled chest was wildly beating. The heaven reaching serpent-shaped calamity, Andannaius, was successfully eliminated, but in the process I ended up taking fatal damage.
I've always prepared for this in the back of my mind but I wasn't able to fully come to terms with it now that I was right at its doorstep.
What a coincidence it was that I would die on the same day I saw Minshik pa.s.s away.
The lower-half of my body was blown away; my heart was half-destroyed, and with only my upper torso remaining, there was no hope even if it was me.
I let out a dry smile.
After my death is confirmed, the people of this world will probably descend into chaos. Maybe… the extinction of mankind that I had been working so hard to prevent would arrive in an instant now that the final barrier protecting Earth was gone.
Despite this thought, I somehow felt an odd sense of relief. I had let everything go. I didn't feel the colossal weight on my chest anymore. In the city where there was not a single building left intact and countless people perished, I laid myself on the ground.
And as I closed my eyes…
The ring within my robe discharged a bright glow of light.
My head was hurting.
I opened my eyes to the intense rays of sunlight shining on to my face.
"What the h.e.l.l is…"
I couldn't help but gasp in astonishment. My surroundings seemed familiar… A messy desk on the floor where all kinds of trash were rolling around, a musky odor that implied having no ventilation in the room for weeks as well as a computer and various packs of open ramen noodle cups lying around…
If my memory was serving me correctly… this was my old room! A place that I lost several dozens of years ago!
'Is this a dream?'
I pinched my cheeks.
There was a sensation; I felt pain.
But I could not sense the powerful abilities that were hidden within my bodies at all. This was a first. I definitely knew I was dealt a fatal blow, so was this the infamous flashback of one's life that occurred at the moment of death?
I shook my head. Death was the end. It symbolized the finish line of every journey. Even if I didn't know what was going on, I could confirm this fact at the very least. After the descent of the Demon Lord, a level 10 calamity, where a plethora of heroes had perished, I was able to familiarize myself with what came after death: Nothingness. Endless Impunity!
So, the reality that I was currently experiencing wasn't a fantasy or an illusion… And…
The ring that I took from Minshik was on my left hand. On the exterior of the ring was the faintest traces of a mysterious energy that was not present before.
'I can't take it off my fingers.'
The ring refused to budge even though I pulled on it with all my strength. It was as if a curse was taking my index finger hostage.
"I… traveled back in time?"
After a short period of reflection, I realized that my current situation was far from ordinary. But I quickly regained my composure.
'March 2nd, 2015.'
I grabbed my phone that was lying on top of the desk and checked today's date. March 2nd, 2015. Ah! My eyes turned watery.
Even though I returned, I still possessed the horrific memories of the past.
I remembered exactly what happened today.
Specifically speaking, I remembered everything that happened in the past 10 days from today.
It was a car accident. On the way home from work together, both my parents were caught in a major car accident that made the news. My parent's faces were mutilated beyond recognition.
It… was my birthday that day. Inside the car was a pair of sneakers that I had been singing about leading up to my birthday.
'Even though you reversed time for me, you didn't give me what I truly wanted.'
I looked up at the ceiling, knowing fully well that there wouldn't be any reply. G.o.d was cruel. There was no such thing as a free wish.
It was at this moment. The person that squeezed in through the narrow cracks of the half-opened door was…
I was slightly taken aback.
It was Minshik. However, I did not recall seeing Minshik until several months after my parent's deaths.
'Because I cursed him out of my life.'
The day of the accident. It was me who swung my fist at Minshik and told him to get the h.e.l.l out of my sight. I had cursed him out to never contact me ever again.
I was too young then. After that incident, I moved. It wasn't until the start of the calamity that I would reunite with Minshik again.
But right now… tears came flooding out of his eyes after seeing me. He grabbed both my shoulders and opened his mouth.
"Hansung. I'm so sorry. If my desire to return was a little more stronger, we would've been able to arrive at an earlier date and prevent the accident."
Minshik started weeping uncontrollably. I lifted my hands up and paused for a moment before patting him on the back. After a while, he was able to barely lift his head up and speak.
"Don't worry. From here on out, I will take care of everything. You… just watch me. I will take care of you, alright?"
"Also, do not follow Mr. Yang. Those b.a.s.t.a.r.ds; they're the type of trash who will go after your insurance money. Okay? Don't you ever follow them!"
With that, Minshik left the room abruptly as if he was being chased by something. I couldn't help but crinkle my face. The words he left me with, they weren't events that he could possibly have known about at this point in time. As if he knew what was to come in the future… At that instant, the scene of Minshik's death appeared in my mind.
Kronos… The G.o.d of time…
The grand ceremony that took place in the holy ground of Alethea!
'Could that ritual have something to do with the flow of time?'
But I stopped their ritual without a doubt. We killed every last Apostle of Alethea, and I had personally slit the throat of the head priest myself.
I felt a chill creep up my back.
I looked at the ring that was on my left hand. It was Minshik's item in the beginning, and this very ring had emitted energy right as I began dying. Surely, there had to be a connection between my return and this ring. As the original owner, Minshik must somehow be related to this ring as well.
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