I breathed in deeply.
It wasn’t long before I recognized the situation for what it was and accepted it. The sun was still shining outside, and my heart was beating with fervor like never before.
I sat down on the char in the messy room, and then picked up the remote to turn on the TV.
-Allow me introduce: The group that set the world ablaze with their debut! The girls as sweet as cotton candy, Sweet Honey!
At the same time 11 young girls appeared on stage and danced adorably. Countless people in the audience went wild with excitement, and I also couldn’t take away my eyes from them. But the reason for my excitement slightly differed from that of the audience.
I remembered that young girls’ group, as well as the other idols and singers that appeared after them.
‘It is March of 2015.’
I verified once more.
I was currently drifting through time. I had to think and act with caution in order to control the flow of the future.
I made a note of this in my mind.
‘Since leaving a real record would be dangerous…’
Nothing was clear yet. And there might be other dangers if Minshik also has returned with me. Therefore, I had to keep it in my mind.
First off…2nd of March 2015. 10 days had passed since my parents passed away. I was 19 years old, in my senior year of high school. A soccer-loving high schooler that didn’t stand out in particular. From then on I had been living as a shut-in.
‘And after that I added my name onto Yang-ahjussi’s family register, living with them for 2 years.’
It was as Minshik had said; for 2 years I was bound to the man called Yang-ahjussi who had his eye on the insurance money. How very much like a modern Korean Cinderella. But that lasted only 2 years.
2 years later, the world would change. The existence of gates, tunnels which connected to the abyss and the monsters within them, would surface.
I had fortunately awakened as a Magic Swordsman. Having been singled out by a government agency, I began walking the path of a hero.
‘But even now, the gates are already open.’
I hadn’t known at that time. But I was someone called the last hero. Of course I knew of countless secrets in the world.
The gates were already open, in 2015, around this time of the year. They only went undiscovered because either someone covered them up on purpose or because they were few in number.
‘So to say…I’ve gained 2 years of time.’
Monsters and awakened humans. It would be 2 years later when ‘superhuman’ existences would ben on the rise. But they existed even at this very moment, albeit extremely few in number.
Of course, they might not even be self-aware of it. The reason being, even if they fulfilled specific conditions to become superhuman, they would need to hunt monsters in order to develop their abilities. A recently awakened state would grant no more than a small increase in strength.
In contrast, although I had awakened 2 years late, I was able to grow stronger faster than anyone else. The ‘Magic Swordsman’ class I earned had played a large part in my growth.
But a 2 year advantage? It’s as if I’ve been given a foothold to leap ever higher.
‘Magic Swordsman was the only class that could simultaneously raise the level of both magic and swordsmanship. However, a Magic Swordsman isn’t capable of reaching the pinnacle in either path.’
For a moment I mused over the power I had in the past.
A Magic Swordsman was guaranteed incredible speed of growth thanks to wielding two kinds of powers. But the class’ limitation became apparent as time passed. I was called the last hero, but I couldn’t reach the true end.
I rubbed my chin.
Now that I’ve returned, I had to choose a path to walk.
‘The gates are already open and if I want, it’s not like I can’t gain other hidden classes.’
The higher the concentration of human population in an area, the greater the number of gates that opened which lead into the abyss.
It went without saying there were already gates that were open in Korea in 2015. And I knew their locations.
However, I wasn’t inclined to immediately go and find them.
‘Minshik. That fellow returned as well…’
Minshik was kind. He just couldn’t ignore people in need of help. When he saw crying children, he would console them with candy; it was in his nature. What’s more, he was innocent to the point that he wouldn’t watch a single adult video.
Then the world went to hell, and he had re-appeared as an executive of the newly rising religious cult Aletheia.
The up-and-coming religious cult, Aletheia.
The axis of evil, rearing monsters and killing humans.
There was no excuse for him. Becoming an executive of that kind of group signified that he already had the blood of a thousand on his hands. It meant that he was no longer innocent.
Nevertheless, he had come running helter-skelter to find and embrace me.
Did he want to restore our past friendship?
‘A new life, a new friendship, huh.’
Even before attacking their sanctuary, I attempted to take out Aletheia numerous times. And on my third attempt, I met Minshik, who spoke of envying my brilliance, lamenting his own circumstances.
He spoke of turning back time and becoming a hero. Like me, but even greater!
Seeing him crying like a child, I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. I couldn’t stab his heart as he backed away from me, wetting his pants.
‘I have to think rationally.’
I was not overconfident nor did I underestimate my current self.
If Minshik realized that I came back to the past with him, in the worst case scenario, he may go as far as to turn against me. Because all of the information I held were classified secrets. The only one who could use that information in its entirety, was me alone.
Although he said that he was going to become a hero, he had already stepped into evil once.
‘What if Minshik wasn’t the only one to return?’
This bothered me the most. What if the followers of Kronos truly borrowed his strength to come back to the past?
As someone who repeatedly tried getting rid of them, I was a nemesis to Aletheia. Having set foot in their very sanctuary, I must be number 1 on their hit list.
Thus, I needed to see how the situation played out.
Minshik and the followers of Aletheia may even be connected. I had to do away with the presumption that only Minshik and I returned to the past. There is a real possibility that someone is keeping track of my whereabouts.
I had to consider every possible situation, up to the worst of circumstances, before acting.
‘I’ll have to pretend for a while.’
To be the young boy in his teens, grieving the loss of his parents.
I spent 5 more days in that enclosed space with no ventilation, filling my stomach with cup ramen only. I hadn’t a clue if someone would appear or not, much less when or in what manner, so I refrained from even washing my face. So I was a mess.
Of course, I had installed a few simple traps, in preparation for the worst.
‘No one’s watching me for the time being.’
It was the result of carefully, ever so carefully, observing my surroundings over the few days.
I had firmly pressed down my head with a cap before feigning trips to the convenience store, all the while checking my vicinity, but nothing stood out.
My range of activity would widen if there were no observers.
Afterwards, through TV and the internet, I strove to find anything that hinted at the world changing.
‘And there aren’t any noticeable changes.’
Over the 5 days, I received a few calls on the phone, but I ignored them all. Instead I paid closer attention to the news on TV and searching the internet.
For now as far as my memory goes, there was no real difference.
‘What if a large number of Aletheia’s followers had returned as well?’
I couldn’t ascertain it, merely counting it as one possibility.
They were an aggressive group. If many of them did return, there should have been at least one unusual event.
I drank up the soup of the finished cup of ramen. I had been eating cup ramen for 5 day straight. I tired of the taste, but it didn’t matter.
During the time I was on active duty, most production of industrial goods had halted, and so cup ramen became something of a rarity. I could have still eaten some had I wanted of course, but as the last hero, I had to keep up appearances.
My most agonizing experience back then, was when the monster hunting ended and I had to stand behind a rostrum to smile against my will.
That’s why, I would be fine with eating cup ramen for even a month.
It was then.
The thread I had connected to the outside of my window moved as if being swayed by the wind.
I immediately turned around to look at the small hand mirror beside the computer. The mirror reflected the corridor outside the door. I had set it up so that I could confirm anyone approaching.
‘It’s Yang-ahjussi…and his daughter.’
Yang-ahjussi’s full name was Manwoo Yang, while his daughter was named Eunha Yang. He used to work together with my father. I remember him frequently visiting our home and going out for drinks with my father.
Manwoo Yang hovered by the door for a moment before calling out.
“Hansung! Will you open the door. Eh? How long are you going to stay cooped up for?”
Bang bang bang!
Manwoo Yang was relentless.
“I was worried for you, so I even received a key from the janitor. If you won’t open up then I’ll enter myself.”
I reluctantly opened the door.
Upon seeing my haggard face, Manwoo Yang heavily sighed, then embraced me with wide open arms.
“You, this kid. How can you be so foolish? Eh? You should have at least eaten well. It’s not like the dead can come back to life. Life has to go on.”
Pressuring me from all directions, he patted my back with force.
“Let’s go inside first. Let’s go in and talk. I have a lot to say.”
Without even considering my feelings, he walked through the door. Manwoo Yang was that kind of person. He never spared a thought for others. Manwoo Yang’s daughter, Eunha Yang, also carefully followed him inside.
The girl looked like she was in her 2nd year of high school, and even from an objective standpoint, she looked extremely pretty. She had a refreshing height, and natural long black hair that well-suited her exemplar profile. A beautiful girl that could draw the attention of most men by simply walking past, wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and hot pants.
Compared to the idols like Sweet Honey that I saw on TV, she didn’t lose out one bit.
‘I remember now.’
I had often met Manwoo Yang before, but it was years since I saw Eunha Yang. This was most likely the first time seeing her since middle school. At the time, my past self felt as if I glimpsed a flower blooming in the midst of despair. Although I’m sure that that was the intended purpose of bringing along Eunha Yang….
“Ugh, it smells.”
The moment Eunha Yang entered the room, she pinched her nose, frowning. Then she looked at me with an expression of dislike on her face.
She was a haughty girl. She probably did not come here voluntarily. Most likely dragged along by Manwoo Yang. His intention was obvious.
“Eunha, you should be understanding. Hansung is going through a difficult time. Especially at times like this, don’t you think that we should take good care of him?”
“Dad. This really isn’t a place fit for people to live in.”
“Woah now. Ah, Hansung. You’ve met her when you were in middle school right? She’s my daughter. She’s lacking a little in manners but she’s a good kid at heart. She was so stubborn about coming over to clean for you that I had no choice but to bring her along.”
I sat down and leaned against the sofa for a while.
My past self did nothing but blankly stare at Eunha Yang. Manwoo Yang took advantage of that and coaxed me into moving as he willed.
All with the intention of taking away my life insurance benefit and my inheritance.