The future a Regressor has come from is never set in stone. There is always a possibility that those living in the present make enough difference in the choices they are given that the future the Regressor foretells never comes to pass. And, despite it all, Ahmuge’s words were enough to put Sungchul in a deep state of shock. Haunted by insomnia and filled with doubts, Sungchul spent several days deep inside the forest without moving.
‘I…will destroy the world…?’
It was nonsensical. Who had been the one to rise to the task at a time when those in power had simply prolonged the Calamity and left their burdens onto the next generation? It was Sungchul. How much had he given up for the sake of saving the world since that moment? He had lost his best friend, and also all of the reputation he had built. He had turned the world against him in order to gain strength. Wasn’t it all for the purpose of saving the world that he was now hiding inside the Summoning Palace and pretending to be a newbie?
Fortunately, the confusion didn’t last long. He was a man with conviction stronger than steel. The doubts which had been haunting him like a malicious ghost washed away with the sound of the starting horn for the Rank Match.
“Now now, humans! It is now time for the final trial! Everyone did well for Blanche Plaza so far. Now, go through that door towards the Central Plaza!”
The Summoned headed towards the Central Plaza under the guidance of the Homunculi.
“Where have you been?”
Sujin found Sungchul and began talking.
“It’s none of your business.”
Sungchul spoke bluntly and made some distance between them. It had to be this way. Sujin was from a future that should have never existed. Her very presence in this world made him feel uncomfortable.
Sujin didn’t continue the conversation but still remained around him.
There were already hundreds of people from the other Plazas crowding within the Central Plaza. There were two circular arenas; the majority of the Homunculi were standing around them and gathered all of the people there.
“Those that were nominated as Representatives, please get up here now.”
Thirty people from each Plaza walked up to the arena.
“Unpredictable! Exciting! Humans participating in the penalty game of predicting all thirty consecutive winners step this way!”
Those that weren’t included as Representatives were taken to a place where the ground was partitioned into three, where someone had etched an X and an O using a stone in two of the slots and the third was left blank.
Those people without the courage to fight on their own, those who had stood behind others to survive thus far, and those who were too weak all looked around nervously at their surroundings as each one of them stepped onto their designated area. One man stepped forward and shouted out amidst the silence.
“Everyone, let’s give it our all. No matter how dangerous the situation, remaining calm will reveal a way out!”
It was Hakchul. He couldn’t become a Representative in the end. The latter half of the Selection Match was indescribably competitive despite the fact that it was fought over by the mediocre and the weak. Of the 150 casualties that had occurred over the course of the selection process, about 80% were a result of the fights for the last five available spots. Hakchul had stepped up to the arena but quickly retreated due to how savage the fighting had become. It was a secret known only to Hakchul that he had, in fact, gone up to the stage three times by aiming for the moments the Homunculus in charge was too busy to check his face. However, a man who failed three times was never meant to succeed.
“Everyone! Let’s work together and get through this trial! Nothing is impossible if we work with our collective wisdom!”
The gong sounded, marking the beginning of the Rank Matches as Hakchul’s words of inspiration began to fade away.
“First Representatives to the front!”
Each of the first Representatives from the Crimson and Blanche Plazas stood facing one another. Blanche Plaza’s first Representative was the lucky man who had obtained a slot without contest when no one had the courage to step up. The sound of rumbling feet with hundreds of people rushing around could be heard coming from behind the two fighters.
“Now, the heart-pounding prediction of the winner is taking place! ’O’ to predict a Blanche victory, and ’X’ for a loss! Stand on the blank sheet if you predict a tie!”
The entire arena became noisy as people began to move about due to the order given by the amused Drill Sergeant. The audience observed the appearance of each Representative standing in the arena. As it was impossible to determine who was stronger at the current moment, people could only make their judgment based on appearance. The Summoned could do nothing but bet their lives on whoever looked like they would be the better fighter. Of course, there were also some that used their wits to make their bets too.
“That guy! It’s the one who became the first Representative, right?”
It was Hakchul.
“That guy became a Representative by pure luck, so he’ll definitely lose. Let’s all go to X! Trust me and follow me!”
Hakchul shouted as he headed to the X area first. Even those who had been ignoring Hakchul felt that what he said was logical. Everyone close by headed towards the X area and stimulated a herd instinct, which caused the majority of the people to stand on the X. Soon, it became so crowded that there was not enough space to accommodate everyone on X anymore.
After a brief moment, the iron gates of the Central Plaza opened, and the Homunculi dragged out a large monster. It was a nine-headed, dinosaur-like creature. By its size alone, it was much larger than a Tam Tam and fearsome beyond compare. The monster was controlled by the Homunculus that was riding on its back and stood behind the humans within the victor-prediction group.
Several people fainted at the sight of the drool wetting the floor that was coming from its massive jaw.
“A lot of people have gathered to that side. I guess they think I’m going to win?”
The number one Representative from the Crimson Plaza was a confident-looking youth in his early-twenties. He smirked towards the Blanche Plaza’s number one Representative who was frozen stiff with tension.
‘They might have picked correctly, but unfortunately, they’ve awoken my sense of mischief.’
The man who was talking nonsense to himself turned towards the Homunculus referee and spoke briefly.
The Homunculus referee looked over to the Blanche Plaza Representative and spoke.
“Hey, human. Do you agree to the opponent’s surrender?”
The Blanche Plaza’s lucky guy had no reason to refuse him. He nodded his head, and the Homunculus raised the white flag.
“It is Blanche Plaza’s…victory!”
Just like that, the first Representative Match was over. Its name was grand, but the Representative’s Match essentially is just a bonus game. What the Summoning Plaza wanted from the Summoned after the fierce combat of the fourth Rank Match was a person that had the courage and ambition to claim their place. The true Rank Matches had been completed before the Representative Match even began.
The nine-headed monster let out a cry as soon as the Homunculus lifted the white flag. After its fearsome cry, the monster began to stomp on and devour everyone on the X area.
“Hey, you fuck! You said that the Crimson Plaza would win!”
Those that were near Hakchul grabbed his collar and shook him, but the water had already been spilled.
“What are you going to do now? Huh?”
Hakchul looked half-insane as he sang a song.
“A B C D E F G, H I J K L M N O P, Q R S, T U V, W, X, Y, Z…Haha!”
His song was cut short when he was swallowed by the monster. Several hundred survivors were either eaten by the creature or stomped on by its heavy feet meeting their ultimate tragic fate. There was only blood and corpses left on the X spot, looking as though a hurricane had blown through.
“Eh? Did my prank go too far?”
The other matches fell into a similar rhythm, but there were more than a few that fought with their lives on the line. The rewards for these matches were considerably great. It was a big deal to be able to choose your desired class transfer tome from among all of the rewards. Fierce battles and uneventful surrenders passed by until finally, it was Sungchul’s turn. He didn’t even have a shred of desire to forfeit, and his opponent looked to be the same.
The tall man wielding a large knife began to taunt him.
“Looks like you got the short end of the stick if you’ve become my opponent.”
He released an aggressive aura as he pulled out his blade.
“But what should I do? It’s a secret, but I already met the Goddess of Victory before stepping onto here.”
Sungchul discovered that there was a magic-induced blessing surrounding the man’s body.
‘He’s been plastered with buffs. It must be the red-head who’s siding with him.’
Sungchul fidgeted with the bracelet before bluntly asking a question to his opponent who was laughing and showing his teeth.
“Does that Goddess have red hair, perhaps?”
Surprise flickered across his opponent’s eyes.
“How did you know that?”
In response to the question, he looked up at the Observation Tower that was beyond the Palace walls. The spectators from the Order of the Iron Blood Knights that Dolorence represented were gathered within the Observation Tower linked to the Blanche Plaza. Dolorence, who had been concerned by Krill’s sudden radio silence, became relaxed after the man wearing the bracelet appeared.
‘That stupid son of a bitch. Where did he go? He should have contacted me if he had somewhere else to be. It’s fine that everything turned out as planned, but I’m not letting this go after I meet him.’
Beside her, Sanggil and other high-rank Knights were socializing while watching the arena.
“Oh. Is that the Knight Captain’s offspring?”
“He’s not as attractive as the rumors say, but…he looks masculine.”
Sanggil, who had allied with Dolorence, was sweating profusely as he continued trying to match the mood and sharply turned towards her. She did not flinch as she met his eyes and nodded. Today would progress just as they’d planned.
The gong rang out, marking the start of the match. The high-rank Knights held their breath as they watched the fight before a roar of applause exploded from among the Knights. The Knight Captain’s son had skewered his opponent in the heart with just a single strike. Although it was more accurate to say that the opponent couldn’t gauge his own strength and had ran into the waiting blade on his own accord.
“How could this be…!! He overcame this opponent who had at least three buffs including Haste, Levitation, and Peerless-in such a simple manner…”
“I can’t believe it. That calm and calculating nature. Taking action without hesitation. It feels as though I’m watching the Iron Blood Knight’s Captain’s rookie Summoned days.”
The faces of Dolorence and Sanggil grew sour at the cheer that filled the Observation Tower. Sanggil took a moment to approach Dolorence and confronted her in a hushed voice.
“What happened, Mage?”
Sanggil glared at her as though he could kill her on the spot.
Dolorence felt her heart drop but refused to let it show.
“I’ll take care of it. Before that man meets anyone else.”
“No…do you have any idea what you’re saying right now…”
At that moment, two high-rank Knights approached Sanggil. His face was wrinkled in anger, but he was able to straighten out his face and smile when he turned to face his companions.
“Hey, congrats, Sanggil. You are as good as guaranteed a promotion now. With this, we have become the only major faction with a direct descendent of our Order’s Founder who is capable of continuing the lineage.”
“Ah…well, it was nothing much.”
Sanggil wiped his forehead as he replied. Dolorence took that moment to lightly slip out of the Observation Tower.
Sanggil saw Dolorence running off like a stray cat and thought to himself.
‘It turned out like this because I trusted a Mage’s promise. I should have done this by myself from the start.’
Sanggil excused himself from the crowd and also slipped out of the Observation Tower. As he stepped out, the Plaza exploded in cheers. It was because another Representative had won a life-risking battle. It was Sujin. She pointed her sword at the kneeling enemy.
The opponent proclaimed her surrender and Sujin nodded to accept it. Her blade, which had absorbed White Phantom’s vision, was a degree sharper than before, and it was also at an incomparable level within the Summoning Palace. Sujin, who had easily earned her victory, headed over towards Sungchul standing below the arena.
“What are you up to?”
She didn’t expect an answer. Sungchul peeked over to her before speaking in a low voice.
“It’s as you can see.”
He was counting his Palace Tokens one-by-one and placing them inside his pocket. There were 53 tokens in total, which meant that he had exceeded his goal.
“That’s great. It also looks like your mood has improved somewhat.”
Sujin smiled brightly towards Sungchul, but he didn’t respond.
“Did I do something wrong?”
She took the opportunity to carefully ask with a bit of emotion mixed in, but he simply shook his head.
“No. It’s just that I want to be alone.”
Sungchul got up after he placed all of the Tokens in his pocket.
“It is time.”
Soon, a bell loud enough to shake the whole arena rang out.
The bell announced the end of all the trials.