Yi Yeonjun appeared out of nowhere like a ghost. I stood by Boss and looked at him. He was standing still about 20 steps away from us.
“…It’s been a while,” Yi Yeonjun said with a bitter smile.
I glanced at Boss. Despite her attempts to appear calm, I could see that she was having mixed emotions.
Boss stared at Yi Yeonjun without saying anything. Even though she already knew the truth about Yi Yeonjun, that he was the one who ruined her life, she couldn’t bring herself to hate him wholeheartedly.
And I knew where she was coming from. The two of them had spent 20 years of their lives together; of course, it was difficult for her to deny those two decades instantly.
I placed my hand on Boss’s shoulder. She looked back at me. Her expression was still cold. Was it because she was trying to hide her feelings? Or perhaps it was because even she herself didn’t know how she felt right now.
“I’d like to talk to you about something,” Yi Yeonjun announced.
Boss turned her gaze back to Yi Yeonjun.
“What if we’re not interested in what you have to say~?” Jain asked, studying Boss’s face.
Jane changed the shape of her arm into that of a sickle. Now her arm looked just like ‘Kurukuru’s sickle.'
This was the secret technique Jain had developed in order to increase her physical strength. She named this technique [Monsterification]. It wasn’t a process of awakening per se, but an elaborate imitation of a humanoid monster’s body.
“…Move. You're not the one I’m interested in,” Yi Yeonjun replied flatly.
Jain said with a chuckle, “Well that’s obvious, but-”
“And it isn’t Byul either.”
Jain frowned. She glanced at Boss first, and then at me.
A strange sensation engulfed me as I watched Yi Yeonjun.
Yi Yeonjun raised his arm and pointed at me. At that moment I realized that my sense of discomfort had resulted from Yi Yeonjun’s gaze.
The way he called Boss’s name at first was nothing but a distraction.
From the beginning, his eyes were directed solely at me.
“Kim Hajin. I’d like to speak with you.”
Boss couldn’t keep her calm any longer. Her face contorted with anger and she stretched her shadow towards Yi Yeonjun.
A shrill sound pierced through the air. Yi Yeonjun didn’t dodge. He let her shadow penetrate his flesh and continued to speak.
Boss finally ran out of patience and stepped forward.
“Don’t you have anything to say to me…?” Boss asked in a trembling voice.
The volume of her voice was hardly consistent, and her words faded before reaching the end of her sentence.
Yi Yeonjun stared at Boss for a while and then shook his head. It was then that Boss’s distorted face straightened. She now appeared cold and even apathetic.
“Kim Hajin.” Yi Yeonjun called my name again.
“I really don’t feel like chatting with you.” I shook my head. I wasn't sure exactly what he was trying to do, but I didn’t plan on letting things go his way….
When Yi Yeonjun said what he said next….
“What if I said it’s about your novel?”
My brain froze and my breathing stopped. I felt as if my heart had stopped beating.
A familiar sound rang out. Boss’s shadow had reached Yi Yeonjun again. This time, the shadow pierced the area near Yi Yeonjun’s clavicle.
I stopped Boss and took a step forward. I wasn’t sure how Yi Yeonjun learned about the novel, but I knew that I had to keep his mouth shut.
Boss grabbed me by the wrist. Her eyes were filled with anger and grief. Yi Yeonjun’s apathy infuriated her more than his betrayal itself.
I looked Boss in the eye.
“I know what you’re trying to say. But please just give me a minute.”
Gently, I untied Boss’s hand around my wrist. Her heavy breathing soon subsided, and she put on the mask of nonchalance again.
“Thank you. It won’t take long,” I said to Boss and began walking towards Yi Yeonjun. Jain moved out of the way for me.
Yi Yeonjun stared at me with vacant eyes. His eyes were completely vacant. Perhaps there were days when those terrifying eyes sparkled with innocence; perhaps there was nothing in there, to even begin with.
When I came near, Yi Yeonjun spoke again.
“We need a private space, don’t you think?”
Suddenly the darkness under my feet soared and swallowed us both. The darkness formed a distinct space and I came face to face with Yi Yeonjun.
It was a barrier within a barrier, so to say.
“Hmm? Kim Suho? And… Knight Commander Shin Jahyuk, you too?”
Tomer alternated her gaze between Kim Suho and Jin Sahyuk. Kim Suho studied Jin Sahyuk’s face. While Tomer seemed happy to see Jin Sahyuk, Jin Sahyuk looked rather uncomfortable, scratching the back of her neck awkwardly.
“….Ah, my apologies. Haha. I meant to say ‘former’ Knight Commander Shin Jahyuk.”
When Jin Sahyuk didn’t answer, Tomer corrected her mistake. Jin Sahyuk let out a dry cough and averted her eyes from Tomer.
“Hmm? ‘Former’ Knight Commander?”
Kim Suho turned his gaze to Jin Sahyuk. Former Knight Commander? So, did that mean Jin Sahyuk used to be Crevon’s Knight Commander? Jin Sahyuk, who would rather die than work for others?
Jin Sahyuk sighed and hinted at Kim Suho not to ask.
Not that any of that was important. Now was not the right time to indulge in Jin Sahyuk’s past.
“Let’s catch up later, because-”
But it turned out they had one more guest. Chwaaaaa—! The swirling wind cut off Kim Suho’s words, and soon a woman with long, blond hair appeared.
It was Rachel.
“Woah. Rachel, you were here too?”
Chae Nayun, who had been glaring at Jin Sahyuk this whole time, widened her eyes in surprise at the appearance of the unexpected guest.
“Ooh. Rachel! Long time no see!”
Tomer, who had already been acquainted with Rachel at Cube and worked with her in Crevon, welcomed the elementalist with open arms.
“…Yes, it’s good to see you again. Windy? Help them, please.”
Rachel greeted Tomer back with a rather solemn look, and blessed the crew with ‘Spirits’ Blessings’.
…It was then.
Baal roared as if he had been waiting for this moment. His roar was more than an echo; it was physically visible. Soon Baal’s demonic energy came barreling towards them like a tsunami.
The wave of demonic energy surged from all sides. Kim Suho grabbed Misteltein before the wave consumed him.
And then, Misteltein drew an arc in the air.
Kim Suho wielded his sword only once at a speed undetectable to the naked eye. That single attack completely erased all demonic energy as if it had never existed in the first place.
Kim Suho had cut the ‘fact’ that Baal had released demonic energy. Such was the power of the secret technique he had learned from his two rounds of Enlightenment.
He acquired the Sword Saint Gift with his first Enlightenment, and with the second he learned the secret sword technique contained in Misteltein.
But in reality, he had been able to wield this technique from the start. The description of him being able to ‘cut everything’ was a decisive hint.
His power— the ability to cut any and everything he wanted.
In the past, he indirectly restricted his power by thinking that he could only cut physical beings and objects. In other words, the problem was his mindset. He never thought to cut what he thought couldn’t be cut. But now he learned to think outside the box and even cut down abstract notions.
Of course, Kim Suho knew that this technique alone was far from enough against Baal.
If he could move one step beyond his own limits if he could enter the state of ultimate swordsmanship….
Then he would finally be able to cut Baal.
Jin Sahyuk turned to Kim Suho with a surprised look. Chae Nayun and the others were simply thinking that Kim Suho’s sword had cut off the demonic energy, but Jin Sahyuk knew better. As the wielder of Reality Manipulation, she immediately recognized Kim Suho’s Authority.
His power could interfere with the laws of the world. It was an ability suitable for the main character. Naturally, Jin Sahyuk’s mind drifted to the novel that Yi Yeonjun had mentioned before.
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
But Shin Jonghak interrupted Jin Sahyuk’s train of thought. He grabbed the Conqueror Spear and walked past Kim Suho. Kim Suho turned around only to face Shin Jonghak’s back. At the same time, he could feel the unfamiliar force surrounding his old rival.
“You wanna bet?”
KOOONG—! The Conqueror Spear pounded against the ground. Shin Jonghak stood with his back towards everyone. Facing forward, he went on.
“On who’ll be the first to kill Baal.”
Though Shin Jonghak was serious, Jin Sahyuk found him laughable. After all this time, how was it possible that he still thought he was ‘the main character’? It seemed Shin Jonghak hadn’t changed much even after meeting his grandfather and inheriting his legacy.
Still, Kim Suho answered with a smile.
“Sure. Let’s make a bet.”
“So what’s the prize gonna be?” Shin Jonghak asked as he glanced at Chae Nayun. Unfortunately, Chae Nayun didn’t notice.
After some deliberation, Kim Suho opened his mouth.
“Mm…. How about the loser calls the winner Hyung for a month?”
The suggestion was pretty random, but Kim Suho was serious.
He was at least 10 years older than everybody else. For quite some time he had been wanting to hear his friends call him ‘Hyung’ or ‘Oppa’.
It wasn’t difficult to infer Shin Jonghak’s answer from the distorted look on his face. ‘There’s no way I’ll ever call you Hyung’— his expression said.
“It won’t matter if you win. What, are you scared?”
But he couldn't stand Kim Suho’s provocation.
Shin Jonghak shook his head.
“Let’s do it.”
Shin Jonghak’s magic power engulfed the Conqueror Spear. Kim Suho too grabbed his sword, Misteltein.
“Alright, let’s do this. Stay alive, okay?”
They loosened up the mood with light conversation and solidified their resolve once more.
Now they were ready to go. Kim Suho took a step forward….
It was then.
A voice flowed into Kim Suho’s ears.
—Kim Suho. Can you hear me?
“Huh? Kim Hajin?”
Kim Suho muttered in surprise. The name caught everyone’s attention at once. Chae Nayun, in particular, grabbed Kim Suho’s wrist in a hurry.
“What? Did you just say Kim Hajin? Where is he?”
At that moment, Kim Hajin said his next words.
—Hey, come save me.
It was a call for help.
Ah Hae-In whistled. It was a signal to call in her divine beast. The whistle with magic power reached the Azure Dragon in the sky, and the dragon descended solemnly.
Satisfied with the clear blue sky, the Azure Dragon snorted contentedly. Flying monsters such as Gargoyles that once covered the sky had long been wiped out by the Azure Dragon.
Ah Hae-In gently patted the dragon’s mouth, then approached the Grand Magician standing in the middle of the ruins.
It was thrilling to be able to say 'Grand Magician-nim' out loud. His skills which she witnessed today were indeed a match for the name.
Ah Hae-In went on, trying to suppress her overflowing emotions.
“It was an honor to fight alongside you.”
Oh Jaejin smiled softly and bent his knees as if trying to sit down. Remnants of a broken bench strewn on the ground swarmed up towards him. They quickly reconstructed into the shape of a bench, and Oh Jaejin slumped down on the finished piece.
Once again, Ah Hae-In was struck with admiration.
“Likewise, it was an honor to fight alongside a talented magician such as yourself. It’s simply amazing that you became a 9-star with only summoning magic.”
“…Y-Y-You flatter me.”
Perhaps he was just trying to be nice. Still, Ah Hae-In couldn’t resist her body from swaying in joy.
Oh Jaejin continued with a smile, “But I’m nearing my limit. I can feel my thoughts scatter, and it’s getting harder to breathe by the minute. You and the other magicians will need to take over for me after this. Perhaps my old friends will lend you a hand. If they can afford to do so, that is.”
Ah Hae-In knew what Oh Jaejin meant by his ‘old friends’. But only four of the Nine Stars were still alive….
—Magician Ah Hae-In, you must come to Seoul right now!
Suddenly an urgent voice rang from Ah Hae-In’s smartwatch.
The owner of the voice was Kim Sukho, the former President of Korea and the current Chairman of the Hero Association.
“Mr. Chairman, I’m still taking care of the Paris incident.”
—That’s not my problem! Damn it, demons are invading my bunker! Come over at once….
So, what he meant to say was that he needed her to come save him. Ah Hae-In turned the volume down on her smartwatch and turned her gaze to Oh Jaejin.
Oh Jaejin shook his head with a chuckle.
“He hasn’t changed a bit.”
That was all she needed.
Ah Hae-In smiled and yelled in an urgent voice.
“Oh no! Demons are coming back to life!”
—What? What did you just say? No wait, it doesn’t matter. Just come here right now….
Kim Sukho’s voice was cut off in the middle.
Ah Hae-In removed her smartwatch from her wrist and threw it on the ground. She then turned her gaze to the last devil—Astaroth—at the center of the ruins.
Astaroth looked like a knight in armor. He stared at Oh Jaejin with a huge sword in his hand. Oh Jaejin faced the devil’s gaze from the bench.
“Well then… shall we proceed?”
Oh Jaejin raised himself. Astaroth’s eyes followed Oh Jaejin. The devil acknowledged the strength of the human in front of him and planned to confront him with all his might.
“Allow me to assist you.”
A man that was as strong as a devil.
Grateful and moved by the fact that such a man was on the side of mankind, Ah Hae-In followed Oh Jaejin.