Chapter 365. Decision


[Chameleon Troupe’s Sanctuary]

Boss gathered every member of the Chameleon Troupe to their sanctuary. The cave Kim Hajin modified in the past was still in excellent condition. Thanks to the Goblin Tablet’s goblin servants, the place was spotless and even looked better than before.

There, Boss made a simple announcement. Although the content of the announcement was grave, everyone took it lightly as they had expected it.

Boss had announced the disbanding of the Chameleon Troupe.

“…What are you going to do from now~?”

After a short disbanding ceremony, Jain approached Cheok Jungyeong, who was sitting on the couch and asked. Cheok Jungyeong glanced up at her before shrugging his shoulders.

“I don’t know.”

Considering the reason the Chameleon Troupe was formed, it only made sense to disband it now. Boss had formed the new Chameleon Troupe to avenge Yi Yeonjun, but now that the truth was revealed… well, everything had become quite a mess.

“Where’s Boss? And what is she doing?”

When Cheok Jungeong asked, Jain grinned and shook her head.

“Boss~? She’s not our boss anymore~ She’s our ‘club’ leader now~”

Jain projected a hologram with her smartwatch.

[Social Club - Colored Calves]
[Club Leader - Yi Byul]
[Club Member - 6]

“I’ll send you an invitation too~”

“….”

Cheok Jungyeong gave a displeased glance. Still, he turned on his smartwatch and applied.
Jain continued talking as she grinned brightly.

“Yesterday, she buried Yi Yeonjun’s corpse in Pandemonium… and today, she said she’d atone for her sins for the rest of her life.”

“…Atone for her sins?”

“Yep. She apparently made a promise with Hajin.”

“Atone how?”

“I don’t know~ But Boss has enough wealth to feed a country~ Since there are many orphans right now, it’ll be perfect~”

“….”

Cheok Jungyeong sighed quietly.
Atoning for one’s sins.
Was that something they could do? The sin of killing a thousand people couldn’t be washed away just because one saved a million others. The people they had to seek forgiveness from were already dead. And even if they came back to life, the only way to ask for their forgiveness would be to offer them their own heads.

“Why? You want to do it too~?”

“No.”

Cheok Jungyeong replied immediately. It was so quick that Jain was taken aback slightly.
Then, Cheok Jungyeong stood up. Koong-! Koong-! Perhaps because he had just returned from killing the remnant demons, his huge, muscular body created inhuman rumbles as it moved.

“I’d rather have someone kill me for vengeance than do that. Well, I doubt anyone can kill me though.”

“…Pft.”

Jain smiled faintly.
In truth, she agreed with Cheok Jungyeong. Boss was probably the only one in the Chameleon Troupe who even considered ‘atoning for one’s sins’. Everyone else knew they had killed far too many people and committed far too many sins to turn back now.

“Well then, why don’t we go do our work~?”

“…Work?”

Jain made a suggestive smile.
When Cheok Jungyeong narrowed his eyes, Jain took out a thick envelope.

“What’s this?”

“Mm… probably the incident that Boss wants to make right~?”

Cheok Jungyeong snatched the envelope. The first page of the document inside the envelope had the words [Data Related to Kwang-Oh Incident] printed in huge letters. Cheok Jungyeong looked down at Jain without even reading the document.

“You know I don’t read. Explain.”

“Mn~ Well, it’s simple~ You know that there are secretly three Association Heads, right~?”

Cheok Jungyeong nodded his head. Although ‘Yi Yukho’ was the official Head of the Hero Association, there were also ‘Kim Sukho’ and ‘Yoo Jangwon’ working in the shadows. Kim Sukho was a former president of Korea, and Yoo Jangwon was a sly weasel who was a Master-rank Hero until his retirement.

“We’ll kill them all.”

“…All three of them?”

Cheok Jungyeong widened his eyes and asked.
But as if it was too early to be surprised, Jain clapped her hands and continued.

“Yep, and also Chae Joochul and Yoo Jinwoong.”

“What—?! Chae Joochul and Yoo Jinwoong—?!”

“Yep~ Why~? Are you scared~?”

Jain licked her lips and provoked Cheok Jungyeong.
Cheok Jungyeong stared into Jain’s eyes for a moment before smiling as expected. He then burst into laughter.

“Uhahahaha—! Jain, I didn’t know you were so feisty—!”

Cheok Jungyeong could practically feel his muscles heating up in excitement. He didn’t care too much about Kim Suho and Yi Yukho, but Chae Joochul and Yoo Jinwoong? He saw them as perfect opponents for someone of his skill.

“When are we starting? What’s the plan!?”

“We don’t need to do anything. Kim Sukho is looking for us. He’ll come to us eventually.”

“Uhaha, he’s looking for us? Really—!?”

This was even more surprising. Who would have thought that the prey was searching for the predator?

“Yep. We used to be his hunting dog a long time ago. He wants to bury that past~”

What a stupid old man. Jain murmured as she shook her head.
Cheok Jungyeong asked, still with a big grin on his face.

“So who’s participating?”

“Droon, Kaita, Jin Yohan, Khalifa, and Setryn. Arashi wants to focus on his research, and Yoo Kyunghwan said he’ll be retiring to live peacefully with his lover.”

“Then… Kuhum.”

Cheok Jungyeong let out a dry cough and glanced at Jain. He seemingly having something to say.

“We’re missing… a few people.”

“Right.”

“So it will be okay to bring someone with us.”

“Hm? Who? I think we have more than enough~”

“Mmm…. You see, I know a thing or two about this Kwang-Oh Incident….”

At that moment, the conversation came to a stop.
A strange sensation brushed past Cheok Jungyeong and Jain’s heads. But they couldn’t tell what it was. Being dull, Cheok Jungyeong tried to continue what he was saying, but he soon stopped, feeling that something was wrong.

“Right, this Kwang-Oh Incident….”

He couldn’t remember a name.

“What is it~? Just say it~”

“No… Um, what was his name? The Black Seat….”

“Hajin?”

“Oh, right, Hajin. Is this related to Hajin?”

Hajin.
For a moment, he couldn’t remember that name.
It was a name he could never forget, so why? Did he hurt his head while he was fighting?

Jain spoke, “Yeah, you’re right. That’s the day Boss met Hajin for the first time. She killed everyone in the evacuation shelter except Hajin.”

“…Anyways, I know someone else who’s related to that incident.”

“Really~? Who~?”

Jain pretended to be surprised and perked up her ears.

“I doubt she’ll want to work with trash like us, but… it’s Jin Seyeon.”

“What? Jin Seyeon!?”

This time, she really was surprised.

“Yeah.”

Jin Seyeon had personally told Cheok Jungyeong during their forced stay inside the Colosseum. Jin Seyeon tried to evoke sympathy from Cheok Jungyeong by revealing her past so that she could dig information related to how the Chameleon Troupe was involved with ‘Kwang-Oh Incident’. Of course, it was futile. Cheok Jungyeong had known very little about the incident.

“Jin Seyeon has a grudge against them too. She said her father died because of them.”

Jain stared at Cheok Jungyeong with a surprised look. Then, she made a strange smile.

“Interesting~ I’m fine with it, but if she gets involved, there might be no deaths~”

The mastermind behind the ‘Kwang-Oh Incident’ was without a doubt ‘Kim Sukho’ and his supporter, ‘Yi Yukho’. After that, in order of responsibility, it would be Chae Joochul, then Yoo Jangwon, then Yoo Jinwoong.
If Jin Seyeon suddenly interfered in this matter, she might try to resolve the matter in a ‘moral’ way.

Cheok Jungyeong spoke, “I know. But it’s nice to have someone like that. Kind of like that guy… uh… the Black Seat.”

“Hajin?”

“Right, right. It’s more fun if there’s someone like him. You know, different opinions clashing and creating unexpected situations.”

Cheok Jungyeong grinned. Jain also smiled. But the reason for Jain’s smile was slightly different than Cheok Jungyeong’s.
Jin Seyeon would undoubtedly suggest capturing them to make them be ‘punished by the law’. In other words, what Cheok Jungyeong was hoping - killing until one side was dead - would not happen.
Despite this, Cheok Jungyeong wanted to invite her.
Jain guessed why, and that was what made her smile.

“Fine~ Let her know. I doubt she’ll say yes so easily, though.”

“She will if I tell her. Anyways, I'll contact her.”

Cheok Jungyeong turned on his smartwatch.

[Jin Seyeon]

The number she gave him was stored in it. He was reluctant at the time and thought he would never call her.
With a relaxed smile, Cheok Jungyeong pressed the call-button.

Tu— Tu—

As the dial rang, Cheok Jungyeong’s heartbeat began to quicken. He pretended to be oblivious as to what this meant, while secretly telling himself it was a feeling of competition. After all, Jin Seyeon was a Master-rank Hero.

**

I revived.

This was the second revival I experienced from my Unique skill, [Clockhand of Fate], but it wasn’t any more pleasant than the first one.
Death was still death, and the fear and pain from the dying moment remained vivid in my mind.
This time, I even experienced what one would call ‘life flashing before one’s eyes’.
But strangely, most of what I saw was from ‘this world’.
Not the world I was born in, but the world I was currently living in.

Perhaps, I’ve been done in.

Me from Earth and me from this world. There was a huge difference between the two, to the point that it was impossible to compare them.
If I had to describe it, me from Earth was just an extra. I wasn’t special in any way and was just an author losing popularity.
But in this world….

“Agh!”

At that moment, a sharp pain shot up from my heart, almost as if it was scolding my self-reproach.
I clutched my chest and rolled around on the ground.
Thankfully, unbearable pain soon disappeared.

“Haa, haa….”

I took several hard breaths. After regaining my calm, I realized it was strange that no one was looking for me. After all, I should have made quite a racket rolling around just now.
Only then did I look around my surroundings.

“…Where am I?”

There was no one here.
Boss, Jain, Kim Suho, Cheok Jungyeong, Chae Nayun, Yoo Yeonha, Rachel, Evandel… no one.

The ground I was lying on was white and soft like a field of snow. But it wasn’t cold. I picked up a handful of snow. Ppk- ppk- I could mold this ‘snow’, but it was warm.

On the other hand, the sky was dark. It was dark, but bright because of the stars. They were crystal-clear, so much so that I felt like I could grasp them if I just reached out.

Absorbed in this beautiful scenery, I didn’t think about the system alerts until some time later.

“Oh right, the system.”

There were several messages I didn’t get to read.

[The final arc, ‘Final Name’, has been completed.]
[All SP has been retrieved.]
[▷??? is revealed.]
[▷Decision]
[You can now make a decision as the author….]

It was then. Ssk- I heard the sound of footsteps on the snowy field. I immediately turned my head.
There, a man I didn’t recognize was walking toward me.
He looked ordinary in every way. Neither his face nor physique stood out.

“Nice to meet you, Kim Hajin-ssi. Since the final arc ended, I’ve come to see you to fulfill my promise.”

However, what he said wasn’t ordinary whatsoever. In fact, it was extraordinary to the point it shook my heart. I looked up at him while sitting dazedly on the ground.
He smiled nonchalantly and bowed.

“I am the co-author. Thank you for clearing the story I continued as I pleased.”

Looking at him, all sorts of thoughts popped up in my head. However, none of them came out of my mouth. They floated up like bubbles and only stayed at the top of my head.
But this man seemed to have read my mind, as he answered what I was most curious about.

“Ah, you must be wondering who I am. I am someone with a similar job as you. I guess you could call me a scenario writer. The official name is ‘Dimensional Author’. Ah, it’s not a job that exists for the purpose of satisfying someone. Like I said before, it’s a ‘self-gratifying’ job. Unlike Hajin-ssi, I am not from a ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’, so my job is determined at birth. A so-called vocation, if you will. Anyways, I am not a human, but a universal existence.”

I couldn’t understand what he said. The man also threw out too much information.
Seeing that I was staring at him blankly, the man chuckled and waved his hand side to side.

“Haha, of course, we’re nothing compared to your kind. ‘Universal existence’ might sound grand, but we’re only beings derived from the novels of the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’. Well, we’re in a better spot comparatively since we can at least create lesser dimensions…. Anyways, I’m sure this isn’t enough to answer your questions, so I will explain as simply and clearly as I can.”

Kuhum. The man cleared his throat and poured out a flurry of words.

“A long, long time ago, I was born to create a dimension. So I wandered trying to find a dimension I could create. But with my power, it was impossible to create a dimension. I needed the Permission of the Author - something possessed only by the pinnacle-ranked dimension’s creator, who created his own world. But at the time, I was too insignificant and could only observe the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’. I worked hard for thousands of years and, in the end, the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’ succeeded in reaching the Digital World. That was truly a stroke of fortune from the heavens.

The man pretended to wipe off the sweat from his forehead.

“Really, what a relief that was. I was just as lucky as you, Hajin-ssi.”

At that moment, a lightbulb shot up in my head.

“T-That [email protected]?”

“Yes, exactly. That’s me!”

The man clapped. I snapped out of my daze and spat out the first question.

“So… you’re some sort of a universal existence that can create dimensions. You were looking for novels you wanted to materialize and chose me?”

“Yes! You’re right!”

“W-Why? Why my novel?”

“Ah! It’s not because I wanted to. If I had a choice, I would have loved to materialize a masterpiece like The Silmarillion. There are many reasons, but most importantly, there aren’t many authors who would allow a published work, especially one that was being serialized, to be remade. As I said before, we cannot create without the author’s permission. And, to be honest, I can’t create a masterpiece like The Silmarillion even if the author gives permission. I simply lack the ability to. I needed a novel that was poorly written but had enough structure and elements that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by it…. Ah, ignore that, kuhum.”

The man spoke at length again.
But there was one word that bothered me during this drawn-out speech. And that was ‘permission’.

“Wait, permission?”

“Yes. There are many Dimensional Authors even in the world I’m from, but there aren’t many like me, who only aim for the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’. For the record, one day for the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’ is equivalent to one year for us. In other words, the six months you ignored my email was 180 years for me. Ah, it’s not like I resent you for it. I can only send an email once every 90 years anyways. That would be about 3 months in the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension.’”

“N-No, that’s not what I’m talking about.”

I was dumbfounded. Truly dumbfounded.
He couldn’t do anything without my ‘permission’?

“Permission? What permission? What about all the changes you made? You changed them however you liked!”

“Eh~? What do you mean? You gave me permission, remember?”

“…What? Permission?”

“Yes! It was clearly written in the email! You don’t know how happy I was when you approved of those three sentences!”

In an instant, my head turned blank.
Deng- A bell seemed to ring inside my head.
All of this really happened because of that email?
My life changed so much because of those three sentences?

“To be honest, I thought it unfair. Because what were three, insignificant sentences to you made me feel like I obtained the whole world.”

Tak! The man snapped his fingers. Then, a string of messages popped up in the air.

[Pinnacle-ranked Dimension - The ultimate stable world where Kim Hajin and other authors live.]
[High-ranked Dimension - Omitted]
[High-intermediate-ranked Dimension - My world]
[Intermediate-ranked Dimension - The world of your novel, ‘Returner Hero’.]
[Low-intermediate-ranked Dimension - Omitted]
[Low-ranked Dimension - Your minigame character, Litrain, lives here.]
[Lowest-ranked Dimension - Omitted]

“This makes sense, right? This is how dimensions are ranked. I observed the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’ for close to ten-thousand years. Though, that would only be 20~30 years in the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension.’”

The man snapped his fingers again. The messages in the air vanished.

“Anyways, your ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’ truly has all kinds of people. Lazy people, grieving people, loving people, murderous people, excited people, content-creating people…. I was envious of all of them. You once thought you were an extra who was no different than a speck of dust in the overall picture of the world, right? But in the eyes of real extras like me, you look like a main character who shines brighter than anyone else in the world.”

“…No, that’s not the problem. Right… so… you’re saying those three sentences you sent changed my life like this?”

An empty chuckle escaped my lips.
The co-author smiled and looked up at the sky.

“Yes, and this is also unfair. That an email someone thoughtlessly replied to was significant enough to create a world.”

“….”

I shut my mouth.
I didn’t care to hear any more of his explanations. Even if I did, I would only sigh at my fate.
Now was the time to bring up a more important matter.

“Whatever. So, what’s going to happen to me now?”

“It’s simple. You have to make a decision. You can leave the world of your novel or stay in it.”

“…I see.”

I noticed that my voice was shaking. I expected something like this, so it was clear what questions to ask.

“What happens if I leave this world?”

“Since the author is no longer in the novel, the novel will stop. As a result, the world will crumble.”

“…What? All of it?”

I was dumbstruck to the point my hair stood on their ends, but the man nodded his head as if it wasn’t a big deal.

“Of course. Isn’t that obvious? I am not the one maintaining this world. It is you, from the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’, the one with a noble soul. Without you, a mere intermediate-ranked dimension will stop instantly and slowly rot until it disappears.”

The man heaved out a light sigh and continued.

“But you can safely return to Earth. You don’t have to worry about the passage of time. Less than ten days would have passed in the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’. There’s a chance that not even a day went by. I’m not sure about the exact metrics of time…. Oh right, if you’d like, I can erase all the memories you have of this world!”

An empty laugh escaped my lips.
I laughed audibly and clutched my head.
Meanwhile, the man continued talking.

“If you go back to your world, please remake this world in prose. I’d like to see it too. That single novel will be far greater than all of the worlds I’ve created combined-”

“…Great, my ass.”

I grit my teeth and cut him off.

“Pardon? Ah, you must not have understood me correctly-”

“I did, you piece of shit. That’s why I’m angry. This world… the world you ‘created’… is far greater than mine.”

A third-rate author who couldn’t even meet his daily release times and eventually went on hiatus.
There was no way the novel I write would be greater than this world.
Plus, I didn’t think I created this world. I only lived in it.

“Hmm… I see.”

A small smile spread across his face.
He turned slightly more serious and asked.

“Then what is your decision?”

“There’s something else I want to ask.”

I was curious about one more thing. Perhaps it was more important than anything else.

“…Can I die in this world? Am I immortal, like Baal?”

“No, you can die. And even if you do, this world will not stop. Because your soul will stay and maintain this world. That was why Baal wanted to kill you.”

“Haa….”

A sigh escaped my mouth.
From the sound of it, I didn’t have a choice from the beginning. From the moment I was synchronized to this world, from the moment I came to love its people, my decision was set.
I actually felt a bit relieved.
So, I made a bittersweet smile…

“Of course, you can choose to remain here. But I would not recommend it, because you will become a dimensional existence of a much lesser rank than the ‘pinnacle-ranked dimension’! Plus-!”

The man stiffened his face frighteningly and raised his finger.

“As you will no longer be an author, you will lose ‘everything’ you obtained from the power of the author. You should know what this means, right? This includes personal relationships, and not just abilities.”

“….”

I became speechless.
What he was saying was truly frightening.
I couldn’t think. The inside of my head turned blank like a sheet of paper.
The emptiness inside my head then began to fill up with everything I built up. The faces of countless people flashed by.

“Now, choose. You don’t have much time left. Ten minutes in this world is equivalent to a day outside.”

The man urged me.
However, I didn’t answer.
If he came to see me on the ‘first day’, when I wasn’t even ‘Kim Hajin’, my decision would have been simple. I would have returned home, to the world I came from.

“Ah….”

But now… how could he ask this now? After so goddamn long?
I spent too much time in this world. To forget everything and let it crumble… I… I’ve come to care about this world too much.

“….”

In the end, I began to walk, delaying the decision.
My footsteps became engraved in the snowy field.

“Where are you going?”

The co-author asked.
I replied briefly.

“…I’m going back.”

The co-author asked back.

“To where?”

I vision blurred. Small droplets of water fell onto the field.
I was crying.

“…To home.”

“And where is your home?”

“….”

I couldn’t answer. It was hard enough to still be standing.
I simply walked on the white path. I walked and walked. Traces of tears and footsteps appeared on the snowy field.
Behind him, the co-author’s chilling voice rang out. It shook my ears like an empty echo.

“The evanescence should progress slowly.”

I continued to walk.
If I continued on this path, I should eventually find myself home.
I didn’t know where that home would be, but I was certain I would be there.
So I told myself to walk.
A little more, a little more.
So that I wouldn’t be miserable. So that I wouldn’t regret….

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