Chapter 450. While He is Gone (7)

A sense of déjà vu swept over Jang Maldong as he walked through the hallway.

During Valhalla’s group outing, he had taken Seol Jihu to the hospital to help him see the danger of Paradise addiction.

At the time, Jang Maldong had walked around the hospital and showed Seol Jihu how those that died in Paradise lived on Earth, and Seol Jihu clearly witnessed the ends of Earthlings who met this fate.

But now…

Jang Maldong bit his lower lip. He arrived at the hospital room. Yoo Seonhwa, who was waiting for him in the hallway, lowered her head.

“You’re here.”

“I apologize for being late. It took a while to get it ready.”

Jang Maldong bowed back. Then he flinched just as he was about to walk in.

“By the way, the things I asked for…”

“Yes, I found them all. They were in his apartment room.”

“Thank you.”

“No need to thank me. Please go in.”

“Mm….”

Jang Maldong walked in with a deep breath. He thought he was prepared…

“….”

But when he saw Seol Jihu lying on his bed so weakly, he couldn’t help but have his heart sink.

Seol Jihu’s pupils, which were barely visible inside his narrowly opened eyes, were dim and hazy. His face was sunken in, to say the least, his complexion was ashen, and his once thick wrist had withered to the point he looked like a skeleton.

He looked no different than a cripple.

The stark contrast that this appearance had with Seol Jihu’s previous smooth, smiling face made Jang Maldong subconsciously grab onto his hand.

Seeing Seol Jihu like this, Jang Maldong felt like his heart was being torn apart.

“He just took some medicine…”

A faint voice rang out behind him.

“His mind was too unstable….”

Jang Maldong sighed. He already heard what happened. In fact, he had stayed updated since the first day Seol Jihu was hospitalized.

“What are you trying to jump off the roof for… you’ve got more than half a century to live.”

Jang Maldong smiled bitterly.

“Damned wench. She should have gone alone if she really wanted to go. Even after dying, she…”

Jang Maldong grumbled to himself before sighing and taking off his fedora.

“…Jihu.”

Putting the fedora against his chest and looking down bitterly at Seol Jihu, he said.

“When I heard that you died, at first… I didn’t believe it.”

A low, aged voice came out.

“No, I didn’t want to believe it. I foolishly believed… that you were still alive, that you would come back alive for everyone to see.”

It wasn’t until he saw the casket that was carried to Eva that he accepted reality.

“Even after confirming your death… when I came back to Earth, my thoughts didn’t change.”

He thought Seol Jihu would be different. Although countless Earthlings developed a disability on Earth after dying in Paradise, he believed Seol Jihu would be different from the rest.

Even if there was a little hardship, he thought Seol Jihu would overcome it, just like always.

“I looked forward to you coming back like a fool and rushed to prepare for your return…. That’s when I realized.”

Jang Maldong’s expression turned grave.

“That I was no different than the others. That I was the same.”

His wrinkly face furrowed.

“I wasn’t thinking about you… or your safety… at all….”

He continued while lamenting.

“I’m not talking about just now. When I looked back at myself after you were gone… I realized I wasn’t any different in the past.”

His twisted lips scorned himself.

“I only knew how to talk. Whenever something happened, I only bid you farewell and wished you the best. Meanwhile, I sat back and waited.”

Jang Maldong choked up as if he was in great pain.

“When you were only human, just like the rest of us.”

Right. Seol Jihu wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t invincible, and he certainly wasn’t immortal.

“It wasn’t like I didn’t know how much weight you were carrying….”

He was a human being, just like everyone else.

“I knew what would happen if something went wrong… and still, I….”

Jang Maldong dropped his head, unable to continue any further.

“I shouldn’t have done that….”

The tip of his nose turned redder.

“Knowing how you think of me, I, of all people, shouldn’t have done that….”

The old man sniffled like a little kid.

“…I’m sorry.”

Jang Maldong said with a hoarse voice.

“It’s all my fault…. I’m truly sorry….”

He apologized, lowering his already dropped head even further.

The sleeping Seol Jihu’s eyelids trembled faintly.

Just like long ago, was it? There was a time when Jang Maldong thought Paradise’s fate was sealed. He no longer saw a future in it. So, he chose to retire. Then one day, he met a young man by chance.

[Every time we think it can’t be done, every time we think it’s impossible, Seol made it come true.]

[Seol has a special power.]

Right, he was special. But he was only a special human. Nothing Seol Jihu achieved was a natural consequence.

[That’s why he needs you.]

[Seol needs someone to guide him, someone to keep him on the right track!]

Seeing Seol Jihu crippled, Jang Maldong clenched his teeth.

[Maldong… I think life is like the four seasons.]

[Spring won’t come just by waiting.]

[You have to endure the bitter cold and struggle to break through the frozen earth.]

[Only then can you see the light of day and welcome spring.]

Jang Maldong could not hold himself back any longer and shut his eyes.

“I… have failed as your teacher. I no longer have the right to be called your master.”

He shook his head firmly and looked back at Seol Jihu.

“Now that I think about it…”

The edges of Jang Maldong’s eyes were red.

“I might have been… too enraptured….”

By the spring that I thought would never come.

Jang Maldong heaved out a heavy sigh. This was already the third time.

It was at that moment that he was reminded of the book under his left arm. Ian had pulled several all-nighters to edit this novel.

Despite saying it would be difficult, he managed to change the entire story to Seol Jihu’s point of view. Not only that, but he also added new accounts that were meant just for him.

“I originally wanted to ask you to come back. To be honest, I still feel the same way. Things aren’t looking good, you see.”

Jang Maldong smiled bitterly. He wanted to wake Seol Jihu up and tell him about all the things that happened. But after the earlier confession… he did not have the face to make such a request.

But that didn’t mean he could just leave Seol Jihu like this.

First, he would save Seol Jihu on Earth. The novel would certainly have a positive effect. After all, there were many precedents in Hawaii’s hospital.

As for whether he would return to Paradise…

“I will leave the decision to you.”

Jang Maldong carefully placed the book down on Seol Jihu’s chest.

Then, he turned around and walked out of the room.

Soon, Yoo Seonhwa, who was waiting outside, walked in. She approached Seol Jihu’s bed and picked up the book with a complicated expression.

After glancing at Seol Jihu, who had his eyes half-open, she opened the book.

Then….

*


Seol Jihu’s eyes opened slightly. He scanned the room with his flickering eyes.

Judging by the pitch-black darkness outside the window, it seemed to be night. There was no one inside the room. Only a desk lamp was lighting up the silent, dark room.

A huge ruckus had broken out in the morning, Yoo Seonhwa had rushed to the hospital, and he took some medicine when the commotion died down and then remained half-asleep until now….

Now that he thought about it, an old man seemed to have come to visit him, and he also remembered Yoo Seonhwa saying something to him as well….

“Ugh….”

Because of his drugged-up state, he couldn’t remember anything that happened clearly.

“?”

Feeling a weight on his chest, Seol Jihu looked down, tilting his head.

‘A book? What’s this under it?’

On his chest was a book in a black binding, a familiar calendar, and his cellphone. Setting the mysterious book aside, shouldn’t the calendar and the phone be in his room?

‘What…’

Seol Jihu subconsciously reached out to grab the book, then blinked.

His arms were free. Not only that, but the rest of his body was unrestrained. This came as a surprise as he was expecting himself to be tied up.

Seol Jihu hesitated for a moment before grabbing the book. Rather than being curious, he felt sorry.

His plan to secretly go on a trip failed miserably. Perhaps his family had left things they wanted to say in this book.

‘The Second Coming of Gluttony….’

The title of the book was a bit weird, and Seol Jihu opened the book with that hasty conclusion.

Written on the first page was a small dedication.

—For my dear friend who promised to one day guide me to a utopia. By Ian Denzel

‘Ian Denzel? I remember this name from Hawaii….’

Underneath the page was a disclaimer.

—All organizations, incidents, places, and characters depicted in this novel are entirely genuine.

Seol Jihu rubbed his eyes. He was wondering if he saw it wrong. But no matter how many times he read the disclaimer, it wasn’t saying that the story was fictitious, rather the opposite.

Seol Jihu flipped to the next page.

His first thought was that it was like a fantasy novel. The main character’s name was strangely never revealed, but it all started with a gambling addict suddenly having a dream….

“…Huh?”

Seol Jihu doubted his eyes. He was skimming the book but saw a name he recognized.

—…You son of a bitch.

—How much was it?

—How much was it? The money you gave me when I went overseas.

—There, I sent it. Are we done now?

He definitely had a memory of this event.

But why was it written in this book?

Seol Jihu quickly turned to the next page.

—Just as he was about to jump into the black Tancheon River, a clear and silvery voice rang out.

Again.

‘That’s right.’

After waking up from a vivid dream, he was feeling gloomy about his state and was about to jump into the river…. And then….

Seol Jihu furrowed his brows for a moment. His eyes then widened. It was because something he did not remember was written in the novel.

—You won’t die even if you fall in there.

The main character threatened the woman who suddenly appeared from the darkness. He extorted an invitation and entered a world called Utopia, which 99 percent of the population did not know about.

It was indeed a fantasy-like story that was hard to accept at face value. However, Seol Jihu could not stop reading.

‘Kim Hannah.’

It was because the name that appeared in the novel was the same as the name that was on his phone the day he lost his memories. It was just too much of a coincidence.

Flap. Seol Jihu skipped through the pages. Skimming the content, he found many such conversations.

—He quit gambling? Casino ban?

This.

—Y-You shameless son of a bitch. You think money was the problem?

—You think everything’s over after throwing us an envelope of money without offering even a simple explanation? Huh!?

And this too.

—Don’t worry. I’m really okay. I understand you completely.

—You just have to make sure never to do it again….

There were slight differences, but it matched what he remembered almost perfectly.

Seol Jihu couldn’t help but wonder if this was a story that was fabricated with bits and pieces of information that were true. Maybe his family and Yoo Seonhwa had worked together to create this for him.

However, Seol Jihu soon shook his head.

—Existentialism emphasizes the freedom of choice and the consequence of that choice.

—Depending on what you choose to do and how you choose to take responsibility, you can decide what life you will lead and what death you will meet.

It was because an event from a trip he went on without his family was written in the book.

It was then.

“!”

While he was reading unassured, Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open.

—With this trip, he had a definite change in heart. Inside the plane ride back, while everyone else was sleeping from exhaustion, Jang Maldong found him drawing something on a piece of paper.

‘Oh, right! The calendar.’

Seol Jihu checked the calendar right away. He immediately recognized that it was his handwriting that was on it.

Seol Jihu compared the contents of the calendar and the book for a long time. Then, he stared into the empty air and fell into thought.

There were holes in his memories as if he blacked out during certain parts. Even the ones that remained were hazy and sparse.

However, this novel had everything that could fill this void. There were believable descriptions for reasons he acted the way he did. Of course, some parts were still difficult to believe, but there were too many parts that matched up with his memories.

Seol Jihu turned his phone on after thinking for a long time.

‘Kim Hannah, Yun Seora, Phi Sora….’

Though he still did not remember anyone, the names in his contact list were all characters that appeared in the novel.

The date when he exchanged messages with Kim Hannah matched what was written in the book, and reading the playful texts that he sent Yun Seora and Phi Sora, he was sure that he wrote them.

‘Don’t tell me…’

Strength entered Seol Jihu’s fingers as he looked at the book doubtfully. The light in his eyes also became stronger, and he closed his gaping mouth hard.

Pushing his hair back up, Seol Jihu raised his body and leaned on the wall. He no longer looked weak and feeble. Concentrating deeply, he turned to the first page of the book.

—All organizations, incidents, places, and characters depicted in this novel are entirely genuine.

After fixedly staring at the disclaimer that he thought was a joke, he turned to the next page. Going past the table of contents, he began to read the book from the first chapter.

This time, he flipped the pages ever so slowly. If there was anything he did not remember or if there was something he did, he read it over and over again.

He did not miss a single word. As if to recover his lost memories, he voraciously devoured the book to carve the contents into his head.

Because of it, he did not even realize when the darkness slowly receded, and the light of the morning came.

How much time went by?

Before he noticed, the hundreds of pages that were on the right side of the novel had turned over to the left. There were only a few pages left to go.

—This story is neither a heroic saga nor a biography of a revered man. It is only an autobiography of an average young man.

—It is the story of a man who fought to change a dystopia to a utopia. It is the story of a man who fought to change a dark tomorrow to a bright future. It is the story of a man… who gave his all for a better tomorrow.

Flap. Seol Jihu turned to the next page. There was only one page left to go.

—Who could blame him for not choosing to come back? He already sacrificed all too much for Utopia. But….

While reading the last chapter, Indomitable Through Difficulties, the bright sunlight knocked on Seol Jihu’s eyes. Seol Jihu furrowed his brows slightly and turned his head. It was only now that he realized it was morning.

‘So to summarize…’

Seol Jihu organized his thoughts for the most part. The main character of the novel had fallen into the enemy’s trap and died. Although he revived on Earth, he had forgotten everything about Utopia due to the death penalty.

Of course, he realized who the main character depicted in the novel was.

‘I’m…’

Seol Jihu rubbed his nose bridge before stretching his arms out and walking out of the room. Looking outside the window, he saw the sun rising in the distance. A warm, bright sunlight illuminated Seol Jihu and the hospital room.

…For some reason, his previously hazy mind was clear and tranquil today.

Seol Jihu closed his eyes gently and lowered his arms while tilting his head back.

Tk. Just as he was about to enjoy the pleasant sunlight, he heard something fall to the floor. A piece of paper had fallen out of the book.

Seol Jihu bent down and picked up the paper.

‘This is….’

The piece of paper was smaller than his palm. Seol Jihu examined it closely and then turned to the next page in the book.

Since he only read until there was one page left, it could only mean that the piece of paper was placed between the last page and the book cover.

At the end of the book were lines that seemed to have been handwritten with a pen.

—You can go if you want to. I already let the hospital know.

—Don’t worry about your family. I’ll take care of it.

—If you do… I’ll follow you once I’m done taking care of things here.

It was a handwriting he recognized. Seol Jihu stared at the memo before flipping the page back. There were a few lines he had not had the chance to read yet.

—Despite this, there are people who wish for his return.

—Not only the author of this book but everyone who helped write it.

—And also everyone who should be risking their lives in Utopia as he reads through this book.

—Everyone is wishing for the same thing.

—For the man who did not falter in the face of repeated danger.

—For the man who stood up again and again.

—For the man of indomitable spirit who would stand up eight times if he fell seven times.

—Everyone is wishing for him to come back and lead Utopia once again.

—They are wishing for…

Seol Jihu’s eyes twitched.

—The Second Coming of Gluttony.

Ba-thump.

When he read the last line, he felt his heart beat. An electrifying sensation coursed through his body. A powerful ringing that made his heart palpitate and turned his body hot.

“….”

Seol Jihu stood still for a long time with his hand placed over his heart. Then, he tightly grabbed the piece of paper.

‘If you want to go….’

Go.

A voice echoed inside him.

In that instant, Seol Jihu emptied his head.

He no longer doubted or hesitated.

He left the room, walked through the hallway, and left the hospital.

Not of anyone’s will but his own.

Just like his emotions commanded him to do.

*


After getting off the taxi, Seol Jihu climbed the sloped alleyway that led to his apartment. Though he knew how the piece of paper worked, he could not do it at the hospital.

He was worried that it wouldn’t work. Since the main character of the novel ripped the paper in his apartment room, he had a feeling he should do the same.

It wasn’t as if he wasn’t nervous, but the closer he got to his house, the more he felt something welling up inside him. It urged him to walk faster.

Soon, he saw the apartment building. A woman wearing a pair of sunglasses was standing at the entrance, but Seol Jihu was too busy to pay attention to her.

He walked past her and rushed up the stairs. By the time his footsteps turned faint, the woman standing at the entrance quietly took out her phone from her handbag.

Seol Jihu finally arrived at his apartment room. After looking around the messy room, he put down the calendar and the book.

“….”

Now that he was here, he grew hesitant. An inexplicable restlessness bound his hands together.

Perhaps this was what it felt like to be someone holding onto a lottery ticket with the first five out of the six numbers being correct, waiting for the last number to be finally revealed.

If he ripped the paper and nothing happened… how would he feel?

He came all the way here with an absurd expectation. Would he be able to handle such a cold reality?

Seol Jihu fiddled with the paper and hesitated. It was then.

Bzzzz!

The phone he had in his pocket suddenly vibrated.

Looking at his phone in a hurry, Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

—Hurry up if you’re going to come. Don’t make everyone wait.

The messenger was Kim Hannah.

“Huu….”

Staring at the message fixedly, Seol Jihu took in a deep breath and let it out.

“…Good.”

Shortly afterward, he stood in the center of his room and raised the piece of paper with a solemn look.

Seol Jihu did not hesitate any longer.

The moment he held the paper with both hands…

Chwak!

He ripped it in half without a moment of delay.

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