Side Story 2
2. Reunion (1)
Ash continued to fall from the sky like snowflakes.
Jin-Woo bade farewell to his Shadow Soldiers as their time to part drew near, and without a shred of hesitation, turned around to face the leader of the Rulers.
The ‘Brightest Fragment of Brilliant Light’ summoned out a stunningly beautiful chalice, its expression slightly sorrowful. Jin-Woo’s eyes shone with interest when he saw that artefact.
‘So, that’s the Tool of God that can turn back time, the Chalice of Rebirth….’
Dry saliva slid down his throat all by itself right after he realised that the moment when everything was over and would begin anew had arrived. Jin-Woo’s face was filled with tension. Seeing him like this, the Fragment of Brilliant Light asked him one more time.
[Truly… will you not regret this decision?]
It had spent aeons fighting against Sovereigns and knew better than anyone how heavy the burden a war of this magnitude imposed on one’s soul was. Meaning, it understood full well the weight of that burden this Shadow Sovereign was about to bear all by himself.
The second Shadow Sovereign, Jin-Woo, nodded his head.
He won the first battle. The second battle should be that much easier. He had to ensure that would be the case.
He formed an expression half-filled with grim determination and confidence. The Brilliant Light also nodded its head.
This man’s drive to save all those lost in this war – how could this angel not know his determination when it too raised a flag of rebellion against its master, the Absolute Being, all for the sake of countless subordinates that died during the course of this everlasting war?
[I pray that your courage will save your world one more time.]
The Fragment of Brilliant Light made a heartfelt prayer and flipped the Chalice of Rebirth around. When it did, light filling up the Chalice poured down onto the ground, gently and gradually soaking it.
The most blinding veil of light slowly began enveloping the whole world.
Everyone – injured soldiers waiting in the battlefields, their families learning of their fate through TV, those praying for the safety of their loved ones, those with pale complexions after hearing ominous news broadcasts, those dropping their heads lower in despair….
In their houses, inside their cars, inside hospitals, inside schools, inside their workplaces….
Everyone saw the blinding light gently permeating through their windows.
Eventually, the whole planet became awash with pure light.
And then, the light silently blanketing the whole world, quietly dissipated and disappeared without a trace, just like when it first appeared.
Past the closed eyelids, the rays of morning sun signalling the start of yet another day could be felt. Jin-Woo kept his eyes closed for the time being and while lying on his back, stroked the familiar material of the bed sheet.
Although he wasn’t fully awake yet, his perception that had far surpassed the boundaries of a human being could pick up on the unfolding situation of his immediate vicinity with ease.
‘Jin-Ah is coming out of the bathroom after washing up, the smell of the boiling stew, sounds coming from the cutting board, and then, the air in my room with this familiar smell….’
This was his home.
He had returned back home.
Jin-Woo’s heartbeat began quickening bit by bit from the realisation. He then heard his mom’s voice through the closed door.
“Jin-Ah? Can you go and wake your brother up?”
His little sister Jin-Ah really liked sleeping, as befitting a growing girl of her age, but oddly enough, she always woke up early in the morning. And almost always, Mom would ask her to go and wake her oppa up every day like this.
After realising that the memories of the childhood he dreamed of reliving were now playing out so vividly in front of his eyes, a wide grin quickly floated up on Jin-Woo’s face.
Before his sister could fully open the door, he slowly pushed himself up from the bed.
“Uhh? When did you wake up?”
She stared at his already-awake figure with wide-open eyes, and Jin-Woo formed a deep smile as his reply. In front of his eyes stood Jin-Ah, who hadn’t lost her friends to the monsters yet.
Jin-Woo stood up from the bed and walked past his sister to enter the living room.
“Son? You’re up?”
Mom stopped preparing breakfast and looked behind her after hearing his footsteps. From today onwards, he’d never get to see the sight of her trying her hardest to escape from the clutches of the Eternal Sleep that no one could wake up from.
But, the most welcoming scene that he really wanted to see again was…
Jin-Woo heard the sounds of a newspaper page turning and quickly shifted his gaze towards the dining table. His father, waiting for breakfast to arrive by quietly reading the newspaper, felt his gaze and raised his head.
The moment their gazes met, Jin-Woo felt this rush of breathless emotion.
He muttered the word ‘father’ out unbeknownst even to himself.
Seong Il-Hwan formed a puzzled expression after hearing his son use a rather grown-up word when the boy always used the term ‘Dad’ up until now.
Did his boy wake up after experiencing a scary dream?
The young Jin-Woo now looked to be struggling to suppress his tears, so the alarmed Seong Il-Hwan quickly got up from his chair and approached his son.
“Son? What’s the matter?”
The voice of his dad, now coming from right in front of Jin-Woo’s nose. He could still vividly remember that feeling of his father scattering away like dust from his grasp, so this moment came across like a dream come true.
However, this was not a dream. No, it’s THE reality that he needed to protect, no matter what. Tears of happiness briefly welled up in his eyes, but soon enough, they were replaced by the gritty determination, instead.
Both his mom and dad were studying him with worried expressions on their faces. Jin-Woo forcibly changed his own expression and formed a grin.
“….I must’ve had a nightmare.”
His nightmare was over.
The nightmare was over, and his young sister, his healthy mother, and his father, who hadn’t vanished, were all here.
He was given one last chance to make everything right. And he swore never to let this chance slip through his fingers. He’d rewrite the future with his own two hands.
His eyes gleamed brightly as his resolve firmed up even further.
It felt like only a couple of days ago when he told himself that, but…
….A week flew by already.
Jin-Woo failed to grasp the right timing to enter the gap between dimensions until now. He rested his chin on his hand and dazedly stared outside his classroom’s window. Beru began talking to him from his shadow.
[Oh, my king….]
‘Yeah, I know.’
Indeed, he knew.
He knew that the Sovereigns desiring after this land were getting ready to deploy a gigantic Gate just beyond the blue sky above his head.
However, these last few days had been like a holiday for him, someone who had ended a big fight not too long ago. For a little while longer…. Wouldn’t it be fine for him to fully enjoy these peaceful times for a little bit longer? Especially as a reward for his hard work so far.
As he spent his time worrying about this and that, the much-welcomed sound rang around the classroom.
The bells signalling the end of school noisily resounded out from the speakers.
Kids all looked to be slowly wasting away until then, but renewed vitality suddenly seeped into their expressions. Going with the flow, Jin-Woo formed a bright expression as well.
Even if the inside was a young man aged twenty-four, no, twenty-five, his outer appearance was that of a child only fourteen years old or so.
The after-class goodbyes with the homeroom teacher came to a quick end in a heightened, noisy, and boisterous atmosphere. Soon, though, schoolboys sporting buzz cut hairstyles quickly crowded around Jin-Woo.
“You’re stopping by at the internet cafe today, right?”
Jin-Woo checked out the excited faces of the kids and grinned softly before nodding his head.
“Hey, hey! Jin-Woo’s playing for our team today!”
“What? What’re you on about?! He played for your team yesterday already.”
“But, we also took in Jong-Shik too, you know. And he’s the worst player here.”
“Ah, ah, fine. We’ll take Jong-Shik and Min-Pyo too, so Jin-Woo is on our team.”
“Let’s decide with rock-paper-scissors!”
Around this time period in the classrooms of the nation’s middle schools saw the boom in the RTS video game genre. Jin-Woo’s stunning reflexes and perception were more than enough to show these kids a whole new world out there.
For the middle school boys, top skills in a video game meant that you were the most popular kid in school. Just about every kid out there competed hard to be in the same team as Jin-Woo.
The matches of rock-paper-scissors were supposed to be decided on the best out of three but soon morphed into best out of five.
Meanwhile, middle school girls, clearly not interested in the matters of video games, stared at the boys intensely competing in the warfare to steal Jin-Woo away with eyes reserved for looking at helpless idiots and left the classroom.
Also, right by the rear door of the classroom, there was this kid who kept stealing glances in the direction of the crowd while he belatedly packed his school bag.
He liked playing the video game like everyone else, but was no good in making friends. Such kids could only look on with envy at the rest of their classmates going around in groups like that.
Jin-Woo quietly smirked to himself.
He began noticing things that he wasn’t conscious of before as a kid one by one. Was it because he was an adult now? Or, because of his perception that had exceeded the norms of humanity?
Even in this cramped space of the classroom, so, so many emotions swirled around and collided against one another to form a small world of its own.
In the meantime…
Kids who finally found themselves in Jin-Woo’s team exclaimed out loudly without a shred of embarrassment.
Jin-Woo inwardly clicked his tongue.
‘This is why girls are looking at you like that….’
The victors of the rock-paper-scissors battlefield left behind the dejected kids and hurriedly crowded around Jin-Woo once more.
“Alright, let’s go, Jin-Woo!”
Before he did that, though, he pointed to the back of the classroom.
“Hey, I want to form a team with him.”
In the direction the boys turned their heads to, there was only that lone kid packing up his bag in silence. He flinched from surprise after realising that everyone was looking at him, his eyes growing larger in panic.
Jin-Woo replied back.
At that moment, he found countless traces of agonising dilemma flit in and out of the boy’s expression. He just smirked again and asked.
“What’s the matter? You don’t wanna?”
The boy was now forming a shy but happy smile. Seeing that he was successful in his mission, Jin-Woo picked up his bag and spoke up.
“Okay, let’s go.”
The boy quickly picked up his bag and nodded his head.
Jin-Woo grinned brightly again.
For a little bit longer.
This feeling – just for a little bit longer.
‘If these moments that I’m living my life aren’t harming anyone, let me enjoy them at least for another day.
Let me stay for a bit longer….’
Jin-Woo’s steps taking him outside the classroom alongside his friends were cheery and light, but at the same time, also incomparably heavy as well.
The sun leaning against the mountain behind the school was already dyeing the sky amber. Jin-Woo came to a stop for a moment there and looked up at the heavens above, prompting his friends to call out to him.
“Hey, Jin-Woo? What are you doing?”
“Our spots in the internet cafe will get taken over at this rate!”
‘These guys, trying to hurry me and all….’
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.”
Jin-Woo caught up to the rest of his friends walking a step ahead. They were noisily chatting about their famous victories soon to be written in history with voices full of anticipation.
Jin-Woo didn’t really need to enter the conversations to sense their excitement and hear their throbbing heartbeats.
Under the skies dyeing in the colours of vivid copper, Jin-Woo walked on these streets with friends he met again after what felt like an eternity.
He walked with a wide smile still etched on his face.