Return To Player Chapter 276

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Return To Player

# 276

276. Apocalypse Utopia (3)

Publisher of the Portrait World.

As the giants watched Imir head toward Earth, they couldn’t help but marvel at the great power of the Publisher.

“Sometimes you have to do this to stop the insolent ones from rising up.”

“But I heard there’s a god who wanted to join the battle on Earth’s side?”

“That’s a god from Earth. Probably developed some affection.”

“Indeed.”

“The gods of Earth are really strange. Not just Olympus, all of them. They are still young gods and don’t seem to understand the situation.”

Olympus had sent a petition to the Publisher, hoping to fight on Earth’s side in the invasion. However, Imir obviously had no intention of listening to Olympus, and they could only watch as Earth faced destruction.

“But why is it so noisy inside the company today? Is something going on?”

“It must be because of Earth’s situation.”

“No… it doesn’t seem to be just that.”

The giant looked up toward the commotion, puzzling whether it was coming from the direction of the central control room—the most secure place in the Publisher, where disturbances were unlikely. Concerned, the giant’s face turned serious. Serving as a long-time security guard at the Publisher’s main gate, he possessed extremely sensitive instincts.

“Hey, we might have to go upstairs and check…”

Sensing something wrong, he hastily began to speak to his conversation partner. But he couldn’t finish—the sharp edge of a blade was already embedded in his chest.

“Cough! Why, why?”

“Just because I’m in a bad mood.”

The face that just a moment ago shared a pleasant conversation now held only a chill.

“You think the young gods don’t understand their place?”

“You, you are…!”

“I thought about keeping you alive a bit longer, but now it’s time for you to die.”

With a calm declaration of death, the giant tried to signal for help, but the opponent was faster.

“A being of at least the highest divine class…!”

Crack!

A jewel embedded in the giant’s forehead shattered, and he died instantaneously.

The opponent watched the giant’s body fall and slowly ran his hand over his face.

“Now, shall we try to take control?”

A cold-faced handsome man.

Loki, transformed into a male form, swiftly locked the giant entrance of the Publisher.

Normally, there would be other forces, including giant soldiers present.

But most were currently heading towards Earth, and the giant soldiers were in the central control room.

As soon as Imir left for Earth, Lee Min-ah, who had obtained the authority to command the giant soldiers from Imir, dragged them to the control room.

In other words, today was the most security-vulnerable day in Publisher’s history.

“Then, I’ll leave the rest to you, Lee Min-ah. I’m sure you can handle it.”

Changing out of the guard uniform he wore over the last month, Loki drew a magic circle on the ground. The catalyst was the core of the giant he had just killed.

Giants are beings born from the system. They are monsters with divinity from birth, hence an ideal catalyst.

‘Until the firewall of the Publisher is deactivated, I won’t be able to move from the Portrait World to Earth.’

An incident was bound to happen soon.

Loki had once instigated the colossal event known as Ragnarok, and now that same atmosphere was creeping in.

‘But now it’s even quieter than then.’

Back then, it was simply the fall of one mythology, but now it was the downfall of a monster spanning the universe. Could such a grand event occur again?

‘Surely, you can do it. If it’s you, who have given me joy so far.’

Loki thought of Sehan, who would now be fighting Imir on Earth.

He knew very well what situation Earth was in. He also knew it was impossible to turn it around.

Loki was certain of it.

But the ‘foolish clown’ thought differently.

***

Fire rains from the sky.

Sehan blocked it all with a transparent barrier extended from his hand.

Even one could have destroyed the barely maintained defensive line of the players.

“Kuh!”

How many times had he repeated such an act?

Sehan bit his lower lip and quickly scanned his surroundings.

Seoul had already turned into a nightmarish hell.

The defensive line had long collapsed, and the number of Earth’s players dwindled as they faced attacks from tens of thousands of players and the military forces of the Publisher.

Thankfully, Earth’s players were far superior to those of other stars, otherwise, they would have been swept away like a sandcastle in the waves.

Splat.

“…?”

“Bravo, bravo, Crow.”

Imir lightly applauded Sehan, who was breathless in contrast to Imir’s calm demeanor.

‘Is it because he’s a half-key?’

Imir’s strength was one thing, but the golden crown shining above him was the real problem.

The half of the key.

An object capable of controlling the system that rules the universe.

With it, Imir, already possessing a vast divine status, could become an entity approaching omnipotence.

“It’s remarkable that you’ve managed to hold out even when I’ve brought my forces here. The players of Earth are really impressive.”

Swoosh!!

A sharp sword was thrust towards Imir’s back as Sehan conjured Pragarah into existence from a void space aiming directly at Imir.

“Of course, the most impressive person here is you.”

Pragarah, faster than any sword and capable of cutting down even divine beings, halted abruptly mid-air, just 1 centimeter from Imir’s back as if time had frozen.

‘It doesn’t move.’

No matter how much Sehan tried, Pragarah wouldn’t budge.

Imir, aware of Sehan’s plight, chuckled lightly.

“You are truly remarkable, holding your own in magical combat and protecting players. But…”

Imir’s purple eyes shone menacingly.

“Even so, you cannot defeat Nyarlathotep?”

“…”

“You’re strong, I admit, but something’s off.”

Apparently, even Imir was unaware of ‘the forgotten one.’

He could see that the weakened Sehan was strange but didn’t know the reason.

“Well, that won’t matter.”

Imir lazily scratched his chin with his thumb and slowly extended his hand towards Sehan.

Expecting another spell, Sehan tensed but soon realized that his body was not responding properly.

“This… what is…”

“It seems I’ve seen enough of your abilities, so I’m thinking of ending this.”

Sehan was an irritation to Imir.

Defiant towards the Publisher and even killing Bango, a comrade of many years.

Ultimately forcing Imir himself to come to Earth using the key’s power, how could he not feel annoyed?

“As impressive as your deeds are for a mere player, they’re difficult to watch any longer.”

“Im, Imir…!!”

As Sehan shouted, Imir’s extended hand pointed to the ground.

Sehan’s body, suspended in the air, dropped to the ground amidst the many players engaged in battle.

“Kurgh!”

Unable to move or use his divinity, Sehan crashed into the earth unshielded.

The shock sent nearby fighting players scattering as they circled around the fallen Sehan.

“Gasp, gh…”

The players who had been warily observing Sehan hurriedly fled as Imir descended from the sky, as they too didn’t want to lock eyes with the deity, fearful they could end up like Sehan.

Crunch!

“Cough!”

Imir stomped on the back of Sehan’s head as he attempted to lift it, forcing his face back into the dirt.

As Sehan lay bloodied and face down, Imir spoke with dull disinterest.

“Why defy providence? Was the thought of destruction so abhorrent? Why rebel against the system? Don’t you know, with the advancement of sentient beings, the universe is only harmed?”

The universe is finite.

While it may seem infinite, there is undoubtedly an end.

The system exists to maintain the universe permanently.

As civilizations grow and the lifespans of stars and people increase, the recycling of energy ceases.

The system manages this stagnation of energy.

Therefore, if the demise of a star is determined, there is definitely a valid reason.

The same goes for Earth, like other stars.

Struggling for survival only makes you an enemy threatening the future of the universe.

“Do you think you can triumph against the system and the universe? In the end, you’ve only used the power granted by the system.”

Imir slowly lifted his foot from Sehan’s head, opening his palm and gripping Sehan’s black hair, lifting his head.

Purple eyes met black eyes.

“Still haven’t given up, have you?”

Sehan’s eyes blazed fiercely.

No hint of despair was to be seen.

Imir did not like that.

What could make him so tenacious?

“It seems I must teach you about reality.”

Imir gently touched Sehan’s forehead with his left index finger while pinning Sehan’s head with his right hand.

Despite Sehan’s attempt to resist, his body remained immobile.

“Complete quests, earn points, and increase your abilities as a player. It’s an effort, sure, but in the end, it’s using the system. Do you, an enemy of the system, deserve to use it?”

Flick.

Imir removed his hand and stepped away, as if to say ‘try to get up if you can.’

‘Movement.’

Sehan finally felt his body was free again.

“Uh…?!”

Sehan groaned softly, trembling as he tried to rise, not just from the shock but for a more fundamental reason.

“You seem to be struggling, Kim Sehan.”

“What, what have you done?”

“What have I done? Isn’t it obvious?”

Imir’s index finger traced a rectangular shape in the air, mimicking a player’s ‘status window.’

“I’ve reduced your stats. Down to the level when you first became a player.”

“…What.”

The heavy body.

Limbs that felt alien and failed to move confirmed Imir’s words.

“You can check if you like.”

As Sehan stood, confused, Imir spoke with magnanimity, as if to challenge him to struggle in futility.

Biting down hard, Sehan managed to stand and checked his status window.

‘It’s true. All my stats have hit rock bottom.’

Imir wasn’t lying.

Just as he’d mentioned, all of Sehan’s stats had dropped to their initial levels when he first became a player.

He was back to the body of a gamer in his past life.

“How does it feel to be human again?”

Imir’s mocking demeanor almost seemed to spur Sehan on to despair.

But Sehan calmly fisted and unfurled his hands, assessing his current physical state.

‘Humans are, truly fragile.’

Returning to his former body, he realized his own frailty.

All the skills laboriously acquired and granted by the system had vanished.

Only those shared or learned through DLC remained.

‘The strike of conviction. And insight.’

Skills from the first cycle, like Blood Heavenly Asura, were also retained, but truthfully, that was negligible.

With a human body executing the skills, he could never defeat Imir.

‘The divine status is virtually unusable too.’

If he tried to leverage divinity in such a weakened state, his body would simply burst.

In essence, every option available to Sehan was now blocked.

‘Is this all I have left?’

DLC abilities, created by ‘the Mad Demon King’—me—remained usable because they didn’t rely on the system’s offerings.

Everything utilized through the system was gone.

‘The key is overpowered. Damn it.’

Such a ridiculously overwhelming capability was laughable. Now, Imir had simply manipulated Sehan’s stat based not on his own power but the key’s—

A sliver of omnipotence capable of directly mediating the system.

Using it, he interfered with Sehan, designated a ‘player,’ pulling his stats down to the bottom.

Bound as a player, Sehan had no choice but to succumb.

Probably, if Imir wished, killing Sehan would be a trivial matter.

That’s why he could afford to leisurely watch Sehan from a distance.

Sehan glanced at Imir, then returned to his status window.

He looked for anything else that might still be usable besides the DLC-acquired abilities.

‘Ah, there’s one more.’

Something caught Sehan’s eye in the traits section of the status window.

‘The love of a sick girl.’

Surely it was a trait related to someone I’ve forgotten.

Isn’t this learned through the system?

‘That can’t be.’

It couldn’t be acquired through DLC.

This was certainly something he received through the system.

Then why hasn’t it disappeared?

Sehan’s eyes widened as a hypothesis flashed through his mind.

“Indeed…”

Sehan smiled.

He never imagined to find the answer this way.

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