Return To Player Chapter 278

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Return To Player

Chapter 278: The Start of a Reversal (1)

When Imler used the power of the key to change Sehan’s stats, an inevitable question arose: why didn’t “The Sickly Girl’s Love” disappear? Even if it was a characteristic, it should have vanished if it was something acquired from the system, just as Sehan’s other characteristic, “Second Playthrough Player,” had disappeared. Now, the only characteristic left was “The Sickly Girl’s Love.” Since characteristics are generally bestowed by the system, it was strange that this one didn’t disappear. Was it perhaps a trait purchased through DLC? That wasn’t the case either. Before his fight with Imler, Sehan had scoured the DLC store numerous times. Aside from an axe given as the final DLC by the Mad Demon King, there was nothing special. If the characteristic was not obtained from DLC, there was only one answer: “This characteristic itself is influenced by the power of the key.”

Sehan clenched the axe in his hand tightly. His breath caught in his throat and his arms shook violently. A moment of inattention and he felt like he could collapse. It was because he had summoned all his strength to swing the axe, with wounds from Imler still fresh. “The key is an object not controlled by the system.” Instead, it exists to control the system itself. Half of the key was possessed by Imler, and the other half by Rin. Naturally, neither had any relation to this characteristic, so it was simple to deduce that another key was needed—another key.

Then it occurred to him. There was indeed another key, a complete one, in the demon world, which could be claimed by one who became the demon king. In “Mad Demon King,” Sehan had possessed it. “The whereabouts of the key of the demon world are currently a mystery.” Trying to think about the key only resulted in a headache. That meant the key was associated with “the forgotten one.” Beyond that, all he had to do was continue swinging the object in his hand.

Boom! A thunderous explosion sent dust clouds swirling around Sehan. The ground shook as if an earthquake had struck, and in the midst of this, Sehan struggled to maintain his posture and looked at Imler. Imler was now facing a sudden third party—Elize, a monster created by Mammajack’s sacrifice, combining Rin’s genes with Elize’s soul. Elize had not yet completely regained her ego, but she perfectly recognized Imler as an enemy.

“Who are you to stand in my way? Move aside at once!” Imler demanded. In response, Elize let out a beastly scream and charged forward, slashing with claws sharp as blades, but such a basic attack couldn’t touch Imler, and she was met with a series of Imler’s magical counterattacks.

“What manner of monster with such temper…!!” Imler’s face was tinged with frustration. Elize’s attacks couldn’t touch him, true, but the problem was that Imler’s magic was also useless against Elize. Imler’s specialty was magic. Elize maintained her body in an optimal state, and whenever Imler’s magic hit, she transmuted her body into the perfect physical form to nullify the attack. Essentially, she could not attack him, but she was also entirely immune to his magic.

“A creature unaffected by the power of the key… why does such a thing exist on Earth?” Imler had never heard of such an entity on Earth. It made no sense that a monster not foreign-grade would be immune to the key’s influence. Unbeknownst to Imler, the reason why Elize was unaffected by the key’s power was simple: Elize was a being born through the DLC item, the Pet Incubator. As an irregular created not by the system but through DLC, the key simply didn’t recognize her.

“This beast is not a monster born after the game was hijacked. It was certainly created while we managed the game.” Imler suddenly thought of a giant. Akaterus, the previous administrator of the Korean server. It was impossible that he did not know about this. After the Earth was taken by Idra, Imler had continued to monitor the situation. If such a thing existed, he would have definitely known. Without question, the monster had originated while Akaterus ran the Korean server. Therefore, the reason why Imler was unaware of Elize’s existence was simple: Akaterus was too frightened of returning punishment to report it properly. “Akaterus, that bastard! What has he done instead of doing his job properly?!” If Akaterus had been present, Imler would have decapitated him dozens of times, but since Akaterus was long dead, Imler’s anger had nowhere to go.

“Stop, Sehan!” Imler unleashed magic and various attacks targeting Sehan numerous times. However, every time, Elize would interrupt or shield with her body, preventing them from reaching Sehan. Adding to the complication, Elize herself was of considerable physical strength. For Imler, who was not a combatant, shaking her off was difficult. “If this is how it will be…”

Imler gritted his teeth. Then there was only one answer: Release all his power and blow everything away, with himself as a star. It would mean using power beyond the granted authority and would undoubtedly damage himself, but there was no other choice now. “To hasten your own end, how foolish!” Imler’s true form was never that of a small human. If a mere giant was the size of a building, then Imler, hailed as the king of giants, was like a star. To transform to that size, however, would require tremendous divinity and time, so he intended to borrow just enough of his true body’s power.

Crack. “…What?” At that moment, a clear snapping sound reached Imler’s ears. Amidst the battlefield filled with the screams of countless humans and the strange cries of extraterrestrials, Imler heard it perfectly clear—the sound of something that should never be broken, breaking.

***

I swung my axe down. Towards the status screen, which was beginning to crack and shatter. I kept swinging, even though only a pitch-black darkness was visible through the broken pieces. I didn’t stop. There was something I was looking for within. “Something—or someone—I’ve forgotten.”

From the game save file and notepad I saw in the university computer room, I realized that the forgotten one was a woman, someone who had a special relationship with me. “Someone Idra cared enough to worry about.” Such a very special relationship. And I’ve forgotten her. Foolishly. Irresponsibly. Fuelled by this guilt, I kept chopping with the axe.

Once. [You stayed up all night playing games again, didn’t you? You’ll be in trouble if your grades drop this semester.] Someone’s voice, teasing but laced with concern, rang out. And twice. [Is there something written in the section labeled ‘characteristic’?] [Yes, there is… written.] [Can you tell me what it says?] [Hmm, no…] It was a conversation. Was it a conversation between her and me? I kept wielding the axe.

Three times.

Four times.

Five times.

With each stroke, numerous conversations echoed around me, assailing my ears, my mind, my heart. [She was here, but now she’s gone. She intended to meet her parents.] [I will do it. I think this matter suits me better than you, brother.] [Hmm, that may be true. But I’m fine with that.]

As more voices filled the air, the identity of the girl became clearer in my mind. She was obsessively attached and often jealous. But didn’t want to be hated by me, so she was obedient. A girl who hid herself and acted human.

[I’m sorry. Brother. I don’t think I can protect you anymore…] When I reached the limit after dozens of swings, the axe blade began to crack. [Surely, surely we can clear this game. I believe.] The blade of the axe shattered into pieces, and I kept swinging with the remnants. [And… I have one final request…] The leftover pieces were about to fall apart. I realized I had but one last chance. [Please, never… never forget me.] The axe splintered into fragments, scattering from my grasp. All that was left in my hand was a shredded palm with the remains of the broken axe embedded in it. But the status screen still hadn’t shattered. Deeply cracked, seemingly ready to break at any moment, but still intact. Now, devoid of any tools, I proceeded.

“Idiot bastard.” I wouldn’t stop. I reached forth both hands and grabbed onto the status screen’s cracked edges. Then, I jerked my hands apart with all my might. Although the axe was gone, fragments of it were lodged in my hands. My fingers slipped into the crack unharmed, proof of their presence. “Kim Sehan, you idiot bastard.” The shards dug into my wounds, but I felt no pain. If I stopped now, I’d lose her forever. “How could I ever forget that?”

Memories whirled around as I smashed the status screen, conveyed through the characteristic “The Sickly Girl’s Love.” All this time, I had forgotten them. “How could I possibly forget…” Despite her insistence to be remembered, I had forgotten her every plea.

Crunch! The sound of twisting bones rang out. It was impossible to rip a status screen apart with human strength. Impossible. Anyone would say so. Crack. But little by little. Crunch! With more force, the crack widened. Like a spiderweb, the status screen began to crumble and tear apart.

I poured every ounce of strength into my arms and pulled them apart. “Aaaaah!” Boom! A sound like the shattering of an ice sheet emitted as the status screen broke apart. The gap was just wide enough for a person to pass through, but it was enough for me. “Ugh!” I thrust my right arm into the gap, seeking to grab something inside.

I spoke ‘her’ name. “…Su.” At first, it was a stumble. Like muffled memories, the words didn’t flow easily. “Ji… Su.” A woman’s figure appeared from my faded recollections. A lady with black hair. The girl with the sorrowful smile she wore at the end. I cried out her name. “Han Ji-Su…!” Clutch. Something grasped my hand. I had no intention to check what it was. I simply pulled it towards me with all my might.

Crash! A noise like breaking glass echoed as countless shards of light dispersed. I’d witnessed something like this before. When I, as the Mad Demon King, remembered Idra and called her into this world. Countless specks of light scattered, breaking the laws and will of the world. An unreal spectacle. Yes, it was just like that time. The only difference? “Sehan brother!” It wasn’t Idra who called out my name from the shattering light, but Ji-Su.

Black hair akin to my memories, her skin so pale. Ji-Su burst through the gap in the light, still holding my hand.

“Now—.” Ji-Su rarely smiled. Emotions were unfamiliar to her, and most of what she expressed was merely an imitation of ordinary human feelings. It was rare for her to truly smile. Even in front of me. But now. “— I’ll protect you!” She beamed radiantly. Like a flower in full bloom, it was a smile I had never seen from Ji-Su before. As if she had finally caught up. Like a runner who’s reached their goal, her face was fresh and triumphant. Thud. Ji-Su gently landed on the ground, holding my bloodied hand, and raised her other hand towards the sky. Her pupils turned bright red, and black divinity spread from her eyes.

Whirr! The black divinity coalesced above her head, forming the shape of a black crown. A crown larger than what Imler had, or what Rin possessed. The perfect, whole key. The symbol only the ruler of the demon world could bear became visible.

“What’s this?” “What’s happening?” The voices of those around us were audible. It wasn’t just the players. Constellations, giants, all began to murmur at the sudden anomaly. Among them were those looking at the sky, muttering in astonishment. “The hole opened by the publisher… has vanished?” The gate that connected to another star, where troops had been pouring from until just moments before, had disappeared. Along with it, the giant red hole connected to the publisher had also vanished. ‘No, it hasn’t disappeared.’ It was simply engulfed by an even more massive hole.

Ji-Su had opened the door.

“Why do you possess the key to the demon world? And what are you doing with it… now?” Imler, subduing Elize, yelled towards me. I would’ve liked to answer if my tongue could move properly after using all my strength. Thankfully, with my connection to Ji-Su reinstated, Cheonsalseong began to work, healing my wounds little by little. Thus, it was a fully composed Ji-Su who replied to Imler’s question.

“The demon world.”

“…What?” “You’ve opened a gate… to the demon world… how?” Imler’s pupils shook visibly. His expression seemed to deny reality. He, of course, knew there could only be one being capable of wielding the key to the demon world. Delighted by Imler’s expression, Ji-Su smiled mischievously and said, “The Demon King.”

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