Return To Player Chapter 296

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Return To Player

Chapter 296: Preparing for the End (3)

“Han Jisoo, do you have some time this week?”

“Huh?”

A few days after the banquet, I cautiously called out to Jisoo. Now that the pressing issues were mostly resolved, and with Jisoo not having much to do, I believed it was the right time. But Jisoo seemed surprised by my call.

“Why are you surprised?”

“No, it’s just rare for you to ask if I have time.”

…Is that so?

Her reaction put me on edge, reminding me of what Idra had said once. That my engagement might seem like a ploy to use Jisoo’s help.

I had denied it, but I couldn’t help thinking it might appear that way.

“Sigh. Ah, really.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing special but…”

“I thought something might have happened because you asked if I had time this week. But if not, that’s a relief.”

Jisoo seemed concerned by my somber expression, her eyes rolling in an attempt to gauge my mood.

Truthfully, I did feel somewhat guilty. Jisoo always put me first and acted accordingly.

I trusted her and, undoubtedly, I had planned with that in mind. But it was also true that she was one of my most precious people.

That’s why I did all those things to save her. It’s just that I wasn’t familiar with the feelings of liking someone the way Jisoo talked about love.

‘It sounds like an excuse.’

It was lamentable but unavoidable. These had been secondary issues because other matters needed attention, but the time was approaching for proper answers.

And it was better to settle this before dealing with Azathoth.

I had already asked Loki for advice and had prepared an engagement gift.

Loki’s suggestion was simple: set the mood with a date and then make a confession. Essentially, it was the main quest for this time.

‘Come to think of it, Jisoo was always the one to say she liked me first.’

This time, it was my turn to say it. However, when I tried to suggest it to Jisoo, the words wouldn’t come easily.

“……Um, now that we have some free time, how about going on a date?”

“?”

Jisoo widened her eyes at my suggestion, genuinely puzzled.

“A date? Did you really just say that?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow.”

Jisoo briefly marveled, squinting at me with an incredulous look. Her eyes turned crimson, and above her head, a black crown appeared, exuding a menacing aura.

“……It’s really you. Not someone else.”

What does she think of me?

“To be honest, I never thought that’d be something you’d say. It’s not like you. You’re a bit of a slowpoke.”

It was sad not to have a proper retort.

It felt like coming face-to-face with Kim Sehan, an awkward loner I never expected to see again.

“Well, if you’re suggesting it, I’ll happily go.”

Fortunately, Jisoo readily agreed, her face unusually flushed, perhaps because I was the one inviting her.

Jisoo was always expressionless, but now her face betrayed rare excitement.

‘I should invite her more often after everything ends.’

According to Mina, such things should be expressed frequently.

No wonder Jisoo was doubtful.

In any case, what mattered was this weekend.

***

On the day of the promise, Jisoo arrived not in her usual black dress but in a different ivory top with a light brown skirt. I looked closely and recognized the outfit from the day the game began.

“Do you still have that dress?”

“I had it stored in my inventory all along. Along with a few other sets of clothes.”

Indeed, Jisoo frequently changed her outfits, which seemed to differ from Mina’s constant school uniforms, indicating that Jisoo cared about fashion more than I realized.

“You wear the same thing too much, brother. But why did you want to meet here, of all places?”

Jisoo’s question lingered as she looked around our surroundings. We were at a place familiar to both of us: near the Romeworld Tower. It was where we’d fought the basilisk and where Jisoo and I had first been separated.

“After this, I went looking for my parents.”

“Right. I recall it didn’t go so well.”

“Mother was probably more afraid of me than of monsters.”

Jisoo looked up at Romeworld with a blank expression, aware of why her parents had feared her.

I’d seen Jisoo’s parents through the Temple of Dreams, so I understood to some extent.

Honestly, Jisoo’s personality was partly innate, but I believed her parents’ influence played a larger role.

“I never felt accomplished. I did everything well when asked, but I liked my parents’ happy faces more than the tasks themselves.”

It must’ve been okay at first, but a small deviation in perception had turned into an uncontrollable gap.

“Yeah, but that’s all over now. It’s a thing of the past.”

“That’s true.”

“What about the amusement park nearby?”

I patted Jisoo’s back, which seemed to have sunk into gloom, and she gave an awkward smile.

“I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t know. But wouldn’t it be all in ruins now?”

“They fixed it a while ago. There’s no one there, though.”

“Then what’s the point of going?”

“I’m here.”

I lifted my right hand, ready to snap my fingers, and Jisoo finally understood with a nod. With the power to reshape terrain and bring down meteors, materializing anything conceivable was easier than flipping a coin for me.

“Mina mentioned something major happened here, right?”

“I suppose I never told you about what had happened here.”

“Right. You were too busy talking about the future.”

Jisoo and I walked through the amusement park, which was empty except for us.

The silence felt a little eerie, but it was suitable for chatting. For Jisoo, who could move faster than sound, simple rides seemed more enjoyable than the roller coasters and drop towers. Marion, the Demon King Jisoo, wouldn’t find human thrill machines exciting.

Thus, we spent about half a day at the park. I told her about the Crow Constellation Karas incident, and she shared the battles she had fought against the minions and contractors of demons while we were apart.

I was aware of all this, but Jisoo seemed to have wanted to keep these experiences to herself.

“I never imagined that in searching for and killing those demons, I’d end up becoming their king.”

“I was surprised, too. When did you clear the Dream Dungeon?”

I was nearly frightened when I saw Jisoo fighting Lucifer. I never expected something like this to happen, let alone that Jisoo would have the Hourglass of Laplace.

And even using the hourglass, I didn’t expect her to defeat Lucifer.

Lucifer was almost equal to Shub-Niggurath, a powerful demon. Though he barely escaped Azathoth’s call and returned to the outer space, he was nearly as strong, if not stronger.

Yet Jisoo overthrew such a mighty foe and became the Demon King, even at the cost of being forgotten by everyone.

“Don’t do that kind of thing again. You had me worried sick.”

“I won’t.”

Jisoo smiled at me, an oddly heart-fluttering smile, prompting me to look away. The thought of possibly losing my memory of Jisoo and becoming akin to a mad demon king was dizzying.

Even Idra acknowledged my strong mental fortitude, but in relation to Idra or Jisoo, that strength tended to soften.

“Ah, the school!”

We strolled out of the amusement park, ended up at our school without meaning to. It was a distance that formerly took us roughly a week to cover, but now it was just under two hours away.

The Publisher had destroyed the place in their invasion, but Lynn had used a key to restore it to its former glory. She probably mimicked the time-reversal abilities she’d practiced battling Bango.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been here. Is it the first time since the game started?”

“I’ve been here once.”

“When?”

Jisoo looked taken aback by my response, scanning our surroundings.

“There’s nothing special here.”

“I was trying my hardest to remember you after having forgotten.”

“Oh.”

Realization dawned on Jisoo, who then looked at me guiltily.

“It’s not your fault. Why that face?”

“But…”

“Thanks to that, I learned a lot. Your traces were all over the place.”

“My traces?”

Clearly, Jisoo had forgotten what she left in this place.

With a puzzled look, she watched me as I chuckled and headed to the computer room we’d visited previously.

The newly reconstituted room, complete with cobwebs, struck Jisoo, who seemed to have realized what this meant, and she stiffened.

“…You didn’t read it, did you?”

“I did. I saw the note you left on this computer.”

“Haa…”

Jisoo, resigning herself, took a seat nearby, unfazed by the dust. Instead, she appeared more concerned that I’d seen the notes, covering her face with her hands.

“Didn’t you leave them for me to find?”

“Well, yes, but it’s more shocking than I expected… This level of embarrassment is quite rare for me.”

I pulled up a chair to sit facing the still mortified Jisoo.

Despite the dark and musty computer room, it felt strangely comfortable somehow, reminding me of my university days.

It’s been decades since my first round at university as if it was yesterday. Back then, Jisoo often came looking for me here, either to watch me game or, occasionally, to sit facing me for a chat.

“Actually…”

Jisoo hesitantly began, removing her hands from her face.

“I was the one who kept others from coming here.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And you might not have noticed, but there were girls who wanted to talk to you. I stopped them.”

That was new to me. I was content, so it didn’t matter, but Jisoo seemed to have been on guard even back then.

As a prominent figure in her department and involved in the student council, she would have found it easy to influence others.

“But who would approach me to talk?”

“You studied well enough and looked decent.”

Aside from the double use of “decent,” that wasn’t a bad evaluation.

“…Sorry. I thought if you made other friends, you might drift away from me.”

“It doesn’t bother me. Besides, I’m partly to blame.”

Honestly, I found socializing bothersome myself and just went with it.

In hindsight, after sharing memories with her, I realized Jisoo held me very dearly. But there was also fear. Like her parents, who loved yet shunned her, would I do the same to her?

She kept that worry to herself while interacting with me. Maybe all her actions stemmed from there—making me dependent on Jisoo as much as she was on me.

In retrospect, some aspects were unsettling, but now I was so accustomed to them that it hardly mattered.

‘Naughty’ as a trait seemed to stem from Jisoo’s psychological issues, wearing it like a mask to appear ordinary and kind, to prevent others from disliking her.

She had always worn that mask.

Her quiet acceptance of my words and reluctance to share her trait window at the start of the game were all due to her reluctance to reveal that side of herself to me.

“But you’ve overcome all that now.”

“That may be, but… my feelings haven’t changed much.”

“…As long as you keep a boundary.”

She’d shattered her own ‘naughty’ trait to become the Demon King, which likely dispelled her psychological issues.

Of course, she fundamentally hadn’t changed, but she would avoid actions that could cause serious trouble as before.

Most importantly, organizing today’s event was to ensure Jisoo would no longer feel insecure.

“Han Jisoo.”

“Yes?”

I fumbled in my pocket for the case I had brought.

Truth be told, preparing this involved various considerations.

If I gave it to her, our relationship would shift from mere acquaintances to betrothed.

Some might wonder why I made such a big deal, but I was quite serious.

I’ve been fortunate, truly.

By chance, I became the person Jisoo relied on.

Yes, very fortunately.

The reason Jisoo came to like me was simple.

I had not rejected her.

After seeing her inner self, I didn’t turn away.

I was always constant in my treatment of her.

For such a simple reason.

That could’ve been possible with someone else, not just me.

Thus, I pondered whether to accept immediately or if there might be someone better for Jisoo.

But ultimately, the only answer I could come up with was one.

I couldn’t imagine a life without Jisoo by my side.

I was here in this place, partly because the Jisoo from the first round had risked her life for me.

Jisoo always watched over me from where I couldn’t see.

Certainly, there was obsession, but she considered me more than that, too.

I like Jisoo for those things.

Now, I’ve decided to acknowledge those feelings that I’ve long pushed aside.

For once, I wanted to be selfish.

Even if Jisoo might be better suited to somebody else, I decided to claim that place for myself.

“Honestly, I thought it was too early to get married.”

“……”

At my words, Jisoo’s face fell slightly, but as she suspected as much, she gently nodded.

“But that’s because not everything has ended yet.”

Jisoo’s eyes widened as she gleamed a hint of hope.

I pulled out a small case from my pocket.

“Is that…?”

Her eyes were fixed on the small case in my hand.

Even without opening it, she knew what it contained.

The flicker in her eyes told me as much.

“So, I think it’s too soon for marriage, but it makes sense to start with an engagement.”

“Ah…”

The things must end, and a peaceful time will come. And at that moment, a grand wedding to be blessed by all can take place.

The time wasn’t right yet.

There was still one task left unfinished.

“I’m not usually good at expressing affection, so I hope you’ll forgive me.”

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