Kim Suho stood in front of the gateway of a temple and took a deep breath. That was how imposing the scene spread out before him was. A surrounding wall prevented outsiders from entering, and the columns of marble visible beyond the gateway seemed to stretch endlessly.
But what made Kim Suho the most nervous was a temple standing tall at the end of the stone road.
Even though it resembled a temple from ancient mythology, it didn’t lack in any way when it came to functionality. This oval structure, which was built with ice glass and shining with a splendid blue light, was known as the ‘Temple of the Nine Heroes.’
It was a structure built by the Hero Association for the nine Heroes - the Nine Stars - who made great contributions during the Great Change and the Devil War.
Today, Kim Suho had been invited to this incredible place. As there was a rule that ‘only members of the Nine Stars and their successors may enter the temple’, it was clear what this invitation signified.
“How does it feel to be a successor?”
At that moment, the person accompanying Kim Suho asked. With a slightly nervous expression, Kim Suho turned to the side. There, Yun Seung-Ah was smiling with her arms crossed.
Her smile made him relax. Kim Suho smiled softly and shook his head.
“I’m not sure. I feel like there are a lot of things left to do.”
Looking at the Temple of the Nine Heroe, Kim Suho thought about Jin Sahyuk, who returned to Akatrina without a word.
The ill-fated relationship that extended to his previous world had disappeared along with her.
However, that didn’t mean Kim Suho could just forget about her and pretend he didn’t remember her. He couldn’t pretend he forgot about Akatrina either.
As such, his task had yet to disappear.
The path of ‘guardianship’ laid out by his name ‘Suho’ was still awaiting him.
Not knowing this, Yun Seung-Ah nodded her head with bitterness.
Becoming a member of the Nine Stars meant that he could no longer be a member of any guild. However, she decided to accept this. It seemed it would take Kim Suho at least 10 years until his ascension was finalized, and she also knew that Kim Suho wasn’t a Hero that could be fenced off inside a guild.
“Mm? Suho, over there. There are three more people coming here.”
Yun Seung-Ah pointed at the path they just walked through and laughed. Kim Suho turned back and faced the road.
There were three people walking towards them. They all had less-than-average frames.
One was a magician equipped with a cape engraved with nine stars, the other was the Association Chairman who was dressed nicely in a black suit, and the last one was Evandel with her magician’s wand and hat. In any case, all three of them were shorties.
“Yeah, I see them.”
Kim Suho smiled.
At the moment, only Heynckes and Oh Jaejin were confirmed members of the Nine Stars. Four members, including Shin Myungchul, were confirmed dead. However, the three remaining members of the Nine Stars were confirmed to be alive, living in hiding after having lost their powers completely. Once the treatment for the side-effects of Gifts was fully developed, they would be reinstated as members of the Nine Stars.
As such, there were four empty seats for the Nine Stars. And the current Nine Stars had the duty to fill up these seats.
As the Nine Stars were ‘honorary positions with authority’, they would disappear as a legend if all nine Heroes died. But because the Hero Association changed the Nine Stars to an official institution, its empty seats had to be filled.
[The Nine Stars checks the Association, the Association remains conscious of the Nine Stars, and the Temple of Justice supervises the Association.]
The Temple of Justice and Aileen had decentralized the Association’s power to prevent corruption from happening ever again.
“You’re already here.”
The nine-star magician, Ah Hae-In, approached Kim Suho and spoke.
“Hello. I hope you’ve been well.”
“We heard the news. Congratulations.”
Kim Suho and Yun Seung-Ah greeted Ah Hae-In courteously.
Ah Hae-In had already been nominated as a member of the Nine Stars, not as a simple successor. This was due to Oh Jaejin’s recommendation and the fact that she recaptured all of Europe.
The official announcement should be made next week.
“Yes. I’m sure you two know Aileen. This here is Evandel.”
Ah Hae-In glanced at Evandel and introduced her. Kim Suho got on his knees and saw eye-to-eye with Evandel who was tightly grabbing Ah Hae-In’s hand.
“Hey, Evandel. We’ve seen each other before. Do you remember me?”
Kim Suho greeted her first. However, Evandel was half-hidden behind Ah Hae-In and remained wary.
In truth, Evandel slightly hated Kim Suho for forgetting Kim Hajin. (Ah Hae-In avoided being hated by Evandel by pretending to remember Kim Hajin.)
Kim Suho asked confusedly, “…Evandel?”
“Who are you?”
“It’s me, Kim Suho.”
“…I don’t remember you.”
“Hm? We met before, remember?”
“I don’t know. Hmph.”
Evandel snorted and turned away, but Kim Suho found this to be adorable as well.
This time, Yun Seung-Ah spoke up.
“Haha. Welcome, Evandel.”
“…Who, who are you?”
But Yun Seung-Ah was in the same position.
“You, you don’t know me? Aren’t you still friends with Haeyeon? You don’t remember Haeyeon either?”
“I, I know Haeyeon… we’re really close….”
Remaining loyal to Kim Hajin or thinking about sisterly love with Haeyeon. Just as Evandel was hesitating between the two options….
“Wait, Seung-Ah, why are you here?”
Aileen hopped to them and asked. She looked back and forth between Yun Seung-Ah and Kim Suho and moved her eyebrows teasingly.
“What do you mean ‘why’. I’m here to accompany him.”
“Oh~? Just that~? I don’t think so~”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
Yun Seung-Ah spat back.
“…Well, you can go back now. Only the chosen can enter from here.”
Aileen placed her hand on the temple’s wall. She then said, “It’s me, Aileen. I brought the kids, so let me in.”
An out-of-place sound rang out, and the gateway opened. Underneath the marble roof and marble pillars, a blue road leading to the temple appeared.
“You two can follow me. The rest can wait outside or go back.”
Ah Hae-In led the Nine Stars candidates in, and Kim Suho and Evandel said goodbye to the other two.
“We’ll be back soon.”
“…We’ll be back soon~”
Yun Seung-Ah and Aileen waved their hands and sent them off.
“Mn, see you later.”
“Good luck on your evaluation~”
Tap, tap…. Less than a few steps in, the gateway closed. Yun Seung-Ah stared at the closed gateway with a tinge of regret, then suddenly asked Aileen.
“Oh right, wasn’t there another candidate?”
“Yep, but she’s out on a campaign.”
“Ah, right, Nayun said she’s going on the Tower of Miracle campaign.”
“Mhm. While a certain someone was too busy chasing after a younger guy, she was putting in a loooot of effort. Thanks to that, she’s doing fantastic.”
Unsurprisingly, the third candidate was Chae Nayun.
Yun Seung-Ah recalled Chae Nayun who should be fighting within the Tower of Miracle and felt a mixture of bitterness, jealousy, and proudness. After all, it was Creator’s Sacred Grace who initially obtained the right to conquer the Tower of Miracle.
“…Anyways, Unni, I’m surprised you’re still working as the chairman. I thought you’d quit after a few days.”
Yun Seung-Ah changed the subject to something else.
Aileen furrowed her brows.
“What? I knew I would do a good job from the beginning.”
“Eii, come on. I thought you’d complain about it nonstop…. Well, I guess it’s good that you’re doing a good job. Good luck at it~”
Eudeuk— Aileen grit her teeth.
But it was clear that the loser would be the first person to get angry.
“…Yeah~ Good luck to you too, Seung-Ah~ Though you’ll be 2nd place for the next 1000 years. Ah, maybe that won’t last long either. I heard the English Royal Court Guild is popping up.”
Yun Seung-Ah smiled on the outside and smacked Aileen’s shoulder.
“Ow. What’d you do that for?”
“Hahaha, because it’s funny. That was a good joke. Two thumbs up for you.”
Aileen stood silently for a moment before also laughing and strongly pushing Yun Seung-Ah with a Pang—!
“Hahahaha, hahahaha. How funny.”
Yun Seung-Ah didn’t lose her laughter and pressed down on Aileen’s head. In that instant, Aileen’s smile disappeared.
“Hey, you’re going too far. I’m you’re Unni—”
“Hahaha, what do you mean~? It’s funny, isn’t it~?”
Aileen turned serious and tried to push Yun Seung-Ah’s hand off, but Yun Seung-Ah didn’t let her.
“Hey, you! Let go!”
After struggling in vain, Aileen finally roused her magic power, and Yun Seung-Ah combatted Aileen with qi reinforcement.
“Unni, why are you suddenly using magic power!?”
“You asked for it!”
“What? You’re the one who provoked me first!”
Childish bickering broke out in front of a solemn temple.
On the other hand, Yoo Yeonha was engrossed in research. Of course, it was related to Kim Hajin. This “research” took place in her brain only and was really a daydream.
After thinking for a long time, she finally opened her eyes and muttered quietly.
“Baal’s last resort… was the elimination of existence.”
She had repeated these thoughts for several months and arrived at the same conclusion each time.
In the moment of annihilation, Baal had erased Kim Hajin’s existence from this world.
Since Chae Nayun reported that Kim Hajin’s final attack dealt irrecoverable damage to Baal, it made sense that Baal would set Kim Hajin as his target.
Yoo Yeonha let out a sigh.
Was it because Kim Hajin was close to her? Or was there another reason that she herself didn’t know?
For some reason, Yoo Yeonha couldn’t get Kim Hajin off her mind.
A foolish man who always sacrificed himself until finally losing everything. That was who Kim Hajin was in her eyes. Seeing him laugh even after all this, her heart ached.
Feeling frustrated, Yoo Yeonha stood up and walked out to the balcony. She enjoyed standing there as it showed a full view of Seoul. Looking down at Seoul from this place, she felt a sense of admiration and awe.
Not at the landscape, but at herself for all her accomplishments.
Some people said that obtaining everything left one with a sense of emptiness, but Yoo Yeonha didn't agree. In fact, she treated this as a made-up saying by those who could not accomplish everything they wanted.
Yoo Yeonha had walked a straight road of ambition and arrived at what many would call ‘the summit’. However, she was still full of spirits.
In fact, she was hoping to achieve even greater things in the future. This was because she instinctively knew that challenges and trials far more difficult than those she faced were waiting for her.
“…I'm going to overcome them all.”
Yoo Yeonha muttered in a quiet voice. But who was she talking to? Was it her father? Was it Shin Jonghak, whom she liked for a long time and eventually gave up? Or was it that person…?
At that moment, a voice flowed out from her wrist.
—Vice-Leader, the regular report is here.
Jin Sechan had contacted her with a scheduled report. Yoo Yeonha opened the report while leaning against the balcony guardrail. The first matter was related to Shin Jonghak.
“Jonghak… is still in Africa.”
—Yes, he is planning a redevelopment mission with Orden.
Orden and Shin Jonghak. Yoo Yeonha didn’t know how these two came to work together, but Orden left for Africa after forming a pact with the Association, and Shin Jonghak also traveled to Africa as part of his volunteer work.
“I’m sure Jonghak will be fine on his own. We’ll have to ask him about Orden’s abilities later.”
—The next matter is regarding commerce with Crevon.
“Ah, this one is important.”
Yoo Yeonha had negotiated with Crevon, using the [Dimensional Entropy] to establish a trading post that would open once every month.
This was a huge event that marked the next era, both for Essence of the Strait and Earth.
Yoo Yeonha discussed the matter with Jin Sechan until Seoul’s scenery became dyed by night.
“…We will discuss the rest during the next formal meeting.”
Even so, they couldn’t come to a conclusion. Yoo Yeonha hung up the call and was surprised to see that the sun had fully set.
She suddenly got emotional.
The more time flowed, the less time she would have to think about people. Of course, there were still people she never forgot about.
Suddenly remembering something, Yoo Yeonha looked at her smartwatch. Then, she recalled the long message saved in it.
It was the message she had written to Kim Hajin.
It was shocking enough to awaken her memories every time. She was still dumbfounded as to how she ever got herself to write such a message.
Yoo Yeonha shook her head and went back to staring at Seoul’s scenery.
After viewing the city and Han River for a while, she suddenly realized that there was no one in Seoul that she wanted.
Yoo Yeonha turned on her smartwatch once again and messaged Jin Sechan.
“Empty my schedule next week, same time.”
—Got it. It is for that place, correct?”
She didn’t know why, but seeing the people there melted her fatigue away and recharged her energy. And it wasn’t just him, the other people there helped motivate her to spend more time working.
In a way, they were like a fatigue recovery potion.
Yoo Yeonha let out a pleased breath and sank her body in a rocking chair on the balcony.
A refreshing breeze blew, brushing past the smile that surfaced on her face.
Within this cool night breeze, Yoo Yeonha fell into a light sleep.
Africa’s sun rose to the middle of the sky. Facing the beams of light that were stronger than in other places, Shin Jonghak and the other members of the ‘Pioneering Crew’ clothed themselves with magic-imbued items. It was thanks to these air conditioned turbans and capes that they could work comfortably.
But even the best equipment had limits.
A desert monster’s hyperthermic attack caused the redevelopment plans to temporarily pause, and the members of the Pioneering Crew had returned to their oasis base camp before the sun reached the middle of the sky.
“…Are you tired?”
Orden approached Shin Jonghak, the leader of the Pioneering Crew, who was currently soaking his head inside the oasis. Shin Jonghak raised his head slightly and answered.
“For humans, yes.”
Orden had left Russia and found a place for himself here. He had already formed a secret pact with the Association, which showed great interest and wariness towards Orden.
And Shin Jonghak, as the leader of the Pioneering Crew, founded a city in Africa. After driving away all the monsters living in this oasis, he had recovered the ‘monster city’ Orden founded in the past. Though, it was hard to call it a ‘city’ since it had been destroyed by African monsters.
“Things will get better soon. Once we recover the capital, though it will still be hot, this absurd heat should disappear.”
“…You already think this land belongs to you?”
Shin Jonghak asked as he glanced at Orden. Then, Orden shrugged like a real human being.
“I can’t help it. There are many beastmen in this place, and without me, Africa will be uninhabitable for the human race.”
The Association had replaced the word ‘humanoid monster’ with beastmen. Interestingly, the beastmen who’d survived were those who were fused with animals like cats, pigs, dogs, cows, and others.
Shin Jonghak buried his face in the water one last time before standing tall.
“…You think humans can live in Africa?”
“That’s right. I plan on creating a country where humans and beastmen can live in harmony.”
“…That’s a nice dream. Unfortunately, we live in a democratic world. Monarchy won’t be accepted in this day and age.”
“Recently, the people of English have been wanting to give the authority of the Prime Minister to the English Royal Family.”
Orden had great interests in world news. Shin Jonghak scratched his head, not knowing whether that was true or not.
Orden continued to talk.
“If there is someone who is capable of protecting his citizens and making them happy, a monarchy will not pose any problem. And I want to make everyone happy. Not just beastmen. I will stop any monsters who attempt to advance to Western Europe and the Middle East every year. This is a part of the agreement I had with the Association.”
As Shin Jonghak didn’t have a clue about current affairs and politics, he didn’t say a thing. Orden also didn’t say anything else.
But, he asked something he had been curious about.
“I have one question. Where did that woman go?”
“Woman…? Ah, you mean Jin Sahyuk?”
“Yes, that was her name.”
The only woman related to Orden was Jin Sahyuk.
Shin Jonghak smirked.
“Kim Suho said she returned to her home country.”
“Why do you ask? Do you have a crush on her?”
“…I do not understand such a feeling yet.”
Orden smiled faintly and shook his head.
“I am simply curious about what someone who believes herself to be a king is doing.”
Shin Jonghak was also curious. From what Kim Suho told him— Jin Sahyuk was surprisingly someone from another world who had reincarnated on Earth, and she had apparently returned to her homeworld, though no one knew whether it was because she wanted to be a king or because she grew tired of Earth.
“I’m sure she’s doing fine being a king. She’s stro—”
A beam of light shot up in the distant sky and cut off Shin Jonghak. Shin Jonghak turned his gaze to the Atlantic sky. Strange beams of light were undulating like an aurora.
“Looks like they succeeded.”
Orden voiced Shin Jonghak’s thoughts.
Shin Jonghak, who was standing in a daze, muttered out a phrase.
“…The Tower of Miracle.”
He dusted off his cape and got up.
“Where are you going?”
“Hyenas will flock to that place soon.”
A successful Tower campaign was always followed by an assault by Djinns. It was almost guaranteed at this point. The best-case scenario for the Djinns was stealing the reward, but even if they couldn’t, it was a great opportunity to kill the exhausted Heroes.
It shouldn’t be any different this time.
“I’ll have to protect them just in case.”
Shin Jonghak picked up his spear and stood up. A teleportation portal was set up nearby. He should be able to get there in two hours.
“W-Wait! Let me go too—!”
At that moment, a high-pitched voice rang out. Shin Jonghak turned around unwittingly. The Pioneering Crew’s sole supporter, Yi Jiyoon, was running over.
“Let, let me go too—! Take me with you!”
Shin Jonghak’s eyes narrowed. Yi Jiyoon smiled brightly and nodded her head.
“Yes! A supporter has gotta follow where her boss is going! It’s been a while since I’ve been in Seoul too…. I want to go with you… Boss.”
Yi Jiyoon’s face reddened as she muttered the last word. Shin Jonghak stared at her fixedly.
“I-If I can’t, that’s fine too….”
Yi Jiyoon couldn’t meet his gaze and dropped her head. As Shin Jonghak wasn’t an idiot, he knew what emotion was behind the words Yi Jiyoon spoke.
He opened his mouth.
“…Do what you want.”
“Ah, really?! Thank you!”
Shin Jonghak turned back coldly, and Yi Jiyoon chased after him as if he was the coolest person in the world.
Orden stared at Shin Jonghak and Yi Jiyoon with a look of interest. Then, he muttered with a smirk.
“What a complex emotion.”
He slowly followed Shin Jonghak and Yi Jiyoon. The Pioneering Crew had some free time, so going there didn’t seem to pose a problem.
“I will go too.”
A conquered Tower and interesting human emotions. Orden’s curiosity had grown too big to miss out.
“…Do what you want.”
Shin Jonghak answered. Hearing his apathetic tone, Orden smiled.
Kurukuru approached Orden as he slowly walked forward.
As a loyal servant who was ready to follow any order, he had shown up once Orden showed signs of leaving.
Orden, who once called himself the Monster King, realized already.
That ‘origin’ was meaningless when it came to life. Just like how the journey was more important than the destination, the direction was more important than the origin.
“Follow me. We’re going on a small journey.”
As such, Orden decided to focus on the question of ‘what life he should lead’ rather than ‘how his life came to be’.
This was a trivial yet huge change in Orden’s heart.