The Parasite Queen shot up from the Corrupted Throne, shoving her face into the sight of the stars before her.
It was just a dead star. She thought that it was just a dead star.
But that damned star had suddenly flared up into a massive supernova, shifting everything off course. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands... No, millions of stars were shifted from their paths.
The entire starscape had changed. The future that had been guaranteed and set in stone was completely thrown into chaos. Enough that even she could no longer read it.
She used everything. That dead star managed to do the impossible and push destiny away, but that allowed her to push things back. To act with the authority of the world itself to suppress it. And she did, but it was the same. Just like the anomalous Martial God, that dead star did the impossible.
Panic welled up in her heart. But then the Parasite Queen calmed down.
The dead star vanished. Although it turned into a massive supernova that could throw all of destiny awry, it was gone. While the massive supernova had shifted stars apart, in its place was nothing but a black void.
The dead star had flared back to life, but in an instant, it was gone. Not just dead, but erased. All that was left in its place was a dark void. A black hole that could emit no light at all.
The Parasite Queen slowly sat back down.
...It was fine. While she lost two Army Commanders, and one was out of commission for a few months, she managed it. The unknown variable was accounted for. And while losing Undying Diligence's divinity was a harsh price, the fact that Vulgar Chastity's divinity was retrieved meant she could move on with her other plan.
The Parasite Queen looked across the stars and then muttered.
[That was an unexpected play. You gods hid your trump card well... But now it's my turn.]
She looked away from the stars and shouted.
[Sung Shihyun! Heed my call!]
Gula stared at the brand new starscape and chuckled. [I see. That child was right. Compared to him, you are indeed a 'crazy son of a bitch.']
Jihu's star was gone. For a brief moment, the dead star shone with a light brighter than any other. But it vanished, replaced with just a black hole. Under the weight of its own strength, it collapsed, leaving a gaping void that not even light could escape from.
Despite that fact, Gula wasn't upset. Neither was she in despair.
Instead, she was ecstatic.
[Stars are bound to their trajectories and meet their destined end... But a black hole defies such simple axioms. Distorting space, time, light, energy, and even information itself... I wonder, Jihu. Just how will you get yourself out of this predicament?]
Gula shifted her gaze, borrowing the eyes of her 'other' self.
Another plane of existence, invisible to the Parasite Queen in 'this' time. There, the same dead star flared to life, shining a brilliant gold.
Two parallel lives. Two similar battles. But two different results.
One lost a mentor figure and was forced to see those he cared about harmed while he was powerless. Despising that, he forcibly denied his fate and drew power from his future, tapping into potential he didn't have. And he succeeded.
The other realized the inevitable end and walked towards it. Instead of fearing for his life or fleeing like he could, he used everything in his disposal to protect those he cared for. And he succeeded.
Two results. One, born from the sacrifice of others. The other, born from one's sacrifice to others.
And the conclusion of both...
Gula could see one. But the other...
She stared at the black hole and grinned. [Just what do you have in store, my children?]
Darkness- No, a void that drew in even that. A black hole between time and space, destiny and fate.
Despite the fact that Jihu's star had collapsed, it didn't mean he had vanished. No, instead...
Gula carefully watched the karmic threads emanating from the black hole with barely concealed anticipation.
An endless wasteland of swords. And towering above them all, a single titanic blade, serving as a monument to the tremendous accomplishment that had occurred. One that let off a warm and radiant light, illuminating the battlefield.
At first, it was quiet. But then cheers erupted in the fortress and across the valley.
An inevitable result. Of course they would cheer. They had just witnessed a legend in the making. A single man, not only leading the charge against the Parasites in the first clash, but also destroying two Army Commanders and forcing one to flee while eradicating all of their armies.
Even so, it wasn't over yet.
While Unsightly Humility had fled, there were still Nests lying in wait. But the threat was mitigated, enough to where the High Rankers could handle it.
Hao Win took the charge in that matter and, paired with Ayase Kazuki, gathered an elite force to take care of them. But not a single member of Carpe Diem was in that elite task force. And the reason for that...
"No. No, no, no!" Flone stood in front of the towering sword, shaking her head. Her silver hair flew while her clear blue eyes glistened with tears. "Jihu! You promised! YOU PROMISED!"
Chohong collapsed and then punched the ground, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You asshole...! You didn't have to go that far...!"
"Hyung..." Sungjin wiped his eyes and then lowered his head, clenching his fists.
"Oppa...! You... You said you weren't desperate. So why...?!" Seol-Ah fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands.
"Bro..." Hugo stared at Jihu and shook his head. "You didn't have to show off that much. What are we going to do now...?"
"Dear. You aren't dead, are you?" Sora stared at Jihu's unmoving form and said, "That's just a joke, right? I mean, you're a crazy monster. A monster among monsters that can kill crazy things like the Army Commanders. So... this is... just a joke. Right? Like... L-Like what you said about the others...?" Even the usually composed Sora was breaking down.
"Shut up!" A harsh young voice cut her off. Maria's. "If you guys are just going to mope about while Oppa's struggling to live, then leave!" She grit her teeth and pulled out both of the crucifixes Jihu gave her. "Luxuria! Grant me your strength and heal him!"
A surge of pure white light. A healing spell amplified over and over as the two resonated and exponentially increased the strength of the spell.
The blonde priestess knelt on the ground and prayed. In return a giant pillar of white light shot down from above, enveloping Jihu's body. When it faded... nothing happened.
And to confirm that-
"It won't work."
-A cold female voice called out.
Maria turned to glare at the voice and said, "What do you know?! It's still worth trying! And who the hell are you anyway?!"
"Baek Haeju." The cold beauty spun her spear around, mounting it on her back, and then crossed her arms. Her expression was aloof, but her trembling eyes revealed her true emotions. "And... It won't work because there's nothing to heal." She fixed her eyes on Maria and said, "You know it too."
Maria bit her lips and shifted her gaze back to Jihu.
He looked fine.
Resting his back against the enormous sword with a faint smile on his face, he looked like he was just taking a break. He didn't have a single wound on him, and his armor was in perfect condition.
His head was slightly lowered, obscuring his eyes with his black bangs, and his sword had been forgotten, lying on the ground beside him. But he looked fine. He didn't have a single wound on his body. Not even a scratch.
A hero slumbering after a fierce battle. That was how it appeared. But...
They could see that it was a lie. It was impossible to not see it.
Dense magical formations, layered on every inch of his skin. Shining light that traced out his entire body, making him glow an eerie violet color. And not only that, but a faint red mist that occasionally burst out from his mouth and nostrils, reeking of blood- No, it was blood. Jihu's blood that was being vaporized by the pure energy overflowing his body and kept in place by those formations.
Maria shook her head and stood up, marching away.
Flone looked towards her and said, "Where are you going?"
"To get an altar."
Baek Haeju shook her head. "That won't-"
"I'll MAKE it work!" Maria glared at her and said, "I don't care if you're the Sacred Empress or whatever, I'm not going to give up on Oppa like that! He's still alive!"
Flone's eyes brightened. "Jihu's... Still alive?"
Maria nodded her head. But then her eyes turned troubled. "He... Oppa's still alive. I mean, his soul is still here. But his body and everything else..." She shook her head. "No. It doesn't matter. You guys keep watch, I'll go find an altar and-"
"You won't need to."
A tranquil and beautiful voice called out. Seo Yuhui's.
The Daughter of Luxuria walked over to Jihu, carrying an altar with her.
Baek Haeju's eyes widened. "Yuhui-"
"Shut up." Yuhui glared at Baek Haeju and said, "You promised you would come. But you were too slow, and now look at him!"
Baek Haeju flinched. "That's because-"
"No excuses. Just leave. Jihu doesn't need you anymore anyway." Yuhui placed the altar down and started arranging valuable items on it as offerings. As she did, she glanced back at Baek Haeju and said, "Someone who did nothing but rely on him while he fell into self-destruction doesn't deserve to help."
Yuhui ignored her and looked at Maria. "Miss Yeriel. I'll start the Ceremony. I'm not sure if it'll be enough, so please continue to cast as many healing spells as you can while I do so."
Maria stared at Yuhui and then nodded. "I'll do my best. But... You had better save Oppa!"
Yuhui smiled. "Don't worry." She turned her gaze to Jihu and said, "I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I couldn't."
Just before Yuhui started, a cold voice called out.
A new arrival. A young man with a slightly arrogant demeanor... The Star of Avarice. One of the Executors called by Yun Seora.
He glanced at Jihu and said, "A Ceremony won't work."
Maria growled and said, "What's with all these random people?! Shut up if that's all you're going to say! We won't know until we-"
"But I do know." The Star of Avarice stared at Jihu and said, "I don't dare to examine him directly... but I can see it from those formations. That young man's body is completely gone." He shook his head and said, "I don't even know how he managed to fight in that condition, but the only thing holding his form in place are those formations. In fact, what's there is just a paper thin shell of a body. Inside is completely empty- No, I suppose since he managed to find a way to cage his soul within it and empower the formation with that soul, it isn't empty. But regardless..." The young man narrowed his eyes and said, "You'll be wasting your time."
A clinical evaluation.
The Star of Avarice was right.
Jihu's last attack had hopelessly tied everything together. While he managed to keep his form through ruthlessly shackling his body together with magical formations, his immense energy couldn't be handled by his physical body.
To put it in perspective, it was like trying to keep the sun inside of a plastic bag. An impossible endeavor.
Yet he had done just that. Not only did he keep the sun in a plastic bag, through an elaborate physical entanglement, he managed to keep the plastic bag intact and perfectly preserved.
But as a result...
The Star of Avarice turned to Yuhui and said, "You might be Level Eight now, but even revival won't be able to save him. In fact-"
"Friend. Not to be rude, but kindly shut the hell up."
The Star of Avarice's eyes widened. "Who- Hm? Ian Denzel? Wait, when did you get so young again?"
Ian ignored the young man and looked towards Jihu. Clicking his tongue, he said, "It's fortunate. We got here just in time."
The Star of Avarice shifted his gaze and then his eyes widened further. "Master Maldong? Princess Teresa? Don Cinzia? And... I don't recognize you?"
Muto sneered and shoved the Star of Avarice aside. "Stupid child, not knowing the breadth of the world... Who's to say it's impossible?" He walked over to Jihu and then carefully examined the magic formations.
Ian walked over as well, doing the same.
Teresa looked at the Star of Avarice, her eyes sharp. "Leave. Haramark has no use for you here."
The young man held up his hands. "I'm just giving my professional-"
Teresa drew the sword at her side, suddenly enveloped in an ominous emerald light. At the same time, her eyes turned a bloody red.
Awakening Skill: Berserk- No, something even stronger than that. Unstable and rippling energy magnifying her emotions and resonating in tandem, feeding in a vicious feedback loop. Power that could explode at any moment but one tightly controlled- No, perfectly controlled as if it was an extension of her own body.
The young man flinched, immediately sensing a well of energy magnitudes above his own.
Cinzia flicked a cigarette to the ground and said, "I would suggest you listen, Phillip Muller. Our Princess is... very understandably upset at you Executors for waiting to help her beloved fiancé."
The Star of Avarice- No, Phillip Muller looked around and sighed. "Very well. I know when I'm not wanted. But..." He looked at Jihu and said, "Do you need my help transporting him? If it's just Teleport-"
Ian stood up. "No need." He looked at Teresa and said, "Like we agreed?"
Teresa took a deep breath and closed her eyes to calm down. After that, she and nodded. "I'll leave him in your care, Ian."
"Alright." Ian looked around and said, "Maldong, Muto, Miss Yuhui, Miss Maria. With me. Everyone else... We'll see you at home."
Magic circles enveloped the surroundings, and then the five people vanished with Jihu in a flash of light.
It was time to perform a miracle.
[You crazy son of a bitch. I thought that guy was reckless, but you really take the cake.]
In the dark void, a familiar voice called out to me. One that sounded like my own, but darker, rougher.
I looked towards it and saw Seol... the Future Seol sitting on a rock. Like always, he wore his rusty armor and had his pitch black spear strapped to his back.
[Still. I can't say that you did a bad job. Hell, taking on those bastards one against three and taking two out... You're damned powerful, I'll give you that much. I don't think even I could have done that. Not to mention that Parasite Queen was pulling the strings to block you.]
So that was happening.
[Yeah. Since you're a crazy cheating bastard, it seems like the Parasite Queen decided to use plot armor to protect her commanders. Though, you still managed to pull that crazy stunt off and rip that armor to shreds.]
What can I say? I'm awesome.
[Don't get cocky.] He glared at me and continued speaking. [You're in worse condition than 'I' am right now in the other place because of that. The only reason you're conscious at all is because of your skill dragging me here to talk to you.]
Oh. Well, thanks?
[Haah... Hopeless. Both of you are hopeless. That guy's hopelessly reckless and doesn't know when to quit, but you're too willing to throw your life on the line when you don't need to. Let other people fight too! There's no need to try to carry the whole world on your back!] He paused and continued speaking. [No, I suppose you two are similar like that...]
Hey, if I could do something about it, why shouldn't I?
[Because you might not be the best person for the job? Because it would change the course of destiny, making the future uncertain? Before, I could tell you a bit about what might come ahead, but your future is completely split from mine now. You're on your own.]
That's good. Better to expect nothing than to expect something and have it be different, right?
[You are WAY too optimistic about this.]
Not optimistic. Just very confident in my friends. Besides, in the worst case scenario, I could just cancel the formations and head back to Earth, right?
[Dumbass. You don't get to do that because you took in the divine powers for yourself. If you die in Paradise, you die for real.]
Oh. Oh shit.
[Yeah. 'Oh shit.' Dumbass. Though I guess you're lucky too... Dammit. Both you and him managed to get all the good things!]
Seol glared at me. [Your energy core! You made that crazy black hole to store all of your mana and you kept feeding it energy. After using your ability points on mana, it got even crazier.] He let out a mocking grin and clapped his hands. [Congratulations on becoming immortal... without a body.]
Wait... You're saying that I can persist even after my body gets blasted to bits?
[I dunno, you tell me. You're the magician here, pulling tricks out of his hat like it's going out of fashion. All I know is that your body is definitely dead, but you're still alive. Even if your formations fell apart, you'd still be alive somewhere.]
[Yeah. Wherever 'here' is.] He looked around and frowned. [I'm not entirely sure either. Since we can talk like this, it's definitely outside of time. Space... is missing. I guess it's just the void?]
I tried looking around, but I couldn't see or sense anything either. Since that was the case, I tried to use my Karmic Eyes of Destiny.
That got me something. I could see faint golden threads slowly wrapping around me, as well as thick crimson ropes knotted around my body.
Which was a concern.
[Pft.] Seol shook his head. [This motherfucker. He sees all those women that fell head over heels for him and he thinks it's a concern...]
Yeah, talk to me again after you deal with sorting out all those relationships. Oh wait, didn't you get in trouble with Sora in the future? Something about a one night stand?
[You shut the hell up! It wasn't my fault! It just happened!]
Likely story. And besides, I'm not planning to try and run away from them like you. I'm just waiting for things to settle down.
[That's running away.]
...Like I said, I'm waiting for things to settle down.
[Tch. Whatever. It's damned annoying though. How the fuck did you get on all their good sides anyway? I can understand that guy because he's pathetic and 'cute' like a rabbit. But a shameless flirt like you who pretends to play dumb?]
I just make sure to keep them safe and help them out. That'll get you on anyone's good side, won't it?
[...Ah, right. Forgot that you're absolute bullshit when it comes to gifts and things too. Goddammit. Now I'm just pissed. Fuck. If I used my ability right back then, would I be that ridiculously overpowered too and get all the bitches too?]
Probably? I mean, Seol ended up pretty strong after going back to just before the Tutorial. If you changed earlier on like me... You probably would have.
[...Whatever. We aren't here to talk about me. We're here to talk about you.]
Sure, sure. What's up?
[You did a good job. But you also flipped the board over. Thankfully, since you figured out that ridiculous bullshit, you can use your ridiculous bullshit Transcendent Insight skill now without the world messing with you too much. But the Parasite Queen is definitely going to detect you using it, especially when things start going haywire. So-]
Take my time and be patient. Right? Then spring a trap on her at the last minute when she least expects it?
[Right. Forgot you weren't stupid like that guy.] Seol sighed. [Man. I almost wish I could hop over there just to see how things unfold. That bitch Parasite Queen won't know what hit her.]
We can always grab a drink afterwards. I'm pretty sure when it's all settled, we can do whatever. Hell, we can even troll your past self together.
[Heh.] Seol stood up. [That's a promise then.]
Of course. And I'm a man of my word.
[Alright.] He glanced off to the side and nodded. [Looks like it's about time for you to wake up anyway. Faster than expected too... Seems like you've got good friends.]
Obviously. They're the best.
Seol smirked and waved. [I'll catch you on the other side then. Try not to die. I'm looking forward to that drink. On you.]
Sure, sure. See you later, Bro.
[Bro, huh? Heh, guess we basically are at this point.] He walked off into the dark. [Catch you later, Bro.]
His figure gradually faded into the dark.
At the same time, light gradually came into view.
And when it did...
I saw someone standing there. A man that was familiar but different. Cracked armor, tattered clothes...
He had his back turned towards me, holding a glittering white sword over his left shoulder.
"Heh." A somewhat arrogant male voice echoed. Similar to Seol's in attitude, but completely different. The man shook his head before walking off into the light.