Solo Leveling (I Alone Level-Up) - Chapter 255: Side Story 12 - Decision
Side Story 12 – Decision
‘That’ suddenly appeared without any warning.
On a certain day in April, only a stone’s throw away from May’s doorstep, an American emergency call centre was blessed with a strange phone call.
– “Hello. I’m a tourist currently travelling through the desert.”
It was not uncommon to hear about tourists getting lost. Since that was the case, the call centre operator figured that this call was from yet another poor stranded soul searching for a way out from the middle of the vast desert.
“Did you run into an accident, sir?”
– “No, it’s not actually that.”
“In that case, did something else happen to you, sir?”
– “No, no. I’m not calling you because I ran into a problem, but I’m calling to report something that I’m seeing right now.”
The call centre agent got ready to connect the call to the emergency dispatch service while replying in a calm voice to make sure that the caller wouldn’t start panicking over the phone.
“Is it something urgent? Should I dispatch the emergency personnel to your location?”
– “Urgent… is it? Honestly, I also don’t know how to explain the current situation to you.”
The caller’s voice indicated that he was feeling really hesitant over something here, so just in case, the agent decided to confirm the caller’s identity first.
As it turned out, the caller was actually a college professor, and judging from his family circumstances, or the past records of lodging emergency calls, he didn’t seem to be the sort to make prank calls for fun.
“Sir, you need to describe the situation so we can dispatch the right kind of response personnel to the scene.”
“Can you explain to me in detail what you see?”
It was at that point that the agent heard the caller take deep breaths over the phone’s speaker.
– “Something is about to shatter. There are lots of cracks.”
There was a building in a desert about to topple over? The agent tilted his head this way and that before asking again.
“Where are these cracks exactly, sir?”
– “Well, that’s the darnedest thing….”
The voice of the caller hesitated for a long time again as if he still couldn’t believe what he saw, but eventually it did come out of the phone.
– “The sky… the sky is breaking up!”
This was the time when pretty much all students would find themselves with barely any free time, but for Jin-Woo facing mid-term exams and the track competition literally around the corner, it proved to be a great deal more hectic than usual.
As he was studying deep into the night, his little sister, Jin-Ah, entered his room while carrying a tray of sliced Korean melon.
“Oppa, Mom says you should eat these while studying.”
Jin-Woo was concentrating on the textbooks below the desk lamp’s light, and raised his head to greet her.
“What about Dad?”
“Dad is on night shift duty from this week again.”
Jin-Woo received the plate with melon slices neatly arranged on top and nodded his head. But then, he reached out to snatch his sister’s ponytail just as she was about to sneak out of his room.
“Stop right there.”
Jin-Ah turned around to face him with wide-open eyes and he sternly asked her.
“Why are all these slices missing the soft middle sections?”
“I, uh, I don’t know….”
“You should say that while getting rid of those pips stuck near your lips.”
Jin-Ah formed an unhappy expression at the fact that she got busted, but he found her way too adorable when she acted like this and couldn’t hold back his own laughter.
He used his thumb to remove the pips from the ends of his sister’s lips and out of pure mischievousness, formed another stern expression.
“If you eat only the softer part of the melon again, I’m gonna make you eat nothing but the hard part for a whole day as punishment, okay?”
Jin-Ah turned around to leave with a tearful expression and he lightly patted her on the head.
Currently, she was in her sixth year in elementary school. Jin-Woo had seen her grow up once before already, and pretty much anything she did came across as adorable to him.
He began chewing on the sliced melon piece and focused his concentration back on the questionnaire on the desk. When he did, though, Igrit began to offer his counsel once more, as he was still worried about his liege’s academic success.
[My liege, the 24th question should not be tackled in this manner, but…]
‘I’m going to check the answer sheet, then?’
[….Allow me to ponder this query for a little while longer, my liege.]
It was rather commendable that he was so concerned about his master, but this….
‘Oh, well. At least, I’m not bored during studying, so there’s that….’
As the number of questions remaining on the questionnaire decreased, so did the number of sliced melon pieces on the plate.
And so, just how long had it been?
Abruptly, Jin-Woo sensed this chill and raised his head.
‘What was that? Where?’
He shot up from his chair and shifted his head in the direction of where he detected that strange phenomenon. He closed his eyes and focused his perception.
….He definitely hadn’t made a mistake just then. Right away, he imagined the worst possible scenario and his expression hardened as a result.
‘Where is that business card….?’
He quickly dug through the pockets of his school uniform and pulled out a certain business card. It was none other than the one left behind by the envoy of the Rulers.
Jin-Woo quickly dialled the number and tapped on the ‘Call’ icon on his smartphone. The call itself got through really quickly.
– “It has been a while, Shadow Sovereign-nim.”
The envoy tried to greet him with a warm, welcoming voice, but Jin-Woo simply spoke up certain coordinates without any hints of emotion. And then, he added one more thing at the end.
“Is this your people’s doing?”
The envoy was stunned by his serious attitude and replied quickly.
– “I don’t understand what…. Hold on. Allow me to confirm.”
The brief silence was soon shattered by the panicky voice from the other side of the line.
– “This, this is definitely not us. We are also finding out about this matter through your call, Sovereign-nim. I’m sure you already know, but this method of crossing dimensions is different from ours.”
As expected – it wasn’t the absolute worst possibility, much to his relief. Still, it didn’t mean that the situation itself had become any better, though.
‘To Earth…. Someone, or something, is coming.’
Whether they held good or bad intentions, there was no way to tell for the time being. So, he should start preparing for either case right away.
Jin-Woo fell into deep thought as he stood there, still holding the phone, before he spoke to the envoy.
“Can you come and see me?”
He added that there was also something else he’d like to talk about and that prompted the envoy to reply as if it had been waiting for that all this time.
– “I shall come and speak to you tomorrow.”
The meeting place was the cafe where Jin-Woo met Yu Jin-Ho for the first time outside the dungeon. He got there just in time and found the envoy already waiting for him by the corner of the cafe, having arrived a while ago.
After entering, Jin-Woo wordlessly settled down on the opposite side of the Ruler’s proxy. The latter only discovered the former’s presence after he appeared right in front of its eyes. The envoy performed a polite bow of the head.
With the situation being what it was, Jin-Woo went straight to the meat of the discussion.
“The things trying to get here…. Do you have any clues on who they are?”
“They are the ‘Outsiders’ that tried to step into my world not too long ago. They were beaten back by the Army of the Heavens and it seems that they have now set their sights on this world, instead.”
“Why are they trying to come here?”
“They are a race of giants that consumes the rocks found on a planet that can support lifeforms. They are referred to as a race of ‘Titans’ and are known for their evil nature even back in their own world. Their reason for coming to Earth should be rather obvious at this point.”
Jin-Woo leaned against the chair’s back and nodded his head.
“….So, they are not friends.”
“Yes, they are most certainly not.”
Now that he knew what their purpose was, the nature of his response had been decided, as well. However, there was something he still felt curious about.
“This didn’t happen before the Chalice of Rebirth was used, so what gives?”
Jin-Woo could only remember the Gates and monsters, but nothing about the attack of an alien race capable of ‘eating’ a planet. The envoy hesitated slightly with his answer before willingly admitting to it.
“Yes, you’re indeed correct. Actually, when I told you about them invading our world not too long ago, I was referring to the timeline that has been overwritten.”
“Meaning, the creatures that should have been aiming for your world changed their heading towards Earth, instead?”
The envoy replied as thus, carefully observing any changes in Jin-Woo’s mood. Of course, he immediately figured out the reason for this change.
“I’m the cause.”
“Those creatures chased after the traces of Sovereign-nim, who possesses incredible power…. At least, that’s what the exalted Rulers believe happened in this event.”
Just like how one would rely on the light from the lighthouse illuminating the lone pathway to navigate the treacherous nighttime waters when you couldn’t see an inch in front of your nose, the race of ‘Titans’ had been led towards this small planet by the enormous power being emitted by the Shadow Sovereign.
The potential influence Jin-Woo’s powers would have on this world, the one that shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t remain – the part the Rulers were worried about had finally become reality.
Still, the Rulers felt that they owed Jin-Woo big time and thus, they weren’t planning to sit back and watch another crisis unfold on Earth. The agent made sure to drive this point home.
“The exalted Rulers have already deployed the Army of the Heavens.”
Jin-Woo slowly shook his head.
“No, it’ll be too late.”
Even if they started creating a tunnel connecting from that side to here right now, at a bare minimum they would still need a good few years to get here. By then, everything would be over.
In that case….
“I shall take care of it.”
‘….My soldiers and I will stop those b*stards.’
Jin-Woo was fully confident of defeating these new enemies if they were on the level of being driven back by the Army of the Heavens.
The voice of the Shadow Sovereign seemed to heavily press down on the envoy’s shoulders and he nervously swallowed his dry saliva. Regardless which forces they were, none of them would prefer to have this man as their enemy. The Ruler’s agent suddenly felt pity for this race of ‘Titans’ now.
By the way, if this meeting wasn’t to ask for reinforcements, then why were they even here?
Jin-Woo replied as if he had seen through the agent’s thoughts.
“What you asked me back then…. I thought it’s about time that I tell you my answer.”
“Ah, ah. I see. You were talking about that matter.”
The Rulers made an offer to make available a location that the enormous power of the Shadow Sovereign wouldn’t cause an issue. It seemed that he was able to come to a decision due to this crisis. The envoy nodded his head after seeing Jin-Woo’s determination-filled expression.
“I understand what you’re trying to say. As soon as this crisis is resolved, we….”
“I’m remaining on Earth.”
The envoy’s brows rose up after hearing that unexpected reply. However, Jin-Woo’s voice remained composed, with just a hint of a grin etched on his lips.
“You know, I still want to live here.”
He wanted to spend his time in this world populated by his family, friends, as well as others that he’d like to meet and talk to. After he ran into Association President Woo Jin-Cheol, no, Detective Woo now, he had finally realised what he wanted to do.
‘Well, it’s a bit cumbersome that he keeps calling me up so he can buy me food, but still.’
In any case, Woo Jin-Cheol was a good man. And that was precisely why that young detective being dragged around by him could carry a happy expression like that.
‘I’d like to be with those people.’
Jin-Woo thought that he’d like to be by their sides and be able to laugh along with them. The envoy spied on Jin-Woo’s smile and replied with a sheepish smile of his own.
“Actually, I…. I was getting really bored with staying in this world, you see. What a relief this is. Now I can finally return to my world as well.”
One year since that day. If one said it was short, then it was, but if one said it was too long, then it could be, as well.
The envoy’s mission of remaining in this world to wait for the Shadow Sovereign’s decision had finally come to an end. And seeing his expression, it was rather clear that the odds of him changing his mind were absolutely none.
While looking as if a load had been taken off his shoulders, the envoy stood up from his seat. He then bowed his waist towards Jin-Woo, no, the greatest hero who brought the war of two worlds to an end.
“I entrust this world to your capable hands.”
Jin-Woo stopped digging through his closet and scratched his head.
‘This isn’t good….’
He couldn’t see a single piece of garment that could hide his face. But then again, he bought a hoodie and a baseball cap to hide his face riddled with scars he earned while working as a low ranked Hunter, so it was only obvious that they wouldn’t remain anymore in the new timeline.
Left with no choice, Jin-Woo decided to create the clothing he wanted.
The black smoke quickly enveloped him and became thick like actual liquid, before transforming into a hoodie that he used to wear so much in the past. He pulled the hood up and stood before the mirror in his room.
‘How long has it been, me in this look…..?’
He experienced renewed reminiscence of the time erased, as the reflection was like looking at his past self. His lips exposed below the hoodie curled up into a grin.
With this, his preparation was over. And his figure slowly submerged into the shadow beneath his feet.
Somewhere in the desert, west of the United States of America.
The American government sealed tight the surrounding area and invited every expert they could get their hands on to this place, but in the end, every single one of them failed to come up with a meaningful hypothesis.
“I wonder. Well, this could be….”
“I’ve researched many strange weather phenomena across the globe for over 30 years, but this is my first time seeing something like that.”
From the get-go, how could any expert, regardless of the numbers gathered, be able to explain the phenomenon of cracks developing in the atmosphere?
Even as they dithered about, the empty sky was slowly but surely breaking apart bit by bit. Understandably, the American defence forces surrounding this area just in case something bad happened were very tense right now. If one were to exaggerate the scale a bit, more than enough combat forces had been gathered here to literally blow away a foreign nation.
The commander confidently spoke to the President of the U.S.A.
“Even if something pops out of there, Mister President, we shall take care of them. Yes, yes, sir. The scale of the crack has grown much larger since its initial discovery….”
While chatting on the comm device, the commander shifted his gaze over to the ranks of the soldiers without thinking too much and discovered a certain man walking closer to his position.
A man whose face was obscured by the pulled-up hoodie was walking straight towards the commander’s location.
“Who the hell is that guy? How the f*ck did he even enter here?”
– “Is there a problem, commander?”
“No, sir. Let me call you back a bit later, sir.”
The commander hurriedly ended the call and, along with his adjutants, quickly ran towards this unknown man.
“Excuse me! Who are you?”
This was a restricted zone secured by a water-tight cordon of soldiers, yet how could a normal-looking civilian waltz right in completely unhindered? Signs of irritation floated up on the commander’s face as an annoying situation suddenly came to visit him.
However, the man didn’t show any signs of fear, even though he was surrounded by heavily-armed soldiers. The uninvited guest coming to speak to the commander was, of course, Jin-Woo. And he certainly had something to say.
“Please, withdraw your troops from here. This place is dangerous.”
His English didn’t sound natural.
‘Is he a foreigner?’
The commander formed a deep frown and in order to put the fear of God in this uninvited guest, he shouted out at the top of his lungs.
“Do you have a death wish?! Do you seriously not know who is in real danger here?”
‘What do you mean by that, mister? It’s you, obviously.’
Jin-Woo knew that convincing these people with words would be impossible, so he released just a tiny bit of his power. When he did, the commander, his adjutants, as well as all the soldiers watching Jin-Woo floated up in the air at once.
The commander became flustered and he quickly took a look around him. There was only one person with both of his feet firmly planted on the ground. Not only that, the vehicles, various machinery and equipment, and even heavy tanks were floating over a metre in the air.
Having witnessed something that couldn’t scientifically happen, the eyes of the commander began trembling hard.
Deciding that this much was enough, Jin-Woo brought them back down to the ground.
However, the first thing the commander did upon landing was to yank out his sidearm. His highly-agitated voice rang around loudly in the desert sky.
“What the hell are you?!”
Jin-Woo raised both of his hands up to his shoulders to clearly indicate that he didn’t want to fight and calmly continued on with his explanation.
“Soon, enemies possessing similar powers as what you saw will emerge from that spot in the sky. And….”
He used Mana to take away the commander’s sidearm and had it float over to near his head.
When the pistol suddenly began moving towards Jin-Woo seemingly on its own, the nervous soldiers quickly cocked their rifles and got ready to fire, but the commander was equally as quick to raise his hand to stop them from doing anything.
“Hold your fire!”
While he was busy calming his subordinates down, Jin-Woo used the ‘invisible hand’ to pull the trigger of the pistol now aimed at his face.
Blam! Blam! Blam!!
Bullets that failed to even touch Jin-Woo’s body fell powerlessly to the ground. The gazes of the soldiers relying on their firearms until then were rapidly filling up with sheer astonishments and panic.
Jin-Woo could sense their hearts freezing up, too. He swept his gaze around and took in their eyes of shock and panic, before calmly continuing on with his explanation.
“Your weapons will not work against the incoming enemies.”
Soon after that, his gaze landed on the commander, still rooted firmly in his spot.
“Are you willing to watch the meaningless deaths of your subordinates?”
“What should…. What am I supposed to do, then?”
“Withdraw your troops from here as far as possible. I shall be the only one to remain here.”
“You alone…? Are you planning to fight against the enemies by yourself?”
Him alone, was it….
Jin-Woo didn’t particularly feel the need to explain himself any further, so he just nodded his head.
The commander shut his mouth and began weighing his options, but then suddenly, he yanked out his spare sidearm tucked neatly in the back of his pants and fired several shots at Jin-Woo.
Blam! Blam!! Blam!!! Blam!!!!
Every single bullet fired from the commander all tumbled to the ground powerlessly as soon as they reached Jin-Woo’s vicinity.
This man was a ‘monster’. No, at this point, wasn’t he more like a character from some mythical legend, rather than a simple monster?
The commander bore witness to the miracle that kept repeating itself and eventually lowered his weapon. He then spun towards his soldiers and shouted out loudly so that they could hear him.
“All personnel, pull-out!! We withdraw from here, as quickly and efficiently as possible!!”
The adjutants quickly relayed the commander’s new order to the rest of the defence force.
“Pull out, now!!”
This well-trained army quickly distanced themselves away from the potential combat zone. Jin-Woo observed their withdrawal process before shifting his gaze over to the large fissure rapidly developing in the sky.
He could sense it now.
He could sense the intense greed of the enemies wanting to devour this land.
He could even sense their heavy breathing as if they were close by.
For the first time in a while, his Black Heart began pounding hard again to notify him of the entrance of new enemies. A grin formed on Jin-Woo’s face as he summoned his shortswords from subspace.
Soon, they would….
The atmosphere rocked from an intense impact force and the dimension finally split open. With that, giants seemingly made out of rocks stepped onto this land.
They belatedly discovered a small lifeform below their feet while emitting a thick amount of hostility towards them and began snorting in derision.
[What’s this? Just you alone wish to stop us?]
This feeling – Jin-Woo closed his eyes to enjoy this stillness before the battle and slowly opened them back again.
Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump!
His heart was beating loudly.
He finally unleashed all of his powers and spoke up.
“Does it look like I’m alone to you?”
With that, his shadow extended in the blink of an eye to encompass the vast land behind him, and the Shadow Army of ten million rose up at once.