Chapter 531: Epilogue 2 – Not found anywhere (6)
⸢Once more, one hour before the apocalypse.⸥
“….Dammit, where the hell am I?”
Han Su-Yeong held her spinning head and hurriedly scanned her surroundings. The last thing she saw was the figure of Yu Jung-Hyeok disappearing within the shower of light. She quickly took a look at her own body.
It was a success.
Her much thinner arms, and muscles that lost their suppleness.
She couldn’t sense any of the Fables she had compiled, the skills she trained in, nor even her Stigma.
However, that wasn’t a problem. They had already thought up of what to do with such issues, when the scenario got underway again. No, the real issue was…
“Crap, I don’t have much time left.”
Her smartphone’s battery was almost out of juice, and she couldn’t confirm the wellbeings of her companions at the moment. It was a fortune among misfortunes that she somehow managed to download the locations of her companions from the chat room just now.
“….These guys, they did pretty well without me.”
Just a casual browse-through was enough for her to get a bead on where they were currently with their operation. That wasn’t too surprising, though, considering that she was the one in charge of the operation in the first place.
But then, Han Su-Yeong’s eyes scanning the map of the deployed locations began trembling.
She raised her head and looked around her.
Although it could be tight, there seemed to be enough time left still.
⸢30 minutes before the apocalypse.⸥
Yi Ji-Hye’s eyes dazedly staring at the clock was suddenly blocked by a head full of black hair.
“Hey, crybaby. You planning to stay behind for the night classes today?”
“N-no. Uh… ng.”
It had already been 28 days since the regression, but she still hadn’t gotten used to that nickname.
When was the last time she heard someone call her that?
Once upon a time, she had other nicknames like that. And she had truly returned to such a time.
“Really? I was just asking, but why so suddenly?”
The other girl’s eyes arched as if she was smiling.
For every single day during the past four years, Yi Ji-Hye had never forgotten those eyes. They belonged to a pale-skinned girl somewhat smaller than her. The blouse of her school uniform was missing a button. Her worn-out name tag, where her name could still be found.
⸢When she opens her eyes, the bloodshot irises would be staring right back her.⸥
Yi Ji-Hye’s trembling right hand was clutching onto the pant leg of her gym uniform.
⸢”Ji-Hye-yah, it’ll be alright.”⸥
Yi Ji-Hye desperately grabbed her trembling hand.
⸢”You must live.”⸥
Her friend’s hand approached from the air. Yi Ji-Hye avoided that hand almost as if she was having a seizure.
“…..Ah, sorry. Were you saying something?” She hurriedly asked.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You want to bounce together around seven?”
“We must not!!”
Yi Ji-Hye shot up from her seat and shouted out even before she realised it. Her classmates sitting near her all looked in her direction immediately. She sat back down and spoke again. “We’ll be high school seniors in a little while, right? So we gotta study hard for that.”
“…..Crybaby, you sure you’re not sick somewhere?”
⸢20 minutes before the apocalypse.⸥
The bell denoting the start of the first night class period went off. Yi Ji-Hye pulled something out from her inner pocket, a small box covered in a crinkled wrapper.
“What is it?”
Her friend saw the box and extended her hand. However, before handing over the item, Yi Ji-Hye told her friend in no uncertain terms first.
“You mustn’t open it right now. Okay? Only open it when it’s ten minutes before seven. Understand?”
“You didn’t, like, put insects in this thing, right? You know I’ve got a weak heart, don’t you?”
Yi Ji-Hye momentarily froze at those words. “…..No, don’t worry. I will definitely make sure you won’t die.”
She finished what she wanted to say and stood up abruptly from her seat. Then, she pulled out a longsword stashed behind the classroom locker. Her surprised friend was still looking in her direction.
“….Where are you going?” Her friend asked.
Yi Ji-Hye immediately left the classroom. With good timing, the teacher in charge was walking towards her.
“Yi Ji-Hye? What are you doing? Go back inside the class! Night classes have begun already! And what are you carrying on your ba-”
“Teacher-nim, are you on duty today?”
It was the ethics teacher wearing the horn-rimmed glasses, with a slender physique and somewhat haggard eyes.
“Teacher-nim, please don’t forget to open the no.2 locker in the staff room later!”
Yi Ji-Hye slipped past the teacher, but the latter hurriedly reached out to her shoulder.
“What? Where are you… Urgh? Why is she so strong… Hey! Yi Ji-Hye!!”
Yi Ji-Hye broke into a sprint. She ran down the stairs in an instant, entered the teacher’s staff room and stole the keys to the broadcast studio. She then ran up to the third floor, her heart threatening to explode along the way.
⸢The first scenario of the ‘Taepung Girls’ High’ location began several minutes earlier than other locations.⸥
That was the reason why Yi Ji-Hye had been deployed in this very location.
While panting breathlessly, she managed to unlock the door to find the rather familiar sight of the studio. The Taepung Girls’ High boasted pretty high-end broadcasting equipment. Not only that, the school was given the authority to make broadcasts to the surrounding regions in case of emergency, as well.
While listening to the voice of the teacher still looking for her coming from downstairs, Yi Ji-Hye pulled out the emergency power source prepared earlier. She then calmly set up the broadcasting equipment.
As she connected the wiring, some memories in her mind also began to get connected, as well.
She used to work here as a crew member, and during the lunch hour, she’d play the music she liked. That was her life.
⸢At least, until the apocalypse came knocking.⸥
She realised it once more while looking at her still-alive friends. The only person to survive in the classroom on that fateful day was her and her alone.
She was startled by the voice and looked back, only to find an unexpected person there.
She must’ve been waiting for a while. Han Su-Yeong raised her body up from the darkness and quietly studied Yi Ji-Hye’s face, before speaking up. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m fine.” Yi Ji-Hye stayed silent for a little while, then spoke again. “The scenario. It’s going to start, right? Otherwise, I might get suspended later, you know.”
“It’ll start. By the way, you don’t really have start yours from here. You should hurry up and go to another location. Let me take care of this place for you.”
“No. This is where I need to start.” Yi Ji-Hye smiled. “Because, this is where the ‘wounded sword demon’ was born, after all.”
She then slowly sucked in her breath.
The setting-up of the equipment was finally finished.
⸢Ten minutes before the apocalypse.⸥
And then, ‘it’ began.
Along with the ‘Ku-gugugu’ noise, the sensation of the world’s ‘nature’ changing could be felt. Then, the sounds akin to drums being ripped apart came from an unknown location. And what came after that was….
[Oh, my. The channel here opened up sooner than scheduled. Ah, ah, can you hear me?]
Yi Ji-Hye looked at Han Su-Yeong. The moment she saw the latter’s face, she knew. Somewhat humorously, they had been living only for this moment.
[There is no need to panic, everyone. Let me say this first of all. This situation, it’s not a film shoot. It’s not a terror incident, nor are you currently dreaming. No, everyone, you’re-]
That was the voice of the Dokkaebi she hated the most.
Screams resounded out from every classroom.
[Main Scenario #1 – Proof of Worth has begun.]
That was the signal to commence with their planned operation.
– Emergency broadcast will now begin.
Yi Ji-Hye’s own voice was coming out from the speakers.
– Everyone, please listen to me. Those inside the classrooms, please open up the cabinet for the cleaning tools, while those in the staff room, please open the no.2 locker! Hurry!
Yi Ji-Hye knew. Her companions must be making the exact same face as hers about now. Everyone should be witnessing this sight through the display panel the Dokkaebi had brought up.
– There is no need for you to kill each other. At least this time, there is no need.
Yi Ji-Hye thought about her companions. She recalled the promises made to them before coming to this world.
⸢”….At least I want to choose what I kill.”⸥
Shin Yu-Seung wouldn’t start by killing a puppy anymore, and…
⸢”I’ll save my aunt.”⸥
Yi Gil-Yeong would get to save the person he detested.
⸢”Rather than going to the army again, I’ll kill myself first.”⸥
Yi Hyeon-Seong would leave the army, and…
⸢”I really want to save that grandma from back then.”⸥
Yu Sang-Ah would get to save the person she didn’t.
⸢”The Probability will only allow for one opportunity. Meaning, the ‘Group Regression’ can’t be used twice.⸥
And Yu Jung-Hyeok would never regress again.
⸢”During this turn, I won’t become the ‘wounded sword demon’.”⸥
As the clamour of the school’s interior gradually died down, Yi Ji-Hye opened her mouth once more.
– Everyone, have you all found one for yourselves?
Just like Kim Dok-Ja of the past chucking the grasshoppers to other people…
– Everyone, throw those things down to the floor with everything you got!
Along with those words, Yi Ji-Hye broke the ampoule held tight in her hand.
[You have slaughtered a total of 133 lifeforms.]
[Slaughter breakdown: 133 frog eggs]
[Acquired coins will be halved as you have slaughtered lifeforms lacking defensive capability.]
[Total of 6650 Coins have been acquired.]
[Main Scenario #1 – Proof of Worth has concluded.]
⸢Once more, they shall create a story not found anywhere.⸥
The Dokkaebi in charge belatedly discovered the unfolding situation and appeared before Yi Ji-Hye.
[What the… Look here, you! What’s the meaning of this? How can you even….!]
And right next second, a powerful storm of Probability’s aftermath began slamming into the entirety of the scenario. Also, the noises of massive amounts of Coins being sucked out came from an unknown direction, too.
Yi Ji-Hye realised what was happening here.
[Dear Constellation-nims!! This is a misunderstanding! Director… No, wait! This isn’t my fau…. The Bureau’s inventory… Uwaaaah!]
Accompanied by the noises of the channel being disbanded, the low-grade Dokkaebi screamed and disappeared.
And that was the beginning.
The night skies of Seoul were reflected on the windows of the studio.
She saw the rift opening up on the other side of the sky.
⸢Subway’s third line.⸥
“Everyone, please stay calm! Grab one of these, and throw it down! Hurry!”
“Do not panic, and break the bottles you just received on the floor! Do that and you will survive!”
“Anyone who didn’t get an ampoule yet??”
Throughout all the locations in Seoul, unexpected events were taking place at the same time.
The prearranged scenario was changing.
[Unbelievable achievements are occurring simultaneously in every location of the scenario!]
[A massive amount of Coins are being taken out from the Bureau!]
The whole of <Star Stream> was shivering from the explosion of Coins.
[<Star Stream> is stunned by the sudden upheaval of the scenario!]
[Dokkaebis of the Bureau are freaking out at the excessive amount of Coins being taken out, and…!]
[Many Constellations observing the Korean Peninsula are….!]
The baptism of Coins exploding in the air like fireworks – it was the sight of a world coming to an end. Yi Ji-Hye looked to her side and found Han Su-Yeong also looking up at the same skies as her.
As if, she was searching for those who should be looking at them from the night sky.
“Let’s go and save ahjussi.”
Their operation had just got underway.
While gasping out rough, heavy breaths, I regained my consciousness.
⸢It was unknown how much time had passed by.⸥
I slowly tried to move my body. Arms, legs, shoulders… without a doubt, the feedback I got had changed a lot from before.
⸢Kim Dok Ja y o u got a lot sm all er⸥
I smiled bitterly and looked down at my shrunken hand. The digits of my fingers had shortened by at least one centimetre compared to the last time I saw them. With a slightly exhausted voice, I asked a question. “…..How many regression turns have I seen so far?”
⸢7 8 6th tu rn⸥
I had no idea that reading something with every fibre of your being would be this difficult.
Every time Yu Jung-Hyeok and his comrades lived through one regression turn, I too had to live through it.
The second turn, the third, the fourth, and the fifth…
⸢Th at is th e des ti ny of th e Most Ancient Dream⸥
I read, and then read again, the Fables created by the countless choices, and I watched various world-lines spun off from them over and over again.
⸢Kim Dok-Ja read the world as if he was walking along a distant beach.⸥
Fable’s waves rolled in and rolled out. And I gradually lost something of mine every time that happened. When I recalled something abruptly and looked back, I saw my own footprints left behind. Those prints were soon washed away by the incoming waves, and after staring at the disappearing traces, I’d resume my walk forward.
Whenever I recalled the fact that I was gradually forgetting things within this flood of Fables, I began thinking about the regression turn I lived in. And then, the happiness of the people who should still be living there.
If I did…
The tips of my hands were trembling.
I suddenly couldn’t remember the regression turn number I lived in. I unknowingly looked behind me, but the only things remaining there were Yu Jung-Hyeok’s past regression turns.
⸢And what remains at the end, will be the desire to see the ‘next story’.⸥
I looked down at my hands, now much smaller.
What was waiting for me at the end of this long, long journey?
⸢Kim Dok-Ja recalled the ‘Most Ancient Dream’ he saw during the Final Scenario.⸥
Would I eventually become the ‘Most Ancient Dream’ I saw back then?
Would I lose all of my memories and become a giant mass of unconsciousness that dreamt of an infinite universe?
⸢He didn’t want to end up like that.⸥
I needed to think. I needed to remember.
When I came to, my hand was clutching onto my smartphone out of an old habit. This small world protected me whenever I became too anxious and too nervous.
The black screen, its battery having lost its charge a long time ago, reflected my face.
I crafted a simple Fable and used it to operate the phone. That prompted a familiar wallpaper to pop up. And that’s where the novel that started all of this was.
– Three Ways to Survive in a Ruined World (final version).txt
Until now, I deliberately avoided reading this final version.
I was scared that, if I read it, something somewhere would become set in stone. I didn’t want the future my comrades were supposed to live in to be decided by a story written by someone else.
⸢However, shouldn’t it be okay now?⸥
The <Kim Dok-Ja Company>’s story had ended, and my ■■ had been decided, as well.
⸢If I read this, wouldn’t I be able to remember all those that I’ve forgotten?⸥
I still didn’t know who tls123 was.
And that’s why I was curious.
What did the author write on this ‘final version’?
What was the conclusion the author came up with?
And this story, where and how was it supposed to end?
I slowly sucked in my breaths and extended my shrunken finger towards the text file.
Just like that day when I first began reading the ‘Ways of Survival’.
⸢And so, that’s how Kim Dok-Ja’s last reading session began.⸥
<Epilogue 2. Not found anywhere (6)> Fin.