Sub Scenario — [Deus Ex Machina]
Clear Conditions: A bridge of light was made by a helpful constellation. Only an ‘even’ number of people can cross the bridge. The bridge will disappear as soon as an ‘odd’ number of people tries to cross it. Cross the bridge before it disappears.
Time Limit: Five minutes.
Compensation: Survival and entrance into the next scenario.
Failure: Death (?) ]
“... Who are you?”
Towards the end of the second scenario, next to the bridge of light made by a constellation, Kim Dokja met Yoo Joonghyuk for the first time.
[The exclusive skill, Character List is activated.]
[There is too much information about this person. Character List is converted to Summary List.]
[Name: Yoo Joonghyuk.
Attribute: Regressor (999th turn) (Myth), Ruler of Amusement (Legendary)
Exclusive Skills: Sage’s Eyes Lv. 29, Lie Detection Lv. 25, Hand to Hand Combat Lv. 24, Red Phoenix Shunpo Lv. 21, Weapons Training Lv. 21, Mental Barrier Lv. 21, Air Steps Lv. 18, Crowd Control Lv. 17, Thoughts Vaccine Lv. 12…]
... It was the 999th regression.
Kim Dokja swallowed his spit, looking at the man grabbing him by the jacket. He was Yoo Joonghyuk alright; narrow eyes, high cheekbones, his hair artfully dishevelled and pure black just like his eyes. A man so handsome that Kim Dokja could only spit on the actors and models promoted all around, handsome to the point where he was known for his beauty and not his truly absurd, terrifying strength. His physical appearance was simply dazzling. He was everything Kim Dokja had imagined and more.
But there was something about him. Something dead in the eyes, tired— exhausted, a hollowness in his expression that dulled the initial sharpness of his looks. He was still focused, still determined, still willing to grab an outlier like Kim Dokja and interrogate him instead of letting him be, because he was Yoo Joonghyuk and he never let be.
But he looked like he was forcing his way through life just so he didn’t give up.
He looked ready to die.
...Or maybe Kim Dokja was projecting what he already knew of the 999th regression.
A fist landed in his stomach, and Kim Dokja groaned, once again focusing on the situation at hand.
“I asked you a question,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, no fluctuation in his tone, “Who are you? And where is Kim Namwoon? I can see Lee Hyunsung there, I know he should have been in your carriage. What did you do with him?”
“Kim Namwoon?” Kim Dokja asked, furrowing his brows. “That’s what you want to ask?”
“I am asking the questions.” Yoo Joonghyuk declared, his grip tightening around the shirt. “Tell me what happened to Kim Namwoon.”
...An unexpected first question.
Kim Dokja had expected to be interrogated, if he couldn’t escape, but he had expected it to be about his existence. Not Kim Namwoon. Was Yoo Joonghyuk that concerned about the lost firepower?
“He’s dead.” Kim Dokja answered, frowning as he tried to understand this new unexpected situation.
Yoo Joonghyuk’s eye twitched. “Did you kill him?”
...Wasn’t he even going to ask why the never-changing opening scenarios of a regression had suddenly changed?
He didn’t seem to care about anything but the whereabouts of Kim Namwoon.
‘... Could it be?’
Kim Dokja thought back to the contents of the regression turn that he had reread the most often, that he had gone through to the point of obsession. The 999th regression was his favourite one, the most perfect regression that Yoo Joonghyuk had lived through.
In the Ways of Survival, nothing of importance was ever described in clear details, while many inconsequential things had long paragraphs dedicated to them. Thus, Yoo Joonghyuk’s thought processes were most often a mystery that the reader would have to puzzle out alone. In the beginning stages of the 999th regression, Yoo Joonghyuk had made a resolution, one that carried his followers to the end but killed him in the same breath. The exact process that led to this was never explicitly stated.
All along, Kim Dokja had been moving with the assumption that Yoo Joonghyuk had signed Other World Pledge after he met his usual band of followers, or maybe after he had to sacrifice a few fingers to save Lee Seolhwa— a woman he had loved in many regressions.
Kim Dokja looked into Yoo Joonghyuk’s dark, gleaming eyes. He seemed to see the eyes of that character that had glanced at the people he loved and went on to sign a contract with what was essentially the devil of Star Stream, the one that had been so different from the Yoo Joonghyuks of the Ways of Survival, the one that already knew he would die for his followers.
... Maybe, instead of it occurring to him during the 999th regression, Yoo Joonghyuk had already resolved himself to dying before the regression even began.
[Your understanding of the character ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ has increased.]
[Your understanding of this person is already very high.]
Kim Dokja blinked.
[The conditions of use for the exclusive skill ‘Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint’ stage 2 has been reached!]
[Do you want to activate the exclusive skill?]
Suddenly, Yoo Joonghyuk’s thoughts streamed into his mind like a river.
「 I need to save Kim Namwoon. He should be in the Underworld, if he didn’t get thrown out of the scenario. 」
「 It won’t be easy to get into the Underworld. ...Should I use it?」
“Are you fucking stupid, you suicidal moron?” Kim Dokja asked, grabbing the wrist of the hand on his lapels. Yoo Joonghyuk sent him a startled look. “You can’t go to the Underworld yet! You don’t have nearly enough probability to get there and get out alive! Are you trying to regress before the 3rd scenario ends, huh?”
「 ...is he listening to my thoughts?」
Yoo Joonghyuk’s hand clenched tighter where he was holding Kim Dokja up, and his eye started flowing golden. He was suspicious. He was definitely, definitely suspicious of Kim Dokja.
[The exclusive skill, ‘Fourth Wall’ is activated!]
[Fourth Wall has detected the use of the detection skill Sage’s Eyes!]
Sparks flew between the two of them, and Yoo Joonghyuk wavered in place as if he had received an attack.
「... A mental barrier.」
「Who is this guy?」
「A prophet like Anna Croft? Was there one in Korea?」
「Why did he appear only now?」
「How can he read my thoughts? An exclusive skill, or an attribute...」
「...He’s too dangerous to keep alive. One Anna Croft is more than enough.」
“Wait wait wait!” Kim Dokja waved his hands madly, hanging down Yoo Joonghyuk’s hold, “I can help you! I know you don’t trust me but just listen for one second. I know you’re a regressor, I know how this world is going to go! You’ll die before you get past the Great Apocalypse, alone. Yoo Joonghyuk, let me be your companion for this turn. I can help reach the end of scenarios!”
“The end of scenarios...” Yoo Joonghyuk muttered, a far away look on his face. After a second he once again focused, and his dark, distant eyes met Kim Dokja’s own. “If you know my thoughts, then you should know this already.”
「I’m not aiming to reach the end of scenarios.」
「I just want...」
「Just this once... I want...」
Kim Dokja closed his eyes, heart squeezing painfully. After all, this was the 999th regression. His favourite story, the one he had read through hundreds of times. This was a Yoo Joonghyuk that was aiming for a wholly different ending than all those Yoo Joonghyuks that just might have considered using Kim Dokja, because this was a Yoo Joonghyuk who didn’t need Kim Dokja at all.
Yoo Joonghyuk continued in a soft, quiet tone that Kim Dokja’s mind had never been flexible enough to imagine him using. “...And I already have all the help I need.”
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is looking at you.]
Kim Dokja felt his hands fall slack at his sides, his entire weight supported only by Yoo Joonghyuk’s hold. He let out a long sigh, and he resolved himself to the inevitable outcome.
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is urging Incarnation ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ to get a move on.]
[The constellation, ‘Abyssal Flame Dragon’, is satisfied with the progression of your plight.]
[The constellation, ‘Demon-Like Judge of Fire’, is eyeing ‘Outer God Without A Name’ with a suspicious gaze.]
[The constellation, ‘Demon-Like Judge of Fire’, is asking ‘Outer God Without A Name’ about his modifier.]
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is shrugging as if he can’t do anything about Star Stream’s naming sense.]
[The suspicious constellations are somewhat mollified.]
The messages went past Kim Dokja’s eyes like a waterfall. The constellations were satisfied with that response, but Kim Dokja knew better.
The ‘Outer God Without A Name’ was as his modifier claimed; an outer god who hadn’t yet acquired a name. He was only masquerading as a constellation, because there was nothing the Star Stream hated more than outer gods. To be able to interact with it, one needed to either be a constellation, a dokkaebi, or an incarnation.
This outer god, who had appeared suddenly on the 999th regression turn, and hadn’t appeared ever again, was the source that had brought all the pain and suffering of this turn. It was the one that had offered the Other World Pledge for the desperate Yoo Joonghyuk to sign.
The ‘Outer God Without A Name’ was the tragedy of the 999th turn.
“Were you the one who killed Kim Namwoon?”
Kim Dokja looked into Yoo Joonghyuk’s eyes. “No.”
[The character ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ has used the exclusive skill ‘Lie Detection’.]
[Lie Detection has confirmed that your words are false.]
“It seems that you don’t have the Poker Face skill, unlike Anna Croft,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, “But still. If you’re a prophet, you should already know what I’m going to do, shouldn’t you?”
For one second, Kim Dokja considered struggling. He immediately knew that it wouldn’t help. Maybe if this was the 100th regression, no maybe if it was the 50th one, he might have had a tiny chance. Maybe.
In the 999th regression, at such an early scenario? Yoo Joonghyuk was no different than a god. At his most powerful, Kim Dokja was slightly more harmful than a stray pebble towards him.
Damn that cheat of a Transmission skill.
Damn that stupid, suicidal, idiotic sunfish of a—
“Oh I know alright you selfish bastard,” Kim Dokja glared, long past fear and all the way into anger. “But before that let me just tell you one thing. My name is Kim Dokja. And—”
He pulled Yoo Joonghyuk close by the collar of his shirt, to tell him, emphasising every single word: “I am nothing like Anna Croft.”
[A few constellations admire your calmness.]
[A few constellations admire your sense of drama.]
[The constellations have sponsored you 500 coins.]
“Yes, you’re nothing alike,” Yoo Joonghyuk nodded.
Then, without a warning, he used a single movement to grab his head and twist. In a single second, Kim Dokja’s neck broke with a resounding crack.
[The exclusive skill ‘Fourth Wall’ has offset some of the shock.]
[You have failed the scenario.]
“You’re dead, while she’s still around to be a hindrance. Farewell, ‘Kim Dokja’.”
[You have died.]
The last thing Kim Dokja glimpsed through a blurry, wavering vision was Yoo Joonghyuk using Air Steps to walk over the disappearing bridge of light.
What a bastard, seriously.
In the Star Stream, death didn’t free you from the scenario. In fact, saying “free” was a bit of a wrong description. There was nothing more cruel and painful than the fate of being thrown out of the scenario, left to decay and break apart all alone.
But the point was; death wasn’t the end.
Kim Dokja awakened to the coarse, wet feeling of sand dragging at his fingertips, the repetitive sound of someone rowing in water echoing in his ears.
He kept his eyes closed to avoid glimpsing the creature bringing him to an Afterlife Scenario. His afterlife would be chosen according to his belief and some random characteristics, and Kim Dokja needed his to be one of the only two from which he might be able to escape back into the main storyline.
[Secondary Scenario— Isle of Reincarnators] ruled by the ‘Guardian of the Mandala’.
[Secondary Scenario— Underworld] ruled by the ‘Father of the Rich Night’.
If he ended up anywhere else, such as the dead-end afterlife that was Eden, his goal would become truly impossible. To this end, a normal incarnation could only close their eyes and pray to the religion whose story they wished to end up in.
But Kim Dokja had a trick up his sleeve.
[You have sacrificed 1 coin.]
[You have acquired a golden coin.]
In Star Stream, coins could be converted into any physical money you wanted. Now, normally, no one would do that kind of stupid action, seeing as you couldn’t convert useless earth money back into coins. But these circumstances were a bit unique.
As discreetly as he could, Kim Dokja placed the golden coin under his tongue. It tasted metallic and cold, but it was worth the discomfort.
[You have paid the toll to cross the Stynx River. Charon will take control of your boat for the remainder of your journey.]
[A new scenario has arrived!]
Kim Dokja lost consciousness for the rest of the ride.
Secondary Scenario — [Underworld]
Clear Conditions: You’ve died and become a resident of the Underworld. Work diligently in Tartarus and avoid provoking the Judges until the time of the Final Gigantomachia.
Time Limit: ???
Compensation: A promotion. Improved standing in the Underworld.
Penalty: Expulsion from the scenario.
“Ahjussi! Hey, Grasshopper-ahjussi!” A hand shook Kim Dokja awake, “Oiiii. Are you going to wake up or should I start slapping you awake?”
Kim Dokja woke up.
The first thing he saw was a head of messy bleached hair and long bangs covering a face that gave him goosebumps at its familiarity. The teenager brought his nose closer, revealing the sharp, small-pupilled eyes underneath those long bangs.
Kim Dokja groaned, rubbing at his face with one hand. “Kim Namwoon?” He asked, already knowing the answer.
“Oh! You do remember me, Subway Grasshopper!” Kim Namwoon grinned, sounding genuinely happy about this fact, the psycho.
Kim Dokja pushed himself up, pulling away from the murderous teenager. “Where are we?”
“Tartarus.” Kim Namwoon replied, getting up from the sand ground. He pointed to the metal frames and burning furnaces all around them, as well as the slightly transparent slaves working on them.
Kim Dokja raised his hand. It was also slightly transparent, just like the other slaves.
[The exclusive skill ‘Fourth Wall’ has offset some of the shock.]
He really was dead huh? Damn.
“But you already died, Ahjussi? This is kinda embarrassing,” Kim Namwoon said as he watched Kim Dokja get up to his feet. “I mean, if the guy that killed me is this weak, it reflects badly on me, doesn’t it? With how big you were talking, I thought it would at least be a few more scenarios before you died.”
Kim Dokja turned an inscrutable look onto the teenager humming happily at his side. “Who’s fault do you think it is that I died so fast?” He muttered.
“Eh, no way? You died because of me?”
“A really crazy guy wanted to avenge you,” Kim Dokja snorted. “Does that make you happy?”
“I don’t particularly care, actually,” Kim Namwoons shrugged. Kim Dokja blinked, looking weirdly at the teenager. “What’s that look for, Ahjussi?” Kim Namwoon laughed, pointing at him, “I’m dead already. Aren’t we all friends living in the afterlife? Plus, I get good food and sleep and even get to work on the Gundam, so I’m actually happy you killed me!”
“That you died.”
“You aren’t angry, you don’t want to kill me, you don’t want revenge...” Kim Dokja listed every possible reaction that would have been in character for the Kim Namwoon from Ways of Survival.
“Ahjussi haven’t you been listening?” Kim Namwoon struck a dramatic pose with his left hand to covering half of his face; “The curse of every wandering warrior is their wish to live the peaceful, ignorant life of a normal citizen. This warrior has been wandering around for too long! Kim Namwoon is not the sort of knight that wouldn’t pay his debt to the man who let his wounded soul finally achieve the rest it seeks.”
Kim Dokja barely, barely managed to keep his embarrassed wincing internal. This was one of the reasons —other than his incurable madness and cruelty— why he had disliked Kim Namwoon as a character. Kim Namwoon was horribly, awfully, chuuni.
He got along pretty well with his sponsor, the other overpowered chuuni of the Ways of Survival.
“So I’m not mad,” Kim Namwoon said in a slightly more quiet tone, “And like, since we’re the only two here from Earth, and since we’re both dead, well, I mean— let’s get along from now on, Grasshopper-ahjussi.”
He finished that long sentence with a tiny look up at Kim Dokja, and Kim Dokja sighed. He couldn’t help but remember that Kim Namwoon’s backstory was that of a friendless, ostracised orphan — after all, that was another reason why Kim Dokja hated this character. The similarity to himself.
But, looking at the teenager watching him with a hesitant, purposefully distant gaze, the usual dislike Kim Dokja felt seemed to be less caustic than usual. Kim Dokja sighed again. “Alright,” He said, giving Kim Namwoon a wry smile, “Let’s get along well.”
Kim Namwoon smirked, but it was softer than what Kim Dokja had always imagined while reading the Ways of Survival.
“Come on then, Ahjussi! We need to start working before the supervisors come running,” Kim Namwoon said, “The Gundam is right there, we just need to hammer it.”
“You misunderstood me,” Kim Dokja smiled, “We’re not going to work together, we’re going to go back to life together. Let’s go. To the scrapyard!”
If Yoo Joonghyuk wanted Kim Namwoon so much, well. Then what could Kim Dokja do but deliver the boy right to his feet? He lived to serve.
“Eh? EH?! Ahjussi?? Where are you taking me! Let me go! I don’t want to liiveee!”
Sub Scenario — [Giant Soldier Pluto]
Clear Conditions: Having confidence in your mechanical expertise, you have made the boastful claim that you will complete the Giant Soldier before Gigantomachia. The Judges have allowed you entrance to the Scrapyard of Tartarus, but be wary; their ire is sure to rise should you prove incapable of what you boast.
Compensation: The position of an Underworld official. Special regard from the ‘Father of the Rich Night’ and the ‘Queen of the Darkest Spring’.
Failure: Punishment from the Judges.]
Kim Dokja completed the soldier. Obviously he completed the soldier. He had the knowledge of nearly two thousand regressions, if he couldn’t complete a single Giant Soldier, it would be an embarrassment to good readers all around.
Kim Namwoon grumbled and complained and whined, saying that he wanted to stay here instead of going back to the scenarios, but he was easily convinced by the promise that he could drive the “Gundam” when it was completed.
It was clear that Kim Dokja didn’t actually have the authority to make such a promise, but since he wasn’t planning on handing the soldier to the Underworld, he wasn’t technically lying either.
[You have used the Narrative-grade story fragment ‘The Active Core of a Victorious Interstellar Battleship’]
[The Giant Soldier Pluto is awakening.]
[The Giant Soldier Pluto has woken up.]
[The Sub Scenario is completed!]
[Report to the Three Judges to receive your reward.]
“Whoo! We did it!” Kim Namwoon cheered, “Fu◼️◼️ yeah!”
[The prisoner filtering is activated!]
[The contents have been filtered to ensure the correct language usage in Tartarus.]
[Prisoner ‘Kim Namwoon’ has received one penalty point.]
“Oh s◼️◼️◼️,” Kim Namwoon said.
[Prisoner ‘Kim Namwoon’ has received two penalty points.]
Kim Dokja snorted at the wilted-looking Kim Namwoon, having been deliberately avoiding using swear words since he arrived at Tartarus. It was hard to hold himself back, especially whenever he thought of Yoo Joonghyuk that crazy bastard.
[The Judges have received word of your success and are on the way to grace you with their presence.]
And that was their cue to leave.
“Hey, Kim Namwoon,” Kim Dokja called, “Let’s go test this piece of metal, shall we?”
The way Kim Namwoon looked up at that, breathing lightly like an excited child, made it hard to believe that in another life this guy had been the Delusion King, murderer of innocents and children all around. It was a highly unwanted reminder of the fact that Kim Namwoon —however well adapted he was to the Star Stream— was just a young boy barely out of high school.
In the original 999th regression from the book, Kim Namwoon had been in love with Lee Jihye. He had had a pet baby dragon that he claimed to keep because his sponsor forced him to, but that he would actually go to sleep hugging. He had cried the hardest at Yoo Joonghyuk’s funeral.
[The Fourth Wall is shaking.]
[Your understanding of the character ‘Kim Namwoon’ has increased.]
Kim Dokja ignored the message windows glaring at his face.
[Grasshopper-ahjussi, what are we going to test this on?]
When he looked up, Kim Dokja saw that Kim Namwoon had already entered the Giant Soldier, and the story weapon was moving around with fast, jumpy movements. Just how excited was this Gundam otaku?
“What else?” Kim Dokja smirked. “Obviously the sleeping puppy over there.”
The Cerberus, the guard of the gates, growled at them.
The Giant Soldier’s eyes seemed to glint, and although Kim Dokja couldn’t see the teenager inside, he somehow knew that he was grinning.
The soldier cracked his knuckles. [Nice.]
Second Scenario — [Food Acquisition]
Clear Conditions: Directly hunt the monsters that can be used as food and cook them.
Time Limit: None
Compensation: 500 coins
Yoo Joonghyuk walked out of the dark tunnel and back towards the crowd of astonished gawkers waiting at Gumho Station. In his hands were the Ground Rat corpses that he had collected, as well as the magic stove of from their lair.
“As expected of our station’s hero!” One of the men exclaimed. It was the leader of the group and a random guy that never seemed to survive past the 5th scenario, Cheon Something. Yoo Joonghyuk only needed to give him a single cold glance for his bright smile to shrink and tremble.
Uncaring of the people watching him, Yoo Joonghyuk climbed up the train tracks that led to the tunnel and started pushing past the crowd of dirty and thin people.
“A-ah, hold on, Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi,” Cheon Something followed after him, talking. Yoo Joonghyuk glanced at the man. “You’re the only person to enter the tunnel and survive. Everyone is endangered by the scenarios, shouldn’t you tell us what is in there? There are this many people depending on you, you see. You’re the hero in—”
“If you don’t want to be cut,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, turning his gaze away with a tired breath, “Scram.”
Cheon Something scrammed.
It seemed that he had learnt some lessons after all.
As Yoo Joonghyuk walked towards the fourth exit of the station, the crowd thinned and the amount of dull-eyed, sunken-cheeked people increased. Eventually, he reached a tiny corner with a bench at one side and some left over trash and broken belongings on the other. There was dried blood on the otherwise clean floor, left over from a previous scenario.
A woman in a formal attire with dishevelled hair stood in front of him. “Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi,” She said, smiling a strained smile, “There’s no need for you to help us so much.”
Yoo Joonghyuk took one look at her before his eyes turned past her and onto the bent shoulders of the big man behind her, his hands waving as he tried to cheer up a blank-looking boy. The child was clearly unresponsive, seemingly unattached from the bloody scenery of destruction around himself.
Both of the boy and the woman were new incarnations, ones that had never appeared before in any other regression. Yoo Joonghyuk knew better than anyone else how the butterfly effect worked— there had been 998 chances for Kim Dokja and the woman and child to get out of that metro, and they never had. The only difference Yoo Joonghyuk had made this time was that he had made a deal with an Outer God.
Yoo Joonghyuk knew that unless he deliberately moved to change things in the very beginning of his regressions, then they wouldn’t appear ever again.
They were brief existences appearing in the most passing of roles in Yoo Joonghyuk’s long life, just like Kim Dokja had been. Normally, Yoo Joonghyuk couldn’t care less about their survival but they had, unfortunately, taken Lee Hyunsung in. If Yoo Joonghyuk killed them both and took only Lee Hyunsung with him, the man would never trust him again.
One dead Kim Dokja was already creating enough trouble.
“Scram,” Yoo Joonghyuk repeated his words from before. He pushed past the woman and approached the muscled man instead.
“Lee Hyunsung,” He said.
The man startled, whirling around, while the child just glanced disinterestedly at him. “Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi!” Lee Hyunsung exclaimed, heaving himself up with an awkward smile, his eyes distant, “I’m glad you could survive the tunnels.”
“It’s not difficult,” Yoo Joonghyuk replied, throwing the rat carcasses on the floor in front of the man. He lowered himself down and got to handling the meat with a pocket knife that he had taken from the group back there, speaking without looking up, “Next time you’ll come with me.”
“That’s... Of course, we shouldn’t leech on your effort,” Lee Hyunsung declared, seemingly trying to encourage himself, “I’ll catch our food!”
“Hyunsung-ssi,” The woman said, “I can’t let you do the work alone, I’ll come with you two.”
Yoo Joonghyuk glanced at her nervously determined expression. “No,” He said, before going back to his work. Two rats were already in neat fillets, placed on a clean plastic bag.
“That’s right Sangah-ssi!” Lee Hyunsung said, standing up with his hands clenched, “We can’t possibly endanger the women and children! This is the least I can do while Kim Dokja-ssi is gone.”
That guy again. Yoo Joonghyuk pursed his lips with his face lowered, dislike unseen by anyone. The other two were irrelevant, but at this rate, Lee Hyunsung discovering that Yoo Joonghyuk killed the prophet that he trusted so much would become a problem.
The man was already so wary of him. In every other regression, Lee Hyunsung was willing to follow him to Chungmuro Station by now. Now, he practically had to force him to hunt some Ground Rats.
There was also Lee Jihye to consider...
“Tsk,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, stabbing the rat a little more forcefully than was necessary.
“Hey,” The boy said, looking from across him where he was curled up at the bottom of the wall, “Can I come?”
“No,” Yoo Joonghyuk replied with the same disinterested tone from before, but truthfully, he was actually uncertain on this one. The boy was an outsider, sure, but he had enormous potential not dissimilar to that of Shin Yoosung. If Yoo Joonghyuk wasn’t intent on dedicating this round to repaying his friends, he would have long snatched him.
But this round wasn’t for him. It was for Lee Hyunsung, for Lee Jihye, for Shin Yoosung, for Lee Seolhwa...
It was for them.
The boy would have been useful in the scenarios to come, but Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t have the presence of mind necessary to take care of him too.
“You get strong from hunting right?” The boy continued without paying Yoo Joonghyuk’s words any heed, “I need strength to go out and find Hyung.”
“There’s no need,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, finally finishing the handling of the rats, “That guy is dead.”
“How would you know?”
Yoo Joonghyuk scoffed. “I personally saw his corpse get eaten by a Rank 5 monster.”
“Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi!” Lee Hyunsung said, horrified, “You can’t say that to a child! Please have some tact!”
Not responding, Yoo Joonghyuk pushed the meat and the stove forward and wiped his bloodied hands onto the already filthy jeans he had been wearing on the metro from before the scenarios. He got up with his face expressionless. “Cook that on the stove, it can make monster meat edible. Don’t share with outsiders.”
Yoo Joonghyuk walked away towards an emptier, more peaceful part of the metro. He stepped back to lean against the cold wall of the metro station, keeping an eye on Lee Hyunsung even as he glanced at the marginalised group whose members were looking at the cooking meat with salivating lips and greedy eyes. Lee Hyunsung was already wavering at the influx of begging looks directed at him, as expected.
Yoo Joonghyuk had no intention of stopping him from helping them if he wished to. That was who Lee Hyunsung was at his core, and that was what had kept him following Yoo Joonghyuk over and over again in each regression, helping Yoo Joonghyuk reach his conclusion at the cost of his own.
Yoo Joonghyuk wished to find out what Lee Hyunsung’s own story would be, if he could develop it as he wished.
On that note, Yoo Joonghyuk glanced above, where he couldn’t see the constellations but could feel their gazes. “When can I go to the Underworld?”
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, says that the pledge will supply you with the necessary probability anytime you want.]
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is warning you that the earlier you go, the more probability you will need.]
Yoo Joonghyuk pushed himself up, stretching his muscles. “I don’t have the time to wait.”
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is reminding you that to generate greater possibility, you will have to sacrifice more of your body.]
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is urging you not to be hasty.]
“Shut up,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, scowling, “I don’t need you to remind me, I know the contents of the pledge. I’ve already made up my mind.”
[The constellation, ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’, is pulling at his hair from this sweet potato-like conversation.]
[The constellation, ‘Abyssal Flame Dragon’, is ordering you to explain what you mean by ‘pledge’.]
And then there were these fools that had joined in from Kim Dokja’s channel. For some reason, they were still following him around. As expected of their constellation nature, they didn’t seem to have the slightest shred of guilt at switching from one dead actor to his murderer at the first chance.
Honestly, Yoo Joonghyuk was less surprised at the fact that they didn’t feel sadness at Kim Dokja’s death than that he had encountered all of them this early into the scenarios.
[The constellation, ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’, is turning towards the ‘Outer God Without A Name’ for an explanation.]
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is smiling secretively.]
[The constellations watching you are becoming unbearably curious.]
“I will sacrifice five fingers to go to the Underworld and bring Kim Namwoon back into the main scenario,” Yoo Joonghyuk declared, feeling for the tight net of stories and probability that tied him to the Other World Pledge. It didn’t react, scorning his sacrifice.
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, says that you will need to sacrifice no less than a limb to do this in such an early scenario.]
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is urging you not to be hasty.]
“The more I wait, the more Kim Namwoon is likely to be assimilated into the Underworld’s story. I made that pact with you so I could save them, not abandon them,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, voice heavy. There was no response from the Outer God.
Yoo Joonghyuk didn’t know if an Outer God could understand emotions or debts, but he thought that it at least knew that Yoo Joonghyuk wasn’t going to compromise on any single one of these people.
Yoo Joonghyuk threw one last glance at where Lee Hyunsung was being fed packet biscuits by an insistent looking Lee Gilyoung.
He’d probably be fine for a while.
Smuggling one insignificant soul out of the Underworld shouldn’t take too long anyways.
Yoo Joonghyuk thought for a few seconds.
“I will sacrifice my left arm for the probability.”
[The Other World Pledge is awakening!]
[The Other World Pledge has eaten your left arm.]
Yoo Joonghyuk gritted his teeth, a pained hiss slipping involuntarily out of his throat. His hand clutched at his sagging left arm as burning, needle-like strands of pain crawled slowly up— from his fingertips to his shoulder, leaving the limb completely numb.
After an endless minute or two, the crawling, biting pain abated. Yoo Joonghyuk took in rapid breaths, holding onto his left arm with trembling fingers.
He couldn’t feel it. He could see that both of his arms were there, could feel the muscle under the palm of his right hand, but he couldn’t feel anything at all from his left arm.
It felt as if the arm had fallen off.
Yoo Joonghyuk panted with his eyes closed, forcing himself to bear the uncomfortable sensation.
This was nothing compared to what would be coming.
[The Other World Pledge is licking its lips as it eyes the rest of your body with a hungry gaze.]
[The Other World Pledge is being forced back asleep by the parameters of the agreement.]
Yoo Joonghyuk let out a small sigh of relief.
[The constellation, ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’, is impressed by your will to sacrifice for your friends.]
[The constellation, ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’, has supplied 1000 coins to you.]
Yoo Joonghyuk turned his attention back to the ceiling. Even though he couldn’t see the constellations through it, they could see him looking up at them.
“Well?” He said.
[The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, is watching how you will save your friend.]
[300 coins have been supplied.]
Hidden Scenario — [The Scenic Walk]
Clear Conditions: The constellation, ‘Outer God Without A Name’, has helped you on your way to find Kim Namwoon and bring him out of the Underworld without alerting the Judges. Take your time and enjoy the scenery, as this is an easy mission.
Compensation: 10 coins. An incarnation body for Kim Namwoon.
Failure: Death (?).]
Included in the plan had been: Using the narrative-grade power of the Giant Soldier story weapon, beating Cerberus to open the way out of the Underworld, getting two incarnation bodies on the way, coming back to life.
Not included in the plan had been: Kim Namwoon getting excited and challenging increasingly more powerful Cerberuses, making them fall down into the lowest level of Tartarus, ruining the entire plan.
But hell. This was the story of Kim Dokja’s life.
[But Ahjussi!] Kim Namwoon complained, gesturing at the wide cavern that they had ended up in, pointing at the ominous metal doors that could be seen at the very end of the lowest floor. [Aren’t you curious what we’ll find here?]
“I am not,” Kim Dokja gritted, pinching between his eyes and thinking furiously back to every chapter he had read. This was only his second day since the Ways of Survival came to life, and he was already on the verge of facing the main characters of Gigantomachia.
Behind him was the full force of the Underworld, a realm ruled by one of the few Myth-Grade constellations, hunting him down for stealing the Giant Soldier. In front of him was the last prison in Tartarus and the Giants and Titans imprisoned within, just waiting to eat his soul up.
It was no longer even a question of who they could beat, but more of who they could reason with.
This was all definitely that bastard Yoo Joonghyuk’s fault, he knew it.
[Hey, Grasshopper-ahjussi, look! I think I found the door knobs!]
Kim Dokja raised his head, only to feel his heart clench painfully in his chest, physically shortening his lifespan. “Kim Namwoon, stop! No!”
It was too late. Kim Namwoon had already pushed the metal arm of the soldier into the door, and no matter how fast Kim Dokja reached out to him, there was no way to stop it. In the case that no sufficient sacrifice was made to summon a giant from the door, then the door would attempt to eat up the incarnation instead.
An arching ray of lighting shot out from the door and climbed over the arm. Kim Namwoon started screaming.
“Sh◼️◼️!” Kim Dokja swore, no mind left to pay for the Tartarus swearing policy. He hurriedly revised his initial plans of saving coins for future emergencies and started pouring his coins into his stats. Then, with desperate quickness, he activated the ‘Bookmark’ skill.
[The exclusive skill ‘Bookmark’ is activated.]
[‘Character Bookmarks’ is activated.]
[Available Bookmark Slots: 3]
[Bringing up the list of available bookmarks.]
[People Listed in the Bookmark Slots
- The Delusion Demon Kim Namwoon (Understanding 50).
- Steel Sword Lee Hyunsung (Understanding 35).
- Empty slot. ]
“Activate bookmark two!”
[The number two bookmark has been activated.]
[The level of the Bookmark skill is low, shortening the activation time.]
[Activation Time: One minute.]
He didn’t need more than a few seconds.
[Your understanding of the character is low, so only a part of the character’s skill is activated.]
[Great Mountain Push Lv.1 has been activated.]
With all of his strength, Kim Dokja slammed the Giant Soldier away from the doors. They both fell back onto the ground, lightning still sizzling around Kim Namwoon’s twisted and half-melted metal arm. Kim Dokja could hear the boy panting in pain and shock, and he could see the hole in the door spark and crackle before falling silent. No sacrifice had been made, and the doors wouldn’t open.
Kim Dokja put his forehead onto the cold marble floor and sighed.
[Ha haha. Haha hahaha,] Kim Namwoon started cackling maniacally next to Kim Dokja’s arm, the psychopath. [I almost died right there! Oh wait I’m already dead. I almost went back to life?]
“Next time that you want to touch something,” Kim Dokja groaned, closing his eyes with a prayer for some more patience, “Ask first. Okay? Listen to me while I’m asking nicely.”
[Hahaha, whatcha gonna do, kill me? But you already did!]
[Well. You also saved me just now, so I’ll listen for a bit.]
“Look here, for a bit is—”
“Don’t interrupt me, I’m telling you that for a bit isn’t—”
[Ahjussi! There’s something, a, a giant eye—] Kim Namwoon blabbered, [On the door..!]
At that moment, an earthquake occurred.
[The configuration of Tartarus is becoming unstable!]
By the time Kim Dokja realized how wrong everything was, it was already too late. The giant door had slammed open and a huge hand had grabbed Kim Namwoon.
[Uwaaaack! Save me!]
Kim Dokja hurriedly got up to try and avoid the attacks, but it was impossible as more than ten hands caught him in their grasp. By the time he came to his senses, he was already hanging upside down in the air.
He looked past the huge hand that grabbed him.
[The exclusive skill ‘Fourth Wall’ is strongly activated!]
A giant blue eye was smiling down at him. The expression was more condescending amusement than friendliness.
Right then, Kim Dokja couldn’t help but remember one of the most interesting character descriptions in the Ways of Survival: Blue eyes and bulging muscles on a body that was three meters tall, a sharp, handsome face of arrogant amusement. The Breaking the Sky Sword Saint, the master that Yoo Joonghyuk had refused to meet after the 100th regression turn.
This giant was much much bigger than her, and much less human looking, covered in limbs and uncountable protruding blue eyes, but the face was similar.
Kim Dokja knew who these giants were.
The great ‘Hundred-Handers’, the three Hecatoncheires brothers. And of them, the blue eyed one was the strongest storm, Briareus. His brothers were next to him. The rushing stone, Cottus. The changing limbs, Gyges.
In particular, Kim Namwoon was dangling by the leg from Gyges’ hand. [Mmm.] The titan was saying, [A child of deep sin. Looks tasty.]
[Sa— save me..! Ahjussi!]
Unfortunately, Kim Dokja didn’t have the leeway to think about saving anyone.
How did the titans appear? This hadn’t happened in any of the regressions. The only way to open Tartarus’s last prison was to offer a worthy sacrifice. Then, a giant or titan of appropriate value could exit.
Sparks exploded around the giants and titans visible inside the prison. Some of them groaned in pain. [The probability gets worse each time...] Cottus grumbled.
Kim Dokja’s lips thinned.
...He had been too hasty. Yoo Joonghyuk had never approached the giants at such an early point. When he found them, they were always tired to near death. Right now, they still had the necessary probability to open the door themselves.
[Hoo? This one is bearing it pretty well?] The hand holding Kim Dokja shook, sending swirls of nausea down his stomach. [What a cute fly. How are you enduring our status with such a weak body, child? Look, your friend already fainted.]
Kim Dokja didn’t respond, but he already knew it was because of one thing and one thing alone.
[The exclusive skill ‘Fourth Wall’ is incredibly strongly activated!]
[Who cares about that?] One of the brothers grumbled, [I’m hungry. It’s a small snack, but better than nothing.]
[Wait a little.] Briareus said, looking closer at Kim Dokja. [Nothing ever happens here. I’m curious why the tiny soul of a slave from Tartarus can resist us.]
Kim Dokja’s mind went into overdrive. If he had had to choose, he would have rather wanted to be caught by the Underworld than the Titans. The Titans together were as powerful as a myth-grade constellation, but unlike Hades and Persephone, they had no stories of letting people get away. They didn’t want anything but to eat.
The basis of negotiation was built on wants. If Kim Dokja couldn’t find something that the Titans would want, he was a goner.
Something Titans wanted other than eating humans...
It could only be that.
Fuck. There was no way this was going to work. It hadn’t been in the plan until at least forty more scenarios passed.
But there was no other choice now.
“I don’t mind responding,” Kim Dokja said, feeling inexplicably calmer as he realised that he was already at the cusp of certain death. He would either survive or he would die. Simple as that. “But I have a question of my own first.”
Immediately, an overwhelming, crushing accumulation of status ground down on him, knocking the breath out of him. He was trembling and gasping even with the Fourth Wall working furiously.
[Hahaha.] Briareus laughed, ignoring the glaring and growling group of giants around him, [What an amusing baby. Alright. I’ll answer one question.]
Kim Dokja gulped. Make or break. It was now. “If you can open the doors,” He said quietly, “Then why don’t you escape?”
There was instant silence.
[A child like you wouldn’t know.]
Indeed, not even Kim Dokja, the only reader in this world, knew much about the Titans. He knew only scraps and pieces collected from over a thousand lives’ worth offhand comments. But in his more than thousand regressions, Yoo Joonghyuk had occasionally teamed up with the giants; his Giant Transformation was the best example, having been taught to him by Briareus on his second regression.
…but in the end, Kim Dokja perhaps knew the Titans the best out of anyone but themselves.
The Titans were just like Yoo Joonghyuk had been. Tired of fighting. Tired of being trampled, mocked, disgraced. Tired of being in pain for no visible gain. Yoo Joonghyuk and them... they were a lot alike in many ways.
However, there was one place where they differed.
“You gave up,” Kim Dokja said, “You gave up on trying to beat Olympus.”
The hands around his body tightened to a deadly grasp. [You—!]
“I’ll give— give my answer to your question now,” Kim Dokja interrupted, wheezing, knowing that he was dead the second he stopped talking, “The reason I can endure your pressure is because of a story I read. Let me go— Let me go, and I’ll share it with you.”
[Impudent fly. Do you think we’re like those insatiable constellations?] Briareus said, his heavy voice vibrating with fury, [We’ve lived here for hundreds of thousands of years. We’re no longer curious about stories.]
It was a lie. This was the Star Stream. Everyone was curious about stories. Everyone.
Stories weren’t for people, they were people.
Kim Dokja hissed when the hand tightened further, feeling his bones creak. He stubbornly resisted the pain and started telling his story, knowing that it was the only lifeline that he could grab. “It... It’s the story— of a man... a man like you..! Who kept being killed by Olympus and Vedas and every other... other one of those assholes! But he defeated them all, he cut Poseidon’s head off, and crushed Ares under the foot of his Giant Transformation and—”
His breath left him. He opened his mouth to talk, but could only let out a gasping sound of pain. Nothing came out.
His body groaned at him in burning pain, and he squeezed his eyes.
...Alright. This was it then.
Just as his vision grew blurry and dark, he noticed a wavering message in front of him.
[Some of the Titans are starting to grow curious about the story you’re telling.]
[The bloody progression of your story has excited an incredibly small number of Titans.]
The pressure on him abated just slightly, but it allowed Kim Dokja take a grateful, deep breath.
[You’ve temporarily survived the wrath of the Hundred-Handers, the Three Hecatoncheires Brothers, using the appeal of an unfinished story.]
[You’ve gained a new Legendary Story, ‘Scheherazade of the Deepest Prison’!]
...Huh? Story? A Story, in Tartarus, at the earliest scenarios? A Legendary Story, at that?
Kim Dokja wondered if he was dreaming. The pain in his half-crushed body told him that he wasn’t.
[... Did he kill Zeus?] A Titan, enormous but still on the small side by Titan standards, asked from the back.
“...Not yet,” Kim Dokja answered honestly, because Yoo Joonghyuk’s strength at his 999th regression, when he regained all of his power, was just slightly short of upper Myth-grade. “But he will.”
With the break offered by the newly minted interest of the titans, Kim Dokja started to slowly tell the long story of the book that was more dear than his life.
“As a regressor, it’ll be his 1548th time living the same life from the beginning...”
“...He will be tired and ready to give up. He’ll be familiar with the oppression of Olympus, having been killed more than 500 times by one of their constellations or incarnations...”
“He will look at the Steel Sword’s crushed corpse, Zeus grinning over the naked, ravaged body of the woman he had loved. He won’t move for a long time...”
“‘Why are you crying?’ Zeus will mock...”
“He’ll be exhausted of trying to kill them each and every regression, only to be trampled and humiliated...”
From where he was in Briareus’s fist, Kim Dokja could see the titans watching him with crumpled faces. They were more than familiar with this aspect of the story after all.
[Your audience is immersed in the story you’re telling!]
[The Legendary Story, ‘Scheherazade of the Deepest Prison’, is singing.]
[The possibility of a new attribute is wriggling within you!]
“Until now, he had chances to give up,” Kim Dokja said, thinking about the 784th regression turn, thinking about the 41st regression turn, thinking about so many turns and so much pain, “He had so many chances to give up. He was in the same position as you, shackled and manipulated and forced to dance according to the will of the constellations. But he didn’t. No matter what, even after dying for hundreds of times, even after dying more than a thousand times, he never gave up.”
[...Why?] Someone asked.
Kim Dokja looked around for the minor titan who must have said that, only to find himself looking at Gyges, one of the three brothers. He looked tired. At his side, Cottus seemed grumpy and Briareus was unreadable.
How many times had they been dressed in shabby clothes and put in a cage? How many times had they been hunted by hundreds of incarnations for mere sport, picked off one by one? How many times had they passed through the prisoner-filled halls of Tartarus, jeered and mocked for their pain by even their fellow prisoners?
Kim Dokja was a reader. He had only read the slimmest pieces of their stories, had only heard what Yoo Joonghyuk had cared to learn, had only vaguely eyed their suffering from behind a screen.
He glanced at Kim Namwoon hanging unconscious from a hand, the metal around his body scratched and burnt. This teenager had been a murderer of unimaginable proportions, but he had also been scared. He had been in pain when he was injured. It had been his sadness at the loss of a friend in a later scenario that led him to becoming an avenger.
What had seemed like mere excuses when behind the phone screen felt painfully real here, with these characters standing as people in front of him.
Kim Dokja realised for the first time that Ways of Survival wasn’t a book anymore. While he had been reading about them, these people had been living those badly described, badly narrated tragedies. Kim Namwoon, the Titans, Lee Hyunsung, Lee Jihye, Shin Yoosung... Every single person from every chapter of the book had memories and feelings and wishes from the past that they could no longer realise. They hurt when they were in pain and grew tired when they had no hope, and they kept suffering in the darkness even when the narrative was no longer on them.
... Even Yoo Joonghyuk. Especially Yoo Joonghyuk.
[... Why didn’t he give up?] Gyges asked, [What did he want?]
“To be free,” Kim Dokja answered. “To reach the end of scenarios and be free of this damn Star Stream. He wanted to be liberated.”
A hushed, thoughtful pause settled onto the collection of titans in the prison. Kim Dokja saw more than a few of them looking up and nodding with reminiscent eyes.
Right then, Briareus snorted. [What wonderful fiction you have told us today, slave of Tartarus.]
“It’s not fiction,” Kim Dokja replied, sombre, because it wasn’t was it? It really, really wasn’t.
[Some pig-headed idiot didn’t give up and continued trying the same damn thing again and again, before finally his perseverance was rewarded? It really is the world’s most beautiful lie.] Briareus said, [But even the most beautiful lie will never be a truth.]
“That’s where you’re wrong.”
[I’m wrong and a lie can become a—]
“You’ve wrong because he didn’t keep trying the same thing,” Kim Dokja interrupted, “That’s the point isn’t it? If he kept doing the same things nothing would ever change. A story always needs to keep changing to get somewhere.”
The giants didn’t speak.
“Help me,” Kim Dokja said.
[With what?] Cottus, the angry looking titan who hadn’t spoken since the beginning, spoke.
“The liberation of Tartarus. Help me change the story. Don’t you think Gigantomachia has long gone stale and rotten?”
[Child.] A titan said, tiredly.
[Why?] Another asked.
[It’s useless.] One sighed.
But in the face of this unenthusiastic response, Kim Dokja only felt his lips twitching into a bright smile.
Why? Why. There were so many whys, so many reasons.
In the plan, freeing Tartarus and gaining the help of the Titans had always been an objective. The young Kim Dokja who had meticulously imagined how the Ways of Survival could possibly be cleared in one single round had thought up countless different responses to that. Any one of them could answer the question to a satisfactory degree.
But right now, somehow, only a single answer seemed to be forthcoming.
The Ways of Survival, Yoo Joonghyuk’s story of rebellion and liberation, well...
“Because that pig-headed idiot’s story is my favourite story of all.”
Hidden Scenario — [The Scenic Walk (Updated x4) ]
Clear Conditions: You’ve created so much chaos in the Underworld that the Father of the Rich Night has come down to deal with you himself. Find a damn way out of this situation and get Kim Namwoon’s soul with you before you get the hell out of there.
Compensation: 10 coins. An incarnation body for Kim Namwoon.
Failure: Death. Expulsion from the scenario. Destruction of all your stories.]
“What is it that you wish to obtain from us, incarnation? Why are you laying waste to Tartarus?”
Yoo Joonghyuk had his sword —a pathetic thing that he had grabbed from one of the soldiers here— pointed straight at Persephone’s head. The constellation was as regal and dignified as she had always been in every one of his regressions, even as she watched the destruction of Olympus at his hands.
She didn’t seem to care that he could cut off her head with a single slash of the Breaking the Sky Sword. She never did.
He shook the thoughts. He could vent on Olympus in the next regression. This time was a special occasion.
“I’m here for a soul.” Yoo Joonghyuk replied, “I will take him and go, and there will be no need for any bloodshed.”
Hades, who was still sitting next to Persephone on their thrones, watching Yoo Joonghyuk where he stood at the stairs in front of them, twitched at that. Persephone glanced at him before frowning. She leant onto her elbow on the armrest, gesturing behind Yoo Joonghyuk at the fields of massacred armies. “And where is this ‘no bloodshed’ you speak of? The armies of Tartarus lie dead on your path,” She said, eyes cold as if she was displeased by the loss of soldiers, but Yoo Joonghyuk already knew that the army could be endlessly regenerated as long as the Underworld had enough probability.
“They stood in my way,” Yoo Joonghyuk said simply.
“Have you not heard of the myth of Orpheus?” Persephone asked, looking ready to sigh in frustration, “Are you unaware that we already have stories of letting souls leave? Why not take the easy way?”
Yoo Joonghyuk tilted his head to glance at the dead army behind him, his sword never wavering. “I did take the easy way,” He replied, turning his gaze back to the royal couple.
“What is it with the incarnations on this planet,” Persephone muttered to herself, and even the eternally blank-faced Hades looked marginally more tired than Yoo Joonghyuk remembered him. “One of them steals a giant soldier and fights his way into the Titans’ prison. Another destroys the army. If this is the doing of your brothers, honey, I swear...”
Hades’s expressionless face somehow managed to look both wry and exhausted. “...I don’t believe either of them have the necessary imagination to come up with something like this,” He replied, talking for the first time.
Unfortunately for them, though, Yoo Joonghyuk had caught onto a single part of that sentence. Giant Soldier.
Wasn’t the Giant Soldier that weapon that Kim Namwoon thought looked like a gundam? Stealing one and going to fight through Tartarus was definitely something that that boy would decide to do.
“Speak. Where is the person who stole a gund— Giant Soldier?”
Persephone waves a nonchalant hand. “Oh they got caught by the Titans after he stupidly stuck his hand into the door.”
Yoo Joonghyuk cursed in his mind because that sounded exactly like something Kim Namwoon would do. “Where is he right now?”
“Didn’t I say? Caught by the Titans. Probably already became a meagre snack.”
His skills crackled on the feeble sword, dancing like black sparks. Yoo Joonghyuk could feel anger rising inside himself, but he could also feel the numbing of helplessness. It was always like this. The minute he decided to protect someone, they would inevitably slip out of his grasping fingers.
Have you protected what you were supposed to protect, came an insidious voice in his head, mocking. Yoo Joonghyuk had always hated that question. Somehow, it kept reappearing again and again, a narrative theme that he couldn’t escape, following him like a curse— asked by constellations and incarnations and even dokkaebi at random points of his regressions, but always coming back.
Have you protected what you promised to protect?
He hadn’t. That was the simple truth.
He hadn’t protected them.
He never ever —
Yoo Joonghyuk looked behind him to see a man walking gingerly past the corpses of the Underworld army, the scarred body of a Giant Soldier following at his heels. “Kim Dokja?” He muttered, furrowing his brows.
“You survived the Titans— ah, no, more importantly; you two know each other?” Persephone asked, raising an eyebrow, “Could it be that he is the Eurydice to your Orpheus?”
[The constellation, ‘Demon-Like judge of Fire’, is suddenly and inexplicably interested in this situation.]
Yoo Joonghyuk ignored all of them. He was too focused on the fact that Kim Dokja wasn’t transparent the way all the souls in Tartarus were supposed to be. “... Why do you have an incarnation body? I killed you.”
“And I killed Kim Namwoon, but here we are,” Kim Dokja grumbled, “We rummaged through the scrapyard for some body parts on the way here. But what are you doing here? Isn’t it still like the third scenario?”
“You can’t make an incarnation body without a story engineer,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, more confused than disbelieving. After all, he could already see that Kim Dokja was as alive as one could be in Tartarus.
Kim Dokja gave him a long look. “This is Tartarus. It’s full of story engineers.”
[You know this guy, Grasshopper-ahjussi?] Came a familiar voice from inside the soldier, [Just hurry the reunion up, I have to fix the gundam.]
“Kim Namwoon?” Yoo Joonghyuk said, relief warring with shock.
“This is the crazy guy who got revenge for you,” Kim Dokja told the teenager, wry smile in place, “Shouldn’t you be thanking him?”
[Ooh! He’s the bastard who killed you? He seems strong!] The Giant Soldier turned towards him, [Hey, you wanna fight? Wanna play with me?! I’ll even specially unlock my sealed right arm for you!]
[The constellation, ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’, is confused as to why you wanted to save someone who doesn’t know you.]
[The constellation, ‘Abyssal Flame Dragon’, is pleased with this incarnation.]
[The constellation, ‘Abyssal Flame Dragon’, demands you protect the incarnation that he took a liking to until the next sponsor selections.]
“Hmm?” Kim Dokja raised his head, eyes focused on something in the air. He snorted before glancing back at Yoo Joonghyuk. “You brought a dokkaebi with you?”
“He followed me,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, scoffing.
“It’s great that you’ve all reunited,” Persephone sighed, “Now leave. You’re all alive anyways.”
Kim Dokja blinked. “You’re letting us go that easily?”
Persephone twisted her lips at the word ‘easily’ and Hades’s brows twitched again. Yoo Joonghyuk very deliberately didn’t acknowledge the way Kim Dokja revaluated the scenery of destruction around them.
“We don’t want any more disorder here. The three of you have caused more trouble in one day than I’ve seen here in a millennium. Just leave.” Persephone waved her hand as if to say ‘shoo shoo’, “As the co-owner of the Giant Story ‘Underworld’, I, Queen of the Darkest Spring, declare that incarnations ‘Kim Dokja’ and ‘Kim Namwoon’ are no longer part of the story.”
[Giant Story, ‘Underworld’, spits the two souls out.]
[Giant Story, ‘Underworld’, looks down condescendingly at the two nasty souls that it threw out.]
[That was easier than you said it would be, ahjussi! I didn’t even get to fight!] Kim Namwoon said towards Kim Dokja, and Yoo Joonghyuk lowered his sword.
“I only demand that you don’t forget this favour,” Persephone said as they all turned around to leave, “We will collect it.”
Yoo Joonghyuk harrumphed, uncaring, and he saw Kim Dokja turn to smile and nod at the two constellations. Of course. A normal incarnation would be hard pressed to ignore a demand from constellations as powerful as Hades and Persephone.
Then again, a normal incarnation would never be able to survive meeting the Titans and bring himself back to life, let alone bringing along someone else with him to do so.
Kim Dokja was dangerous. There was no doubt about that. His existence alone was a variable that could cause Yoo Joonghyuk’s plans to become obsolete.
“Aren’t you going to kill me again?” Kim Dokja asked.
Yoo Joonghyuk kept looking at the dark path that led out of Tartarus, not glancing back to see the man’s expression. He could hear Kim Namwoon making gundam noises at the back, still sticking close to Kim Dokja. “Shouldn’t you know, since you can listen in on my thoughts?”
“I can’t actually do that all the time, so you can relax.” Kim Dokja said, irritatingly nonchalant about his peeking ways, “So? Will you kill me?”
“Are you going to stay dead if I kill you?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked back, annoyed.
Kim Dokja chuckled. “Probably not. I have things to do after all.”
“Hey Yoo Joonghyuk,” Kim Dokja continued, “Haven’t I proven myself enough? Let me help.”
At that, Yoo Joonghyuk couldn’t help but glare back. Kim Dokja looked as always, smug and inscrutable, with his wavering face too blurry to properly see. “I don’t trust prophets and I don’t trust mind-readers,” He said, speeding up to avoid any more conversation, “And even amongst them, you look especially untrustworthy.”
“You— that’s—” Kim Dokja stammered, following behind, “I don’t look untrustworthy! Just listen for a few seconds won’t you? Yoo Joonghyuk!”
Yoo Joonghyuk ignored him.
“Seriously? Yoo Joonghyuk, do you think you can survive this regression alone? You’ll never reach the end like this. What did you have to sacrifice just to get to the Underworld? You’re obviously not using you left arm!” Kim Dokja continued ranting, “It’s only the second scenario, and you’ve already lost one limb. Yoo Joonghyuk, you need me!”
Yoo Joonghyuk stopped and turned around to face the man, and Kim Dokja almost crushed into him at the abrupt stop.
“Since you claim to be a prophet,” He said, “Answer me this. There is only one conclusion I want to achieve— will I be able to bring them to reach the end or not?”
Kim Dokja opened his mouth, then closed it, unable to speak. He had been so dead-set against Yoo Joonghyuk working alone that him being unable to answer this could only mean one thing.
He couldn’t say no without Yoo Joonghyuk catching his lie.
Yoo Joonghyuk felt his lips rise. “Then I have no need for you.”
“Yoo Joonghyuk!” Kim Dokja said, “You’ll die, you dumbass!”
“So? So?” Kim Dokja sputtered, his hazy, nondescript face scrunching in fury, as incomprehensible as he was. “You think your death is an acceptable outcome? There’s no way I’m just going to stand by and let you kill yourself, you stupid sunfish bastard!”
“Why not?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked, disinterested.
“You have your conclusion and I have mine,” Kim Dokja said, crossing his arms, “If you die, I won’t be able to reach the conclusion I want.”
“Why should I care?”
Kim Dokja stopped his steps.
Yoo Joonghyuk have him one last long look before turning around and moving on, walking towards the small light shining at the end of the dark path. “I don’t care what you want or don’t, and I don’t need you. You can’t be trusted.”
This time, Kim Dokja didn’t respond.
The last thing Yoo Joonghyuk heard of him was him talking to Kim Namwoon, asking; “Do I really look that untrustworthy?”
Yoo Joonghyuk kept walking.
Main Scenario #1 — [Meeting]
Clear Conditions: Cross the tunnel and meet the survivors in the nearest main base.
Time Limit: None
Compensation: 500 coins
“A woman?” Kim Dokja muttered, looking at the young woman wheezing for breath at the corner of a wreckage, half conscious as she sent him a look that begged for help. He didn’t seem to remember a character like her in the book, but then again, he couldn’t be expected to remember every side character ever written. Ways of Survival wasn’t a 3000+ chapter epic spanning 1800+ lifetimes for nothing, and Kim Dokja hadn’t had access to his phone for days now.
Honestly, he was only hoping that although his phone was gone with no chance of retrieval, he would be able to download the file in another phone somehow.
Otherwise, Tls123’s gift would have lost all meaning.
Kim Dokja signed. “Well for now let’s just save her first.”
[Hey ahjussi! That’s my monkey lung! You can’t just give it away!]
Kim Dokja glanced briefly from where he was putting the Ellain Monkey Lung in the woman’s mouth. “You don’t need it, you have the giant soldier to protect you.”
[Urgh..! Dammit.] Kim Namwoon grumbled behind him, the now human-sized Giant Soldier looking down. [Then you should buy me another one!]
“What are you even going to do with one?” Kim Dokja asked, exasperated.
[Shaddup! I can do whatever I want with it! Grasshopper-ahjussi, don’t you forget to buy one!]
Kim Dokja sighed. “Fine, it’s not that expensive anyways.”
[Several constellations are protesting your statement!]
[Several constellations demand that you cease flaunting your wealth.]
“But,” Kim Dokja said as he stood up, pulling the weight of the weak but assisting woman along, only to push her towards the metal frame of the Giant Soldier. “I’ll only buy you one if you take care of her for a while, while I handle something.”
Kim Namwoon scooped the woman up and struck a pose that seemed strange with her poisoned-black face looking thoroughly unimpressed. [I can protect this woman with nothing but the strength of my single little finger.]
Kim Dokja cringed and silently apologised to the weakened woman.
They walked through the foggy, toxic wreckage of the outer world and with the help of the woman’s directions, they quickly reached the fourth exit of Gumho Station. By that time, Kim Dokja’s Ellain Monkey Lungs had already started to rapidly become corroded.
Kim Dokja could expect what sort of minor characters they would be welcomed by, so he told Kim Namwoon to wait at the entrance where the injured woman wouldn’t be seen but also the toxic air couldn’t reach, as safe a place as could be.
While he walked through the dark tunnel and down the stairs, Kim Dokja readied himself for a fight. After all, he wasn’t just expecting, but hoping, for a bounty scenario to be handed.
But against all expectations, standing guard there weren’t the minor thugs he had envisioned.
Kim Dokja stumbled on a step. “Hyunsung-ssi? Sangah-ssi? Gilyoung? What are you all doing here?”
Before Lee Hyunsung and Yoo Sangah could even close their gasping mouths, Lee Gilyoung had already run at Kim Dokja’s legs, latching on. “You’re alive,” He said, and Kim Dokja placed one hand onto his hair, not knowing what else to do.
“Kim Dokja-ssi..! I’m glad, I’m so glad!” Yoo Sangah cried happily, and Lee Hyunsung nodded from the side.
“I knew I shouldn’t have believed, Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi, I knew it,” He said with his bright eyes pointed at an awkwardly standing Kim Dokja. “Thank god... Thank god you’re alright.”
“Yes, I mean, I’m happy to see you all too,” Kim Dokja said, rubbing Lee Gilyoung’s head even more awkwardly in the absence of anything else to do. “Have you all been well? What are you doing standing near the entrance like this?”
“Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi picked a flight with Cheon Inho and his men,” Yoo Sangah explained with the true helplessness of anyone confronted with the main character’s actions. Hadn’t Kim Dokja’s death been exactly like that too? They all were mere victims in the face of Yoo Joonghyuk’s bulldozer-like-stubbornness.
“Both sides wanted us to stay out of the way and guard the entrance. So we had no choice but wait here,” Lee Hyunsung said, “But more importantly, what are you doing here Kim Dokja-ssi?! Where have you been? We thought you are dead!”
“I knew you weren’t dead all along, Hyung,” Lee Gilyoung muttered from below.
“Ah well,” Kim Dokja said, “I was briefly dead, yes. But no worries, it wasn’t too grave and I got better right away! More importantly, what did you say Yoo Joonghyuk is doing?”
“...Briefly dead,” Yoo Sangah mumbled, her expression frozen, “Got better... It wasn’t grave......Huh?”
“Hurry and tell me,” Kim Dokja urged with an anxious voice, “You should know, it won’t take more than a few minutes for that bastard to take down Cheon Inho’s group. He could be here any—"
“... Hey, Yoo Joonghyuk!” Kim Dokja greeted as brightly as he could, selectively ignoring the blood dripping down the man. “I was just—”
Yoo Joonghyuk raised his drenched sword, and in what looked to Kim Dokja like a single step, he was standing right in front of him, the tip of the blade pointed at Kim Dokja’s neck. Kim Dokja took a few rapid steps back, pushing Lee Gilyoung off towards Yoo Sangah.
“Leave,” Yoo Joonghyuk said.
Kim Dokja gave a nervous smile. “Remember that thing about not killing me..? You know I really think we should maybe make that into a contract, I—”
“Kim Dokja,” Yoo Joonghyuk growled, “Don’t test me.”
“Right then, I’ll just be off now,” Kim Dokja said. As he talked, he saw Lee Gilyoung taking a step towards him. Lee Hyunsung was straightening up, looking between Yoo Joonghyuk and Kim Dokja before settling finally on Kim Dokja, and Yoo Sangah patted the dust off of her clothes. All of them were clearly intent on following him out.
Yoo Joonghyuk’s brow twitched, eyes fixed on Lee Hyunsung’s hesitant form. He turned fully towards Kim Dokja with an even more murderous frown, saying; “Only you are leaving, Kim Dokja. They stay.”
“Hey you can’t—” Lee Gilyoung stated, but he was shut up by Yoo Sangah’s hand. Kim Dokja gave her a grateful nod and received a worried one back.
The sword that had been eerily unmoving until then moved to sweep past Kim Dokja’s feet, leaving a deep scratch in the concrete, drawing a straight line between Kim Dokja and his friends. “Do not cross this line,” Yoo Joonghyuk said, voice still emotionless, “Say your goodbyes and leave in two minutes. I won’t be any more lenient.”
With that, he left as abruptly as he appeared, leaving the four in awkward silence. As soon as Yoo Sangah’s hand stopped muffling him, Lee Gilyoung immediately started muttering; “Who does that guy think he is? Lenient? How’s this lenient? He’s a complete tyrant!”
For anyone else, Kim Dokja would agree, but considering the Yoo Joonghyuk that only he knew, him not only surviving but even being allowed to say goodbye was a shocking degree of leniency. Kim Dokja started to regret that things had progressed so fast that he hadn't remembered to activate the Omniscient Reader skill in time to look into the guy’s thoughts.
“What do we do now, Dokja-ssi? Should we run away?” Lee Hyunsung asked carefully, looking conflicted.
Kim Dokja fell silent.
Normally, he would never make the mistake of leaving anyone under Yoo Joonghyuk’s care. He remembered everything that had been done to these people over the thousands of regressions, the 41st and the 1863th ones being the most extreme examples, and whenever he remembered them he never failed to get cold chills.
This was the 999th regression. Not any other, but the 999th one. This regression was the most perfect one in the entire book. This Yoo Joonghyuk was Yoo Joonghyuk at his softest, most gentle self. He would faster die than let any harm come to his friends; just as he had done in the original novel.
Kim Dokja suddenly remembered that when he said to say goodbyes, Yoo Joonghyuk had been looking at Lee Hyunsung. He clearly didn’t want to upset the man, but he also didn’t want Kim Dokja to steal him away.
[You have accurately read the thoughts of the character ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’.]
[Your understanding of the character ‘Yoo Joonghyuk’ has increased.]
[Your understanding of the character is already too high.]
“Really...” Kim Dokja laughed quietly, feeling a tender mix of bitterness and amusement, “It could rise from this sort of thing?”
Kim Dokja looked up to see Yoo Sangah and Lee Hyunsung watching him with tense expressions. Lee Gilyoung was now clutching onto his own shirt, face worried and determined. “Gilyoung-ah,” Kim Dokja said, crouching down to be on eye level with the boy, “Hyung needs to do something very dangerous for a short time. I told you to come with me if you want to survive, but this time you’ll survive better if you wait for me. How about it, can you be patient?”
Unexpectedly, Lee Gilyoung shook his head. “I trained hard, Hyung, I can help you this time. I don’t want to stay with that jerk, I want to go with you.”
Kim Dokja blinked, his impression of a boy who only wanted to survive being shaken by this new declaration. Somewhere along the way, while he was still dead, Lee Gilyoung had clearly decided he needed to help Kim Dokja, despite the fact that Kim Dokja didn’t need it at all. Honestly, it would be enough if Lee Gilyoung just protected himself well.
“Dokja-ssi, you don’t have to listen to that man like this,” Yoo Sangah said, “I know that Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi is strong, but if nothing else we can all escape together while he’s gone. We aren’t afraid of him.”
“Yes, what Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi is doing is clearly injustice! This station belongs to the government, he can’t choose who comes and goes,” Lee Hyunsung exclaimed, “We’ll come with you, Dokja-ssi! Yoo Joonghyuk-ssi can’t take us all on and kill us.”
“You guys...” Kim Dokja sighed, amazed. “You’re misunderstanding that bastard to such an extent that it’s making me feel pity.”
“Alright think of it like this,” Kim Dokja said, smiling at Lee Gilyoung, “You want to get strong right?”
Lee Gilyoung nodded.
“That guy can make you unimaginably strong. You wouldn’t grow that well tagging along with me,” Kim Dokja admitted, despite feeling annoyance at the fact, “This is a training camp and that guy is your drill sergeant. He’ll train you to be strong. Do you trust me?”
Again, Lee Gilyoung nodded immediately, while the other two agreed soon afterwards.
“Then trust me when I say that he won’t do anything to harm you. In fact, he’s someone who’ll protect you with his life.”
Or at least in this life he is. Kim Dokja amended in his mind.
“... But why do you have to leave for that poisonous place,” Lee Hyunsung asked, drooping and worried, and Kim Dokja felt a tiny ball of warmth in his chest. Knowing that his favourite characters were people now, people with thoughts and feelings that wanted him to be safe, perhaps even one day people that would be like friends to him... It honestly made this apocalypse bearable.
“There’s something I have to do, that I can’t take you along for,” Kim Dokja replied simply, “That bastard will protect you, don’t worry. But things are going to get harder from now on, so I need to prepare. In a few scenarios... well, I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Hyung,” Gilyoung said suddenly, eyes like steel, “Hyung, I’ll become very strong. I’ll become strong enough to help you next time.”
Kim Dokja couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, then. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Let’s go together next time.”
“Hyung,” Gilyoung insisted, “Promise me.”
At the corner of his eyes, Kim Dokja saw Yoo Sangah and Lee Hyunsung laughing together, watching as Lee Gilyoung stuck close to him and muttered to himself about irresponsible adults.
There were dozens of scenarios to complete, endless people to save, the Other World Pledge hanging over Yoo Joonghyuk’s uncooperative, bastardly neck like Damocles’ sword, and even more problems just waiting to be created...
But somehow Kim Dokja felt like it would all be okay.
It was a first for him, feeling that.
“I will not ask why you did that.”
“That..? Ah, do you mean convincing them that you’re not as much of a psychopath as you’ve made yourself to be?”
“Calm down, you sunfish. I’m just saying that you should put more emphasis on personal relations. No one will notice your true feelings if you keep glaring and threatening people, you should also talk to them normally sometimes. I mean, sacrificing yourself isn’t the only way to build —”
Kim Dokja paused. “Honestly, I did have an ulterior motive for helping.”
“Obviously.” Yoo Joonghyuk said, sounding condescending at the implication that he might ever have thought otherwise. “I’m here only to tell you two things: Chungmuro is mine, so stay away, and if Kim Namwoon has so much as a single scratch, I will kill you. Permanently.”
There was a quiet pause, punctuated only by the sounds of various 7th rank monsters fighting above the dark, shadowed entrance of the Gumho station. The night sky was impossible to see through the poisonous fog and dust, but could be felt in the chill of the air and the darkness of the tunnel.
“Alright. I’ll listen. But on one condition.”
“...What?” Yoo Joonghyuk asked irritably.
“You grow Yoo Sangah and Gilyoung too,” Kim Dokja said, looking sharply at Yoo Joonghyuk’s unrepentant face, “I’ll definitely take all of them with me if you treat Lee Hyunsung preferentially. But I’ll agree to the deal if you agree to treat them the same.”
“Don’t threaten me, Kim Dokja.”
“...The same as Lee Hyunsung,” Yoo Joonghyuk muttered, a painfully soft expression on his face that disappeared as fast as it appeared, and Kim Dokja turned his eyes away, “That’s not possible. But I’ll help them enough to keep them alive for a while. That should be enough for them to survive the middle scenarios.”
“Grow them well.”
“When you die, send Kim Namwoon to me.”
“Pfft,” Kim Dokja waved a hand nonchalantly, ignoring Yoo Joonghyuk’s glower. “That’s not gonna happen for a long time. Keep dreaming. Oh, before you go—”
“You need to get Gong Pildu.”
Yoo Joonghyuk glared at him.
Kim Dokja shook his head with an internal smile, knowing that Yoo Joonghyuk had tried many times to insubordinate the man before, and that it had never worked. “There is a way to make him obey you. I’ll send it to you later.”
Later, as in when he found a dokkaebi to sign with him, gotten access to the dokkaebi bag, and bought a ‘Behind The Scenes Contract’ to send to Yoo Joonghyuk. Damn. He really had to move things up, huh.
“Hmph. Remember that your resurrection is a mere gimmick, so don’t test me, Kim Dokja.” Yoo Joonghyuk walked away without a single glance back. “If you cross me, I’ll destroy that soul of yours together with your body, and the Underworld will be scraping your dust from Tartarus.”
His back vanished in the dark depths of the tunnel, leaving only the echo of his words behind.
Kim Dokja shivered, thinking that a crazy bastard was a crazy bastard after all, no matter which regression it was. He hurriedly turned his face away. There was too much to do, before the King’s Road began; contracting a dokkaebi as fast as possible, acquiring a weapon —preferably the Broken Faith—, finding a main base to rule, buying that damn contract for an ungrateful Yoo Joonghyuk...
But as expected. He should do it as far away from Chungmuro as possible. That was the only way to survival.
Kim Dokja sighed. What a bastard, seriously.
Hidden Scenario — [King’s Road]
Clear Conditions: Take over a minimum of 10 stations within the time limit.
Time Limit: 10 days
Reward: The attribute of a ‘king’.
Failure: If you can’t take over a minimum of one station per day, you and your group members will all die.]