263 Chapter 263

Only I level up

Side Story 20
The last side story: Twelve years later (2)

A shadow of a woman, yet to shed the hints of her teen years, vigorously rose up from the thickly-coagulated clump of blood on the floor.
Chwa-ahck!!
Droplets of blood dripped from the ends of her hair as she took a look around her, her expression one of sheer confusion regarding her current situation. Eventually, though, she spat out pained moans.
[Ah.... Ah....!]
Indeed, it'd be quite painful for her since she retained the memories of her dying moments. Jin-Woo used the authority of the Shadow Sovereign and calmed the shadow for the time being.
"Don't be frightened.
The you of now has become an existence untethered from the boundaries of life and pain."
The king's calming, warm voice helped the woman to compose herself gradually. Jin-Woo then created a new set to clothing for her sake and wrapped them around her figure since she appeared how she died – nude.
[Ah....]
She cautiously pulled the clothing on her shoulders tighter.
Her name used to be Seo Jin-Yi. He named the newly-revived shadow woman the same as back when she was still alive, and began asking his questions.
"Did you... willingly take your own life?"
The shadow woman, no, Seo Jin-Yi, nodded her head.
Jin-Woo placed one of his knees lower to the ground so he could match her eye level. He studied her expression and quietly asked her.
"Your reason?"
And when he did, her lips, frozen shut like a block of ice, cautiously parted ways.
[I....]

***

Ding-dong.
The doorbell resounded out rather late at night; a middle-aged man put a photo frame containing a picture of his daughter down on its original spot and looked away.
'Who could it be at this late hour?'
He tilted his head this way and that while standing up from his seat, and walked over to the intercom.
The monitor on the device showing the scene outside the front door now displayed a man kitted out in a smart business suit standing there. The middle-aged man didn't think too much about it and pressed the 'Speak' button.
Beep.
The man outside the door pulled out his ID badge and showed it to the camera.
- "I'm Detective Seong Jin-Woo from Central Region's Violent Crimes Unit. I have questions to ask you regarding your daughter's death, so can we speak for a little while, please?"
The photo in the ID badge matched the face on the monitor.
The middle-aged man forgot that it was far too late in the day for a guest to show up like this when he heard the word 'Detective' and hurriedly flung the door open.
"Did the investigation's result come out? How did my little girl die?!"
Jin-Woo quietly studied the face of Seo Jin-Yi's father, Seo Gyu-Nam, before shaking his head.
"Nothing is certain yet, sir. However, I do have several follow-up questions I'd like to ask you regarding your daughter."
The father of the deceased formed a somewhat disappointed expression when he heard there was nothing to report yet. Jin-Woo made a quiet demand towards the man.

"Can you come with me?"
Seo Gyu-Nam seemed to be in a dilemma, but soon enough, formed a grimly determined expression.
"Of course. If I can help in any shape or form in uncovering the truth of my daughter's death, then I shall cooperate fully."
He came outside and locked the door before turning around to face Jin-Woo.
"Let's get going, Detective."
Jin-Woo nodded his head once and turned towards a certain direction.
"This way."

***

Seo Guy-Nam initially thought that they would go to the police station, but instead, they ended up in a cafe near his place. He asked the detective why they had to come here and only got a vague answer in the form of "We need a place to chat quietly" instead.
And so, Jin-Woo and Seo Gyu-Nam sat on the opposite side of the table. The former then began his questioning as the latter formed a heavy expression.
"What kind of a student was Miss Seo Jin-Yi usually?"
"Excuse me?"
"By any chance, was there anyone who might have been resentful towards...."
Seo Gyu-Nam belatedly realised the implication behind the question and hurriedly shook his hand around.
"No, no. Never. She was definitely not a child who'd go around doing things to make others hate her. She was really kind and pure and..."
Seo Gyu-Nam replied up to there before his head faltered and sounds of sobbing escaped from him.
How long did it go by like this?
The sobbing man's shoulder's stopped trembling eventually and he raised his head slowly.
"I, I'm sorry, Detective. I still can't believe that my little girl left me in that manner....."
"You must've cherished your daughter a lot."
"Of course. I'm sure you know this already, but Jin-Yi wasn't my biological child. That was why I cherished and loved her as much as I would've with my real child, no, maybe even more than that."
His gaze lowered as he struggled to swallow back his sadness. He continued on.
"If only she told me when she was hurting, when it was getting too much for her...."
Although Seo Gyu-Nam was displaying an intense emotional state, Jin-Woo was quite different in his attitude and kept an icy-cold gleam in his eyes from the beginning right until the end. He then pulled out his own smartphone from his inner pocket.
"While we were sifting through your daughter's personal effects, we uncovered a certain sound file."
"....Pardon?"
"Well, let's listen to it first."
Jin-Woo tapped on the play icon and let the voice of the shadow play out.
- [I....]
It was the testimony straight from her mouth about the tale of the horrifying abuse she suffered at the hands of her adoptive father, ever since she was a young child.
And as the testimony continued on...
Seo Gyu-Nam finally stopped acting like a sorrowful father who lost his daughter, his eyes constantly shaking from shock.
The girl deliberately chose to go to a university far away from home, believing that she was finally freed from the torment of her adoptive father, but then, when the b*stard got in contact with her again some time ago, starting with the text message saying 'I want to see you again', she chose to end her life, instead.
She might have taken her own life, but the culprit that drove her to that decision was someone else.
Tap.
Once the sound file ended its playback, Seo Gyu-Nam raised his head, his expression frozen-stiff now.
"Why... why did you play that in front of me?"
This middle-aged man could legitimately claim that he possessed quicker wits than most other people.
If the real goal of this meeting was to arrest him, then this detective would've shown up with a couple of other officers, slap the cuffs on him and be done with the whole thing just like that.
However, this cop didn't take him to the police station, but to a local cafe, saying that they needed to have a quiet chat.
That was why Seo Gyu-Nam had a hunch that the detective in front of his eyes had a somewhat different purpose in coming to see him. As if to reply positively to that hunch, the expressionless detective finally revealed a toothy grin.
"You now have two options available to you."
Options were available!
Seo Gyu-Nam clenched his fists tightly after hearing those words that sounded like the heavens extending a lifeline, just as a precariously dangerous situation was about to befall on him.
'Yes!!'
Meanwhile, the detective carried on.
"First…. You admit to your wrongdoing, go to the station with me, and confess everything."
"And... the other option is?"
"Rather than admit to your crime, you pay an appropriate price, instead."
Seo Gyu-Nam had to grit his teeth in order to suppress this powerful wave of jovial laughter gushing out from somewhere deep inside his chest.
'Oh my goodness me.'
And the wise old 'they' said that, even if the heavens collapsed, there would always be a way out, didn't they? Who would've thought that the detective who uncovered his ugly sins just so happened to be such an individual?
Seo Gyu-Nam had lived a pretty great life as a medical doctor. So, regardless of how much this pathetic policeman wanted, he knew he had the financial wherewithal to satisfy that demand.
Seo Gyu-Nam did his utmost best to stop the ends of his lips from curling up and asked back.
"How much are you asking for?"
"That is already enough."
Jin-Woo formed a hollow chuckle and securely pocketed the phone.
He knew better than anyone just how many people regretted with their whole being the choice they've made just now. This middle-aged man trying his best to hide his laughter came across as utterly disgusting and ridiculous.
In an instance, Jin-Woo's expression changed.
"Now, listen well."
With the smile gone from his face, an aura so ominous and bleak oozed out from him, instead.
"In reality, this place you're in isn't the world you were living in. No, it's a different world I simply mocked up to resemble the outside scenery."
The land of the dead that no living soul could enter without the express permission of its master – the territory of the eternal rest. Jin-Woo calmly added that that was the name of the prison about to seal Seo Gyu-Nam away.
Of course, the middle-aged man became flustered at the suddenly-changed Jin-Woo's attitude as well as at this strange, hard-to-understand explanation.
"E-excuse me, Detective-nim. I, I don't underst...."
"Think about it carefully."
Seo Gyu-Nam felt his breathing choke up from Jin-Woo's murderous glare.
"Can you remember how you got here?"
Now that he thought about it….
As the chill ran down on his spine, Seo Gyu-Nam finally realised the oddness of his situation.
'B-but, how....?'
Within this brightly-lit cafe, how was it possible that there was not a single soul around other than himself and this mysterious detective?
Even if you forget about other patrons, no, maybe even the actual owner of the place, shouldn't there at least be one waiter or a clerk somewhere??
However, whether it was inside the building or outside of the glass wall, there was not a single trace of other people at all.
"Ah...."
Just as he finally recognised that something unexplainable had happened to him, everything vanished, just like that, leaving only the darkness.
The only items left within this inky-black darkness were the table, plus the two chairs. And of course, himself and the detective sitting on those chairs.
"U-uwaaaaahhk?!"
Seo Gyu-Nam shot up from the chair and hurriedly stepped back as his complexion paled instantly.
"W-who the hell are you?! Is this a dream? It's a nightmare, isn't it??"
The middle-aged man pointed at Jin-Woo in a confused mixture of anger and desperation. Unfortunately for him, his retreating steps couldn't go too far.
Thud.
Because he ran into something as hard as a wall, that was why. An inexplicable chill swept him up and his head slowly shifted towards his back.
That's when the 'wall' began moving.
No, it wasn't an actual wall, just a giant 'ant' standing stiffly like one, and it was moving now.
This ant creature shoved its head closer to Seo Gyu-Nam's face and quietly placed its unfurled index finger against its 'lips'.
[Shh....]
In that moment...
"Euph! Eu-euph...!!!"
Dozens upon dozens of ant arms reached out from the darkness and grabbed onto him, before dragging him deeper into the unknown.
He would now be subjected to horrifying torture from here onwards where he'd eventually beg for death, but too bad, he'd not be able to die that easily.
See, the thing was, the Shadow now tasked with his punishment was one of the greatest soldiers in the ranks, and at the same time, the greatest 'Healer' there ever was, too.
[Kkiiehk!]
Beru bowed his waist to perform a smart greeting towards his liege, before melting back into the darkness.
'…...'
Jin-Woo wordlessly stared in the direction where Seo Gyu-Nam had disappeared to, and slowly stood up from his chair. This time, not from his front but from behind, another figure watching the proceedings unfold while hiding stepped out of the darkness.
It was Jin-Yi.
Jin-Woo was well aware that, no matter how badly the guilty suffered, the victim's pain would never fully disappear. However, if such a thing could console the heart of the deceased just a tiny bit….
He walked over to her and placed his fingertip on her forehead to erase all memories of her adoptive father.
[Thank you. Thank you so much, Sovereign-nim.]
The Shadow bowed her head many times to Jin-Woo afterwards.
Now that she was reborn as a Shadow, she instinctively understood what kind of a special existence he was, but well, Jin-Woo never planned to convert her into his Shadow Soldier, to begin with.
So, it was now time to return her to the void.
Just before their goodbyes, Jin-Woo asked her in a gentle voice.
"Is there anything else you'd like to say?"
The Shadow lightly shook her head, before going, "Ah!"
[By any chance…. If it's not too much trouble, can I ask you for a small favour?]

***

Next day.
Jin-Yi's friend came to the station in the early morning to find out about any new development in the case. Jin-Woo found her first and took her to the corridor outside the office.
"By all appearances, the chances of the case being treated as murder is extremely low at this point. The investigation itself will close soon, as well."
The friend looked at Jin-Woo with a disbelieving expression, before speaking up with the voice of a person clutching at a straw.
"T-truly…. There isn't even one percent of any other possibilities??"
Rather than a verbal reply, Jin-Woo quietly nodded his head up and down. The friend's head dropped towards the ground next.
She seemed to have a million things to say in her mind, but couldn't say any one of them out aloud – her expression sorrowful but unwilling, she hesitantly spoke.
"That means, Jin-Yi, she...."
Jin-Woo studied her for a moment or two, before presenting her with a small gift box covered in a cute wrapper.
"This is?"
"The name written on the gift card is yours, isn't it?"
".....It is."
It was none other than a gift the deceased carefully handpicked and prepared for the friend's birthday. The gift that would've never entered its intended owner's hands finally found its way to its rightful home.
"Jin-Yi prepared this....?"
"That's correct. I thought that Miss Jin-Yi would've wanted this gift to find its intended owner."
"Ah…. Thank you...."
The friend thanked Jin-Woo wholeheartedly, her eyes tearing up uncontrollably.
If only the adoptive father's insidious text message didn't arrive at the victim's phone one hour before she cut her own wrist, wouldn't these two friends get to enjoy the birthday party as planned?
Jin-Woo felt complicated in his heart as several thoughts intersected within his mind and his gaze drifted away to the distance, only for him to feel the familiar vibration coming from within his pocket.
"Excuse me for a moment."
He asked for an understanding from the sobbing friend of the victim, turned around, and answered his phone.
- "Hyung-niiim!!"
A voice he felt relieved to hear came out of the phone's speaker.
- "It's me, Yu Jin-Ho!"

< chapter="" 263=""> Fin.