“Hey!” Kim Dokja shouted, a rare tinge of panic seeping into his tone as he ran towards Jonghyuk. “What kind of nonsense are you spouting?”
Jonghyuk ran a thumb over the jade in his hand. The stone was smooth. A little cold. A little self-destructive. It was a fitting end for him, he thought, feeling the jade’s aura envelop him.
[You are evolving into a demon king!]
Jonghyuk watched Kim Dokja through the green veil. Kim Dokja’s expression froze for a millisecond before realization dawned.
Jonghyuk never understood why people called Kim Dokja the “Ugliest King.” His face was like fine marble to Jonghyuk: cool to the sight and always still, always calm, always confident.
Jonghyuk watched that marble statue break before his eyes.
Kim Dokja’s eyes went frantic, his movements became erratic, his breath stuttered on the way out.
“ Yoo Jonghyuk, you son of a bitch!” He screamed, a piercing tone that seemed to escape from a fit of uncontrollable anger. Jonghyuk had never seen him so hurt before. He almost looked… betrayed.
Jonghyuk could’ve sworn time had stopped for just a moment, if not for the steel strands that stole the jade from his hands. He growled at Yoo Sangah, watching Kim Dokja’s entire form collapse with relief from the corner of his eye.
“Yoo Sangah-ssi! Hold onto it! Don’t touch it!”
Jonghyuk was vaguely aware of Han Sooyoung calling him a traitor and a monster but didn’t bother to react, busy pushing her avatars out of the way to reach for the jade.
Lee Jihye, his student, softer and more childish now than he’d ever seen her, and Jung Heewon, yet another new person he got to meet this regression, stood in his way.
“Master! What’s wrong with you?”
Jonghyuk gritted his teeth as he pushed them out of the way. Didn’t they see? Didn’t they see that they were only able to be this carefree, this human, because Kim Dokja was in this regression? Why couldn’t they see he was making the right decision?
“You can’t fight him!” Kim Dokja yelled from the sidelines.
Jonghyuk glared at him, frustrated. “Get out of the way, Kim Dokja. I will be the demon king.”
“What kind of nonsense is this? Why are you doing this all of a sudden?”
“Don’t you already know? There’s only one way to clear this scenario.” Jonghyuk felt some of his anger soften at Kim Dokja’s panicked denial. Kim Dokja’s eyes darted around, no doubt rereading the scenario screen and having his suspicions forcefully confirmed. He looked heartbroken.
“Are you going to sacrifice yourself?” Kim Dokja asked, his voice quieter and more vulnerable than Jonghyuk had ever heard it.
“Kill me and move forward,” Jonghyuk replied.
“Why are you doing something like this all of a sudden?” Kim Dokja didn’t say the ‘it’s not like you,’ but he didn’t need to.
He was right. It really wasn’t like Jonghyuk to do something so self-sacrificial, since he’d thought himself above others, doomed to sit alone on a tall throne for thousands of years. But Kim Dokja had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and destroyed that throne the same way he destroyed the Absolute Throne, breaking it into pieces as Jonghyuk looked on in astonished horror.
“This is the right thing to do,” Jonghyuk said instead. “I’m used to pain. I’m familiar with death. You know this.”
“I know, of course I know, but you don’t have to sacrifice yourself. You may be a regressor, but it’s not like you have multiple lives, not like I do. I can resurrect! I’m far more suitable to become the demon king!” Kim Dokja babbled in a panic.
“Resurrection may be a good ability, but do you think it’ll work in this scenario? Look at the scenario failure. Can you be certain that resurrection will save you?”
Kim Dokja’s mouth stilled into a line. He was caught. Jonghyuk moved forward, drawing his Heaven Shaking Sword.
“Kim Dokja, get out of the way.”
Yes, Jonghyuk thought. This is the only way. The cost for failing isn’t just death, but expulsion from the scenario. Even Kim Dokja couldn’t escape that. This could be the death his fate was pointing to. If he becomes the demon king, he’ll surely die. Thus, I should be the one to die here.
Kim Dokja seemed to be able to hear his thoughts, and a flurry of expressions flashed across his face.
“Then you? What about you? If you die here, what about your damn goal?”
“You’ll fulfill it for me.” Jonghyuk looked at Kim Dokja, a warm feeling of certainty spreading in his chest.
“What are you talking about--”
“You might be the one who can save the world, not me.”
Jonghyuk looked towards the party members, the softness and kindness that still burned in eyes that Jonghyuk had thought would inevitably become hollow, as they have in so many years past.
It was Kim Dokja who nurtured that humanity. He may not be the most efficient at raising strength, but he had cultivated hope in each of his party members’ hearts, something that Jonghyuk had never quite managed to do in his previous regressions.
Kim Dokja’s eyes were shaking, and Jonghyuk had known him long enough to know he was frantically looking for the words that would stop him.
“Get out of the way,” Jonghyuk sighed. “There isn’t much time left.” He activated Giant Body Transformation and began to move towards Yoo Sangah, who stared at him, terrified.
“Stop! Stop it you son of a bitch!” Kim Dokja yelled from behind him. Jonghyuk turned back to face him, tired.
“Are you concerned about what will happen to this world after I go back? Is that it?” That was it, wasn’t it? The whole reason Kim Dokja cared so much about his survival all this time… that was all he was to Kim Dokja, wasn’t it?
“You must be afraid,” Jonghyuk laughed bitterly. “afraid that the moment I disappear, I’ll take the world with me. Right?”
Kim Dokja looked at Jonghyuk, shocked out of words, as if he was surprised Jonghyuk knew.
“There’s nothing to worry about. I already asked my sponsor. This world won’t disappear if I regress.” Jonghyuk tore his eyes away from Kim Dokja’s dismayed gaze, turning away. “This world won’t grieve my death, either. No one will.”
He gripped the jade.
“Continue to live, Kim Dokja.” Jonghyuk smiled at his one true companion. “Save the world for me.”
Kim Dokja yelled at his party-members to stop Jonghyuk, standing alone in determined silence for a few seconds before joining the fight.
Kim Dokja’s Electrification and White Pure Star Energy clashed with Jonghyuk’s Giant Body Transformation and Splitting the sky. Jonghyuk was reminded, once again, that Kim Dokja was the only person in this world whose power rivaled his own. It was a bittersweet excitement.
He looked into Kim Dokja’s eyes as they gave each other their most powerful blows.
“Kim Dokja…” Jonghyuk growled. “Think about it. This kind of opportunity won’t come often.”
Kim Dokja only gripped his sword more tightly, gritting his teeth.
“No,” Kim Dokja gritted out. “No, as I thought, I can’t let you do this. Do you really think that no one will grieve you? Are you really that dense?”
“Why won’t you let me do this one thing for you?”
“I’ll do it. I’ll be the demon king,” Kim Dokja argued back desperately.
“Stop spouting bullshit!” Jonghyuk yelled. “Your resurrection is useless if you get banished from the scenario! You’ll die. Forever. Just let me do it!”
“I can’t!” Kim Dokja’s expression shattered, but Jonghyuk kept pushing.
“Why not?!” Jonghyuk asked.
Kim Dokja chuckled. He looked lost, heartbroken.
“Because…” Kim Dokja’s voice was a choked-up whisper. Jonghyuk froze. “...what am I without you?”
“Yourself,” Jonghyuk replied. Kim Dokja was a hero, a king, a leader. Someone who could save the world. Yoo Jonghyuk was nothing to him.
“...that’s not enough.” The first tear rolled down Kim Dokja’s sad smile. “...I’m paying off my debt to you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You saved me. It’s only natural for me to return the favor.”
“What are you--”
All at once, Kim Dokja turned off Miniaturization, and the sparks of Electrification filled the arena. Kim Dokja rushed towards Lee Gilyoung.
Jonghyuk was knocked against the wall, helpless to watch as Kim Dokja snatched the jade from Lee Gilyoung’s tiny hand.
[Kim Dokja is evolving into a Demon King!]
Jonghyuk hit the ground with his fist, a soft curse escaping from his lips.
He looked up at Kim Dokja, and Kim Dokja stared directly back at him, his stare unwavering.
“Do you really think that no one will grieve you? Are you really that dense?”
“...what am I without you?”
“You saved me.”
[Incarnation Kim Dokja will be killed…]
There was no way. Jonghyuk stared into Kim Dokja’s teary but determined eyes.
It was impossible.
There was no way.
[...by the person he loves most.]
Kim Dokja was only looking at Jonghyuk.