Choi Han felt no emotions about returning to the day he fell into this world and the Forest of Darkness.
“It is an illusion, but it feels real.”
The feeling of the leaves rustling and crunching under his feet, the breeze brushing past his cheek, and the scent of the forest mixed inside the breeze. Everything felt real.
The scent of the forest.
Although it sounds beautiful, a fishy and rotten scent was mixed inside that scent of the forest.
It was the scent of the Forest of Darkness that was a mix of the fresh scent of a forest and the cruel and vicious creatures inside it.
The breeze blowing through this place where weak creatures and monsters could die at any moment had the fishy scent of blood within it.
Choi Han had not known what these scents were when he first arrived, but the now older Choi Han knew the identity of these scents too well.
He had seen a countless number of deaths.
That was why he was feeling nothing right now.
Choi Han lowered his head and continued to look at the family picture inside his wallet.
However, the blurry faces of his family members stabbed at him as it reminded him of his forgotten past.
“This is a bit painful.”
He was sad about all the time that had passed rather than the illusion itself. He could calmly talk about it, but he could not hide the feelings.
‘I did get much older.’
Choi Han realized that he had aged quite a bit as he became nostalgic about the past.
‘But I'm relieved.’
Choi Han was thinking that ‘relieved’ was the best word to describe his feelings right now.
He was relieved because he had seen the older versions of his family through Choi Jung Soo's memories. There were none of his direct family members and he had only seen older versions of some of his cousins, but he was thankful for that.
Choi Han’s hand holding the wallet grew weak.
“…I told you to carry a wallet.”
He didn't remember her face, but he remembered his mom’s voice.
His dad had given him some allowance as he quickly grabbed the wallet after hearing her comment.
‘I remember that.’
Choi Han carefully put the family picture back in the wallet and safely put the wallet in his pocket. He then started to walk.
‘I need to quickly get out of this illusion.’
It was obvious how bad it would be for Cale who was left alone while he was in this illusion. Of course, the situation could be different if Raon quickly made it over.
Choi Han now had Kim Rok Soo, no, Cale, as his family.
He had considered Cale to be like family for a while, but Cale became his true family after seeing through Choi Jung Soo’s memories.
‘Oh, come on! Kim Rok Soo, why do we share the same birthday too?!’
‘I'm quite annoyed that we were born on the same day so shut up.’
‘…Wow, I'm hurt. Kim Rok Soo, you're so cold.’
Choi Jung Soo and Kim Rok Soo had the same birthday.
‘Hey, hey, Rok Soooooooo.’
‘Don't call me in such a disgusting way.’
‘Ah, it’s such a pity the more I think about it. I could have taken you as a dongsaeng if you were born later than me.’
‘Talk to the wall if you're going to continue with this nonsense.’
‘Wow, team leader-nim! Listen to the way Kim Rok Soo is talking to his one fellow employee! He’s so cold!’
‘Cold my ass.’
Choi Jung Soo had considered Kim Rok Soo to be his brother. He considered Kim Rok Soo both as his dongsaeng and his hyung.
After seeing all those memories, Choi Han felt similarly to Choi Jung Soo that Kim Rok Soo was his real nephew and sibling.
‘I am different than Choi Jung Soo.’
He had not just seen Choi Jung Soo’s memories but had even experienced them first hand, but Choi Han did not mistake Choi Jung Soo as himself.
However, he still took the things he should take.
One of those things was Choi Jung Soo's abilities.
Choi Han turned his head after hearing a quiet noise.
It came from the trees inside the forest. Choi Han noticed the gaze of the enemy hidden inside the shadows of the trees.
‘The old me couldn’t do it.’
His past self was in such panic walking around the forest in confusion that he had not seen that gaze and ended up as the wild animal's prey.
‘I ran and ran some more.’
He kept running to escape that wild animal. He didn't care that his uniform pants ripped after being snagged by a tree branch as he ran without stopping.
He had not even realized how hard it was to breathe or that his face was covered in sweat.
He just kept running.
He had then fallen.
He fell, rolled on the ground, got back up, and continued running without realizing that the wallet he had carelessly shoved back in his pocket had fallen out.
‘The memories of the past-’
The moment those memories filled Choi Han’s mind…
Choi Han’s sight changed.
His surroundings had instantly changed.
The memories he had just recalled started to replay itself.
Choi Han who had fallen while running could see the wild animal leisurely approaching him.
The monster had slowly approached him as if it was savoring the final moments of its pitiful prey.
Choi Han blankly stared at that scene.
The Choi Han of the past had cried at this moment.
He didn’t have the courage to get back up and keep running away.
The fall had been painful and he was too scared of this monster approaching him.
Even though he had trained in ancient martial arts and developed his strength since he was young, this moment had been too scary for a young kid like Choi Han.
He wanted to drop everything.
However, the Choi Han of the past could not drop everything.
He needed to get back up.
The moment he needed to get back up replayed itself in front of the current Choi Han.
Choi Han’s wallet had been stomped by the wild animal's large paw. The past Choi Han had recalled his family picture and the faces of each family member at that moment.
That had riled him up.
‘I need to survive! I need to survive no matter what!’
That thought made Choi Han grab a nearby rock and throw it at the wild animal and thankfully it had landed on the wild animal's eye.
Choi Han was able to keep running away thanks to that.
Choi Han had tried to find his wallet again after a few days but the wallet that was stomped by the wild animal was gone for good.
Choi Han could see the wallet under the wild animal's foot again.
He knew it was an illusion, no, maybe because he knew it was an illusion, Choi Han picked up the rock and threw it toward the wild animal.
That rock hit the wild animal's eye as he remembered.
The wild animal shook its head and could not open one eye anymore.
Choi Han got up after seeing the animal's reaction. He then quickly started to run. He was running forward unlike in the past.
He was not running away from the wild animal, but running toward it.
His wallet was not something that should be stomped on like this. He would save it this time. Choi Han did not want to go through his memories, as he had accepted his lost years for what they were.
He let out a gasp.
He stepped forward.
However, his foot would not move. He was just walking in place. He tried to move his foot forward with everything he had, but his feet only moved in place.
‘I guess I can't change the past even in an illusion.’
He could not approach the wild animal no matter how hard he tried.
Choi Han slowly started to frown. However, his feet did not follow his will. The wallet was crushed and crushed again each time the monster moved while covering its eye.
The picture inside would crumple and rip as well.
His past self's cries echoed in Choi Han’s ears. His gaze was focused only on the wallet. The forest surrounding him slowly turned darker.
It was at that moment.
His feet that were continuing to try to approach the wild animal were caught in red chains. The red chains stealthily but quickly tied Choi Han’s legs.
They then pulled Choi Han back.
His body was slowly moving away from the wild animal as the young Choi Han of his memories had run away from it.
Choi Han kicked his leg and tried to remove the chains. However, it was useless. He used his hands to pull on the chains next.
However, Choi Han’s hands were soon caught by more red chains that came out of the darkness. Choi Han saw red chains cover his legs, hands, arms, shoulders, and stomach.
He slowly moved away from the wild animal as he had done in the past and watched as the world slowly became darker.
This darkness gave him a similar feeling to the night he faced after barely managing to escape from the wild animal on his first day inside the Forest of Darkness. It was the night he barely survived as he shivered in fear that something else might appear and kill him. It was the night he cried while thinking about his family picture. It was the night he continued to say the names of his family members as he could not sleep.
That night-like darkness was waiting for Choi Han after moving away from the wild animal and the crushed wallet.
Choi Han started to laugh.
He could not handle this situation without laughing. He had long forgotten how to cry when he was scared. He couldn't let monsters approach him while he was crying in fear.
He had kept his mouth shut and if he bit down on his lips too hard that it started to bleed, he quickly wiped it off and cleaned his hand in the sand. He couldn't let the scent of his blood draw monsters over either.
However, he had not been able to laugh in the past.
He couldn't let his laughter draw monsters over.
Choi Han continued to laugh.
He moved a hand covered in chains. Choi Han’s shaking hand slowly grabbed what he wanted to grab.
The red chains. He tightly grabbed the thing coming out of the darkness and dragging him into it.
He then walked into the darkness.
Choi Han grabbed the red chains with both hands and pulled himself toward the darkness.
The darkness made him recall many things. Most were miserable moments he had to spend alone.
Choi Han stoically walked through that darkness. Once it was dark enough that he could not see his arms and legs anymore…
“Dawn arrived after this moment.”
Night always passes.
It was so dark that he could not see the red chains anymore. However, the chains were still in Choi Han's hands. Those hands turned into a fist and punched into the darkness.
Baaaaang! Bang! Baaaaang!
Choi Han punched at the darkness over and over.
His hand started to hurt. He could smell blood within the darkness. It was probably his blood as his hands got cut.
However, he did not stop.
He needed to end this darkness.
Choi Han finally smiled from inside the darkness.
‘I found it.’
He had found the way to end the darkness.
He took a large swing.
Choi Han finally saw the darkness start to crumble.
The red dome was breaking.
Choi Han reached his hand toward the area past the broken dome. He let go of the red chains. His bloody hands reached forward.
“H, how did you-?”
The shocked Illusionist's voice reached Choi Han’s ears. However, his hand didn't stop and managed to grab it.
The Illusionist saw Choi Han's hand that grabbed her arm. The hand that had lost its regular color because it was covered in blood was grabbing so tightly that the Illusionist’s arm was going numb.
She moved her gaze from her arm and looked toward Choi Han. She then gasped.
She saw two extremely deep black eyes.
His eyes were too deep and looked to be drying up for someone who was still just a teenager.
The Illusionist's eyes were shaking after looking into Choi Han’s eyes.
Those black eyes saw his family member smiling in relief behind the Illusionist at that moment.
“Are you okay?”
Choi Han nodded his head at Cale’s question with a smile.
He was fine.
He was fine now.
No, he was good.
He was very good now.