The Hero Returns is a web novel created by Heuk Ahin.
This webnovel is currently Ongoing.
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Chapter 236: Chapter 236
* * *
On the day of the Ranking Wars.
Gordon Company, the organizer of the tournament, announced the list of partic.i.p.ants the day before the event went underway, and the list caused fierce excitement in everyone the world over.
“It’s also really jam-packed this year.”
“Choi Hak-joon, Song Hyeong-gi, and even Park Ji-yeon.”
“Don’t forget Kim Su-hyeun.”
“That guy’s an exception. I mean, he’s not even going to partic.i.p.ate in the preliminaries, to begin with.”
“The ones to look out for this year should still be Kim Su-hyeun and Gordon Rohan, right? Will the result be different this time?”
“Who knows? I heard that Gordon Rohan has been chomping at the bit for a while.”
The major focus of everyone’s discussion centered on the battle between Su-hyeun and Gordon Rohan. This match-up was the true highlight of the tournament, as it would decide who the world’s strongest awakener was.
That was why the whole world was waiting with bated breath for the finals of the Ranking Wars.
“Why isn’t that idiot Su-hyeun not picking up his phone?! And I even told him the exact date of the tournament!”
As if to trample on their antic.i.p.ation, Su-hyeun still couldn’t be reached although the start of the Ranking Wars was only a moment away.
Surely, that guy wouldn’t get done in by something that had gone wrong in one of the trials?
The suspicions and anxiety that bloomed from a “maybe” were amplified much faster than Lee Ju-ho had thought possible.
No, wait a minute. What if that happened for real? N—no, that shouldn’t be it.
Even if he was confident, one’s thought process was not something a person could control at will. And so, just as his growing anxiety began to take deeper root in his head…
The smartphone he left on vibrate began doing exactly that. Lee Ju-ho hurriedly confirmed the caller and answered it with a slightly brighter expression. Although the call wasn’t from the person he had been waiting for, it was still from someone else he felt even more worried about.
– Yes, big bro.
The caller was none other than Hak-joon.
– I’m back.
The guy who had almost died was making the call.
* * *
Lee Ju-ho headed to San Francisco right away. He couldn’t waste his time any longer. Even then, his group would barely get there in time for the start of the Ranking Wars.
Despite knowing this, he still left the Paragon Guild’s private plane behind in South Korea.
Su-hyeun was scheduled to join him at a later time. Unlike how it was with the others, he was the victor of the previous tournament, so he would only partic.i.p.ate in the finals later.
Of course, that all depended on whether or not he could return from the tower on time.
“I see that you made it out of there alive,” said Gordon Rohan.
He personally showed up to welcome Lee Ju-ho, Hak-joon, and Thomas when the trio landed in San Francisco. Out of the three, the American’s attention was focused on Hak-joon after learning that the young man had reached the 100th floor not too long ago.
“So, how about it? How does it feel to enter the three-digit world?”
Gordon Rohan could speak Korean rather fluently now. Hak-joon contemplated for a little while and then made his reply. “It wasn’t much, all things considered, but I did almost die.”
“That sounds about right.” Gordon studied Hak-joon with some interest before s.h.i.+fting his gaze over to Lee Ju-ho. “The secretary from our side will guide you to the hotel you’ll be staying at. There are only a few hours left, but still, I recommend that you unpack your luggage and get some rest first.”
“Thank you for your consideration,” Lee Ju-ho replied.
“We’re all family in the same guild, so this much is nothing,” Gordon said and alternated his gaze between Hak-joon and Thomas. “Okay, then. I’ll see you two later. I’m expecting a lot from you.”
He then turned around to leave.
A loud voice could be heard right afterward.
“Wait, I know what this is! That’s what you call showing off, right?”
The voice belonged to Thomas.
“Shh! He can hear you.”
Hak-joon was left fl.u.s.tered by what Thomas said and quickly put a finger on his lips.
However, Gordon Rohan was used to hearing something like that, so he let the comment slip by without much care. Not to forget, separate from his combat ability, Thomas’s mentality was not that much different from a young child’s, after all.
More importantly, though, there was another thought racing inside his head at the moment.
The Paragon Guild…
Gordon Rohan was not much of a fan of belonging to an organization from the get-go. The reason that someone like him joined the Paragon Guild was because of one man—Kim Su-hyeun.
He was the only man that Gordon publicly acknowledged. That man did not rest on his laurels of being the strongest or overflowing with natural talent and worked extremely hard to protect his current status.
In some ways, he was a hero, and he was also certainly morphing into one in reality. Gordon Rohan joining hands with such a man would obviously result in the world’s best guild. Also, it wasn’t a bad idea to keep your greatest compet.i.tor close to you, anyway.
The guild he joined with that in mind was none other than Paragon. But now…
It’s a lot better than I thought.
The other guild members had exceeded his expectations.
Hak-joon who came across as a newborn chick during the previous Ranking Wars had matured before anyone had fully noticed it, and the same story applied to Thomas.
Lee Ju-ho next to them was someone Gordon was in frequent contact with. Not only was he the official guild master of Paragon, but his business ac.u.men was also quite considerable. So much so that if Gordon had his way, he would have headhunted that man as an important executive of Gordon Company by now.
I’m looking forward to this.
This Ranking Wars could very well be even more entertaining than the previous one.
That’s what he thought.
* * *
The preliminaries of the Ranking Wars proceeded in the same manner as the last time.
An illusory dungeon was created through Johnny Brad’s magic circle. The qualification to enter the main matches was handed out depending on the awakener’s achievement inside the dungeon.
Those who reached the mains and found themselves in the tournament brackets, and then stepped even past that to reach the finals, were 30 people in total.
These compet.i.tors were carefully screened from the number of partic.i.p.ants that had increased by at least 1.5 times compared to the previous tournament. Among them were obviously Gordon Rohan, Hak-joon, Thomas, as well as many famous awakeners from various countries around the world.
And so, the stage for the main matches came to a close, and just as the finals were about to get underway, Lee Ju-ho heard about Su-hyeun’s news.
[Kim Su-hyeun has reached the 58th floor.]
– The ranking has been confirmed. I was wondering where he was, not even doing an interview for the Ranking Wars, but that’s kind of unsurprising, really. This guy, it’s like he spends 350 days out of 365 in a year inside the tower or something.
└ He’s almost a tower geek.
└ What does it mean? He’s not going to enter the Ranking Wars?
└ He’ll prolly enter it now. He’s already pa.s.sed the prelims, right?
└ But, wouldn’t leaving now still be too late?
└ ㄴㄴ He might be cutting it real close.
These were comments uploaded on Abyss Online about three hours ago.
It seemed that an awakener staying on the 58th floor started the thread immediately after confirming the updated awakener ranking. Su-hyeun himself must’ve just reached the 58th.
But the 58th floor already?
Lee Ju-ho’s eyes nearly bulged out. Didn’t he hear the story of Su-hyeun reaching the 57th not too long ago? He thought that Su-hyeun’s climb was already pretty quick back then, but to have reached the 58th in only a matter of a few days?
This guy, he really…
It could be that Su-hyeun was stimulated by the news of Hak-joon reaching the 100th floor recently. Of course, it was good to hear that he increased his pace and was pa.s.sing the trials even faster, but Lee Ju-ho found it hard to celebrate this fact.
It’s too late, though.
Lee Ju-ho made a long, defeated sigh.
If Su-hyeun only returned from the trial three hours ago, then it was simply impossible to arrive here before the finals went underway.
The finals were scheduled to commence in another 30 minutes’ time. Although it was great to confirm that Su-hyeun was alive and well, it was pretty much certain now that this year’s Ranking Wars was out of the question for him.
It was around then that Lee Ju-ho’s eyes latched onto a strange little post.
[A monster flew by in the sky just now, so shouldn’t something be done about that?]
Every dungeon that appeared in South Korea had definitely been completely raided ahead of time about a month ago. They were cleared in advance so that the Ranking Wars, an occasion where the awakener manpower would be concentrated in one spot, could go ahead without any hitch.
Was it possible that they had missed a dungeon somewhere?
Lee Ju-ho entered the thread. A large photograph was included in the opening post.
Startled by what he saw, he stopped leaning against the chair’s back and brought his face really close to his smartphone’s screen. Although blurry, the dark shadow visible in the photo was a seemingly red dragon.
Could it have been Song Hyeong-gi’s dragon?
No, that can’t be. He’s right here, after all.
Only two awakeners were accompanied by divine beasts called dragons: Song Hyeong-gi and Su-hyeun. It was possible that another S-Rank awakener from another country also possessed their own divine beast, but the location in the photograph was South Korea.
That can’t be Miru either…
Could it really be a monster, then?
If that was indeed the case, then all South Korean awakeners partic.i.p.ating in the Ranking Wars had to be recalled. If Su-hyeun was on his way here, then the plane he was in had to be sent back, too.
First of all, I need to get in touch with Su-hyeun…
Lee Ju-ho immediately dialed Su-hyeun’s number.
A ringtone went off in an audience seat somewhere behind him.
“Ah, my bad. I should’ve left it in vibration…”
That voice belonged to Su-hyeun.
Startled silly now, Lee Ju-ho shot up from his seat and turned his head around. “S—Su-hyeun, is that you?!”
“Sorry about that, bro. I got held up a little.”
The attention of the partic.i.p.ants, as well as the VIPs present in the reserved section of the audience seats, all focused on Su-hyeun immediately, even though everyone in the near vicinity happened to be S-Rank awakeners partic.i.p.ating in the Ranking Wars or the shareholders of the Gordon Company.
That’s how high Su-hyeun’s status was in this year’s Ranking Wars.
“But how did you even…?”
“What do you mean how? I obviously flew in.”
“Why didn’t you contact me earlier?”
“I was in too much of a hurry, so… Besides, I got here just in time, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, that sure is a relief, but… Just how did you get here so fast? I thought you finished your trial three hours ago?”
“Of course I can see that, but—”
“I rode on Miru.”
For a moment there, Lee Ju-ho failed to process what Su-hyeun said. Miru had supposedly gotten pretty large lately, but to say that he actually rode on the red dragon to reach San Francisco in only three hours from South Korea?
Or could it be…
“How big has Miru gotten now?”
At Lee Ju-ho’s question, Su-hyeun grinned and settled down next to him.
The former hurriedly showed the latter the post uploaded to Abyss Online that he saw earlier. “Are you saying this is Miru?”
“Looks like someone took a photo of us, then.”
“Huh! Well, I’ll be…”
The suspicion turned out to be true. Although it was good to learn that the thing that appeared in Korea wasn’t a monster, Lee Ju-ho was still left perplexed.
That little Miru has gotten that big?
He s.h.i.+fted his gaze back to his smartphone’s screen. It just didn’t feel real to him that the figure of a ma.s.sive dragon almost hidden behind the clouds in the sky was Miru.
“Looks like you’ve finally shown up instead of running away.”
An arrogant-sounding voice came from behind them to irritate their ears.
Su-hyeun’s head snapped to the side to find the voice’s source. He already knew that “that guy” was in the venue, but well, the face he had been purposely ignoring was staring back at him now.
The arrogant voice continued on, “What’s wrong? Did you go and complain to your mommy? Because you got scared?”
It was Adel Castle, someone who was rated as Europe’s best awakener. He was also someone who had the ignominy of being beaten black and blue by Su-hyeun during the previous Ranking Wars.
“…Maybe you’re feeling sick somewhere?”
Su-hyeun’s question caused Adel’s shoulders to flinch a little. The cause of such reaction was the former’s voice that was laced with a murderous aura.
Su-hyeun didn’t have a single speck of a good impression of Adel. It was probably the same for the European awakener about Su-hyeun, so it was rather unexpected that he would want to confront Su-hyeun face to face and try to get on his nerves like this.
“Looks like you’ve forgotten about the last time when I beat your a.s.s up and you cried like a little baby. You think things will be different this time?”
“We’ll have to wait and see about that, won’t we?”
Adel’s glare was filled with unrestrained venom.
Su-hyeun promptly ignored him. He figured that he had nothing to gain by bickering with the guy, other than getting some sore lip muscles.
We’ll run into each other anyway if he manages to make his way through the tournament.
Su-hyeun could more or less tell the source of Adel’s current confidence.
What a waste of talent on a guy like that.
The strongest awakener in Europe—that t.i.tle certainly suited Adel. In terms of abilities alone, he could very well be only behind Su-hyeun and Gordon Rohan.
It seemed that he pushed himself hard with the singular drive of defeating Su-hyeun no matter what. All that effort was one thing, but without the natural talent to back it up, reaching this far would’ve never happened.
Not too long afterward, both Hak-joon and Thomas received the news of Su-hyeun’s arrival, which had them rus.h.i.+ng to the audience seats. Adel quietly glared at them before turning around to leave the audience seats altogether.
Fine. Let’s see who will be smiling in the end.
Adel headed outside the arena while gnas.h.i.+ng his teeth.
Soon after that, the first match of the finals of the Ranking Wars went underway.
Su-hyeun’s opponent was none other than Daian Gedeck, the awakener referred to as the Necromancer.
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