Chapter 7: Celestial Realm (4)
Thump, thump, thump, thump!
Although she was walking barefoot, every step she took made a heavy thump on the floor. The owner of these angry footsteps stopped when she found Chi-Woo standing still.
“No! Listen to me for a bit!” Giant Fist, who was hurriedly following from behind, closed his mouth when he noticed Chi-Woo. A heavy silence befell them, and Chi-Woo looked at the angel who had just appeared.
She was beautiful. He couldnt help but admire her beauty. Although both the gatekeeper and Periels beauty were one that transcended gender, this angel was to say the least… different. Her slightly arched eyebrows made her look irritated, but even that fitted her. She had the elegance of an old art piece and had four pairs of wings—not the feathery wings he had been seeing on angels up until now, but translucent ones like those of a spirit. Her appearance alone invoked reverence and devotion, and it wasnt difficult at all to see that she was different from all other angels.
“Finally, youve done it…” The angels thin neck jerked. Her furious voice caused Chi-Woos shoulders to slouch. He felt compelled to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness this instant. It seemed he wasnt the only one, since Giant Fist had also fallen into silence after making a fuss. Chi-Woo hadnt expected an angel to be so fearsome.
“Haaaa…” Finally, the angel let out a deep sigh. Then she took in some deep breaths with her eyes shut.
Giant Fist timidly opened his eyes. “It seems…like theres a misunderstanding. I didnt force—”
“Force?” The angel, who was finally calming down, furrowed her brows again.
“No! I didnt bring him here by force!” Giant Fist waved his hands and jumped from his spot. “Sir Choi Chi-Woo really came of his own will! Ask him!”
The angel looked exasperated by Giant Fists quick response, but said, “Well, yeah…I guess you wouldnt have brought him by force unless you were absolutely insane.” Giant Fist twitched, and the angel continued, “However, if you hadnt made contact with Sir Choi Chi-Woo, he wouldnt have come to the Celestial Realm in the first place.”
“Laguel! Wait! I even got permission to enter from the higher-ups!”
“Shut up!” A high-pitched shriek rang across the hall, and Laguel turned around like she had nothing more to say to Giant Fist. Then she placed one hand on her chest and bowed to Chi-Woo. “I sincerely apologize for raising my voice.”
Wanting to break the tension in the air, Chi-Woo quickly asked, “May I ask who you are?”
The angel replied with an indifferent yet polite expression on her face, “Its not very important who I am since you will forget it even if I tell you.”
“What do you mean that I will forget?”
“You can just think of all this as a dream. No, its more precise to say thats what we will do for you, sir.”
Chi-Woo bit his lower lip at the angels firm declaration.
“Forget what happened today and live the life they truly wished for you to have.”
Before Chi-Woo could ask exactlywho wished for this life, Laguel opened her eyes widely and shouted.
“Expel them!” There was a short but strong ringing sound. Simultaneously, Chi-Woo felt an intangible force burst in like a thunderbolt.
“No!” Giant Fist stretched out his hand meaninglessly and Chi-Woo instinctively covered his face with both arms.
They heard a powerful collision.
Pop, pop, pop, pop!
A series of crumbling sounds followed suit. Laguel raised one eyebrow; she had expected to expel Chi-Woo out of this place soundlessly, but instead, a burst of light blinded their eyes and made a loud ringing noise. It was as if an intense ball of energy had burst out of a collision point and debris was flowing out of it…
“Ah.” An idea popped into her head. The released energy couldnt reach its target. It went off its course and hit an unintended object. The crumbled remains from the ceiling and floor scattered like fireflies. What was going on? Laguel looked around her surroundings in puzzlement. When the array of lights faded into view, she doubted her own eyes.It cant be. she wanted to cry out.
Chi-Woo stood fixed in his spot. Forget getting expelled, he hadnt taken even one step backwards. And that wasnt all. Over his head, a giant and semi-transparent hand stretched out over him like an umbrella; it floated over him, as if it was ensuring that not even a single speck of debris would hit him.
“…Huh?” That was all Laguel managed to say. Giant Fist, who had thought everything was over, looked stunned.
But he soon struggled to pick his wavering body up. “Are you alright? Sir Choi Chi-Woo! Sir Choi Chi-Woo!” He shouted again, and the surrounding suddenly became quiet. It felt like everything was sinking; in some ways, it also felt like Chi-Woo was standing on some kind of shapeless, intangible space that was abruptly created.
Neither Giant Fist nor Laguel could speak. Chi-Woos both arms were slouched downwards. He stood crookedly and raised his head slowly. After checking Chi-Woos face, Laguel was able to guess the cause of this abnormal phenomenon. It was because Chi-Woos pupils were shining brilliantly as if they were embracing a light. Laguels eyelids fluttered. If the hand had come from a place above the highest place, the Celestial Realm…
Before Laguel could finish her thought, a tremendous collision pierced her eyes.
“Kahhhh!” After a brief moment of unconsciousness, Laguel regained her senses and found herself flying into the air. It was impossible to tell if she had been hit or if she had penetrated through the mysterious wall of energy. She simply floundered as she felt a mind-splitting pain and let out a stream of white light. And although Laguel couldnt see it, Giant Fist saw it; Chi-Woo pulled back his tightly clenched fist and struck it down towards the ground. Laguel, who was speeding away from the white castle, was slammed onto the road and roughly yanked back toward Chi-Woo.
“Uhhhh…” Laguel groaned. Faint, white light flowed out of her body like blood and caused her to fade from view. Even though her mind was becoming blank, Laguel raised her head. The moment she met the figures eyes, she felt a presence she couldnt describe; it was an overwhelming pressure that would seemingly squish and flatten her like a bug. As her body convulsed, she saw Chi-Woo raise one foot.
—You arrogant wench.
Laguels head was roughly stomped down to the floor.
—I was trying not to burden my child, but…
Chi-Woo spoke in a lonely and cold voice with his foot on her head.
—The things you do are beyond unacceptable. I cant bear to stand by and watch any longer, as it enrages me tremendously.
Laguels body trembled.
—My child is finally trying to find his destiny.
Chi-Woo said softly as if he was trying to comfort a crying child.
—But why do you use all means possible to hinder him?
The quiet and calm voice boomed with an undefiable aura, and Laguel muttered the beings name as she gritted her teeth, “Dear Ancestral God…” Laguel shuddered, as she desperately responded, “Its a….vow I made with him.”
—A vow? Ha, a vow.
“Arent you also aware of it… dear deity? Please have mercy on me…” Laguel managed to plead with all her remaining energy with the knowledge that she might become extinguished by the ancestral god.
—Hm. Yes, I am.
Yet the being followed that up with mocking laughter.
Laguel clenched her eyes shut.
—Did you really think of blocking this childs path just because of one silly vow?
“It wasnt just a vow!”
—Was that really the conclusion you have reached?
Chi-Woo clicked his tongue and looked down like he pitied her.
—How pathetic. You are looking to become an archangel, but you are swayed by your emotions.
Laguel pursed her lips and gritted her teeth, but it seemed like she couldnt refute the deitys words.
—I wont talk for too long.
After a momentary silence, Chi-Woos voice sounded firmer as he continued.
—I have granted the request you made on the day when the sign of the tiger overlapped with the sign of the dragon in four ways. Because you made quite the offering, I waited for some time…but.
The deity paused for a moment, as if they were going to make a great declaration.
—As long as my child wishes to take on this path, nothing can precede his will. Thus, I also cant wait any longer.
Laguels face fell into despair at this clear declaration.
“Ancestral God!” Laguel shouted but the god didnt listen to her.
—Fu, fu. I thought there would be a battle between two heroes with matching power, but it seems more like the opposite would happen. This will be quite a spectacle.
The deity made a satisfied smile and lifted their feet. Like they were leaving, they raised their hand to the sky. The giant hand that had wrapped around Chi-Woo slowly disappeared, and the dim lights in his pupils also began to dwindle. After his pupils returned to their original state, Chi-Woo stumbled heavily. His head drew two circles in the air before Chi-Woo fell to the ground. Then a sinking silence filled the space. Chi-Woo didnt move at all. He seemed to have fainted.
“Ah…” Laguel groaned painfully as she looked up. Giant Fist stood frozen in his place; after watching the scene that just happened, he partly understood how reckless he had been.
I thought I hit the lottery… Now, Giant Fist couldnt guess whether he made a winning or losing bid. Then he recalled what Chi-Hyun had told him in the past.
[Its rare, but there are some people who are born with unbelievable destinies. For instance, theres my younger brother.]
Now, Giant Fist better understood what Chi-Hyun had meant by those words.
His blurry vision slowly came into focus. When he finally opened his eyes, Chi-Woo saw that he was no longer in the waiting place.
“Huh?” Chi-Woo tried to raise his body but laid down again. His body wouldnt move. It was burning, and he didnt know if it was him or the world that was spinning. It made him dizzy.
“Stay lying down, sir.” Then he heard a low voice. Chi-Woo quickly glanced towards his side and blinked. Laguel was standing next to his bed quietly. What happened? The last thing Chi-Woo remembered was Laguel pointing at him and commanding his expulsion. He didnt remember what happened after that.
It doesnt seem like shes going to chase me away this instant…
Laguel seemed much less energetic now. Perhaps he was imagining it, but her complexion appeared paler than before, and it seemed like she was struggling to remain standing. It was difficult to believe that she would simply have a change of heart after seeming so ready to remove him from this place. It was much more likely that something happened while he lost consciousness. Unable to hold in this curiosity, he was about to ask what happened when Laguel spoke first.
“Sir Chi-Woo. I wish to speak to you about something.”
“I will keep it brief, so please pay attention and listen to me.” Soon, Laguel kneeled and arched her torso so that almost half of her body was over the bed. “Im sure that even you think that you had lived an unusual life.” Her face looked sincere but also desperate. “Its a life you probably thought of as unfair. Even though you tried to find a way to escape, you ended up in a slump. Despite it all, you did your best to adapt and endure, but when your brother disappeared, you couldnt help but burst out in anger.”
Laguel continued with sorrowful eyes, “And so, when you saw this Celestial Realm…yes, I understand. I suppose you thought it was the escape route that you had been looking for so long.”
“I also know that your first priority is finding your older brother.” Laguel nodded like she understood everything. “But as someone who knows what you dont know, I dare to give you a warning.” Laguels tone sounded more solemn as she said, “The means and methods through which youre about to embark on this journey are definitely wrong.”
Chi-Woos eyebrows wiggled.
“I beg you. You can turn back everything even right now.”
Chi-Woo got basically what Laguel was telling him: she wanted him to return to his original world, forgetting everything he saw here.
“What do you mean by the means and methods being wrong…?” Chi-Woo muttered, “Who…decided that…?” While glancing at Laguel, he let out the breath he had been holding in and steadied his breathing. “I am curious…about…many things….”
“Im sorry,” Laguel apologized. Both knew that meant she couldnt tell him. She said bitterly, “Its not that I dont want to tell you. Its just that I cant. I cant even give a small clue to you. Thats how strong the vow I made is. Even revealing this fact to you is dangerous to me.”
Hearing about the vow, Chi-Woo didnt know what more to say. “Then, I…guess…it cant be helped…” Chi-Woo took a short breath. “I have to meet…my brother personally…and ask.”
“Sir Choi Chi-Woo.” Seeing that it was unlikely for Chi-Woo to change his mind, Laguels voice became firmer. “Please. The only one who can turn things around now is you, sir!”
Chi-Woo understood why Laguels attitude had changed so much now. He asked, “If I follow what Gripping Giant Fist and Rising tells me, do you think I will be able to find my brother?”
“…He could be using you for his own personal gains.”
Chi-Woo didnt care about this; it didnt matter as long as he used the other party too.
“I am also an angel, sir. Should I tell you the truth? If a person of your status came to this place on his own free will, I would have welcomed him with open arms. At least, in normal cases!” Then, she put her hand on her chest so strongly that it made a loud thump. “Still Ive gone this far to stop you because you dont have an inkling of what lies before you.”
Chi-Woo closed his eyes. His heart wavered for a bit. Yes, he knew she must have a good reason to plead with him so strongly. For now, going back home like this was a viable option. It wasnt like he had no fear or hesitation about what the future held for him.
“You told me before…” Chi-Woo shook his head. “That…you empathize with my life and…understand it.” Chi-Woo looked at Laguel, “But do you know what I feel…every time I experience something like this…?” Chi-Woo continued, “Ah…I dont want to live…” He had thought this recently again. “Why only me…if Im going to live like this…why was I born…”
Laguel closed her mouth to swallow down what she was about to say.
“Go back…Yeah, that sounds great…but if I go back like you told me…” Chi-Woo steadied his breathing and said, “After my brother…what if my parents also go missing…”
Laguel immediately replied, “Sir, that will never happen.”
Chi-Woo stared intently at her, “How…are you so sure…?”
At Chi-Woos question, Laguel looked a bit troubled. “Sir, I cant tell you that.”
Laguel couldnt reply, but her response confirmed Chi-Woos suspicion. “Is it because of that vow…you talked about before…?”
When Laguel looked taken aback, Chi-Woo made a small smile. It wasnt just about his brother going missing. After he began to see things that ordinary people shouldnt see, he began to get swept into all sorts of big and small incidents. There were many times when people around him were also swept by these incidents and got hurt.
While these incidents kept happening around him, he had now coincidentally found out a secret he had no idea of. The reason why he had such an unusual life, why his brother went missing, and why his parents became so reclusive. The decision that Chi-Woo made after continuously going through all kinds of incidents was this:I want to know. He wanted to know why his brother had to disappear, why his parents couldnt eat or drink, and why he had to live such a cruddy life. After finding out the secret of his continuous misfortunes, he wanted to return everything back to normal if it was possible.
“Is it an immoral method…or a way…?”
Laguel was unable to reply.
“If those who get hurt because of me are…people worth getting punished…I dont care about them…” After all, Chi-Woo was also human—no, he was most certainly human. “But thats not the case, right…”
“My family…the people who care about me…are having a hard time because of me… Rather than watching them in anxiety, I think it would be better if…it can end with just me…”
Laguel became speechless because she had also thought the same before.
“I…dont know what my…fate is…” Chi-Woo shook his head. “And I dont even want to know it.” With a parched voice, he strained to continue talking, “Im…tired now…”
After hearing this, Laguel finally realized that Chi-Woo had thought these thoughts for a very long time. After a short silence, Chi-Woo let out a cough and said, “If I live like this, Ill die someday…while regretting that I didnt do anything…I might become crazy one day and die…”
“Miss, you may consider me weak…I know my capabilities…this is my limit now…” Chi-Woo exerted great effort to turn his body. “…I wont ask you to help me.”
While having his back towards Laguel, he declared, “I wont insult you…or hate you…if I regret this, it would be because of my choice…So, just dont…block my path please….” That was the end of the conversation. Chi-Woo stared at the ceiling, and Laguel silently stared at the floor. They were on opposing sides; Chi-Woo was trying to find out about her secret, and Laguel was trying to stop him. An awkward silence enveloped the two, and in the end, Chi-Woo felt his fever rise further and fell unconscious.
When he woke up again, Chi-Woo blinked and met the gaze of an angel with blonde hair and lightning blue eyes. It wasnt Laguel. Even though they looked similar at first glance, it was the first time he saw the angel in front of him.
“Oh my? Youre already awake?” The angel got up. She had been leaning her body over the bed and watching him with both hands cupping her face in a V shape. “Wait, wait. Wait a bit. This is our first meeting after all.”
She coughed a few times and extended her hand. “Nice to meet you. Im an angel.”
“…” Chi-Woo stared at the angel as she introduced herself with a very lively voice. He was visibly confused, but it seemed that she was the angel Laguel had said would soon arrive.
“Uh…was that too much? But I still have my pride as an archangel.” The angel scratched her head and turned back. She looked at Laguel, who was humbly clasping her hands and bowing her head for the first time since Chi-Woo saw her. “Okay, fine. Lets do it again.”
The angel disappeared in a flash. After a while, a shimmering light flashed on top of Chi-Woo while he was lying in bed.
–Welcome. Sir Hero.
A magnificent voice rang in his ears. At the same time, the angel slowly floated up and beamed out light while fluttering and stretching out her wings to their maximum size.
–Welcome to the Celestial Realm. Im Archangel Raphael, who would be guiding you.
Raphael. Chi-Woo had heard that name before. Raphael smiled in satisfaction when she saw Chi-Woos eyes slightly narrowed.
“Hows your body? Are you okay?” Raphael asked as she landed back on the ground, folded her wings, and turned off her light. Raphael talked to him like he was her friend. At Raphaels friendly attitude, Chi-Woo nodded in a daze. He felt much better than before.
“Good. Shall we start talking right away? I dont have as much time as you think. I might not look like it, but Im a very busy angel.”
Chi-Woo stared at Raphael as she came closer. It was pointless to talk about her cutely tied-up ponytail or her beauty. The only thing he could focus on were the translucent wings on her back; she had a total of eight wings. Considering that Laguel had four, there must be a huge difference between them.
“Archangel Raphael, please wait a bit.” Laguel, who had been quiet so far, was about to say something.
“Shh.” But Raphael silenced Laguel with a slight wave of her hand. Rather than deciding to keep quiet, Laguel seemed to be forced to close her mouth.
Chi-Woo slowly spoke up, “You are…”
“Me? Im one of the four highest angels here,” Raphael replied before Chi-Woo even finished talking. “Or should I say…” She smiled slightly. “Im the archangel with the highest authority to listen to your request?”
“Did you say you were from G-S-3-E? If you have some interest in religion, you must have heard of me. Well, it doesnt matter even if you havent.” Raphael shrugged and looked back at the nervous Laguel.
“Hey, stop.” Even before Laguel could say something, Raphael waved her hand and forced Laguels mouth shut again. “I gave you enough opportunities.”
“How can you say theyre opportunities? This is…”
“I know. I didnt expect Princess Saheu (捨姬公主) to come out, either…but since the situation turned out like this, it cant be helped, right?” Raphael pointed at Laguel. “In the end, you werent able to stop him from coming here, and you also failed to persuade him.” It meant that even though she could have easily intervened beforehand, Raphael had purposely given Laguel some time to persuade Chi-Woo. “I think Ive shown you enough respect by giving you that much time. Do you not think so?”
“Archangel Raphael, do you think thats respect?”
“Yep. Why?” Raphael asked with a cheery smile. “You want me to not respect you for real? Are you curious what would happen then?”
Laguel took a step back without meaning to. She immediately raised her guard to the highest level.
Raphael smoothly said, “Hey, hey. Calm down. This person really wants to do this, so theres really no reason for us to go out of our way to stop him, right?”
“Sir Chi-Hyun wouldnt stand still.”
“Uh…Yeah, he probably wont.” Raphael also seemed bothered about this. “But Princess Saheu spoke through him, and wont he also explain the situation well to Sir Chi-Hyun? It doesnt seem like hell stab us in the back later on.”
“In the worst case scenario—!” Laguel was about to say something but shut her mouth. It seemed that she couldnt say it in front of Chi-Woo.
“Well, its not like you ’re wrong.” Raphael smirked. “When I eavesdropped on you two, I heard some funny things.If a person of your status came walking here, I would have welcomed them with open arms… Was that it?” Raphael mimicked Laguel and chuckled, and Laguel flinched. “Yep. Thats right. Well, I wont go as far as welcoming them with open arms though.”
Raphaels eyes spun around, and she turned her head. “I dont have any intentions to object to anything in particular. Honestly, there are some things Im kind of hoping for him as well. Well, thats basically where I stand.” She stretched out her thumb and bent it.
Chi-Woo gulped several times. Even though his head was muddled from the fever, it seemed like the conversation was going how he wanted it to.
“Yeah. But…its a bit regretful.” With this thought, Raphaels words took a turn. “Isnt that so? When the game seems to be getting dangerous, what would you think when a good card suddenly comes into your hand? It might become the golden card that will save you from losing.” Raphael began to inspect every part of Chi-Woo as she continued, “So you become a bit hesitant about using it immediately, and you might want to try to assess the situation first and save the card for later. All of you know about card games, right? This is like a card game.” Then Raphael rubbed her fingers together, like she was telling everyone to focus on her hand.
Chi-Woo pondered for a bit and said, “What is it that you want?”
“…I like that you get straight to the point.” Raphael smirked. Her expression seemed to be saying,look at this punk. Compared to how she had been acting before, Chi-Woo believed this was closer to her true nature.
Then Raphael stretched her thumb and pushed it in front of Chi-Woos eyes. “Ill set the conditions.”
“Dont misunderstand. Youre not the only one with conditions.” Raphael withdrew her hands. “Not everyone has the same goals; you arent the only one who wants to find your brother.” She smiled cheerfully and continued, “I cant let everyone join, so if you want to fulfill your goals, you have to pass a test.”
“Dont worry. Do you seriously think Ill tell an ordinary person like you to fight someone and survive?” Raphael folded her arms. “The test itself is simple, so theres no need for you to worry. Well, I think the level of difficulty and whether you can pass the test are completely different matters.”
Chi-Woo tilted his head. How could passing and the level of difficulty be completely different matters in a test?
“If you pass this test, Ill send you where your brother is.”
“Ill accept the conditions.”
“Oh my. Really? You answered immediately.” Raphael had a cheery face the entire time she talked with Chi-Woo. “Did you hear me properly? Im not saying that Ill let you meet your brother, but Ill send you where he is.”
Chi-Woo suddenly realized that while Raphael had her mouth curved upwards, the angels eyes hadnt been smiling at all so far. It was not a very good feeling to see her smile.
“Im sorry, but nope.” Raphael firmly cut off Chi-Woos words,
“Im not going to say a word about you or your brother. Not even about your family. You heard the reason why from her, right?” Raphael pointed towards Laguel, who looked very worried.
Chi-Woo let out a small sigh.
“If I could, I would have explained in the very beginning. You think I want to explain in a roundabout way like this, while paying attention to my every word? Im also frustrated.”
Chi-Woo wanted to ask about his brother just in case, but as expected, Raphael also could not reply. Chi-Woo gave up asking any further; there was no point in crying over sour grapes.
“Good. Conversation over. With this, you dont have any complaints, right?” Raphael accepted Chi-Woos silence as agreement and glanced sideways at Laguel.
“What is the test?”
“Um…” Raphael rolled her eyes and smiled brightly, “Youre curious, right?”
“Come and take it then.”
Chi-Woo looked up at Raphael. Raphael was an angel that was quite talented at pissing people off.
“Ahaha. Did I go too far?” Raphael flapped her hands to show that she was joking. “Sorry, sorry. Anyway, if you do decide to take the test…” She put her thumb on her chin and made a bright smile. “Should we first start talking about when itll take place?”
* * *
Intense sunlight pierced his eyes. Chi-Woo soon completely opened his half-lidded eyes. He quickly picked himself up at the same time. He had returned home. His right hand instinctively felt around his bed. When he turned on his phone, not much time had passed since he last checked it.
I cant believe it.
When he opened his eyes, he was in his house. Did she teleport him or something? If not, it would mean that since the time he went out to meet Gil-Duk, everything had been a dream. Chi-Woo stared into space in a daze. There was no way for him to check if what he experienced was a dream or reality—no, there was a way. At that moment, Chi-Woo jumped out of his bed. He searched through his pockets and opened his wallet.
Money, money… He checked to see if had the money he received from Giant Fist. Soon, Chi-Woos pupils fiercely shook as he took out a paper bill from his wallet.
[Let me see. Your planet is Earth, and you said your country was the Republic of Korea, right? Then…]
On the paper bill, there was Chi-Woos name, family, and a location and date.
[I know about Earth pretty well. I have a lot of connections there.]
[Here, take it. You just have to go to the location I wrote for you here.]
The letters were very special as it gave off a subtle silver light.
[You cant even be one second late, got it? I cant take responsibility if youre late.]
After checking one, no, several times, Chi-Woo quickly raised his head. He also tightly clenched his fist. He was now completely sure.
It really…wasnt a dream.
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