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 Episode 9: Shackles of Judgment / Chapter 152: Collapse (4)

TL: emptycube / ED: Isalee

Stars weren't evenly distributed throughout the universe. Pulled by each other's gravity, galaxies and superclusters created various patterns. Among them, the Laniakea and Shapley Superclusters had narrow shapes, scattering countless stars and galaxies like a fountain.

If the large supercluster branches were highways, then the Flame-Wing Alliance's territory was similar to alleys spread throughout this narrow space like a net. Galaxies, quasars, nebulae, dark matter, stars, and planets, the celestial bodies where karmalings were born were connected together like dense alleys. This was the alliance's territory. If one were to draw it on a map, it would look like a net that covered around 60% of the Laniakea and Shapley Superclusters. The remaining area was unexplored.

Beyond the alliance's territory and further into the unexplored lands, one would first encounter the 'Rotten Border'. 'Kahur Kabkuns (wormholes)' were concentrated around the exterior of the alliance's territory. Although they were concentrated together, a supercluster consisted of hundreds of local groups of galaxies, a local group consisted of dozens of galaxies, and a galaxy consisted of hundreds of billions of solar systems, so when looking at it on a large map, the 'Rotten Border' looked like a very thin band. However, when seeing it with one's own eyes, it was a vast area beyond one's imagination.

The majority of the alliance's colonizing missions occurred at the entrance of the Rotten Border. They destroyed isolated Kahur Kabkuns and looked for traces of undiscovered karmalings. This entire process progressed very carefully.

This was because the 'Rotten Border' had an unusually large number of Kahur Kabkuns. Among them, over 90% were not fully developed so it wasn't dangerous as long as one didn't personally enter the area, but there were many cases when this was part of the monsters' plan. The moment they forgot the danger of the 'Rotten Border' and let down their guard, the monsters would suddenly ambush them. The monsters annihilated colonizing troops and used the extorted karma as nourishment to awaken underdeveloped Kahur Kabkuns. In these cases, pointless colonization resulted in bringing in even more monsters.

Because of this danger, the alliance rejected excessive colonization and preferred to slowly gnaw at and advance into the 'Rotten Border'. It was common to assign warriors without any backing or foothold like the earthlings to moderate colonization missions as a political act.

However, the mission Dark-Sound gave the Berserkers was clearly different. What he meant by 'complete colonization' was advancing past the 'Rotten Border' to the end of the supercluster.

It broke the norm.

Also, Armor-Phantom interpreted the meaning in his own way.

"Why drag this on until you pass through the Rotten Border?"

In front of him sat troop leaders mobilized by Choi Hyuk's A- Rank resource transfer right. Those that especially caught his eye among them were the rookies of the top four tribes sent from the center.

'Whirlwind Fire', a man with swaying flames instead of hair, replied with an expression that he would die from boredom.

"That's what I'm saying. Whatever that A- Rank resource transfer right is... Now, really. To have to come to the countryside and take orders from a novice like him...."

A rising star of the Dark Tribe, 'Black Snow', expressed her agreement by nodding subtly at Whirlwind Fire's complaint. They were existences that could be considered as nobles in the alliance. Whirlwind Fire was from a prestigious family in the Flame-Wing Tribe, which was known to be the strongest of the top four tribes, and like him, Black Snow was a female warrior of the Dark Clan, the pure-blooded of the Dark Tribe. Both led C+ Rank independent troops and were elites whose activities were based in 'Alliance City', the capital of the alliance.

They were born and raised in the alliance's 'center', which Choi Hyuk greatly strived for as his goal. Although the years they were active as warriors weren't very different from Choi Hyuk, their pride exceeded highest-ranked warriors in the boundary regions.

While Keusaero sat next to them with an expression filled with dissatisfaction, he didn't dare open his mouth. To be weak against the strong and strong against the weak, this was the way of the Keunib species, who were also known as the 'alliance's civil servants'.

Armor-Phantom was smiling gently.

"Yeah. That's why I'm saying this. Just act in moderation. If they want to enter the Rotten Border, they need a ton of reconnaissance first. There's no need to do that properly. Even if a battle breaks out, retreat moderately. This mission is set to fail anyways considering how incapable that guy is. That's why it's better to fail quickly so that you can return to the center faster."

Even when Armor-Phantom comforted them, Whirlwind Fire let out a sullen noise.

"I know that we need to act without care to end this quickly. However, it's such a waste of time. There are so many trending missions right now, yet we have to waste our time here on a hopeless mission... No, but that Choi Hyuk or whatever, it's not like he knows us, why did he want us to be dispatched?"

"Something about wanting to see the ability of the top four tribes."

"Whaat? Crazy country fool..."

It seemed he was quite angry as flames rose from Whirlwind Fire's head. Even Black Snow sitting next to him silently ridiculed him. 'Just who is testing who? How arrogant.' They all thought this way.

Black Snow, who had been sitting quietly, stretched drowsily like a cat as she asked in a polite, calm voice,

"Anyways, Commander-in-chief Armor-Phantom. Are these all the troops dispatched for this mission? It seems too small considering the mission is about colonizing all of Shapley and Laniakea even if it is a hopeless mission."

Armor-Phantom shook his head.

"Of course, this isn't all. I called those who I felt would be regretful if they suffered losses for such an absurd mission. Besides you all, the rest... While it's regretful, there needs to be a small sacrifice so that the mission can be judged as a failure quicker."

For example, if the people gathered here negligently conducted their reconnaissance mission, the rest who didn't participate in this meeting would have to rely on uncertain information before advancing. It was a situation where they couldn't help but suffer heavy losses from the monsters. Armor-Phantom had called this a 'small sacrifice'.

"Hmm... That's true."

Then, like Whirlwind Fire's reply, the people gathered here sincerely believed that this was a 'small sacrifice'.

**

The colonization began abruptly.

Even when facing this dire situation where he would either soar or break, Choi Hyuk's mind was unexpectedly filled with thoughts of Flame-Rain.

It might have to do with the word 'colonize'.

Flame-Rain was the first in the alliance to cross over to the monsters' universe. Perhaps she was a colonizer in the truest sense of the word.

She was not only the friendliest warrior but also the most courageous and powerful.

She was of the highest nobility, yet she was forcefully sent to the most intense battlefield and was obligated to make sacrifices.

Even though she was so strong and of such nobility, she was always knocked down.

Then... How much did they look down on people like earthlings?

Perhaps the most basic requirement for his revenge was to reach a level where he could stand shoulder to shoulder with Flame-Rain. First, like Flame-Rain, he needed to grow to a level where the Exalted Wings seriously kept him in check. Going beyond that was the most basic requirement for his revenge.

Coincidentally, Choi Hyuk had a hunch that this abrupt mission would be the greatest foothold for that moment.

At the same time, Choi Hyuk realized how he should use the A- Rank resource transfer right by himself.

Choi Hyuk's hand moved. He quickly completed the list of temporarily dispatched troops.

Choi Hyuk smiled, and Baek Seoin sighed after looking through the list.

"Leader! You know that the resource transfer right now is of a completely different nature compared to Dragonic, right? You can't just dispatch troops because you don't like them and want to screw them over. It was only possible back then because the missions could be completed with just the Berserkers and the big gap between us and those on Dragonic. This time, we need to dispatch trustworthy troops that will be our strength. What I'm saying is that it's impossible to push them to their deaths and make them fight with their lives on the line. There are tons of people who will be at ease after being forced into a high-ranked Kahur Kabkun... What if they use that to fight slowly?"

Baek Seoin nagged. Yet, he held most of it back. This was apparent considering he almost collapsed when he first saw the list that Choi Hyuk had made. From the Sur, Jangkok, and Keumil Troops, to the young masters and ladies from the center of the alliance that he had never heard of before... Whether looking at the list in terms of friendship or prestige, it was filled with people who looked like they wouldn't fight diligently.

"So, first of all, you did well in including Commander Mack. From here to here is a bit... First, let's request some recommendations from Commander Mack... Do we not have any others to ask? Ah, I heard rumors that the Exalted Wing Leviathan looked at us favorably, maybe we should ask for some recommendations from him through Commander Mack..."

When Baek Seoin coaxed Choi Hyuk while pointing out specific parts of the list, still smiling, Choi Hyuk replied,

"It's okay."

Baek Seoin suppressed his anger as he tried to persuade Choi Hyuk.

"No, I mean... If we want to colonize, don't we have to pass the Rotten Border first? Since that place is otherwise known as the universe's minefield, shouldn't we conduct a reconnaissance first? Think about it. If we want to explore such a vast region, we need a lot of trustworthy, talented troops... Yet, from here to here, I just can't-"

"We're not going to conduct any reconnaissance."

"Pardon? Are we not? No! We'll never know when we will be ambushed-!"

Looking at Baek Seoin's expression as he raised his voice in shock, Choi Hyuk smiled like the devil.

Soon after, Baek Seoin's face couldn't help but pale when he heard Choi Hyuk's explanation.

**

'How lackluster.'

This was Choi Hyuk's thought after looking at the troops gathered for the colonization mission. There were 31 C Rank independent troops like the Berserkers, 102 D Rank ones below them... Such a large army was almost half of Shapley and Laniakea's entire force.

There were close to 40 high-ranked (6-star) warriors, around a thousand middle-ranked (5-star) warriors, and, below them, hundreds of thousands of warriors in each rank following the low-ranked (4-star) warriors. This was the first time such a huge force had been pooled since Dark City was attacked.

Troops were called from the Shapley and Laniakea Superclusters as well as other superclusters beyond them, even extending to the center of the alliance. This army was gathered under Choi Hyuk.

'Finally... We're at the starting point.'

It was a new sensation.

A warrior from Earth, who always had to complete missions given to him by the alliance at any time without knowing why, was now, in reverse, giving a mission to warriors from throughout the universe. This was the first opportunity to return what he had received in the past. The first step towards the center of the alliance.

Of course, the A- Rank resource transfer right was a temporary right, and the authority Choi Hyuk possessed was nothing special. The warriors gathered here were glaring at Choi Hyuk with the thought 'How dare someone we've never heard about dispatch us?' The killing intent and hostility they emitted made the entire universe look red. Even when looking through the Eyes of the Judge, there weren't only one or two people he needed to deal with. Fortunately, a few troops from the Laniakea and Shapley Superclusters led by Commander Mack were had some goodwill, but they were such a small minority that they were almost invisible. Still, Choi Hyuk was happy.

'First, I won't let go of the authority that has landed in my hands.'

Choi Hyuk ordered the C Rank troop leaders near him,

"The army will not spread out. We will gather together and break through a single point."

The troop leaders showed dumbfounded expressions when they heard Choi Hyuk's order.

"No... Then we're not going to go on any reconnaissance at all? Also, a single-point breakthrough? If we do that, when in the world will we clean the Rotten Border up completely?"

They didn't use polite, formal speech. Someone pulled the arm of the complainer.

'Hey, hey, he says he's going to ruin himself on his own. Just let him be. The faster he ruins himself, the faster it'll end.'

This plan was simply too absurd. The single-point breakthrough was a tactic used to escape when surrounded by enemies. It wasn't a useful tactic when they needed to erase the minefield known as the Rotten Border. The entire army pushing their way through the Rotten Border in a single group was a serious waste of resources and would undoubtedly result in endlessly dragging the plan on.

'What the hell? Is this bastard a coward?'

This was why Whirlwind Fire came to hate Choi Hyuk even more. To him, this tactic looked like Choi Hyuk was so scared that he planned on surrounding himself with an excessive number of troops to keep him safe.

'Well... It's not bad. If our progress is slow despite gathering so many troops, it'll be a cause for disciplinary action without a doubt, so it's not bad... But for such a pitiful bastard to dare dispatch me... What a shitty feeling.'

Frowning and turning his gaze away, Whirlwind Fire saw Black Snow also glaring at Choi Hyuk with a similar scornful look.

The colonizing army passing through the Rotten Border as a group soon encountered a high-ranked Kahur Kabkun.

It was quickly dealt with. A single C Rank troop could destroy a high-ranked Kahur Kabkun, yet there were 32 C Rank troops gathered here including the Berserkers. They couldn't lose even if they tried.

With Choi Hyuk at the lead, the Berserkers rushed in first, and by the time the other troops rushed in afterwards, the situation had already been resolved.

The monsters had already been eradicated, and warriors were crammed inside the Kahur Kabkun. Although the high-ranked Kahur Kabkun was large, there were simply too many warriors in the colonizing army.

"Ah, man... Why is he making all of us come in here?"

"We're finally all here. But all the monsters are dead? Then do we leave again?"

"Is he joking...?"

The warriors who entered the Kahur Kabkuns with nothing to do could no longer take it and expressed their dissatisfaction.

"A waste of a sword..."

It was the same for Black Snow, who hadn't personally spoken of her dissatisfaction despite having them. It seemed she really was angry this time as she mumbled while glaring at the Sword of Vow 'Choi Hyuk's Imprint'.

However, it was Whirlwind Fire who was silent this time.

'That bastard... Just what's with his flames? Is it not... from my species?'

Choi Hyuk revealed his black flames when he rushed into the Kahur Kabkun. Whirlwind Fire was astonished the moment he saw them. At first, he thought Choi Hyuk was imitating the Flame-Wing Tribe's flames. However, that wasn't the case. The longer he saw them, the more they made him shudder. They were flames he had never seen before and, at the same time, were more destructive than any other flame.

'Someone with flames like that is a coward? No way... Then just why is he using an absurd tactic like single-point breakthrough...'

In the Flame-Wing Tribe, flames were a way to clearly reveal one's personality. After seeing his horrifying, black flames, Whirlwind Fire could no longer believe Choi Hyuk was a coward. The more he thought this, the more overwhelmed he became from confusion.

'Just why?'

Under Whirlwind Fire's trembling gaze, Choi Hyuk stood alone at the end of the Kahur Kabkun. The other side of the Kahur Kabkun was like a rippling, black lake. Clear killing intent from the monsters' universe surged beyond it.

Destroying a Kahur Kabkun usually ended with throwing a dimensional bomb in it. However... Choi Hyuk acted differently this time.

Gulp.

He swallowed something inside him. Whether it was rage, desire, or urgency, one couldn't tell... At the same time, 'Choi Hyuk's Imprint' began to vibrate.

It was at this moment when Choi Hyuk opened his mouth.

"From now on, we will destroy all the Kahur Kabkuns existing in the Rotten Border."

Up until this moment, the warrior thought, 'What's he saying?' but couldn't believe Choi Hyuk's next words.

"Only, not from our side, but from the monsters'."

'What?'

Silently, astonishment spread amongst them in an instant.

Blaaze!

'Choi Hyuk's Imprint' cut through the world. When the unheard-of power that could nullify everything cut into the end of the Kahur Kabkun, the dimension was cut through with a rip.

The place now visible beyond the opened Kahur Kabkun was completely different from the karmalings' universe. It was the monsters' universe.

"... Just what is this..."

Whirlwind Fire's mouth was agape. A thought flashed through his mind. 'Single-point breakthrough.' A tactic only used when they were hopelessly surrounded by enemies... and the monsters' universe he was seeing for the first time in his life, the source of death swarming with powerful enemies...

Unknown whether it was fear or excitement, a shiver ran down his body.

"Let's go."

Choi Hyuk took his first step towards the monsters' universe.

**

"Huh?"

Flame-Rain had been struggling with the Net of Fate while her entire body was covered in blood. She felt the Net of Fate, which had been squeezing her, suddenly loosen. A section of the Net of Fate shook greatly.

"What is this...? Did something arrive? Just who...?"

Although she had no way to know... This was an opportunity. Flame-Rain smiled cheerfully for the first time in a while as she looked towards her subordinates who had survived until now.

"It's an opportunity! The enemies' attention is divided! This is our final chance! We'll use all our strength to break through and leave!"

Blaaze!

Her flame wings, which had been diminishing from exhaustion, grew larger while shining brilliantly. Her loyal subordinates also raised their weapons once again and reignited their battle spirit.

Flame-Rain gave the final order.

"Let's go! Homeward!"

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