The Hero Returns - Chapter 321
Flames rose within Su-hyeun’s hand.
It was purple in color.
The divine Flame had changed its hue. It was a hue that displayed no signs of changing for a long, long time.
Every time the grade of his magic level rose, the Flame’s hue also changed, so when he reached the ninth level, he expected the hue to change as well, but it seemed that he was wrong about that one.
The qualification of “godhood of fire” was the requirement for the purple color, as it turned out.
“This is…my second godhood qualification,” he thought.
It was one of the many qualifications out there to become a god.
It was said that even within the realm of the same type of godhood, and many other types out there, the upper-class gods possessed a far higher concept of godhood.
For instance, Apollo in front of Su-hyeun’s eyes might possess a similar type of godhood, “fire,” but his was higher in concept than Su-hyeun’s, and that was why he was currently known as the god that represented fire.
Su-hyeun created more of the purple-colored flames and enveloped his whole body with them. The flames soon became his armor, and when it wrapped around his hand, it became a sharp dagger.
Not only was he able to change the flame’s shape according to his will now, but he could also even freely control its temperature.
Most likely, he should be able to create a flame far hotter and more powerful than ever before.
At the same time, all the flames Phaethon had created currently surrounding them felt quite familiar to him. They now felt like air or magical energy that existed around him at all times.
“What’s wrong? Do you find it too amazing?” Apollo asked.
“Never mind ‘amazing,’ for now…” Su-hyeun withdrew the divine Flame burning in his hand. The existence before his eyes loomed far, far too large for him to leisurely enjoy his newly earned ability. “May I ask about what exactly you want from me?”
“What I want from you, you say?”
“There is this saying among humans—give and take. It kind of means that if someone gives you something, they expect something else in return, so you shouldn’t accept a show of goodwill or unconditionally offer one yourself.”
“There is such a saying? It’s the first time I’m hearing it.”
Apollo, still maintaining his silhouette but through the indigo-hued flame, nodded his head in understanding.
The master of that flame was no longer Phaethon but Su-hyeun, of course. In other words, Apollo was manifesting and maintaining his figure through the divine Flame Su-hyeun had created.
“Why are you showing me this gesture of goodwill?” Su-hyeun asked again.
“He’s right, my lord!” The one to raise his voice loudly at Su-hyeun’s question was Phaethon. “Just why?! Why did you show your favor to this man? How could you permit your godhood to someone with no faith like him and not us?!”
Seeing all those veins bulging in his throat, Phaethon must’ve been feeling truly aggrieved right now.
Faith, he said. Indeed, to the eyes of a believer who lived his whole life filled with faith and devotion up until this moment, the current situation should come across as truly irrational.
The corners of Apollo’s lips curled up.
Just by having the most beautiful man in the world smile, it almost felt like the surroundings had gotten even brighter than before. If more exaggerations were to be added on top, then that smile was gorgeous enough for half of all men to fall head over heels.
“That’s a wonderful thing, faith. Indeed, you’ve done well in that regard.” Apollo nodded softly a couple of times before suddenly asking, “But so what?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Was it because of the unexpected response? Phaethon looked completely taken aback. It seemed that he had been expecting to be rewarded with an answer by Apollo for his unyielding faith.
“Besides your devotion in me, what else have you done? You were too afraid to fight against the race of Giants, so you all cowered away, yet the moment you gain the necessary strength, you acted solely for the sake of your political power and fame. But now you wish to talk about faith?”
“But that was…!”
“You convinced yourself that your faith is pure and unblemished, but I wonder about that. In my eyes, this guy might not be one of my believers, but he still looks far better than you.” Apollo shifted his gaze over to Su-hyeun once more while still maintaining that gorgeous smile of his from earlier. “Well, you can now more or less understand my reason, I hope?”
“Are you taking pity on me?”
Apollo willingly admitted that he possessed a power similar to Precognition.
And that claim must have been true because he was peering straight into Su-hyeun’s future. He warned that the path before Su-hyeun would be difficult, and it would be like Shura itself, which sounded remarkably similar to the warning of the administrator.
Did he help Su-hyeun out now for what was about to come?
“Pity? Although there’s some of that, that’s strictly not true.” Apollo shook his head. “It’s more for our own sake too, you see.”
“When you say for your sake…”
“Gods, of course. Up there.” Apollo pointed upward. He was referring to Olympus, which should be somewhere up in the heavens.
Su-hyeun’s gaze naturally followed the direction of Apollo’s finger. Although he couldn’t see it, he still felt its existence. And in that place, those claiming to be the gods of this world were observing the mortals down below.
Whether those gazes from above were because of Apollo, Su-hyeun himself, or even Hercules, Su-hyeun couldn’t really tell, but regardless, the oppressive weight of their combined gazes still felt incredibly heavy.
“The ones you’ll get to fight in the future are diametrically opposed to us, you see.” Apollo began speaking again, but his figure was gradually getting blurrier. “Do your best to win, Kim Su-hyeun.”
This god knew his name?
Su-hyeun had never revealed it to Apollo, and his thoughts apparently couldn’t be read, so it could only mean that the sun god already knew his name.
However, before he could ask how the sun god came to know it, Apollo’s figure completely vanished from view.
Su-hyeun stopped reaching out with his hand and sighed deeply under his breath.
“Should I be happy about this?” he thought.
This certainly qualified as a good thing. A godhood qualification was incredibly difficult to acquire, yet he got his hands on one in an unexpected place, after all.
But for some reason, this power felt like a heavy lump of lead pressing down on his shoulders, and he just couldn’t bring himself to celebrate his power-up.
* * *
Flames rose higher from within the burning fireplace, and among the dancing flames, a handsome man with long crimson hair and a sleek jawline revealed himself.
Apollo grasped his long, free-flowing hair and tied them neatly. He then replied to the voice that came from behind him, “Were you waiting for me?”
“You must’ve had a lot to talk about, seeing how long you took.”
“I know you’ve been watching from the beginning, so stop pretending, will you? You were staring so hard that I thought I might freeze to death.”
After tidying up his hair, Apollo looked behind him. That was where he found a silver-haired woman sitting next to the fireplace while slowly stroking the head of a white-furred wolf.
She was a blindingly beautiful woman, but Apollo had seen that face for far too long and no longer felt any particular impression about her looks.
“Pay it no heed, Artemis. This is the role that your immature older brother must perform, after all.”
She was the goddess of the moon, Artemis.
“How can I not? Knowing full well that you’ll earn father’s ire, you still manifested down below, and you even yielded a portion of your godhood to that human, too,” she replied to Apollo’s advice while gently and studiously stroking the wolf’s head.
She then abruptly lifted her hand away from the wolf and looked back at Apollo.
“Are you insane?”
“You’re right. Father will scold me quite seriously this time. I hope all I get is a lightning bolt and no more than that.”
“It’ll be a small miracle if the punishment ends at only that. You might get imprisoned in the netherworld for 10,000 years.”
“That’s rather horrifying. Would I be able to win against Uncle Hades, I wonder?”
“You want to fight him?”
“Of course not. Even if I win, that’s going to present another problem. Father will scold me even more.”
Apollo grinned brightly as he settled down next to Artemis in front of the fireplace. His reaction was far too relaxed for the situation he was in, and as if frustrated by his attitude, Artemis slapped Apollo’s arm with her hand.
“You damn fool. Why couldn’t you just leave it to Hercules and let him handle it? Why do something like this?”
“You’re right about that, but you also know this, don’t you? That guy’s potential is just incredible despite his bloodline,” Apollo replied.
Artemis was unable to say anything at what Apollo said and eventually nodded her head.
That human didn’t inherit an excellent bloodline unlike Hercules nor had he been in existence for a long time before acquiring a godhood qualification.
What’s more, the godhood qualification had only been in his possession for a short time, and he already managed to reach this far. As far as pure potential was concerned, he was more excellent than any human the gods were currently aware of.
It was not that difficult to understand why Apollo placed so much expectation on that human’s shoulders.
“Well, regardless of what, he’s a mere human, and his bloodline is also ordinary, so this is the least I can do for him. Father will also understand.”
“What if he doesn’t?”
When Artemis asked as she shook her head, indicating that no such thing would ever happen, Apollo pondered his answer for a bit before saying something.
“If that’s the case, it can’t be helped, then.”
* * *
The flames died down.
The wall of flames Phaethon had created vanished, and the surrounding view could be seen once more.
Phaethon’s state remained the same ever since Apollo disappeared—a blank and hollow expression was etched on his face.
Su-hyeun glanced at the kneeling blonde-haired young man. Only he would have any clue as to what Phaethon was currently thinking about. Su-hyeun also used to carry such an expression for a while in the past, after all.
“That’s the face of a man who lost everything,” he thought.
As the gazes of the countless men landed on him, Phaethon simply ignored them all and stared at the spot where Apollo had stood.
Several minutes passed by like that.
The presence of Chris and the other knights approaching closer forced Phaethon to weakly stand back up.
“Thank you for all your hard work, Phaethon.”
“The Giants have all been—”
“Let us return,” Phaethon abruptly replied.
Those words came straight out of the mouth of the hero responsible for defeating the Giants all by himself, and they were quite different from what the others expected to hear from him.
Did he say “return”?
“What do you mean by that, Phaethon?”
The one to step forward and ask that was Chris.
He was far more excited than anyone else right now. Phaethon had succeeded in defeating the Giants, and this accomplishment meant so much from the perspective of the Holy Kingdom.
It was an opportunity to take over the status and fame of Hercules the hero. However, Phaethon was willingly forsaking such a heaven-sent opportunity.
“Do you even understand the deeper implications of what you just said?”
“Yes, I understand them fully.”
Chris, with madness raging within his eyes now, completely forgot about Su-hyeun’s presence next to them and continued to shout, “If you do, then you mustn’t be like this! Don’t you…don’t you know how much the Holy Kingdom had to toil away and sacrifice for your sake?!”
“Or maybe he thinks that I have no idea what they’re talking about in the first place,” Su-hyeun thought.
Eavesdropping on those words helped Su-hyeun figure out how Phaethon managed to borrow Apollo’s powers.
“Did he get the backing of the Holy Kingdom?”
Normally, the members of the clergy found in various worlds would focus specifically on mastering the methods of borrowing the powers of their chosen deities, and that practice seemed to be true even for the people of this world.
In the end, Phaethon’s ability wasn’t his own, and the only reason why he succeeded with “Union with God” with Apollo was that the Holy Kingdom had researched the method and provided him with the necessary assistance.
“Our god, he has forsaken us,” Phaethon muttered.
“I’ll tell you the details after we return,” Phaethon chuckled helplessly as if everything had been in vain and raised his head. “For now, I do not wish to do anything.”
Chris stood there and silently studied Phaethon’s condition. He looked the complete opposite of his confident self from a while ago, and his expression seemed to be utterly drained of all energy.
“What exactly happened inside the wall of flames?” Chris wondered inwardly.
He gritted his teeth, but there was nothing he could do for now.
All the power of divinity that existed in the Holy Kingdom had been concentrated on Phaethon, and with him disillusioned like this for some reason, going ahead with their plans would be impossible now.
“Understood. We’ll eventually uncover the truth of what happened,” Chris said while turning around after reaching that bitter decision. “Everyone, we shall—”
“Hold on for a minute.”
A huge hand suddenly grabbed Chris’s shoulder. The knight turned around to find Hercules making a stern expression.
The demigod, who was looking up at the purple-colored sky, slowly opened his mouth, “They are here.”
Even his voice sounded serious.
Chris barely managed to shove aside Hercules’s hand that was gradually gripping his shoulder harder and asked unhappily, “Just who are coming here exactly?”
While staring at the purple sky wavering ominously, Hercules pulled out his club.