< Prologue. Carpe Diem〉
“Yo, I'm about to wreck all of the punks that said they wanted to go back to the past. Capiche?”
— An excerpt from the records of 《Carpe Diem》, the last hope of mankind.
Prologue. Carpe Diem
The sky had darkened because of the existence of a giant tower. There were ruined buildings everywhere.
Intermittent screams and groans rang throughout. There was smoke rising everywhere.
And then silence.
The explanation was unsatisfactory.
It was literally the world after extinction.
Perhaps it was something that all of you were already aware of.
It's a pain in the ass to try and explain, so just take a look at the timeline below and you should understand the gist of it.
The year was 2018.
An enormous structure called the《Nightmare Tower》 appeared in every city in the world, including Seoul ......
You know what, I've come to realize that trying to use a timeline is actually even more annoying. There were many popular fantasy novels in the 21st century and this story is pretty similar to those, so I was wondering if I should even bother telling this story.
If I just go on telling the story in this way I'll just get bored, but I'll try and drag this on a bit.
Anyways, I'm guessing that I should probably come up with an excuse for what happened to humanity.
In regards to how it began, anyone could tell you that . It was 2018 on some day or another. A massive structure called the 《Nightmare Tower》 appeared in the skies above a peaceful city. There was no communication from the tower, so humans simply waited for it to start talking on its own. Basically, this is the story of an apocalyptic catastrophe.
Then one day, the tower called out to humanity.
Or in short, those who were called 《Walkers》.
They had received a 'message' from the tower and were summoned accordingly, being granted the strength and qualifications to fight in the tower.
It was a really childish message along the lines of 'If you want to prevent the destruction of humanity, respond to the tower's summons', but surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of people responded.
It was encouraging.
However, if you looked at the population ratio, it wasn't even 1 in 10,000. But, it was encouraging nonetheless to see so many people willing to fight for humanity.
Well, to be fair, if you looked at the 《Nightmare Tower》's rewards, it's obvious that not everyone jumped in with good intentions.
To continue with what I was saying, those who responded to the tower could receive blessings from the 《Interface System》, namely skills and items, which they could use to progress further into the interior of the 《Nightmare Tower》.
The humans weren't very active at first. People were afraid of the unknown dangers inside, and the tower's message of ‘humanity's destruction’ wasn't a very concrete factor in their minds.
But during the midst of all that, the first Tower Impact happened.
The tower released a wave of monsters that decimated a third of the world's population.
I don't have to say anything more for you to understand.
It's a fairly cliche story where the Walkers, with the world on their shoulders, continued to enter and progress through the towers.
But of course, despite it being so cliche, it wouldn't simply end there.
The year is 2023.
Destined item，「Stone of Regression」Discovered.
Stone of Regression.
Chek, looking at it, it's quite the naming sense.
So everyone should understand what's going on by now.
It's a story that everyone should know very well.
When the world was about to get wrecked, the hero by some stroke of luck found an item, and going, "Oh what the hell," and used the item to go back to the past-- it's that kind of story.
A story that you would really only read about in novels became a reality when the [Stone of Regression] was discovered in 2023.
Going back to the past.
Don't get me wrong, it was a good thing.
But there was a slight problem.
“Damn it, send me back too!”
“Yeah, my life has become so fucked!”
“Yeah me too!”
“Yeah what the fuck, me too!”
It was that too many people went back as well. Jae Hwan looked at the people who decided to go back turn into a congregation of lights that flew up into the sky.
“Ha, there they go again.”
"Were they the last ones?”
"That should be right.”
Standing off to the side watching the scene, Yoonhwan replied.
They stood on the 98th floor of the tower, watching the lights fly away.
The distant group of lights was like a beautiful asteroid.
With hope of living a new life, the group of lights disappeared. They'll disregard everything about the time they spent in the destroyed future and return to the past to live the life they were originally supposed to.
A secure life. A safe life.
An easier life that had been stolen from them.
“What do you mean ‘nice’?”
It's not that Jae Hwan didn't understand the hearts of those who desired to return back to the past.
Each one of them probably had suffered under unfair circumstances.
And it was pretty certain that many of them had wanted to become the world's 'hero'.
But Jae Hwan couldn't help but wonder. Had it ever even occurred to these heroes even just once.
The world they were abandoning. Did they ever consider the lives of those they were leaving behind in this world they had forsaken.
It had already been 10 years since the discovery of the [Stone of Regression] in the tower.
With the exception of the deceased Walkers, all of the Walkers had returned to the past. With a conservative estimate at thousands and a generous estimate at tens of thousands, all of the Walkers had given up on the present and had chosen to return to the past.
The [Stone of Regression] was the reward for clearing the 77th level.
It was a giant stone that blocked off the entrance to the 78th level.
They had realized that it was an item in the midst of everyone who were trying to smash the stone.
The item description for the Stone of Regression was as follows.
Name : Stone of Regression
Effect : Time is turned back, and the user is returned back to the time when they were summoned by the tower. The user's memory is kept intact. It is possible to break it down and share the fragments.
At first, nobody believed it.
How could an item that allows you to go back in time even exist? Furthermore, how does it make sense that such an item could come from the Tower itself?
But on the other hand, there were people whose hands were itching.
Walkers were all people who had a taste of the transcendent realm that humans could reach with the help of the items and skills that the Tower could provide.
However, most Walkers did not receive the skills or items that they wanted, and were instead forced to choose either the next best thing or the lesser of two evils.
Those Walkers were the ones that felt the most intense temptations.
Consider this, what if you could go back in time knowing everything that would happen in the future?
“We can use it after breaking it down… with how big this is, a lot people could use it.”
The first person to use the [Stone of Regression] was the advance team 《Blade Walker》's president, Sword Panic Hwang Inchan.
"Since it could be a lie, I'll try it first and let everyone know the results."
Those were Sword Panic's last words.
Jae Hwan was also present when that happened.
‘Everyone was so stupid.’
If you think about it, it makes no sense, so why did nobody realize that.
There was no difference between a man saying 'I'll just go and die real quick, and then I'll tell you guys the results' and ‘I'll go back in time and then tell you guys the results.'
There was no one who had returned from the past.
Just like how there was no one who had returned from the dead.
The people became upset after Sword Panic Hwang Inchan disappeared.
There were some who kept wondering "did he really go into the past", while others surreptitiously collected some of the fragments of the [Stone of Regression] before putting them into their inventory.
Hwang Inchan never came back and the people grew more restless and began to ask more questions.
Why is it that Hwang Inchan who returned to the past was not returning to this world? Or, why is it that our current world hasn't been affected despite the fact that Hwang Inchan had already disappeared into the past?
The answer surprisingly came from the only Japanese person from the advance team, a middle school teacher by the name of Sakamoto.
"Maybe it's not guaranteed.”
Sakamoto explored various possibilities, trying to explain what had happened using various scientific theories including the likes of string theory and parallel universes. In the end, he theorized that the current situation was one where 'the state of the cosmic temporal branch has been split.'
In other words, when Hwang Inchan disappeared into the past, the past world he went to split from the present world that he left.
"Hwang Inchan must have gone into the past. But the flow of time has been split, so we will not be able to meet him again.”
Since the members of the advance team had very little knowledge of science, most of them didn't quite understand what he was saying.
But two things were certain.
Hwang Inchan had successfully made it back to the past, and that him doing so had no bearing on the current world.
“Japanese teacher sir, is it possible that Hwang Inchan did not go into the past?”
“Let's take a good look at the stone's description. Does it not say that it would 'send the user back in time'? There is one thing that I am sure of, and that is that the Tower's items have never once lied to me.”
Sakamoto's words were correct.
“I think that the Stone will send us all back in time, but each of us will be sent to a unique time branchline. Of course, all this is a hypothesis, so we can't exclude the possibility that we might all end up in the same timeline. Afterall, all of the items in the tower are beyond common sense.”
Having come to their senses, half of the advance team decided to use the Stone to return to the past right then and there.
The members of the advance team were just that greedy.
If they ended up falling into the same timeline, then everyone would end up having to compete with each other.
The later you came, the more you would lose. Nobody wanted to lose.
From that point on, humans lived with the words 'to return to the past' on their lips.
Here and there, everyone spoke only of returning to the past.
The only thought on people's minds was what they would do should they go back.
There were still people who wondered if going back too late would put them behind, while there were still others who believed that the advance team should at least go up a few more floors before returning. There were still others who decided to preemptively sell the [Stone of Regression] to the Walkers on the lower floors, while others set their sights on compiling a guidebook for when the Tower would open.
During the midst of that, the second Tower Impact happened.
The tower released a flood of monsters onto the Earth, this was known as the Tower Impact. Because of the Walkers, almost all life on the Earth was nearly extinguished.
The remaining Walkers had to make one of two choices.
Give up everything they had obtained thus far and return to the past with the [Stone of Regression] in hand, or stay here and die. Jae Hwan chose neither.
“These fuckers. Stop fucking leaving. What will happen to this world if all of you keep leaving?”
Jae Hwan didn't cave in to the splitting of 《Blade Walker》, and ascended the tower with a few other colleagues.
After many twists and turns, Jae Hwan was stonewalled on the 85th floor.
Most of the teammates that had stuck with him this far had died.
There was no way to go any farther.
Jae Hwan maintained a positive attitude, and went back down to the first floor to try and convince others to come with him. He only selected those he felt would not be tempted by the [Stone of Regression] and were determined to keep this world safe.
That's how humanity's last hope, 《Carpe Diem》, was formed.
It was an advance team composed of the last of the Walkers who chose not to return to the past and protect this world.
Leading them, Jae Hwan was able to break through the barrier that was the 85th floor.
So they climbed and climbed again.
Occasionally there were deaths, and there were also times when some would stumble across a fragment of the [Stone of Regression] and accidentally activate it.
Despite that, Jae Hwan stood strong.
And like that, he was now at the 98th floor.
Jae Hwan blamed the Walkers who had returned to the past.
If only just half of them had stayed. No, even if those advance team bastards had just not gone. This world wouldn't have degenerated this far.
Despite multiple Tower Impacts, humanity held on.
Many were killed, injured, and fell sick, but humanity still endured.
But now, it was unfair.
There were now only two remaining members of 《Carpe Diem》.
Nevertheless, Jae Hwan did not give up.
“Let's go, Yunhwan-ah.”
As they knew, the 100th floor was the top of the tower.
There were now only two floors remaining.
After only two more floors, this hellish nightmare would end.
Humanity would be liberated.
This world could start over again.
That was what Jae Hwan believed. No, that's what he had believed.
There was no reply.
The last hope along with Jae Hwan. The Smile Knight, Kim Yunhwan.
No matter what happened, no matter the circumstances, he would always persevere with a smile on his face, so his teammates had nicknamed him Smile Knight. But for some reason, that Smile Knight was no longer smiling.
Just where did that stone come from?
Jaehwan asked himself while looking at the small stone in Yunhwan's hands.
“Hey, you punk! Are you thinking of returning?”
He couldn't believe it.
Yunhwan silently lowered his head. The Jaehwan who looked like he was about to lunge at Yunhwan suddenly turned around.
“Fine, just go.”
“I'm sorry, Jaehwan-ah.”
“Just fuck off. Before I change my mind.”
Jaehwan walked alone to the door that led to the 99th floor.
Yunhwan stared at his back.
He still believed in him and wanted to follow him.
The door slowly opened, Jae Hwan's body already having halfway disappeared. Yunhwan staggered as he went to go lean on a pillar.
His breathing slowly got worse.
There was a small hole in his chest.
It was the work of the 98th floor's boss, Mass Guiltykas.
It wasn't an injury that could be healed simply by rubbing a potion on the wound. It was only possible if the rare priest class were here to heal him. However, priests had long since disappeared from this world.
His best friend would have noticed with just a glance.
The stone he held in his hand wasn't the [Stone of Regression] but a regular stone.
Yunhwan tightly grasped onto this ordinary stone in his hand. His wrists trembling, he felt the cold and rough texture. It was a feeling that you could only sense in this world.
This was something he had learned from Jae Hwan.
He had learned about this incredible nondescript stone from Jaehwan.
He had learned that this life that had become dirtied and destroyed by the Walkers who had abandoned the world without a trace of hesitation-- this very same life needed to be grasped tightly and must never be let go.
But, the time had come. It was time to let go.
Yunhwa's body faced towards the outside of the tower.
“Thank you for having been in this world, Jae Hwan-ah.”
The moment Yunhwan's tilted body fell off the tower, Jae Hwan's body which was halfway through came to a brief stop.
He silently wiped his face with his right hand.
He waited for his body to stop trembling.
His breathing slowly calmed down.
He didn't look back.
He alone climbed the stairs to the 99th floor.
His world wasn't finished just yet.