I Alone Level-Up
Just as Esil had alluded to earlier, the difficulty of the quest rose up steeply from the 90th floor upwards. The levels and the number of monsters guarding each floor’s castle were so much incomparably higher compared to the lower floors.
It got so tough that he no longer could enjoy the fruit of his current sky-high Intelligence Stat – his MP used to hover near the max almost all the time, but now, it fluctuated greatly every time there was a battle.
That showed just how many of his Shadow Soldiers were destroyed and had to be revived over and over again.
It wasn’t some fluke that Jin-Woo managed to clear the 90th floor, however.
Just like a hammer shaping the raw iron that had been heated for a long, long time, he had been constantly polishing his skills as he climbed up from the lowest floor to get to where he was now.
The clear evidence of that was his current level, which had reached 90 already.
The fiercer the resistance of the superior Demon Aristocrats became, the stronger the attacks of Jin-Woo and his Shadow Soldiers got in order to break past their defences.
As Jin-Woo exited from the castle carrying the 97th floor’s Entry Permit, haze-like gas was rising up from his body. That steam was from his sweat evaporating in the heat, caused by the friction of him moving beyond the physical limits.
That was a clear indication of how much of a life-or-death struggle this battle had been. And accordingly, Jin-Woo’s face was filled with the satisfaction from the victory well earned.
Esil had been hiding until then, and when she saw him, quickly ran up to his side.
She could see a castle was roaring in flames behind Jin-Woo, and the Entry permit held firmly in his hand.
‘Fifth-ranked Ricardo Clan, and now, even the fourth-ranked Faetos Clan, too….’
Esil no longer had any reserve energy to be shocked anymore. If every other intruder boasted strength on this scale, then rather than protecting her land, it’d be difficult to even survive from the initial assault, instead.
“Are all the other Humans as powerful as you?”
Esil anxiously asked.
Jin-Woo combed through his memory for a bit, before making a suitable reply.
“Maybe, there are two more, I think.”
Goh Gun-Hui and Cha Hae-In were those two. Jin-Woo had no doubt that they were much stronger than other rank S Hunters he came in contact with so far.
As for the rest, which were Baek Yun-Ho, Choi Jong-In and Im Tae-Gyu, he didn’t feel that they were that particularly strong.
Especially for Choi Jong-In – he seemed to be highly rated by everyone, but to Jin-Woo’s eyes, that seemed to be the case solely due to him being in charge of South Korea’s top-ranked Guild, the ‘Hunters’, rather than because his own skills were impressive.
‘If I were to judge from their auras alone, Cha Hae-In is several times stronger than Choi Jong-In.’
Without a doubt, one could still find differences in power even among the ranks of ‘S’ Hunters.
No, maybe the differences found within this rank would be far greater than any other ranks precisely because those who couldn’t be measured by regular means were all lumped in together here.
Jin-Woo formed a subtle smirk.
‘How would I perceive others after I get out of here?’
Just like how the feelings he got from Baek Yun-Ho differed from their first meeting to the second, would there be a change in how he perceived the Association President Goh Gun-Hui?
Jin-Woo’s heart raced faster when he thought about checking out how much he had changed.
‘But, before I can do that….’
He had to clear this Demon’s Castle instant dungeon first. There were only four more floors remaining. He’d get to clear this dungeon soon enough. Jin-Woo turned to speak to Esil.
“You should go back to your people now.”
She had been utterly dejected after hearing that there were two more people like Jin-Woo out there, but then, she was jolted out of her morose state and raised her head.
“I’ll find my own paths on the floors above this one.”
Thanks to Esil guiding the way, he got to quickly locate the Demon Aristocrats and their castles. However, he no longer needed her help from now on.
‘Well, my Perception Stat has risen up pretty high so that’s one of the reasons, but also….’
The auras emanating from the superior aristocrats were so strong that he could easily locate them from afar now. She didn’t do much besides showing him the way, so he didn’t want to walk around with one more luggage anymore if he could help it.
When he finished explaining himself like that….
“A-am I no longer useful to you?”
Esil’s complexion had paled completely.
‘She’s a funny one until the end, huh.’
Jin-Woo suppressed his laughter as he saw Esil’s reaction that always managed to exceed his expectations. He then walked right up to her nose.
Esil’s eyes opened wider as he got progressively closer and closer.
‘A-am I being eliminated, as well?’
Her pounding heartbeat sounded like thunderclaps to her ears.
She then spotted Jin-Woo raising his hand. Seeing the tip of his hand slowly approach her face, Esil could only squeeze her eyes shut in terror.
His hand lightly rested on her shoulder, instead. The warmth spreading from her shoulder prompted her to open her eyes just a little. Jin-Woo’s face was oh-so close to hers. As if he was waiting for her to open her eyes, he began smiling brightly right away.
“You really worked hard until now. Thank you.”
With that, it was done.
Jin-Woo thought that he made a good-enough goodbye just then, and he took large strides to enter the floor-transfer magic circle.
[Floors 1 to 96 have been opened.]
[Which floor would you like to transfer to?]
He turned around to look at Esil’s face, and he saw the emotions of surprise and wistful longing forming the perfect two halves of her expression.
Terror, anxiety, shock, wistfulness….
Those were the range of emotions the monsters with intelligence had shown him.
Were they truly residents of another world, just as Esil said, or were they simply figments of the System’s imagination, brought to reality for this dungeon?
‘I can’t tell that yet, but….’
If he continued to gather more clues in this manner, eventually he’d get to understand the true identity of the System as well as what it wanted from him.
Meanwhile, the hesitant Esil finally mustered up some courage to call out to Jin-Woo.
“Uhm, excuse me….”
But, almost at the same time, Jin-Woo raised his head and replied to the System message.
97, 98, 99….
Jin-Woo finally acquired the ‘key’ to enter the abode of the Demon King.
[Item: Entry Permit]
A permit allowing you to enter the 100th floor of the Demon’s Castle. Can only be used on the 99th floor’s floor-transfer magic circle.
Just how much hardship did he have to go through for this thing? Before entering the 100th floor where the Demon King was waiting for his arrival, Jin-Woo checked out his Status first.
His level was already knocking on 100’s doorway. He could sense his increased Stats throughout his entire body. Strength flowed in every corner of his body, and his senses were so much sharper than before. His condition was at its peak.
Jin-Woo summoned the Store. He topped up his HP and MP with potions bought from there. He even bought some bandages as well. Just like before, he wrapped it around the right hand holding the dagger. It had been a long time since he felt this nervous.
Once he was done, he slowly moved his body this way and that.
‘Hmm, it’s not too bad, I guess?’
His movement gradually picked up speed, his limbs moving accurately according to his commands.
Faster! Even faster!
Jin-Woo left behind countless after-images in the air but quite suddenly, he stopped moving altogether. Hot steam rose up like a fog from his shoulders.
Should he say this was sufficient for a warm-up?
Whatever the case might have been, he was finished with his preparations now.
Jin-Woo inhaled and exhaled a big chunk of air, before stepping onto the floor-transfer magic circle. Just like before, the magic circle asked for his destination, and Jin-Woo confidently replied.
By the time he blinked, the surroundings had already changed. Jin-Woo surveyed his new surroundings.
‘There are no flames here?’
The horrifying flames that seemingly burned for all eternity on the lower floors were all gone, and he could only see the burnt-out remains. He raised head and spotted snowflakes falling from the sky.
The colour seemed a little off for real snowflakes, so he extended his hand out. The flakes falling on his hand didn’t melt down, weirdly enough. When he took a closer look, he realised that it was actually ash.
Ash was falling from the sky like snow.
It was then.
He heard the familiar mechanical beep. Jin-Woo’s sharpened glare was directed to the distant skies above.
‘So, it’s above me….’
Soon, the System alerted him to the entrance of the enemy via its trusty messages.
[The Demon King Baran has discovered the intruder!]
A black dot that wandered in the sky….
That black dot gradually got closer to the ground, before settling down on a spot pretty far away. It was a winged lizard-like creature.
After successfully landing on the ground, the lizard flapped its large wings and screeched out aloud.
Just above the head of the lizard, Jin-Woo saw a face of a demon, with a certain blue aura oozing out from it. A male creature kitted out in a flashy set of armour that only royalty might wear, while riding on the back of the large winged lizard….
The four words could clearly be seen above the male demon’s head.
[The Demon King, Baran]
This boss was emitting an extraordinary aura.
Cold sweat formed on Jin-Woo’s forehead. As befitting the boss protecting the top floor of a dungeon this massive, the creature was full of magnificent splendour.
Jin-Woo’s gaze shifted to the side of the boss, however.
The lizard this boss was riding on also possessed a name of its own.
[The Sky Dragon Kaisellin]
Judging from its name and its appearance, it didn’t look like a demon at all.
‘Wait a minute…. If it’s not a demon, then could I….?’
Even if he worked his butt off to kill demons, he couldn’t extract their shadows. So, he had already given up on acquiring a useful shadow in this place. But, what if it was a non-demon monster that could also fly?
‘…….I want it.’
If he could extract its shadow, then definitely he would.
This would be the first time he ran into a shadow he so dearly wanted to extract since encountering the leader of the White Phantoms, Baruka. Jin-Woo swallowed his dry saliva.
It was then, Baran raised its hand towards the sky.
[The Demon King Baran has activated ‘Skill: The Army of Hell’.]
‘….The Army of Hell??’
Tti-ring, tti-ring, tti-ring.
Several warning bells rang one after the other in Jin-Woo’s ears.
[Demon Soldiers have been summoned!]
[Demon Knights have been summoned!]
[Demon Generals have been summoned!]
Along with the messages filling up his view, an army entirely consisting of demons appeared around the Demon King. Even at a casual glance, there must’ve been over a thousand of them.
‘So, this must be the beginning.’
Jin-Woo also released all of his hidden magic energy.
When Baran arrogantly lowered the hand pointing at the sky in the direction of Jin-Woo, the demonic army rushed at him like a black tide.
The ground vibrated from the forceful march of the demons.
Jin-Woo stared at the Demon King’s army as the corner of his lips arched up.
‘I also have soldiers too, you know.’
Jin-Woo opened his mouth.
In the blink of an eye, Jin-Woo’s shadow spread out to all the surrounding areas. He had activated the skill, ‘Sovereign’s Territory’. When the Demon King’s army set foot within the darkened land, Jin-Woo finally summoned his Shadow Soldiers.
His shadows stood up all at once to answer his call.
Jin-Woo could acutely feel the confusion and panic among the enemies’ ranks.
Immediately seizing upon this opening, the two ‘physical’ type Knight grade soldiers, Iron and Tank, ran forward with everything they had and crashed into the enemy.
Dozens of demons screamed and were flung away from the absurd strengths of the two Shadow Soldiers. Right behind them, over one hundred soldiers rushed forward like a black tidal wave.
And the highlight of this opening salvo obviously belonged to Igrit!
He jumped lightly over the head of Iron and landed gently on the ground, before using the swords he held in each hand to cut and slice apart every demon he could find.
It was a performance befitting the grade of ‘Elite Knight’.
‘By the way, Igrit isn’t the only Elite Knight in my army, you know.’
Jin-Woo’s gaze shifted over to his side.
Fangs had finished gigantifying himself by then, and walked forward with large, heavy thuds as if to emphasize that it was his turn to fight. Jin-Woo formed a content expression as he watched Fangs’ large back.
Fangs took a deep, deep breath. His chest puffed up noticeably. Jin-Woo quickly recalled all the Shadow Soldiers found in front of Fangs, so his giant soldier could attack without holding anything back. The soldiers reverted to shadows, and shifted to the new location Jin-Woo pointed with his finger.
Massive, ferocious pillar of flames spewing out from Fangs’ mouth completely vaporised the demons on the ground. The flames didn’t stop there, though.
Fangs moved his head left to right, and utterly incinerated all demons trapped with the arc of the attack. All those poor demons swallowed up by the flames couldn’t even leak out a scream.
A few Shadow Soldiers were sucked into the attack in the process as well, but as long as they were under the influence of their Sovereign, it was possible to infinitely revive them.
Jin-Woo clenched his fists tightly.
One hundred-plus Shadow Soldiers were overwhelming the army over ten times their numbers. The demonic soldiers and their ranks crumbled in no time at all.
But, it was then.
Baran stopped standing back passively, and finally made his move. Countless arcs of blue sparks buzzed and crackled within the wide-open mouth of the boss creature.
Along with that hair-raising yell, a chill-inducing beam of blue light enveloped the Shadow Soldiers.
Jin-Woo’s eyes widened from sheer surprise.
Soldiers getting swept up in the blue electrical storm disintegrated in an instant, while those that managed to avoid instant death stood still in their spots as if they were frozen solid.
‘….It’s not regular lightning.’
Lightning bolts containing horrifying destructive power, as well as side-effects of stunning their targets, fell all over the place. And of course, one of these blue-coloured electrical storms also headed for Jin-Woo as well.
Quite unlike his Shadow Soldiers, he didn’t receive a single lick of damage, however.
All burn-related damage was absorbed by the ‘Wind Robe’ he currently had on, and….
[You have resisted abnormal status with the effects of ‘Buff: Immunity’.]
….As for the lightning’s stun effect, his abnormal status immunity buff dealt with it.
Jin-Woo dashed towards Baran right away. If he didn’t stop the boss’s AOE magic right now, there was a good chance that the flow of battle would shift away from his favour.
Baran’s glare landed on Jin-Woo.
Another ear-screeching yell exploded out from the boss’s wide open mouth, and blue streaks of lightning rained all around Jin-Woo.
Crackle, crack, crackle!!
However, Baran flinched grandly upon realising that the concentrated lightning attacks had no effect on Jin-Woo.
He sensed the boss’s agitation quite clearly.
Utilising the skill ‘Dash’ that had reached the maximum achievable level, Jin-Woo closed the distance in the blink of an eye and jumped up high in the air. Baran also unsheathed its sword.
Jin-Woo’s reverse-gripped ‘Baruka’s Dagger’ and the Demon King’s blade, infused with bluish flames, clashed face to face.
A huge explosion of noise spread out; Baran was shoved off the Sky Dragon, while Jin-Woo was flung away by the rebound as well.
Jin-Woo stopped rolling on the ground and got up at the same time as Baran. They glared at each other only for a brief moment.
Both of them dashed towards each other with everything they had almost out of pure instinct.
Baran spat out more blue sparks from his mouth.
Countless blue-coloured rays of light crashed down on him. Jin-Woo continued to run forward while believing in the defensive properties of the robe, but then, he sensed something was off.
‘….It’s getting hotter?’
When he glanced back, he realised that the end of the robe was on fire. He quickly threw off the robe.
‘I guess that’s as far as the robe can protect me.’
In the end, it was an artefact crafted by humans. It had already performed its job quite admirably up to this point, so he felt no regret. From here onwards, Jin-Woo had to take care of things on his own.
He swallowed his saliva.
As if it had sensed that an opportunity had arrived, the intensity of the blue sparks crackling within Baran’s mouth increased by a notch. Jin-Woo heightened his senses as much as he could to get ready.
‘I can do this.’
No, he simply had to do this.
With time slowing down substantially in his perspective, Jin-Woo calmly evaded each and every single one of the blue arcs of lightning flying right at him.
‘….Why is this happening?’
As Baran’s figure got closer and closer, Jin-Woo began recalling his memories of the Demon’s Castle one by one. Even during that, he still managed to evade the blue lightnings.
His heart was beating quite gently right now.
Ba-dump, ba-dump, ba-dump….
Jin-Woo dodged all of Baran’s attacks by a truly paper-thin margin, and eventually, stood before the Demon King.
Only then did he finally realise why he was reminiscing about the events of the Demon’s Castle like this. Because, he was feeling grateful.
To grant him this great power to fight evenly against an absurdly strong monster like this….
As he climbed up each floor, he was moulded and refined further and further. It was as if he was being trained precisely for this moment.
So, how could he not feel grateful right now?
Baran slashed down diagonally with his sword, and Jin-Woo raised ‘Baruka’s Dagger’ in his right hand to block it, before using the ‘Knight Killer’ to stab the Demon King’s shoulder.
The weapon designed specifically to tear through the enemy’s armour dug deeply into Baran’s shoulder.
Jin-Woo momentarily thought that he could hear Baran’s soundless scream just then. He yanked the ‘Knight Killer’ out. Flames of rage erupted within Baran’s eyes. The Demon King began panting out rather laboriously.
Finally, the boss made his move.
Jin-Woo’s two daggers and Baran’s sword swished and swung and clashed against each other countless times, leaving behind several wounds on their bodies.
Clang!! Claaaank!! Clang, clunk!!
Every time their blades collided, the ground around the two caved in by the shock waves emanating from the collision of the magic energy.
A deep frown formed on Jin-Woo’s forehead.
‘Even with such a deep wound on his shoulder….’
As befitting the title of the Demon King, Baran’s powers were nothing to scoff at. Jin-Woo felt aching coming from his wrists. He realised that he’d be in a disadvantageous position if things continued on in this fashion.
‘I need to break this deadlock.’
Jin-Woo and Baran both had two hands. However, Jin-Woo also possessed a hidden third hand.
Out of the blue, a powerful impact force pushed Baran down on one knee.
Even before Baran could recover from his confusion, Jin-Woo’s fist slammed hard into the Demon King’s face.
Baran’s uncontrollable tumbling only came to an end after it rolled on the ground for dozens of metres. However, it couldn’t get up. Because, Jin-Woo was already straddling the torso of the Demon King by then.
Baran quickly opened its mouth wide towards him.
Too bad, Baran couldn’t fire off another lightning. Jin-Woo’s left fist shoved deep into the Demon King’s mouth ensured that the ‘spell’ would remain sealed.
Baran’s eyes shook hard.
Meanwhile, Jin-Woo raised his fist up high, choosing not to use the dagger wrapped around his hand.
The terrifying physical power from the Strength Stat that had exceeded 200 rapidly shaved away the boss monster’s HP.
Jin-Woo placed almost all of his strength into the raised right fist.
In an instant, his shoulder and arm muscles expanded greatly, and the air around him became so heavy that it actually sank lower. An enormous amount of magic energy pooling around his right arm forced all sounds away, and instantly, the surroundings became eerily quiet.
Within this brief respite of silence, Jin-Woo looked down at the boss below him and murmured.
“Thanks for everything.”
Of course, there was no reply. The Demon King only glared at Jin-Woo with hatred deeply burning in its eyes.
‘I’m sure you’ll never understand what I’m trying to say here.’
Even then, he wanted to convey this emotion welling up inside his chest.
After he gave his honest thanks…
Jin-Woo landed the final hit against the ‘owner’ of this Demon’s Castle.
And then, he was greeted by the sound of ‘Tti-ring!’ as well as several messages that made him feel even better.
[You killed the Demon King, Baran.]
[You have acquired Baran’s Soul.]
[You have completed ‘Quest: Collect the Souls of Demons! (2)’.]
< Chapter 107 > Fin.