I Alone Level-Up
“Ah…. S-someone, s-save me…”
Eun Ji-Min somehow managed to squeeze out her dried-up voice and took a couple of steps back.
No, that’s what she tried to.
However, her feet didn’t want to move. It was as if heavy iron ingots were attached to her ankles. She could only stand there frozen as her tears began streaming down her face.
Meanwhile, the man scanned his surroundings.
Since the girl didn’t look like she’d be able to move, he was thinking of offing her here, right now. How fortunate that there was nobody around. Also, there wouldn’t be a CCTV camera of the Big Brother installed in a secluded alleyway like this one, as well.
‘That’s why I love this neighbourhood, you know.’
The man formed an evil grin and thrust the knife at Eun Ji-Min’s midriff.
But then, a hand shot out from the darkness and grabbed the knife.
The man raised his head, only to find a strange youth standing there. Because of his hood, only the punk’s chin was visible. But he possessed a pretty d*mn outstanding physique.
‘Is he… wearing a glove or something?’
Not a drop of blood dripped down from the hand grasping the blade.
“Who the hell are you?!”
The serial killer tried to yank the knife out several times, but after realising that it wouldn’t budge an inch, he quickly let go of the knife’s grip and turned around. He rapidly escaped from the spot.
“What a strange son of a b*tch….”
The serial killer took a look behind several times and found that strange youth was following along, constantly scanning the surroundings while he was at it.
‘What the hell is up with this b*stard…?’
The serial killer changed his direction and led the youth to a deserted vacant lot, the place he originally wanted to drag that woman to. If that punk was protecting his hand with something, then it’d be fine to attack him elsewhere.
When he arrived at the destination, the serial killer slowed down, and gradually shortened his distance to the strange punk that had been keeping pace with him until then. Once their gap closed to around a couple of feet or so….
“Hey punk, who the hell do you think you are?”
The serial killer spun around and stabbed the youth in the chest with an awl he’d been hiding under his jacket.
“Do I look like an easy mark to you?! Huh?”
The hand pushing the awl into the youth’s chest shook, hard.
‘….What the hell could be this hard?!’
A stab-proof vest? Or something else underneath his shirt??
The serial killer quickly threw out a question.
“What the f*ck?! You wearing something under your clothes or something?”
If this guy was able to sense magical energy, then he wouldn’t have asked such a stupid question. Too bad, the serial killer somehow failed to think of the word ‘Hunter’ even though his opponent didn’t try to retaliate after that second sneak attack. Instead, a quiet voice leaked out from under the hood.
“I’m curious about something.”
The voice naturally belonged to Jin-Woo. He discarded the kitchen knife of the serial killer to the ground.
“Why are you doing this?”
“What’s the matter? You wish to reform me or something?”
“Nope. Just curious if you have a reason or not. That’s all.”
The serial killer snorted derisively. He thought that, what with this punk jumping out of nowhere to save that woman, and following him all the way out here, he was looking at some weirdo masquerading as an ally of justice or something. But now…
‘This kid’s just a bloody idiot, isn’t he?’
Or maybe, this punk was the same type of madman as he was?
The serial killer thought that maybe he could get away from here unscathed if he used his gift of gab, so he readily humoured the youth.
“A reason, is it? Well, if I were to really think of one… because it’s fun?”
“For some reason, whenever I see someone weaker than me, I just wanna torment that…..”
The serial killer didn’t get to finish what he wanted to say. Instead….
Instead, he fell to the ground clutching his left ankle where his tendon had been sliced apart. When he raised his head, he realised that Jin-Woo was holding the kitchen knife even before he had the time to notice it.
‘But, didn’t he throw that away? Just when….?’
It was right then, Jin-Woo’s shape grew blurry again.
This time, it was his right ankle. The serial killer rolled around the ground in pain. Meanwhile, Jin-Woo leisurely rummaged through the serial killer’s pockets now that the murdering b*stard wasn’t going anywhere with his tendons cut in half. He soon found the killer’s mobile phone and the wallet.
“You, you!! Who the hell are you, you son of a b*tch?!”
Jin-Woo ignored the venom-spewing serial killer and calmly dialled 119 to call for an ambulance. He then pulled out the ID card from the wallet to take a look.
Next, he placed the phone and the wallet back in the hands of the shivering serial killer and murmured quietly.
“Hand yourself over to the police before midnight tomorrow.”
“….If you wish to keep breathing, that is.”
He said all he wanted to say.
Jin-Woo got up from the spot and inserted one of his Shadow Soldiers inside the serial killer’s shadow, before leaving a similar sounding order to that soldier.
‘Although, I don’t know how patient a High Orc’s shadow can be, but….’
That soldier might not be good with patiently waiting around until the designated time, but well, carrying out the next part of the order should be the speciality of High Orcs.
“I’d prefer it if you keep living on.”
The killer had to be alive if he were to repent for his sins for the rest of his life.
“J-just… what the hell are you?”
Jin-Woo left the serial killer shivering from pain and fear behind in the vacant lot. He could hear the sirens of an ambulance coming from afar.
He walked to a far enough location, and after confirming that there was no one nearby, he pulled his hood back.
Thanks to the signal sent by the Shadow Soldier after discovering the serial killer, Jin-Woo was able to arrive just in time.
The ‘Shadow Exchange’.
This skill was proving to be exceptionally convenient the more he used it.
‘It’s not the highest-ranked Rune Stone for nothing, is it?’
Jin-Woo formed a satisfied smile now that he got to experience the greatness of the Shadow Exchange once more in the last couple of days. He couldn’t even begin to imagine just how much more useful this skill would get, once the skill level rose up high enough to sufficiently decrease the cooldown time.
And so, as he continued to walk back home…
He abruptly raised his head to see that the moon was now in the middle of the night sky.
‘Now that I think about it… it’s already tomorrow.’
The Korea-Japan united assault team’s raid. It was already here.
He wasn’t even on the team, yet his heart was pounding this much in anticipation. So, what would the participating members be feeling right now?
Jin-Woo recalled the faces of the raid members he was acquainted with, and prayed for their safety as well as their success in the mission.
Late at night.
Goto Ryuji was still in the dojo inside the Japanese Hunter’s Association.
In front of him, two men, and at his back, one other. He was surrounded by rank S Hunters, ostensibly the same rank as he was. Goto Ryuji took a deep breath, and just as his eyes flew open….
The Hunters biding their time powerfully pounced on him all at the same time. However….
The ones to fall down were the three attacking Hunters.
“That was great!”
“As expected of Goto-san!”
“No one can measure up to your skills, sir.”
The three Hunters lying on the wooden floor of the dojo dusted themselves off and stood back up. This was only possible because Goto Ryuji had held back his power. Without saying anything, he lowered his head slightly to imply that they all did a good job.
‘As expected, there’s no problem with my physical condition.’
No, if he were to frankly assess himself, then he was at peak condition right now. Just from imagining how he’d swallow up South Korea, it felt like his condition was getting better and better all by itself.
So, how come….?
Goto Ryuji continued to stare at the dojo, now empty that the three Hunters had left, as the memories of that day still lingered on in his mind.
Just what was he?
The more he thought back to that day, the more bitter he felt. Soon, though, Goto Ryuji shook his head.
‘Well, it doesn’t matter now.’
Regardless of all else, that man Seong Jin-Woo wasn’t taking part in this raid. And the Association President’s plan would unfold without any mishaps.
Once South Korea loses almost all of her rank S Hunters, its leadership would naturally fall into Japanese hands. By then, the complaints of the Japanese citizens demanding for the appropriate reparations from the Koreans would have been transformed into rousing cheers of fanfare, instead.
When that happened….
‘What can Seong Jin-Woo do all by himself?’
Didn’t matter whether Seong Jin-Woo was a genuinely powerful Hunter or he simply came across that way through Goto Ryuji’s momentary delusion, the fact remained that, him not participating in tomorrow’s raid was for the greater benefit of Japan.
There was nothing to bother him now. The decisive moment would come tomorrow.
Inside this still dojo bathed in the cold moonlight, Goto Ryuji formed a quiet smile to himself.
“We’ll be in your care!”
The managing director of a certain TV station deeply bowed his head to the lone cameraman. Such a thing was completely unheard of. However, the cameraman standing in front of the director was no ordinary man; he was an active Hunter and a proud holder of a rank A licence.
“The future of my station depends on this raid.”
In order to win the exclusive broadcasting rights, the director had to spend over half of the station’s total annual budget. There had been simply too many competing bids, and that’s why he had to go all in.
But, then again, there was a compelling reason why he simply had to make such a brave business decision.
Not many rank S Gates opened up around the world. Even when one did open, it was still impossible to take the recording equipment inside to capture the footage of what happened in there.
In other words, this would be the one and only opportunity for regular citizens to witness an actual rank S raid in progress. As long as there wasn’t another unfortunate event of a rank S Gate opening up somewhere else, that was.
On top of this, this broadcast wouldn’t be a recording, but shown live. Sure, there would be a ten-minute delay to the live feed, but still.
Just how high would the audience rating reach?
70 percent? 80?
When the managing director thought back to all the potential profit margin to be had from selling the footage to the TV networks in other countries, he no longer felt regret in investing half of the station’s budget in this venture.
‘….As long as the raid doesn’t end in failure!’
Indeed, no sane-minded viewer out there would ever want to watch the top-ranked Hunters get devoured by the monsters during the raid. No, even if there were, he couldn’t let such footage be broadcast to the public, to begin with.
So, the director had staked everything he had on the success of the fourth subjugation operation.
Considering that, bowing his head several times to the cameraman tasked with capturing the all-too-important footage was indeed, nothing.
Heck, if the cameraman wished for it, the director was prepared to prostrate on the floor, even.
“Please don’t worry too much, director.”
The cameraman did his best to calm the shivering managing director down from his high anxiety level.
Even before he became a Hunter, he made his living as a cameraman. And after agreeing to take on this job, he made sure to study and polish his skills of wielding the camera even further.
Obviously, he didn’t want to spoil the broadcast that the entire nation would be watching through some stupid mistake on his part. Of course, he’d get paid quite a big reward in return, too.
‘He’s going to give me a portion of the profit earned from the broadcast, after all.’
The cameraman had already earned plenty from being a rank A Hunter, but the offered amount was so high that it really excited him to no end.
If the operation ends in success, then he’d be able to earn an enormous amount of money and fame, perhaps as much as the rank S Hunters actually participating in the raid.
Wouldn’t he become quite possibly the most famous rank A Hunter in South Korea?
A smile formed on the cameraman’s face as all sorts of wonderful thoughts of the future bloomed in his head.
“By the way, I’m surprised that the Association President Goh Gun-Hui actually gave his permission to film this raid. I mean, that hard-headed man wouldn’t have allowed it simply for the sake of money, so….”
The station’s director nodded his head at the cameraman’s puzzled question.
“He said that the fee we paid will be split equally among all the Hunters participating today, actually.”
“Oh? In that case, why….?”
Why did he permit the filming of the raid?
The director cautiously voiced his educated guess.
“I think….. I think, perhaps he wishes to console the hearts of the citizens.”
The Korean Hunter’s Association had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat three times at the hands of the ant monsters. Because of the continuous failure, the Association had to suffer great losses, which in turn also led to the loss of the public’s trust. Meanwhile, the citizens felt increasingly powerless as the thought of these ant monsters being invincible took root in their hearts.
As the atmosphere of the nation festered like that, a chance to reverse this whole thing had suddenly landed on their laps.
‘You can tell how the public is responding by taking a quick look at the internet forums.’
The Association President wanted to take a step further than that. He wanted to capture the moment of victory and broadcast it live to the citizens.
His grim and perhaps desperate resolution to not fail could be gleamed from this decision.
The cameraman nodded his head after hearing the managing director’s explanation. He took a look at his wristwatch before standing up with a determined expression on his face.
“It’s time already. I’ll be on my way now, sir.”
The managing director once more bowed deeply to the cameraman.
“We leave everything to you, Hunter-nim!!”
Hunters began boarding the helicopter, as the spinning rotors issued deafening noises above their heads.
The constantly-smiling Mah Dong-Wook, the always-confident Choi Jong-In, and even Baek Yun-Ho famed for his positive personality, were all wearing sombre expressions.
The cameraman checked his recording equipment for the last time. The camera itself was designed to be fitted around the head so it should not impinge on his movement by much.
‘I wouldn’t have agreed to come if the camera was bulky and made it impossible to move.’
The place their helicopter was heading off to was perhaps the most dangerous place in the whole of South Korea – no, maybe, even the world. Thinking about their destination, the cameraman could only swallow his saliva down in nervousness.
No matter how hard he tried to stay calm, there was nothing he could do about the nervous tension slowly mushrooming in his heart. It was the same story for the rank S Hunters, as well.
In order to dispel the tension in the air, Baek Yun-Ho started talking to his ‘dongsaeng’, the one he was closest to.
“Hey, Byung-Gu. I really didn’t expect you to show up here today.”
Min Byung-Gu grinned in response.
“I thought that, without me healing you, hyung would be the first one to get killed today. I mean, you always jump on a monster whenever you see one, you know.”
“What the hell. Why do you have talk like that? Since when did I ever ‘jump’ on monsters??”
Other Hunters began giggling after hearing the two men chat.
Min Byung-Gu was the sole rank S Healer in South Korea. All members of the raid team were greatly relieved and happy to hear that he was coming out of retirement especially to participate in this operation.
There was a big difference in whether there was a Healer or not in a raid. After all, one would be able to fight harder without worrying about getting hurt when there was one.
As the tense atmosphere frozen stiff in nervousness gradually relaxed through Baek Yun-Ho and Min Byung-Gu’s conversation, Cha Hae-In sitting next to the former quietly asked a question.
“Chairman Baek. By any chance, have you spoken to Mister Seong Jin-Woo before coming here today?”
“Mister Seong Jin-Woo?”
Baek Yun-Ho shook his head.
“No, I haven’t. But, why do you ask?”
“Ah…. It’s nothing important, actually. I guess I’ve made a mistake.”
It was then.
Mah Dong-Wook broke out in genial laughter.
“Huhuh. Looks like it’s finally starting.”
The gazes of the Hunters present followed the direction he was pointing at. Through the window of the helicopter, they could see the darkened island that had become the land of monsters.
< Chapter 114 > Fin.