I Alone Level-Up
Goto Ryuji ended the communication there, his expression remaining quite grim.
‘Did we miss something?’
In order to successfully achieve what they were aiming for, the Japanese considered all types of possibilities and variables.
However, the event of a team featuring five of the very best Japanese Hunters getting annihilated in one go like this – such a thing simply exceeded all their expectations.
‘Wait a minute….’
Something popped into his memory just then. There was an odd occurrence about four months ago.
The ant queen, being observed for 24 hours straight every single day, suddenly showed a massive decline in its magical energy emission. It was less than half of the usual amount!
The research team interpreted that as the lifespan of the queen coming to an end, and submitted several hopelessly optimistic reports. That was only until the ant queen began slowly recovering her magic energy, of course.
‘It took about a month, didn’t it?’
It didn’t take too long for the queen to regain its original magic energy output. All those researchers that spoke up about the lifespan or rather had to shut their mouths as this result obviously went against their expectations.
The voice of one of the team members woke Goto Ryuji up from his reminiscence.
He had been kneeling on one knee in order to check the bodies of Team 3’s dead Hunters. He slowly stood back up. Now wasn’t the time to worry about anything else.
‘Did we come in far too deep inland…?’
Hundreds of ants had appeared behind him by then, and these monsters raised their heads up as if they were smacking their lips in anticipation of a tasty meal.
On the other hand….
The Korean team had entered the boss room, also known as ‘the queen’s chamber’. It took them 15 minutes to get here.
‘If we consider the fact that we’ll need roughly the same amount of time to get out of here….’
They still had around 30 minutes of wiggle room. Assuming that they should be able to shorten their return trip because they were already familiar with the path now, the remaining time was on the ‘more than enough’ side.
Having confirmed the time with his wristwatch, Mah Dong-Wook raised his head. Everything was going according to plan. What remained now was how should they go about bookending this operation.
Baek Yun-Ho used his ‘Eyes of the Beast’ to see through the darkness and accurately assessed the number of enemies present.
“The queen is at the rearmost location. There are eight guards in front of the target.”
The queen’s guards were incomparably stronger than the regular ants. It’d be too tough for one Tanker to take on the attacks of the queen and its guard monsters. From here onwards, Mah Dong-Wook needed another person to act as a secondary Tanker. He looked to his side.
“Can you take on the guard duty while I tend to the queen?”
“Leave it to me.”
Cha Hae-In’s reply was short and simple.
She served as the main Tanker during the raids of her Guild, the Hunters. So, performing the role of a sub-Tanker was easier than drinking cold soup for her.
Mah Dong-Wook shifted his gaze to the rest of the team. Every single member present here was a top specialist in hunting down monsters. Going through detailed explanations was a waste of time for them.
As soon as Mah Dong-Wook turned towards the ants, Choi Jong-In created a massive ball of light and floated it up to the highest point in the boss room. That brightly illuminated the entirety of the chamber.
The cameraman spat out a quiet gasp at the sheer size of the light sphere. He quickly began whispering towards a small mic located near his lips.
“As a rank A Hunter, I’ve participated in quite a few raids before, but it’s my first time seeing such a huge ‘Light’ magic like that. As expected of Korea’s best Mage-type Hunter!”
His voice entered the mic and got transmitted to the viewers throughout the entire country.
Not too long ago, he heard that the live broadcast he was filming had shot past the audience rating of 80%.
Feeling overly motivated now, the cameraman tried to step forward in order to capture even better footage, but then, Min Byung-Gu standing next to him at the back of the group hurriedly yanked him back by his shoulder.
At this absolute strength, the cameraman couldn’t offer any resistance and spun around to face Min Byung-Gu. His shoulder hurt so much that his mouth bobbed up and down all by itself.
‘How can a Healer be this strong….??’
There was no time to get shocked, though. The cameraman was now facing Min Byung-Gu who carried a completely different expression to when he was busy cracking jokes during the ride in the helicopter.
“This here is a boss room of a rank S dungeon. No one here is responsible for your life, except yourself.”
Hearing Min Byung-Gu’s anger-infused voice, the cameraman could only continue to nod his head, unable to form an intelligible reply.
“If you understand, then stay at the back. The real thing is about to get started.”
The overflowing energy of a rank S Hunter – even a Healer, who was supposed to be the physically weakest out of all the Hunter types, still could display an aura that easily overwhelmed a rank A Hunter. That was the difference between a rank S and a rank A.
Such monstrous beings were uniting together to start an intense battle, so what could a measly little rank A cameraman even achieve here? The cameraman felt his own powerlessness for the first time since becoming a Hunter, and hurriedly stood behind Min Byung-Gu. Sure enough….
“Here they come.”
A super-giant ant discovered the Hunters’ presence and shifted its six legs to slowly approach where they were.
“So, that’s the queen….”
Baek Yun-Ho nervously swallowed his saliva.
The taut, nervous tension was also writ large on the faces of other Hunters.
The absolutely commanding presence of the ant queen!
These men and woman had become the very first humans to witness the outer appearance of the ant queen, having sneaked past the wall of hundreds, thousands of ants to get here.
‘Today, we shall end the lifeline of these d*mnable ants for good.’
Baek Yun-Ho’s heart trembled as he thought about bringing that massive creature down. But, if they were to do that, then first of all….
Baek Yun-Ho’s glare that had been fixed on the ant queen now shifted lower to the ground.
‘We need to….’
Eight ants walking in front of the ant queen – they had to get rid of the guards first.
As if he had read the minds of his fellow raid members, the main Tanker of the team, Mah Dong-Wook, rushed forward to the frontline. A thick vein protruded out of his neck as he shouted out.
“You d*mn ants, come and get some!”
His impressive roar!
The ants’ sights had degenerated now, but in return, their sense of hearing had become even more developed, so they immediately bared their fangs and claws before pouncing on Mah Dong-Wook’s position.
He quickly looked behind him.
“Hunter Cha! Now!”
Cha Hae-In had been running behind Mah Dong-Wook while maintaining a certain distance, and when she heard his call, quickly unsheathed her longsword. Grabbing the hilt in a reverse grip with both hands, she powerfully stabbed the ground.
Skill, ‘Tremor of Provocation’ – activated!
With the sword stabbing the ground serving as the epicentre, magic energy radiated out in circular waves. The ant guards aiming at Mah Dong-Wook suddenly all changed their directions and jumped at Cha Hae-In instead, as if they had been entranced by something powerful.
‘There you go!’
Mah Dong-Wook inwardly fist-pumped the air as the monsters ran past him and towards Cha Hae-In. She was successful in attracting the aggro of the ant guards.
Next up, it was his turn.
Mah Dong-Wook quickly stepped in between Cha Hae-In and the giant ant queen trying to shuffle towards her.
The ant queen must’ve been displeased by an enemy blocking its way, because it began bellowing out a high-pitched scream.
Any old Tanker would have been suppressed by the sheer pressure and cover their ears from that horrifying screech, but such a trick wouldn’t work against Korea’s best Tanker, Mah Dong-Wook.
He instead activated his skill, ‘Battle Cry of Provocation’.
Unlike Cha Hae-In, who activated an AOE aggro skill, Mah Dong-Wook activated one that only worked against a single target.
The ant queen stopped screeching out and glared at Mah Dong-Wook now. He had successfully attracted its aggro.
And now, his role was to endure the boss’s attacks until his colleagues managed to kill off the ant guards and come to his aid. And that would be the role he felt most confident of performing in this world.
Mah Dong-Wook lifted up that heavy, large shield right up below his chin, the light of grim determination burning in his eyes. As he always had done, he began praying deep in his heart.
‘Please grant me the power to protect myself and my colleagues today.’
Just then, a huge explosion resounded out from behind him, signalling the beginning of the raid of the ant queen, where countless lives were at stake.
“Grandpa, aren’t you going to watch? Hunters are supposed to show up on screen today.”
“Grandma, I don’t care.”
“Don’t be like that now…..The folks in TV said just now that they can really smash apart those ants today this time, so let’s watch together.”
“Argh. They all say the exact same thing all the bloody time. I told you, I don’t care.”
An old grandpa turned away on his chair and concentrated on the newspaper, instead. But then, a sound of him clicking his tongue came out from his slightly hunched back.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Even this newspaper is talking about those d*mn Hunters and nothing else. How boring.”
The old grandma cautiously closed shut the door to their bedroom as the grouchy voice of her husband continued to enter her ears.
Only until two years ago, her husband used to hold so much interest towards all the news related to Jeju Island. He was also a big supporter of Hunters, too.
Their one and only child was taken from them by the ants of Jeju Island, after all.
The despair that felt like their world was collapsing on them soon became deep hatred towards the ant monsters. Her husband donated a sizeable amount of money to the Hunters Association whenever there was a subjugation operation taking place to cheer on the participating Hunters.
He failed to fall asleep because of nervousness on the nights leading up to the operation dates, too.
However, the bigger the one’s expectation, the greater the one’s disappointment would be.
When the third subjugation attempt, where the Hunters promised to spare no effort to succeed, also ended up in failure with heavy losses incurred, her husband couldn’t regain his wits for several days, looking all dazed and the like.
After that, her husband stopped talking about Hunters altogether. He stopped expecting, and stopped hoping for a miracle from them.
The grandma sighed out once more and picked up the remote of the TV in the living room. When it was switched on, the host of the broadcast was in the middle of making his emotional speech.
The Hunters were getting ready to engage in combat just as she turned the TV on. The grandma gathered her hands in front of her chest and continued to watch on, her heart beating faster and faster in anxiety.
When the Hunters were injured, she averted her gaze while feeling sorry for them. When the attacks of the Hunters landed successfully, she clapped her hands in delight.
That was the beginning. The terrifying-looking ant monsters began falling one by one from the fierce attacks of the Hunters. And whenever that happened, the roars and cheers of people shook and reverberated throughout the apartment building the grandma lived in.
Hearing that announcement, tears suddenly formed in the grandma’s eyes.
First of all, she was thankful towards these Hunters who were risking their lives to protect other people.
Secondly, she recalled the face of her son as the boy celebrated him getting hired by a large corporation located in Jeju Island.
It was then.
The bedroom’s door flew open and the grandpa hurriedly ran out, his face burning with emotions.
Even though grandma called out to him, grandpa didn’t say anything, his reddened eyes glued to the TV screen and nowhere else. His tightly-clenched fists were trembling hard now.
The host held his breath and continued to observe the situation for a while, before….
The TV screen now displayed the stirring image of five Hunters rushing in at the same time from behind Mah Dong-Wook, who had endured commendably well against the ant queen’s attacks.
Thick tears streamed down grandpa’s face as he energetically punched the air almost out of instinct.
Inside the TV station.
As the phone calls of encouragements and support inundated the station’s phone line, the station’s director yelled out in pure, unadulterated joy.
“Sir, the audience rating has gone past 85% just now!!”
“We did it!!”
The director tightly clenched both of his fists.
The audience rating of 85%!!
Now that was a record that would never be beaten, even if the South Korean football team reached the final of the World Cup. And when he thought about all the profit coming from overseas, as well as the potential future revenue…..
He plopped down on his chair and rubbed his face. All the other employees within the station’s ‘situation room’ all breathed sighs of relief after seeing the happy face of their boss.
On the main screen showing the transmitted footage from the island, the Korean Hunters were busy making mincemeat out of the ant queen.
The station’s director took out his handkerchief to pat down his sweat-soaked slick forehead.
‘Yes, very good! Very good!!’
The queen was on the brink of death now; all these Hunters had to do now was to finish off the ant monster and safely escape from the ant tunnel.
“What the hell?!”
The director was jolted out of his senses and he quickly took a look behind him. One of the producers hurriedly lowered the volume. The director tilted his head this way and that, before walking closer to where this producer was.
“Producer Nah? What was that noise just now?”
“Ah, that was…. This is the real-time live feed coming from Jeju Island, actually. That screech came from the ant queen.”
“The ant queen made that noise?”
There was a slight delay between the broadcast being shown to the public and that of the real-time live feed coming in from the island. Since no one knew what would happen during the raid itself, it was decided that the real-time footage couldn’t be shown to the public directly.
The station’s director stared at the feed, before issuing an order with a smile on his face.
“Well, I think it won’t do for a monster’s terrible screech to come out when we’re about to witness a historic victory. How about you edit that part out, or decrease the audio volume?”
“Will do, sir.”
This producer named ‘Nah’ nodded his head, and the director squeezed his right shoulder as a gesture of encouragement. It was then.
One of the station’s employee hurriedly ran up to him with a hardened expression.
“Director, Producer Nah!!”
The director quickly turned his head around.
According to his personal experience, not once did the reports made by his subordinates carrying such expressions turn out to be a good one.
Even before the director heard the report, he was beset with this rather ominous hunch. Praying that he was wrong, at least for today, the director cautiously asked the employee.
Unfortunately, one’s ominous hunches had a way of coming true. The employee spoke in a disconcerted voice.
“Sir, I just found out that Japanese Hunters are withdrawing from the island right now!”
“What was that?!”
Mah Dong-Wook spurred his teammates on.
“We’re almost there!! Let us just push a little bit harder, everyone!”
Just as his words implied, the ant queen was truly on its last legs. All they needed was a little more push, and that would be it.
There were hundreds of arrows stuck tightly together on the head of the queen fired by Im Tae-Gyu, and the creature resembled a hedgehog as a result.
Yet another arrow flew and struck the queen in the face. The creature screeched out as if it was in great pain and shook its head.
The queen quickly recovered its bearings and began spewing out poisonous acidic liquid throughout the boss room.
It was such a wide-scale attack that several Hunters failed to escape in time. Their skins began burning up into black charcoal, but their wounds were restored in full by Min Byung-Gu’s healing magic.
The queen was further enraged by the fact that its acid attack wasn’t effective, and bit down on Mah Dong-Woo in front of the group with its large, saw-like fangs.
However, Mah Dong-Wook activated the ‘Advanced Fortification’ skill to defend his entire body and managed to endure the queen’s attack.
One side of the ant’s jaw was blocked off by the shield, while the other side, with his left hand. While Mah Dong-Wook was buying more time in this fashion, a huge pillar of flames exploded out from the side of the ant queen.
It was Choi Jong-In’s magic doing its thing.
The queen staggered and failed to balance itself. Baek Yun-Ho in his beast-type monster form, meanwhile, seized upon this chance and jumped up very quickly to rip out the queen’s left fang with his bare hand/paw.
Deftly landing back on the ground, Baek Yun-Ho breathed heavily as certainty grew larger in his heart.
‘The queen’s finished.’
His extensive hunting experience told him so. This would be the moment when they finally kill the leader of an army of monsters that dyed this land black with the blood of their victims.
Just a little bit more, and it’d be done. When he thought like that, a certain powerful emotion welled up from deep inside his heart.
but then, the queen suddenly raised its head high up in the air. And….
A screech that was so loud that it almost ruptured the Hunters’ eardrums reverberated throughout the entire ant tunnel. Baek Yun-Ho’s eyes shook hard.
‘What was that?! A roar of anger? Its death throes?’
No, it felt different from those. That screech sounded like a pleading call towards someone, something, which was still far away.
‘It’s calling for something?!’
When his thought process reached there, he felt an unexplainable chill run down his spine.
“We need to stop that thing!!”
Before Baek Yun-Ho could take another step forward, Cha Hae-In jumped up rather gracefully and swung down the sword she held firmly with both hands.
The queen’s head fell down to the ground first before she could land back on her feet.
The cameraman had been holding his breath as he bore witness to this battle of the rank S creatures. And finally, he was able to raise both of his arms up high in elation as tears formed in his eyes.
This was the moment when the curtains closed on the horrifying battle that lasted for 4 years.
The heavily-panting Mah Dong-Wook raised his thumb up towards his teammates.
Cha Hae-In also sighed out in relief. Choi Jong-In grinned as he adjusted his glasses, while Im Tae-Gyu punched the air. Everyone was expressing their delight over the victory in their own way.
Only Baek Yun-Ho among them was shuddering from this ominous and unexplainable chill taking root within the corner of his heart.
“Hyung, we just became the seventh raid team in the entire world to successfully clear a rank S Gate, so why do you look like….”
It was then. Mah Dong-Wook, who had been in communication with the command centre, suddenly formed an enraged expression.
There was no time for them to relax like this. He quickly called out to his teammates taking a short break nearby.
“The Japanese have withdrawn already, and the remaining ants are heading this way! We need to escape from here, right now!”
“But, don’t we still have some time left?!”
“20 rank S Hunters couldn’t even hold out for 30 minutes, never mind one hour?!”
When his teammates grew visibly flustered, Mah Dong-Wook spoke in a complicated voice.
“I don’t know the details, but…. The Association is trying to find out what’s going on, but the Japanese have one-sidedly cut off the communication.”
“Those stinking sons of b*tches…!”
Choi Jong-In spat out some choice words in disgust.
If it were the Japanese Hunters down here and not the Koreans, would they have given up this early and withdraw? No matter what, though – one had to be alive first in order to get angry later.
To prevent unrest from breaking out among his teammates, Mah Dong-Wook did his best to suppress his own feelings. With a calm face, he hurried with their escape from this place.
The members of the Korean raid team hurriedly ran towards the exit of the queen’s chamber.
However, the one running in the lead, Baek Yun-Ho, stopped in his tracks first.
Min Byung-Gun running right behind had to stop there, and as a chain reaction, everyone else came to a stop as well. Wordlessly rooted to the spot, Baek Yun-Ho’s gaze was fixed in one direction as his entire body began trembling noticeably.
“This, this can’t be….”
This couldn’t be happening.
No, such a thing shouldn’t even happen in the first place.
As he watched a shadow approach them, he recalled the tall, humanoid-shaped eggshell back in the nursery area.
‘This… you’re telling me that this is the power possessed by a single monster??’
Baek Yun-Ho’s complexion paled instantly.
Other Hunters feeling puzzled finally sensed something was wrong and quickly took a step back from the exit.
“Did the ants return here already??”
As the Hunters began falling into a confused state….
From the far side of the ant tunnel draped in darkness, a single winged ant was slowly walking towards the Korean Hunters.
< Chapter 116 > Fin.