Beru was the first to make his move. His Sovereign had given him only one order.
‘Defeat the enemy without harming her.’
Beru once stood at the peak of his species, and he knew what the best method to perfectly fulfil that order was. And that would be this: Make the opponent lose her will to fight by imprinting the clear gap in power between them in her mind.
Beru disappeared from Cha Hae-In’s view the moment he moved, before reappearing right in front of her nose even before she had the chance to realise it.
Cha Hae-In’s animal-like instinct kicked in even as the astonishment at Beru’s speed nearly overwhelmed her, and she swung her sword at her opponent. She followed that up with dozens more.
However, Beru stood in the spot and evaded all of her attacks without taking a single step.
It was a precise movement that eliminated all necessary motion. He was so bloody quick that afterimages were left behind in his wake. This was the display of an unbridgeable gap in their power levels.
‘This is impossible!’
Cha Hae-In’s eyes shook hard every time she missed.
‘It can dodge all my attacks at such a close distance without moving its legs once?’
Just one more time!
She took aim at the neck of her opponent and took a swing, but the creature lightly evaded it by leaning back slightly. No matter where she attacked from, or how she changed her attacks, her opponent easily dodged them all.
‘How can this be….?!’
This thing wasn’t even alive anymore. This thing was a summon borrowing the powers of the dead monster, so how could it still be this strong?
‘Mister Seong Jin-Woo, who can freely control such a summon, just what…..’
Cha Hae-In’s movements became a tad dull from the vague fear invading her, and Beru seized upon this opportunity to smack her incoming sword away with the back of his hand. And then, pressed his face closer to hers.
Cha Hae-In froze up on the spot as the stench of death blew right into her face.
‘This is the end.’
She inadvertently gasped out the moment those huge mandibles filled up her view.
However, the creature didn’t crush her head by snapping shut its maws but instead, chose to screech out loudly right in front of her face.
She was knocked away ungainly from the screech containing his magical energy.
Jin-Woo grimaced while watching that. Indeed, there was no way he’d start enjoying the sight of someone else getting knocked around one-sidedly like this.
However, she stood back up again and fixed the grip on the sword as if to show that she wasn’t giving up at all. Jin-Woo tilted his head.
‘What is she trying to do?’
The Cha Hae-In he knew wasn’t a low-class Hunter who didn’t want to accept the difference between her and her opponent even after confirming the truth with her own eyes.
‘And she’s definitely not reckless enough to keep attacking when she knows of the gap, too.’
In that case, could she still be in possession of one more card up her sleeve?
‘Whatever it is, I hope she’s not making an incorrect call.’
Jin-Woo was mentally linked with Beru, so he could feel how much his soldier was suppressing its killing intent at the moment. On the other hand, Cha Ha-In’s will remained unyielding, even though she found herself in an absolutely disadvantageous position.
He was getting a bad premonition here. Jin-Woo’s expression became even more serious as he watched the two of them.
On the hand, Beru had failed to understand Cha Ha-In’s decision.
He had displayed their overwhelming gap in power several times by now. So, why hadn’t she stop her challenges yet?
The former king of ants, a being who lorded over others at the apex of the food chain, was beginning to get displeased by the human female’s stubbornness. The basis of his anger stemmed from the past memory of him being a ruler.
The moment Beru made up his mind, he arrived before Cha Hae-In in the blink of an eye. He then pressed his face closer to glare straight into her eyes.
Any lifeform still breathing would’ve immediately realised who was the predator and the prey in this situation just from their gazes meeting like this. It would be a warning from one’s primal instinct.
Beru planned to awaken that instinct of his opponent and make her lose her will to fight in that manner, but unfortunately, his ploy wasn’t as effective as he thought.
Just as Jin-Woo had predicted, Cha Hae-In still held one last trump card to fall back on.
The skill, ‘Sword Dance’, one she was most proficient in wielding. Her movements sped up as if she was performing a deadly dance, and the tip of her sword drew splendid arcs in the air.
Paht! Paht! Paht!
Beru used his claws to easily defend against all those smoothly flowing attacks that had no interruptions in between. At the end of the barrage, his expression crumpled unsightly.
‘No more playing around.’
Beru snatched the sword flying at him with his bare hand and crushed it.
She only had half a sword left, but rather than falling into despair, her glare became icy cold, instead.
‘I have only one last chance!’
Every single drop of magic energy in her was poured into the broken sword to activate her skill, ‘Blade of Light’.
The magic energy expenditure for this skill was far too great and she could only use it as the final hurrah. And for the first time during this fight, she revealed it in its full glory.
The blade of light shone brilliantly.
Beru had lowered his guard for a moment after breaking her sword, and she used that opening to jump into his front and stabbed the blade of light forward.
Jin-Woo’s eyes widened.
Of course, he wasn’t worried about Beru. Utterly disregarding his worries, the blade glowing in golden light pierced deeply into Beru’s tummy.
In that brief moment, Beru’s mind spun quickly.
‘This woman is an enemy.’
It’d not be a problem for him to die. However, if he fell here, then this woman’s sword would point towards his Sovereign next.
It was then.
An instinct buried deep within all Shadow Soldiers’ psyche, one designed to activate in times of great distress and override everything else, wiggled back into life.
In that moment, inside of Beru’s head blanked out into a ‘reset’ state and the order Jin-Woo gave him, ‘defeat the enemy without harming her’ was wiped away completely.
Beru transformed into a terrifying monster in order to protect Jin-Woo. His body ballooned up to a giant proportions. His mandibles split wide open as if he was getting ready to chew on steel, and finally, his claws extended out to resemble a group of sharp blades!
Beru finished getting ready to rip apart his owner’s enemy, and swung all ten of his claws and their sharp edges at his target.
Just before all ten blades reached Cha Hae-In….
Jin-Woo managed to make it just in time.
“….I told you to stop, didn’t I?”
Jin-Woo stopped both sets of Beru’s claws with his bare hands and began glaring at his soldier. Beru met that enraged glare and began shuddering. He quickly leapt back and, while not even bothering to pull that sword of light from his midriff, prostrated flat on the ground and begged for forgiveness.
“Oh, oh my king. Mercy…..”
Jin-Woo knew what this guy was thinking of the moment he was about to act. Hell, the singular thought of ‘Protect the Sovereign’ was ringing really loud inside his head, too.
Jin-Woo glared at Beru for a little while, before shifting his gaze away.
Cha Hae-In was completely spent and, unable to stand any longer, plopped down to the ground. She knew that she just came face to face with death again during that brief moment.
“Are you alright?”
Jin-Woo walked closer. She was trying to push herself back up, but gave up in the end and, while keeping her gaze rooted to the floor, nodded her head.
“I am fine.”
‘Fine, my foot.’
Jin-Woo supported her up and asked.
“Why were you pushing yourself that hard? I mean, you shouldn’t have any reasons to enter my Guild while putting yourself through a wringer like this, right?”
Indeed, this was supposed to be a simple test. More than that, this was a ‘test’ he cooked up to reject her tactfully. But, to think, she’d be this obsessed about winning, even to the extent of using such a dangerous skill, too.
This couldn’t be chalked up to her desire to win at all costs. That was why….
“Could it be…..”
….Jin-Woo cautiously asked her, so as to not damage her ego.
“Are you perhaps interested in me?”
Cha Hae-In got flustered and formed a dazed expression of someone getting hit in the back of her head. Jin-Woo tilted his head.
‘That wasn’t it, either?’
But then, Cha Hae-In carefully reorganised her thoughts and corrected her answer.
“….Yes, I think so.”
Within the United States’ Hunter Bureau.
The director was feeling rather unhappy after receiving the news of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo’s recruitment ending in failure. Instead of getting a report, he summoned the deputy director to the conference chamber.
The deputy director brought Madam Selner with him.
“Explain what happened back there.”
The director asked even before they had the chance to sit down. This was the first time since the founding of the Hunter Bureau that their scouting offer, accompanied by Madam Selner no less, had been rejected by the subject.
The deputy stood up with a darkened expression and lowered his head.
“I’m truly sorry, sir.”
“I didn’t call you here for your apologies, Michael.”
The director pressed a certain button, and all the glass walls were covered up and the exit was locked tight. The interior had become perfectly soundproof.
In order to prevent the leakage of information, all matters pertaining to Madam Selner were never discussed over the phone or through emails. That was why the director was still unaware of what went down in South Korea until now.
“Now, please explain to me what happened.”
The deputy director glanced at Madam Selner for a moment or two. She slowly nodded her head, and only then did the deputy open his tightly-shut lips once more.
“Madam Selner was able to ‘observe’ Hunter Seong Jin-Woo.”
“What was the result?”
The director knew how her power operated, so the result of her ‘observation’ was as important as the result of the ‘recruitment’ itself.
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo is….”
The deputy licked his dried-up lips from tension and continued on.
“….Is apparently one of the ‘kings’.”
The director jumped up from his seat.
Of all the powerful Hunters she had met over the years, she described only three people as ‘kings’. And all three of them were powerful enough to shake the world by the scruff of its neck, too.
Quite literally, they were the zenith of Hunters! And the man named Seong Jin-Woo had to be included in that list now, as well.
The director shifted his gaze over to Madam Selner and asked her.
“Does that mean Hunter Seong Jin-Woo possesses the level of power equal to other Special Authority-rank Hunters?”
Strangely enough, she promptly shook her head.
Frowns formed on the director’s forehead.
The deputy could amply understand how his boss must be feeling right about now. He, too, had displayed a similar reaction back when he heard the exact same answer, after all.
Madam Selner let out a long sigh.
“Looks like… I’ll have to explain myself a little.”
Her talk began from those words.
“First of all…. I’ll assume that both of you know just what kind of an ability I possess.”
The director and his deputy both nodded their heads simultaneously. The former spoke first.
“You said that the Awakened are people connected to the powers of the ‘other side’.”
By staring into the eyes of the Awakened, Madam Selner could sense the ‘passageway’ connecting said Awakened to the other side.
However, she said that there were certain Awakened who were receiving so much incredible power from the ‘other side’ that it ends up resembling a blinding flood of light, instead.
These were precisely the ‘kings’ she talked about.
“So, what is different about Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, then?”
“He doesn’t have a passageway.”
Madam shivered in fear again.
“When I looked into his eyes, the darkness within him was staring back at me. Oh, my god. He was the darkness itself.”
The deputy director refuted this immediately.
“But, he has helped out a lot of people during his tenure as a Hunter, and I can’t see him as someone as evil as you describe him to be….”
If Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was indeed a vicious, evil individual, he’d have immediately killed the two agents who pointed guns at him where they stood. However, he just let that slide without caring too much about it.
Madam shook her head.
“I wasn’t talking about whether Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was a good or evil man, deputy director.”
The light shining in her eyes was determined.
“No, I’m talking about the origin of his power.”
The director had been listening to her with his hands pressed below his chin until then, but he finally raised his voice.
“There’s no mistaking that he’s a powerful Hunter, yes?”
Madam nodded her head.
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, he’s not borrowing someone else’s power. He only relies on the power residing within him, so he’s not restricted by the passageway. Which means…..”
“There’s no limit to his power…..”
The deputy director muttered absently before breaking into an abrupt shudder. He couldn’t even begin to imagine how absurd the level of power gushing out without any limit could potentially be.
The director fell into a deep thought after he heard both of his guests. And a short while later, he nodded his head, evidently having made his mind up over something.
“Madam, thank you for your hard work.”
After seeing Madam Selner off, the director headed down to the underground floors of the Hunter Bureau with his deputy in tow.
“Director, where are we going?”
“Ninth basement floor.”
“Isn’t that where we store old records?”
“We have something else secured there besides the records.”
The director watched as the number on the elevator’s display panel steadily decrease and continued on.
“If we can’t rely on Madam Selner’s power, then we should use a different method to bring him in.”
That man was still so young. And he possessed unfathomable power.
If Hunter Seong Jin-Woo indeed possessed incredible power just as Madam Selner had eluded to, then it no longer mattered whether that was the power of light or the power of darkness.
A knife you picked up to protect yourself would look like a deadly weapon from someone else’s perspective. And the director wanted to possess the knife called Seong Jin-Woo.
They arrived at their destination, and while unlocking a series of electronic door locks, steadily walked deeper into the ninth underground floor. A few Bureau agents greeted them as they walked past, but the director didn’t even spare a single glance.
“Do you still recall the very first rank S Gate ever to appear?”
How could anyone forget the worst dungeon break in history that destroyed a portion of the Western United States?
The American government summoned in the world’s most powerful Hunters with an unbelievably huge amount of reward on offer, and eventually, they succeeded in killing the boss-level monster that emerged from that rank S Gate.
However, only five survived that encounter. Meaning, just a single monster managed to kill dozens of the best Hunters out there. Without their sacrifice, the nation of the United States of America might have ceased to exist altogether.
That was why the American government bestowed the five remaining saviours the rights equalling that of the country itself, and that’s where the term ‘Special Authority-rank’ originated from.
The director mouthed the name of the monster that brought upon one of the worst tragedies in the history of mankind.
“Kamish the Dragon….”
Didn’t the Mage-type Hunters say that ‘Kamish’ meant an undying flame?
They entered the deepest room on the floor, and the director opened the safe found in there. And that’s when a single Rune Stone, under a heavy guard and being monitored constantly, revealed itself.
The deputy director flinched in surprise.
“In that case, could that thing be….?”
“Your guess is correct.”
The director placed his hand on top of the reinforced glass shielding the Rune Stone and formed a smile.
“This Rune Stone came out from that Kamish’s corpse.”
Two of the Special Authority-rank Hunters settled down in the US after the end of the Kamish raid. In a way, they were the gifts that Kamish managed to deliver to the US.
To avoid another calamity like this, the Americans established the Hunter Bureau and focused all their might on improving the strengths of the Hunters. Around eight years passed by since then.
Simply because no Mage-type Hunters were among the surviving Special Authority-rank Hunters, Kamish’s Rune Stone was tucked away in this cold underground storage beneath the Hunter Bureau, waiting for a new owner to come along.
The director formed a meaningful smile as he peered into the glass case.
“Kamish will present us with yet another invaluable gift to our beautiful country very soon.”
< Chapter 135 > Fin.