I Alone Level-Up
“Hyung-nim, I heard that it might be difficult for us to get the permit for the Gate that appeared yesterday.”
The first thing that the chairman of the Knight Order Guild, Park Jong-Su, did after arriving for work was to harden his expression.
“What was that?”
The Vice-Chair Jeong Yun-Tae hurriedly explained himself.
“The result from the Association folks measuring that thing apparently came out higher than they expected.”
“What, it’s a rank S?!”
“No, not that. They say it’s a rank A, but right at the top of the scale.”
“Gimme a freaking break, man. Really now.”
If it was a rank S Gate, then they could have given up on it without hesitation. The Knight Order Guild didn’t have a single rank S Hunter in their midst, so it wouldn’t make much sense for them to attempt clearing a rank S Gate, after all.
Just like back in the Jeju Island raid, the Association would have to summon every rank S Hunters in the country just to deal with such a Gate.
However, the story would change drastically if the magic energy emission measurement came out to be rank ‘A’. The Knight Order Guild would be ridiculed for being unable to deal with a rank A Gate, even though they were supposed to be one of the five major Guilds in South Korea.
Their already thinning presence could become even more invisible at this rate.
“Hyung-nim, what will you do?”
“Not sure yet.”
“If we don’t get involved, then the folks from the Shining Star would definitely show up….”
The Shining Star Guild from the district of Honam. Fine blood vessels bulged within Park Jong-Su’s eyes when he heard that name.
“You want to gift that big Gate hovering right in front of our house to the hands of Mah Dong-Wook?!”
“No, I’m just saying, hyung-nim.”
“I won’t let that happen, even over my dead body.”
“Then, you wanna take it on, hyung-nim?”
The previously-agitated Park Jong-Su suddenly closed his mouth shut.
His reaction was obvious, though. Just one word from him would decide the fate of not just him, but the rest of the raid team members, as well. Even if he was agitated, he shouldn’t mutter whatever he felt like.
A migraine crept into Park Jong-Su’s head.
‘The rank A Hunters in my Guild can stand toe to toe with the rank As from other large Guilds.’
No, if one were to consider the number or the overall quality of the rank As in the Knight Order’s roster, then his outfit easily equalled the best Guild in South Korea, the Hunters.
The only issue was to do with the lack of rank S Hunters.
Because they didn’t have any rank S Hunters in their roster, the Knight Order was in real danger of being kicked out of the so-called five major Guild of South Korea.
For the same reason, the elites of Knight Order were more than good enough to deal with regular rank A Gates. However, if it was a Gate measured to be at the top end of the rank A spectrum, then as they didn’t have a rank S Hunter, the Knight Order had to risk the lives of their raid team members when attempting to clear it.
Even though it was rated nominally at rank A, the difficulty of clearing such a dungeon would be a lot closer to a rank S in reality. The Hunter’s Association also knew of the dangers, and that was why they hadn’t decided on whether to issue the raid permit or not to the Knight Order.
As Park Jong-Su’s silent deliberation grew lengthier, Jeong Yun-Tae cautiously voiced his opinion to his boss.
“Hyung-nim. If that thing turns out to be a Red Gate, then we’ll all die for sure.”
“I’m sure we will.”
It was already tough trying to deal with the highest-rated rank A Gate, but if it were to morph into a dang Red Gate? Even thinking about that horrified him.
If lady luck was on their side, half of the team would survive. If not, the whole of the raid team, including himself, would perish inside the dungeon.
‘If I think about it objectively, then I should give up on this one.’
But then again, he should consider the fate of the Knight Order as good as finished if the story of them giving up on a rank A Gate gets around. Just which newbie would want to join a Guild that didn’t have a single rank S Hunter, and couldn’t even deal with a rank A Gate?
“In that case, hyung-nim, how about forming an alliance with another Guild?”
Park Jong-Su shook his head.
“Who’d wanna form an alliance with us when they already know we can’t go at it alone and need help?”
Especially when they monopolise everything a rank A Gate could offer if the Knight Order was removed from the picture altogether? And, even if they formed an alliance, it’d prove to be problematic, still.
‘It’s the same as us walking around advertising our incompetence.’
Deep frowns of worry drew upon their faces. It was then.
“If allying with another Guild is a problem, then how about working with a freelancer?”
The two men’s heads snapped in unison towards the direction of the woman’s voice, coming from their side. It was from the rank A Healer charged with mending the elite raid team, Jeong Ye-Rim.
A Healer was given a lot of say in the matters of a raid. And if that Healer just so happened to be a rank A possessing various skills, then there was no need to even mention that.
However, as the fate of the Knight Order Guild was hanging in the balance here, Park Jong-Su couldn’t easily hide his troubled expression.
“We want to go inside the hardest rank A Gate, so how could a single freelancer help…”
But then, Park Jong-Su stopped his words right there.
Because, he just remembered a certain someone in the middle of his own speech. A man capable of sweeping away rank S monsters all alone, never mind rank As!
Unable to suppress his excitement anymore, Park Jong-Su shot up from his seat.
‘If Mister Seong Jin-Woo joins us, then….!’
That man easily brushed off a monster that the combined might of the Korean rank S Hunters couldn’t do anything about. If he chose to participate, then the safety of the raid team members was as good as 100% guaranteed. And, was that all?
They could also avoid the ignominy of having to borrow another Guild’s power to clear a rank A Gate, too.
‘On the contrary, the fame of the Knight Order would increase, instead.’
Allying with the best Hunter in the country to complete a raid would not negatively affect the Guild in any shape or form.
The guaranteed safety of the team members, as well as a boost to the honour of the Knight Order Guild itself – this was a wonderful way to catch two birds with one stone.
Feeling really excited now, Park Jong-Su spoke with an eager voice.
“What is Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim doing right now?”
Both Jeong Ye-Rim, who originally came up with the idea, and Jeong Yun-Tae quietly listening from the side, shook their heads.
“Since he cleared the Gate appearing in the middle of the road not too long ago, he’s gone pretty quiet nowadays.”
Jeong Yun-Tae recalled seeing Seong Jin-Woo on one of the TV news broadcasts recently, and pulled his phone out.
“Should I find out the contact number for Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim, hyung-nim?”
“No, don’t bother. Put your phone down.”
“Do you think you should try to solve something this important over a phone call? No, we gotta meet up with him and discuss it face to face.”
Jeong Yun-Tae agreed with that opinion immediately, and Park Jong-Su continued on with a smile.
“Let’s go up north.”
Cha Hae-In was lying on her bed with sheets pulled right up over her head. But she was writhing around in great distress at the moment.
‘Why did I go and say, I think so?! Just why!!’
Wasn’t that the exact same thing as confessing?!
She wildly kicked the sheets away, and finally stopped moving only after a thought popped up into her head out of the blue.
How was she to decipher Mister Seong Jin-Woo’s reply, then?
[“In that case, isn’t there a better way than to join my Guild?”]
She wanted to quickly escape from that situation and told him that she’d think about it before leaving in a hurry, but simply from recalling that moment caused such distress that her thought process ground to a complete halt almost immediately.
Her face blushed from the memories she remembered yet again.
Back when she looked into the maddened eyes of the enlarged summoned creature, she predicted her unavoidable death. She felt absolute terror. This was the fate of the prey.
Cha Hae-In even squeezed her eyes shut as ten claws descended upon her from both sides. But, then….
She felt the warmth coming from her back. At the same time, a familiar scent gently wrapped all around her.
Cha Hae-In cautiously opened her eyes and looked behind her. And she found Jin-Woo standing there, busy glaring with angry eyes at the summoned creature while stopping the claws with his bare hands.
It was true that her heart skipped a beat in that moment.
[“Are you perhaps interested in me?”]
Wasn’t it patently unfair to ask a question like that in that sort of a situation?!
Cha Hae-In shook her head hard as if to shake off all the distracting thoughts. Even if he asked her like that, she shouldn’t have answered him truthfully.
‘He might start seeing me as a strange person, after all.’
Even though she knew she shouldn’t, her lips parted on their own.
Maybe because her mind felt more relaxed when she was around Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, she ended up revealing a side to him that she always kept hidden. It was as if she wasn’t herself anymore.
‘….As if I wasn’t myself?’
Those words sounded rather familiar for some reason.
Where could it have been from? She could vaguely remember hearing a similar expression from somewhere.
It was then – a piece of memory once erased from her mind brushed past her brain.
Cha Hae-In quickly bolted upright.
She finally recalled that voice, a voice that seemed to slowly fade away to the other side, just like a waking dream. Even though it couldn’t have been that long ago.
Cha Hae-In did her very best to remember the contents of the voice as well as the owner of it. The full scope of the memory, blurry and indistinct as if a thick veil of fog was covering it, slowly regained its former glory.
‘….I met with Hunter Min Byung-Gu.’
Back when she lost her consciousness and was being dragged into the endless void, Hunter Min Byung-Gu appeared out of nowhere and pulled her back by her wrist. She felt momentarily displeased from her peaceful rest being interrupted back then.
She remembered being puzzled by the black armour covering the entirety of Hunter Min Byung-Gu. Only his face was visible outwardly.
Even that face seemed quite sad for some reason, which was unlike his usual self.
As the memories of those moments slowly crept back into her mind, Cha Hae-In felt a chill run down her spine.
Hunter Min Byung-Gu spoke to her, his expression barely holding back his tears.
‘To Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, what….?’
After ending the shower, Jin-Woo stood before the bathroom window.
He sure looked okay from where he was standing, but….
But, to think that he was so good looking that a beauty like Cha Hae-In felt enough interest to try switching Guilds!
‘Am I really that good looking?’
Jin-Woo peered deeper into the mirror. And a smirk leaked out of his mouth. He wasn’t planning to drown in narcissism even if no one told him to.
He was confident of only one thing about himself, and that would be….
….That would be his taut muscles, getting progressively firmer through repeated daily quest routines, as well as his height that suddenly grew up much higher than before, probably due to the influence of the System. That was about it. Meaning, all he had was his body and not much else.
As for his face…. Well, minus his sharper than normal eyes, wouldn’t it be on the level of an average man commonly seen on the streets?
It was at this point that he noticed something.
Jin-Woo’s expression became serious as he stared into the mirror. He leaned his head slightly to the side, and took an even closer look than before. The Jin-Woo of the mirror’s reflection and the Jin-Woo of reality stared at each other for a long while.
A strange light flickered in Jin-Woo’s eyes. His gaze swept all over his face. And as he thought…
He really did change.
Those small scars, spots and nicks that couldn’t be seen normally and needed to be looked at really close, had all disappeared from his face even before he had time to notice it.
‘Is this because of the ‘Will to Recover’ buff?’
One of the buff effects he got as the reward for becoming a Player said that ‘all his damaged body parts would be recovered back to their original state’.
This buff even managed to regenerate the leg that got cut off by one of the stone statues, too. So, it wouldn’t be so strange for those little skin damages to be healed completely, as well. However, what really came across as mystifying was….
‘….I think I’ve actually grown younger?’
He was originally in the middle of his twenties. But the him in the mirror looked two, three years younger, in his early twenties. Now that was a surprising thing.
The magical energy apparently could delay the ageing process of the Awakened to a certain degree, so could this be a similar effect to that?
‘Gimme a break….’
Jin-Woo thought that it was a funny notion for a grown man to stare at himself in the mirror like this, so he decided to leave the bathroom. With excellent timing, his younger sister also emerged from her bedroom, and the siblings got to have a brief reunion in the living room.
Jin-Woo grinned and called out to Jin-Ah.
“How do I look to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, my appeal as a man.”
Jin-Ah furrowed her brows.
“And where did you find your baseless confidence from? Because, you’re still the same stay-at-home oppa in my eyes, you know?”
“Alright, thanks for that.”
Jin-Woo grinned and pinched her cheek lightly, and she too threw a rather sharp kick to his shin as a retaliation. Of course, the one jumping around in pain was Jin-Ah.
“You forgot what kind of a person your oppa was? Can you even study properly with that head of yours?”
Jin-Ah pouted and narrowed her eyes at him.
“I was ranked first place in the mock test in the entire school, I’ll have you know.”
Jin-Woo really enjoyed his sister’s reaction and had a hard time swallowing back his laughter.
One of the best things about having your family around was that, even if you changed, they still treated you the same with exactly the same attitude as before.
Jin-Woo used the towel to rub his wet hair and walked past Jin-Ah.
“You too, oppa.”
Just before he slipped into his room, though, he remembered something and looked behind him.
“Ah, right. I’m thinking of creating a Guild soon.”
Jin-Ah’s expression brightly and her eyes sparkled brilliantly as well.
“Oppa, are you going to be called a ‘chairman’ from now on, too?”
“If it all works out.”
“What’s the name of the Guild?”
“That’s what I wanted to hear your opinion on.”
“Oh! What is it? What is it??”
Jin-Woo cautiously asked his little sister busy looking at him with eyes full of expectations.
“What do you think of ‘Solo Play’ Guild?”
< Chapter 136 > Fin.