I Alone Level-Up
The reporters from all over the world descended on Japan.
If there was one thing in particular about that, then it was that most of those reporters were war correspondents used to covering various conflicts happening across the globe.
This was as good a proof as any that the event about to unfold here was as dangerous as an actual war.
The security cordon built around the Gate was incredibly heavy. Reporters raised their cameras and pointed towards the building-sized Gate and the barrier formation drawn around it, as well as the army of men and women surrounding them both.
The whole location was chock-full with palpable tension only seen just before the outbreak of war.
The assistant reporter swallowed his nervous saliva and asked his boss, the famed English war correspondent William Bell.
“Modern firearms don’t work against monsters, so why are the army present here?”
William Bell replied, while he continued to capture each and every determined face of the soldiers present today with his camera.
“To buy us more time.”
“Their job is to draw the attention of the monsters so the Hunters can get ready for their counteroffensive. Also, to act as baits, so those higher-ups spectating from over there will find enough time to evacuate from this place, too”
The next person’s face to be captured in William Bell’s lens was the President of the Japanese Hunter’s Association Matsumoto Shigeo, currently standing close to the barrier. He was conversing with several staff members, his expression hard and sombre.
‘Sure, this is no time for him to crack a smile, isn’t it.’
The assistant reporter, who wasn’t as experienced as William Bell was, spoke with a tense gleam in his eyes.
“They are… cannon fodder.”
“Look, man. You’re putting me in a spot here if you think that’s someone else’s fate.”
“I mean, if something were about to happen to me, it’s your job to stand before me, right?”
The young assistant reporter got startled and quickly looked back, prompting William Bell to lightly rib the kid with his elbow.
“If you remain tense like that, you won’t even get a chance to run away before you are dead, okay? What I’m trying to say here is, loosen up a little.”
The assistant reporter realised that it was just a joke from that knowing wink William Bell threw his way and patted his trembling chest down.
‘Mister Bell…. He can still crack a joke in a situation like this.’
The relaxed air thickly laden with the seasoned reporter’s commanding presence seeped into the younger reporter and that helped to soften the tension he felt.
However, the assistant was acutely aware of the truth. Whenever William Bell began smiling like that, that was when you should be most nervous as well.
The assistant shifted his gaze back to the Gate standing tall into the sky.
“Just what kind of monstrosity would come out from there, I wonder?”
William Bell stopped snapping pictures and looked up at the same spot as his assistant.
That thing sure as hell was huge. So huge, in fact, one could easily get overwhelmed just from its sheer size.
After Gates began appearing in the world, the second battlefield these war correspondents went to had become the locations of various Gates. Meaning, William Bell had come across his fair share of terrifying Gates before.
Hell, he even had the misfortune of reporting from the actual location of a dungeon break, too….
But then, the Gate floating before his eyes was on another realm altogether. Just looking up at that d*mn thing made him break out in cold sweat.
‘This was probably why no advanced scout party got dispatched.’
Not one high-ranked Hunter volunteered to enter the Gate to see what was inside, so currently, no one knew what might jump out of that thing once it breaks open wide.
William Bell’s lips, closed shut in a straight line until then, slowly parted ways.
“Not sure what’ll come out of there, but….”
A bitter smile formed on his lips next.
“But, whatever comes out, let’s just pray that Yuri Orlov’s barrier is strong enough to hold them back.”
The last place his camera headed to was Yuri Orlov’s direction, busy inspecting the barrier’s formation for one last time. The Russian Hunter was beaming from ear to ear at the moment.
“It’s perfect. Very good.”
Yuri Orlov was deeply confident of the resulting barrier now.
Because, well… his barriers had always been exceptional. Besides, that wasn’t the only thing motivating him, either.
The Association President Matsumoto Shigeo was worried about the Japanese citizens strongly rebuking them for the deal, so he kept everything hush-hush, on the down low. As a result, the Japanese public was under the assumption that the Russian came here out of the goodness of his heart, and began showering him with lots of donations.
And so, he got to earn an even greater amount of wealth that way. Besides that, there was even more! Countless reporters had braved the dangers to come and snap his pictures.
Wealth and fame. The two things Yuri Orlov went crazy for had fallen into his lap in one fell swoop.
He emphasized himself one last time to the crowd.
After today, he’d go down in history books as the first man ever to block a rank S Gate all by himself.
‘I’d much prefer to be remembered as a man clearing a rank S Gate all alone, though….’
Too bad, he couldn’t get too greedy here, since another Hunter better suited for that title had appeared already. What could he do about that, realistically speaking? That guy was a melee-type Hunter, while he was a support-type, after all.
One only had to become the best in their chosen fields. That’s all there was to it.
Slightly carried away by his own thoughts, Yuri Orlov pulled out a flask the size of his palm from his inner pocket. When he opened the lid, the pungent smell of vodka wafted out.
“M-Mister Yuri!! Alcohol…?!”
The Association employee in charge of minding the Russian freaked out and tried to stop him, but Yuri Orlov angrily glared at the hapless Japanese, instead.
“This is a celebratory toast, get it? A toast! So, let go of your tension, okay? Because I’m going to put on the greatest show on earth very soon.”
“Hey, you want a sip? I’m telling you, your worries and tension just fly away in one shot.”
Yuri Orlov wrapped his arm around the employee’s shoulders and began offering up the vodka. The Association President Matsumoto Shigeo frowned deeply as he stared at that spectacle from afar.
‘To think, the fate of Japan depends on such a man….’
He silently clicked his tongue and asked one of his entourage next to him.
“How many rank S Hunters are on standby?”
“It’s a total of three, sir.”
“Three, is it….”
Out of the ten still surviving rank S Hunters, only three responded to the summons of the Association. The frowns on Matsumoto Shigeo’s face deepened by another level.
After the Jeju Island raid landed a calamitous blow to the community of Hunters in Japan, his influence had waned greatly until it hit rock bottom.
Some quarters were now loudly claiming that it was Matsumoto Shigeo who drove rank S Hunters to their deaths, having been blinded by his own greed. And, the majority of the remaining rank S Hunters had turned their backs on him.
They even left an ultimatum saying that, as long as he remained the Association President, they would not heed the orders of the Association again.
‘If only Goto-kun was still here with me….’
Matsumoto Shigeo’s clenched fists trembled hard. Goto Ryuji’s death was far too painful a loss for the Japanese Association President, who used him as his right-hand man.
‘But, that is why….’
….That was why today was doubly important for him.
If the concerted efforts of the Association resulted in the rank S Gate being blocked off, then he’d use that to aim towards the top once more.
‘Goh Gun-Hui… and then, Seong Jin-Woo.’
Along the way, he might find a chance to pay back all the humiliation, with interest, to those men who had ruined his future.
‘I shall, definitely…..’
Definitely, this had to work.
The Association President Matsumoto glared at the Gate again, his expression becoming even graver than before. One of his attendants looked at his watch and whispered to him.
“Sir, it’s three minutes before the dungeon break.”
Matsumoto Shigeo nodded his head. Countless thoughts swirled within his gaze now taking in the sight of the massive Gate.
Two minutes, one minute, 59 seconds, 58…..
Time, filled with taut tension, ticked down seemingly at the rate of knots. And soon enough, the black ‘wall’ covering the giant Gate’s surface began to get blurry.
The reporters all cried out in unison.
“Hey, the Gate’s opening up!!”
“They… they are coming out!”
Jin-Woo was about to sneakily get up, but sat back down quietly again when his mom called out to him.
Mom took her eyes off the TV and looked at Jin-Woo. The TV news had been constantly showing the special broadcast related to the rank S Gate in Japan for a while now.
The story currently on was something about the dungeon break that would happen in a few minutes or so.
“You weren’t trying to… go somewhere, were you?”
His mother’s sixth sense could sometimes be even sharper than that of a high-ranking Hunter’s, Jin-Woo mused inwardly. He flinched just a little, but replied as if nothing was amiss.
“I have a promise to keep, you see.”
“A promise? On a day like this?”
“I made that promise a while ago, Mom. I thought that, since that Gate is opening in Japan anyway and it won’t affect us, I didn’t cancel it.”
Mom was still staring at him with unconvinced eyes, though. However, he wasn’t lying here, technically speaking.
‘In a way, this is a promise I made with the System, isn’t it?’
Mom continued to stare at Jin-Woo for a little while longer, before asking her son again.
“I don’t have to worry about you, right?”
Jin-Woo replied confidently.
“Of course, Mom.”
He worked hard to achieve this strength precisely for that purpose. Mom formed a gentle smile only after looking deeply into Jin-Woo’s eyes overflowing with palpable confidence.
“Be careful on your way out, Son.”
Jin-Woo smiled refreshingly as well.
“I’ll be back soon, Mom.”
Jin-Woo got up and left the house pretty soon afterwards.
His family’s apartment was located on the ninth floor and, for the first time ever, he got to learn today how slow the elevator taking him to the ground floor was.
He felt anxiety creeping in as his expectation ballooned, wondering just what kind of a dungeon this black key of his would unlock.
The elevator door to the ground floor slid open. An ahjussi he’d never seen before raised his head without thinking too much, and their gazes locked for a brief while.
He must’ve been one of the very few people who didn’t know that a rank S Hunter was living in this building, because as soon as he recognised Jin-Woo’s face, his eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
Jin-Woo quickly brushed past him and pulled up the hoodie attached to his top. His steps were quick, perhaps owing to the fact that his mind was also racing really fast, too.
Jin-Woo was able to leave the apartment complex in no time at all and while standing on the street, looked all around him.
‘….Is this because of the Gate in Japan?’
For some reason, the streets were oddly deserted. But, thanks to that, Jin-Woo didn’t have to mind the stares of the surroundings as he leisurely confirmed the information on the black key.
[Item: Key to the Karutenon temple]
‘You have met the required conditions.’
A key allowing you entry into the Karutenon Temple. It can be used in the designated Gate.
The location of the designated Gate will be revealed after the predetermined time has been reached.
Remaining time: 00:01:02
Only one minute remained now.
‘….It’s almost here.’
His heart, calmly submerged deep below the cold surface, began to quietly pick up its pace now.
Jin-Woo stood still and focused his hearing on the pulsing beat of his heart while waiting out the remaining minute. He didn’t even need his watch, either. The biological clock within him, honed to the extreme, was more accurate than any time measuring device known to man in this world.
‘….3, 2, 1.’
Exactly one minute later, Jin-Woo opened his closed eyes.
[Remaining time: 00:00:00]
[The location where the key can be used will now be made available.]
Jin-Woo’s eyes widened greatly.
‘Isn’t this place….?’
The location of the Gate appearing within the System’s message wasn’t too far from here. As a matter of fact, he was rather familiar with that place.
Jin-Woo quickly used one of the features his Hunter-only phone possessed to log onto the website of the Hunter’s Association, and checked the information on the Gate in question.
Sure enough, its location was exactly where the Association’s warning notice, issued some time ago, said it’d be.
He didn’t expect the location this key was supposed to ‘unlock’ would be there. As if someone had smacked him in the back of his head, Jin-Woo felt somewhat dizzy.
‘I made a mistake.’
In reality, the key’s description wasn’t lying to him. The System said that the information on the Gate would be made available, but said nothing about a Gate appearing somewhere.
He got blindsided just now.
Jin-Woo’s hands manipulating his phone became a lot busier. He checked the info on the Gate some more, and found out that there was a Guild already busy with clearing it right now. The rank of the Gate in question was ‘C’.
‘It’s not a high rank, but….’
The real problem was with not really knowing what was hidden inside.
‘It’s a small relief that the location isn’t far.’
It was about ten minutes away with a car. If he ran with everything he had, he’d get there in less than 60 seconds. Jin-Woo hid with ‘Stealth’ and began running at full tilt. He even activated the skill ‘Quicksilver’ for good measure, too.
His new destination was actually the athletics field of Jin-Ah’s former high school. The school remained closed ever since the Orc incident, so there was no danger of unaware civilians getting hurt just in case, but….
‘…But, it’s the raid team clearing the dungeon in danger, instead.’
Jin-Woo recalled the moments he was visiting that underground temple.
He recalled all those close shaves. He clearly remembered several moments he almost got killed on that day.
But, what was the reason for this? Without a doubt, those were startlingly terrifying memories in his life, but when he looked back, his heart began racing quicker in excitement. Even now.
It probably had something to do with the fact that, inside that temple, Jin-Woo got to feel for the first time what it felt to be alive. Back then, he wasn’t some useless, powerless rank E Hunter, but a challenger going up against impossible odds.
In the blink of an eye, he rounded up several streets and the sight of the familiar school was caught in his eyes. He really only needed a few dozens of seconds to arrive at the school.
He stepped through the front gate and spotted the Gate floating in the air just above the athletics field to the side. A handful of Association employees and staff members from the Guild doing the raid were standing around the Gate as if to guard its surroundings.
They were all carrying on in a quiet atmosphere, perhaps because they hadn’t heard any news of something major happening inside yet. But that quietness was shattered immediately by Jin-Woo’s sudden entrance. Because… he chose to undo his Stealth near the Gate.
One of the Guild’s staff members belatedly discovered Jin-Woo’s presence and tried to cut him off.
“You’re not allowed in here.”
Jin-Woo pulled back his hoodie and revealed himself. And that elicited a loud “Heok!!” from the side.
The Association employee immediately recognised Jin-Woo and cried out in surprise. It was the same bespectacled female employee he ran into back when he took care of the rank B Gate that popped up in the middle of the road.
Jin-Woo figured that it’d be quicker to talk to her instead of this Guild staff blocking his way, so he ignored the guy altogether and spoke directly to her.
“You need to stop this raid right now.”
She got flustered as she tried to make her reply.
“B-but, the measurement result came out as only C….”
Jin-Woo shook his head and told her in no uncertain terms.
“If you don’t stop the raid now, they will all die.”
Jin-Woo raised his head and glared at the Gate.
Couldn’t these people pick up on that?
An eerie aura so sickening that it gave him goosebumps, was slowly oozing out from the Gate.
< Chapter 154 > Fin.