I Alone Level-Up
Jin-Woo hurriedly brought the message windows back up.
He didn’t even have time to enjoy the notices of his level going up four times in a row, as his eyes were currently fixed to the very first message.
‘Oh, my god.’
Jin-Woo’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.
[You have defeated your enemy.]
‘This wasn’t the boss monster??’
His shocked gaze shifted over to the Giant sagged on the ground, with no focus to be found within its dull eyes.
The incredible power that was on another realm compared to other Giants, and the overwhelming aura that even left Jin-Woo surprised. No matter what, this creature looked, sounded, and smelled like a boss, yet it was apparently not. The System’s message clearly said that this thing was a ‘regular’ monster.
It was then.
He heard the overexcited voice of Yu Jin-Ho coming from a distance.
Jin-Woo raised his hand quickly to signal the sparkly-eyed Yu Jin-Ho running over here that he should stop right there.
It was unknown whether he was a good listener, or maybe he was just scared easily, but regardless, the kid froze up right in his tracks.
Meanwhile, Jin-Woo’s glare became even more serious than before.
The message of [You have killed the owner of the dungeon] hadn’t appeared yet. Which could only mean that this raid was far from over.
That wasn’t the only suspicious thing here, either; it was impossible to perform ‘Shadow Extraction’ on this massive monster, as well. He couldn’t see any black smoke rising up from the corpse, a telltale sign of it being a candidate for the extraction.
And, just as he suspected….
When he glared hard at the Giant’s corpse as if to bore a hole through it, a mechanical beep went off in his head.
[It’s impossible to perform Shadow Extraction on the target.]
‘What’s going on?’
Jin-Woo’s brows furrowed deeply as the situation began exceeding his expectation in more ways than one. But then, he heard the sounds of bones clattering against each other coming from somewhere.
The jaw of the Giant was suddenly moving again.
The creature’s mouth was pried open and a humanoid-shape of something emerged from there.
Jin-Woo reflexively got into a battle stance. Flashes of sharp light gleamed off the blades summoned into his hands. Fortunately, the voice coming from the Giant’s mouth turned out to be a familiar one.
“Oh, my king…. It is I, Beru.”
The former ant king managed to extricate itself and stepped out, before displaying the appropriate courtesy towards Jin-Woo.
“….It’s only you.”
Jin-Woo lowered his vigilance.
After Beru entered the Giant’s body, his presence got hidden by the huge monster’s near-bottomless magical energy and as a result, it became momentarily impossible to differentiate him.
After confirming that it was Beru for real, Jin-Woo returned his shortswords back to his Storage.
Beru trudged out forward while covered from head to toe in the Giant’s flesh and blood. It wasn’t that difficult to imagine how hard the former ant king struggled within the monster’s head.
Jin-Woo was about to heartily praise his underling with a smile but his expression crumpled in an instant.
‘What the hell is up with this stink…..?’
A truly disgusting odour was getting stronger as Beru got nearer. Perhaps he could also smell it, his expression was also deeply crumpled as well.
He eventually stood before Jin-Woo and bowed his head in a dignified fashion.
Jin-Woo was about to pat his ant soldier on the shoulder as a gesture of a job well done, but discovered a yellowish liquid of unidentifiable nature there and sneakily withdrew his hand.
“You did well, Beru.”
“….I thank thee, oh my king.”
Jin-Woo was probably mistaken when he thought that he heard a slightly sullen tone of voice coming from the ant soldier.
In any case, what he needed to concentrate on was not the identity of this weird liquid on Beru’s shoulder. If this super-massive Giant-type monster was not the ‘owner of the dungeon’, then where was the real owner?
Just as that thought worked its way into Jin-Woo’s brain, this happened.
Suddenly, the air all around him trembled.
Sensing yet another change taking place, Jin-Woo hurriedly raised his guard up. Beru also sensed the danger only a beat slower and quickly increased his overall body size to stand guard before his Sovereign.
A powerful gust of wind assaulted them right afterwards.
Jin-Woo’s forehead creased up.
The stormy winds violent enough to rip out trees, roots and all, swept all around him, but then, they abruptly slithered off to somewhere else.
The commotion died down almost instantly.
Beru decided that the situation had been normalised and stepped away from Jin-Woo’s front. Meanwhile, the latter surveyed the surroundings only to gasp out in pure shock.
‘How could this be?!’
What suddenly ‘attacked’ him just now weren’t some gusts of wind. No, what he mistakenly thought as storm winds was simply the horrifyingly disgusting and bottomless magic energy the dead Giant possessed.
That massive amount of magical energy clawed and swept everything in the vicinity away as it moved entirely elsewhere.
‘What about Yu Jin-Ho?!’
Jin-Woo hurriedly turned to look behind where Yu Jin-Ho had been. Thankfully, the kid was unscathed due to Igrit shielding him.
Jin-Woo sighed in relief.
Now that he found more leeway to search his vicinity, Jin-Woo quickly snapped his head in the direction where that vast magic energy had disappeared to.
It was deep within the Gate.
Every single drop of the magical energy the dead Giant possessed was sucked into the Gate.
It was as if the Gate itself had swallowed up that magic energy.
The black ‘barrier’ blocking the Gate had shattered a long time ago during the dungeon break. The interior of the Gate, which was the inside of the dungeon, could be seen clearly from the outside.
The air itself seemed to cry out softly.
Jin-Woo thought that he had experienced all sorts of trials and tribulations in his life so far, but even he had never seen nor heard of a bizarre event like this one before.
‘Something else is in there.’
His Perception Stat was telling him as much. Jin-Woo stared at the interior of the dungeon, his eyes progressively getting narrower and narrower.
Whatever was waiting for him in there, the moment that he recognised its presence, the hair on the back of his neck all stood right up. A deathly chill came knocking and goosebumps broke out all over his body.
Ba-thump, ba-thump, ba-thump!
As if it was resonating with the crying air, his heart began beating faster and faster.
Yu Jin-Ho had crept up closer and closer until he was standing next to Jin-Woo. He too stared at the gigantic Gate.
This might get very dangerous. Jin-Woo looked at Yu Jin-Ho and spoke in a heavy voice.
“You stay here and wait for me.”
Yu Jin-Ho nodded without raising a fuss. His desire to follow was quite strong, but at the same time, he figured that he’d be more of a hindrance than anything else.
Jin-Woo left the kid on standby outside, and led his Shadow Soldiers into the mouth of the Gate, entering into the dungeon itself.
‘This is really…..’
While entering a few top-ranked dungeons, he thought that he got pretty used to the idea of things being ‘massive’ by now. However, his thoughts had to be revised the moment he entered this particular dungeon.
‘…..Way too huge.’
Jin-Woo walked within the passage that seemed so limitlessly tall and wide. It was as if the word ‘massive’ had been invented just to describe this place, and he continued to swallow back his gasps of astonishment.
He still didn’t make any noises inside the dungeon, though.
He continued to maintain this habit formed during the time when he was a lowest ranked Hunter and lacked any means to protect himself from the monsters, even though he greatly exceeded the levels of ‘regular’ rank S Awakened by now.
It was never a bad thing to remain cautious of one’s surroundings, after all.
Jin-Woo’s eyes glowed softly within the darkness.
He didn’t lower his vigilance, not even for a moment, and continued to advance towards the end of the dungeon. The soldiers, having recovered to their perfect state despite being involved in such a fierce battle earlier on, silently followed right after him.
And so, just how long did they have to walk?
Jin-Woo’s steps eventually came to a stop.
Beru, walking right behind him, raised his hand to signal the Shadow Army to stop, as well. Perhaps because he was formerly an ant, the species optimised for life in a large group, he was rather adept in commanding the large army.
The entire Shadow Army came to a perfect halt. Beru scanned the soldiers once, before sticking close to Jin-Woo’s back.
“Oh, my king….”
Jin-Woo raised his index finger, and continued on a short while later.
“Can you hear it?”
Beru concentrated on the ambient noises for a little bit, before nodding his head.
“….Yes, I can hear it, my king.”
Beru could also hear it now.
Just over yonder was the end of the dungeon. From the location where the dungeon’s boss should usually be, laughter came out from there. It was so soft that only the beings on the levels of Jin-Woo or Beru could perceive it.
The good-natured laughter of a man continued to resound out as if he was genuinely pleased about something.
Jin-Woo couldn’t help but get puzzled here.
Even though the darkness of the dungeon had masked them and they couldn’t see each other, the other party must’ve felt Jin-Woo’s approach by now. It’d be the same story for the Shadow Army extending far behind him, too.
‘Even then, it can still laugh like that?’
Of course, Jin-Woo had already assessed the situation.
Incredible magical energy, one so powerful that it even made breathing difficult, was hidden in the darkness just over yonder. The enemy’s aura that gave him a foreboding sensation easily exceeded that of the Giant’s magic energy when it was still alive.
However, Jin-Woo himself was no pushover, either. He unleashed all of his cloaked magic power, too.
Ripples spread out to Jin-Woo’s surroundings.
The massive wave of magical energy rippled out, one strong enough to knock away all the Shadow Soldiers in the vicinity if it had contained any amount of malice.
The opponent didn’t stop laughing, even then.
The corners of Jin-Woo’s lips also arched up in response.
‘Aren’t you an interesting fella.’
With a smile on his face, he stepped into the boss chamber. He was greeted by an unfathomably huge and open space that should have served as the home for the super-massive Giant monster.
Jin-Woo continued to walk towards where the laughter was coming from without a shred of hesitation.
His Shadow Soldiers followed after him and marched forward, as well.
Chut, chut, chut, chut…. (TL: SFX for metal boots walking on a hard surface.)
The spectacle of so many monsters enveloped in black smoke advancing forward in unison was more than enough to instil fear in the hearts of every enemy watching.
However, such a thing wasn’t applicable to a certain man, whose entire body was tied down by chains, with the sole exception of his head.
Was it him simply being tied down?
It wasn’t as simple as that at all.
The black chains connected to the walls of the dungeons not only wrapped tightly around this unknown man several times, some of them even pierced straight through his body, the emerging ends seemingly taking root within his flesh.
It was such a wretched sight that anyone watching would immediately start wondering, if that was punishment then just how big was the crime committed to warrant such treatment?
Jin-Woo furrowed his brows.
On the other hand, the man formed a bright smile while looking at Jin-Woo as if he had run into a very close friend.
“Oh, how humorous this is! So very humorous!! All of you detestable Ruler b*stards, take a good look at who had come to see me first!”
Jin-Woo came to a stop, not too far but not too close.
The man quickly carried on.
“The chains… hurry and undo these chains. I know all the plans of the Rulers. I need to let the other Sovereigns know of the tru…..”
The man’s words suddenly came to a halt, then. His eyes, filled with joy only until a moment ago, had cooled down in an instant as if it had all been a lie.
This unknown man quietly peered into Jin-Woo’s eyes. While that was happening, the latter also carefully studied the former. And it was in that moment he realised that this man’s face and that of the super-massive Giant guarding the Gate were exactly the same.
‘It’s not…. a human.’
The ripples of magic energy coming from it were too different from a human’s. Besides, the fact that it was speaking the language of monsters so fluently could only mean this guy was not human, for sure.
However, why was a monster being restrained inside a dungeon in this fashion?
In the ensuing ten years since the first Gate opened up, all sorts of different monsters made their appearances, but this would be his first time hearing about the appearance of a monster that was all tied down and couldn’t move inside a dungeon.
However, if there was one clue given away now, it was the term this being used with such disgust – ‘Rulers’.
A short bout of silence flowed in between them.
Only after a while did the lips of this unknown man part open.
“You are…. not the one that I know of.”
Jin-Woo had no idea who this guy mistook him for, but he wasn’t planning to deny that, either. Well, he also had never seen the face of this tied-up man before. Excluding the dead Giant outside, of course.
Jin-Woo threw a question.
“Did those Rulers or whatever make you look like this?”
“They are trying to use me. As the stepping stone for laying the foundation of the true warfare about to take place.”
This was the first time something like this happened. Jin-Woo had tried to initiate conversations with intelligent monsters up until now, but none of them were able to explain their origins at all.
But then, the one right in front of his eyes had revealed the reason for its existence for the first time ever.
It said, to lay the foundation of the true warfare.
Whether those words were truth or lies, Jin-Woo realised that they could become an important clue to unravelling everything.
“Just what are these things called Rulers?”
“Ancient enemies of the Sovereigns.”
The angel statue back then began to go berserk as it was being pushed to the corner. It cried out something about other Sovereigns not taking this lying down. For the time being, even if he were to set aside what kind of existence these Sovereigns were….
He kind of realised just where one of them could be right now.
“In that case, the reason why those beings tied you up like this is that….”
The man replied with sorrowful eyes.
“I am also a Sovereign.”
And then, he explained further with a desperate voice.
“It is quite likely that both the Sovereigns and Rulers are aiming for you right now. However, you lack the strength to fight against them. In order to stand a chance against them, you’ll be needing influence, too.”
Out of all the hard-to-fathom words being spewed out, Jin-Woo still managed to catch what this man wanted to say the most.
The man nodded his head.
“Release me from my seal. I shall aid you.”
< Chapter 174 > Fin.