I Alone Level-Up
Jin-Woo only needed one minute to get ready, quickly grabbed himself a taxi, and headed off to the meeting point. Nine people were already there, waiting for his arrival.
The man who looked like the leader of the group waved his hand at Jin-Woo.
“Heyyy! Over here.”
It was a bearded man with a fairly big physique. He smiled softly and walked closer while speaking to Jin-Woo.
“Are you Mister Seong Jin-Woo?”
“Aigoo, it’s a relief that you found the right place so quickly. I guess this is fate, so how about we greet each other before we get started?”
The bearded man briefly introduced the members of his team.
The eight of them including himself were regular teammates that worked together all the time, while the remaining guy was someone who also came here to make up the numbers, just like Jin-Woo.
Jin-Woo greeted other team members and studied their countenance carefully. Thanks to his enhanced Perception Stat, he was able to more or less sense everyone’s capabilities.
‘Five with a similar rank. Four with a slightly lower rank than them. Five rank Cs and around four with D or lower.’
There was a regulation when attempting to clear a Gate rated C. The minimum number of a party had to be ten Hunters, and more than half had to be at least ranked C or higher. Only then did the Association issued a permit.
It seemed that them claiming to do all the hunting and he only needed to be there to make up the numbers didn’t sound like an empty boasting after all.
“Now we’re done with introductions, let me briefly explain the important points to remember.”
The bearded man introduced himself as Hwang Dong-Seok, a Tanker rated C. He displayed a relaxed atmosphere as if he possessed plenty of experience raiding dungeons.
As he began describing the situations one had to keep an eye out for in the middle of a raid, someone came closer to Jin-Woo.
“Excuse me. Looks like we’re both pieces of fluff in this party, huh?”
He was none other than the other Hunter Hwang Dong-Seok had brought along in order to fill up the numbers. He was a young man with a bright expression. However, unlike Jin-Woo, he was actually going to participate in battles. He was ranked D, so he had the right to do so.
His name was Yu Jin-Ho, aged 22.
Jin-Woo lightly nodded his head as Yu Jin-Ho greeted him, before shifting his gaze away. Yu Jin-Ho seemingly wanted to carry on with the conversation, but ended up scratching the back of his head awkwardly. He soon returned to his spot.
“Hyung-nim, let’s stop here and go in already.” (TL: Hyung-nim = big brother, or a male addressing an older male. Used more as an honorific by gangsters to address someone higher up in the hierarchy. Most of the time, anyways.)
“We’ll be the ones to kill them all, so what’s the point of explaining it in detail like that?”
“Right, my ears might get blocked up with wax at this rate.”
When the original team members all raised their voices, Hwang Dong-Seok laughed jovially and clapped his hands.
“Alright, then. Enough with the explanations, let’s get going.”
Everyone got ready to enter the Gate.
“Ah, before we enter, you two, take a look at these.”
Hwang Dong-Seok pushed forward a page of a document to Jin-Woo and Yu Jin-Ho each. It turned out to be a simple contract.
“Write your names on the bottom and sign it, and we’re good to go.”
The contents said, he’d not participate in any hunting, he’d not participate in sharing of the loot, and when the raid was over, he’d be paid 2 million won right away.
The terms were the same as what he heard over the phone. However, they were not the ones to catch his attention.
‘I have to promise not to question them regardless of whatever incident happens inside the dungeon….?’
Unlike the raids organised by the Association, one would not be able to claim for compensation if something happened during a raid organised by the freelancers. One of the reasons why Hunters couldn’t get a life insurance, either.
One had to look after one’s own neck, in other words.
Only now did it feel real that Jin-Woo had entered an assault team.
While confirming the clauses, Jin-Woo sneaked a glance at Yu Jin-Ho’s contract. As expected, his was different; besides the promised 2 million, he was also going to share in the loot, as well.
Before signing the document, Jin-Woo asked Hwang Dong-Seok.
“What am I supposed to do when we’re inside?”
“Nothing too particular. Just follow us and help us carry the luggage, that’s all.”
Hwang Dong-Seok pointed at the huge backpack one of his ‘dongsaengs’ pulled out from the minivan. (TL: A “dongsaeng” is a gender-neutral term to denote a younger sibling. Can also be used as an honorific to denote a younger person.)
“You’ll be carrying around lunch boxes to eat when inside, several sets of clothing and equipment, first-aid kits and some other stuff.”
‘Wait, first-aid kits when entering a dungeon?’
Jin-Woo couldn’t help but question this.
“You are not entering with a Healer?”
“I’m sure you already know that it’s not easy to hire a Healer if you’re running your own assault party. Well, we’ve been doing things this way until now, so it’ll be fine.”
Hwang Dong-Seok smiled awkwardly.
To think, this team just barely met the required minimum number of Hunters, one of the additional members mistook a raid as a blind date or something, and the composition of the assault team only happened to feature a Tanker and damage dealers, and not one Healer…
Even after hearing that there was no Healer present, that oblivious additional member didn’t seem too bothered by the revelation. It was the sure proof that he was a newbie.
Jin-Woo smirked inwardly.
‘They are a bunch of wannabes.’
However, he still signed on the contract. Not because he needed that 2 million, but because he knew very well that he could protect himself now.
“Here it is.”
“I’m done, too!”
Hwang Dong-Seok confirmed the signatures of both men and shouted out in a loud voice as if he was feeling really pleased today.
“Okay!! Let’s get going, everyone!”
The party headed straight to the location of the Gate.
It was in the middle of the halted construction site for an apartment complex.
“The economy nowadays isn’t so good, but still….”
Hwang Dong-Seok clicked his tongue.
Like large tombstones, unfinished apartment buildings stood still sporadically, imparting a certain sense of foreboding to all who looked at them. Could a cemetery of giants feel this way to observers?
“Did you know?”
Yu Jin-Ho had walked closer to Jin-Woo and whispered softly.
“…. That, while the employees and the investors are going through hell at the moment, the CEO of the project ran off to overseas two months ago along with ₩900,000,000,000?”
Jin-Woo gave the other guy plenty of hints, But it seemed like Yu Jin-Ho didn’t want to leave his side at all.
Well, with the exception of Jin-Woo here, all eight of them originally belonged to one team so it’d be hard to get along with them that easily.
“Hyung, are you always this quiet?” (TL: “Hyung” here is slightly different from “Hyung-nim” from earlier on. Still means older brother, but without the tough-guy connotation.)
Before anyone had noticed it, the honorific had become ‘hyung’. Jin-Woo couldn’t ignore this kid anymore.
“…..Don’t you know how to take the hint?”
“Well, I’ve never lived while worrying about taking hints, so… Ehehe.”
Was this guy simply a good-natured, or just brainless? Jin-Woo wordlessly scratched the side of his head as he stared at Yu Jin-Ho and that bright smile of his.
It was indeed true that Jin-Woo would get unusually nervous when he got nearer a Gate. But, it was par for the course, really.
To other Hunters, raids might come across as a legitimate source of income, but to Jin-Woo, each and every one he participated so far had been a desperate, bitter struggle to make ends meet.
He’d get tense because of all the painful memories stuck forever in his head.
“It’s over here.”
Hwang Dong-Seok’s steps came to an end.
The Hunters all let out a surprised gasp.
“Hwang hyung, is this really a Gate rated C? But, isn’t it too big?”
“You think the Association was lying to us? They said that investigators came around here twice already.”
A hole in the air, floating like a black hole. People took to calling it a Gate.
Its rank was assigned according to the waves of magical energy emission coming from inside. Folks from the Association would stop by first to assign a rank to each one.
After that, individuals or Guilds wanting to clear the Gate could follow the procedure and apply for a permit.
Gates ranked A or B were, most of the time, left to the big Guilds. Well, they were too difficult for freelancers to clear, after all.
So, assault parties formed by freelancers took care of the Gates ranked lower than that. Which meant that a Gate ranked C was effectively the hardest one for Hunters not affiliated with anyone to clear.
Hwang Dong-Seok stood in front of the Gate and looked back at his team.
“I’ll be entering first. Do your best to keep up, everyone.”
The Tanker entered first, and the other Hunters began entering one by one.
‘You never know, so….’
Jin-Woo lightly stretched himself just in case.
Next to him, Yu Jin-Ho began pulling out his own equipment from his bag. The sword and the shield coming out from his bag gleamed attractively under the light.
Even a casual glance could tell that they were very expensive. They were definitely not something a newbie Hunter could organise on his own.
‘Hang on, he said that he never had to take hints before, so does that mean he’s from a well-to-do family?’
Jin-Woo formed a surprised expression.
Perhaps sensing Jin-Woo’s gaze on him, Yu Jin-Woo confidently and bravely stood in front.
“Hyung, you said that you’re ranked E, right? Don’t worry, I’ll protect you. Just stick close by me.”
Jin-Woo scratched the back of his head.
Just who would protect who?
“…Okay. Thanks for the sentiment.”
“Let’s go in as well.”
Regardless of how Jin-Woo felt, they still followed in afterwards and safely entered the Gate.
The interior of the dungeon was eerily quiet.
Not only that, but it was also completely dark, too.
Hwang Dong-Seok issued his first order.
“Hey, Gyu-Hwan? I need a light.”
The magic-related Hunter Joh Gyu-Hwan created a ball of a light in mid-air. The surroundings became bright immediately.
Hwang Song-Seok lowered his shield and tilted his head slightly.
“What the hell? Where are all the monsters?”
“I wonder. There is no light in here, either.”
Now normally, there should have been luminous stones found here and there inside cave-like dungeons and emitted some light to illuminate the way forward. However, this dungeon didn’t have those.
Yu Jin-Ho whispered to Jin-Woo from the side.
“Hyung, could there be a dungeon without monsters in it?”
Jin-Woo gestured the younger man to keep quiet. Because, Jin-Woo’s ears were twitching. He could hear lots of footsteps coming from the distance.
Jin-Woo spoke up.
“It’s not that there aren’t any, they just haven’t arrived yet.”
Yu Jin-Ho swallowed nervously after hearing that.
Soon, the party could hear what Jin-Woo had heard earlier on.
Only then did Hwang Dong-Seok realise something was amiss here.
A dungeon with no luminous stones could mean…..?
“What moves around in groups, lives in darkness, and rushes towards a source of light?”
The complexions of Hwang Dong-Seok and his dongsaengs became ashen all at the same time.
“Bugs are coming!!”
“F*ck it, man!! Why the hell did it have to be god d*mn bugs!!”
Hwang Dong-Seok cried out.
“Get into your positions!! They are coming! In front!!”
From the other side of this lone passage, ‘somethings’ were madly rushing towards them in a large group.
“Wait, could this be an ant hill?”
“Don’t say something that might jinx us, okay?”
Out of all the monster types, insects were the most troublesome to deal with. Their shells were quite hardy, they always moved around in large groups, and each individual possessed pretty high combat potential, as well.
And the worst of that lot just so happened to be the ant-types. Countless Hunters made a mistake and entered the ‘ant hills’ only to lose their lives very quickly.
The sounds of the insect legs rustling on the ground noisily reverberated throughout the cave. It meant that they had come pretty close now.
Hwang Dong-Seok raised his shield right up below his chin. However, they couldn’t see any insects even then. His dongsaengs began raising a fuss from behind him.
“What’s going on here? Why can’t I see them?”
“But, they are close by, though?”
“Dong-Seok hyung, can you see anything out in front?”
It was at this time that Jin-Woo shouted out.
Hwang Dong-Seok reflexively looked up.
Huge insects were running towards them on the ceiling.
If they were discovered late even for a single second, those things would’ve jumped down on top of their heads.
When fighting against monsters such as these insect-types that formed large groups, the breaking down of the team’s formation would mean death for everyone involved.
‘If those were discovered too late, then….’
Hwang Dong-Seok felt a chill run down his spine.
The silver lining here was that he couldn’t spot a single ant-like creature among the various insects.
He raised his voice and shouted out.
“Fire!! Fire and bring them down!! Once they are on the ground, I’ll attract the aggro!”
When a few monsters fell down after getting struck by the attacks of the Hunters, the rest of them followed suit and landed back on the ground. Without a doubt, they were planning to engage the Hunters.
From here onwards, the capability of the Tanker would prove to be crucial. Hwang Dong-Seok activated his provocation skill to attract the gazes of all the monsters to himself.
And as if they had a prior agreement, monsters all turned their heads to glare at Hwang Dong-Seok at the same time.
“I’m over here, you d*mn bugs!!”
Dozens upon dozens of monsters rushed towards Hwang Dong-Seok’s position.
His shield managed to defend against the attacks of the bugs without fail. The strong jaws and claws couldn’t tear the shield in half. The Tanker Hwang Dong-Seok defended commendably well from the front, all stable and unmoving.
“Standby, get in position, and get ready!!”
Hwang Dong-Seok waited for the right timing.
< Chapter 18 > Fin.