Goh Gun-Hui switched the TV off. As it turned out, it was already nine in the evening, a bit too late to say that now’s a good time to get off work for the day. However, it seemed that Woo Jin-Cheol still had something else to say.
“The Chinese have requested for information on Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.”
“Information? You mean, his personal information?”
“No, sir. It’s not that.”
“What do they want, then?”
“The requested information is Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim’s raid records as well as any official reports related to them.”
That seemed about right; unless the Chinese were truly dumb, they probably knew they wouldn’t be receiving any personal information of a rank S Hunter – no, someone who may greatly exceed that category altogether.
The question was, why were the Chinese showing their interest in Hunter Seong Jin-Woo at this belated stage? After all, they must’ve heard his decision not to entertain any love calls or scouting offers from other countries, which included China.
“The one requesting the information wasn’t the Chinese government, sir.”
“It’s actually from a single individual.”
The Hunter’s Association representing a country would never release information to any individual Hunters. But to think, this request was made by a person?
Goh Gun-Hui thought it’d be the obvious thing to refuse that request outright, so he was puzzled by the fact that the issue had been brought up at all. Woo Jin-Cheol quickly added some additional explanation.
“It seems that China’s Seven Star-ranked Hunter, Liu Zhigeng, has taken interest in Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.”
With the mentioning of that unexpected name, Goh Gun-Hui became somewhat lost for words.
China didn’t accept the global standard in ranking Hunters and used its own unique ranking system. The higher the number of ‘stars’ in front of your ranking, the better Hunter you were. And for them, ‘Five Star’ was the highest attainable rank.
However, only one person was separated from that ranking system. Only Liu Zhigeng was ranked as the Seven Star. And rather obviously, the treatment he received was on another realm compared to the ordinary Five Stars.
Of course, not one person was brave enough to raise a fuss regarding the fact that he, a well-known ‘Special Authority-rank’ Hunter, was receiving preferential treatment.
He possessed abilities that deserved such recognition, and China herself respected that fact greatly as well.
‘That Liu Zhigeng has taken an interest in Hunter Seong Jin-Woo?’
The thirst of Goh Gun-Hui’s curiosity was then quenched by Woo Jin-Cheol’s reply.
“Sir, didn’t Liu Zhigeng fight the Giant-type monster? I’m quite sure that’s why he’s interested in knowing more about Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim, who had hunted down every other Giant.”
That sounded logical. Goh Gun-Hui nodded his head.
Not too long ago, a single Giant-type monster escaped from Japan and swam towards China. And it had been reported that the creature was ably dealt with by Liu Zhigeng at the Chinese coastline.
“The truly strong can recognise another strong being, is that it?”
Goh Gun-Hui formed a slightly mischievous grin.
The American Hunter Bureau that invited the Ah-Jin Guild. And China’s greatest Hunter Liu Zhigeng, beginning to show his interest in Jin-Woo.
Both America and China had finally recognised the true worth of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo. For someone like Goh Gun-Hui, who knew that man’s true value from the very beginning, this development certainly made him feel rather good about himself.
‘Even then, that doesn’t mean I’ll hand over any information, just like that.’
Was there a need to advertise how excellent Korea’s genius was to those craving after other people’s geniuses?
Sure, a Special Authority-rank Hunter would get quite annoyed by it, but so what?
‘We have Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, after all.’
Goh Gun-Hui made up his mind and let out a genial, hearty chuckle.
“That request? Deny it, please.”
Dungeons had changed.
That was Jin-Woo’s overriding impression as he cleared all the high-ranked dungeons being generated throughout Japan.
As he scanned the interior of this particular dungeon, his glare became even sharper than before. He could definitely sense the presence of monsters, but his eyes couldn’t detect them.
If his sensory perception or experience had been lacking somehow, this situation would’ve been enough to cause some consternation. Fortunately, Jin-Woo lacked neither of those.
‘Is it up, this time?’
Jin-Woo stopped walking and raised his head up. Sure enough, some type of thick liquid dropped in the spot just a bit up ahead and began melting the ground.
Thick smoke rose up from the ground as it melted down by what was clearly an acidic substance. Perhaps inevitably, the stink was rather atrocious, as well.
Naturally, Jin-Woo’s expression crumpled unsightly.
When he showed no inclination to come forward anymore, the large blobs of something attached to the ceiling dropped down to the ground, instead.
Thud, thud, plop….
These blobs then began assuming humanoid shapes next.
He was now confronted by a strange type of monster whose face was covered in a white mask, while the rest of its body was made up of blackish liquid. These bizarre creatures had never been seen before up until now.
Twelve of them were blocking his path. Jin-Woo quietly called out the name of his old pal.
Then, a single dagger suddenly appeared in his hand.
In the not too distant past, this guy used to be his main combat weapon alongside ‘Baruka’s Dagger’, but it had been collecting dust in the corner of the Inventory after he got his hands on the pair of ‘Demon King’s Shortswords’.
However, he found a good place to use it for the first time in a while. Jin-Woo briefly felt nostalgic from the familiar grip, before throwing the ‘Knight Killer’ at one of the monsters approaching him.
The dagger flew in a straight line while issuing a hair-raising screech and landed directly in the chest of the monster. Unfortunately, it simply flew right through as if to mock his accuracy and stabbed deeply into the wall behind the creature.
That wasn’t all, either.
The black liquid coated the dagger as it went through the body of the monster and began melting the weapon down.
The dagger soon turned soft and malleable in no time, before transforming into an unrecognisable substance and slid down from the wall.
‘I thought as much.’
His expectation of regular physical attacks not working against this monster was on the money.
It was then. The monsters didn’t even give him enough time to eulogise the passing of his old comrade, ‘Knight Killer’, and pounced on him at the same time. They were surprisingly nimble, as well.
However, Jin-Woo simply greeted them back with ‘Ruler’s Authority’.
The monsters were attacked by the unseen hands and were immediately flung away all at the same time.
The bodies of the creatures were ripped to shreds as they tumbled back down to the ground, but then, they coagulated back again and returned to their previous state.
Jin-Woo chuckled wryly at that gob-smacking level of regeneration. He was almost tempted to summon out his Shadow Soldiers and start a competition of who possessed better regenerative powers, but….
Physical damage, whether it be tangible or not, didn’t seem to work. So, then. What should he do next?
Jin-Woo relaxedly dodged the outpouring of monsters’ attacks and pondered this quandary for a bit, before realising that a particular creature among them was moving around unnaturally compared to the others.
Jin-Woo’s eyes narrowed to a slit.
Now that he took a closer look, one of that particular creature’s arms wasn’t regenerated, and also, the corner of the white mask covering its face had been cracked to a noticeable degree. It must’ve been broken off when the monster was flung away by the ‘Ruler’s Authority’ earlier.
‘Oh, so that was your weak point?’
A smirk floated up on Jin-Woo’s face. As long as he knew how to attack these things, killing them would be a piece of cake.
Jin-Woo continued to easily evade all the punches thrown desperately by the monsters and summoned out his current comrades.
‘Demon King’s Shortswords.’
Once he got to tightly grasp the shortswords in each of his hands, cold glint flashed in his eyes.
A monster powerlessly crumbled to the ground as the ‘Demon King’s Shortsword’ stabbed its forehead.
That was just the beginning. Jin-Woo moved as if he was performing a slick dance routine and in no time at all, destroyed the white masks of all the monsters present.
The mask of the sole remaining monster was split in half. The creature reverted to being pure liquid and lost its overall shape as it crumbled to the floor.
Easily taking care of all twelve of them, Jin-Woo returned the ‘Demon King’s Shortswords’ back to his Inventory.
If it wasn’t him, but some other people finding themselves in this situation, what would’ve happened?
Without a doubt, several of them would’ve met their end before someone finally figured out that regular attacks didn’t work. And then, a few more would have been sacrificed until they figured out the monster’s weakness.
Or, even worse – the whole raiding party could have lost their lives before finding out the weakness. Even if that party happened to be made up of elite Hunters.
That was how strong, nimble, and dangerous these d*mn things were. Unfortunately, this was not his first time running into creatures this strong.
‘For sure…. dungeons have changed.’
On that day, after the King of Giants was killed by his hands, Mana Stones had disappeared from the dungeons appearing throughout the world.
The ores that used to suck up most of the magical energy leaking out from the dungeon itself were now all gone and so, that magic energy with nowhere to go had all become part of the monsters, instead.
Meaning, even if the ranking of a dungeon remained the same as in the past, the conditions had become far more dangerous.
‘And on top of that, monsters as dangerous as these ones have begun showing up, too….’
Jin-Woo’s frown grew deeper.
If a run-of-the-mill raid party entered a high-ranked dungeon willy-nilly, then they would not be able to avoid running into a serious accident inside.
As a matter of fact, he had been hearing some news of several ‘accidents’ happening from all over the world lately. He already assigned the protection of his family to Beru, as he was feeling anxious about these developments.
If it was Beru, then he’d be able to resolve most crises by himself even if a dungeon break happened nearby.
‘But, then again…’
It wasn’t all necessarily a bad thing for the rate of Gate generation to go up, as well as the monsters in the dungeons to become stronger. At least, for Jin-Woo, that was.
Because, it’d be easier to raise his level this way. For instance, this dungeon was still full of monsters he hadn’t disposed of yet. He could feel on his skin a large number of monsters hiding deeper in the dungeon while emitting overwhelming magical energy.
A smile now floated up on Jin-Woo’s face.
‘Well, I’m now familiar with how to deal with these strange monsters. I guess it’s time to start the hunt properly, isn’t it?’
The warm-up exercises were now over. And the proper subjugation was about to begin.
The Shadow Soldiers stopped hiding in Jin-Woo’s shadow and appeared behind him in full force. He told them how to deal with the monsters, so they shouldn’t be experiencing any difficulty in dealing with the enemy.
Jin-Woo sent out the signal with his eyes. Igrit was now entrusted with the command of the entire army, since Beru had become the guard dog protecting his home, instead. The black knight issued the order for the troops to advance.
The entirety of the huge cavern began rocking loudly from the marching footsteps of the Shadow Soldiers.
The world’s best Hunters began landing on US soil one by one before the International Guild Conference began. Among them were, of course, the Special Authority-rank Hunters.
However, Thomas Andre’s interest was solely fixated on one single person.
‘Tomorrow’s the day Seong Jin-Woo enters the US….’
He had confirmed Jin-Woo’s arrival schedule earlier, and on the day before that fateful date, he summoned Hwang Dong-Su into his office.
“Did you call for me, sir?”
Hwang Dong-Su cautiously studied Thomas Andre’s atmosphere. It had been a few years since he started working in the Scavenger Guild, but even now, he found it rather difficult to speak to its Master.
Because, that man wielded incredible strength, was cursed with a hard-to-fathom personality, and finally, was even beset with an extreme case of possessiveness, as well.
Hwang Dong-Su might be a rank S Hunter, but before Thomas Andre, he became an utterly insignificant being.
Thomas Andre went to the main topic right away.
“Do not ever provoke Seong Jin-Woo.”
Hwang Dong-Su’s eyes grew larger. He formed an expression that seemed to ask ‘How did you know’ before his gaze drifted towards Laura, standing behind Thomas Andre.
She simply responded with her eyes that said, she only did what she had to do.
Hwang Dong-Su let a dissatisfied grunt escape from his mouth. Meanwhile, Thomas Andre continued on.
“I know about your brother and Hunter Seong Jin-Woo. I’m sure you feel suspicious of some things, and also want to know what happened back then.”
Hwang Dong-Su’s older brother, Hwang Dong-Seok had entered a dungeon along with Seong Jin-Woo, only to go ‘missing’ and never came back out.
The eight fixed members of Hwang Dong-Seok’s raid party were all dead, yet the two people who walked out from that dungeon alive had formed a Guild together.
So, quite obviously, he had plenty of things to ask Seong Jin-Woo. Naturally, his dissatisfaction seeped into his expression.
Before he could properly say something, though, Thomas Andre raised his finger up and waved it around. His lips below the sunglasses arched up. He was actually smiling.
“I don’t remember giving you permission to speak, Mister Hwang?”
Keep your mouth shut and just listen – that was the message of a clear threat.
There wouldn’t be all that many people capable of issuing a true warning to a top-ranked Hunter in this world. One of them just so happened to be Thomas Andre.
Hwang Dong-Su was well aware of the gap between himself and his boss, so he obediently kept his mouth shut.
Thomas emphasized his point again.
“Do not ever provoke Seong Jin-Woo. During the duration of the Guild Conference, take some time off and relax at the Guild’s getaway villa in the countryside. So, how about it? Are you willing to humour my earnest plea?”
Hwang Dong-Su nodded his head, unable to hold out any longer.
“…..I shall do as you say.”
“Good to hear. You can go now.”
Hwang Dong-Su’s expression stiffened hard as he quickly made his escape from the Guild Master’s office. Meanwhile, Laura asked her boss in a worried voice.
“Will this be enough, sir?”
Thomas Andre’s own expression had hardened as well as he shook his head.
He definitely read the signs of ill intent flickering within Hwang Dong-Su’s expression just now. That fool still couldn’t let go of this matter, it seemed.
“Until Seong Jin-Woo leaves US soil, place Mister Hwang under strict surveillance.”
“Will he…. take that lying down?”
Although he had been suppressed by the aura of Thomas Andre, Hwang Dong-Su’s original personality was as stubborn as it could get, as well.
However, Thomas wasn’t worried. No, rather, he knew that this matter wasn’t simple enough to sweat over something as minor as Hwang Dong-Su’s disgruntlement.
Thomas Andre scratched his chin before making a nonchalant reply.
“Well… being frustrated should be better than being dead, right?”