I Alone Level-Up
“Hey, isn’t that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo?”
“Hul…. It really is Seong Jin-Woo.”
It was the weekend and many people came to visit a certain theme park. They all recognised Jin-Woo’s face among the visitors and stared at him with eyes filled with amazement.
“Who’s the lady next to him? Is she his girlfriend?”
“Hold up…. Isn’t she Hunter Cha Hae-In from the Hunters Guild??”
“Hul! This is huge!”
“What the heck? Are the two of them dating now?”
There was a woman next to Jin-Woo. She was famed for always maintaining a clean short hairstyle to ensure that nothing would hinder her movements.
She was Cha Hae-In, of course. She slightly lowered her head as if she couldn’t really get used to all the attention from the people surrounding them, and whispered in a small voice.
“Do you enjoy going to places like this theme park?”
Jin-Woo replied with a grin.
“It’s not that I enjoy it, but I wanted to come here at least once in my life, you see.”
Cha Hae-In stared at Jin-Woo’s current child-like expression with his previous ice-cold demeanour when slicing up monsters nowhere to be seen. Only then did she realise how fast her heart was racing right now.
Too bad for her, the man walking alongside her just so happened to be truly exceptional among the rank S Hunters. Cha Hae-In’s cheeks flushed red by a lot after realising that he must’ve heard her pounding heart as well.
She tried to divert Jin-Woo’s attention, even if only by a little, by changing the topic of the conversation.
“If you wanted to come here, then why me….”
“Miss Hae-In is the only friend I have.”
Since when did she become friends with Hunter Seong Jin-Woo?
She racked her brain trying to recall the memory she clearly didn’t possess before she unconsciously looked up. That’s when her eyes locked onto Jin-Woo’s rather mischievous grin.
“You know, in front of that strange stone statue….”
‘Ah, that day.’
Back on that day when she and her colleagues entered the dual dungeon to rescue Jin-Woo, that angel statue asked her the question, didn’t it?
– “What is your relationship with Seong Jin-Woo?”
– “….A friend.”
It seemed that Jin-Woo remembered that brief exchange.
“You were listening back then?”
“Well, yeah. Somehow, I could hear you. I have better-than-average hearing, you see.”
She felt a tiny bit wronged here somehow, but she knew that even back then, she ended up being saved by him rather than saving him, instead.
It was then she became conscious once more of just how many times Jin-Woo had saved her life.
“By the way…. What was the identity of that strange dungeon?”
She had been waiting to hear his explanation on this one ever since that day. Unfortunately, he figured that now wasn’t the right time to tell her.
“Can I tell you later when I’ve managed to properly sort out my own thoughts first? Even I can’t tell what’s what at the moment.”
Cha Hae-In nodded her head to say that she understood.
When their conversation entered a bit of a lull, Jin-Woo began taking a look around their surroundings.
“Excuse me! Please look over here!”
“I’m your biggest fan!”
Just like when a celebrity was walking on a busy street, people crowded around the two like a swarm of bees and were busily snapping away with their smartphones.
Jin-Woo’s face was far more well-known to regular people than some superstars nowadays. That was because, regardless of which TV channel they tuned into, they would always play clips containing Jin-Woo’s face ever since that super-massive Gate appeared in the air.
If this was any other day, he’d simply smile and let it slide. However, he didn’t feel like having his day off being disrupted like this, especially when he had a company.
The moment Jin-Woo issued his command, his own retinue of bodyguards willing to work their butts off for absolutely nothing revealed themselves.
They were none other than Igrit and the elite knights.
Around thirty or so knights emerged from his shadow and surrounded both him and Cha Hae-In in a protective cordon. They walked in perfect synch with their boss’s pace, too.
Igrit was especially proactive as he personally went around wherever cameras flashed and wagged his finger to warn the would-be paparazzo.
Meanwhile, Cha Hae-In became even more flustered by the fact that they were now being escorted by a cordon of well-armed knights.
“Wouldn’t doing this be even more eye-catching?”
“Well, as long as we aren’t bothered, isn’t it fine?”
His words carried this inexplicable persuasive power and Cha Hae-In found her head nodding all by itself. Truth be told, she really did feel somewhat better now that all those gazes pouring down on her had disappeared.
When she thought about it, she couldn’t remember the last time she went out for fun with a relaxed mindset.
It had already been almost two years since she became a Hunter. During this period, not even once did she take a day off to relax.
She always remained tense and wasted each hour feeling nervous – on days she wasn’t participating in raids, she’d be worried about her colleagues, and when she was in the raid, then she’d be worried about making mistakes.
But for today….
‘….It’s a different story when I’m with him.’
A man she can depend on.
When she was with Jin-Woo, it felt as if she no longer had to meet the expectations of her comrades that depended on her and could go back to being just a regular woman living her life.
She took one step closer. Her cheeks blushed a little more as her body grew closer to Jin-Woo even before she had noticed it.
‘His scent…. I can smell it.’
Jin-Woo watched her complexion get so much brighter and belatedly reflected on his shortcomings.
‘I should’ve done this earlier.’
He scanned the theme park’s various rides, before pointing at the roller coaster falling at a scary speed from a dizzying height and asked her.
“Should we get on that one?”
Since she answered too easily, Jin-Woo felt unconvinced and pointed at another ride.
“How about that one?”
“It’s okay, too.”
“In that case, how about the one next to it?”
“That’s also okay.”
“Yes. They are all okay.”
Jin-Woo stared at the excited face she made during her answers and simply chuckled to himself.
‘What the heck. I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted to come here.’
Since she didn’t seem to hate this place, Jin-Woo’s mind could relax even further now. He lightly grasped her wrist and led her to the nearest ride.
“Well, then. Why don’t we ride all of them?”
It wasn’t as fun as he imagined.
As luck would have it, Jin-Woo got to sit on the very front of the roller coaster. While the people behind were screaming their heads off, he spectated on the passing scenery without feeling much of an excitement.
‘Huh? That kid’s gonna drop his ice cream pretty soon. Oopsie, I knew it. Hold on, the food court was over that side? But, it’s still too early to buy dinner, so….’
Even though the roller coaster was rushing forward at full tilt, everything seemed to have come to a crawl, like extreme slow motion, to Jin-Woo and he was feeling really bored right now.
If he was allowed to, then he thought that he could stand up straight until the ride was over and he’d be unaffected in the slightest.
He did his very best to suppress a yawn trying to break out and sneaked a glance behind him. Beyond Igrit and a couple of knights sitting immediately behind him – they wanted to ride on the roller coaster for some reason – he could see the regular people screaming and enjoying themselves.
From every single muscle on their faces, he could feel the sensation of thrill and joy they were experiencing right now. He also heard their racing hearts, pounding away hard enough to seemingly explode at any second.
On the other hand…
Jin-Woo placed his hand on the chest to feel his heart beating as normal and broke into a slight grin.
Honestly, it was a lot more exciting to jump up high in the sky with everything he had so he could punch that titanic god statue in the face.
‘What about back then when I was being chased around by those centipedes in the penalty zone?’
It was hundreds, no, ten thousand times scarier than right now.
Jin-Woo quickly shook his head in order to get rid of the useless thoughts.
‘I came here to relax, yet here I am, thinking about monsters.’
He began wondering if this was an illness or something. Around at the same time, he discovered his companion with a similar sort of expression on her face sitting next to him.
He couldn’t help but chuckle here. Jin-Woo asked Cha Hae-In as she continued to swim in her dazed thoughts.
“Is it not fun playing around here?”
“Ah…. No, it’s fun.”
Since her conversation partner possessed sharp hearing, she found it convenient that she didn’t have to shout at him.
“Then, why haven’t you screamed at least once so far?”
They had already ridden on five different attractions so far. All of them could be described as top thrill rides to normal people, but she hadn’t even muttered out the common “Ah!” once yet.
She too was a rank S Hunter. Maybe not as extreme as Jin-Woo, but she had also surpassed the realms of normal people by a wide margin as well. Suddenly, he felt rather relieved by the fact that he wasn’t the only one so far removed from the other people here.
It was then.
He was tempted to show her the world that he saw.
Beru sensed Jin-Woo’s desire and hurriedly began dissuading him.
[Oh, my king… It might be too dangerous for this woman.]
‘It’ll be fine. Besides, I’ll put you in charge of catching her if she falls off. If you fail to do so…. You know already, right?’
[….Your wish is my command, my liege.]
Now that the voice of dissent had been suppressed, Jin-Woo spoke to Cha Hae-In next.
“Instead of this, do you want to ride on something really exciting?”
“Something…. really exciting?”
After the roller coaster came to an end, Jin-Woo led the still-puzzled Cha Hae-In out to a large plaza.
The theme park goers saw the cordon of black knights guarding the two of them and gasped out in sheer amazement. But then, their gasps soon turned into shocked screams.
“What is that thing?!”
The crowd was pushed back by the Shadow Soldiers. And on the now-created open space, a large, black monster suddenly rose up from the ground. It flapped its massive wings and screeched loudly towards the sky.
It was also Cha Hae-In’s first time seeing the Sky Dragon up close, so her response wasn’t all that much different from the regular spectators.
“O-oh my god….”
Jin-Woo gestured towards Cha Hae-In, her eyes still resembling round dots from sheer amazement.
“Hurry, come on up.”
She realised that Jin-Woo had already climbed up on the back of the Sky Dragon and became utterly flabbergasted.
“You… you want me to ride that creature??”
“I told you, didn’t I?”
Unable to watch on any longer, Jin-Woo activated the skill ‘Ruler’s Authority’ to pull her in.
She gasped out in shock again as this unseen force dragged her in. However, that reaction wasn’t what Jin-Woo was hoping to see from her. Indeed, this was merely the beginning.
Even though her lips hadn’t closed from the shock yet, he made her settle down right behind him and issued a command to Kaisel.
As if it was waiting for that, the Sky Dragon flapped its huge wings and began rising up in the air.
Cha Hae-In looked down as the crowd below gradually grew distant and swallowed her saliva. For sure, the sense of tension she felt right now was on another dimension when compared to being on those theme park rides.
Almost instinctively, her arms went around Jin-Woo’s waist. Once they got high enough that the spectators below couldn’t be seen anymore, her voice grew louder as well.
“Why is that ant following us?”
Jin-Woo craned his neck to the side and looked down to spot Beru rising up just below Kaisel’s belly. Seeing how determined the former ant king’s expression was right now, he couldn’t help but break out in a soft chuckle.
“He’s the lifeguard!”
“Hold on to me tight. We’re going to fly now.”
Was there a reason for more explanation now? Because he definitely could feel an incredible amount of pressure being exerted by Cha Hae-In’s arms wrapped around his waist.
‘What the heck. A regular guy would’ve been folded in half!’
But, this showed how scared she must’ve been feeling right now. Jin-Woo had half succeeded in his mission and spoke loudly with an excited voice.
“Kaisel, go faster! Faster!”
As Kaisel began flying at its fastest speed, Cha Hae-In’s screams, heard for the very first time today, resounded out right behind him.
A smaller-scale Dragon was splitting the air as it speedily flew forward.
Riding on top of Kaisel, Jin-Woo and Cha Hae-In were able to fly into places where one wouldn’t normally survive unless one was a rank S Hunter.
They entered the storm clouds where rain and wind wildly lashed out; they flew so close to a mountain range that they could almost touch it; they even flew past the seemingly-endless field of snow.
But the most beautiful sight still had to be watching the setting sun on top of the ocean.
Kaisel gradually slowed down.
Accompanied by the chilly wind brushing past their cheeks, the two of them watched the sun slowly disappear below the distant horizon, the skies being dyed in the amber-orange hue.
Just like the coloured sky, Cha Hae-In’s eyes as she took in the spectacular sight also gently glowed in that orange hue. Abruptly, she felt curious and just had to ask him.
“Even though you can experience stuff like this, why did we go to that theme park first?”
“That theme park, well….”
Jin-Woo fell into reminiscence and slowly told her the reason.
“That’s where the Gate my dad went missing opened up.”
If his father failed and the dungeon break really happened back then, the theme park would have ceased to exist. Yet, it was full of people today.
At first, he resented his old man for leaving behind his family in that manner, but now, he felt as if something warm had filled up the void in his heart after he witnessed all those smiling families having a fun day out in the theme park.
That was enough for him.
“That’s why I always wanted to go there at least once.”
Jin-Woo’s voice sounded lonely for some reason and Cha Hae-In wordlessly hugged him from behind. Her warmth was transmitted through his back.
She spoke to him again.
Her sudden thanks prompted him to look behind him, but since she was pressing up close to his back, there was no way he could see the expression on her face.
“I wanted to…. say thank you for everything. You’ve been helping me out all this time, so….”
Through their bodies pressing against each other, through her warm breaths tickling his neck, and from her powerfully beating heart, he sensed from her what she wanted to say.
This was enough for him.
Jin-Woo smiled softly and commanded Kaisel to head in the opposite direction.
“Where are we going now?”
Cha Hae-In sounded somewhat rueful as she asked him. Jin-Woo replied with a smile.
“There’s something I want to show you.”
The destination they got to after a lengthy flight wasn’t Korea, but Japan.
More specifically, an area designated as a restricted zone. Which meant that there was not one soul to be found here. Even the wild animals were driven away by the horrible auras oozing off from the monsters and thus no one lived in this area.
In this expansive forest where not even the breathing of a small animal could be heard, Kaisel slowly made its descent.
The Sky Dragon lay flat on the ground and Jin-Woo climbed off first. He turned around to assist Cha Hae-In next.
Even before he could reach out, though, she jumped lightly and easily landed on the ground, before shrugging her shoulders. Jin-Woo had momentarily forgotten what her job was and could only chuckle again.
“Where are we….?”
She had been experiencing some extraordinary sights for almost the whole day today, and so, she expectantly began scanning her new surroundings with curious eyes.
However, besides the near-endless sea of trees, she couldn’t see anything particularly interesting out here.
Jin-Woo sneakily bought a blanket from the System’s Store and laid it down on the ground before opening his mouth.
“There’s no fun if I let you in on the secret already, so why don’t we lie down first?”
Did she hear him wrong??
Unfortunately, there was no way that a rank S Hunter’s hearing would hear such a clear enunciation of words incorrectly. Besides, Jin-Woo was already getting ready to lay down on the blanket, anyway.
Seeing how nonchalant he was in his invitation, Cha Hae-In’s heart began pounding as if it was about to explode.
“Are, are you…. being serious?”
She simply had to confirm his intentions one more time.
Too bad for her, perhaps, he didn’t show not one bit of hesitation as he nodded his head in a determined way.
It was her turn to hesitate, but in the end, she approached the blanket. Jin-Woo confirmed this and slowly laid down first. Soon, she too lied down next to him, and as if she had made a big decision about something, she straightened her legs.
Jin-Woo looked at Cha Hae-In murmuring with tightly closed eyes and replied to her.
“In that case, please open your eyes.”
When her eyes creaked open just a bit, he wordlessly pointed at the night sky above.
….Towards the cascading light of the stars.
Cha Hae-In gasped out inadvertently after looking at the stunning parade of the starlight filling up the heavens.
Could she be able to describe this spectacle with any other words besides ‘beautiful’?
Jin-Woo was pleased by her response and smiled in satisfaction.
“I arrived here to deal with a dungeon break and ended up looking at the night sky.”
Back then, he felt just too fatigued and wanted to lay his weary body down and close his eyes to rest. But, because the surroundings were so bright, he couldn’t go to sleep.
He got irritated and opened his eyes and that’s when he got to see this brilliant echo of stars enveloping the sky.
Just seeing them made his heart melt down that night.
“I thought that it’d be wonderful to share this night sky with someone else, you see.”
The only thing filling up this still forest with nary a squeak of sound was the endless river of starlight.
Jin-Woo wanted to share this feeling, this moment, with someone else.
Fortunately, the result of his desire was this strong sense of relief. He felt relieved by the fact that there was someone close by who could also feel what he had felt then.
And his heart, once hardened and lumpy, seemed to soften and become untangled now.
But then, this happened.
He felt the warmth of Cha Hae-In’s hand climbing up on top of his own.
“Can I… hold your hand?”
But, she was already holding it, though?
Jin-Woo smiled before shifting his hand to interlock his fingers with hers. The cold yet smooth hand of a woman filled his palm up.
So still, so quiet….
Countless starlight sparkled and rained down, as the heads of two young people slowly became one.
< Chapter 212 > Fin.