I Alone Level-Up
The news of various Hunters had taken over the sports newspapers from the likes of actual athletes or celebrities a long time ago. And on this particular day, a rather sensational headline found itself on one such publication’s front page.
[Seong Jin-Woo and Cha Hae-In go to a theme park; birth of the strongest couple?]
The articles contained many large photos of the two people in question visiting a theme park, taken by various smartphones. The last image was of them riding on a large monster to fly off to elsewhere.
The personal affairs of these two Hunters were supposed to be protected and couldn’t be reported to the public, but the boss of this particular newspaper went mad from this massive breaking news and, even under the threat of sanctions, decided to release the article nonetheless.
Of course, the response had been tremendous.
The ‘scandal’ concerning two rank S Hunters whose names everyone could recognise brought about renewed vitality to the psyches of everyone who was fatigued by the constant stream of articles related to the super-massive Gate in the sky.
The world’s greatest Hunter and Korea’s best female Hunter were dating. Obviously, people would display an incredible amount of interest in this matter.
Especially online, where the story of the two Hunters was spreading out with an even more rabid intensity.
– Hang on, if Seong Jin-Woo and Cha Hae-In marry and have a kid together, wouldn’t Seong Jin-Woo Junior go around killing every single monster in the entire world?
└ Seong Jin-Woo Junior LOL
└ It’s not official that they are dating, yet look at all these idiots jumping to conclusions. Tsk, tsk.
└ Going by that example, you think we got Seong Jin-Woo because his parents were both super duper top Hunters? You sound like a little kid who don’t know how Hunters awaken their powers.
└ Even then, doesn’t those two dating make you feel excited?
└ I wish it was true. Them having a marriage argument will be an epic encounter that flattens their surroundings. LOL
– I live in the outskirts of Seoul, and when I saw that Gate floating in the sky while travelling near Gangnam, I thought the world was coming to an end. But now that I see the Hunters going on a date like this and enjoying their lives, I feel like there’s hope left for us still and I’m relieved by that.
└ This. ㅇㅈ
└ I hope TV stations will stop playing special reports on the Gate now.
└ Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim, Cha Hae-In Hunter-nim, whether it’s a super-massive Gate or a super-duper-massive Gate, please stop it for us!
The Chairman of the White Tiger Guild, Baek Yun-Ho, clicked his tongue and folded close the newspaper in his hand.
He wondered why Hunter Cha Hae-In’s eyes were gleaming suspiciously whenever she looked at Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, and so, this here was the reason.
However, he wasn’t clicking his tongue because the two of them were going on a date.
“Look at this headline. It’s complete rubbish. What do they even mean, strongest couple?”
Section Chief Ahn Sahng-Min, sitting near his boss and his rather displeased expression, asked him while sounding puzzled.
“What’s the matter, sir? The way I see it, Hunters Seong Jin-Woo and Cha Hae-In would definitely be worthy of the title of ‘strongest couple’.”
“Doesn’t matter who Hunter Seong Jin-Woo dates, we’ll still get the ‘birth of the strongest couple’ anyways, so what’s the point of attaching this sort of a headline?”
Now that it was said out loud, that certainly sounded logical.
Ahn Sahng-Min began placing all the female Hunters he knew next to Jin-Woo in his mind, and began nodding his head at Baek Yun-Ho’s opinion.
Even if Hunter Seong was dating that high school girl Hunter, he just couldn’t think of anyone capable of winning against them. None at all.
The female high school Hunter might be not much to write home about, but well, her partner would be too much of a cheat, after all.
“You’re completely correct, Chairman.”
“Yes, I’m telling you.”
Ahn Sahng-Min nodded his head again and began sipping the coffee he bought from the vending machine not too long ago. He slowly shifted his gaze outside the window.
“By the way, this issue with fine dust is really getting serious, sir. I’m actually scared of opening the windows nowadays.”
Ahn Sahng-Min frowned and got up to close the half-open window. However, Baek Yun-Ho stopped him from doing so.
Baek Yun-Ho stood up from his seat and walked over to Ahn Sahng-Min, before opening the window wide to reach outside.
“This…. This isn’t fine dust at all.”
The feeling he got at the tips of his fingers was icy cold.
This was actually a fog. Not only that, a fog that carried this extreme coldness, bitter enough to make one’s bones shiver.
“This is weird.”
It was only around the middle of Autumn, but to think, there would be a wintery fog enveloping the entirety of Seoul. At that moment, he felt this creepy chilling sensation brushing past the back of his neck.
Baek Yun-Ho’s eyes changed to that of the ‘Eyes of the Beast’ and he glared outside the window. He muttered to himself, his expression hardening gradually.
“Something… something feels really off.”
Jin-Woo was the first one to open his eyes.
Hae-In must’ve been exhausted from yesterday as she hadn’t woken up from her sweet slumber yet.
Just how long had it been since he greeted the morning together with someone else?
Jin-Woo cautiously got up to make sure not to rouse Hae-In and walked over to the nearby forest.
‘It was definitely around here….’
He found the stream he used the last time he was here and washed up. After he was done, he walked back to where Hae-In was still asleep but then….
He discovered something strange and his steps came to an abrupt halt.
‘What is this….?’
There was this small tree with new buds sprouting up. One might be tempted to say that it was a plant commonly seen anywhere, but the thing was, its leaves were gently shimmering in a silvery colour.
It was a tree never before seen on Earth, in other words.
And sure enough, this strange tree was emitting a very faint amount of magical energy, something only Jin-Woo’s level of sensory perception could have picked up on.
‘It’s not from our world.’
The plant’s magical energy emission was different from that of a monster’s, so it clearly wasn’t one. Jin-Woo observed the tree for a little while longer, before raising his head to discover more of the same silvery leaves here and there.
It was such a contrast to the sight of regular surrounding trees all drying up gradually.
‘Even the ground… is changing.’
Was this also the part of the Rulers’ plan? Or, was it more like the after-effects of monsters pillaging the land?
Jin-Woo scooped a little bit of soil and smelt it, before rubbing his hands together to scatter it away little by little. Even the falling soil contained a minute trace, a scent, of magic energy.
Maybe it was only the humans that hadn’t noticed the truth yet. It might be that this world had become deeply mired in the magical energy already.
It was at this moment, he sensed Cha Hae-In’s movement from afar as she slowly woke up from her slumber. Jin-Woo dusted his hands and stood back up.
It was indeed important to worry about the consequences of the transforming world, but there was something even more important than that right now.
And that would be to calm Hae-In down, when she’d no doubt start panicking after realising that he wasn’t there. Jin-Woo deliberately made some noises as he approached her. She quickly discovered him and let out a soft sigh of relief.
He smiled and greeted her.
“Good morning. Did you rest well?”
Her complexion reddened for some reason. She replied while averting her gaze away from him.
Jin-Woo sent her a puzzled look, prompting her to sneakily raise her head.
“Where were you coming from?”
Hae-In’s question sounded cautious. He used the towel around his neck to rub his still-moist hair and replied.
“I was washing myself, actually.”
Now that he thought about it, she must’ve wanted to clean herself just as badly, too. Especially with all that ocean breeze – even a little bit of exposure would leave behind plenty of salt on one’s skin.
‘Still, I can’t let a young lady wash herself in a place like this….’
Jin-Woo pondered his options for a bit, before a smile floated up on his lips. Going to ‘that place’ would solve the issues of both taking a bath and breakfast in one go.
“I know a hotel with a killer breakfast nearby, so how about going there for our meal?”
Although she didn’t verbalise her answer, Hae-In must’ve felt really hungry, because she immediately nodded her head, her lips firmly closed shut.
Jin-Woo reached out to her and helped her to stand back up, before summoning Kaisel out again.
Hae-In tilted her head while looking at the Sky Dragon unfurl its wings.
“But, didn’t you say it was nearby?”
“Well, it’s about a five-minute distance if I run with everything I have, so…. Would you like to run alongside me, then?”
Five minutes at Jin-Woo’s top speed; Hae-In quickly calculated just how far that would be in her head, and without saying anything, she climbed on the back of Kaisel.
‘Yup, it’s great that she understands me so quickly.’
Jin-Woo grinned and took his place in front of her. Kaisel flapped its wings and flew up.
The Koreans had seen Kaisel fairly often on TV so their reactions were not as severe, but he wondered how the Japanese staff of the hotel would react after seeing his ride.
He prayed that the chef working this morning wouldn’t be too frightened. Meanwhile, Kaisel slowly began heading in the direction of the hotel.
‘It’ suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
The first person to discover ‘it’ was a middle-aged man who got evaluated as a rank B Awakened in the Hunter’s Association only a few moments ago.
The man ended up bumping shoulders with ‘it’ appearing suddenly before him in the middle of the busy street and stopped walking right then.
The man raised his head while chasing after the silhouette of the shadow. There was a big, hulking man of over two metres tall standing right before him.
This dangerous sense of wild beast oozed out from the man wearing some sort of leather clothing. No, rather than just some ‘sense’, this man was a wild beast personified.
Since the man’s huge physique was so eye-catching, the gazes of the passersby quickly focused on this person, and the middle-aged man that had run into him.
“What’s this? Are they going to fight?”
“Wow! Look at that man’s size. He’s no joke. Even Mah Dong-Wook would take a bow, man.”
“By the way, that uncle must’ve lost his mind. He might end up in the hospital at this rate.”
Even though the street was filled with people, there was this heavy silence descending on it. That’s what the middle-aged man thought after becoming the centre of attention of the passersby.
Now normally, he’d have apologised and stepped aside, but he was a different person compared to the past.
He’d no longer suffer the ignominy of kowtowing before his superior or be ignored by his junior workers.
‘I’m a rank B Awakened now.’
Not only that, among the upper tier of the rank B, too. There was no need to act subservient towards a ‘regular’ person like this who only relied on his massive frame.
The middle-aged man carefully put down the bag of documents on the ground and roared out at the top of his lungs.
“Oii! You’re supposed to apologise when running into someone!”
Once his agitated heart began racing away, he felt his magical energy moving vigorously from within every inch of his body.
Cells in his flesh were telling him.
That he was alive.
That he was ready to start a new life as a Hunter.
Perhaps suppressed by his spirit, the beast-like man didn’t say anything while standing rooted in the same spot. The middle-aged man saw this reaction and became even more excited.
“You think everything will be over just because you’re standing still looking at me like that? If you made a mistake, you’re supposed to admit to it and start begging for forgiveness to the person you’ve wronged…. Ah?! Ah, aaah!!”
When the huge man grabbed the middle-aged man by his head and lifted the poor man up, the passersby watching began screaming at the top of their lungs.
“Ah!! Ah, aaaaah!!”
Thick, reddish veins bulged on the head of the middle-aged man as he was being squeezed.
A bear. No, a tiger; a lion, a shark, a crocodile, a poisonous snake – which predator existing on this world was capable of frightening a human being to this degree?
The fear of the predator ingrained into humanity’s DNA caused the middle-aged man to wet his pants.
Accompanied by the sounds of something shattering, blood and brain mass splattered to everywhere.
The huge man didn’t stop there; he began to voraciously devour the sagging, lifeless body of the middle-aged man on the ground.
“He, he’s eating that man!”
“Wha-what the hell is this?! What’s going on?!”
The noisy meal time came to an end in an instant. The huge ‘man’ wiped the corners of his mouth, still dirty with bits of flesh, with his hand while slowly standing back up.
A wild beast.
Not even a hint of intelligence could be seen behind the eyes of the huge man. They definitely resembled a wild beast’s eyes now.
While many people screamed and ran away, there were just as many who had failed to recognise the severity of the situation and continued to spectate on the next actions of this huge man.
This ‘wild beast’ roared out towards the humans around it.
[Listen well, you lowly humans! Starting from now, I will hunt all of you down!!]
The thunderclap-like roar paralysed all who listened. They stood there on the spot shivering, tears rolling down their cheeks.
Before anyone had noticed it, sharp fangs were jutting out gloriously from the huge man’s mouth.
[My fangs and claws will mercilessly rip apart the flesh and skin of you weaklings!]
It was the King of Beasts. The roar from the Sovereign of Beastly Fangs baring its sharp canines reverberated loudly against the entirety of the streets.
[I dare you to come and stop me!]
The Association President Woo Jin-Cheol finally received the report on the ‘horrifying being’ that appeared in the middle of the city without any prior warning.
“How many victims so far?”
“At the moment, it’s impossible to tally the number of the dead, sir.”
The ‘thing’ was first spotted in the district of Myeong-dong and while moving in a straight line, the creature proceeded to kill every human it laid its eyes on.
“When taken into account the direction this creature has taken, its destination could be…”
“…..It’s the Hunter’s Association, isn’t it?”
Woo Jin-Cheol bit his lower lip and clenched his fists.
“We’ve got our hands full worrying about the d*mn Gate right now, but just where did such a monster even…..”
Unfortunately, there was no time to stew in his anger right now. No, he had to come up with a solution to stop that thing somehow.
“What about Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim?”
“We still can’t contact him.”
“God d*mn it…”
He cursed out involuntarily.
Only a few minutes ago, he heard the news that a Guild stepped forward to stop this monster only to be annihilated without being able to do anything.
The only consolation right now was that the creature moved at a slow pace as if it was waiting for someone to show up. But still, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that, as long as it was not stopped soon, the total number of victims would end up being astronomical.
In such a situation, the fact that the country’s most powerful combat force couldn’t be reached was probably the worst news imaginable.
‘If things go wrong, even the country can….’
Woo Jin-Cheol gritted his teeth as he kept his mouth shut, his determination firming up. It was then, a welcome piece of news came at his way.
Woo Jin-Cheol shot up from his seat as an Association employee burst into his office without permission.
“Did you get in touch with Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim??”
“No, sir. That’s not it. However, I just learned that a world-class Hunter staying nearby is getting ready to stop the monster!”
“What? Really? Who is it?”
Ranked as the number one in the German Hunter community, Lennart Niermann, could sense the aura of the monster approaching closer as it dyed the streets red with blood.
‘Will I… be able to win?’
Even though he was doubtful, as a Hunter, there was no way he’d ignore the screams of terror coming from the innocent citizens.
And when he took a look at the brightening expressions of the escaping citizens as they recognised him, the Hunter ranked twelfth in the American Hunter Bureau’s ‘Hunter Point’ list, Lennart Niermann was overcome with this great weight of responsibility bearing down on his shoulders.
Yes, it was not a matter of whether he could do it or not. No, he simply had to do it. That was the purpose, the duty, of a Hunter.
The reason why he ended up staying in Seoul was probably the trickery of fate so that he could stop that monstrosity with his own two hands.
Lennart Niermann formed a grave but determined expression and undid a couple of buttons on his shirt. Just as he was about to take his step towards the monster that finally revealed itself at the far end of the street….
A heavy voice came from behind him.
“Get out of the way.”