I Alone Level-Up
“Are you awake now?”
After hearing that familiar voice, Jin-Woo quickly opened his eyes. He saw a white ceiling, and the smell of disinfectant stung his nose. Although the sensation of the hard bed kissing his back was different, he could easily tell just where he was.
This was a hospital.
But, didn’t he definitely feel the sensation of his heart shattering when the ice-cold dagger stabbed into his chest?
‘Even then…. I’m still alive?’
Jin-Woo raised his upper torso up.
He immediately spotted two men standing near his bed, making anxious faces as if they had been waiting for him to regain his consciousness for a long time. One of them was someone Jin-Woo knew very well.
“Association President Woo Jin-Cheol! The Sovereigns….. No, what happened to those monsters? How am I still alive?”
Woo Jin-Cheol shared confused looks with the fellow agent of the Monitoring Division next to him, took his sunglasses off before addressing Jin-Woo.
“There are three things I must tell you.”
He pulled a chair close to the bed and settled down. The junior agent quickly stepped behind him.
“Firstly, I’m not the Association President, but the Chief of the Monitoring Division. Secondly, we are here to ask you about the animated stone statues. And finally….”
A powerful glare oozed out from Woo Jin-Cheol’s scrutinising eyes.
“….How do you know about me? Have we met before, somewhere?”
“H-hold on, wait! You said something about animated stone statues?!”
“After we received the report from the survivors and arrived on site with the White Tiger Guild, it was already….”
“No, no. Hang on. That’s not it….”
Jin-Woo quickly cut Woo Jin-Cheol off and shook his head in dumbfoundedness. Several emotions, impossible to describe in words, rushed in.
Could it be….?
Jin-Woo raised his head and stared at the ceiling.
He was thinking that it was an oddly familiar sight ever since he opened his eyes, but he really was back here.
‘Makes sense why it’s so familiar….’
He spent almost two weeks in this place, after all. This was the VIP patient room provided by the Hunter’s Association.
He was back in the hospital room where he opened his eyes for the first time after barely managing to survive the dual dungeon incident. Thinking back to what Woo Jin-Cheol said just now, it didn’t seem like the location wasn’t the only thing here that was the same.
‘But… how can such a thing even be possible?’
Jin-Woo remained utterly confused and dazed, leading Woo Jin-Cheol to cautiously ask him.
“….Are you feeling alright?”
Jin-Woo’s head dropped lower and he massaged his temples as a migraine gradually crept in. He didn’t forget to wave around his hand as a gesture to tell the others to not to worry about him.
“I…. Can I be left alone to organise my thoughts? Please hurry up with measuring my magical energy so we can end this quickly.”
Woo Jin-Cheol stared dazedly at Jin-Woo with an expression that roughly said, “How did you know that we have been suspecting you going through a Re-Awakening?” before he quickly shook his head as if to get rid of all the distracting thoughts.
“We’d like to hear what happened inside there before we proceed. If you have seen something strange before losing your consciousness….”
“Like I told you before, I don’t remember anything.”
Did they ever meet and converse with Hunter Seong Jin-Woo before?
As a man of the Monitoring Division, Woo Jin-Cheol never forgot the face of a Hunter he met, even if it was only one time. And his memory definitely didn’t hold information on anyone with the name of ‘Seong Jin-Woo’.
‘Looks like his memories are all jumbled up from going through a serious mental shock.’
Woo Jin-Cheol decided as thus while looking at Jin-Woo’s current condition. In that case, he figured that he might as well finish what he came here to do and return as soon as possible. He addressed his underling next.
“Bring it here.”
The junior agent heard the order and brought along the miniature magic energy measuring device.
A helpless chuckle leaked out of Jin-Woo’s lips as things played out exactly like his memories.
“All you have to do is to place your hand on this magic crystal for a little while.”
The measuring process ended quickly thanks to Jin-Woo’s cooperation.
However, Woo Jin-Cheol began frowning greatly as he tried to confirm the results. He prodded the device several times before shifting his gaze over to the junior agent.
“Why isn’t the device working? Didn’t I tell you to check it before leaving the HQ?”
The junior agent couldn’t hide his fluster and hurriedly inspected the device from this angle and that, but obviously, nothing changed by doing that.
The device that was operating perfectly up until just now suddenly switched itself off as soon as it touched the hand of the subject. And it didn’t want to work again.
Woo Jin-Cheol quietly tutted at the mistake of his junior agent and apologised to Jin-Woo before asking for his understanding.
“Looks like there has been some sort of mistake on our part here. Do you mind waiting for a little bit? We should be able to go and fetch a new device very soon. This process must be performed during the investigation of this incident, and we ask for your coopera…..”
Even before his words came to an end, Jin-Woo nodded his head. Woo Jin-Cheol led his junior agent and left the hospital room. However, he only took a few more steps before coming to a stop. He turned around again.
‘What’s going on?’
Jin-Woo raised his head slightly when Woo Jin-Cheol acted a little differently to how he remembered it.
The Chief of the Monitoring Division stood before the bed and asked.
“By any chance…. Are you aware of the punishment in store for being a fake registrant?”
“I’ve met my fair share of high-ranking Hunters in my life. However, I’ve never met any Hunter with eyes like yours. If you’re hiding something, now’s the time to….”
“I’ve nothing to hide.”
Jin-Woo cut him off again. Woo Jin-Cheol wordlessly studied the man sitting up on the bed before politely bowing his head.
“We’ve inconvenienced you.”
Jin-Woo watched Woo Jin-Cheol leaving the hospital room’s door and inwardly thought that he definitely better suited the role of the boss of the Monitoring Division rather than that of the Association President.
Besides all that, though….
He wasn’t surprised in the least by the message floating in the air and took a look at the Status Window displaying his current level.
Name: Seong Jin-Woo
Class: Shadow Sovereign
Title: Demon Hunter (extra 2)
(Available points to distribute: 0)
Reduction in physical damage: 65%
Reduction in magical damage: 44%
– Tenacity Lv.1
– Master of Shortsword Lv. MAX
– Quicksilver Lv. MAX
– Intimidation Lv. 2
– Violent Slash Lv. MAX
– Dagger Rush Lv. MAX
– Stealth Lv. MAX
– Ruler’s Authority Lv. MAX
– Shadow Extraction Lv. 2
– Shadow Storage Lv. 2
– Sovereign’s Territory Lv. 2
– Shadow Exchange Lv. 2
‘My level’s gone up a lot since the last time I took a look at it. Is it because of the experience points I earned after killing the Sovereign of Plagues?’
That wasn’t all, either.
Everything he had stored in his Inventory until now was also waiting for him as they always had been. He even spotted the pair of ‘Kamish’s Wraths’ resting quietly on the very first column of the Inventory and formed a hollow smile.
He had somehow returned to the beginning with everything he had achieved so far.
‘Well, the Shadow Soldiers aren’t here anymore, but….’
But, his army could be rebuilt in no time at all. Since he had retained all of his prior abilities and memories, he was confident of doing a better job this time around.
….Just how did this happen?
Why was this thing happening?
Although he was given the second go at life here, all sorts of possibilities fleeted in and out of his head and he couldn’t be happy about his current situation at all.
Jin-Woo carefully combed over his memories, wondering if he had overlooked something, before his head rose up.
‘Should be here soon….’
As he expected; just like how he remembered it, his little sister pounced into the hospital room with excellent timing.
After she lost almost all of her school friends at the hands of the Orcs, there always had been a shadow cast on her expression even when she was smiling. But, right now, there was no hint of such darkness on her face.
Jin-Woo’s heart softened from seeing her expression and he tightly hugged her.
Jin-Ah was planning to urge her oppa to give up being a Hunter when he regained his consciousness, but now that she lost her initiative to him, she became rather flustered, instead.
“What’s going on? What’s gotten into you? Did you hit your head?”
Eventually, her oppa ended the hug and grinned refreshingly. Seeing him behaving like this, all thoughts of anger dissipated from her mind and she could only tilt her head this way and that with a puzzled look on her face.
She couldn’t put her finger on it, but her oppa seemed somewhat different from the normal. Now that she took a closer look, she kind of got the impression that her oppa had grown a lot taller since the last time she saw him a few days ago.
While Jin-Ah was falling deeper into confusion, Jin-Woo was able to use this lull to organise his thoughts better. He then began thinking about things he needed to do, step by step.
A short while later, he lightly chased his little sister out and changed his clothes before stepping outside the hospital room himself.
Since these clothes were his old ones, they didn’t fit his size now, and because he had survived a life or death situation, their condition was at their absolute worst, as well. But what choice did he have?
He certainly couldn’t walk around the city in a patient gown now, could he?
Jin-Ah watched her brother walk right past her in hurried steps and called out to him.
“Oppa?! Where are you going now?”
“To the Hunter’s Association.”
“To tell them I’m giving up being a Hunter.”
Jin-Woo looked back at his little sister and her wide open eyes.
“I know that you asked permission to leave from your school to come here, so you should go back now.”
Jin-Ah watched on with an expression gradually becoming even more confused as her oppa’s back disappeared from view.
The Association employee confirmed the re-evaluation test results once more and continued to rub his eyes over and over again.
It had been two years since Cha Hae-In’s appearance, hadn’t it?
The employee looked up at the tenth Hunter to reach the ‘unable-to-measure’ category in Korea and his complexion paled greatly. Since Jin-Woo’s outward appearance looked so wretched like a pauper, the employee was dismissive about this young man, but to think, he turned out to be a genuine rank S Hunter.
“T-the device we have right now can’t measure your magic energy level, Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.”
“I know. But before we do the re-test, I’d like to speak to the Association President first. Will that be alright with you?”
“Y-you mean, the Association President??”
Jin-Woo was already familiar with the re-evaluation procedures. The Association employee became dazed by this request for a meeting with the Association President and picked up the phone to make the call.
“Y-yes, yes. That’s correct. He’s definitely ‘unable-to-measure’. Understood. Yes. I shall give him the message.”
Indeed, the Association President agreed to meet this young man.
“I, I shall escort you to the office of the Association President….”
“I know where it is already. Thanks for the offer, but it’s okay.”
Jin-Woo bade a short goodbye and walked straight to the elevator. The employee looked at his departing back with an expression of utter loss.
‘How can an outsider know where the President’s office is?’
Too bad for the employee, the elevator stopped on the correct floor where the Association President’s office was.
The employee watched the floor display of the elevator with a worried expression before gasping out softly in surprise.
Jin-Woo stepped out of the elevator and immediately discovered a familiar face walking past him in order to enter the lift. He turned around to address this man.
The man pressed the ‘door open’ button to stop the elevator when Jin-Woo turned to look at him.
“Are you talking to me?”
“You haven’t disclosed the fact that you possess the ‘Stealth’ skill. You’re an upper-rank Hunter, but your name wasn’t on the list of those under the Association’s strict management.”
The Hunter affiliated with the Monitoring Division, Kahng Tae-Sik’s expression hardened instantly.
“Someone will ask you to avenge his daughter soon. I don’t care what happens to the criminals. However, if the innocent Hunters get hurt in that incident, you will die by my hands. Understand?”
Jin-Woo emitted just a little bit of his killing intent, causing Kahng Tae-Sik to flinch and reach into his waist. However, it wasn’t there.
Kahng Tae-Sik continued to rummage around his waist for a while before finally realising that his knife had disappeared.
“You looking for this?”
Jin-Woo casually tossed a knife up and down before handing it back to him.
Kahng Tae-Sik quickly recognised that Jin-Woo was on a completely different level compared to all the other Hunters he had been dealing with so far and wordlessly took the knife back.
“You get only one warning.”
Knowing that this young man could easily dissect him into tiny little pieces if he wanted to, Kahng Tae-Sik slowly nodded his head while pocketing the knife. And then, he asked a question as Jin-Woo turned around to leave.
“Look here, man…. Just who are you? Have we ever met before?”
Jin-Woo didn’t bother to reply and quietly continued to make his way to the Association President’s office. After this mysterious man went away, Kahng Tae-Sik looked down at his cold sweat-soaked palms and lifted his finger away from the ‘door open’ button.
“….Feels like I’ve been entranced by a phantom, doesn’t it?”
Jin-Woo’s steps came to a halt.
Goh Gun-Hui, still alive, was sitting behind his desk going through his documents right now. Jin-Woo stood by the doorway and stared at the Association President with eyes filled with nostalgia.
Meanwhile, Goh Gun-Hui chuckled good-naturedly.
“Although you opened my door with so much confidence, it seems that you’re a bit lacking in spirit there. It’s fine for you to come inside, Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.”
Goh Gun-Hui stood up from his chair and walked out in front while suggesting that they take a seat on the couch. He settled down on the couch opposite of Jin-Woo and asked the younger man.
“Would you like to sit down?”
Abruptly, the current Goh Gun-Hui overlapped with that of the Goh Gun-Hui he met for the first time and Jin-Woo’s expression stiffened for a brief moment. He stood there with an expressionless face for a second or two, before settling down as well.
“Thank you. I will.”
Goh Gun-Hui studied the young man before him and spoke up first.
“Seeing that you came to see me right away after your re-evaluation test, may I assume that you know about the ‘normal’ procedures?”
“In that case, let me not beat around the bush and be direct with you.”
“Before that, I’d like to make a deal with you first, Association President.”
Initially, Goh Gun-Hui felt rather flustered by this young man, who was acting as if he knew he’d be a rank S Hunter from the beginning. However, being spunky was an excellent weapon wielded by the young, was it not?
For some reason, Goh Gun-Hui didn’t find this young man in front of his eyes dislikeable at all. Maybe that was why he didn’t bother to hide the smile naturally floating up on his lips and paid attention to Jin-Woo’s words.
“What is it that you want from us, Hunter-nim?”
“Please, change the regulations so that even the summoned creatures called out by the Hunters are counted as raid team members.”
“You want me to change the regulation…. That’s a rather difficult request, isn’t it? I expect an attractive offer from you, powerful enough to sway my mind.”
Jin-Woo took his time before making his reply.
“I will kill all the ants on Jeju Island.”
Right now, replenishing his army took precedence over everything. And Jeju Island was practically crawling with the finest quality monsters ready to be turned into Shadow Soldiers.
As long as this offer was accepted, not only would he get to solve the issue of filling up the ranks of the Shadow Army, he would also be spared from the headache of not having usable members in the future as well.
Before he woke his mother up with the ‘Divine Water of Life’, he wanted to finish this part of the job first.
However, what Jin-Woo said came across as a desire to kill himself to Goh Gun-Hui’s ears.
“Don’t say something that nonsensical, young man!”
Such a reaction was fully expected. Jin-Woo didn’t lose his cool and calmly released all of the magical energy resting within himself for a very brief moment.
A bottomless and vast power defying all attempts to estimate its true scope spread out from Jin-Woo’s body.
The truly strong could recognise a fellow strong being; the Association President, often called the ‘sky above the sky’ shook his head in utter disbelief.
“How…. Just how…. What on earth… is this?”
He powerfully shuddered. Never before in his entire life had he felt this amount of magic energy emitted from another human being.
A Special Authority-rank Hunter? No, this power had far surpassed their levels. The Association President simply couldn’t bring his slack jaw to a close.
“I can take care of all the ants on Jeju Island.”
Didn’t Goh Gun-Hui once say that doing so was his life’s wish?
The older man was about to chide Jin-Woo for being immature and reckless, but after seeing the resolute expression on Jin-Woo’s face, his own expression quickly changed as well.
“Are you… being serious?”
Jin-Woo nodded his head.
“This is something only I can do. Please, leave it to me.”
Jin-Woo took a long sweeping look at the corpses of ants strewn about from one end of the land all the way to the other side. And he looked below his feet where Beru, no, the ant king’s corpse was resting quietly.
It hadn’t been that long since he had seen his loyal soldier, but Jin-Woo yearned to hear Beru’s voice busily calling out to his king again. So, he quickly shouted out towards the ants.
When he did, Shadow Soldiers rose up from the shadows of every single ant he could see. Beru was among them, too.
“Oh, my king….”
Jin-Woo took in the sight of several thousand ants kneeling all around him and slowly nodded his head. A brand new army was here.
The new Shadow Army, starting from the most perfect state imaginable, swore their loyalty to their new master.
After talking to his new soldiers, he became sure of it.
“….Let’s stop this.”
Even though a new Shadow Army had been created, there was this gaping hole in his heart that didn’t want to fill back up.
Beru looked up with worry, but Jin-Woo knew that even that expression and emotion were all a lie. And that was why his heart ached even more so as he looked at his soldiers.
Thick veins popped up in his throat as he loudly yelled out.
“I know all of this is just an illusion! Why don’t you stop this charade and reveal yourself?!”
This illusion was incredibly life-like. Because of that, there had been some moments that he dearly wished for this thing to be his true reality. However, there was no hiding the emptiness in his heart that seemed to grow larger and larger the longer he spent inside this illusion.
That was why….
Jin-Woo loudly roared into the empty sky above, before finally realising that a change had taken place – that time had frozen still.
The gazes of every single ant soldier and their raised heads were directed towards him. For a moment there, he felt goosebumps break out on his skin from receiving all those mechanical stares.
It was then.
Below his feet, the Sovereign’s Territory, a jet-black shadow rapidly spread out. Everything touched by that shadow all vanished without exception. Beru, the soldiers, corpses, the ground, the sea, and finally, even the sky itself.
Soon, the entire ‘world’ became submerged in shadow. No, everything simply transformed into darkness, instead.
Only then did a weighty, heavy voice come at him from a place within this darkness.
[As long as you want, you can live in this world for all eternity. It will be the same as you never waking from the most wonderful dream.]
Jin-Woo searched for the voice coming from an unknown direction and made his reply.
“Are you telling me to stay trapped within this illusion you have created?”
[No. I did not create this world. You are responsible for its creation.]
“I created this world?”
Jin-Woo was about to reply with “Nonsense!” but sensed something approach him. It was his rear.
He quickly spun around. Sure enough, someone was walking closer from within the impenetrable darkness.
This figure was kitted out in this exquisite black armour that no other Shadow Soldier could even hope to match. And he also emitted an utterly shocking amount of pressure that no other living being Jin-Woo ever met possessed.
He found it hard to open his mouth when he came face to face with this figure. This being spoke to him.
[This world was created when your desire to fix all the mistakes you’ve made so far was added to my own power. This place is the world of death. Meaning, this is my true territory.]
Jin-Woo finally realised then.
He finally realised that this dark world he was standing in had been gently and invitingly embracing him all this time.
‘So, this is the eternal rest, is it….’
If so, the man who claimed this world on the other side of consciousness as his territory had to be….
Jin-Woo wanted to hear the answer straight from the man’s mouth and asked the question.
“And you must be….?”
The man in the black armour slowly walked closer to Jin-Woo.
[I have been watching you for far longer than you can imagine. You, who had always been striding close to death, yet always had been resisting bitterly against it.]
‘You’ve been…. watching me?’
Eventually, the man stood right before Jin-Woo and stared with those black eyes that seemed to suck everything in.
[I am the record of your bitter struggle. I am the evidence of your resistance. I am the reward of your pain. I am death, I am eternal rest, and I am also ‘terror’.]
Every word he spoke reverberated weightily within Jin-Woo’s soul.
All those memories of him struggling hard to survive despite his weakness fleeted in and out of his mind like a revolving lantern, and made his heart palpitate faster.
The figure reached down and grabbed Jin-Woo’s hand and placed it on his own armoured chest.
That’s when Jin-Woo’s eyes widened in shock. He could definitely feel ‘it’ beyond the thick metal armour plate.
How could he not recognise it?
How could he not recognise the vigorous pounding of the heart that he always got to hear by concentrating just a little bit harder?
How could he not recognise the sounds of his second heart, the one where he had no clue where it was beating from?
It was the Black Heart.
The Black Heart was powerfully beating within this armoured figure’s chest.
The figure quietly finished his words.
< Chapter 218 > Fin.