When the System was still around, it did mention something about what Beru was talking about. There could be only one occupying the position of the general of the army.
So, Soldiers that recently reached the Marshal grade must establish a hierarchy with the one before it – didn't the System say something like that?
If he were to assume the general of the army was the Grand-Marshal, then indeed, Beru, as the recently-promoted Marshal, possessed the qualification to challenge Bellion.
Perhaps befitting an ant-type monster familiar with living in a large community, Beru wanted to establish the proper pecking order between the Marshals, it seemed.
'Marshals going at it, huh...?'
Just to make sure, Jin-Woo shifted his gaze over to his other Marshal, Igrit, but the black knight politely declined the proposition. It seemed that he wasn't interested in establishing the hierarchy between the Marshals at all.
Unsurprisingly, once the black knight quietly took a step back, the other guy to catch Jin-Woo's attention was Bellion standing next to him.
The current leader in charge of the army 130,000-strong was Bellion right now. Only Jin-Woo was above him in terms of hierarchy, as the master of the army itself.
After meeting his liege's gaze, Bellion bowed his head slightly.
Since he was in the presence of his master, he had lowered his posture as much as possible, but still, he was a good head taller than Thomas Andre. This giant calmly answered his boss's querying eyes.
"I shall follow your will."
Follow his will, he said.
Jin-Woo formed a slight smirk at Bellion's answer.
His voice was, of course, very humble. However, it wasn't all that difficult to read the underlying message that he'd face the challenger head on, as long his master gives the permission.
Jin-Woo sneaked a glance behind him, and Beru standing there had already extended his claws while visibly burning with fighting spirit himself. He must've also read the message, too.
While Bellion was doing his best to mask his magic energy as much as possible, Beru was the opposite and didn't hold back any of his horrible magic energy emission.
Jin-Woo pondered for a moment or two before making up his mind.
He knew pretty much everything there was to know about Beru, but Bellion was a different story. Knowing the extent of his combat prowess would prove to be an invaluable data in deploying the army correctly in the future.
It was also obvious that Jin-Woo's heart would sway towards allowing the challenge to go through.
"However, I shall be the one judging when to end the bout."
After receiving his master's permission, Beru's expression was now overflowing with ecstasy. Moved almost to tears, his eyes began sparkling brightly as he cried out.
"I am humbled and deeply honoured by your inscrutable....."
"....I thank thee, my king."
On one side, Beru celebrating his opportunity. On the other side, Bellion calmly getting ready for the upcoming challenge.
It was as if these two were the plucky challenger going up against the incumbent champion in a sports movie. But before these two could start duking it out for real, there was something Jin-Woo had to confirm first.
He summoned out a single 'Kamish's Wrath' and loaded a bit of black aura on its tip. Then, he lightly swung it towards the forest.
The black 'howl' shooting out from the shortsword swept up a portion of the forest. However, the damage wasn't as severe as he thought. Jin-Woo nodded and stored the weapon away.
'With this much....'
It seemed that he didn't need to worry about the surroundings getting destroyed unduly during the battle of the two Marshals. The ground had been hardened sufficiently enough by the condensed Mana and it would survive the upcoming warfare without a doubt.
Jin-Woo gazed at the earth with a somewhat lonely expression before raising his head. His eyes were already filled back up with anticipation as he looked at his two Marshals.
Both the Grand-Marshal and the newbie Marshal waiting for their master's order nodded their heads simultaneously.
"We are ready, my liege."
"Give us your order, oh my king!"
Jin-Woo chuckled and addressed the two.
"Get to your positions."
Meanwhile, back in the Korean Hunter's Association.
The activities taking place inside the Association's emergency response conference hall were a lot more bustling than before, even though the so-called emergency situation had come to an end yesterday.
"The international media is still hounding us, demanding us to release an official statement already, sir!"
"The American Hunter Bureau is requesting us to release the information on Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim's current whereabouts!"
"The Seoul Metropolitan Fire & Disasters are asking us if it's okay to bring back the evacuated citizens."
"The Hunter Channel's famous 'The Jimmy Show' wants to interview Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim...."
"Jimmy or whatever can kiss my a*s!! If he's able to, tell him to find the guy and try his luck there!"
The number of calls flooding the Association was inconceivably high. It was a small miracle already that their phone lines hadn't broken down yet.
As for the Association President Woo Jin-Cheol, even though he breathlessly issued one order after another, he also didn't forget to spit out groans repeatedly as he stared at the stacks of official inquiry documents on his desk.
The things he had to do was as tall as Mount Tai at this moment. No, hang on – if it was only as tall as that legendary mountain, that would have actually been preferable.
The thing was, Mount Tai had actually formed a long-a*s mountain range, and after overcoming one mountain, he'd be facing another one, and another one after that, and yet another one was waiting for him….
His work had piled up to the extent he couldn't see the end now.
It was so serious that even he was feeling dizzy from the craziness of it all when he was supposed to be a rank A Hunter!
But then – Woo Jin-Cheol was busy shaking his head to get rid of this drowsiness, until he ended up hearing something spoken by a subordinate that simply could not be overlooked, no matter the circumstances.
"Just why did Hunter Seong Jin-Woo's summons have to come out from there...."
This employee's words were tinged with a certain amount of dissatisfaction. Woo Jin-Cheol's drowsiness was driven away in an instant. He immediately made this employee stand at attention before him.
"In that case, do you, Mister Seong-Won, think it would have been better if monsters came out from that super-massive Gate yesterday? Is that what you're saying?"
"Pardon me, sir? Ah, no, that's not...."
The subordinate couldn't hide his fluster. Woo Jin-Cheol let his sharp scolding fly, regardless.
"If the phone calls you've been receiving until now weren't about TV stations asking for interviews but relatives of the deceased Hunters asking for the news of their loved ones, do you really think you can continue working with just the thoughts of things being too hectic for you?"
The subordinate employee couldn't even meet Woo Jin-Cheol's glare.
Even if you were nominally an employee of the Hunter's Association, as long as you hadn't worked out in the field, you'd never really understand it.
They would never understand just what Hunters had to go through during emergency situations.
They would never understand just what kind of things unfolded and got buried inside dungeons, enshrouded in the darkness where no one could see you.
Going through all the potential scenarios that could've gone down during the raid of the super-massive Gate, what happened yesterday was easily the best result one could ever hope for.
Over one hundred thousand monsters popped out, but no one got injured. Nothing was destroyed. Not only that, all those monsters were absorbed into Hunter Seong Jin-Woo's fighting force.
Just who could've imagined it?
Indeed, no one could've dreamed such a result that far exceeded one's expectations.
That was how Woo Jin-Cheol got to endure, with a smile on his face, all these mountains of work that probably required him to go through a few sleepless nights to finish.
But to think, there was an employee of the Hunter's Association busy complaining about yesterday's events just because his body became a bit fatigued.
How could he even dare to say something so nonsensical?
If Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was present nearby, Woo Jin-Cheol would've stepped up to slap some sense into this employee well before the young Hunter had a chance to get angry.
That was how deeply Woo Jin-Cheol understood what Jin-Woo was going through.
The Association President temporarily stopped his employees, and while taking a sweeping look at them, he began speaking with a loud voice.
"I know full well how flustered you all are after Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim suddenly vanished on us."
However, there must've been a good reason why Hunter Seong Jin-Woo had to disappear on them like that, when he was a man possessing a strong sense of responsibility.
"In a way, the person most confused by yesterday's event could very well be Seong Huner-nim."
Didn't someone say once that, with great power comes great responsibility?
Some line from a movie Woo Jin-Cheol watched a long time ago kept repeating itself in his head. However, that line helped him to imagine the weighty burden now pressing down on Hunter Seong Jin-Woo's shoulders.
'I've been around Hunter-nim for a while now, but yesterday was the first time seeing him that tense.'
Indeed, Jin-Woo didn't seem to know what was about to take place next.
It didn't matter who, anyone in his shoes would've thought of quickly getting the heck out of there when the Gate one was ready to die defending against instead suddenly began spewing out his own summons. What's more, they then began swearing their allegiance out of nowhere.
Who could be foolish enough to point the fingers of blame on him?
Right now, the Association's job was to share the load until Hunter Seong Jin-Woo finished sorting out his confusion and returned to explain the current situation.
The Association had to perform the role of a sturdy, dependable shield for Hunters, regardless of the time or the circumstances.
"If we at the Hunter's Association can't even understand what Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim is going through, just who else will??"
The employees listening to the passionate speech from their President forgot all about their fatigue, the corners of their eyes moistening quickly.
As for the employee complaining like a little kid because summoned creatures came out from the Gate, he lowered his head to Woo Jin-Cheol and apologised as his own nose reddened considerably.
"I'm sorry, sir. I was being thoughtless. I am truly sorry."
Woo Jin-Cheol wordlessly patted this guy on the shoulder and had him return to his post before sitting back down.
He only shouted for a little while, yet there were at least twice as many documents as before piled up on his desk now.
He shifted his gaze away from the stacks of paper, his mind still worried about Jin-Woo who'd no doubt be stuck in all sorts of dilemmas even now.
'I wonder, what is Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim doing now?'
With a bright face, Jin-Woo got to a distance quite far from the two Marshals.
Igrit came to stand next to him.
Other Shadow Soldiers also spread out into a giant circle and created enough room for the two Marshals to move about unrestricted. Standing on the opposite end of that circle to his opponent, Beru extended his claws until they couldn't be extended anymore and screeched out loudly.
Meanwhile, Bellion wordlessly unsheathed the sword mounted on his hips. So far, he seemed to be a type of swordsman similar to Igrit, but then...
Jin-Woo's gaze was fixed to Bellion's sword now. The blade looked rather uniquely-shaped.
'Hang on, can I even call that a blade?'
As a matter of fact, the blade resembled the body of a centipede in that it was made up of dozens of connected sections.
As if they were done with their preparations, both of them looked at Jin-Woo simultaneously.
The moment the signal was given, Beru dashed forward immediately.
He closed the distance with a stupendous turn of speed and powerfully swung his claws; Bellion proceeded to block and let the attack slide past him, and then, as Beru's momentum took him further away, the current Grand-Marshal spun around to face the distancing ant soldier.
It was then.
Jin-Woo's eyes widened.
Bellion pointed with his sword and it suddenly stretched out like a long snake to fly towards Beru.
Beru urgently spun around and reflexively slapped the blade away.
That was just the beginning.
Bellion used his sword like a whip and rained down a barrage of incredulous attacks at his target. The flexible body of the blade, carrying an enormous amount of Mana, danced and writhed according to its wielder's desire to pummel the ground and air surrounding Beru.
BOOM!! BANG!! BOOM! BANG!!
On the other hand, all Beru could do right now was to concentrate all his being to barely defend against the attacks.
While watching Bellion's attacks that had clearly surpassed the limitation imposed by the sword-type weapon, Jin-Woo imagined what would happen if it was him facing that barrage.
When he did, everything seemed to slow down to a crawl. Even then, even within this slowed-down time, Bellion's sword remained dangerously fast.
Jin-Woo's expression became even more serious.
His eyes, now emitting cold glare, followed and caught each and every slap and swish of the unpredictable sword dance. Upper left, right side, upper left again, then lower left, and to upper right….
….The him of his imagination evaded all the attacks and was standing before Bellion.
And then, he cut the soldier down. In Jin-Woo's imagination, Bellion's neck rolled to the ground. It only took a blink to get to that point.
Bellion momentarily sensed this chill-inducing feeling of his neck being cut off and flinched grandly as he took a look in Jin-Woo's direction.
He ended up being a bit carried away after discovering a rather interesting weapon; meeting Bellion's rather panicky gaze, Jin-Woo replied with an apologetic expression. But that only lasted for a moment.
Beru didn't miss this opening and viciously slapped the irritatingly-tenacious blade away, before dashing towards Bellion like a bolt of lightning.
Unfortunately – against Jin-Woo's own expectation, the one to stab his weapon in the midriff of his opponent was Bellion.
What an unexpectedly fast motor reflex!
On top of that, a scary power capable of destroying everything with each attack. This was Bellion, the soldier who wasn't left wanting for anything as the Grand-Marshal of the Shadow Army.
'….Still, one should never let one's guard down.'
It was a wee bit uncool to talk about one of his soldiers in this manner, but well, the truth was, the biggest plus point of an insect was its tenacious vitality.
Sure enough, Beru suddenly expanded its body size even with a sword stuck to his belly. He swung his humongous fist down on the head of his opponent.
The power behind that punch was so great that a part of Bellion's helm broke off and scattered black smoke in the air.
Almost right away, Beru followed up with his second attack. No, he tried to.
Beru's wrist was caught by Bellion's powerful grip just in time. The ant soldier tried to use his physical strength to yank his arm out, but too bad, the Grand-Marshal didn't even budge an inch.
In the meantime, Bellion cocked his free arm backwards. An enormous amount of Mana quickly gathered in that cocked arm.
A moment later.
Beru's chest was punched powerfully and he flew backwards in a straight line. The shockwave generated at the same time from his flying figure swept up the forest surrounding him, and the trees were yanked out of the ground from their roots and all, before being flung away to the sides.
A long and straight path suddenly got carved out within the sea of trees.
Beru hurriedly unfurled his wings to stop his body from being flung away endlessly. Unfortunately, just as he somehow managed to steady himself, Bellion had already arrived right before his face.
That was followed by a powerful slam towards the ground!
Like a meteor crashing into earth, a huge crater caved in on the ground and Bellion lightly landed inside.
In the middle of this crater, Beru was hurriedly getting up to respond to his opponent. Now normally, any ol' regular enemy would have been torn to bits and shreds by now, but he had managed to withstand several of these attacks already.
Bellion used the back of his hand to slap away Beru's claws and just like that, smacked the ant soldier right on top of his head.
That was the beginning of a dogfight.
Boom! Bang! Boom! Boooom!!
Beru's attacks were only on the level of briefly disrupting Bellion's balance, but...
….Bellion's attacks each carried fatal power behind them.
Cracks formed on Beru's exoskeleton as if they were about to shatter at any given moment.
Even then, Beru desperately resisted until the end, not showing any hints of giving up on this fight. He tried to chomp down on Bellion's shoulder, but the latter simply pushed away the former before grasping Beru's neck.
Now rendered immobile, Beru writhed his entire body to free himself, but Bellion remained unmoved. The latter simply concentrated Mana once more on his free arm so he could attack for the last time and end this fight.
A horrifying amount of Mana, more than enough to easily shatter the head of a Dragon in one hit, gathered around and distorted the space around his arm.
With this, it'd be the end.
Bellion's cocked fist soon flew out towards Beru's face.
But, Jin-Woo reached out and grasped the deadly fist before it did, since he didn't want to see Beru's head explode today.
Bellion realised that it was his liege stopping his fist and quickly withdrew his attack.
The Grand-Marshal hurriedly knelt down and bowed his head.
'….You did well.'
Jin-Woo praised Bellion with his eyes for not holding back anything and displaying his prowess like that. He then walked over to Beru collapsed on the ground.
"Kiieehhk, my king, I, I... kiieehk! I can still...."
Jin-Woo studied the faltering, unsteady Beru with pitying eyes before asking him out of genuine curiosity.
"Hey, Beru. Why are you so dead-set on the position of the Grand-Marshal?"
"Kiiehk, I, only, I wish to, become the Grand-Marshal and always stand next to my liege..."
Beru couldn't continue on due to his grief-stricken mind. Jin-Woo scratched the side of his head and offered up his reply.
"The Grand-Marshal can stand to my right, while you can stand to my left, right?"
Only then did Beru realise that he could still stand next to his liege without being the Grand-Marshal, and his eyes opened up extra-round.
"....I am honoured by...."
Leaving behind Beru and his emotion-induced tears filling up his eyes, Jin-Woo stood back up and spat out a helpless sigh. But then...
Another Shadow Soldier silently approached him. It was none other than Igrit, who had been listening to the conversation between Jin-Woo and Beru without saying anything.
"My liege, may I be granted an opportunity to challenge...."
As Igrit cautiously asked, Jin-Woo quickly replied as if he was expecting this already.
"You can stand behind me."
Igrit couldn't finish the rest of his sentence due to his liege's keen insight.
"Is that so... In the end, the Shadow Sovereign has become our enemy."
The Dragon Emperor, currently in a humanoid form, was receiving the reports from the Sovereigns that had already descended to Earth. Only their voices softly echoed within this eternal darkness.
"I see. Fine. I shall deal with him personally. None of you make a move. We must prevent any further losses."
The Dragon Emperor had fully analysed the situation and ended the connection to the Sovereigns.
Soon, there was no more sound.
This world, the gap between dimensions where nothing existed, was quickly filled up by empty silence. To the Sovereigns, this place was no different from hell itself, as there was nothing here to destroy.
That was why...
That was why, the Sovereign of Destruction, born from the darkness with a singular purpose of destroying every single existence, did its hardest to escape from this place.
And finally, the day it'd taste the fruit of its labour was literally around the corner.
The Dragon Emperor turned around and issued its command towards the darkness behind it.
"My troops. Ready yourselves for war."
When it did, dozens of Ancient-grade Dragons, hundreds of Dragons, and tens of thousands of Dragonewts hidden within the darkness shot out heated glares from their eyes and roared out in unison.
< Chapter 228 > Fin.