Late at night.
Jin-Woo climbed up a nameless hill and settled down on its summit. The bright moonlight illuminated the sea of trees below.
Under this pale light, he could see the Shadow Soldiers going about their business after he granted them free time to do whatever they wanted.
The first thing that caught his attention was Fangs who had already gigantified himself, and the three Dragons.
Dragons, carrying serious expressions, conversed in hushed tones with Fangs for a bit, before whispering something else amongst them. And then, the biggest Dragon stepped out of the group.
‘What are they trying to do now?’
He could see that every other Shadow Soldier in the vicinity of the four giants scatter away in panic and thought that the mood was getting a bit suspicious over there.
Soon, though, that big Dragon spat out a long pillar of flames into the sky.
Fangs smirked after checking out the thickness of the flames and took a step forward as well.
An enormous pillar of flames exploded out from his mouth and rose up high to brightly illuminate the dark night sky. While the High Orcs were whistling and cheering on from the distance, the Dragon’s shoulders sagged visibly as he turned around to slink away.
It seemed that they decided to bet on who possessed the stronger flame attack.
‘Isn’t it cheating to use the Bead of Avarice during such a bet?’
Perhaps knowing that he was in the wrong, Fangs was trying to sneak his Bead of Avarice back into his pocket. His gaze met Jin-Woo’s at the last second, though, and he began scratching the back of his head as a sheepish grin formed on his face.
Jin-Woo chuckled good-heartedly at Fangs’s thick skin and waved his hand about to signal that there was nothing to worry about.
Fangs grinned and bowed his head towards his liege several times.
What a peaceful sight this was.
Too bad, Jin-Woo wasn’t feeling as content as his outward facial expression implied.
He raised his head towards the sky. He could faintly sense the beings from another world getting ever closer to this planet.
He felt their ominous intentions.
He also sensed their strengths.
Jin-Woo’s perception, now pushed to unfathomable heights, buzzed and stung from the stimulation received – even if it was only on the level of perceiving blurry, indistinct things beyond the thick veil of fog right now.
‘It’s unknown just when their approach will become distinct enough for me to see.’
The fact that the battle against them couldn’t be avoided weighed heavily on his mind. Jin-Woo fell into deep thought before raising his head again.
Something kept tugging at his mind so he took a closer look, only to find his ant soldiers busy carrying stuff like lumber or stones around.
‘….And what are they trying to do now?’
Before he could summon Beru here to ask for clarity, a voice came from behind first.
“It seems that they wish to construct a small-scale lodging that my liege can use to rest more comfortably.”
This voice, too smooth for a dude with such a huge physique, belonged to the Grand-Marshal Bellion. Jin-Woo didn’t look back and simply nodded his head.
“I guess it was Beru’s idea.”
The only Marshal in the Shadow Army capable of passionately doing something that no one asked him to was Beru. On the other hand, Igrit did everything asked of him perfectly. As for Bellion….
Jin-Woo knew practically next to nothing about Bellion. The sole bond tying him to Jin-Woo was the former Shadow Sovereign.
Naturally, he was inclined to learn more about his new Grand-Marshal in depth. Perhaps his thoughts had been transmitted, because Bellion wordlessly approached his master and stood behind him.
“My liege. May I inquire as to why you haven’t recalled the soldiers back into your shadow?”
Jin-Woo replied, his eyes still surveying the soldiers.
“I figured that they might be feeling too caged up. I mean, you guys had been stuck inside the place called the gap between dimensions for a long time before arriving here, right?”
Bellion didn’t say anything for a while as if that answer was a bit beyond his expectations. So, Jin-Woo spoke to him first, instead.
“Aren’t you saddened by the fact that you won’t be able to meet the former Shadow Sovereign…. Osborne, again?”
Jin-Woo was painfully reminded of what it felt like to lose someone precious to you only a few days ago while watching his father disappear.
Bellion’s emotions should be similar to that. It wasn’t difficult for Jin-Woo to understand the sense of loss the loyal Grand-Marshal must’ve been feeling.
“I’ve been protecting the former liege’s side from the moment he decided to stop the Rulers rebelling against the Absolute Being. And after he acquired the power to rule over death, I was the very first one to volunteer to become his loyal soldier.”
Bellion explained himself in a calm manner, his voice unwavering.
“I have spent almost an eternity acting as his support, but not even once have I ever questioned his decisions.”
“That’s not what I was asking you about.”
Jin-Woo pointed out accurately to his soldier that he was asking about something else. Bellion took a bit of time to ponder his answer before revealing how he felt with a bit of hesitation.
“I haven’t yet given any thoughts on how I feel, my liege.”
“That’s why I’m giving you this chance. Come on. Take your time and think about it.”
What ensued was a lengthy, weighty silence.
From this silent answer, Jin-Woo could sense Bellion’s true feelings. Although no words had been spoken, he heard enough to know already. Only then did he look behind at Bellion.
“I wish to know more about Osborne from your perspective. Would you like to tell me?”
“But, my liege. It might be a very long story.”
“That’s perfect. I was actually in need of a long story to kill some time until I felt sleepy, you see.”
Jin-Woo returned his gaze to his front, and Bellion quietly settled down next to his Sovereign.
“This event happened back when I was still a fruit of the World Tree.”
“A fruit?? You were… a fruit?!”
“Every single soldier of the heavens is born as a fruit on the branches of the World Tree. It is a truly gigantic tree large enough to blanket the entire sky with its branches alone.”
As Jin-Woo focused on the story with an incomparably grand opening, the night continued to wear on.
Just before sunrise.
Before the darkness had the chance to completely lift up, Jin-Woo was leisurely jogging within the forest. He had developed the habit of running for ten kilometres every morning since from a long time ago.
He knew very well that there was no more Daily Quest available to him, yet his body moved on its own volition regardless.
While drinking in the crisp, cool air of the forest draped in the dawn’s light, Jin-Woo finally finished sorting out his thoughts.
‘….I should go back.’
He should inform the world on the existences of the eight massive armies that might arrive on this planet at any time now. He needed to tell them that the real war was just around the corner.
Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to guarantee the safety of everyone. He also couldn’t promise whether the world would be able to retain its former appearance or not, either.
That was how stupendously powerful the Dragon Emperor was, as seen from the memories of the former Shadow Sovereign.
The Dragon Emperor and the Army of Destruction led by that guy reduced just about everything before them to piles of ashes. And such creatures set their sights on Earth as their next target to destroy.
That was why, not only him, but the entire world needed to prepare themselves.
The System didn’t need to inform him but he still stopped his running precisely on the tenth-kilometre mark. This was yet another habit ingrained in his flesh after doing the Daily Quest almost every single day.
The truth was, though, habits weren’t the only things ingrained in his body now. He learned so much about fighting, and also, inherited incredible power to boot.
The final gift left behind by the Shadow Sovereign, who yearned to return to the eternal rest, had now transformed into ‘opportunity’.
Jin-Woo turned towards the direction where the rising sun’s rays were pointing at. From the ridge of a distant mountain, the morning sun was greeting yet another day.
Jin-Woo was now able to use Shadow Exchange freely. The first place he headed to was inside the building where the Ah-Jin Guild was located.
He chose not to enter the offices straight away, in consideration of his employees’ hearts tumbling down to their pits in shock, but thanks to his actions, he ended up running into an unfamiliar woman stepping outside the office’s entrance, instead.
Although she was unfamiliar to him, it was as if he had seen her somewhere before, too. She must’ve felt the same, because, just as they were about to brush past each other, she abruptly turned around and engaged Jin-Woo in a chat.
“Uhm, excuse me. By any chance….”
He wordlessly stared at her. She flinched for some reason and while saying “Never mind” she hurriedly escaped out of his view.
‘Well, she was a bit anti-climatic, wasn’t she?’
Jin-Woo entered the Ah-Jin Guild offices next.
Every single employee froze stiff with their eyes wide open as if they had just seen something they shouldn’t have.
‘Should I have said good morning while walking in or something?’
With things being like this, there was no point in him entering from the outside of the offices, now was there?
Even before someone had the chance to scold these wayward employees for making such faces when their boss had stepped into the office….
….Yu Jin-Ho finally discovered Jin-Woo and rushed towards him with a bright expression.
Before sharing that welcoming greeting, though, Jin-Woo decided to solve his curiosity first.
“Who was that lady walking out of the office just now?”
He was about to add “She seemed way too familiar”, but then, Yu Jin-Ho’s reply easily solved the mystery and there was no need to say anything else.
“Ah, her? She’s my older sister, hyung-nim. I’ve been avoiding answering my family’s phone calls, and she barged in here as a result. By the way, did she inconvenience you or some such….??”
“No, nothing like that.”
That was why she came across so familiar – she was Yu Jin-Ho’s sibling. Jin-Woo glanced back at the office’s exit and nodded his head before asking again.
“What brought her here, though?”
Yu Jin-Ho hesitated for a bit before speaking up while cautiously studying Jin-Woo’s reactions.
“Remember, hyung-nim? I was standing next to you just before the super-massive Gate opened up.”
“Yeah, you were.”
“Looks like that scene was caught on camera, hyung-nim.”
Jin-Woo roughly figured out what happened next in his head.
“My family wants me to hand in my Hunter licence and quit doing dangerous stuff since I’ve become the Vice-Chair of the Ah-Jin Guild.”
As he thought. Since the Guild’s Master, Seong Jin-Woo, was already a Hunter, there was no strict need for its Vice-Master Yu Jin-Ho to stay as a Hunter, as well.
There was a point to what the boy’s family said out of a genuine concern for his welfare. However, Jin-Woo already knew what was on Yu Jin-Ho’s mind, so he didn’t even try to convince the kid.
‘I’m sure he’d say something similar to him wanting to remain as a Hunter and stand next to me.’
Sure, Jin-Woo was responsible for sorting out most of their troubles, but still, they had gone through many life-or-death struggles together and that made Yu Jin-Ho come across as quite praiseworthy in Jin-Woo’s eyes. He reached out and quickly ruffled up the boy’s hair.
Jin-Woo left behind the flustered Yu Jin-Ho and headed into his office so he could change out of the clothes he’d been wearing for the past few days.
“Hey, I’m gonna use the company car for a bit.”
“Oh? Should I drive for you, hyung-nim?”
“Nah, it’s fine. I’ll be quick.”
“Where are you headed off to, hyung-nim?”
“The Hunter’s Association.”
Yu Jin-Ho urgently tried to stop Jin-Woo as the latter took the keys, but…
“Huh? Hyung-nim, there are reporters camping outside….”
‘….So it might get really annoying’ – that’s what he wanted to say, but Jin-Woo had already escaped out of the office by then.
And sure enough, reporters sacrificing their sleep and food for that one chance at a scoop were camping outside the building and waiting for Jin-Woo to show up, their faces looking wane and gaunt like a crowd of zombies.
Just as their wait had been long, their reaction after discovering him was unbelievably explosive as well.
“Hunter Seong!! It’s Hunter Seong!!”
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo has shown up!”
“Is the camera on??”
However, they couldn’t continue yapping for long.
They all looked down at themselves with expressions of someone not understanding what was happening to them, before shifting their gazes this way and that.
Only then did they realise what was going on. They realised that, not just themselves, but everyone nearby was floating up in the air about ten centimetres off the ground.
“B-but, what the….?!”
Fortunately, this sudden bout of suspicious flight didn’t last long.
The reporters were all settled back down on the ground at the same time. Too bad for them, Jin-Woo was long gone by then. They quickly exchanged flustered gazes with each other, before waves of helpless laughter broke out.
“Well, I’ll be.”
A phenomenon that rendered them speechless; they now had one more thing to add to the article about Hunter Seong Jin-Woo.
Jin-Woo drove ‘Bonggo’ straight to the Hunter’s Association.
He had called Woo Jin-Cheol ahead of setting off, so he wasn’t surprised to see the Association President and the employees waiting for his arrival outside the building.
‘….What’s going on here?’
The look on Woo Jin-Cheol’s face was rather suspicious. It was the same story for the employees next to him.
While Jin-Woo was climbing out of the van, Woo Jin-Cheol urgently walked over to him and asked with a trembling voice.
“Seong Hunter-nim…. By any chance, have you heard of the breaking news yet?”
< Chapter 229 > Fin.