I Alone Level-Up
Side Story 1
1. I am an employee of the Hunter’s Association.
When you’re taking a stroll on a street, ask this question to any student you run into. Ask them what kind of job they would like to have in the future.
A hundred times out of a hundred, you’d get one of these three answers.
One, a famous Hunter; two, a staff member of a major Guild; and three, an employee of the Hunter’s Association.
If a kid you talked to was a bit slow in the head, he or she would end up wasting each day wishing to become a famous Hunter.
A kid smarter than the above example would want to get a job in a major Guild that paid you according to one’s abilities.
The smartest cookies of the lot would choose to become an employee of the Hunter’s Association, where one would still get paid as much as the large Guilds while being treated as a quasi-government official which lessened the danger of getting unceremoniously fired from the job.
Me? I was a smart cookie.
A very smart one, to boot.
And perhaps that was why when I announced my intentions to join the Hunter’s Association, both Mom and Dad were saddened somewhat, which was a bit different than how other parents would have reacted.
Dad wanted me to become a prosecutor, and Mom preferred to see me become a doctor. Of course, as the only son in the family, it wasn’t as if I didn’t know my parents’ wishes of seeing me follow after their career choices.
However, I too had my own dream. And that dream played a big part in me choosing to become an employee of the Hunter’s Association.
– Why do you wish to become a member of the Hunter’s Association?
Those words were thrown my way by none other than the Chairman of the Association, Goh Gun-Hui, as I sat in the interview room with a stiff-as-rock face.
I was busy scolding myself for messing up almost all of the questions asked by the interviewers because of how nervous I had been. But, when I heard that question piercing into my brain and waking me up in an instant….
The light shining in my eyes changed.
At least, I remembered replying to that question with a determined look flashing up on my face.
– Even now, Hunter-nims are risking their lives to protect innocent civilians in many parts of our nation. In that case…. Where are those people who risk their lives for the sake of Hunter-nims?
My voice rose up while saying that I wanted to become a member of the Association and stand on the side of those people that protected Hunters.
Was I mistaken back then when the still-nervous me heard the soft gasps of “Wow” coming from my side and to my front?
But, one thing’s for sure – I distinctly remembered seeing a nearly-imperceptible smile on the face of Association Chairman Goh Gun-Hui as the corners of his lips arched up slightly.
That was how I became an employee of the Hunter’s Association, a job that others would certainly die for. Putting my parents’ slightly lonely farewells behind me, I set off from the hometown that I grew to love and came to Seoul, where the HQ of South Korea’s Association was located.
I felt totally over-the-moon because I’d successfully taken my first step in fulfilling my dream of becoming a member of the Association that protected Hunters.
I even had this vague expectation clouding my mind, wondering if everything was going the way I wanted them to.
Unfortunately for me, though, my beautiful image regarding the Association was shattered into a million little pieces on the first day of work. My thoughts of something still remaining that only I could do for the sake of Hunters was completely wrong.
It had already been over nine years since the Awakened, Gates, and monsters began appearing in this world.
The society had already entered a period of stability after experiencing many failures as well as countless trials and errors. And as a newbie member of the Association who had taken his first baby-steps in said society, there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that I could have my say in it.
Since my initial goal was to help Hunters out, I was assigned to the ‘Support’ department accordingly, but what waited for me there were all sorts of unrewarding miscellaneous tasks.
And that was me being kind here. In reality, it was no different than taking care of the mess left behind by the Hunters affiliated with the Association.
– What’s this? I heard that Hunters in the area next to ours get a cup of coffee or snacks before going on raids, so how come we don’t get any?
– There’s this thing I urgently need to take care of, so can you give me an advance on this month’s wages?
– If I participate in today’s raid, there’s no one to bring my child home, so can you do me this favour for me, please?
Indeed, it was always something like this.
Even if it was low-ranked Gates worth not much money, someone still had to deal with it. But, the number of Hunters were limited, so their needs and wants had to be met no matter what.
In an unlucky chance that someone lodged a claim against Hunters, a pretty awful day would wait for me, but if the Hunter with a claim against him suddenly decided to leave the Association, then….
As I ran around all over the place trying to put out all these fires, I grew disillusioned at the reality that was just too different from my imagination, and as I become more and more fatigued, I also became used to my situation, as well.
And so… on a certain day.
As I was listlessly spending time, a phone call came at my way.
I spat out a long, long sigh while looking at the phone ringing off the hook, and wondered just which dear Hunter-nim was calling me this diligently to lay out his or her complaints. I reached out and picked up the receiver.
As soon as the plastic touched my ear, a seriously agitated voice exploded forth from the speaker.
– “I told you people never to send Mister Seong to my location, yet why didn’t you listen to my requests?!”
I had no idea what this guy was talking about, but first things first – which was to apologise.
“I’m terribly sorry, Hunter-nim. There must’ve been an error during the formation of the raid team. Can you please tell me what happened in detail?”
– “What the heck, my man. Forget about details or whatnot. I told you my team don’t want to be responsible for a corpse, you know? You keep pushing this weak guy who gets injured from falling over on our team claiming that he’s still a Hunter. How do you expect us to take care of the aftermath if something happens?! You guys do this again, and I’m just gonna quit right there and then, got that?!”
The call was one-sidedly cut off there.
I put the receiver down while repeatedly recalling the spelling of the word ‘patience’ in my head, and then, began collecting data on the Hunter the person on the phone spoke about before any sort of claims could be lodged.
Just like how varied the reasons were for demanding one’s raid party member to be changed – such as disagreement over the leader’s decision, they didn’t like each other, or didn’t fight as well as one hoped, etc – such requests were made quite often so I never really paid much attention to the specifics until now.
‘Mister Seong…. Mister Seong…. His name is Jin-Woo, right?’
I saw the record of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo and soon realised that something had gone really wrong here.
His rank was only ‘E’. As for the amount of magical energy he possessed, it was right at the bottom of the rank E, too.
‘Hey, his magic energy emission is no different from a regular person’s, isn’t it??’
As expected, his record was full of all the instances where he ended up getting injured.
“Oh, my god.”
I closed his file in stunned amazement, my heart wildly pounding away.
This… This was definitely wrong.
If I pretended that I didn’t see his story and move on here, he’d really die not too long from now.
It was at this point when I recalled the declaration I made back in the interview room.
Hunters risked their lives for the regular citizens, but who risked their lives for the sake of these Hunters?
My head nodded all by itself.
For the first time ever since I started working for the Hunter’s Association during this past year or so, I finally found what I needed to do.
The first thing I did was to seek out a senior officer.
Unfortunately, neither my immediate superior officer, or the officer above him, or even the person above that guy, wanted to get involved in a matter that could potentially prove to be too much trouble for what it’s worth.
Eventually, I had to seek out the Chief of the ‘Support’ Department.
“Sir, this is a matter concerning a person’s life. It’s not going to get solved by itself when we continue avoiding reality like this.”
Chief was forming an expression of a deeply concerned man after seeing the junior agent suddenly transform from a well-behaved kid who worked hard without complaints to the current me.
However, I didn’t stop voicing the things that needed to be said out loud.
“What if that Hunter dies during a raid, sir? What will we say to his surviving family members then?”
“Uh-huh, you shouldn’t say anything so unlucky….”
“That’s how much Hunter Seong Jin-Woo’s life is in danger, sir. Please, take a look. This is his hospital admittance record. It’s already a miracle that he managed to survive until now.”
For a while there, Chief wordlessly scanned the data I brought along before raising his head.
“So, what you’re saying is that we need to do something as the Association and stop Mister Seong Jin-Woo acting as a Hunter, is that it?”
“Yes sir, that’s correct.”
Because he’d definitely die in the end if he continued to act as a Hunter.
“Fella, I hope you’re aware of this Hunter’s backstory while telling me all this.”
I nodded my head.
His mother was currently admitted to the intensive care unit. I knew that she’d not survive for another day without the aid of the life-support machines.
And I also knew that he worked for the Association in order to receive financial support for the hospital fees.
“But, sir. Patients struck with the Eternal Sleep Disorder will never wake up. Surely, we can’t let a living person march to his grave for the sake of a dead person, don’t you agree?”
Even now, countless people were dying because of the illness, the Eternal Sleep Disorder.
It was indeed a regretful thing, but we just couldn’t continue to drive him into death traps over and over again for his mother’s life. We needed to save him, at the least.
Even though Chief did his best to dissuade me and change my mind, I didn’t back down from my decision.
In the end, Chief had to nod his head.
My expression brightened quickly, only for the Chief to add a stipulation first.
“Except that you will personally be responsible for changing Hunter Seong Jin-Woo’s mind. If he willingly decides to stop, then we shall do so.”
I had already made up my mind about that. Indeed, I’ve never even entertained the idea of forcibly kicking him away without his consent, to begin with.
Even though I was facing perhaps the most difficult hurdle…
….I still nodded head at the Chief, my expression full of determination.
Seriously now, have I ever been so committed to something to this degree in my life before? I was preparing so much data that I ended up asking myself that question.
This wasn’t to make a grand announcement in front of higher-ups nor to pass a difficult examination. No, it was just to persuade one single Hunter named Seong Jin-Woo.
‘He’s twenty-three years old… he’s younger than me by six years.’
Thanks to my meticulous preparation, I felt reasonably confident of my chances today. Well, I had in possession plenty of evidence and records of him driving himself towards the jaws of death, more than enough to chide him for his reckless actions.
I was planning to go through each and every one of these records to argue my case why he should stop being a Hunter. I was even prepared to lecture him that one needed to value one’s life as much as one valued the life of his mother.
The door of this cafe opened and a face that I only saw through the file photos stepped into the establishment. When I saw him in person, though, I froze up solid on the spot.
He scanned the cafe’s interior before spotting me. He cautiously settled down on the seat opposite mine.
He greeted me first. I couldn’t say a single thing I’ve been preparing in my head, though.
“It’s not as if we haven’t tried to do the same thing.”
Chief pushed forward a shot glass filled with soju and I swallowed it one go, my expression scrounging up afterwards.
Whether it was because of the bitter taste of the booze, or maybe my heart felt heavy, I didn’t know why my expression refused to loosen up.
“Even then…. Sir, still, this isn’t right, you know? That was just wrong, sir. He’s a young kid, only 23 years old, so his eyes shouldn’t look like that.”
I honestly thought that, at the very least, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo would show up to the meeting place with an expression filled with unfounded confidence, believing that he’d always survive no matter what, or with a look of a scared person searching for someone, anyone, to help stop him.
And I felt confident of persuading him regardless of where his mental state was in.
However, Seong Jin-Woo was different. He seemed to have completely acknowledged the predicament he was stuck in.
There was this thin smile on his face implying that, although he was shivering away in fear, he somehow barely managed to overcome it.
So, how could I push someone’s back towards a corner, to the precipice of a cliff, when that person had barely managed to overcome his fear?
I just couldn’t do that.
And also, I came to realise that I shouldn’t bad-mouth my superior officers just because they failed to do something that I, too, had failed to do.
Chief didn’t say anything while filling up the shot glass, but then he quietly asked me a question.
“Fella. Why did you join the Hunter’s Association?”
That moment when I began thinking about helping Hunters out for the first time – my head dropped a little and recalled the events of that fateful day.
“When I was young, I saw a certain news broadcast, sir. It was about a Hunter who ended up being trapped inside a Gate while trying to save his comrades from getting stuck like him.”
I recalled seeing the grounds of a theme park, a place where people were supposed to smile and have a good time, now filled with Hunters soaked in blood from head to toe as they lay there helplessly while moaning in pain.
Back then, I became really curious.
– Those folks saved other people while bleeding heavily like that, but who is saving them now?
My parents couldn’t answer my question, and that was when I made up mind. If no one could help them, then I shall be the one to do so.
I shall do everything in my power to make sure that Hunters don’t get injured or die.
“But now, even I became the same as the rest, sir.”
I failed to become that source of support, strength, to Hunter Seong Jin-Woo who was facing a deadly crisis in his life.
There was nothing I could do for him.
I scolded my uselessness with such thoughts. Meanwhile, Chief studied me for a moment or two before putting down his shot glass.
“What if you still have something you can do?”
I raised my head up.
Chief reached into his bag and pulled out a file containing information on a high-ranking Awakened. He then placed it before me.
“You see, there are people who Awakened as a high rank but due to not being interested in monetary gains, they chose not to become Hunters.”
“How about helping the Hunters affiliated with the Association by persuading these folks to join us?”
My mind snapped awake from that and I looked down at the file.
“Rank B Healer Hunter Yi Ju-Hui….”
An upper-rank Healer!
If someone like her joined the Association, then surely, she’d be able to save people from dying or suffering from heavy injuries. Even a weak Hunter should be able to fight to his heart’s content without being worried about his safety.
For a moment there, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo’s face I saw earlier brushed past my mind. My eyes were sparkling brightly, causing the Chief to gently chuckle and speak up.
“So, how about it? Are you interested?”
I stopped staring at the file and nodded my head energetically.
“Yes, sir. I am!!”
< Chapter 244 > Fin.