I Alone Level-Up

Chapter 81

Knock, knock.

“Here are the requested files, sir.”

“Come in.”

Woo Jin-Cheol entered the Association President’s office.

As if he had been waiting a while, Goh Gun-Hui welcomed him as his expression brightened considerably. As soon as opening the file Woo Jin-Cheol handed over, a familiar youth’s face could be seen.

It was none other than Seong Jin-Woo.

The Jin-Woo in the identity photo looked immature and the atmosphere exuded seemed quite different compared to now, but it wasn’t enough to make it impossible to recognise him.

“H-mm…”

Reading the youth’s prior records, Goh Gun-Hui gradually became serious.

‘Four years of Hunter activity as a rank E? Not only that, the lowest grade there is?’

This was no different than him trying to kill himself.

Even if the Gates under the Association’s jurisdiction were of lower grades compared to what large Guilds or freelancers were in charge of, they should still be breathlessly difficult for a rank E!

And as expected….

Jin-Woo had spent as much time in the hospital as he was active as a Hunter.

“Even with all these frequent injuries, he still managed to tough it out.”

“Apparently, he couldn’t quit the Association because of his mother’s hospital fees.”

“….A rare type of youth in this age, indeed.”

An unreadable light flickered in Goh Gun-Hui’s eyes.

‘In place of his missing father, he has been looking after his sick mother and a younger sister who is still a student, all by himself….’

After learning that Seong Jin-Woo was a Re-Awakened, Goh Gun-Hui decided to take a peek at the youth’s files half out of interest, but he sure didn’t expect this.

Goh Gun-Hui found the youth even more likeable after reading more about the kid.

‘It’ll be just too much of a waste to hand him over to large Guilds.’

The longer he took a look at the information, the greater Goh Gun-Hui’s regret grew for failing to recruit the youth to the Association’s folds.

“Tsk.”

He smacked his lips a little and flipped the page, and eventually, arrived at the last one. Feeling satisfied now, Goh Gun-Hui closed the file folder.

“Thank you. This was informative.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Woo Jin-Cheol took the files being handed back to him and turned around to leave, only to stop and open his mouth, apparently in some difficulty.

“Excuse me… President, sir.”

“Mm?”

Goh Gun-Hui raised his head.

The look of hesitation could clearly be seen on Woo Jin-Cheol’s face.

‘….Why would Chief Woo make that kind of face, when normally, he looks hard enough to chew on rocks for breakfast?’

Was there a difficult matter to discuss?

Goh Gun-Hui’s curiosity had been stoked for good now.

“What’s the matter?”

Woo Jin-Cheol hesitated for a while before he finally replied.

“There is something you should know, sir….. The truth is, I received word not too long ago that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo has entered a raid team earlier today.”

“Already? Okay, so whose team are we talking about here?”

“It’s the raid team from the Hunters Guild.”

“Hmm… Hunters, is it?”

Seong Jin-Woo had chosen the Hunters. Not only that, in one day, too.

Goh Gun-Hui’s expression hardened.

‘Could he have been just all talk, and he got tempted by the massive contract signing fee of the Hunters…?’

If so, what a disappointing turn of events this was. Well, he was feeling genuinely moved for the first time in a long, long while after meeting a Hunter worthy of that job title.

However, when thinking back to the attitude the youth carried from yesterday’s meeting, as well as the information Goh Gun-Hui had read just now, Seong Jin-Woo definitely did not look like someone who’d change his mind with a flip of his hand.

There must be some other reason.

Such as…

“For sure, if he wished to combat truly powerful monsters, then the Hunters Guild should suit him the best.”

Goh Gun-Hui was ready to accept this explanation. Too bad, because Woo Jin-Cheol quickly tackled him off that thought process.

“It doesn’t sound like that’s the case, sir.”

“Have you heard of something?”

“It has been confirmed that he…. Hunter Seong Jin-Woo didn’t join with the main raid team, but actually with the mining team, instead. Sir.”

Goh Gun-Hui shot up from his chair.

“What did you say? A rank S Hunter applied to become a miner??”

His voice accurately conveyed his disbelief.

In all honesty, Woo Jin-Cheol reacted the same back then. That was why he confirmed it several times to make sure, but the result didn’t change no matter what.

‘That’s why I hesitated about telling him about this matter….’

Just what was Seong Jin-Woo thinking?

Cold sweat trickled down Woo Jin-Cheol’s face as he spoke.

“Yes, sir. He has indeed done so.”

Goh Gun-Hui plopped down on the chair and began chuckling in helplessness.

“What a hard to understand young man he is.”

After putting on the distributed hard hat and the miner’s overall, Jin-Woo followed after the foreman Bae Yun-Seok. He found a fairly large group of Hunters wearing hard hats like him near the Gate itself. Around twenty or so?

Their gazes focused on Foreman Bae. And the moustached man introduced Jin-Woo to everyone.

“This here is Mister Seong, and he’ll be working with us from today onwards.”

“Hello.”

Jin-Woo lightly bowed his head and tried to read the overall atmosphere of the mining team.

“…..”

Their reactions were indifferent. But, that was understandable.

‘Of course….’

On one hand, he was a temp who may or may not show up tomorrow. And on the other side, they were Hunters who had signed formal contracts with the Guild to become full-time members of the mining team.

From their perspective, there was no reason to get particularly friendly with Jin-Woo.

“Gee whiz…. These guys. He’s a colleague who’s going to work together with you, you know.”

Foreman Bae smiled awkwardly and pointed at a guy with pretty scary facial features standing far back.

“Mister Seong, please stick with Mister Mok over there, and if you’re curious about something, learn from him. Mister Mok might be a silent type, but he’s the most experienced out of everyone here.”

“…Understood.”

Jin-Woo didn’t say anything else and stood next to this Mister Mok. When their gazes briefly met, Mister Mok spoke in a voice small enough to miss it.

“It’s Mok Jin-Su.”

“I’m Seong Jin-Woo.”

The introduction ended with that. Before long, Mok Jin-Su’s gaze had shifted to the foreman.

‘….What a friendly guy.’

Jin-Woo also shifted his gaze.

The foreman was conversing with a regular person who must’ve been the Guild employee in a location a bit of a distance away, looking rather serious. When Jin-Woo concentrated a little harder, he could hear the contents of that conversation.

“…The raid team hasn’t come out yet? Didn’t you say they were finished already? How many minutes ago was that?”

“They said that they are almost finished for real, this time. Please be patient for a little while longer until all the monsters inside are taken care of. This is all for the safety of you and your team, you know.”

“I’ve heard the exact same thing three times already.”

“Eii~. Mister Foreman, you know as much as I do how complicated it’ll become when we don’t do a thorough job, and a hidden monster pops out during the mining operation.”

When the male employee who was young enough to be his son smiled and went on a charm offensive, Foreman Bae could no longer stay angry anymore. The moustached man turned around with a smirk on his lips.

“Okay, okay. I got it.”

“Oh? Mister Foreman, you’re not angry anymore?”

“I said I got it. So get going already.”

“Yes, sir. As soon as the raid team exits from the Gate, I’ll definitely run over to you right away without a moment’s hesitation. Oh, by the way. You still remember that we’re all having a drink after today’s operation, yes?”

“Aigoo. I know. I know! So get going, young man.”

Fortunately, the conversation came to an end without any potential problems developing. That employee’s responses were quite excellent, indeed.

‘Most folks would think that, once you start working for a large Guild, you become more arrogant than before no matter where you are, but….’

The truth was, most of the Guild’s administrative staff were regular people, while those operating out in the field were mostly Hunters – those who had Awakened.

There were many things requiring the touch of an Awakened, but there would always be a finite number of them.

In other words, it was impossible to hire and fire Awakened at will as if they were parts of a factory machine that could easily be replaced. That was why all Guild employees did their best to mind the Hunters and their moods.

From others’ perspective, they might seem like they had made it in life, but the employees of large Guilds all had to go through trials and tribulations that only they knew.

It was then.

‘…..Mm?’

Jin-Woo was focusing on the conversation between the foreman and the employee, but out of the blue, he could also hear the whisperings coming from his side.

“Did you hear that? The newbie joining us today is supposed to be a rank E.”

‘Are they talking about me again?’

Sometimes, Jin-Woo couldn’t help but resent his excellent sense of hearing.

‘Still, doesn’t mean I’m gonna cover up my ears or anything….’

While he bitterly smiled to himself, other Hunters were cautiously whispering to each other.

“What? A rank E?”

“A rank E has been selected?”

“That’s right.”

Jin-Woo could sense the sharp glares boring down on the back of his head.

“What the heck. What is the foreman thinking of, hiring a rank E and all?”

“Does a rank E even have enough strength, I wonder?”

“Yeah, I wonder about that, too.”

“Huh, can we even finish today’s operation on time?”

Worried voices could be heard coming from here and there.

Still, they kept their voices low, perhaps in consideration of the new guy. Too bad, such actions were meaningless in front of Jin-Woo, though.

Jin-Woo could only keep his chuckles down.

‘There was another reason for their reactions not being so welcoming, huh.’

As expected – a rank E would receive cold shoulders no matter where they went. He was already well used to this, so it didn’t faze him anymore.

‘Well, it’s not like I’ll be seeing them for long, anyway.”

But then, something else happened.

Noisy, noisy….

Suddenly, the front of the Gate became rather noisy.

“The raid team has come out.”

“Looks like they are finally finished.”

The tired expressions of the Hunters in the mining team, restless from all that waiting, brightened one by one. Foreman Bae had been observing the situation until then, and he gestured at his team.

“Okay, okay. Everyone, let’s get going.”

Hunters in the mining team checked their equipment and slowly shuffled towards their destination. Jin-Woo blended in and went along with them.

“Thank you for your hard work.”

“Thank you.”

“You all worked hard, everyone!”

The Hunters Guild employees stood in front of the Gate and welcomed the raid team members as they made their exit one by one.

The term raid team as used in the field seemed to refer to the members belonging to the Guild’s main assault force.

‘So, these people are…. the country’s best assault force.’

Studying the faces of each and every upper rank – no, the very highest ranked – Hunters walking by, Jin-Woo’s eyes sharpened considerably.

He spotted a familiar face among them.

‘….Choi Jong-In.’

The leader of the Hunters Guild, and a rank S mage-type Hunter.

Jin-Woo pulled the hard hat lower to hide his face, figuring that things might get complicated if Choi Jong-In recognised him here. Thankfully, there were many Hunters wearing a similar get-up as him nearby. So, Jin-Woo was able to blend in just fine.

And so, as he stood amidst the miners and silently studied the members of the country’s very best assault force, Jin-Woo began thinking that…

‘…..Are they really the true elites of the Hunters Guild?’

He was feeling quite incredulous inwardly.

Quite contrary to his initial expectations, it was hard to find a single Hunter with a really powerful aura.

As befitting of the nickname ‘Ultimate Weapon’, Jin-Woo could sense an enormous amount of magical energy from Choi Jong-In, but besides that guy, not one was worthy of mention.

‘Could they be the weak ones, instead?’

But, that simply made no sense.

Jin-Woo softly shook his head.

These were the members of the no.1 raid team selected from the cream of the crop found in the country’s top Guild.

‘I mean, the Guild Master himself has participated in the raid, so there’s just no way that some nobodies would be chosen as team members.’

The word most ill-suited to describe these people would be ‘Weak’. Then, there could be only one conclusion.

‘No, it’s me who has gotten stronger.’

A thin smile crept up on Jin-Woo’s lips. Strength was relative, wasn’t it?

The efforts of the last couple of months definitely did not betray his expectations. His Stats had increased by so much that he could think of the raid team that managed to conquer a rank A dungeon as weaklings.

By using the difference between himself and them, he could sense his own strength.

Thump, thump, thump….

His heart began beating faster from this realisation.

But, then….

No one told him to do so, and there was no sound attracting him, yet Jin-Woo’s head instinctively swivelled back towards the Gate. And then, he gasped out in surprise.

‘How can this be….?’

There was a woman with a short hairstyle relaxedly walking out from the Gate.

The very first things that caught his attention on her makeup-less face were a pair of large and clear eyes. Next up, her clean and pale skin, as well as her smoothly flowing neckline, also managed to attract his gaze.

If there were 100 men, 99 of them would unhesitatingly praise her looks and call it beautiful. However, besides all that, what attracted Jin-Woo’s attention the most was not her looks but what was inside her.

The power that was hidden inside her.

From that expressionless woman, an incredible amount of magic energy was leaking out non-stop.

‘At a bare minimum, she’s on the same level as Choi Jong-In.’

Or maybe, even more than that.

She possessed an aura that easily overwhelmed her surroundings.

By the time his shock wore off and cold reasoning succeeded in driving his emotions out of his head, Jin-Woo recalled this woman’s name.

‘She must be….’

The only female rank S, Cha Hae-In.

The top-ranked Hunter who formed, along with Choi Jong-In, one of the core pillars of the Hunters Guild.

‘I can’t think of anyone else.’

Just how many women possessing such an aura existed in South Korea?

Compared to her ‘rarity’ though, Cha Hae-In’s face wasn’t all that well known. It was because she didn’t enjoy being exposed to the cameras. And that was also why Jin-Woo saw Cha Hae-In’s face for the first time today as well.

‘Wait, her face doesn’t even look weird like in some rumours, so how come she hates being in front of a camera?’

Indeed, pretty much all ladies in their early twenties loved taking photos. Sure, all those happened to be selfies, but still.

Perhaps his stare was too direct, Cha Hae-in’s own gaze began shifting in Jin-Woo’s direction.

‘Stealth… shouldn’t be necessary here, right?’

Jin-Woo easily hid his presence. Cha Hae-In continued to scan the area Jin-Woo used to stand before tilting her head slightly.

‘What was that? I thought I felt a really strong presence just now.’

Was she mistaken?

Initially, she thought that the Association President Goh Gun-Hui had stopped by at the operations area. However, that powerful presence disappeared completely as if it was a lie.

‘Well, someone as busy as the Association President wouldn’t come unannounced, now would he?’

Too bad for her, the cost of her misunderstanding was rather great.

Because she was searching after the hint of that strong presence, she had to focus her senses, and that meant the heavy odour several times worse than normal assaulted her nose.

“Euk.”

As usual, Cha Hae-In pulled out a handkerchief to cover her nose, and while tottering around somewhat uneasily, escaped from the cordon of Hunters.

‘Her perception is better than I thought.’

Jin-Woo let out a sigh of relief while watching Cha Hae-In’s distancing back. With her exit, all the raid team members had come out of the Gate.

Having been waiting with bated breath for this moment, the foreman of the mining team Bae Yun-Seok turned around to face his boys. He clapped his hands loudly and spoke up with a bright voice.

“Well, it’s our turn now, so let’s all do our best!”

The unique nature of the job meant that the retrieval team would have to enter first, followed by the mining team.

Jin-Woo stood in front of the Gate.

‘…….’

As he stood there while silently admiring the splendour of the rank A Gate, something he hadn’t experienced before, Bae Yun-Seok approached him.

“Mister Seong, what are you doing? We should go inside.”

“Alright.”

Jin-Woo replied briefly and stepped through the Gate, just like other Hunters did before him.

And then, a familiar message popped up before his eyes.

[You have entered a dungeon.]

< Chapter 81 > Fin.

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