I Alone Level-Up
“Maybe, you hurt your head really bad?”
The younger sister stood at a distance away and asked Jin-Woo, prompting him to shake his head vigorously.
“No, that’s not it.”
Even though he denied it, Jin-Woo’s younger sibling, Seong Jin-Ah’s eyes remained suspicious.
“Are you really okay?”
“Yes, I’m telling you the truth.”
Jin-Ah blankly swept her gaze all over Jin-Woo, before she came closer while her breathing became uneven, angry. And then, as soon as Jin-Woo assumed a defensive posture, she began punching him in all the unguarded parts.
“I told you to stop getting hurt!! You have any idea how worried I was?!”
“Other people walk away fine, but how come it’s only you who gets hurt all the time?!”
The strength behind Jin-Ah’s punches gradually seeped away. She soon stopped, and as her head fell, began crying. Jin-Woo slowly patted the back of his sobbing sister.
His own nostrils stung quite a bit then.
‘I was thinking of leaving behind this kid alone and dying, wasn’t I….’
What a relief that he made it out alive.
When he looked back, there had been way too many brushes with death for comfort back then.
It was as if he had experienced one hell of a terrifying nightmare.
Jin-Woo’s gaze shifted ever so slightly towards the words floating in the air.
[You have several unread messages.]
‘It still feels like I haven’t completely woken up from that nightmare just yet, doesn’t it?’
There were so many things he couldn’t understand.
But, so what?
The most important thing was that he came back alive, and he got to see his little sister again.
Thankfully, his strong-willed sister stopped crying after a short while. Unfortunately for him, though, her nagging continued on for over one hour afterwards.
“Do you hear me? If you get hurt one more time, I’m going to give up on studying, find a job, and make sure you don’t work as a Hunter ever again.”
Jin-Ah’s sharp glare didn’t really suit her pretty face, but that was a biological trait she had shared with her older brother.
“Okay, okay. I hear you.”
Jin-Woo nodded his head as if he’d given up.
Only after she was able to extract his assurance several times more did she display a hint of satisfaction, and stood up from the seat.
“You going somewhere?”
“Yeah. To school. I got permission to leave so I could check up on you. So I gotta go back.”
Jin-Woo nodded his head.
“Right, the university entrance exams are next year.”
She might never have received a private tutoring nor did she ever attend extra classes, but she always got ranked within the top ten in her school until now.
Jin-Ah dreamed of becoming a doctor.
Only until a few years ago, she just loved to waste time on video games and stuff like that, but then, after their mother fell ill, she swore to become a doctor and never stopped studying since.
Jin-Woo dearly wished to make her dream come true, no matter what.
Hang on a minute…. playing video games?
Suddenly, Jin-Woo’s eyes gleamed a bit dangerously.
“Okay, I’m going now.”
Just as Jin-Ah was leaving his room, Jin-Woo urgently called out to her.
“When you are playing video games….”
Jin-Ah smirked softly.
“I don’t play games anymore. The third year of high school is only a few days away, you know.”
“I know, I know. There’s something I want to ask you, though.”
“Oh, really? Like? I didn’t know Oppa played video games, though?”
Jin-Ah suddenly displayed an intense interest as a subject she was deeply intimate with once upon a time was brought up.
Jin-Woo sneaked a glance at the still-floating ‘message’ in the air and asked her.
“When there are unread messages in a game, what should I do access them?”
“You gotta open the mailbox first.”
“I gotta ‘open’ the mailbox?”
As soon as Jin-Woo said the word ‘open’, a clear beep entered his head and the hidden messages revealed themselves.
[There are two unread messages.]
– Congratulations on becoming a [Player] (unread)
– [Daily Quest: Preparations to become strong] is now available. (unread)
Jin-Woo smiled brightly.
Seeing her older brother’s complexion suddenly brighten like that, Jin-Ah felt something was wrong and quickly asked him.
“What’s up? What game is it? You need my help?”
Jin-Woo firmly shook his head.
“Nope, no need. I’ll do it alone.”
How would his younger sibling react if he told her what had been happening to him right now?
‘I really don’t want to be labelled as a loon by her.’
Jin-Woo swallowed back the things he wanted to say for the time being.
While pretending to see her out, Jin-Woo confirmed her getting on the elevator, and quickly returned to his room.
‘I can’t repeat the same mistake again.’
To prevent eyewitnesses intruding on him, he even locked the door. Finishing with his preparations, Jin-Woo sat on the bed and read the titles of the messages available to read.
He thought that the first message sounded familiar, as if he heard it before from somewhere.
‘Where have I heard it from? I know I have.’
So, the first message, then.
[This System will support the growth of the ‘Player.’]
[Failing to comply with the System’s instructions will result in potential penalties.]
[Your rewards have been delivered.]
He belatedly remembered this.
He heard those words just before he lost his consciousness.
‘Back then, it was talking about a Player this and that, no?’
Of course, back then or even now, he still couldn’t really understand what on earth was going here.
The ‘System’, ‘growth’, ‘penalties’, and finally, ‘rewards’.
The words with unknown meanings fell on his lap one after the other.
‘Just what will it help grow, and what will it reward me with?’
Seeing the words that could only be found in a video game appearing before his eyes without any prior explanations, only served to confound him even further.
He decided to worry about the confusing words later and calmly opened the next message.
Jin-Woo unconsciously swallowed his saliva after reading that rather suggestive title. His heart began to beat faster in anticipation.
[Daily Quest: Preparations to become stronger]
Press-up, 100 times: Incomplete (0/100)
Sit-up, 100 times: Incomplete (0/100)
Squat, 100 times: Incomplete (0/100)
Running, 10 km: Incomplete (0/10)
※Warning: Incompletion of Daily Quests will result in appropriate levels of punishment.
Jin-Woo reflexively spat out a dumbfounded chuckle after confirming the contents of the message.
“Ha, haha….. Seriously, man.”
Should this be the feelings of disappointment?
To think, what the grand-sounding Daily Quest, the one titled ‘Preparations to become strong’, was nothing more than a list of physical exercises to train his body….
Well, for sure, if he did as the quest said, then his body might get a bit tougher.
Was this what that growth and reward thing the System was talking about?
‘Now that I think about it….’
He recalled reading a quote of ‘a person with an inner problem should pay attention to the inner voice’ from some book in the past.
‘In other words, one would see what they wanted to see, eventually….’
Just how desperately did he want to become stronger that he ended up seeing this stupid hallucination?
Although it was funny, he also felt a bit lonely inside.
“If anyone could become stronger by doing these exercises, who would be willing to go through that much hardship, then…?”
Jin-Woo shook his head.
He suddenly thought that he was a fool for searching for answers to his many questions from a d*mn hallucination.
‘Urgh. I don’t care anymore.’
Jin-Woo lied down spread-eagled on the bed. He wordlessly stared at the ceiling.
He wasn’t doing anything important, yet the time continued to tick by.
Just as he began to feel the weight of the stillness filling up his hospital room….
Jin-Woo abruptly raised his torso off the bed.
‘But, what if….’
What if something could change?
As his thoughts were filled half with the uncertain expectation and the other half by unconvinced curiosity, he began wondering whether he should at least give ‘it’ a shot.
‘Well, I’ve got nothing to lose, anyways.’
There would be no reason not to try it out, if he treated as a light workout to stretch his muscles or something, no?
He made up his mind.
‘Fine. Let’s try it.’
Jin-Woo climbed off the bed and stretched himself for a bit, before leaning against the corner of the bed and slowly performed the ‘press-up’.
“One, two, three…..”
The count started from ‘one’ and quickly climbed upwards.
“…..97, 98, 99, 100.”
Since he started this thing, he decided to do all 100, but quite different from his expectation, nothing happened when he was finished.
….Other than his arms aching just a little, that was.
“Just what the hell am I doing….”
Jin-Woo smirked helplessly and stood straight up.
– Congratulations on becoming a [Player] (read)
– [Daily Quest: Preparations to become strong] is now available. (read)
The messages were now marked as ‘read’.
There were no more words of ‘unread messages’ popping up in his view, and he also didn’t feel like humouring this hallucination anymore, either
He had enough of this, in other words.
Jin-Woo closed the mailbox without regret.
Jin-Woo yawned out at length and climbed back up on the bed. He felt sleepy as if he had pushed himself too hard.
The sky outside the window was already dyed in the colours of the sunset.
‘It’s already this late, huh.’
The Monitoring Division agents said earlier that his hospital fees would be taken care of by the Association.
He figured that it wouldn’t be too late to leave after receiving a thorough examination of his body and get the all-clear from the doctors first. Jin-Woo laid down comfortably while thinking as such.
‘I’m sure these hallucinations and weird things I hear will eventually go away with time….’
His eyelids slowly closed shut. And Jin-Woo drifted away into a deep slumber.
Even when Jin-Woo was softly snoring to himself, the needles of the clock hanging by the wall continued to tick away.
The needles spun and spun around until they indicated 11:59:57 PM.
Tick, tock, tick.
58, 59, 60….
The needles stopped moving precisely as they touched 12:00:00.
[You’ve failed to complete the Daily Quest. You’ll be transferred to the ‘Penalty Zone’ for a set period of time.]
Jin-Woo’s eyes shot right open from the violent tremor that shook his entire body.
Jin-Woo sat right up and grabbed the edges of the bed. The shaking was so bad that he couldn’t maintain his balance.
The shaking got progressively worse as the seconds ticked by. It happened then.
*SFX for things turning into powder and falling to the floor*
One of the steel bars on the bed he held on for dear life suddenly broke. No, it didn’t break per se, but simply ‘disappeared’. Jin-Woo hurriedly looked at his palm. No steel bar there, just grains of sand.
The other steel bar also transformed into sand as well.
Meanwhile, the ‘earthquake’ became even more violent.
In the end, Jin-Woo was thrown off from the bed. He bounced around all over the hospital room and screamed out. Even when that was happening, items within the room was turning into sand one at the time.
Jin-Woo was flung away and got deposited rather unceremoniously.
He felt something soft against his fingertips. They happened to be ultra-fine grains of sand.
And the accursed earthquake had stopped.
Jin-Woo spat out the sand in his mouth and hurriedly raised his head up.
His eyes caught the sight on an endless plain of nothing but sand.
Jin-Woo frowned heavily and got up. All the sand that found its way inside his clothes poured out. He dusted the sand caked on his chest while taking a look around him.
Indeed, all he could see was sand. And more sand.
This couldn’t be real.
Until a few moments ago, he was sleeping on a bed inside a hospital located in the middle of Seoul. But now, as soon as he opened his eyes, he was in the middle of a massive desert?
Jin-Woo scooped up a handful of sand, and let it slip through his fingers. The fine grains fell straight down to the ground.
‘There is not a single breeze here.’
It wasn’t just the breeze, though – when he raised his head up to look, the sky didn’t have a sun, a moon, or any stars for that matter.
It was an empty sky, as if it was filled up with black ink and nothing else.
However, for some reason, he had no trouble seeing at all.
“Just where is this place?”
< Chapter 9 > Fin.