I Alone Level-Up
The mass media was whipped into a frenzy.
Where would you find another story that could stimulate the interests of the country’s citizens even more than this news?
TV channels ran news segments related to this upcoming raid all day long, while every front page of newspapers was completely dominated by the topics of the united raid team.
However, it was only Korea’s media that kept talking about this matter. Even though the number of Japanese Hunters participating in this operation exceeded the Koreans by three folds, no one thought it was strange that the Japanese media kept quiet over the upcoming event.
And when a handful of articles did appear online, the comments that followed said articles were negative in nature, to say the least.
└ What did you expect when the Koreans are too weak to close a Gate by themselves?
└ Why are you cleaning up the sh*t left behind by the Koreans?
└ Are they going to compensate us for the damages those ants caused here or not?
└ Useless Japanese Hunter’s Association, and irresponsible Korean Hunters, why dontcha all kick the bucket together on Jeju Island? LOL
‘Dong-sahng-yi-mong’. (TL note at the end)
While two parties thought of two different things regarding the same upcoming event, time continued to tick down towards the date of the operation.
In the meantime, these past few days proved to be the happiest Jin-Woo had been since his mother was admitted to the hospital.
Many things went through a change. First thing first – the Seong family returned to their home with their mom as soon as she was discharged from the hospital.
When he opened the front entrance, the first thing saw was the messy living room of the apartment, all thanks to Jin-Ah being alone while he was kept busy inside the Demon’s Castle.
Jin-Woo began pinching his sister’s cheeks, and with gentle laughter, Mom tried to stop him.
The very first thing their mother had to do after returning home from four years of coma, was to clean the house. Jin-Woo tried to dissuade her, but in the end, he couldn’t win against her insistence. Eventually, the whole family rolled their sleeves up to clean up their home.
Once the house was spotless, the complexions of all three brightened up considerably as well. The apartment that had always felt empty and lonely after Mom’s admittance to the hospital now seemed so full of life.
For the first time in a long while, Jin-Woo got to stretch his legs and go to bed without any worries in his mind. And on the next morning, when he got to the living room….
He got to truly appreciate the fact that his mother had returned when he saw the breakfast neatly arranged on the dining table. Park Gyung-Hye stopped cutting the spring onions, turned her head towards Jin-Woo, and asked.
“Did you sleep well, son?”
With still-sleepy eyes, he replied as a smile bloomed on his face.
The so-called expert continued to speak on the TV screen.
“The rate of evolution these ant monsters have shown is truly surprising to behold.”
A guest sitting next to the expert formed an exaggerated expression of surprise and asked.
“Monsters are evolving?! Wasn’t the ant found in Japan, a lone mutated creature?”
“You’re correct. When the mutated specimen increase in number and gain control of the whole horde, then we call that evolution.”
After that, the prepared video footage began playing. Ants, as they appeared during the first and second subjugation attempts, were displayed on the screen.
At first, they were no different from regular ants as they crawled on the ground. Just from their external appearances alone, they looked exactly like oversized super-massive ants.
But then, a short while later….
“This is the footage taken during the third subjugation attempt.”
The ant monsters were now walking on two legs like humans. The once-giant heads had shrunken down in size by a great deal, they were able to move around much more nimbly, and the four limbs acted like arms.
Its appearance looked as if half an ant and half a person had been mashed together to form a new creature. In only two years, the distinct characteristics of the ant species had been completely transformed into something else.
“And this footage of the ant monster was taken recently as it wreaked havoc in Japan.”
The audience members in the studio all gasped out in shock at the footage being played. To their horror, the ant was now even closer in appearance to a human, and not only that, it even sported huge wings on its back.
The comedian appearing in this show as a guest flinched in great surprise and raised his voice higher.
“That thing can now fly?!”
“That’s correct. And that would be the decisive factor in the formation of the Korea-Japan united raid team.”
‘The Korea-Japan united raid team.’
When that term came out of the TV’s speakers, Jin-Woo wordlessly switched the TV off. In all honesty, he also didn’t want to miss out on this operation. His heart began racing so fast after he thought of all the experience points he’d get to earn when Association President Goh Gun-Hui requested for his participation in the raid.
However, his excitement cooled down in no time at all. And he was able to objectively and coldly analyse the situation.
‘It hadn’t even been one day since Mom woke up.’
More than that, his mom didn’t know that her son was a Hunter yet. He also recalled the sight of his mother staying up all night for several months after she heard the news of his father going missing inside the Gate all those years ago, too.
He couldn’t bring himself to tell mom that he was going to Jeju Island when she was already carrying around such a painful memory, to begin with.
His lips didn’t want to part and provide an answer. He wanted to spend some time with his family for a few days, at the least. And he definitely didn’t want to delay the moment he’d been fighting for so long for some other matter.
Jin-Woo barely made up his mind and spoke with great difficulty.
“….Not take part in the operation.”
The one thing far more precious than experience points, the reason why he gritted his teeth and endured everything in order to become stronger. He did not regret making this choice.
Except that, now….
└ BTW, why is Seong Jin-Woo not on the Korean list?
└ Your disposition won’t change just because you’ve become a rank S, you know. Once a rank E, forever a rank E, dude. Prolly ran off to hide, nearly wetting his pants in the process. Kek.
└ 21 Jap rank S Hunters + even the retired Hunter is gonna represent for Korea, yet…. where is Seong Jin-Woo?
└ Why does he want to do that when he’s a rank S? It’s so embarrassing;;
Except that, all these anonymous pointing fingers who didn’t even know of his situation were really getting on his nerves now. Or, to be more specific, it was his sister’s stress level that got on his nerves, actually.
‘I don’t really give a d*mn about what others think of me, and mom doesn’t really go online, so it’s fine on that front, but….’
….But, Jin-Ah liked to search for stuff like this in her spare time.
Jin-Woo clicked his tongue and put his phone down. There was no helping it, what with the poor timing and all.
Mom had retired early for the day, and it was also still too early for Jin-Ah to come back from her studies. He was thinking of taking a stroll to get some fresh air and change his spoiled mood, but like a devil, his phone began ringing just then.
Jin-Woo checked the caller ID and a grin formed on his face.
Now that Jin-Woo thought about it, was this kid still staying in that local motel even now?
“Where are you staying now? Is it the same motel?”
Hearing his giggling voice, Jin-Woo felt happy inwardly as well.
Yu Jin-Ho briefly updated Jin-Woo regarding the status of his life, before hurriedly continuing on after remembering the reason for the call in the first place.
What office space was he even talking about?
When Jin-Woo asked with a confused voice, Yu Jin-Ho confidently declared.
‘Yu Jin-Ho, this kid…..’
It seemed more than likely that this kid was under the grand delusion of developing the Guild he’d preside over as its Vice Master, and make it as big as the Hunters or the White Tiger in the near future. Jin-Woo slowly scratched his chin.
‘If I tell him that the raid team will consist of only me and no one else, he might flip out in shock here….’
He only invited the kid to join him in passing, but now that it was time to explain to Yu Jin-Ho the future of the Guild, Jin-Woo didn’t even know how he should go about it.
“What do you think, hyung-nim?”
Now that he was here, Jin-Woo could understand why Yu Jin-Ho sounded so confident on the phone. He scanned the empty office space and nodded his head.
Its location was pretty good.
“I specifically chose a place not too far from your place, hyung-nim.”
It was also tidy, too.
“I deliberately went for the newly-developed office spaces. I believe that the old saying goes something like ‘put new wine in a new bottle’. Don’t you agree, hyung-nim?”
Perhaps most importantly, the place was freaking huge.
“I’ll do my best to grow this Guild so it’ll surpass the five large Guilds someday, hyung-nim!”
Yu Jin-Ho was burning with unbridled passion, figuratively speaking.
‘It’s fine for you to burn with passion like that, but please, leave me out of it….’
Jin-Woo pondered seriously about this quandary: Should he tell Yu Jin-Ho to just go back to Yujin Guild now, before it’s too late?
Well, he had this gut feeling that the Yujin’s Chairman, a guy who even froze his own son’s bank account, wouldn’t be so keen on taking his son back at this point in time. Seeing that Jin-Woo was in deep contemplation, Yu Jin-Ho formed an expression that cried out “Heok!”
“Hyung-nim…. You don’t like this place?”
“…..No, that’s not it.”
“Then, should I sign the lease contract, hyung-nim?”
“….Sure, why not.”
Judging from the size of the place, the monthly rental must’ve been crazy steep, but when comparing to the potential revenue stream of a Guild, it’d be a chump change at the end of the day.
‘I guess it’ll be fine to let him dream a little bit longer.’
For now, Jin-Woo couldn’t tell the kid that it’d be only the two of them sharing this huge office space.
Yu Jin-Ho suddenly clapped his hands.
“By the way, hyung-nim. Who do you have in mind for the remaining spot?”
“….The remaining spot?”
Did he make a promise to open up a spot for someone?
Since Jin-Woo wasn’t the type to forget his promises, he could only look at Yu Jin-Ho with a confused expression, prompting the latter to excitedly explain the situation.
“You need at least three people when creating a Guild, hyung-nim.”
The Master, the Vice-Master, and an employee.
Indeed, that was the minimum required composition of a Guild’s founding members. The rule of the minimum number for a team raiding the least dangerous Gate out there, a rank E, being three people seemed to be related to this, somehow.
‘Well, you will never find a Guild wanting to clear a rank E Gate, though….’
The founding members, was it?
Several familiar faces fleeted in and out of Jin-Woo’s head as he considered who could fill up the remaining vacant spot. The only condition being, they had to be Hunters, too. If it was at all possible, someone who didn’t want to work as a Hunter ever again, and only there to make up the numbers.
‘Why do I keep picturing women’s faces….?’
He recalled the faces of the high school girl who decided to give up being a Hunter, as well as a certain female Healer who went back to her family home in the city of Busan, but they disappeared from his thoughts quickly enough. It was then.
“Ah, I almost forgot.”
Yu Jin-Ho abruptly opened his mouth. Jin-Woo quickly asked him.
“Did you suddenly remember someone suitable for the spot, then?”
“No, it’s not that, hyung-nim. Actually, there was someone looking for you.”
Jin-Woo couldn’t help but get curious. Seeing that this unknown person had indirectly contacted him through Yu Jin-Ho, he or she must’ve done their thorough research.
‘Yu Jin-Ho and I aren’t known as associates publicly, after all.’
Indeed, if anything, others should see their relationship simply as one being the previous raid leader while the other being the member of that raid team.
‘Even then, calling me through Yu Jin-Ho, is it?’
Jin-Woo’s eyes narrowed to a slit just a little.
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know, hyung-nim. That person was definitely an English-speaking foreigner. Hold on.”
Yu Jin-Ho rummaged through his pockets, pulled out his wallet and extracted a piece of a memo from there.
“This person said that he’d be staying in Korea until the 17th, so he’d very much appreciate it if you give him a call, hyung-nim.”
Jin-Woo took the memo and found a number for a mobile phone as well as a hotel room number. He took a look at the back of the memo, but nothing was written there.
’17th… that’s three days from now.’
An English-speaking foreigner – just who could it be? He couldn’t think of anyone he knew or fit the bill.
However, quite suddenly…
“….Looks like I’ll have to go home first.”
Jin-Woo’s expression hardened.
“Pardon? You’re going home already, hyung-nim?”
Yu Jin-Ho had been thinking of treating his hyung-nim to a delicious meal since it had been a long time they ate together. But now, he looked like a person who had lost his country. Perhaps a bit too callously, though, Jin-Woo didn’t even try to understand his dongsaeng’s feelings at all.
“I’m going ahead first.”
Yu Jin-Ho quickly hid his disappointed expression and quickly bent down in a polite bow, as usual.
“Okay, have a safe trip, hyung…. nim?”
When he raised his head, Jin-Woo was already long gone.
It was now that time in the day when the inky-black darkness dwelt on the hidden alleyways.
A female college student named Eun Ji-Min was on her way back home; her heart was pounding like crazy at the moment, however.
‘There’s no way, right….?’
Because, there was a man busy following her.
She hoped that they were simply walking in the same direction, and that had to be the reason why his footsteps were continuing right behind her like that.
‘I saw something like this on a message board.’
In a situation like this one, it wasn’t only the woman, but the man would be feeling rather troubled, as well. A man’s walking speed should be faster or similar to that of a woman; if he tried to walk past her, she’d freak out, but if he tried to simply stay behind her, then he’d come across even more suspicious, instead.
On top of that, by going around the corner up ahead, she’d find herself in a secluded street with a broken street lamp, which could potentially make things even more awkward for the parties involved.
Eun Ji-Min took a glance behind her.
A man with a baseball cap pulled down low and his face staring at the ground was quietly walking on the street. Although it was suspicious, it was not a crime to wear baseball caps like that in public.
‘Instead of letting this awkward walk-together thing carry on, maybe I should….’
Eun Ji-Min stopped walking as if she needed to tie her shoelaces, and eventually, the man walked right past her.
After confirming that the man was gone from her sight, Eun Ji-Min spat out a sigh of relief. She then gathered her hands in mock prayer and closed her eyes.
‘I’m really sorry about that, mister unknown uncle.’
She looked around her vicinity for a bit longer before tidying up her clothes. With a smile on her face, Eun Ji-Min energetically began walking again.
She had a mountain of assignments to get through! If she were to prepare for the end-of-term exams, running back home now would still leave her with not enough time.
‘How wide was the scope again?’
Thinking about how she’d have to spend the whole night studying, her shoulders slumped dejectedly. But, as Eun Ji-Min went around the corner, her eyes widened.
“You make a noise, I’ll kill you.”
The man who walked right by her seconds ago was standing in the street corner with a kitchen knife and an insidious smile on his face.
“You know that…. a few people had died here already, right?”
Eun Ji-Min couldn’t even scream. With a pale complexion, she stood there completely frozen.
The man lowered the white surgical mask on his face and grinned.
There was no one around them; only the broken street light flickered listlessly.
< Chapter 113 > Fin.