I Alone Level-Up
In the venue for the press conference held by the American Hunter Bureau.
The United States of America had opened her mouth to make her statement.
“We’re currently gathering Hunters to one location.”
Was America finally revealing her hand in order to save Japan?
Reporters had all rushed to attend this press conference after the Hunter Bureau announced that they would clarify their position. They all cried out in elation from this announcement as if this matter concerned them personally.
No one alive would wish for tens of millions, no, hundreds of millions of people to die a gruesome death. That was why these reporters were so enthusiastic about this announcement.
As the atmosphere within the press conference venue heated up to an astounding degree, the spokesperson ruefully shook his head.
“However, it’s not for Japan’s sake.”
What was that?
The gathered reporters began exchanging glances as hushed murmurs grew louder. It seemed that no one present here had received any prior warning about this as they were all cautiously looking at each other’s reactions right now.
The spokesperson pointed to the giant screen behind him.
“What the hell…”
The mouths of the reporters were clamped shut by the image now shown on that screen.
The chaotic atmosphere cooled down in an instant and it was replaced by deathly silence instead. And then, as this weighty silence persisted, shocked gasps could occasionally be heard in between.
The prepared footage indeed carried that much of an impact.
“This is the image of the Gate discovered earlier today in eastern Maryland.”
The size of the Gate was not normal. It was smaller than the one in Japan, but still, its sheer scale was uncommonly massive.
The rank of a Gate didn’t always match up to its size. But then again, a Gate with an enormous size never led to a low-ranked dungeon, either.
The spokesperson continued on with his explanation.
“According to the measurement taken by our investigative team, this Gate is also a rank S, exactly like the one that has appeared in Japan. This nation’s top Hunters will focus all their efforts in closing this Gate, instead.”
Some reporters covered their faces, some shook their heads in helplessness, some spat out pained sighs to display the despair each of them felt in that moment.
An unprecedented event of two rank S Gates being generated close to one another had taken place.
Of course, the United States of America wasn’t worried in the slightest. It was now time for the dozens of rank S Hunters she had reeled in from all over the world to step forward and easily take care of this Gate.
The problem was with Japan.
‘America doesn’t have the spare manpower to aid Japan.’
When this horrifying piece of news finally made its way over to Japan, the Japanese people desperately praying for the Americans’ aid all cried out in despair.
Japan was finished.
The Giant-type monsters were advancing south as it destroyed everything in their path. People escaping up north were slowly but surely being forced onto a cliff, as well.
In this situation, Korea finally broke her silence over the matter and clarified her position as well.
Goh Gun-Hui stood in front of the reporters and spoke up.
“We will not get involved in Japan’s matters.”
A day before the press conference.
Just like any other day, the wide-open office space of the Ah-Jin Guild was occupied by only two people – Jin-Woo and Yu Jin-Ho.
The latter’s eyes sparkled brightly.
“Hyung-nim? A rank B Gate just became available. Should I book it?”
“Is it within the Hunters Guild’s jurisdiction?”
“Pardon? Oh, yes it is, hyung-nim.”
“In that case, don’t.”
“Oh…. okay. I got it, hyung-nim.”
Having sacrificed a lot of her elite Hunters, the Hunters Guild would be going through a seriously hectic time now. It’d not look good if Jin-Woo’s Guild swooped in to take advantage of the situation and stole a Gate from under their noses.
Yu Jin-Ho scratched the side of his head before shifting his head over to Jin-Woo.
“Hyung-nim? What have you been you looking at so intently like that?”
Jin-Woo tore his eyes away from the computer screen and leaned his back against the chair.
“Should I go over to Japan for a while?”
Yu Jin-Ho’s expression hardened.
Of course, he hadn’t forgotten just who was saying those words. He had seen hyung-nim’s amazing feats closer than anyone else out there.
However, common sense simply didn’t apply to rank S Gates. It was impossible to measure, to begin with. Didn’t that imply such a Gate was beyond the scope of what’s considered normal?
Just like how there was an unscalable wall even among the rank S Hunters, no one could tell just what kind of dangerous monsters would pop out from a Gate that was impossible to measure.
And that was why Yu Jin-Ho simply couldn’t think of Jin-Woo’s words of going to Japan as him simply kidding around.
Abruptly, his head shifted over to the computer screen Jin-Woo was looking at.
It was filled with the breaking news regarding Japan.
‘Hyung-nim was worried about them.’
Unlike Yu Jin-Ho, hyung-nim possessed incredible powers. It was quite obvious that he’d also suffer from the distress that the responsibility of his power level brought along.
“Hyung-nim, hold up.”
Jin-Woo only lightly threw that suggestion out but Yu Jin-Ho’s reactions were rather serious.
Yu Jin-Ho vacated his spot and hurriedly extracted a photo album from the file cabinet before bringing it over. When he flipped that thick book open, all sorts of newspaper articles were clipped onto its pages.
All of them were articles related to Jin-Woo.
From the incident of the Red Gate – which the media still didn’t know that Jin-Woo was a part of – to the raid of Jeju Island; when he solved the issue of the traffic jam; and even when he took care of the strange, unidentifiable stone statues alongside the Hunters Guild recently, too.
Jin-Woo was dumbfounded by this spectacle and asked Yu Jin-Ho.
“You were collecting all of these?”
Yu Jin-Ho’s face was slightly flushed red.
“Okay, fine. But, why are you showing me this all of a sudden?”
“You know what the common theme among these articles is, hyung-nim?”
‘….Surely, he’s not trying to say that I’m involved in all these incidents.’
A short while later, Yu Jin-Ho spoke with a voice softer than the buzzing of a mosquito.
“It’s that I’m nowhere to be found in all of them, hyung-nim.”
If it weren’t for Jin-Woo’s high Perception reinforcing his hearing, he’d have missed that voice.
Jin-Woo looked back, and Yu Jin-Ho raised his drooped head and stared straight into the former’s eyes.
“Hyung-nim. If you’re planning to go to Japan, please take me along with you.”
Jin-Woo was baffled here.
He expected Yu Jin-Ho to either stop him or cheer him on when he said he’d be heading over to Japan, but never did he imagine the kid would say ‘Take me with you!’
However, Yu Jin-Ho was being dead serious.
“Although it is embarrassing to say this out loud, hyung-nim, you’re my pride. You’re the only thing that I can proudly boast about to other people, you know.”
Jin-Woo quickly shut his mouth up.
Yu Jin-Ho looked outwardly as if he had possessed more than anyone else in the world. According to his own words, however, all of those were shackles that only managed to torment him, and to him, they were nothing to be proud about.
But then, it was Yu Jin-Ho’s own decision to stick around Jin-Woo, and then to continue developing the Ah-Jin Guild. All his, and no one else’s.
Jin-Woo could more or less understand where Yu Jin-Ho was coming from when he said this was his sole source of pride.
“That is why I’d like to be there where you are, hyung-nim. Please, please take me with you, hyung-nim.”
“You, you haven’t forgotten where I want to go, right?”
Even if Yu Jin-Ho was a naïve, immature kid, he surely would have heard about what was happening in Japan.
That place was currently a true hell on earth. Demons called ‘Giants’ were judging mankind in the most gruesome manner imaginable.
Even then, Yu Jin-Ho nodded his head with a determined expression on his face.
“As long as you’re unhurt, hyung-nim, I’ll be alright as well. If you get hurt somehow… eiii, I don’t wanna even think about that.”
Yu Jin-Ho looked back with a strong light of trust burning in his eyes.
The feeling you’d get from someone trusting you to such an extent certainly couldn’t be described as bad in any shape or form.
Jin-Woo felt this strange warmth tickling him in his chest and he happily ruffled Yu Jin-Ho’s hair. The latter was flustered but he didn’t withdraw his head.
“I was only joking, you know? Why would ever I go to Japan when times are like this?”
Jin-Woo stood up from his spot.
“Hey, that’s enough for today. Let’s just go home. You worked hard anyway.”
“Uh? You’re going home already, hyung-nim?”
Jin-Woo stepped outside the office door while waving his hands. Yu Jin-Ho bowed his waist deeply to send him off.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, hyung-nim!”
Jin-Woo stepped into his house.
A truly mouth-watering savoury scent of stew tickled his nostrils. He stood on the spot and soaked in the evening’s smell.
‘This is so good.’
One of the great things about mom being discharged from the hospital was that now, he had someone to welcome him back home every day. The dark and quiet home of the past no longer existed in his life. Not anymore.
“Son, you’re home?”
He heard his mother’s voice coming from the kitchen.
He took off his shoes and neatly arranged them before walking into the kitchen himself. His mother was looking behind her and he sent her a smile as a greeting.
“Will you eat dinner?”
“Yes. What about Jin-Ah, though?”
“She says she’s got no appetite.”
Jin-Woo’s hand suddenly stopped before it finished pulling out his chair.
“She couldn’t get a wink of sleep last night. She only fell asleep not too long ago.”
Jin-Woo hid his presence and cautiously opened the door to his sister’s room.
Jin-Ah was rolling around in her bed, struggling to fall into a deeper slumber. She normally maintained such a bright appearance, but it seemed that she hadn’t gotten over her mental trauma yet.
‘Then again…. She had to go through such an experience, didn’t she.’
His rage towards monsters boiled over whenever he saw how much his sister was struggling like this.
Why were those things endlessly tormenting humanity?
It was then, Jin-Woo recalled the sight of those silver-clad winged soldiers pouring out from the Gates in the sky to sweep away the monsters. The army with its unfathomable size, burning with clear animosity against the horde of monsters. If such an army actually existed, then….
‘Are they our allies?’
Wasn’t there an old saying about an enemy of an enemy being a friend?
Jin-Woo studied his sleeping sister quietly for a little while, before closing the door behind him.
“Thank you for the meal.”
After finishing his dinner, Jin-Woo headed off to the Association’s gymnasium to get a little bit of exercise in. It indeed proved to be really convenient to have a Shadow Soldier stationed inside the gymnasium.
Sweating a lot was the best cure when one’s head became clogged full of complicated thoughts. And so, he wanted to sweat buckets for the first time in a while.
Jin-Woo summoned Beru out.
As he began to lightly loosen his body, the former king of the ants politely knelt before him and lowered his head.
“Oh, my king…”
Beru was the sole soldier among Jin-Woo’s Shadow Army that could withstand his attacks, at least for a little while. But even he flinched grandly after sensing the extent of Jin-Woo’s change and shuddered where he stood.
“I offer my unreserved congratulations, my king. I sense from you a far greater amount of power than ever before.”
Beru sensed an electrifying shiver run down his body after sensing that incredible amount of magic energy oozing out of the ‘Black Heart’. His head, still lowered to the ground, was trembling noticeably now.
Jin-Woo didn’t summon his Shadow Soldier out to boast of his growth, though. He gestured to Beru to stand up.
The former ant king tilted his head after picking up Jin-Woo’s worried eyes, which would be the first time he had sensed such a thing ever since becoming a part of the Shadow Army.
Jin-Woo spoke under his breath.
“Attack me with everything you have.”
“Oh, my king. How dare I even…..”
“It’s fine. I just want to shed some sweat for a little while. And you know no one else besides you can do that.”
“I… I am truly honoured….”
Feeling touched, Beru was about to kneel down again, but then, Jin-Woo glared at him with a pair of very sharp eyes.
“Hang on a minute. You know, your vocabulary seems to be increasing every day. You haven’t devoured someone else somewhere, have you?”
Beru’s shoulders flinched somewhat, but Jin-Woo soon let go of the matter. He clenched his fists and issued his order again, instead.
“Remember to hit me with everything you have.”
“If my Sovereign’s wills it, then I shall follow….”
Beru raised his head as his claws lengthened.
There was no burden on Beru as he knew that his claws would never touch his Sovereign. Jin-Woo grinned after seeing that and nodded his head. This was what he wanted, anyway.
Along with the thunderous roar that shook the interior of the gymnasium, Beru pounced on his master.
Beru slammed down on the floor and was laid out flat on his back.
127 times fought, 127 times defeated.
Indeed, even though he threw everything he had, he failed to touch even the hair on his master’s body. In the last few days that Beru didn’t see his king, Jin-Woo had become far stronger than ever before.
The display of power today only deepened the level of respect and loyalty Beru held towards his king.
While the former ant king remained sprawled on the floor unable to move, Jin-Woo settled down next to him. There were a few strands of sweat on his forehead. But this was as far as he could take it.
If he moved any harder than this, then this gymnasium would have been demolished in no time at all.
Jin-Woo remained seated and stared into the far distance.
Beru silently sat back up and knelt down before asking him.
“Oh, my king… Is there a matter that’s troubling you?”
“Troubling me, is it?”
“A portion of our consciousness and the Sovereign’s are connected as one. The king’s troubles are transmitted as pain to us, the subjects.”
To think, he’d get consoled by a Shadow Soldier. Not only that, from a dude who originally was an insect, too. Jin-Woo couldn’t help but form a wry smirk.
Now normally, he’d simply chuckle and put the matter to bed, but this time, things were a little different.
“There’s something I want to do, but I’m not sure how I should go about doing that.”
The events taking place in Japan were, strictly speaking, someone else’s troubles.
Who knew what kind of dangers were in hiding and waiting for him there? Besides, it wasn’t as if he could resolve every single incident that happened in the world, either.
And not to forget, there was that resolved emotional baggage between the Korean Hunter’s Association and its Japanese counterpart to consider, as well.
All these thoughts only served to make the inside of his head more complicated than ever before.
It was then, Beru suddenly raised his head.
“Oh, my king!”
Jin-Woo looked at Beru with surprised eyes. This was the first time this guy expressed his thoughts this strongly ever since becoming a Shadow Soldier.
“Nothing must become a hindrance in the path of my king.”
Beru’s voice filled with conviction made him sound more like a close aide that stayed by Jin-Woo’s side for a long time rather than a monster that got turned into a Shadow Solder recently.
“The one that does what he wants to. That is what it means to be a king.”
“Hold on. I keep telling you, I’m not a king.”
Indeed, the Class he got coincidentally through the System just so happened to be the Shadow Sovereign. That was all.
However, Beru strongly denied Jin-Woo’s assertion.
“That is incorrect, my king. My king, you possess the power to achieve anything you desire.”
Jin-Woo’s eyes shook around heavily.
For some reason, his heart began pounding away rather violently.
“You are, without a doubt, a king.”
‘That stuff about being a king again.’
However, his heart that began racing on its own didn’t want to calm down that easily at all.
‘Anything I desire, is it…..’
Jin-Woo shifted his gaze back to the distance, but his eyes were gleaming with a cold light now.
The United States of America made her announcement, and the Association President Goh Gun-Hui also clarified the position of the Korean Association.
Click, click, click, click!!
Camera flashes ceaselessly exploded all around him.
The Association President then proceeded to reveal every little detail of what the Japanese Hunters were trying to do back then to these reporters. The proofs he presented only solidified the inscrutable truth even further.
The CCTV footage of the President of Japanese Association, Matsumoto Shigeo, brazenly yelling at the top of his lungs at his Korean counterpart even after he put into motion such a dastardly scheme left a serious shock to all the reporters watching on.
And the Japanese reporters, hoping for South Korea to come to their aid, could only watch the footage with utter devastation.
Before long, their hands holding the cameras were pointing down to the floor.
Only a short moment ago the Americans said that they couldn’t help Japan. In such a situation, the explosive revelations from the Korean Hunter’s Association were no different from passing a death sentence to the Japanese people. Thick, burning tears began falling from the eyes of the Japanese reporters.
“…..This is everything I wanted to say.”
The Association President Goh Gun-Hui finished saying what he came to say.
Normally, this would be the time when countless questions started inundating him, but no reporter present here could unshackle their mouths from the nasty shock and astonishment to do so.
The poor atmosphere of the press conference was broadcast live to the rest of the country through the various TV cameras. Only then did the viewers watching on realise why the Koreans had maintained their silence over the crisis unfolding in Japan.
Goh Gun-Hui looked as if he’d be turning around to leave as the press conference had come to an end but then, he continued to speak on.
“This is the decision of the Hunter’s Association, and ours alone. We won’t stop any individual Hunters from doing what they wish to do.”
What was he even talking about now?
Like animals lazily waking up from their winter hibernation, the reporters still frozen in shock began slowly exchanging glances with each other again.
“There is one such person. There is one Hunter who wishes to go to Japan and get rid of the Giant monsters.”
Who could that be?
Who wanted to head to Japan under the current situation all by himself?
The bottomed-out atmosphere of the press conference venue suddenly began boiling over. Even the Japanese reporters shedding tears raised their cameras with their trembling hands.
The lone strand of hope was busy hammering away in their hearts now.
One of the Korean reporters raised his hand up. The Association President pointed to this man. Perhaps fearing that his turn would be snatched away from him, he quickly asked his question.
“Just who is this Hunter?”
The attention of everyone present in the venue was directed to Goh Gun-Hui. He took his time for a moment or two, before pressing his lips as close to the mic as possible.
“It’s Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim.”
Click, click, click, click, click, click!!
That one sentence caused hundreds of cameras to explode in a wall of blinding flashes.
< Chapter 169 > Fin.