There wasn’t any deeper meaning behind his actions. Goto Ryuji came to South Korea to personally confirm the capabilities of the top Korean Hunters with his own eyes. And now, he had developed a bit of curiosity after discovering someone a bit unique out of the lot. That was all.
‘I’ll soon find out whether he’s really a Mage or not.’
Goto Ryuji refused to accept that the man standing right in front of his eyes wasn’t a melee-type Hunter.
He needed more ‘data’. In order to eliminate any and all form of unexpected variations, he simply had to acquire more data on Seong Jin-Woo.
‘Well, half of it is for fun, though….’
Goto Ryuji smirked to himself.
The interpreter heard what the Japanese Hunter had to say, jumped up in surprise, before hurriedly asking a question.
“M-mister Goto, are you sure about this?”
“Please translate what I said to this man ad verbatim.”
“B-but, even then….”
“Will there be a problem?”
Goto Ryuji asked back in a teasing tone. His voice seemed to ask why shouldn’t he participate in the proceedings, when the Korean Hunters were already doing some ‘light exercises’?
The interpreter continued to sweat buckets, before giving up in the end and replied to him.
“I… I understand.”
He turned his head and met Jin-Woo’s questioning gaze. The interpreter hesitated before opening his mouth.
“Mister Goto is asking… If you don’t mind ‘training’ with him…..”
There was no need for an extra explanation on what that training was supposed to be.
Jin-Woo’s gaze shifted over to Goto Ryuji. The Japanese man was waiting for an answer with an unreadable smile on his face.
‘You want to find out more about my skill level, is that it?’
There was no way that the world-famous Goto Ryuji would do something so eye-catching just to show off his abilities. If that was indeed his aim, he’d have asked either Choi Jong-In or Baek Yun-Ho, the leaders of the number one and two South Korean Guilds respectively, instead.
‘I don’t know what you’re planning here, but….’
Judging from the undisguised stare from earlier on, it was more than likely that Goto Ryuji’s interest was on Jin-Woo.
Even then, he didn’t feel displeased by the Japanese Hunter’s abrupt suggestion. No, rather than that, he was genuinely intrigued by the prospect of the fight itself.
He wanted to test out the strength he got to raise inside the Demon’s Castle, and he was also curious about the abilities of Japan’s top Hunter, too. Indeed, it wasn’t only Goto Ryuji who was curious about his opponent’s strength.
Goto Ryuji stopped smiling as a thin frown formed on his forehead.
He expected Jin-Woo to become flustered and then eventually try to back out, but then, the Korean Hunter simply displayed a certain relaxed vibe, instead.
Was there something he felt confident of? Or, was he smiling wryly after finding the current situation troublesome to handle?
The answer was revealed soon enough. Jin-Woo told something to the interpreter, and the latter jumped up pretty high in shock right away.
Next up, the interpreter looked as if he was doing his best to dissuade the youth, while Jin-Woo was all smiles as he tried to calm the former, instead. Since they were talking in Korean, Goto Ryuji couldn’t understand a word being spoken and as a result, a frown grew progressively deeper on his face.
‘What are they even talking about…?’
It should’ve only been either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Why was the interpreter sweating buckets like that over a question with only two exceedingly simple available answers?
Just as Goto Ryuji’s patience was about to run out, the interpreter spoke up while continuously sneaking glances at Jin-Woo.
“Uhm, excuse me, Mister Goto….”
If only there were no eyes watching right now, Goto Ryuji would’ve shouted at the man to stop wasting time and hurry up with it. Forcibly maintaining his smile meant that Goto Ryuji’s brows were quivering greatly, as he waited for the interpreter’s next words.
“Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim agreed to your proposal. However….”
“He says he has a condition.”
Not only had the opponent failed to lower his tail and cower, but he also accepted the challenge straight away, and even put up an extra condition, as well. It was Goto Ryuji’s turn to feel somewhat flustered now.
“And what is this condition?”
“Well, Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim said that…..”
The interpreter took one last look at Jin-Woo, and the latter nodded his head.
“….He’ll agree only on the condition that Mister Goto gives his all.”
Goto Ryuji’s stare immediately shifted to Seong Jin-Woo.
‘Is he being serious??’
Seeing the expression on Jin-Woo’s face, one could tell that he wasn’t kidding around. Goto Ryuji tilted his head.
‘Wait… Maybe he doesn’t know who I am?’
But, that couldn’t be. Even if he didn’t know before, the interpreter should’ve provided an explanation just now. Even then, for him to not cower and back off – was this the case of arrogance or a mistaken belief in himself?
‘….This might be fun.’
The smile was already wiped clean from Goto Ryuji’s mug.
He was thinking of matching the opponent’s pace and ending things after checking out Seong Jin-Woo’s skill, but now, his thoughts had changed. Thankfully, with a rank S Healer nearby, there shouldn’t be any big ‘accidents’ either.
“Alright, I accept.”
The interpreter’s face paled immediately.
Hunter Seong Jin-Woo had just advanced to rank ‘S’, so he might not be able to contain his overflowing passion, but why was Mister Goto, who had experienced all sorts of trials and tribulations, behaving like this?
Unfortunately, the atmosphere had already gone past the point of no return.
“Who’s that guy next to the Japanese Hunter?”
“Isn’t he… Hunter Seong Jin-Woo?”
“What’s this? Are they going to spar or something?”
Soon, the rank S Hunters and Association employees within the gymnasium all gathered around the two men glaring at each other. As everyone was immersed in the developing situation, half of them looking on with worry while the other half in anticipation, Cha Hae-In also stood next to the Hunters and looked on at the duo.
‘Will he be fine…?’
Jin-Woo’s opponent was a man who managed to stand at the top of Japan, a country with over 20 rank S Hunters.
As for Jin-Woo himself, if one excluded the years he spent as a rank E, then he should be considered as a newbie who had been a rank S for only a few days now.
It’d be the right thing to stop Hunter Seong Jin-Woo from continuing on any further.
From Cha Hae-In’s perspective as someone affiliated with the Hunters Guild, Seong Jin-Woo was a benefactor who saved the lives of an entire team consisting of her Guild’s elite men and women.
She wasn’t some honour-less woman who’d do nothing and watch a benefactor get hurt from the sidelines.
However, she kept recalling the events of that day whenever she thought about dissuading him.
….The look Jin-Woo gave her, telling her not to interfere even when he was facing off against over one hundred High Orcs and a boss of a rank A dungeon.
When recalling that powerful, determined stare, she felt her chest palpitate, and unexplainable anticipation bubbled up in her heart. That was why she couldn’t readily step forward, only to bite down on her lower lip in nervousness.
It was then.
“Are you feeling okay today with other Hunters around you?”
Before she had time to notice it, Baek Yun-Ho was already next to her to ask that question. They had gone on several raids together, so he knew very well of her strange physical condition.
“Well, it’s not like I’ll be able to continue blocking my nose in Jeju Island, so…”
Hearing her answer, Baek Yun-Ho nodded his head. It was her turn to ask next.
“You said before that you’re an acquaintance with Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, yes?”
Cha Hae-In remembered that the White Tiger Guild also received Hunter Seong Jin-Woo’s help in the past, just like her own Guild did.
“In that case, shouldn’t you try to stop Mister Seong Jin-Woo?”
“I guess that’s the normal way of thinking.”
After all, the opponent today was none other than Goto Ryuji. Cha Hae-In tilted her head.
“If so, then why….?”
Baek Yun-Ho shifted his gaze and met her eyes before replying to her.
“It’s the same reason as yours, Cha Hunter-nim.”
Cha Hae-In felt as if her inner secrets had been exposed by Baek Yun-Ho just now. Her always-taciturn expression displayed just a hint of change.
“Don’t you feel this strange anticipation in the air?”
….She couldn’t deny that.
Even now, her heart was racing with a singular thought of ‘If it’s Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, then he might….’ filling up her head.
“It’s the same story for me.”
Baek Yun-Ho replied with a grin and looked back in Jin-Woo and Goto Ryuji’s direction. His expression was filled with barely-checked anticipation.
‘If Hunter Seong is really an Awakened who can grow stronger as per my expectation, then….’
This could be the chance to confirm that theory.
Goto Ryuji raised his fist first.
The interpreter standing nearby hurriedly left their side. Two rank S Hunters were about to have a smackdown. Not only that, one of them happened to be referred to as Japan’s best, as well. A normal person would die simply from being too close in this situation.
Making sure that the interpreter had run off to a safe-enough distance, Jin-Woo belatedly put his dukes up as well. No, that’s what he tried to do.
Without a moment’s delay, Goto Ryuji’s fist flew past where Jin-Woo’s head had been a blink ago.
The Japanese man’s eyes grew wide.
The attack was meant to floor Jin-Woo in one go and help Goto recover his damaged pride, but now, it was all for nothing. Jin-Woo evaded the punch by tilting his head out of the way, and then, he easily created some distance between them.
His reaction speed was surprisingly fast.
‘And you still claim to be a Mage after that??’
What a bloody laughable notion that was.
Indeed, Goto Ryuji’s eyes weren’t mistaken. He didn’t know the reason for the Korean Association hiding that man’s true abilities, but without a doubt, Seong Jin-Woo was a melee-type Hunter. Not only that, definitely an Assassin, too. His agile movements and his silent steps were all the proof needed.
‘You may be able to fool the others, but you can’t hide the truth from me.’
The corner of Goto Ryuji’s lips arched up.
‘Allow me to peel off another layer of yours.’
….Right until everything you possess is brought up to the surface!
For the first time in a long, long while, Goto Ryuji was feeling genuinely pumped up.
After taking some distance away from the aggressive Japanese Hunter, Jin-Woo stood still and listened to his heartbeat.
Thump, thump, thump….
Indeed, his heart was beating faster. He could sense power on another level compared to other Hunters from Goto Ryuji.
However, the emotion filling up Jin-Woo’s heart whenever Goto Ryuji’s unbelievable aura touched his skin was this strong sense of belief in himself.
‘So, that guy is the best in Japan….’
Only now could he truly recognise how much he had changed while raising his level to 97. His strong confidence was clearly visible on his face now. On the other hand, Goto Ryuji’s expression was hardening.
‘He’s smiling again?’
How dare he, in front of me??
Goto Ryuji spat out a heavy breath.
The scarcely-believable amount of magical energy he emitted began to heavily press down the surrounding air. Hunters watching on were jolted by a nasty surprise.
‘Shouldn’t we stop them before something happens here?’
‘Goto Ryuji, maybe he’s thinking of really going for it now?’
However, there was a thin smile on Jin-Woo’s face. This was what he wanted, anyways.
Goto Ryuji saw that Jin-Woo showed no signs of cowering even after he had unleashed his fearsome level of magic power, and felt something welling up from deep within.
His eyes gleamed dangerously just then!
Even before other Hunters had the chance to step forward and stop this bout, Goto Ryuji pounced like an angry predator.
The distance closed up in an instant; Goto Ryuji reached out with his hand; Jin-Woo leaned back in the nick of time and evaded the attack.
Goto Ryuji’s eyes trembled imperceptibly.
Was that also a coincidence, or….?
Even though many thoughts fleeted in and out of his head, he didn’t stay his hands and continued to rain down his attacks. Too bad, not one of them could connect to his target; Jin-Woo always managed to dodge by a hair’s breadth or repelled the incoming hits away.
‘How could this be…??’
Cold sweat drops formed on Goto Ryuji’s forehead.
Goto Ryuji and his brilliantly flashy attacks, and Jin-Woo who managed to dodge everything by the smallest margins imaginable. Other Hunters watched the duo and expressed their genuine admiration.
“That’s some fierce attacks, alright.”
“Hard to follow those movements with my naked eyes.”
“Look, even Hunter Seong Jin-Woo is enduring pretty well, no?”
“Right, it’s already pretty remarkable that he can evade the attacks from Japan’s best to that extent.”
Cha Hae-In shook her head multiple times inwardly.
‘No, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo isn’t enduring anything right now.’
Others could only see that Jin-Woo was being endlessly led around by Goto Ryuji’s continuous stream of attacks, but in reality, it was completely the opposite. Cha Hae-In swallowed her saliva, feeling rather astonished at the moment.
‘He’s actually leading Goto in such a way that Goto has no choice but to keep attacking!’
If she was not wrong about this, then… Hunter Seong Jin-Woo had matched his own pace to the opponent’s, so he could figure out more about who he was facing here.
Such a thing was only possible if his own level of abilities was several times greater than that of his opponent’s.
‘How can that even make any sense….??’
But, that nonsensical event was actually unfolding right before her eyes. And now, she couldn’t help but think that the real reason to stop this sparring wasn’t that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo might find himself in danger, but the other way around….
Just as Cha Hae-In’s thoughts arrived at this point, she discovered Baek Yun-Ho next to her shuddering non-stop.
She called out to him in a soft voice, but he didn’t respond. His eyes were glued to Jin-Woo and nothing else. She tried to read his expression, only to get stunned by what she saw.
Baek Yun-Ho’s eyes were gleaming in yellow colour like that of a wild beast. His vertical-slit eyes were trembling softly in shock.
She looked on with a worried expression on her face, but he didn’t even notice that someone was looking at him right now. Baek Yun-Ho was seeing everything clearly with his ‘Eyes of the Beast’.
‘I…. I was right!’
Jin-Woo’s current level of power was incomparably greater than back when they last met in front of the Association building.
‘….A Hunter who can grow stronger!!’
Baek Yun-Ho’s entire body shook from the unbridled shock.
It was then.
Baek Yun-Ho had been paying his utmost attention to Jin-Woo all this time, and when ‘it’ happened, he unconsciously spat out a frightened gasp. Cha Hae-In next to her also sensed this deeply chilling aura and hurriedly shifted her gaze.
A few seconds ago….
Goto Ryuji knew better than anyone else here that he had been suckered into Jin-Woo’s pace.
He had been always referred to as the ‘Strongest’ back home, so it felt like his pride had been shoved down the gutter in its entirety by this development.
‘How dare he do this to me….?!’
The attack that he meticulously aimed at the opening also missed its mark, as Jin-Woo narrowly avoided it at the last possible second. Goto Ryuji grew enraged, and murderous intent began filling up his eyes.
‘I’ll kill him!!’
Jin-Woo’s own eyes grew wider. He could acutely sense Goto Ryuji’s killing intent pricking his skin.
Jin-Woo’s heart nearly fell to the pit of his stomach, then.
If someone formed a murderous intent towards him, the System would float up a message and issue an emergency quest right afterwards. What if he got a quest telling him to kill Goto Ryuji here…??
A mechanical beep resounded out right at that moment, and Jin-Woo quickly looked up.
[Warning! Discovered a subject with murderous intent nearby!]
Thankfully, it was still a warning message; there was no emergency quest, like back then with Hwang Dong-Seok or Kahng Tae-Sik.
Goto Ryuji’s outstretched hand, aimed at Jin-Woo’s eye, narrowly missed and ended up slicing his cheek just a little. If his reflexes that had reached the absolute limit, didn’t react in time and tilt his head out of the way, he might have really lost his eye just now.
It was an attack that clearly carried the intent to kill, and it was clearly aimed at a vital spot of the human anatomy. Such a thing would never be accepted during a training match like this.
In the blink of an eye, the atmosphere changed.
Baek Yun-Ho unconsciously spat out a frightened gasp.
The first person to sense the abrupt shift in the atmosphere was actually Goto Ryuji, however. Unfortunately for him, although his body understood the change, his head could not.
The chilly air roused sleeping goosebumps to break out all over his body, and all the hair on the back of his neck stood up. He had never, ever felt like this before.
‘This, what is this….?’
Even before his brain had the time to process anything, Jin-Woo grabbed his wrist, hard. Goto Ryuji tried to yank his arm out with all his might, but it wouldn’t budge.
‘What kind of strength is this….?!’
His gaze briefly lingered on his wrist, before moving on to Jin-Woo’s face. And he found an icy cold glare.
But what caught Goto Ryuji’s attention even more than Jin-Woo’s cold eyes were his right shoulder and his raised right arm. Jin-Woo’s arm was cocked back by a lot; a tightly-clenched fist at the end of that arm was taking an aim at Goto Ryuji’s unguarded face.
The air sinking lower all around Goto Ryuji pressed down on his shoulders. He suddenly couldn’t breathe anymore.
Why did he inexplicably think of the word ‘death’ right at this moment?
Baek Yun-Ho and Cha Hae-In jumped into the fray purely out of instinct and grabbed hold onto Jin-Woo’s right arm.
The former was tightly hugging Jin-Woo’s shoulder as if he was trying to pull it down, while the latter was grabbing onto his wrist with everything she had.
When Jin-Woo looked back, Baek Yun-Ho hurriedly shook his head. Even Cha Hae-In was looking at him with anxious eyes, fear clearly visible on her face.
The desperate dissuasion of these two that didn’t even care about their own safety helped Jin-Woo to cool his agitation down somehow.
Jin-Woo let off a short sigh and released Goto Ryuji’s wrist.
The Japanese man rubbed his now-freed wrist and retreated quickly. Meanwhile, the interpreter hurriedly arrived near his side. Baek Yun-Ho quickly spoke to him.
“Let’s stop the sparring session here, since the mood seems to have turned for the worse. Please tell the Japanese for us.”
The interpreter nodded his head.
When Baek Yun-Ho’s words were relayed to him, Goto Ryuji proceeded to glare at Jin-Woo for a long time, before spinning on his heels to exit from the gymnasium without saying single a word.
The voice of the interpreter as he ran after Goto Ryuji sounded so pitiful. Baek Yun-Ho finally spat out a sigh of relief and lowered his head at Jin-Woo.
“Forgive us for butting in.”
“That man is supposed to lead the Japanese team in the operation a few days from now. I couldn’t just stand by and watch, even though there was a chance that something might go horribly wrong for us.”
Baek Yun-Ho cautiously studied Jin-Woo’s expression and asked.
“Did I do something unnecessary?”
“No, not at all.”
Jin-Woo readily admitted to it.
Baek Yun-Ho was right. If something happened to Goto Ryuji and that led to an unnecessary snag in the operation, then both countries might end up suffering severe consequences afterwards.
So, he never thought of assigning any blame on Baek Yun-Ho or Cha Hae-In after they interfered in the timely fashion.
Now that the situation seemed to have calmed down, people absorbed in spectating on the sparring session between Goto Ryuji and Jin-Woo quickly approached him. The way they looked at him went through a noticeable change.
The first one to make his approach was the Master of the Shining Star Guild, the massive-framed Mah Dong-Wook.
Mah Dong-Wook laughed genially.
“To be able to walk away with only a small scratch on your cheek after having a bout with the one and only Goto, you’re truly something else, young man!”
Regretfully, no one else seemed to have figured out what happened here besides Cha Hae-In and Baek Yun-Ho.
“Ooh!! You have really firm muscles! What an outstanding physique!”
Mah Dong-Wook touched Jin-Woo’s shoulders and arms while expressing his genuine admiration.
“My Guild is full of Mage-type Hunters, so we’re severely lacking in melee-types at the moment. Instructor Seong, if you haven’t thought of a Guild to join, how about joining mine?”
“Excuse me, Mah Instructor-nim?”
Having been quietly observing the situation from behind until then, Choi Jong-In stepped forward and raised his voice.
When Mah Dong-Wook turned his head, Choi Jong-In spoke up as if he was waiting for this moment.
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo is actually a Mage-type Hunter.”
A massive earthquake erupted within Mah Dong-Wook’s eyes.
“What was that?!”
On the other hand….
Goto Ryuji escaped from the confines of the gymnasium and, after quickly distancing himself from the interpreter, he checked his wrist.
His wrist was bruised black and blue all over. Even though the weather wasn’t all that hot, there were cold sweat drops visible on his forehead. He pulled out his phone and dialled a familiar number. After a couple of rings, he could hear the sound of the phone’s receiver being picked up.
It’s Matsumoto speaking.
“Is it you, Goto? What’s the matter with your voice?”
Goto Ryuji did his best to calm his trembling voice.
“In South Korea…. There’s an incredible Hunter in South Korea.”
“More than you?”
“More than likely, sir.”
“I think there’s a need to modify our plan a little bit, sir.”
Matsumoto Shigeo didn’t immediately say anything, but rummaged through something for a while instead, before finally asking a question.
“The name of that Hunter is?”
“It’s Seong Jin-Woo. He’s a Re-Awakened, evaluated as a rank S recently.”
“This is strange. Such a name doesn’t exist.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Such a name didn’t exist?!
Did that mean the Hunter Goto Ryuji met just now was a phantom, an illusion? Well, he did kind of feel that he had been bewitched just now, though. However, didn’t he also personally enter the Korean Association’s website to confirm that that man was supposed to be a Mage??
“What do you mean, sir? How can Seong Jin-Woo not exist?”
“Actually, we have received the final list of the Korean Hunters participating in the operation not too long ago.”
“Are you saying Seong Jin-Woo isn’t on the list?”
But, how could that be?
Unless Goh Gun-Hui had gone truly senile, there was just no way that he’d form a raiding party without the strongest member available.
Matsumoto Shigeo spoke in a calm manner from across the phone line.
“Choi Jong-In, Mah Dong-Wook, Baek Yun-Ho, Cha Hae-In, Im Tae-Gyu, and Min Byung-Gu.”
As if to signify that there was no need to modify their plan at all, Matsumoto Shigeo spoke in a voice filled with conviction.
“These six are the members of the Korean team that will leave for the raid in four days’ time.”
Baek Yun-Ho took a deep breath.
Even after the two men who turned the inside of the gymnasium chaotic had left, his heartbeat didn’t want to slow down at all.
‘Was such a thing even possible?’
Having witnessed something that he’d been hypothesizing in his head for real, Baek Yun-Ho had difficulty trying to hide his astonishment.
‘An Awakened that can really grow stronger….’
Just what would be that man’s true value? He couldn’t even dare to imagine it.
This was his reason for standing back and watching on from the distance at the efforts of Choi Jong-In, Mah Dong-Wook, and Im Tae-Gyu as they tried to scout Jin-Woo. He remembered Choi Jong-In’s confused stare directed at him, as he didn’t even bother to sweet-talk the youth.
‘If it was me, I’d probably never even think about joining a Guild with an ability like that.’
All the attempts to scout Hunter Seong Jin-Woo were a waste of time. However, there were all sorts of ways to form a good relationship with a brilliant Hunter that didn’t involve scouting him.
Time to activate the ‘Plan B’, then.
It was then.
His mobile phone suddenly began vibrating. Seeing that the vibration didn’t last for long, it must’ve been a text message. Without thinking too much, he pulled his phone out and took a look.
It was an alert sent out by the Association. And it was the final list of the participants for the ant subjugation raid taking place four days from now.
Baek Yun-Ho skipped past the lengthy list of the Japanese Hunters and scanned the list of the Koreans, only for his eyes to widen in surprise.
He shot up from his spot in the wooden bench.
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo isn’t on the list?!”