The ant king quickly sensed the ‘changes’ taking place on the body that it felt so proud of.
Its outer skin, most likely tougher and hardier than any known metal on this planet, began developing cracks all over the place. On the other hand, the enemy was easily withstanding the ant king’s attacks.
‘It can’t be.’
An impossible hypothesis quickly entered the ant king’s head.
‘I… I’m losing out on physical strength?!’
Not only that, to a human less than half its size?
But, right at that moment….
It realised that the fresh wound on its waist from that powerful hit felt ‘wrong’. Even the sound coming from there was not too good to hear.
The exoskeleton lacked pain receptors, so the ant king had to divert its attention for the briefest of moments to confirm the status of its shell down there.
The result was rather shocking to behold.
‘….It’s cracked open!’
The small crack that was no more than just a nick had spread out to everywhere and was growing larger and larger. It was the same thing as a warning sign, telling the creature that there wasn’t a lot of time left.
The ant king quickly turned its head around. However, even if it was only for a brief moment, Jin-Woo wasn’t some amateur who’d miss this golden opportunity.
The king’s face spun to its side.
The ant king staggered unsteadily for a second or two from the ridiculous impact force that ignored the ant king’s forged steel-like shell on its face.
It managed to regain its balance before it took a step back, but by then, the follow-up punch was already closing in from below.
The ant king’s chin shot upwards.
‘How dare a human, who’s inferior than a bug…!!’
While its head still pointing up at the ceiling, the ant king shot a glare full of murderous rage down below.
The power this human possessed – it was indeed great. However, unlike this human, who only had his physical strength to fall back on, the ant king possessed a variety of other powerful means at its disposal.
The ant king’s head snapped back down, and at the same time, it fired a poison needle out of its mouth. A tip coated in deadly poison attached to the tongue-like tentacle shot out like a bullet.
It was an unavoidable attack aimed at the enemy’s face in this point-blank range.
The human deftly tilted his head out of the way to dodge the needle, but a smile still crept up on the face of the ant king as the result of its attack became clear. The needle still managed to scratch the human’s cheek and left a small wound there.
That alone was more than enough.
Once, the ant king devoured a sea snail and somewhat coincidentally, absorbed a skill called ‘Paralysis Poison’.
One of the most fatal poisons secreted by the known lifeforms in this world had been transformed into an even more deadly substance within the ant king’s body after it became a concentrated mix that contained the magical energy of the host creature.
It was indeed the worst poison imaginable, evolved forcibly by the skill, ‘Gluttony’.
‘You’ve really given me so much trouble, you human b*stard.’
Even the slightest scratch would result in complete paralysis in one’s nervous system within seconds; the victims would lose all sensations in their bodies and lose control of themselves.
The only thing remaining would be to systematically destroy the resistance-less enemy.
As if the poison was doing its thing, the human formed a flustered expression.
“This is the power of the true king!”
The ant king smiled widely and smacked the human’s face. However….
The human raised his left hand and blocked it.
The question of how he was still able to move lasted only for a second.
The human’s right fist flew in from the other side and struck the ant king so hard that the monster was shoved down to the ground rather unceremoniously.
For the first time ever, a pained yelp shot out from the king’s mouth.
Jin-Woo confirmed the System message popping up in his view as that familiar mechanical beep rang out.
[Detoxification has been completed.]
‘I was wondering why it was celebrating all alone, but huh, is this why?’
Maybe that was the case because, for some reason, he could sense that the ant king showed much more panic when he moved without a problem just now.
What a mystifying thing this was.
He wasn’t talking about the all-powerful Buff getting rid of the poison, no, but the fact that he could actually sense the insect-like monster’s emotions.
Before he had realised it, he could sense what other monsters were feeling about.
‘Wait, was it from around the time I fought those High Orcs?’
Back then, he thought that he was able to decipher what those creatures were feeling by looking at their facial expressions and their gestures. However, that ant monster wasn’t even what you’d classify as a humanoid creature.
Indeed, that thing had no other facial expressions other than crumpling it in anger.
‘Is this because of my Perception?’
Just as his Stat values had all increased by so much lately, his Perception Stat also had increased by a lot, too. It was possible that some other unknown, hidden abilities to his Stats were unlocked when they went past a certain threshold.
‘….Now isn’t the time to think about that, is it?’
Indeed, his priority lay with killing this thing and getting out of this place. Jin-Woo sprinted towards the ant king trying to push itself off from the ground.
He could definitely feel the ant king’s nervousness on his skin now. His continued pounding resulted in the creature’s exoskeleton almost being cracked open. Just a little bit more now!
He thought like so and closed the distance in the blink of an eye, before jumping up slightly in the air. And then, he kicked down.
However, the ant king had already vanished from the spot. Only the poor ground caved in from the impact.
“Where did it go?!”
While the other Hunters hurriedly searched for the ant king, Jin-Woo calmly looked above him. The monster was flying in the air using its wings.
‘Well, I guess this is convenient.’
Jin-Woo smirked to himself.
What with him being able to sense the monster’s fluctuating emotions, searching for its presence had become a step easier now. The emotion of confusion felt had changed to fear, before it changed once more to happiness.
The ant king had changed its strategy now.
‘If that human’s speciality is his strength, then there’s no need to face him head-on.’
The ant king’s true weapon was its speed. Even that foolish human who lied and said he was the king of humans, couldn’t even react to the ant king’s movements and lost his neck.
From the onset, the reason why the creature wanted to use physical strength to suppress the human was a type of desire to show off its kingly powers.
But, right now, the ant king had decided to throw away that selfish reasoning and focus all of its being in this battle from now on.
The enlarged body reverted back to its original size, while the claws in its hands grew even longer and sharper, like well-honed blades.
Jin-Woo studied the changes taking place in the ant king and realised that the creature would change how it attacked from here onwards.
Two shortswords he summoned from the Inventory landed in Jin-Woo’s hands.
The airborne ant king shot down towards Jin-Woo. Its speed was incomparable to only a minute ago.
Jin-Woo focused his senses.
Time slowed down, and every single movement the monster made entered his vision. In all honesty, Jin-Woo felt most confident when it came down to the contest of speed. He easily deflected the ant king’s claw slashing down from above with his shortsword.
The follow-up attacks from the ant king landing on the ground, as well as from Jin-Woo spinning around, clashed violently.
Clang!! Claaaang!! Clang!!
As they exchanged offence and defence countless times, the ant king was now completely beset with unbridled shock.
‘How can this be?!’
The enemy was actually matching its speed. No, it wasn’t only that – as the seconds ticked by, his movement speed was actually picking up as if his muscles had finally loosened up sufficiently enough.
‘How… How can such a….’
The ant king had been pushed back during the contest of raw strength, and now it was also being gradually pushed back in the contest of speed, too.
One step, another step….
As the number of retreating steps taken increased, so did the wounds appearing on the exoskeleton. The greater the monster’s retreating distance became, the more confident Jin-Woo grew.
‘I can finish this.’
The mental shock this monster, this so-called ant king felt right now, it was being transmitted in full to Jin-Woo. Right now, that monster was greatly shaken up.
Compared to the Demon King Baran, this monster’s strength, speed, and abilities fell some ways behind. No, maybe, it was on the same level as the dead Demon King, or even exceeded it in some regards.
Unfortunately, the current Jin-Woo wasn’t the same as the Jin-Woo of back then.
Indeed, he had stepped up into a far higher realm with the rewards he had received after completing the Demon’s Castle dungeon.
‘Here’s the fruit of all my labours.’
Jin-Woo got to fully experience just how much his Stats had grown through this particular opponent. Along with the satisfaction derived from knowing that his Stats had been greatly enhanced now, even more stirring emotions welled up from deep inside his chest.
When the ant king took another step back, Jin-Woo took two steps forward. And then…
‘Vital Spot Targetting!’
Jin-Woo’s skill stabbed straight into the ant king’s torso.
The ‘Vital Points Targetting’ was a skill that inflicted additional damage if he had managed to stab the enemy’s weak spots. With the monster’s exoskeleton broken in several places, it was not an exaggeration to say that the creature’s entire body was now the so-called weak spot.
Dozens of ‘Vital Points Targetting’ landed on the hapless monster.
[‘Skill: Vital Points Targetting’ will now be upgraded to the ultimate version, ‘Skill: Violent Slash’.]
Having unlocked a new skill, Jin-Woo promptly used it.
It was then, his shortswords immediately sought out all of the ant king’s openings and, literally in the blink of an eye, slashed out dozens of times.
The ant king screamed out.
As the creature writhed around in pain, Jin-Woo swung his shortsword once more and sliced off its arm.
The monster’s long, black-coloured arm fell to the ground with a dull thud.
By now, the ant king lost all semblance of pride or desire for revenge, and hurriedly fled to the air. Its instinctive desire to survive overruled everything. Unfortunately for it, Jin-Woo didn’t allow for one moment of respite.
Sensing the approach of another being, the ant king took a look behind.
‘A human… is flying?!’
Jin-Woo flung himself up using the ‘Ruler’s Reach’ skill and proceeded to cut off one of the ant king’s wings.
The ant king crash-landed in an unsightly manner. During that short time of its fall, the ant king constantly thought about a way to escape from this incredibly dangerous predicament, even though confusion and fear threatened to paralyse it.
‘I, I need to come up with something to overwhelm the enemy!’
Physical strength, speed, and even its hidden trump card, ‘poison’ all failed to work. It couldn’t come up with anything.
Did it not possess anything that was better than what that human possessed?
Just before the despair set in, the ant king finally arrived at the right answer. It recalled the one thing that it held an advantage in over the enemy.
And that would be…. the headcount.
There was only one enemy. But the ant king possessed thousands of soldiers. Indeed, didn’t it have brave warriors waiting for its orders by the entrance of the chamber right this moment?
The ant king staggered back to its feet, before pointing at Jin-Woo with its one remaining arm.
As if they were waiting for that rage-filled screech, the waves upon waves of ants began flooding into the chamber.
‘Take this, human!!’
The king continued to screech out. It was to restore its crushed pride, and also to rouse the fighting spirit of its countless soldiers, as well. And so, as it confidently glared at the impudent human….
From that side, a black ‘wave’ was rushing out now.
Jin-Woo issued an order to his Shadow Soldiers.
The ‘Sovereign’s Territory’ he had activated prior to the battle was still active. The Shadow Soldiers, enhanced a step further by this skill, marched towards the ants at a frightening speed.
The loud footsteps reverberated throughout the ant tunnel.
‘And then…. You come out, too.’
Finally, Jin-Woo summoned Fangs out, as well.
As if it was feeling sheepish for being summoned all alone, Fangs looked around himself and scratched the back of his head. Jin-Woo handed over the Bead of Avarice and warned him in no uncertain terms.
“Aim only at the ants. Only at them. If even a single lick of flames land on the humans sitting over there, I will never summon you out ever again.”
Fangs enthusiastically nodded his head as if he was confident of doing exactly that.
Soon, Fangs grew super-large with the ‘Song of the Giant’ and spewed out that enormous pillar of flames.
Although he had seen that plenty enough times by now, Jin-Woo couldn’t help but feel impressed by the sight regardless.
‘It’s kinda like his flame pillar is getting bigger every day, isn’t it?’
Was it because his level was also rising up?
Only Jin-Woo could come up with such a reaction since he had seen this spectacle before, but well, other people were thinking of entirely different things.
The Hunters hiding in the far corner holding their breaths while witnessing the battle between Jin-Woo and the ant king could only gasp out in pure astonishment at the emergence of this new ‘monster’.
A rather severe reaction also came out from their midst, too.
“T-that is his summoned creature?! What?! That’s a summon?!”
Im Tae-Gyu pointed at Fangs and raised his voice.
As for the other Hunters, no one could respond to him as their jaws were still resting on the ground at that moment. However, everyone was thinking of roughly the same thing.
How could that thing be classified as a mere summon??
From the way it looked, or the powers it possessed, that thing no longer looked like a simple summoned creature, but a demon king that had descended to this earth.
Whatever the case may have been, that totally nonsensical pillar of flames roasted the swarm of ants like there was no tomorrow.
The ant king began shuddering once more.
‘These… These are that human’s soldiers….??’
Less than one minute later, hundreds of the ant king’s soldiers were evaporated into ash and dust. It wasn’t some metaphor, either. The ant monsters coming into contact with that strange pillar of flames really did evaporate where they stood.
For the first time ever….
The ant king felt true terror towards another being for the first time in its life.
It also sensed an unscalable wall. The ant king finally learned that there was an enemy that couldn’t be overcome, regardless of what power it tried to use.
This was a complete defeat, in every sense of the word.
But, how could such a thing be…?
‘I was born to fight against the strong humans, so why….’
That was its sole calling. It hurried with its growth for that purpose. It even absorbed human’s powers in order to facilitate that goal.
But to think, it still couldn’t win against this one human….
The ant king began shivering and turned around to run. It just had to run away far, far away from this human. At least in this very moment, the thoughts of its glorious kingdom and its soldiers had completely disappeared from the ant king’s head.
Using the healing skill taken from one of the dead humans, the ant king quickly regenerated its lost wing and took to the air again.
‘Even if it’s only a little bit further away…..’
But, it happened then.
Out of the blue, a powerful force pushed it down and planted the ant king flat on the ground.
It spat out a mouthful of bodily fluid.
Having utilised the skill ‘Ruler’s Reach’ like a flyswatter, Jin-Woo quickly walked over to where the downed ant king was.
‘I can’t let this guy escape, obviously.’
It was a strong monster. He wanted to turn it into his Shadow Soldier no matter what. But, in order to do that….
‘Killing it comes first.’
After discovering Jin-Woo approaching it, the look of sheer terror filled up on the face of the ant king, so much so that the creature looked almost pitiful to the onlookers.
In the end, the ant king began crawling on the ground to get away from him. That arrogant, dignified appearance it displayed back when it proceeded to toy around with the Korean Hunters – it was now long, long gone.
“Now you look like a proper insect.”
Jin-Woo closed in quickly, took aim at the back of the ant king, and activated his skill, ‘Vital Points Targetting’ – no, ‘Violent Slash’.
That brought up the message window.
[You have killed your enemy.]
Jin-Woo clenched his fist. But his celebrations lasted only for a short while.
“Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim!”
He quickly turned around after Baek Yun-Ho called out to him, and found the latter’s complexion to be extremely poor. Jin-Woo quickly ran over to him.
Other Hunters rejoicing at the defeat of the ant king stopped and shifted their gazes over to Baek Yun-Ho, as well.
Meanwhile, Baek Yun-Ho continued to speak to Jin-Woo.
“Hunter Cha Hae-In is….”
Just as his unfinished sentence implied, Cha Hae-In’s vitality had declined so much that it was hard to even sense it now. The situation had deteriorated even further than before.
Jin-Woo’s expression quickly hardened.
Time had almost run out.
Even if he rode on Kaisel, just when would he arrive in his destination and just how long would he take to find a Healer to heal her?
‘I need another way….’
After some brief pondering, Jin-Woo came up with a method to save Cha Hae-In.
He finished checking her complexion and stood back up. He then turned towards the cameraman.
“Can you switch off the camera for a minute or two?”