The video clip finally finished playing on the phone.
The footage of a raid taking place in a small nation to the Far East left a pretty hefty mental shock to David Brennan, the director of America’s Hunter Bureau.
“What do you think?”
The deputy director cautiously asked his boss. And the director was quick with his reply.
“Never mind what I think, aren’t you here in these early hours because you already know what I’m about to say? Am I right?”
That was indeed true.
It was already an uncommon occurrence for the director of the mighty Hunter Bureau and his deputy to have a meeting at four in the morning, but then, their meeting place also happened to be the kitchen of the director’s private residence, as well.
A heavy silence descended between two men sitting opposite side of the dining table.
The director replayed the video one more time as he sucked on his cigarette. He was still getting shocked by what he was watching. Especially when he got to the part where the Hunter summoned out black ‘soldiers’ to sweep away the swarm of ants, the director’s entire body shuddered noticeably.
What could anyone say after viewing this crazy video?
And so, as he continued sucking on another cigarette in silence….
The director’s wife came down from the upstairs bedroom in search of her missing husband, and called out his name after spotting the light in the kitchen.
“Dave? Is everything alright?”
When the director wordlessly gestured with his hand, the wife looked at him worriedly for a moment or two before going back to the bedroom.
Exactly three cigarettes later, the director quietly opened his mouth.
“What a waste of talent to be confined in a small country like South Korea.”
“What do we know about him?”
The deputy director readily brought out a file containing all the pertinent information related to Seong Jin-Woo. The director scanned the files and formed a satisfied smile.
It had been less than an hour since the raid came to an end on the island of Jeju in the country far, far east, yet the related data was already in his hands. Not only that, the file contained everything from that Hunter’s type as well as his close associates and relatives, too.
Now, this was the power of the United States, the Hunter ‘superpower’ in the world.
On the other side of the table, the deputy was smiling inwardly to himself.
‘We got lucky on this one.’
Sure, the swiftness of the American intelligence network was one thing, but luck played a big part, as well. To be more precise, the ‘Seong Il-Hwan’ incident.
An existence that could either be a human or a monster in disguise exited from a dungeon and claimed that he was a Korean Hunter. The data compiled back then still remained in the database of the Hunter Bureau.
In the current situation where no other nation even knew what his name was – with the exception of South Korea, of course – the Americans were able to get two steps ahead of everyone else.
‘God bless America.’
Indeed, if this wasn’t the heavens helping them out, then what was?
However, it wouldn’t do to get all worked up over a minor lucky coincidence like this one. No, it all depended on the abilities of the individuals involved when it came to turning a lucky coincidence into a genuine opportunity.
The deputy formed a pretty serious expression.
“His father went missing in a Gate, but he still hasn’t received any proper compensation until now.”
“And also, before he went through a Re-Awakening process, he risked death countless times to pay for his mother’s hospital fees.”
“….What an inconceivable tale that is.”
How could they treat the wife and the son of a hero this badly, when he lost his life fighting against monsters all for the sake of his nation? Such a thing was completely unimaginable in the US.
“And well, this isn’t confirmed information, but…”
The director lifted his gaze off from the files. The deputy took his time to build suspense and finally murmured out.
“Apparently, he hasn’t signed up with any Guilds yet.”
Now that piece of news managed to perk up the director’s ears even more. He closed the file with a sombre expression on his face.
“This is a different matter altogether from Hwang Dong-Su’s case.”
When that familiar name was mentioned, the glint in the deputy’s eyes changed.
“Taking away two rank S Hunters from a single country…. That’d be akin to declaring that we are turning our backs on that particular nation.”
South Korea and America had been allied nations for a very long time. What the director was implying here was that the impact of this matter would mushroom into something rather substantial in the near future.
However, the deputy replied with a confident tone of voice.
“Even still….. Don’t you think he’s a talent worth all that trouble?”
The director couldn’t deny that. So, he answered with a question, instead.
“Can you do it?”
The deputy answered with the exact same words he used back during the Hwang Dong-Su’s case.
“I’ll do my best.”
Because of those four words, the deputy was able to quickly climb the career ladder to get to where he was now. As for the man that the deputy director had locked his sights on…
The United States of America already boasted two of the most powerful Hunters in the world, the so-called ‘Special Authority-ranks’ in their roster, but even then, the director David Brennan wanted to naturalise that youth as an American citizen.
The director placed his fourth cigarette of the morning in his lips and spoke in a grave tone of voice.
“Regardless of what conditions he puts forth, you will bring him over to this side.”
Jin-Woo rode on the back of Kaisel to hunt down and kill every single ant monster his Shadow Soldiers missed the first time around.
Yet another ant fell after getting struck by the skill, Dagger Throw. Jin-Woo didn’t bother to step down from Kaisel and simply used the skill, Ruler’s Reach, to easily retrieve his shortsword.
‘I must be pretty close to levelling up now.’
There weren’t that many ants left to be found on the island. Jin-Woo really preferred that he’d get to level up by killing the remaining ants in this place.
First of all, just a single level up would take him to level 100. For Jin-Woo, who loved to see numbers ending in the multiples of five, 100 was such a fantastic level that he simply had to get there as soon as possible.
Since he hadn’t booked any Gates, once he leaves Jeju Island he wouldn’t have any other avenues to earn experience points for a while. As long as he didn’t get lucky and another key to an instant dungeon popped out of the random boxes, or a dungeon break occurred near where he lived, of course.
‘Wait, it’s not cool to think of a dungeon break as being lucky, is it.’
If a dungeon break occurred, then that meant one or more teams had failed in their raids. So, to him, it was far more preferable to get to level 100 in this place.
And, if there was another reason for doing so, then….
He ended up recalling a painful memory while trying to extract Hunter Min Byung-Gu’s shadow.
The leader of the White Phantoms, Baruka.
After failing three times to extract his shadow, Jin-Woo couldn’t convert him into his Shadow Soldier.
When he failed in his first attempt earlier in the day, his heart fell to the pit of his stomach, as the thoughts of ‘Am I going to have another episode like that’ filled his head.
‘Well, I did manage somehow to succeed on my second try, but still…’
Wasn’t this the case of ‘A burnt child fears fire’?
There was no guarantee that the same thing as Baruka wouldn’t happen later when trying to extract the ant king’s shadow. That guy’s Stat values were so high that comparing Hunter Min Byung-Gu to that monster was a time-wasting gesture.
Even if it was by a small margin, Jin-Woo wanted to increase his odds of successfully extracting that guy’s shadow by raising his level. He was sure that, although there was only one level difference, it would definitely help out his cause.
After discovering something on the ground, Jin-Woo ordered Kaisel to land.
Kaisel flapped its wings and lightly landed on the ground. Jin-Woo climbed down from his back and scanned his surroundings.
‘It was around here….’
He rummaged through the tall grasses, before discovering the corpses lying there hidden. A deep frown immediately formed on his face. He had discovered the bodies of the Japanese Hunters, lying here and there. There were several with their heads missing, but there was also one that got mangled beyond recognition, as well.
Jin-Woo took a closer look at the bodies.
‘Pretty strong magic energy….’
Without a doubt, these people were strong. They didn’t look like they would die in this place in such a manner. The fact that they did die so gruesomely could only mean that an extremely powerful ‘something’ had paid them a visit.
‘Probably the handiwork of that mutated ant….’
He was unconvinced that something else was responsible for this massacre. Well, when he was struck for the first time by the ant king, his jaw stung pretty sharply, didn’t it? If it were any other Hunters, they wouldn’t have been able to endure it even once.
Jin-Woo looked around the ground while feeling somewhat bitter, before his steps came to a halt on a certain spot.
Jin-Woo crouched down and took a closer look at the ground. The soil here was all muddy and sticky from a prodigious amount of blood having soaked the earth. A faint trace of magical energy emanated from the wet ground. He had encountered this magic energy emission once before.
Jin-Woo searched his vicinity again. Goto’s magic energy could still be felt, but his remains were nowhere to be seen. Most likely, he had been completely devoured by the mutated ant monster.
Jin-Woo could only tut to himself at the ultimately meaningless death of Japan’s strongest Hunter, before standing back up again. With excellent timing, the Shadow Soldiers he dispatched to the all corners of the island reported back to him that the remnants of the ant monsters had been completely exterminated.
‘….In the end, I killed them all, huh.’
Every Korean citizen would 100 times out of 100 cry out in elation from that news, but Jin-Woo could only lick his lower lip in disappointment. Because, his level didn’t go up in the end.
Now that there were no more monsters remaining, he figured that the only thing left to do would be to go back inside the ant tunnel to extract the shadows of the mutated ant and the queen. But then….
….His steps came to an abrupt halt.
‘Wait a second… there are still monsters remaining?’
His extended senses picked up the presences of monsters from nearby. Not only that, there were so many, too!
A smile quickly bloomed on Jin-Woo’s face to replace the look of disappointment. He lightly jumped back up on Kaisel.
Just as expected….
Jin-Woo’s expression brightened greatly as soon as he stepped inside the nursery area. There were countless eggs lining up the floor, pillars, and even the ceiling.
Seeing that there were wiggling movements from underneath the semi-transparent shells, these things were definitely monsters, too.
‘Not sure how much experience points I will get here, but…’
But then again, with this many monsters here, he was sure of making up for the lacking amount of experience points. Jin-Woo summoned out the Shadow Soldiers specialised in wide-range attacks.
Fangs and three Magic Soldiers stood in line, according to their grades.
Jin-Woo handed over the Bead of Avarice over to Fangs, and studied each of the four soldiers in turn.
“You all understand what you need to do, right?”
The Magic Soldiers all nodded their heads in unison. Jin-Woo pointed at the eggs.
Right away, Fangs grew to an incredible height and spat out the horrifying flames at the eggs. The other Magic Soldiers finished chanting their magic and began chucking large balls of flames here and there as well.
Eggs had no means of resisting, and in no time at all, began to burn up and explode one by one.
Jin-Woo took a closer look at one of the dead ant larvae leaning against the corner of the broken egg. He discovered the corpse of an ant, near adulthood, just below the melted-down shell of the larva. As it turned out, every single one of them he saw sported a pair of wings, without exceptions.
‘If these things reached maturity and crossed the ocean with that mutated ant in the lead, then….’
Even though the queen was successfully subjugated, both South Korea and Japan would’ve suffered tremendous losses.
What a relief that he was able to stop that from becoming reality.
Jin-Woo noticed that his boys were breaking out in buckets of sweat, and summoned the Demon King’s Longsword out from the Inventory.
‘Should I have a go with this one?’
Every time he moved this cool-looking blue-coloured longsword, arcs of electricity crackled up from the blade itself. He had stored it inside the Inventory after defeating the Demon King Baran back in the Demon’s Castle. There was a reason why he brought this longsword out instead of his main weapons, the daggers/shortswords.
….Because of the added magic attribute of the longsword.
When Jin-Woo energetically swung the sword….
Lightning crackled boisterously all over the place and caused the blue-coloured storm to kick up.
A wide smile formed on Jin-Woo’s face.
Although he couldn’t recreate the destructive might or the added ‘Stun’ effect as displayed by the Demon King, it was still more than enough to burn these ant eggs, that’s for sure.
‘Isn’t it too wasteful to leave inside the Inventory?’
Because he was already far too familiar with the daggers, he would probably never use this sword again in the near future, but still, he felt that this weapon was too good to be left forgotten inside his Inventory.
And so…. just how long did he spend wrestling with these eggs?
Eventually, he got to hear the familiar and very welcoming mechanical beep.
Jin-Woo cried out in elation. Inwardly, of course.
He immediately returned the Demon King’s Longsword back inside the Inventory and headed straight to the ant queen’s chamber, leaving the mop-up operation to his Shadow Soldiers.
He found the mutated ant monster still lying dead on the same spot. Jin-Woo stood next to it.
His heart was already pounding hard from his intense desire to turn this mutated ant into his Shadow Soldier.
He had learned that the power of concentration was critically important during his attempts to extract Hunter Min Byung-Gu’s shadow.
‘I gotta calm down.’
Gradually, Jin-Woo’s gaze grew colder, and his breathing regained its usual calmness as well.
His condition was now back to its peak.
Jin-Woo’s gaze shifted lower to the ground. Thicker and greatly more ominous black smoke compared to other monsters were oozing out of the mutated ant’s corpse.
Was this because the creature was so extraordinarily strong? So strong that Jin-Woo didn’t even know who to compare it to?
While thinking like that, he calmly extended his hands out towards the rising black smoke.