Matsumoto Shigeo fell down on his knees.
A boss of an organisation – not only that, a man representing the opinions and positions of every Hunter in the country called Japan, was kneeling in front of another person.
Even in this brief moment, countless thoughts raced through Matsumoto’s brain.
However, no matter how hard he wracked his brain, he couldn’t come up with a way to get out of this predicament.
This was not the time to worry about his pride or honour. If any of this got out, then its ensuing aftermath wouldn’t end with him just losing his position.
“President Goh Gun-Hui…. Please, forgive me.”
Unfortunately for him, Goh Gun-Hui’s glare remained icy and unmoving.
This man was shouting blue murder when there was no proof of his wrongdoing, but as soon as the situation turned disadvantageous, he obediently lowered his tail.
Who’d look at such a man with sympathetic eyes?
Goh Gun-Hui’s icy voice advised his Japanese counterpart to stop wasting time with this hollow apology, but Matsumoto didn’t heed that and slammed his forehead on the office floor repeatedly.
“Our nation, Japan, has lost half of her top-ranked Hunters and we will soon have to beg the international community for their aid.”
No matter how excellent the Hunter system in Japan was, they would eventually see the gaps in their defences opening up sooner or later with half of their rank S Hunters dead.
Their remaining combat force would be enough to deal with rank A Gates for the time being, but….
But, Japan would have to be on their toes the moment a rank S Gate opens up somewhere in their territory. Even worse, the repeat of the tragedy that occurred on Jeju Island could happen in Japan, too.
“If that sound file gets out, then we’ll be completely isolated from the world. I beg of you, President Goh Gun-Hui. Please, think about the innocent Japanese citizens and forgive our transgressions just this once….!”
“Think of it as your due punishment.”
Goh Gun-Hui ruthlessly cut Matsumoto’s words there.
“Think of it as the punishment for the sin you and your Hunters tried to commit and gladly accept it.”
Carry around a bomb that might go off at any given moment, and wait for the hour of reckoning – that’s what Goh Gun-Hui was implying here.
However, Matsumoto didn’t show any sign of lifting his head off the floor.
“President Goh Gun-Hui…. Until I appease your anger, I shall not rise up again. I beg of you, please, please! Consider it one more time!”
“You leave me with no choice.”
With a displeased expression firmly etched on his face, Goh Gun-Hui pulled out his mobile phone.
“You have five minutes.”
What could he mean by that?
Unable to win against his curiosity, Matsumoto raised his head and looked up at Goh Gun-Hui. The Korean man slowly waved his phone around.
“If you don’t get out of here in the next five minutes, a message will be sent to the numbers of every reporter saved on this phone. It’ll be a message about the President of the Japanese Association grovelling before me.”
If you cling onto me in fear of the bomb going off at any second, then I’ll just let it go off, right now – he wasn’t threatening anymore. No, it was a declaration.
Matsumoto bit his lower lip.
Goh Gun-Hui’s determination wasn’t soft enough to be shaken up by nothing but a pitiful plea for leniency. Matsumoto belatedly realised this fact. And this was also the moment his last-ditch attempt to save this situation at the cost of his pride ending up in total failure.
Powerlessly, Matsumoto stood back up.
Goh Gun-Hui’s glare remained icy, his phone gradually being lowered. He then spoke to the unsteady Japanese man.
“You should thank Mister Seong Jin-Woo.”
The light of pure anger flickered dangerously within Goh Gun-Hui’s beast-like eyes.
“Not at the hands of that mutated ant, no, but if my Hunters got hurt from the schemes of your people, then you wouldn’t have walked out of this room alive.”
Matsumoto’s trembling hands packed up his belongings and without taking a single look back, he escaped from the Korean Association’s building in a hurry. Not one lick of his former pride and confidence he displayed during his last visit here could be seen from his departing back now.
Meanwhile, Goh Gun-Hui was leaning against the back of the couch. It felt like all of his pent-up stress was cleared away in one shot. Of course, he wasn’t planning to end things here.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he now held the lifeline of the Japanese Hunter Association.
‘If you committed a crime, then you get punished for it.’
From early on in his life, Goh Gun-Hui was taught how to treat his friends and enemies accordingly.
It was then, his mobile phone resting on the table suddenly issued a loud racket.
He tapped on the ‘Answer’ icon, and an urgent voice came out from the speaker. Goh Gun-Hui quietly listened to what happened, and his eyes progressively grew wider and wider.
“What?! A Gate formed in the middle of a road??”
Not only that, it was rated to be a rank B Gate that no regular raid team could do something about, too!
“Where is it located?”
The best course of action for this problem was to contact a major Guild and have them send over a capable raid team. But, then….
Having heard the report from the agent on site, Goh Gun-Hui’s expression became a bit strange.
‘Didn’t Hunter Seong Jin-Woo get an office for his Guild around there?’
The road suddenly became really clogged up.
Jin-Woo was in deep contemplation as he found himself stuck in the middle of an unmoving sea of traffic.
‘That lady, she definitely saw something.’
That woman called Madam Norma Selner. She must’ve faced countless powerful Hunters, yet she couldn’t even meet his gaze because she felt a crippling fear of him.
Just what did she ‘see’ in him?
Was it the traces of his System?
The System would make a few ridiculous demands from him every now and then, sure, but it was certainly not a scary existence.
‘Instead of being scary, that thing’s my greatest ally.’
However, how would it look like in other people’s views?
The deputy director asked him back then if it was fine to get in touch at a later time. The thing was, though, the woman regaining some calm behind him suddenly got startled again and began shuddering as soon as he asked that question.
Even if Jin-Woo wanted to see that woman again, she’d avoid him of her own volition. Her entire body displayed her unwillingness quite clearly. Jin-Woo then came to a realisation.
Maybe, that woman’s power didn’t work on him. He was very different from normal Hunters, after all.
‘Well, I guess there’s no need to waste more of my time with those folks, then.’
That was why he already told the American deputy director that there wouldn’t be a need and tactfully declined their invite. The frozen-stiff expression of the deputy director was particularly memorable, to say the least.
‘Besides all that, what is up with this traffic, man?’
Jin-Woo furrowed his brows at the road ahead utterly mired in congestion as far as his eyes could see.
‘This is why taking the subway is so much more convenient.’
Just as he began wondering if there was an accident up ahead or something….
His phone stuck in the car charger vibrated rather noisily. Jin-Woo checked the ID of the caller.
‘…It’s the Association President?’
They saw each other in the funeral venue only a few hours ago, so what business did he have in calling him so soon? Jin-Woo tapped the ‘Answer’ icon.
“Hunter-nim. It’s Goh Gun-Hui speaking.”
The Association President explained the situation taking place in the middle of Seoul in a calm voice.
“Excuse me? A Gate opened up in the middle of the road?”
He was beginning to think that this traffic jam was far too heavy to be normal, but there was a good reason behind it, as it turned out.
Hoping to turn the van around, Jin-Woo scanned around the vehicle. Unfortunately, there were simply too many cars tightly packed around him and it was not possible to move an inch. He helplessly shook his head and returned his gaze to the front of the road. It was then.
A welcoming piece of news capable of washing away the wave of dissatisfaction rising up from the traffic jam jumped out from his phone.
“Our agents have evaluated it as a rank B Gate. Would you like to take care of it for us, Hunter-nim?”
Jin-Woo struggled to suppress the giggles of joy this truly excellent news managed to awaken. As a matter of fact, he shouldn’t be pleased about something that was greatly inconveniencing so many citizens like this. Yes.
Jin-Woo managed to straighten his voice and cautiously asked.
“I don’t have the raid permit, so can I just enter like that, sir?”
“Huhuh. Hunter-nim, who issues the raid permits?”
“It’s issued by the Association.”
“And who am I?”
Jin-Woo suppressed his laughter again and replied seriously.
“You’re the President of the Hunter’s Association.”
“Huhuhuh. That’s why, don’t worry about anything and please take care of it.”
“Well, in that case, thank you for the me…. No, I mean, thank you for the opportunity.”
Jin-Woo clenched his fist.
He climbed out of the van and began walking after the trace of the magic energy leaking out from the Gate. Because of the cars packed tightly in all sides, he didn’t even need to park the van somewhere else, too.
“….Yes. Everyone, the black hole in the air you see behind me is the Gate that has appeared in the city today…..”
“….According to my sources, this Gate has been ranked at B, a high-ranking Gate that requires the participation of a large Guild….”
Reporters had already formed a cordon around the Gate by the time he got there, and the Association employees, as well as the members of the local police force, were restricting the access.
Jin-Woo brushed past the wall of the reporters and approached the Gate, but then, a female Association employee with a by-the-book demeanour abruptly blocked his path.
“Please hold it! What do you think you’re doing?!”
She pushed at his chest and spoke loudly.
“You can’t just barge your way in here like this!”
Too bad, no matter how hard she pushed with her small hands, Jin-Woo didn’t show any signs of budging from the spot. Only then she belatedly realised that the guy standing in front of her was a Hunter – and a pretty high-ranking Hunter at that.
“Are you… a Hunter?”
Jin-Woo pulled out his licence and showed it to her. Naturally, her eyes grew super large.
‘A r-r-rank S? Seong Jin-Woo???’
Wasn’t he the same guy who killed all those ant monsters on Jeju Island….?
Finally learning of Jin-Woo’s identity, the female Association employee raised her head to take another look.
Jin-Woo looked a lot different from when he appeared on TV, so even though she was an Association employee, she ended up failing to recognise a rank S Hunter.
However, it was also natural for people with discerning eyes to exist within the large crowd gathered here.
“It’s Seong Jin-Woo!”
“I think Seong Jin-Woo came here to deal with the Gate personally!”
People feeling fed up from being stuck here began recognising Jin-Woo, and their complexions brightened greatly. Some people among them with appointments to get to even cried out in elation, too.
However, the female employee completely disregarded the reactions of the citizens and showed no signs of backing down. She hesitated slightly before asking him.
“What… What brings you here?”
What did she even mean, what brings him here?
There would be only one reason why a Hunter chose to stand before a Gate, wouldn’t it?
Jin-Woo figured that there was no need to explain, so he simply pointed at the Gate beyond her shoulders. She looked behind her for a second or two, and then, formed an expression of pure determination.
Many Hunters ended up losing their lives after placing too much faith in their skills while disregarding the established rules and regulations.
‘It should be the same story with a rank S Hunter, right…?’
The Association existed to prevent such accidents – this fact had been drilled into her head over and over again. Hunters and their safety were the top priority of the Association.
Especially when the person in question happened to be an exceptional individual ranked ‘S’, her duty was to prevent any mishaps from happening to him no matter what. That’s what she thought, and so, she expressed her belief with a plucky attitude.
“Even if you’re a rank S Hunter, sir, I will not tolerate any behaviour that ignores proper procedures.”
Jin-Woo was lost for words and blankly stared at her face. He didn’t expect her to come out like this at all.
She thought that she had succeeded in persuading a rank S Hunter, and continued on with her next question.
“Did you obtain the raid permit?”
Jin-Woo shook his head, which led her to….
“No, wait. Even if you did obtain the permit, since you haven’t met the minimum required number of team members, you can’t be allowed in.”
The female employee was impressively unyielding.
Jin-Woo could tell from the look in her eyes that she wasn’t doing this out of spite. No, she just seemed to be the type to stick as close to the rule book as humanly possible.
Jin-Woo scratched the back of his head. Well, there’s no helping it, then.
“Hold on for a sec.”
Jin-Woo immediately called somebody on the phone. After the call connected to the other side, he pushed the phone to her.
When the female employee looked at him puzzled, Jin-Woo spoke to her in a clear voice.
“Please, take it. The call’s actually for you.”
She maintained her puzzled expression while asking him.
“W-who is it on the phone?”
“Someone else you may not ‘tolerate’ as well.”
She inadvertently took the phone from him, but when she discovered the name of the call’s receiver appearing on the screen, her brows shot up really high.
‘Goh, Goh Gun-Hui?!’
If the person on the line was really…
The female employee’s nervous voice was greeted by a deep, heavy voice from the phone’s speaker.
“This is the Association President speaking.”
Sure enough, it was him.
The female employee’s eyes trembled noticeably, before she began nodding her head over and over again.
“Yes, yes. No, sir. Yes. Yes. I shall do as you say, sir.”
She returned the phone with a crestfallen expression on her face. When Jin-Woo walked past her, he whispered to her in a hushed tone.
“For worrying about me.”
“Y-you, you knew….?!”
Jin-Woo hurriedly disappeared into the Gate.
Greatly annoyed by his antics now, the female employee shuddered from dissatisfaction and she threw… not a curse, but more like an unhappy grumble at his departing back.
‘Father in heaven! Sprain that guy’s ankle or something inside the dungeon, please!’
Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was a man who walked away safely from the Jeju Island that was completely overrun with rank S monsters.
‘Such a guy won’t have much trouble inside a rank B dungeon, probably?’
But then, it happened at that moment. Screams were rising up from here and there.
“Uhhh? What’s going on here??”
“Why is it changing to red colour?!”
Right after Jin-Woo stepped past the Gate, the eerie colour of blood slowly spread over its black surface. It was a Red Gate!! A terrifying event was unfolding right now.
The female employee felt utterly devastated after seeing the Red Gate appear.
‘Was it because I prayed for him to get that sprained ankle?!’
Of course, that wasn’t it. However, she couldn’t get rid of the voices in her head telling her that it was her fault.
She was taught that the Red Gate, a portal to another world, was one of the most dangerous places there was. She also heard that even the high-ranked Hunters weren’t guaranteed to get out of there alive.
‘It can’t be…..’
Suddenly, her head was filled with the images of the worst case scenario, and her complexion paled instantly.
‘If, if that Hunter-nim gets injured for real, what then…..?’
Just how many minutes went by like this?
She continued to stew in self-guilt, but when she felt a presence near her, the female employee tore her gaze away from the asphalt below to look up. And found Jin-Woo standing before her.
She got royally frightened out of her wits as if she saw a real ghost just now. Jin-Woo simply threw a grin at her way and walked right past her.
The face of this female employee was in a deeper shade of red than when she was talking to the Association President earlier.
Meanwhile, Jin-Woo searched around for something, and eventually, made his way over to a driver of a truck filled with sacks of potatoes.
“Excuse me, ahjussi? Can I buy a sack from you?”
“Pardon? You wanna buy some potatoes?”
Jin-Woo shook his head.
“No, just the sack.”
The Vice-Master of the tentatively-named ‘Solo Play’ Guild, as well as its chief recruitment officer, its sole lawyer, and even its accountant, Yu Jin-Ho smiled brightly as he saw Jin-Woo entering the office.
“You came back, hyung-nim!”
“Nothing happened while I was gone, right?”
“Yes, hyung-nim. However, an applicant wanting to become a founding member is…..”
“Okay. Show me the list. Let me go through it as well.”
Seeing that Yu Jin-Ho was pressing him with the same stuff they’d been talking about in the morning, the kid must’ve been desperate to establish the Guild as soon as possible.
Thankfully, Jin-Woo was thinking the same thing.
They only needed one more person for the spot of the founding member. The minimum of three people was needed to satisfy the requirements to establish a Guild.
‘Even if we’re trying to fill in the headcount, it’s better to pick someone hard-working and trustworthy, I think. It’s not like we’ll be seeing each other only once, after all.’
Jin-Woo nodded his head, convinced by his own thoughts. But now that he took a closer look, Yu Jin-Ho’s complexion seemed a bit cloudy for some reason.
“Did something happen?”
“The thing is…. Hyung-nim.”
“As you may well know, you need a lot of capital in order to establish a Guild. The bidding prices for higher ranked Gates all start at astronomical sums, we gotta pay the signing fees to the newly-joining Hunters, and most importantly, the person applying to become our founding mem….”
Jin-Woo cut him off there.
“Is this enough capital for now?”
Jin-Woo placed the potato sack he carried into the office on the floor.
Yu Jin-Ho’s puzzled gaze peered into the open gap of the sack. And he found it packed full of expensive magic crystals.
“H-hyung-nim….?! W-what are these?”
Jin-Woo was nonchalant in his reply.
“There was an open Gate on the way to the office, so I made a pit stop.”
He went out only a couple of hours ago, yet during such a short period of time, he found a high-ranking dungeon, cleared it completely, and brought out all the magic crystals found within?
“As expected of you, you’re amazing, hyung-nim!!”
Yu Jin-Ho stopped thinking about this matter there. It was ultimately a fruitless endeavour to pigeon-hole hyung-nim with common sense.
Jin-Woo watched Yu Jin-Ho celebrating the acquisition of their seed money with a content smile, before shifting his gaze over to the conference suite.
“By the way, why is she here?”
“Pardon? Ahh. I was about to talk to you about her a minute ago…. Well, someone applying to become a founding member is waiting for you, hyung-nim.”
Jin-Woo’s eyes widened.
“The person waiting for you in the conference suite, hyung-nim.”
“That’s what she said?”
What on earth was this kid even talking about….?
Jin-Woo quickly strode over to the conference suite as soon as Yu Jin-Ho was finished and opened the door wide open.
And then, inside this mostly-empty conference suite, he found a woman sipping on a can of coffee all alone and in silence turning her head to meet his gaze. Incidentally, Yu Jin-Ho had to quickly dash outside to get that coffee because they hadn’t even bought proper office equipment yet.
“What brings you here, Hunter-nim??”
Jin-Woo asked his guest with a dumbfounded expression on his face.
Then, Cha Hae-In opened her own mouth, still looking up at him from her sitting position.
“I came to…. join your Guild.”