It was obvious that the Japanese Hunter’s Association HQ used to be located in the central district of Tokyo, commonly seen as the beating heart of Japan.
But, that was only until the Giants began pouring out from the Gate, of course.
On that fateful day, as Shinjuku’s rank S Gate morphed into a full-on dungeon break, the President of the Japanese Association Matsumoto Shigeo managed to save his life through the sacrifices of the Hunters and soldiers stationed on the frontlines. He hurriedly re-established the HQ of the Association in the city of Osaka’s local government offices.
There was only one reason why he chose this city, rather than some others located on the north-west of the country.
He figured that, if they failed to protect the city of Osaka and its 2.66 million inhabitants, then there was no hope for Japan, either. In other words, this was their last defence line – their Maginot Line.
And that was also why Association President Matsumoto experienced the event of his sights darkening from despair when he heard the news of Nagoya, which wasn’t that far away from Osaka, falling at the hands of the Giant-type monsters.
The nation’s utter annihilation was practically around the corner, but it became impossible to beg for international help.
The dastardly scheme cooked up by the Japanese Association was laid bare in full by the President of the Korean Hunter’s Association, Goh Gun-Hui. No one wanted to lend their aid to Japan because of that.
After Goh Gun-Hui’s press conference was over, the Japanese government, temporarily relocated to Kyoto, summoned Matsumoto Shigeo to appear before them.
He had to kneel down in front of the government’s higher-ups baying for his blood.
“The responsibility for this crisis rests solely on me. However, you need someone to sort out this situation. Please, won’t you delay the handing out of the punishment until then?”
The Prime Minister of Japan, standing his back to the kneeling Matsumoto Shigeo, made his reply after a short deliberation.
Without a doubt, the Association President Matsumoto had brought this crisis upon them, but just as he said, someone still had to take care of the mess created by the dungeon break.
The punishment could come afterwards.
It wouldn’t be too late to make an example out of this man after the flame not just burning on the foot but on the rest of the body was put out first.
It was around at this point that Jin-Woo landed on Japanese soil.
The very first person to rush out and welcome him while forgetting to even put on his shoes properly was Association President Matsumoto.
His fate was already sealed. That didn’t mean he wanted to let his mother nation suffer the same fate as him. That’s what he thought.
When he first saw Jin-Woo at the airport, his entire body was overcome with goosebumps of nasty shock.
‘How could this be…??’
This man was strong.
Matsumoto had been the Association President for many years, and he got to meet many powerful beings up until now. That was how he could tell from just one glance.
He stood next to countless Hunters in his life so far, but hadn’t encountered many situations where the hair on the back of his neck stood up straight from the unbelievable chill he felt.
No, actually, this would be his first time.
If only he had a chance to meet Jin-Woo just once before the Jeju Island raid took place, he’d have immediately rescinded the plan to drive the Korean Hunters to their demise.
The words of Goto Ryuji from back then, when he personally met Jin-Woo, were definitely not wrong. This Korean Hunter right in front of his eyes possessed such a powerful pressure.
However, the enemies this time were the Giant-type monsters emerging straight out from a rank S Gate.
Matsumoto judged that, no matter how strong Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was, he alone would not be enough to contend with all those monsters. So, he made a desperate plea.
“Please, I beg of you to focus on defending us, with Osaka as the centre.”
The Japanese Hunter’s Association wanted Jin-Woo to focus solely on defence and buy them enough time so that they could negotiate with either the Americans or with the Russians.
Too bad, that plan was immediately thrown out the window with one short sentence from the man in question.
Jin-Woo curtly stated his position.
It was only obvious that the Association President Matsumoto Shigeo and all the other Association-related parties would jump up in sheer fluster. Did he suddenly have a change of heart and no longer wanted to kill the monsters?
Matsumoto could only ask with a tightening chest.
“Then…. Then, what will you do, instead?”
Instead of a verbal reply, Jin-Woo answered with his actions.
He separated his summons into three parties and had them operate on their own, while he too began moving by himself as well.
The number of creatures he summoned out was already astonishing enough, but even then, Matsumoto Shigeo was swallowing his worried gasps over something else entirely.
‘Is he really trying to fight against all of the Giants?’
Every Hunter in the world had all said in one voice that such a feat was impossible. But, was he trying to do precisely that?
He had no way of knowing. The best he could do now was to wait while entrusting his, and everyone else’s, fate to the heavens above.
He returned to the Hunter’s Association HQ and focused on gathering information on the unfolding situation.
Unexpectedly, the answer came back soon enough.
“The city of Nagoya, it’s been successfully taken back!!”
“What was that?!”
Matsumoto Shigeo shot up from his chair from that shocking news.
It hadn’t been all that long since Hunter Seong Jin-Woo had set off, yet the Giant-type monster in Nagoya had been brought down already?
Even before the Japanese Association President had a chance to calm his fluttering heart, messages began pouring in from all corners of the country.
“A Giant’s corpse has been discovered in the city of Nakatsugawa!”
“The city of Shizuoka has been successfully reclaimed!!”
“The cities of Takayama and Nagano both have been…..”
Hunter Seong Jin-Woo and his summoned creatures were eliminating the Giant-type monsters scattered throughout the country of Japan as they closed in towards Tokyo.
It was truly an unbelievable speed of advancement.
The Association President Matsumoto Shigeo saw the power of the Korean Hunter capable of changing the impossible into the possible and began shivering where he stood.
His pounding heart showed no signs of slowing down at all.
“T-the city of Kofu…. Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, he has arrived in Kofu, sir.”
He plopped down on his butt after hearing the news of all the Giants being killed off in Kofu, a city only 130 kilometres removed from Tokyo itself.
“Sir, President Matsumoto!!”
His trembling legs didn’t want to listen to him at all.
That Korean Hunter was really planning to kill every Giant-type monster found in this nation. A certain thought suddenly entered his mind, then.
‘What he’s doing right now….. Isn’t that what I planned to do to South Korea?’
He was planning to destroy Korea’s Hunter system, and by utilising the strengths of the Japanese Hunters, squeeze South Korea as he willed it. But now, the situation had flipped on its head.
Japan and its collapsed Hunter system now found itself under the thumb of one single man, Seong Jin-Woo.
The plan that Matsumoto himself, the Japanese Association, the top Japanese Hunters, and the government combined their resources together to put into motion, and ultimately failed to carry out, was being ably carried out by just one person. He was being successful in doing so, as well.
He dazedly sat in his chair, and issued a new order to the Association’s staff members standing around and worrying about him.
“Can you all leave me for a while? I’d like to be alone for a minute or two.”
Soon, his office became emptied. His head slowly drooped real low.
A powerful sense of defeat the likes of which he had never tasted before in his life crashed into him like a tidal wave.
He had lost.
He had completely, utterly lost.
However, the emotions rushing in after the sense of defeat finally left him were a brief moment of self-reflection and remorse, and an infinite amount of gratitude.
On that day, he silently sobbed.
And also on that day, Jin-Woo and his summons starting from Osaka and moving eastward, while killing every Giant they ran into, finally arrived on the doorsteps of the city of Tokyo.
Two more Giant-type monsters fell lifelessly to the ground.
It had been so long since he got to level up so freely like this. He could barely remember the last time it happened.
Jin-Woo tightly clenched his fists.
As he approached closer and closer to where the dungeon break originally started, the city of Tokyo, he alone had hunted down 13 Giant-type monsters. His level rose up by six during this time.
Each of these Giant-type monsters was on the level of a boss creature, so the experience points they gave out were rather substantial. Of course, experience points earned by his Shadow Soldiers in other locations also played a pretty large role, as well.
Every time that message of [Level up!] popped up in his view during his journey, he felt his enthusiasm soar up even higher and higher.
Just like now.
‘That’s what I’m talking about!’
Jin-Woo clenched his fists again from that wonderfully-timed message of a level up entering his view. He also heard a familiar voice talking to him in his mind.
‘Oh, my king. We have killed off yet another enemy.’
The ones that sent him extra experience points were Beru’s ant army, who also happened to possess the fastest marching speed as well.
It was a rather obvious result, though, when considering the fact that Beru was the strongest Shadow Soldier he had, and that the number of ants was also quite large, to begin with. The former ant king always reported back to Jin-Woo every time after killing their enemies.
Jin-Woo congratulated the achievements of the ant army.
‘Nicely done. You all did well.’
‘I thank thee, oh my king.’
Jin-Woo ended the communication with Beru and used the ‘Sensory Sharing’ to check up on the status of each of his three armies.
Although it wasn’t to the extent of the ant army led by Beru, the army of High Orcs led by Fangs and the army of elite soldiers led by Igrit were also unhindered in their progress as well.
Jin-Woo felt really pleased by the levels of his soldiers that had shot up to a noticeable degree.
“Hyung-nim, should we set up camp here tonight?”
Jin-Woo opened his eyes and ended the ‘Sensory Sharing’.
Yu Jin-Ho was asking a question while holding a tent he took out from the vehicle’s trunk. Jin-Woo raised his head to see that the day was coming to an end, the dusk casting its shadow on the ground below.
His ‘Tiredness’ gauge wasn’t all that high due to the effects of stamina recovery potions he bought from the Store, as well as from levelling up. However, his mental fatigue had certainly piled up recently.
‘Looks like I should take a break.’
Jin-Woo nodded his head.
Today’s campsite had been decided. They quickly set up the tent and got ready to eat dinner.
The heat had cooled off before long and the breeze of the encroaching evening felt chilly. It was already autumn now.
Jin-Woo thought to himself that winter was just around the corner as he warmed up the food the Japanese Association had supplied him with.
If he were to split the rise and fall of the human civilisation in terms of seasons, then the appearance of Tokyo’s outer edges certainly gave off the aura of winter in full bloom.
For some reason, though, Tokyo that no longer resembled a city came across as a somewhat familiar sight to him.
‘Where have I seen this before?’
Jin-Woo combed his memories for a little while before finding his answer.
‘….The Demon’s Castle.’
The sight of the ruined, crumbling cities he saw back then resembled Tokyo’s current appearance. The only difference being, there were no flames burning right now.
When his thoughts arrived at this point, a dark shadow crept up over his expression.
‘Could it be….?’
From the very first floor of the Demon’s Castle, all the way up to its final floor, every city found within the dungeon was destroyed almost beyond recognition.
If that was the System’s way of giving away hints, then what was the so-called architect trying to tell him?
Jin-Woo smirked to himself.
‘Does it really matter now?’
The so-called architect, the manager of the System, was dead and gone inside a dungeon. Seeing that there was no further contact after that, the chances of that guy still being alive were slim, to say the least.
‘And, even if what I saw back then was the prediction of the coming events…..’
‘….I shall stop them.’
That was why he continued to grow stronger. He chased after greater strength, because he didn’t want to be toyed around with by powers he couldn’t fight against.
Raise his level, get his hands on new skills, and raise his level up even higher…..
And eventually, he had arrived at this point in time.
The ‘Black Heart’ beat loudly once as if to react to his thoughts.
Jin-Woo pressed his hand to his chest to feel that as a thin smile spread across his lips. The doctor in the hospital told him that he was completely normal.
[“We haven’t found any abnormalities with you. Hunter-nim, you’re perfectly healthy.”]
The day before his departure, Jin-Woo went to a hospital to get a complete check up on his health.
The doctor had him scanned from top to bottom but still failed to discover the second heart or anything similar to that.
The ‘Back Heart’, then, couldn’t have been a physical change taking place within his flesh. It did exist and he could definitely feel its heartbeat, but it also did not exist in reality, too.
‘What the heck does that even mean?’
Jin-Woo wryly laughed to himself.
He was sort of relieved by the fact that his body structure was no different from other people’s, but if that was the case, where was this tremor from his chest coming from?
It was then – a light breeze blew in from the city centre of Tokyo. And it carried this sticky and utterly horrifying magical energy that was hard to even fathom how dense it was.
Yu Jin-Ho formed a worried expression. This was truly an astonishing power level that even someone like him with a lower threshold of perception could sense.
Jin-Woo wordlessly nodded his head. He didn’t have to think too hard where this breeze blew in from. It was from that massive Giant guarding the Gate in Shinjuku.
This aura was on another realm altogether compared to what he sensed from other Giants so far. He was this far away, yet goosebumps broke out on his arms just for a moment there.
However, a smile still formed on Jin-Woo’s face.
As if it was responding to that powerful wave of magic energy, the ‘Black Heart’ began pounding even harder than before.
How many levels would he gain after killing that monster? Also, what kind of a soldier would come out from its shadow?
Anticipation was bubbling up within him already.