Thomas Andre slowly opened his eyes as his head kept repeating those two words he never thought he’d say ever again.
He found himself inside a hospital room.
‘When was the last time I stopped by at a hospital?’
Jin-Woo might have frequented hospitals as if they were his second home during his early years as a Hunter. However, Thomas Andre didn’t, and he couldn’t recall a single instance of staying in a hospital even once, ever since becoming a Hunter.
Just who would’ve expected to see this kind of a result from a fight between a Hunter who used to be the worst even among the rank Es, and a man who started his career at the very top?
Of course, Thomas Andre didn’t care about Jin-Woo’s past. He was still deeply flustered with this result, though.
‘I really… did lose.’
Thomas Andre slowly sat up with a dazed face of a man whose soul had abandoned him.
The sound of someone lightly tapping on a keyboard came to a halt. He shifted his gaze in that direction and found the main manager of the Scavenger Guild, Laura, sitting in a location not too far, but not too close, either.
Perhaps she was in the middle of her work because her slender fingers were still hovering above the laptop’s keyboard.
“You’ve woken up.”
“….Looks like it.”
Thomas Andre withdrew his gaze and rubbed his chin.
One could estimate just how much time had passed, with the length of one’s beard. Should he say he felt relieved, then? Because… his beard wasn’t as long as he feared.
“About… one day, is it?’
Laura affirmed it for him with a short answer, before continuing on.
“The first doctor to examine you suggested that I should prepare for the worst case of you waking up several weeks later.”
That was how terrible Thomas Andre’s conditions were last night.
….She found it bit difficult to decide whether him waking up after only one day was rather befitting of Thomas Andre’s capabilities, or the fact that he even blacked out in the first place was unbecoming of him, instead.
Laura felt this conflict of emotion as she stood next to her boss’s bed.
“Should I call for a doctor?”
“No, not yet.”
Thomas Andre massaged his aching temples and shook his head.
The impact force he felt when that man punched him in the head still remained vivid even now. What a horrible pain this was. So much so, he no longer wanted to recall yesterday’s event if he could help it.
A doctor wouldn’t be able to do much anyway, even if one was summoned here. Besides all that, though – wasn’t there something else he should confirm first?
Thomas Andre quickly asked.
“What about Mister Hwang?”
Laura’s lips parted for a moment, but she couldn’t verbalise her answer and simply shook her head.
“….Is that so.”
He pondered for a little while longer, before asking a different question with an unconcerned tone of voice.
“What about other losses?”
“We have incurred many injured personnel, but thanks to the timely response from the Hunter Bureau, everyone has fully recovered.”
Thomas Andre had been maintaining his calm until then, but he couldn’t stop his voice from going up an octave.
“There were no other casualties?”
His shock soon morphed into astonishment. He began gasping out inwardly.
Even though the fight had been truly intense, not one person was killed. It could only mean that his opponent went easy on them.
This was a clear sign of an overwhelming defeat.
When a person tastes such a complete defeat, one would often lose any notion of getting angry at the result. That’s how Thomas Andre felt right about now.
He was also awestruck, as well. Jin-Woo had defeated not just Thomas Andre, but all the elite Hunters the American had gathered, all by himself. That made Thomas somewhat fearful of the young Korean Hunter. No, his emotion had gone beyond that and almost into the territory of pure respect.
Thomas Andre always told himself that being powerful was justice, so the mental shock he felt right now was rather immense.
However, why was he being like this?
He tasted an ignoble defeat yet he didn’t feel so bad at all. Maybe, he had no regrets because he got to confirm the gap between him and his opponent?
He didn’t feel like getting angry at the person who defeated him. Nor was he thinking of avenging his loss, either.
‘Instead, it’s more like….’
As several thoughts began crisscrossing in his head, Laura suddenly presented him with a small but lengthy box. It was a case for glasses.
Thomas Andre accepted this case while sending her a puzzled stare. She solved his curiosity right away.
“Your sunglasses were recovered from the location, but they were too damaged to be repaired.”
He opened the case to find a new pair of sunglasses with the same design as before that he liked to wear. Thomas Andre broke into a smirk and put them on.
“Looks like I keep ending up owing people.”
Laura was inwardly worried that her boss would start going off on a rampage the moment he woke up, but his response brought about a sense of relief in her and she sighed inwardly, before forming a gentle smile.
“It’s my job, sir.”
Thomas Andre wordlessly stared into the distance, before quietly opening his mouth.
“Mister Hwang…. Make sure you hold a proper funeral for him. He was still one of our own, after all.”
“Oh, and also….”
Laura stopped jotting down Thomas Andre’s orders in her memo pad and raised her head.
“Tell Hunter Seong Jin-Woo that the Scavenger Guild will…. No, wait. Scratch that. Send him a message that I, Thomas Andre, will offer an official apology.”
Protect the Hunters.
Why did Madam Selner say something like this? Jin-Woo formed a puzzled expression.
She seemed to be unsure of where to start her story but eventually, opened her mouth rather laboriously.
“While the dream kept repeating itself, I tried my best to memorise the faces of those hunting down the Hunters. However, it was all for nought.”
She explained that all she could remember after waking up were faces covered in veils of darkness.
“And so, I decided to use another method. Even if it was just a dream, I’d use my ability to look into their true nature, their true form.”
“Was that why you looked into my eyes last time?”
Madam Selner readily admitted to how her ability worked.
Jin-Woo’s heart began racing again.
Back then, what did Madam Selner discover inside him that made her shiver in fear like that? Unfortunately, her story hadn’t finished yet, so he had to suppress the rising tide of curiosity and concentrated on her voice.
“What I found within those people was limitless power. But, when I locked gazes with ‘that thing’, I had no choice but to wake up from my dream.”
Jin-Woo’s gaze momentarily drifted lower and saw her fingertips tremble imperceptibly.
“When my eyes looked into it… I can still clearly remember the words and voice of ‘that thing’ even now.”
Jin-Woo slightly raised his head back up again. Both the director listening in, as well as Adam White translating from the side, carried deeply tense expressions.
Jin-Woo asked her in a calm voice.
“What did that thing say to you?”
“It said that I should… quietly go back and wait for the war.”
Madam Selner began shuddering in horror after finally recalling that memory. The voice she heard in her dream was far more vivid than any other sound she heard in reality.
Unlike the frightened woman, though, Jin-Woo was focused on the word ‘war’, instead. That was his clue.
‘It’s similar to what the King of Giants told me, isn’t it?’
The battle between the Rulers and the Sovereigns – didn’t the King of Giants say it? That ‘they’ were gearing up for war? Most likely, the Rulers weren’t the only ones preparing for this upcoming battle.
If that was the case, then, just which side did the b*stards hunting the Hunters belong to?
Although he felt curious about this, he still hadn’t heard a reply to his original question. So, he asked again.
“How does that relate to you asking me to protect other Hunters?”
“….Because, I saw the same power sleeping within you.”
Her cautiously-mouthed words slapped wide awake Jin-Woo and in the face. The power of the Shadow Sovereign – that’s what she saw on that day, hiding deep inside of him.
Since she saw the same type of power from the assassins in her dreams, their identity had to be….
Jin-Woo’s expression hardened.
Madam Selner detected the rapid shift in Jin-Woo’s expression and quickly added more explanation.
“They are existences above the Hunters, and in order to stop them, we need you who possess the power that equals theirs, Hunter-nim.”
The director quietly listened up to here and finally entered the conversation.
“In all honesty, I wasn’t convinced by the claim that no one can protect the Hunters besides you, Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim, but, well….”
The reason why this meeting had been hastily arranged was…
“….My fight with Thomas Andre yesterday changed the way the Hunter Bureau thinks, am I correct?”
The director replied awkwardly after the truth was accurately pointed out.
“Yes, you’re correct.”
Thanks to the matters of the day before, the Hunter Bureau finally learned of the difference between Jin-Woo and other Hunters. That event might have been a big incident, yes, but it also helped the organisation to discover a new ray of hope.
Beings capable of murdering Special Authority-rank Hunters, and a lone Hunter possessing powers equal to those beings.
The Hunter Bureau was in desperate need of Jin-Woo’s help more than ever. The United States had already lost one of her Special Authority-rank Hunters. And from their perspective, Thomas Andre had to be protected at any cost.
“Of course, we don’t expect a Hunter as excellent as you to help us without any suitable compensation.”
Anything he wanted, it’d be made available. And that included the greatest treasure Kamish had left behind, its Rune Stone.
The new proposal coming from the Hunter Bureau wasn’t about scouting him. Rather than annoy Jin-Woo by pushing forward the already-rejected offer, they’d rather borrow his power to protect America’s greatest combat force. That was the response the Bureau had decided to go with regarding the current events, post-Christopher Reid’s death.
Jin-Woo shut his mouth and fell into a bit of a dilemma.
Madam Selner came clean on what she saw in order to help him make up his mind.
“There are Hunters enjoying powerful blessings in this world. They have supported this world with their powers. If they are gone, this world will not be able to hold on for much longer.”
Jin-Woo finally replied to them after his lengthy deliberation.
His firm refusal that didn’t leave any room for reconsideration caused the director’s brows to shoot up high.
“I-is it because of some unresolved emotion towards Thomas Andre Hunter-nim….??”
Jin-Woo quickly shook his head before people jumped to wrong conclusions.
“No, not at all.”
There was only one reason why he made this decision.
“It’s only because I don’t know anything about the enemies I’ll be facing.”
Even if he had a rough idea about what their identities were, he hadn’t encountered them once yet. It was only obvious that he’d not make any promises on protecting someone else when he had no clue on the enemy’s capabilities.
Jin-Woo wasn’t some amateur who’d readily make promises when he wasn’t sure whether he could keep them in the first place.
‘I’ll observe the situation for the time being.’
And then, he’d take care of those things he could handle, first.
His collected ways of thinking hadn’t changed at all from that day he entered the dual dungeon for the first time all those months ago.
Thankfully, Jin-Woo possessed several Shadow Soldiers who’d accurately convey information to him in real time. By leaving behind his boys in the shadows of all the Hunters the Bureau was concerned about, he’d be able to respond to those b*stards in time if they made a move.
Jin-Woo began thinking up a suitable response when the time comes as he stood up from his seat to leave.
In the president’s office of the Korean Hunter’s Association.
The Association President Goh Gun-Hui was spending yet another busy day.
Why, of all possible things under the heavens, did Hunter Seong and Thomas Andre have to fight a day before the International Guild Conference?
He was worried about things going wrong on the other side so he sent inquiries through all available channels and finally, received a reply from the Hunter Bureau not too long ago.
Their investigation had found that the Scavenger Guild was at fault for the incident and that Jin-Woo wouldn’t be unduly inconvenienced in any shape or form moving forward, according to the message from the United States.
Association President Goh Gun-Hui finally could get this load off his shoulders and plopped down on his chair like a man feeling greatly relieved. No one could imagine how worried to death he was as he thought about Hunter Seong getting locked up in an American prison.
But then again…
‘Hang on a minute.’
….Just who would be capable of locking Hunter Seong up?
Even Thomas Andre had lost consciousness, didn’t he?
Goh Gun-Hui broke into a chuckle after his thoughts finally reached there, long after the dust on the matter had settled down.
‘In a way… I was worried about something totally unnecessary.’
Goh Gun-Hui chuckled for a while before feeling a bit of thirst creeping in. He searched for something to drink and found a bottle of water located on top of the coffee table a bit of distance away from the President’s desk.
Goh Gun-Hui wordlessly stared at the water bottle before extending his hand out. That prompted the bottle to fly into his hand.
He expertly snatched the bottle up and while unscrewing the cap, formed a thin smile.
‘Looks like I’ve got yet another story to hear from Chief Woo once he comes back.’
Goh Gun-Hui felt quite pleased, knowing that he made the right choice to forcibly send Section Chief Woo Jin-Cheol to the U.S.