Streets were filled with the gloomy atmosphere of a funeral.
Someone had to perform that role, but no one wanted to step forward to do it – that was the position of the first President of the Hunter’s Association.
When the nation needed someone to rally the powerful Hunters, he unhesitatingly closed up his own successful business and rolled up his sleeves to get to work.
And under the command of its President Goh Gun-Hui, the Korean Hunter’s Association was able to achieve so many things.
The organisation controlled and protected various Hunters; at the same time, it took the lead in compensating the victims of the monster attacks, while also silently aiding the families of the deceased Hunters, as well.
Many victims who had received Goh Gun-Hui’s aid in the past gathered at his memorial service and cried their hearts out in genuine sorrow.
Citizens filled up the venue until there was no room to even stand; the people paying their respects remained until deep into the night, burning their candles and grieving for the life lost.
Even the various TV stations interrupted their regular broadcasting schedules to play the video packages summarising the life of the late Association President and his various accomplishments.
One of the gigantic electronic advertising boards hung up in the middle of the city played the scene of Goh Gun-Hui taking shots at Assemblyman Nam Joon-Wook during the parliamentary hearing.
[“I’d like to urge you to think about this carefully. If and when another rank S Gate appears in our land, just who will step up to protect your life? You will not be able to buy back your life even if you are willing to pay hundreds of times, no, make that thousands of times the price you paid for your new residence.”]
The pedestrian lights changed colour to green, but no one moved from their spot. They stood still, unable to rip their eyes away from the electronic boards or from their smartphones.
Next up was a clip of an interview featuring the longtime personal physician of Goh Gun-Hui.
[“Back when Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim was fighting against the ant monsters on Jeju Island, I was watching the raid broadcast by the Association President’s side. He turned around to tell me that his biggest wish had now come true, and he had no more regrets left. But to think, he’d really leave us like this….”]
His eyes were red and swollen even before the interview began, and the good doctor eventually broke down and cried.
The viewers watching all became lost for words. They began recalling the sight of the Association President Goh Gun-Hui standing before the families of the victims and wordlessly shedding tears after the previous three attempts to take Jeju Island back all ended in failures.
Just as the number of people who respected and admired him was great, the number of those who hated him and were jealous of him was quite high, as well. However, even these people paid their respects to him on this day, their hearts all feeling the same sort of emotion.
Late at night.
Jin-Woo stood on the rooftop of the 100-stories-tall Daesung Tower. Powerful gusts of wind constantly blew at him as he stood at this dizzying height, but his body didn’t even sway for one second.
His eyes were fixated on the cityscape below. He could see the streets of Seoul filled with the palpable air of grief.
One of the electronic advertisement boards was playing a documentary detailing the life of the Association President Goh Gun-Hui.
Jin-Woo’s sharp glare scanned every corner of the city like a hawk searching for prey.
Meanwhile, his Shadow Soldiers were searching through Seoul with greater efficiency than before, perhaps owing to the fact that they felt familiar with the order as it was similar to the one he issued in America.
A great deal of information flowed into Jin-Woo’s mind, but none of them was what he wanted to know. No matter how much of the city was searched, no traces of that ancient White Phantom could be detected.
‘As expected, this method isn’t going to work.’
Jin-Woo knew all too well that using a method like this to catch a monster who was capable of freely entering and exiting a dimension through Gates was not the answer.
Back then, he tried to stick a Shadow Soldier on the b*stard before it made its escape so he could chase after it later. But that ended in failure. Because… that creature didn’t have that one little thing that all existences possessed. It didn’t have a shadow.
‘It’s supposed to be a spiritual body or some such, right?’
The King of Giants did say that both the Sovereigns and the Rulers were made up of the ‘spiritual bodies’ so they couldn’t be turned into Shadow Soldiers.
If that was the reason why that Sovereign didn’t possess a shadow, then Jin-Woo no longer enjoyed the benefit of having the greatest method of tracking someone down.
‘….It doesn’t matter.’
The King of Giants warned him back then – once Jin-Woo’s existence was known to the remaining Sovereigns, they would not sit back idly and suck on their thumbs. That’s what he said.
Meaning, these Sovereigns would come knocking on his doorstep sooner rather than later. Not to target the Association President Goh Gun-Hui, but him, as their sole target.
But when that happens, he would…..
The heavy and intense killing intent spread out from Jin-Woo.
Ever since he got the System, his reward for surviving the terrors of the first dual dungeon, he had never missed his enemy. The only one to buck this trend was that ‘Ice Elf’.
Jin-Woo had ensured that his enemies would meet their ends, regardless of whether they were monsters or humans. And he wasn’t planning on letting that thing become the only exception.
He had to take a pause there.
Jin-Woo was going through all the enemies he fought until now and realised that something was a bit odd.
Now that he thought about it…
‘….Wait, when I was fighting Hwang Dong-Su or Thomas Andre, I didn’t see any messages from the System, did I?’
In the past, the System always warned him with messages if someone nearby directed murderous intent towards him, and soon after that, issued emergency quests.
It happened with Hwang Dong-Seok, Kahng Tae-Sik, and finally, with Kim Cheol. There was no exception.
Hell, he even received a warning message during that sparring session with Goto Ryuji just because, for the briefest moment, the Japanese Hunter attacked him with the intent to cause real harm.
‘But then, no messages popped up when Hwang Dong-Su was trying to get revenge for his brother, or when Thomas Andre declared that he’d kill me. Why?’
What a strange development this was.
No matter how he dissected it, it didn’t sound right. Jin-Woo pondered this mystery for a second or two, then pulled out his phone in order to confirm a theory of his.
Thankfully, he still had the contact number he got from that American’s blonde lady manager.
It was 1 AM in Korea, but when thinking about the time difference to the Eastern United States, he shouldn’t be unduly inconveniencing them.
As he expected, the ringtone didn’t last long before the other side answered the call.
– “Hey, Mister Seong. I didn’t expect you to give me a call first.”
Perhaps puzzled by the phone call, Thomas Andre’s voice sounded a bit surprised.
“Actually, there was something I wanted to ask you about.”
– “You have a question? Not a problem. I’ll try to answer it as truthfully as I can.”
“That day, when we were fighting….”
– “….When we were fighting?”
“Did you attack me with the intent to kill?”
Since Thomas Andre was rather unwilling to recall the events of that day, Jin-Woo quickly explained that he simply wanted to satisfy his curiosity and nothing more.
There was no reason to hide anything, though. Thomas Andre took his time before answering as truthfully as he promised earlier.
– “Well, when I get angry, I can’t really control myself, so…. Yeah, I was thinking of really killing you that day.”
As expected – the murderous intent the American carried was all for real. Even then, the System maintained silence.
His hypothesis that started off from suspicion was quickly morphing into a sure thing.
– “Mister Seong?”
Thomas Andre must’ve felt the ensuing silence from his answer a wee bit uncomfortable because he tried to change the topic with an excited voice.
– “How about we change the subject from this uninteresting story to the fantastic thing I prepared for you…..”
Jin-Woo wasn’t really in the mood to share a jokey banter with Thomas Andre right now, so he mumbled a quick goodbye and ended the call right there.
That answer confirmed it for him. The System didn’t react to the presence of enemies with hostile intentions against him. This was totally different from before. What a big change this was, considering that in the beginning, it tried to make him protect himself no matter what.
‘This is not a problem that I can take lightly.’
When it happened for the first time – when he saw the overtly-threatening quest telling him to kill his enemies or his own heart would stop beating, he began to hold a vague notion on just what the end game of the System could be.
It was likely that the System was trying to goad him down a certain path – that’s what he thought.
So, now that there were no emergency quests being issued, this could signal a change in the goal of the System.
Thanks to this, he now enjoyed the luxury of having more choices, and he also got to spare Thomas Andre even though the American had bared his fangs like that.
‘If another emergency quest was issued, then well, such a thing wouldn’t have happened.’
It sure was a welcome piece of news that he now had a wider variety of options available, but still, he couldn’t help but be curious as to what the real reason for this change might be.
Did it have something to with the original owner of this power supposedly betraying the other Sovereigns? Or, did the death of the ‘architect’ of the System throw a wrench in their plan, whatever it was, and everything had gone down the crapper?
Jin-Woo continued to dissect each guess and hypothesis that popped up one after the other in his mind before ruefully shaking his head.
‘I should clear my mind.’
There was a need to set a clear goal for the time being. And that would be to kill that ancient White Phantom, as well as to get as much information on other Sovereigns from the b*stard while he was at it.
If the creature came for him first, that would be good. But, even if it targetted other Hunters instead, he was in the midst of increasing his traps, anyway.
As long as that thing fell for it, then he’d be able to catch two birds with one stone.
The problem was with time.
Since he didn’t know when the Sovereigns might appear again, he needed to adequately prepare himself for the battle against the unknown enemies who were, no doubt, incredibly powerful.
Thankfully, he had already got himself a perfect place to keep earning more experience points.
That would be none other than Japan. It had not recovered fully from all the destruction caused by the Giants. Several parts of the country were still left abandoned in ruin.
While Jin-Woo was in America, countless Gates went on to become full-on dungeon breaks, and monsters emerging from them settled down and began increasing their territories.
To the Japanese people, those monsters might be the source of terror, but for Jin-Woo, they were nothing more than juicy prey just waiting to be converted into experience points.
One by one…
His heart began pounding hard just from imagining his level climbing up by pushing back the monsters occupying the land there.
It was then, his phone vibrated for a short moment and alerted him to the incoming message. He looked at the screen to find a text message from Thomas Andre.
[Mister Seong? Can you give me another call? There was something I still wanna tell you about….]
The old saying went along the lines of ‘the ground will harden after a rainfall’; it seemed that Thomas Andre wanted to form a friendship on the basis of them having fought against each other.
Jin-Woo welcomed the idea, obviously. His social skill wasn’t poor enough for him to refuse the hand of friendship the other side was offering first.
Still, they could chat at any time they wanted to, no? He liked Thomas Andre and his lack of ulterior motives, but it was a bit too late in the evening to share banter with him, he thought.
Jin-Woo quickly typed his reply and sent it on its way.
[OK. But later. I’ve got this urgent thing to take care of.]
A smile spread on Jin-Woo’s face after he tapped ‘Send’ icon.
‘Nothing will change.’
Indeed, he’d continue to raise his level in preparation for the days ahead. It was the same story back then or now.
He felt better than when he was climbing up here. His steps now taking him back down the Daesung Tower were lighter than ever before.
However, Jin-Woo wasn’t the only one getting ready for a battle.
The Sovereign of Frost, after successfully escaping to the hideout, summoned other Sovereigns who had already descended on this planet.
Three men and one woman appeared within this frozen cave. The Sovereign of Frost addressed these four ‘kings’.
[The Shadow Sovereign is in this world.]
And then, it proceeded to explain what it saw and heard to its new guests.
The Sovereigns weren’t even bothered in the slightest by the coldness of the cave capable of freezing a person’s flesh and blood, but after hearing the story, their atmosphere became incredibly frosty in mere seconds.
[I thought there was no vessel good enough to contain his power?]
Also, wasn’t that the reason why the Dragon Emperor couldn’t descend to this world, too?
The Sovereign of Frost resolutely shook its head.
[I saw it clearly with my own two eyes. That being was real.]
Two of the Sovereigns who had sensed the lingering power of the Shadow Sovereign back in Jeju Island could only agree with their comrade at this point. The atmosphere remained frosty as the Sovereign of Frost continued on.
[He will prove to be an even bigger threat to us than the Fragments of the Brilliant Light. I shall dispose of him. Are any of you willing to lend me your aid?]
Too bad, the response to its request for aid was indifferent, to say the least. This made some sense. Their opponent this time was seen as one of the most powerful ‘kings’ among the nine kings that ruled over the Chaos World.
A battle against him was the same as killing yourself. It was only obvious that these Sovereigns would become extra hesitant by the prospect.
One of the Sovereigns spoke up.
[How about we wait for the Dragon Emperor?]
The Sovereign of Destruction. If it was ‘him’, then the betrayer would be dealt with quite swiftly.
However, the Sovereign of Frost growled angrily at its comrades.
[We might be on the run, but do not forget that we’re kings of our own armies. How long will you cry out for the Dragon Emperor to come and save you?]
The dagger that stabbed into its shoulder – the wound inflicted from that encounter was no ordinary physical injury, but one that directly bruised its ego. The Sovereign of Frost had a score to settle with the Shadow Sovereign.
[If we wish to remove him from the picture, then now is the chance as he is still a human. Lend me your aid. I shall make sure to send him back to the void.]
Even though its resolution was unwavering, one of the Sovereigns still stepped away.
[I shall not partake in this venture.]
Another Sovereign brought up the incident of the King of the Demons, Baran, who unwisely went up against the Shadow Sovereign and disappeared from the spot, as well.
[I do not wish to end up like the Sovereign of the White Flames.]
The Sovereign of Frost clicked its tongue as two of its comrades disappeared from the view. Out of the five kings that had gathered, only three remained. A muscular giant of a figure threw a question at the Sovereign of Frost.
[Where’s the proof that he’s still a human being?]
As if it was waiting for this chance, the ancient White Phantom showed the dagger that used to be stabbed into its shoulder. Its tip was gleaming in a greenish hue.
[Poison has been applied to the blade.]
More precisely, it was the poison of a Manticore. It might not be effective against Sovereigns, but it was still a fatal substance powerful enough to rot away the flesh of the regular denizens of the Chaos World just from simple, innocuous contact.
That man had coated his blade with the poison in preparation of the future events. It was indeed a meticulous and smart thing to do, but it was also not the Shadow Sovereign’s original style. This was the clear evidence that the human was in charge of that body.
The Sovereign of Frost respectfully asked the two remaining comrades.
[Are you with me on this one?]
Its powers were about the same compared to the Shadow Sovereign, who was still a mere human. However, if two other Sovereigns supported its cause, then it was sure of subjugating the human Shadow Sovereign.
The two remaining ‘kings’ exchanged glances between each other before nodding their heads.
[I shall aid you.]
[We shall kill the Shadow Sovereign.]
The Sovereign of Frost swore in its heart that it’d teach the true meaning of terror to that puny little human responsible for wounding its shoulder with a dagger.
The corner of the ancient White Phantom’s lips curled upwards.