Was there any other time in history that the whole world cheered on with one voice?
Jin-Woo vanished and then reappeared again shortly afterwards only to stab his shortsword into the chest of that Sovereign of Frost. It was precisely at that moment that everyone watching punched the air with both of their fists and roared out in elation, as if they all had been waiting for this chance.
They all despaired in the false knowledge that humanity’s greatest Hunter had died at the hands of monsters, so that spectacle proved to be the best gift imaginable to them.
Some passionately chanted Jin-Woo’s name out loudly.
Some began shedding tears.
Some tried to console those shedding tears.
And they watched together as a lone Hunter from Asia took care of the monster that threatened all of mankind.
Indeed, all of mankind.
The moment the Special Authority-rank Hunter Thomas Andre fell, and one of the top-ranked Hunters in the world, Lennart Niermann, tried to step up in his stead, these monsters had become far greater than the calamity of South Korea.
No, the situation had transformed into a grave crisis that directly impacted everyone else’s lives.
After all these years, people still hadn’t forgotten about the terror of watching the Dragon ‘Kamish’ swallowing up American cities, one after another.
No one alive wanted a repeat of that horrifying event. And that’s why every viewer, from all corners of the globe, went so wild at Jin-Woo’s victory.
It was as if they were trying to wash away the frustration and fear they felt while watching the best Hunters in the world continue to fall.
Every time Jin-Woo attacked the Sovereign of Frost, the viewers roared out again and again.
When that monster with seriously tenacious vitality finally toppled over and turned into grey-coloured ash before scattering away, the roaring cheers of the viewers reached their absolute peak.
Their combined roars rocked their respective cities.
Anchors tasked with relaying the breaking news were also shouting out at the top of their lungs, no longer caring whether the cameras were filming or not.
– Breaking news, just in!! We have learnt that Hunter Thomas Andre, previously thought to be fatally wounded, is still alive and he’s…..
– Ambulances have arrived on location just in time to take the victims to the nearest hospitals!!
– Those monsters that massacred the citizens are no longer moving! They all turned into ash and nothing remains of them now!
Breaking news pieces announcing the end of the battle continued to stream out of their TVs, but….
Seong Jin-Woo! Seong Jin-Woo! Seong Jin-Woo!!!
….But, the excitement and elation of the people showed no signs of dying down at all.
And then, there was this one man. There was this one particular man who was perhaps far more elated than anyone else on this planet. And that was none other than the current Association President, Woo Jin-Cheol.
His gaze was firmly fixed to the TV screen, even though he was surrounded by his fellow employees of the Association busily bear-hugging each other and cheering out in pure happiness.
He had discovered something from the live feed and his eyes trembled greatly.
‘Could it have been….?’
He hurriedly yanked his smartphone out and, with trembling hands, he searched for and played a certain video clip saved on his device.
He had watched this footage so, so many times. It was the footage of the late Association President Goh Gun-Hui being murdered, taken by the CCTV cameras inside the President’s office.
There was an unknown man captured in the footage.
That man appeared and disappeared too quickly within this grainy footage, so Woo Jin-Cheol couldn’t be sure, but now that he took a second look, didn’t this mysterious creature look almost like the monster that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo had killed just now?
Even the scenes of the frozen floor rapidly melting away were an exact match.
‘In that case….!!’
Only then did he realise just what kind of enemies Jin-Woo had been fighting until now. It was the murderer of the late Association President.
And then, Woo Jin-Cheol recalled the conversation he shared with Jin-Woo back when the latter came to pay his respects to the late Goh Gun-Hui. A powerful jolt travelled down his entire body.
[“Thank you. Thank you for being there for the final moments of the Association President.”]
[“….I’ll kill that b*stard.”]
[“The monster that murdered the Association President. I’ll definitely hunt it down. You can save your thanks until then.”]
Hunter Seong Jin-Woo hadn’t forgotten about that day’s promise. And now, the monster responsible was dead. By his hands.
Woo Jin-Cheol’s nose became reddened and he raised his eyes, now wet with thick tears, to look at the TV screen. The camera was zooming into Hunter Seong Jin-Woo’s face, looking somewhat tired now.
Woo Jin-Cheol could more or less understand what that expression signified. From somewhere deep within, a powerful emotion welled up uncontrollably. From here onwards, the late Association President should be able to rest in peace.
Woo Jin-Cheol recalled the memories of Goh Gun-Hui, a man he greatly respected, and inwardly muttered his gratitude towards Jin-Woo.
‘…..Thank you very much, Hunter-nim.’
The Sovereign of Frost reverted back to humanoid figure after its Spiritual Body Manifestation had been undone. It slowly turned into the grey-coloured ash.
The debt of the late Association President Goh Gun-Hui, as well his own, both of them had been settled in full now. Jin-Woo coldly looked at the Sovereign of Frost scattering away before turning around.
The two Marshal-grade soldiers waiting in the distance until the end of that foolish Sovereign’s punishment approached Jin-Woo.
Even though he had now completely regained his original power, Igrit still maintained his reserved personality and he politely paid his courtesy to his master. However, quite unlike him….
“Ohhh, my kiiiinggg!!”
….Beru expressed his unreserved joy of being able to see his master again with his entire being.
Jin-Woo lightly tapped the big ant soldier and his two tearful eyes on the shoulder before taking a sweeping a look around his vicinity. There should have been one more person here. That man wearing the tattered robe was nowhere to be seen, though.
“Just who was that man, anyway?”
Beru was far too moved by his own emotions to reply properly, so Igrit answered Jin-Woo’s puzzled inquiry.
“While you lost your consciousness, he protected you with all of his being, my liege.”
Jin-Woo was taken by great surprise after hearing Igrit’s thick, manly voice for the first time, ever. But that lasted for only a short while. He formed a puzzled expression again.
“He protected me?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
Unlike Beru, Igrit was probably not that familiar with human languages, so they were currently conversing in what was referred to as ‘monster language’, which was actually the common tongue of the Chaos World.
However, there was no problem understanding each other at all.
In any case – did that mean a man he had never seen before was protecting him?
Jin-Woo had been having a Q&A session with Igrit in the common tongue of the Chaos World, as if he was a native there, before abruptly discovering something and walking over to it.
It was a certain item that had fallen to the ground.
As he picked this item up, his eyes trembled rather imperceptibly.
The robe-wearing man sought shelter behind the exterior wall of a half-destroyed building and plopped down to the ground while pulling his hood back.
His hair and beard covering his face were unkempt and messy as if he had never bothered to trim them at all.
He was Seong Il-Hwan. And he was leaning against the wall while spitting out heavy, laboured breathing.
He then raised his left hand that had lost all feeling now.
Sure enough, his hand changed its colour to grey and was slowly disintegrating into dust from the tip of his fingers. This was the inevitable result of accepting the powers of a god with the body of a mere human.
However, even though he was experiencing unimaginable pain, he still formed a satisfied expression.
With this power, he managed to protect Jin-Woo. Now that his son had completely inherited the powers of the Shadow Sovereign, Jin-Woo would prove to be a great asset to humanity.
That’s why it was done now.
Seol Il-Hwan stopped looking at his gradually-disappearing hand and powerlessly leaned his head against the wall to close his eyes.
The Rulers had entrusted their powers to him and asked him to stop the Shadow Sovereign. He had been helplessly trapped within the gap between dimensions after the Gate closed up and thus was left with not much of a choice.
As a proxy of the Rulers, and as their emissary, he returned to Earth with an important mission to accomplish.
Unfortunately, Seong Il-Hwan couldn’t carry his mission out.
Even though he knew that the worst calamity in human history was hiding within that boy’s flesh, how could a parent kill his own child?
All he could do was to observe Jin-Woo from a place just out of his detection.
And as he continued to delay his mission, the opinions of the Rulers that had been focused on stopping the advent of the Shadow Sovereign gradually began changing.
‘The Brightest Fragment of Brilliant Light’ sent him a brand new mission.
[Protect the Shadow Sovereign.]
The Rulers had finally realised that they needed the Shadow Sovereign possessing his full powers if they were to stop other Sovereigns and their nefarious scheme.
There was no one else besides the Shadow Sovereign on Earth that could defend against the Dragon Emperor and its Army of Destruction before the soldiers of heaven could arrive later.
It was a huge gamble, considering that no one knew whether the Shadow Sovereign would side with mankind, or with the other Sovereigns.
And the result came out pretty quickly.
Jin-Woo remained on the side of humanity, and the Shadow Sovereign approved that choice.
The newly-reborn Shadow Sovereign was, simply put, Jin-Woo himself.
It was worth risking Seong Il-Hwan’s life in order to protect his son, in other words.
Although it was unfortunate that he couldn’t even say a simple hello to his son he hadn’t seen in ten years, no one alive was qualified to take a child’s parent away twice. Even if that person just so happened to be said parent.
So, quietly disappearing like this was in Jin-Woo’s best interest. Seong Il-Hwan looked down at his body slowly disintegrating into ash and consoled himself as such.
It was then. He heard the familiar footsteps from nearby.
Seol Il-Hwan hurriedly got up and used his still-mobile right hand to pull the hood back and hid his face.
A certain someone stood before him, then.
He didn’t even have to take a look to know just who it was standing before him like this. It was Jin-Woo.
Even though here was the son whose name he so wanted to call out to, he still resolutely brushed past Jin-Woo’s side while hiding his face with the hood.
However, Jin-Woo turned towards the departing man and asked.
“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t have noticed it if you went away like this?”
Seong Il-Hwan’s steps came to a halt.
He turned around towards his son, only to spot a certain item thrown by Jin-Woo slowly flying at in an arc towards him.
What Jin-Woo returned was a shortsword. It was Seong Il-Hwan’s own shortsword that he ended up dropping after his left hand became useless.
He stared at the weapon for a moment or two, before raising his head. Jin-Woo was staring back at him with reproachful eyes.
Jin-Woo could still remember quite clearly that particular shortsword.
When he was a young boy, he got found out while playing around with his father’s shortsword and received a scolding worth remembering.
Only now did Jin-Woo consciously realise why his own weapons had been set as shortswords when the previous Shadow Sovereign swept through the battlefields with a longsword, instead.
It was all because of the memories he had of his father.
Influenced in part by his memories, the dungeons generated by the System ended up presenting Jin-Woo with daggers and shortswords as his main weapons all this time.
His hushed voice continued on.
“Are you going to leave again without saying anything, Dad?”
That one word dug deeply into Seong Il-Hwan’s heart and he had to remove his hood.
His right hand was slowly turning into ash as well.
His son flinched greatly after realising the state of his hands, but Seong Il-Hwan formed a thin smile as his reply and spoke.
“I didn’t want to show you this sight.”
Jin-Woo understood that a body turning into ash after exhausting all lifeforce couldn’t be saved no matter what. He hurriedly tried to get closer, but Seong Il-Hwan raised his right hand to stop his son.
His left arm had scattered away in dust and only his shoulder remained by then.
Jin-Woo hesitated, before remaining in his spot, and asked his father.
“Then, what about you, Dad?”
“Didn’t you want to see me again? Dad?”
Surely, he could still use his right hand for the time being, so how come…
Jin-Woo’s question caused Seong Il-Hwan’s raised arm to slowly go back down.
“I wanted to see you. Always.”
….To the extent that, even if you couldn’t see me, I still felt happy from the fact that I could see you from far away.
Jin-Woo finally came closer to his father until he stood right before his face. Seong Il-Hwan reached up with his remaining hand to gently touch his son’s face.
Thick tears falling from the boy’s eyes wetted the back of his hand.
‘This foolish father wasn’t able to do anything for you, yet despite that, you have….’
“….Grown up so well.”
Jin-Woo opened his mouth.
“Is this the Rulers’ doing? Are they throwing you away after using you?”
A scary amount of rage could be felt in Jin-Woo’s voice now.
Seong Il-Hwan shook his head, though.
“They only gave me an opportunity to make a choice. I chose to protect you, that is all. And that choice was not wrong.”
And now, even his remaining right hand was turning into ash and scattering away.
“I wouldn’t have minded talking to you for a little bit longer, but….”
And he wanted to stay here for a little bit longer, too….
He had done something reprehensible.
He ended up making a boy say goodbye to his father not once, but twice now. He tried so hard to hold back, but in the end, tears began flooding out from Seong Il-Hwan’s eyes.
“I’m sorry for not being a good father to you.”
Those were his last words.
Seong Il-Hwan’s body, all his lifeforce exhausted from fighting against the Sovereigns, turned to ash. Jin-Woo hurriedly tried to embrace his father’s body slowly crumbling away, but….
What remained in his palms wasn’t a person, but grey-coloured powder.
In the spot where Seong Il-Hwan once stood, nothing remained.
Something from deep inside angrily welled up in an uncontrollable burst. Jin-Woo couldn’t hold it back anymore and in the end, raised his head towards the sky and roared out loudly.
When he did, the Mana in the atmosphere reverberated.
The sky, the air, the ground – they all cried.
And soon, Jin-Woo’s mouth began emitting the heavy, grave voice similar to other Sovereigns.
[Hear me, remaining Sovereigns!!!]
If all these events were set in motion simply because the Sovereigns decided to settle on Earth, then….
Then, I shall make them pay an unforgettable price for that.
I shall definitely make it so.
His voice infused with Mana was carried in the airflow and spread out to the rest of the world.
[You shall all pay for today’s events, without exception!]
The roar of the enraged Shadow Sovereign shook around both the heaven and earth.
[Are you listening, Sovereigns?!]
On this day, one human who inherited an unparalleled power decided where his abilities should be used on his own accord.
This was the moment that the true opening curtains of the war had gone up.