One day. Two days. And then, three days.
It had been three days since the super-massive Gates revealed themselves to the world. Civil unrest quickly broke out in the countries with the Gates and their neighbouring nations, and they grew more violent with each passing day.
That was because none of these countries had come up with a viable response yet.
The enraged mob of citizens filed out onto the streets and went on violent demonstrations to force their governments to come up with a countermeasure.
Meanwhile, news stations emphasized the severity of the situation by continuously showing the alternating images of the demonstrators, growing in number every day, and the giant Gate floating silently high up in the sky.
– It has been over 75 hours since the phenomenon now referred to as the super-massive Gates have appeared in the sky. However, the government hasn’t….
– Over there! As you can see, the demonstrators carrying around the pickets that read ‘Answer us, Governments’ have…..
– The number of demonstrators is increasing with every passing day, and the worries are that this volatile atmosphere is at the breaking point….
This was a completely different spectacle compared to when the super-massive Gate first appeared in South Korea. The experts were quick to figure out why things unfolded differently there. The reason was pretty simple.
On one hand, the quick-witted response from the Korean Hunter’s Association had played a part. As soon as the Gate appeared, they summoned every single Hunter in the country to the capital city.
The other part had to do with the psychological sense of security felt by the Koreans from the fact that their country possessed the greatest Hunter alive that surpassed all Special Authority-rank Hunters.
One of the experts invited to speak in a specially-organised TV show said this in front of the camera.
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo almost single-handedly took care of two rank S dungeon breaks. Ants and Giants – in a span of a single year, he pretty much resolved two of the most infamous incidents in history with his own hands.”
There was no need to even bring up the Giant-type monsters of Japan; the world’s attention was already boiling red-hot during the Jeju Island ant raid.
What more could be said on that subject when the TV station awarded with the exclusive broadcasting rights had reputedly earned revenue equalling the last three years’ profit in one go?
The emcee’s head nodded all by itself while the expert lightly tapped his temple with his index finger.
“And that’s why the Korean citizens naturally believe this in their minds. They believe that, regardless of the danger threatening them, Hunter Seong Jin-Woo will show up and deal with it.”
That was precisely the reason why, even after a super-massive Gate appeared on the skies of a capital city with over ten million souls living in it, people were able to remain relatively calm about it.
The expert emphasized until his throat was hoarse that the existence of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was an immeasurable blessing to the Republic of Korea and its people.
Unfortunately, it was obvious that not every nation on Earth would be blessed with such luck. The number of truly excellent Hunters was very low, and they were not spread out evenly, either.
Many nations within the territory of influence of those super-massive Gates possessed pretty lacklustre Hunter systems, so it was only obvious that the unrest would continue to grow larger.
It reached the point where people were demanding vociferously that more high-ranked Hunters should be hired at the cost of forking out higher taxes, even if it was just one more combatant being added to their defences.
Meanwhile, many governments could barely hide their shock when many wealthy folks, the very same ones that gnashed their teeth come tax collection season, pledged to support them financially.
And so, as the sense of impending crisis continued to heighten, the bigshots representing their respective nations gathered in the capital city of Korea, Seoul, to answer the request of the Korean Hunter’s Association.
What they wanted from this trip was just one thing. And that would be to find out the information regarding the eight super-massive Gates that appeared simultaneously all around the world.
Since the information was to be provided by Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, the man who managed to achieve a rather unbelievable result from the first super-massive Gate, their expectations were understandably huge.
A certain man spat out a hushed sigh. It was none other than the director of the Hunter’s Bureau, David Brennan, who had opted to travel to Korea after being harassed by his own president. He dabbed away the cold sweat soaking his forehead with a handkerchief and took a look at the faces of everyone sitting around him.
‘….So many of them came.’
Presidents, government ministers, Guild Masters, Chairpersons from various Hunter’s Associations…..
The director of the Hunter Bureau knew the faces of most of these people. They indeed were all bigshots that just their names alone would be enough to get them recognised by everyone in their respective nations.
While seeing the flashes of nervousness in their faces, the director wiped the sweat pooling at the edge of his chin.
‘Regardless of who it is, everyone’s feeling the heat, huh.’
They may all look calm and collected on the surface, but they also knew that inwardly, every single one of them here was anxiously stomping their feet. Well, even the director himself was feeling the same way, after all.
How wonderful would it be if Hunter Seong Jin-Woo stepped forward to say that “This Gate crisis should end painlessly and there’s nothing to worry about”?
If only he could deliver that message to the higher-ups; the POTUS busy pressuring him would instantly back off, then. It would be a wonderful opportunity to restore his damaged pride, in other words.
However, if the truth was completely the opposite, then….
The director felt his heart tumble to the pit of his stomach. He swallowed back his dry saliva and confirmed the time. His wristwatch was precisely pointing at 02:55.
Five minutes remained until the announcement time.
While listening to the ticking of the second hand that sounded unusually loud for some reason today, the director raised his stiff face.
Around the same time.
Having finished inspecting the Shadow Army just now, Jin-Woo asked Bellion next to him.
“What happens to the armies with no Sovereigns leading them?”
“Marshals of those armies will take over the command of the soldiers in place of the dead Sovereigns.”
He proceeded to add more explanation that the army of Giants was being led by its Marshal instead, after their king had been captured by the Rulers.
Jin-Woo nodded his head in understanding. A total of eight Gates appeared around the world. The phenomenon of Gates for Sovereign-less armies being generated could be explained now if the Marshals were commanding them.
It was then, another question abruptly popped up in Jin-Woo’s head.
“If I die, do you get to command the Shadow Army as its Grand-Marshal?”
Bellion shook his head.
[Our lives are tied to yours, my liege. If you pass on, we will also return to the void.]
As long as their master’s head was attached to the right place, not one soldier’s life would be extinguished – the strong point of the Shadow Army was the loyalty of its soldiers that moved only for the sake of their master while not even caring about their own lives.
But, if one were to flip that around, the moment their master was met with a serious problem, then the Shadow Army would be finished right then and there.
The pros and cons basically worked in the same manner as two sides of a coin. Depending on the situation, the good could become bad, while the weakness could become a strength, instead.
Surely, his enemies wouldn’t overlook that point, now would they? Didn’t that mean he could exploit that, too?
Jin-Woo fell deeper into his thoughts, and a glint briefly flickered in his eyes. A different voice then addressed him from the other side.
It was Igrit.
“We do not stand a chance in a full-scale war, my liege.”
A baritone voice filled with power and conviction, spoken in a low, deep tone. It’d been a while since he started conversing with Igrit, but Jin-Woo still hadn’t really gotten over that voice.
Seriously now, he was kitted out in that lightweight, agile-looking armour, so why did he have to possess such a manly voice??
According to Igrit, he was supposed to be the greatest knight ever in the history of humanoid creatures, before he got reborn through the powers of the previous Shadow Sovereign, so it wasn’t all that hard to understand where that ultra-high level of manliness in his voice came from, but still…
‘What am I supposed to do about this sense of disharmony….?’
Whether he knew about Jin-Woo’s predicament or not, Igrit continued to calmly speak of his concern.
“Unlike the former Shadow Sovereign, who grew doubtful about the battles against the Rulers and stopped shoring up his army, other Sovereigns didn’t hold back and continuously enhanced and increased the scale of their armies.”
“How big do you think is the difference in the combat force?”
This time, Bellion replied.
“We can not be certain, but it could be well over one hundred times larger.”
Only Beru had no way of knowing the scale of other armies, so he quietly listened to the conversation of his master and the other Marshals.
Jin-Woo’s expression stiffened.
Didn’t that mean, in the best-case scenario, his enemies possess over ten million soldiers?!
“Hundred times, huh….”
Jin-Woo mulled over the numbers before replying in a low voice.
“I never was planning for all-out, full-scale warfare, anyway.”
What he meant here was that he never entertained the idea of full-scale warfare while discarding the advantage of his army, where one could become ‘all’, or that ‘all’ could revert back to being one.
Even now, Jin-Woo’s mind was continuously picturing the battles taking place in the future. After a short bout of silence….
Jin-Woo pulled out his smartphone vibrating noisily inside his pocket.
He answered the call, but even before he could say something, the familiar voice came out from the device’s speaker.
– “Hunter-nim? It’s me, Woo Jin-Cheol.”
“Ah, yes. Hello.”
– “As you have requested, representatives from various nations have gathered in the auditorium. Where are you now, Hunter-nim?”
Before answering that, Jin-Woo quietly looked behind him.
The hints of heavy fighting were everywhere; the ground that was horrifyingly torn up, gouged out, and blown to bits extended as far as his eyes could see. All those trees forming the green forest, the sea of trees, had evaporated without a trace.
This was the end product of the Shadow Army fighting a mock battle after splitting up into three groups. The earth fortified by Mana had been completely overturned from horrifying impact forces.
The Japanese Hunter’s Association was warned beforehand by Jin-Woo and so, they got to watch the destruction of the entry prohibited area through their spy satellite. All those watching, though, simply couldn’t hide their shock at the collision of enormous amounts of magical energy captured by their satellite.
The power they witnessed, that was the true strength of the Shadow Army. And Jin-Woo also got to witness that strength.
Through this experience, he got to accurately assess the depths of his army’s combat prowess. The end result was completely satisfactory.
Jin-Woo stopped looking behind and shifted his gaze back to his front. Over one hundred thousand soldiers were kneeling on the ground in front of Jin-Woo, waiting for their liege’s next command and not even moving a muscle.
When Jin-Woo’s reply didn’t arrive even after a long pause, the Association President Woo Jin-Cheol cautiously inquired over the phone.
The corners of Jin-Woo’s lips arched up and he replied as matter-of-factly as he could.
“Ah, yes. I’ve just arrived there now.”
“You’ve arrived? But when….?”
Woo Jin-Cheol had ordered his subordinates to inform him the moment Jin-Woo arrived in the venue, so he had asked back in a puzzled voice while turning around. But at that very moment….
He got to discover Jin-Woo standing right behind him.
Woo Jin-Cheol unwittingly spat out a surprised gasp and blinked his eyes for a moment there, before a helpless grin formed on his lips. He quietly pocketed his phone away.
“….I guess that question has lost much of its meaning now. You know, asking you where you are.”
Jin-Woo reciprocated that smile and shrugged his shoulders once as his reply.
Currently, they were standing inside the waiting room of the auditorium. Beyond that door, representatives from various countries filling up every available seat were waiting for Jin-Woo’s entrance with bated breaths.
Woo Jin-Cheol confirmed the current time. The clock on his phone’s screen informed him that there were still two minutes left until the announcement time. Meaning, there was a little bit of time left.
He felt this unexplainable sense of ease and raised his head.
“Hunter-nim, are you really planning to tell the truth to these people?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Once they learn of the truth, there could be huge unrest breaking out everywhere. And more than a few nations won’t be able to deal with such unrest.”
“I know that.”
That would be an obvious development. Even the Rulers knew that things would unfold this way and hid their intentions right until the end.
However, even if everything were to come to an end through the upcoming event, shouldn’t one know what’s happening to them, at least?
‘I mean, it’s one hell of an unfair thing not knowing what killed you, isn’t it?’
That’s why Jin-Woo decided to tell the truth to everyone. It wouldn’t only be him that might need time to prepare themselves in the heart, after all.
Seeing Jin-Woo’s determined expression, the Association President Woo Jin-Cheol could only nod his head.
“I see. If that’s what you’ve decided, then….”
Jin-Woo walked past Woo Jin-Cheol and approached the door leading to the auditorium, but then, the latter discovered something and hurriedly called out.
“Excuse me, Hunter-nim!”
Jin-Woo turned around with a confused expression, and Woo Jin-Cheol formed a sheepish expression as his reply and opened his mouth.
“There are quite a lot of reporters waiting for you outside.”
Jin-Woo looked at his current duds.
He had been staying in the entry prohibited area for the past few days to control his soldiers, so the state of his clothing was rather wretched at the moment.
‘What am I to do now….?’
The thing was, though, he didn’t want to make a big deal out of a simple matter like changing clothes by moving to another location, etc, etc.
But then, he couldn’t buy whatever outfit available in the Store anymore and change into that, as he had done in the past.
‘….Hang on a bit.’
Buy clothes from the Store?
With the System gone, he could no longer utilise the services of the Store, but the power that the System used to sustain itself belonged to the Shadow Sovereign, to begin with.
In that case, creating clothing and putting it on was, theoretically speaking at least, eminently possible for him. At that moment, Jin-Woo recalled the sole clothing type he should be able to create right now.
In the blink of an eye, the waiting room was suddenly filled up by the black smoke, and as if it was alive, it quickly enveloped Jin-Woo’s body.
Woo Jin-Cheol jumped up in fright and took several steps back in a hurry. As his brows shot up real high….
The black smoke had transformed into a set of jet-black armour on Jin-Woo.
“How about this?”
Now normally, Hunters always made sure to wear armour in order to protect themselves from the monsters and their preternatural powers.
When these extraordinary-looking equipment were added on top of a powerful Hunter like Jin-Woo, an overwhelming pressure seemed to automatically ooze out from him.
Woo Jin-Cheol was completely suppressed by this amazing aura and could barely move his lips to make his reply.
“It’s… it’s really something else.”
Jin-Woo formed a thin smile.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Jin-Woo turned back towards the door and slowly entered the auditorium. Almost in an instant, all unimportant noise disappeared within the venue.
‘Hunter Seong Jin-Woo….!!’
‘He’s finally here.’
The attention of every single one gathered here focused on one man standing on the rostrum, Jin-Woo. He took a sweeping look at their faces and calmly organised several thoughts currently crisscrossing inside his brain.
He was here to inform these folks on what was to come – about the arrival of eight great armies desiring the destruction of this world. Also, the fact that each and every one of these armies being made up of soldiers from the Chaos World, ones that humanity would find very difficult to fight against.
They were waiting for the official announcement with those anxious expressions etched on their faces. After learning of the truth, though, what would their expressions change to next?
The tension tightening around their hearts was transmitted in full to Jin-Woo and his own expression darkened as a result.
Everyone held their breath and listened to his voice. The auditorium might have been quiet before, but now, it was even quieter than ever.
A short while later – Jin-Woo didn’t need the aid of a microphone and simply loaded Mana to his vocal cords to speak.
“I know that things will become incredibly difficult for everyone.”
His voice seemed to softly ripple within the eerily-silent auditorium.
Jin-Woo’s ears could pick up on the noises of representatives swallowing their dry saliva along with their violently pounding hearts.
Funnily enough, the louder their heartbeats became, the calmer Jin-Woo’s own heart got. The light shining in his eyes became more determined than before.
‘….Am I actually feeling calmer than before?’
From a certain moment on, Jin-Woo had completely regained his composure. He calmly addressed his audience with these closing words.
“However, no one alive will be able to avoid fighting the upcoming battle. Those creatures will appear before you, and they will try to destroy everything you hold dear.”