There was one more thing – one more reason why Jin-Woo chose the forest route.
[Name: Seong Jin-Woo]
[Class: Shadow Sovereign]
[Title: The one who overcame the adversity (extra 1)]
Jin-Woo silently summoned his Status window and swapped his current Title from ‘the one who overcame the adversity’ to that of the ‘Slaughterer of Wolves’.
[Title: Slaughterer of Wolves (extra 1)]
A Title given to a hunter skilled in hunting wolves. When facing animal-type monsters, all of your Stats will increase by 40%.
A chance to abuse this plainly-cheating buff had fallen on his laps, so why should he go anywhere else now?
[An animal-type monster has appeared.]
[The effect of the current Title will activate.]
A smile crept up on Jin-Woo’s face after he confirmed his Stat values shooting up.
It was then.
The Hunters all began screaming out, loudly.
“It, it’s the bear!”
“It’s the Ice Bear!”
An Ice Bear that had picked up on the scents of humans was slowly trudging towards the group.
These humans were its enemies that had invaded its territory. Obviously, it’d not look too kindly towards the intruders.
The Ice Bear bared its fangs, transparent-like-ice, and slowly raised its massive frame on its hind legs. It’s huge and hulking figure completely filled up the Hunters’ vision!
The creature did resemble a polar bear, but it was almost twice the size, and the magic crystal, the symbol of all monsters, could be seen in the middle of its chest area as if it was some kind of a proud emblem.
It roared out furiously, the ground seemingly quaking under its might!
All the Hunters, excluding Jin-Woo, all froze stiff on the spot after hearing the ice Bear’s roar.
Park Hui-Jin’s expression crumpled unsightly.
‘Oh, so we only need to be mindful of Ice Bears, was it?!’
How could anyone say that sort of nonsense after seeing that monster?!
She almost fell for Seong Jin-Woo’s pretty convincing argument. But, upon seeing an Ice Bear, she was certain of one thing.
‘We definitely shouldn’t have chosen the forest route!’
Sensing the approaching danger to the group, Park Hui-Jin stepped out in front of the group and shouted out.
“I’ll draw its attention towards me, so everyone must… Kyah?!”
The scruff of Park Hui-Jin’s neck was yanked back by a considerable force, and she had to back step several times to make sure that she didn’t end up on her butt.
After somehow regaining her balance, she raised her head only to find Jin-Woo standing before her.
“Hey, what was that all about?!” Jin-Woo pointed at Park Hui-Jin. “I’m telling you this right now. I’ll be killing all the monsters from now on.”
Obviously, he couldn’t let anyone steal his experience points, now could he?
For Jin-Woo, these bears were perfect health tonics to buff him up for his inevitable showdown with the true enemies of this place, the White Phantoms.
Park Hui-Jin couldn’t hide her astonishment.
‘Did he just yank me back because he wants to monopolise the monster?’
The other two male Hunters, who so happened to be Mage-types, also stopped casting their spells in sheer dumbfoundedness.
“No matter how strong you think you are, that thing is a monster of a high-rank dungeon!”
Completely ignoring Park Hui-Jin’s furious voice coming from behind him, Jin-Woo walked right towards the Ice Bear.
‘Well, it’s not going to be okay to use daggers for this one.’
The blood splatter would make a mess of things, wouldn’t it?
Jin-Woo had already summoned his two daggers almost out of reflex, but stored them back in his Inventory. Instead, he clenched his fists tightly.
‘Well, I promised to just observe, but this is an emergency, so I’m sure they’ll understand. Right?’
Jin-Woo’s glare collided mid-air with the Ice Bear’s.
The Ice Bear swung its telephone-pole-thick front arm towards Jin-Woo like a streak of lightning.
However, the attack only swiped at the empty air.
‘Why is it so fast compared to its size?’
Jin-Woo was already above the Ice Bear’s head. It was here that he kind of understood the reason for this monster’s infamy.
He also sensed that all his level ups until now weren’t in vain.
Before the Ice Bear could lift its head up, Jin-Woo punched with all his might right in the middle of the monster’s forehead.
The head of the Ice Bear slammed down on the snowy ground with an explosive force.
Its skull was completely obliterated; with its limp tongue hanging outside the slack maw, the Ice Bear stopped moving completely.
He was thinking that his level up was just around the corner, and now, he was glad to have stopped Park Hui-Jin from taking any action.
“You… you, just what are you??”
Jin-Woo heard that trembling voice and looked behind him, only to spot four speechless faces staring back at him.
Jin-Woo sheepishly scratched the side of his head.
‘I warned them earlier because I didn’t want to run into this sort of situation….’
It seemed that a person would become rather forgetful whenever he or she witnessed something utterly beyond their capacity to understand.
Left with little choice, Jin-Woo had to state his position once more.
“I told you, I’ll not tolerate anyone asking me questions. If you’re unhappy with my methods, then….” Jin-Woo pointed his finger in the direction of Kim Cheol’s team. “You can always go that way.”
Only then did Park Hui-Jin regain her senses, and her facial expression changed.
“You think I’ll leave your side after seeing how you one-punched that Ice Bear??”
Honestly, Park Hui-Jin was now overflowing with joy.
She only chose to follow this youth because her gut feeling said he’d be a better option than Kim Cheol, but holy cow, she quickly discovered that she had quite literally stumbled onto an unexpected jackpot here.
She was blessed with a quick head, so it was easy to come to a conclusion. If she really wanted to get out of this place alive, then she had to follow Seong Jin-Woo.
She feared that Seong Jin-Woo might suggest they go their separate ways, so she hurriedly made a suggestion first, her heart beating anxiously.
“Mister Jin-Woo, please take over the leader’s position. We’ll definitely follow every one of your commands from now on.”
‘….Well, I did say I wouldn’t humour their demands at all, but….’
Jin-Woo pondered for a bit, before nodding his head. Thinking about the near future, it seemed that this arrangement would prove to be convenient for him.
Park Hui-Jin looked behind her.
The student named Hahn Song-Yi was someone Seong Jin-Woo brought along, so there was no need to ask her. So, that left the two male Hunters.
“I’m sure you two also agree with my suggestion, yes?”
The two Hunters, now being on the receiving end of the unexpected stare, alternated their gazes between the corpse of the Ice Bear and Jin-Woo, before hurriedly nodding their heads.
Once more, in front of the Red Gate.
Hyun Ki-Cheol used his handkerchief to wipe away the cold sweat from his brows, his eyes locked on his watch.
Baek Yun-Ho asked him.
“How long has it been?”
“It’s been about three hours now, sir.”
“Three hours…. Meaning, it’s almost been three days inside.”
Baek Yun-Ho’s voice sounded grave. Out of four people gathered here, only he had personally experienced entering a Red Gate before.
One of the S-ranked Hunters representing South Korea – Baek Yun-Ho.
Even to someone like him, a Red Gate was a challenging place to survive.
With a complicated expression, Baek Yun-Ho recalled his experiences.
“The most terrifying aspect of the Red Gate is that… you’re thrown into a completely different world.”
This was a rare recollection of the past as told by an S-rank Hunter. Naturally, the attention of Ahn Sahng-Min, Joo Sung-Chan, and Hyun Ki-Cheol focused on him.
Baek Yun-Ho continued on.
“Once you cross the Gate, the place you end up could be a desert with temperatures soaring past 60 degrees Celsius, or it could be a dense jungle full of poisonous insects and snakes. Or, it could be the middle of a snow-covered field where it’s so cold that you’d immediately develop frost bites.”
The three men simultaneously swallowed their dry saliva.
“Until you actually enter it, no one knows what awaits them beyond the Red Gate. So, how can anyone prepare for something like this?”
It was the same story as today. The Gate that looked plain and normal immediately changed its colour to red as soon as Hunters entered it.
“Your skin is burning under the hot glares of the sun, or you’re tormented by poisonous insects throughout the day, or your flesh rots from the skin-peeling cold….. And so, the weakest of your group would start dying first.”
“Oh, my god….”
Hyun Ki-Cheol spat out a gasp as if he could hardly calm himself down.
“But, even when you’re in such a perilous situation, you still have to fight monsters as well.”
Just from listening to his explanations, they could understand the hopelessness of the current situation. However, the explanation didn’t end there.
“Okay, then. Let’s say that you’ve somehow adapted to your new environments. From then on, you will have to procure food.”
Indeed, one would have to secure enough food to last a few weeks at a minimum, or at worst, for several months. Now that would be a huge challenge in and of itself.
“While stuck in the unforgiving surroundings and suffering from constant hunger, all you can trust is your magic energy compass.”
The magic energy compass always pointed towards the source of a powerful magic energy emission.
The only ways to escape from a Red Gate were to follow the needle of the magic energy compass, locate the boss and kill it, or wait until the dungeon break occurs.
“Now, think about waiting for days, weeks, or even months while only staring at that compass. How can anyone not go mad from that?”
The three men nodded their heads. These three knew that normal people like them would not last one day in places as hostile as those.
“I said that it’s been three days already, didn’t I?”
After hearing Hyun Ki-Cheol’s reply, Baek Yun-Ho formed a distressed expression.
“Most likely, all Hunters ranked C and below have died by now.”
Kim Cheol was ranked ‘A’. However, no matter how good his skills were, it was impossible for a rank A to protect everyone. Unless it was a rank S Hunter standing by their side….
“All we can pray for now is the safe return of the higher ranked Hunters.”
This was the conclusion derived from his personal experience.
In Baek Yun-Ho’s mind, the Hunters ranked C and below were already as good as dead by now.
Large chunks of meat were nicely sizzling on top of a campfire.
“You know, this bear meat, it’s a bit chewy but not as bad as I thought.”
“Would you like some more?”
“Aigoo, thank you kindly.”
Goh Myung-Hwan expertly sliced the meat of the Ice Bear and placed them on a plate pushed forward by Yun Ki-Joong. These two men were the rank C Hunters following Jin-Woo.
Both Park Hui-Jin and Hahn Song-Yi were also slowly chewing on the bear meat, although their portions weren’t as large as the men’s.
“Unni, please pass me the pepper.”
“What about salt?”
“Mm, the seasoning’s just about fine, so it’s okay.”
They all looked to, more or less, have adapted to the living conditions of the dungeon. From the campfire, to the blankets wrapped around them, and the tents all set up, too…
They didn’t seem to be in trouble at all.
Heck, from a certain perspective, one could say that they looked rather comfy, instead.
Goh Myung-Hwan scanned the vicinity and spoke up.
“Don’t you think the attacks of the Ice Bears have lessened lately?”
Park Hui-Jin replied to that question.
“Well, that’s because the team leader has annihilated their numbers, that’s why.”
“That man, it’s like he has some sort of unresolved vendetta against these bears from his previous life or something. His eyes go all crazy when he spots an Ice Bear. He’s so scary whenever he does that. Really, really scary.”
By now, Jin-Woo’s title had been set as the team leader.
Park Hui-Jin felt Jin-Woo’s absence and craned her neck a little to scan the surroundings herself.
“Now that I think about it, where did the team leader disappear to?”
Yun Ki-Joong had his head almost buried in the plate as he chomped down on the meat, but still, raised his head to make his reply.
“He went out a little while ago, saying that he’s going to take a look around here.”
“Huh.” Park Hui-Jin formed a helpless expression. “Roaming inside a high ranked dungeon all alone….. Isn’t he scared at all?”
Yun Ki-Joong formed a sly grin.
“If it’s him, it’s not going to be a problem.”
“Oh, well. He’s strong enough to kill Ice Bears, high-rank monsters, with his bare hands, after all.”
Goh Myung-Hwan followed up to Yun Ki-Joong’s words and continued on.
“But, by the way…. since we’re discussing this and all…. Just how high must your rank be, if you can beat up a nonsensically huge monster like that?”
Everyone suddenly became utterly silent.
They were all curious about the same thing as well. But, they dared not say anything, fearful of being kicked out of this place.
“….Let’s just finish out meals first.”
Everyone nodded their heads at Park Hui-Jin’s suggestion.
Jin-Woo searched through the forest, and made his exit as he brushed past some thickets.
‘It must be somewhere nearby….’
He could sense the presences of multiple Ice Bears coming from somewhere. From last night, he had been carefully tracking the Ice Bears.
This was all because he had finally realised that Ice Bears were coming from the same direction.
Jin-Woo continued to search, before his eyes began glittering dangerously.
He spotted dozens of caverns on a cliff-like wall, lying beyond some bushes. And he sensed presences of more than one lifeform coming from each of the caves.
Hell, he didn’t even have to expand his Perception here; his eyes could clearly see many Ice Bears lazily moving in and out of several caves.
Just a quick head count and he found over 30 bears.
In other words, this was literally a bear farm.
The corners of Jin-Woo’s lips arched up.
He deliberately came here alone to eliminate the possibility of eyewitnesses. This would be the perfect opportunity to utilise his shadow soldiers.
Indeed, he had been waiting for a moment like this.
When he inwardly called out, the soldiers wearing black armour soundlessly materialised and surrounded him.
“You all understand that this is your first sortie, right?”
What he meant by that was, just as one’s impression was decided upon through the first encounter, these guys would have to impress him with their first battle, too.
The shadow soldiers stood at attention in eerie silence, with nary a hint of disorder.
Jin-Woo smirked deeply, seeing them like that.
Meanwhile, more and more Ice Bears began emerging from the caves after detecting Jin-Woo’s scent.
‘Looks like the other side is done preparing, too.’
Jin-Woo pointed at the Ice Bears.
As soon as his order was issued, the shadow soldiers rushed forward as if they were sliding on ice.