Her name was Norma Selner.
An African-American woman of 46 years of age, and often referred to as Madam Selner or Mrs Selner, the Hunter Bureau offered her a higher degree of protection than the President of the country.
Meaning, if both her and the President’s lives were under threat, then the Hunter Bureau would prioritise in rescuing her first and then worry about the President later.
But, how could such a thing even be possible?
When the previous director of the Hunter Bureau retired from the office and handed over the responsibility to his successor, he described her with the following words.
– “Doesn’t matter who becomes our next President, our position as the world’s greatest Hunter nation on Earth will never change. But, if she’s no longer with us, then America will start worrying about the Gates appearing in smaller cities around the remote regions of our country.”
That’s how it was.
Because she managed to attract the world’s elite rank S Hunters here, the American citizens were able to rest easy every night knowing that they didn’t need to worry about high-ranking Gates opening up somewhere within this massive country of theirs.
The top-ranked Hunters who changed their nationality because of her was already 26.
This was already a number far exceeding other so-called Hunter superpower nations and their roster of rank S Hunters. The Hunter Bureau also carefully selected their targets as well, so it went without saying that their Hunters were of far superior quality, as well.
So, one could say that Madam Selner was the guardian angel looking after America from behind the scenes.
Regardless of how high a rank S Hunter’s position was, or the treatment he or she received, none of them were seen as being as important as Madam Selner at the end of the day.
She was the top classified secret that not even the American President could easily approach. Quite obviously, the rank S Hunters allowed to meet her were selected via the most strict, rigorous vetting process.
They were the specially chosen few, as coined by Agent Adam White earlier.
[“We certainly will get something in return by revealing this information to an exclusive group of a specially chosen few.”]
At first, Jin-Woo had no clue what it meant to be included in that exclusive group of the chosen few. Not just him, but most of the rank S Hunters, too.
However, they would come to a realisation after Madam Selner broke open their limits – the realisation of who chose them, and what it meant to be chosen!
One of the Hunters was so moved by the overflowing power coursing through his body, he even knelt down before her to shed tears of gratitude. On the following day, his nationality changed from Congo to America.
‘That always happened, didn’t it?’
And that was why the current serving deputy director of the Hunter Bureau, Michael Conner, didn’t believe that anything would go wrong.
He was sure that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo would cry out in alternating emotions of elation and shock, maybe even search for his God, just as everyone else before him did.
Then, he’d beg for more.
Was there any other, more fitting description than that?
He confidently thought like that, not even a hint of suspicion within his mind. But, then….
The cry of shock actually came out from someone else’s mouth.
Madam Selner stared deep into Jin-Woo’s eyes for a long time, before she screamed at the top of her lungs as if she had seen something she shouldn’t have. She fell off the chair on to the floor.
Almost right away, two agents here to guard her whipped their pistols out and took aim at Jin-Woo.
“Stop!! Have you all lost your minds?!”
The deputy director witnessed the agents and their recklessness, and cried out in alarm. Loud cussing exploded out of his mouth as he jumped up from his sitting position to push down the pointed pistols of the agents.
“Do you not know who this person is? How dare you point at him with such a thing?!”
“But, sir, the Madam is….”
“You idiots! If you’re that worried about Madam Selner, then check up on her first!!”
The agents quickly put their guns away and supported the shivering Madam Selner off from the ground. Her complexion had become so pale that she looked quite pitiful right now.
Meanwhile, the deputy director bowed his back 90 degrees to Jin-Woo.
“I’m truly sorry, Hunter-nim. My agents committed a grave blunder.”
Judging from the previously-relaxed voice of the deputy director tremble like that, he must’ve been frightened out of his wits rather greatly just now.
‘They are trained to put the safety of the Madam above all else, but to think, they’d be stupid enough to point a gun at a rank S Hunter!’
If their opponent possessed a fiery temper, then never mind the two foolish agents, even their boss’s neck wouldn’t have remained in its original place.
He couldn’t even come up with an excuse to explain away the agents shoving guns in the face of a top-ranked Hunter in a country where carrying firearms was illegal.
The deputy director’s heart still loudly pounded in his chest, unable to calm down from the fright he felt when Madam Selner screamed and fell, and also, when the agents pulled their guns out without any warning.
Funnily enough, though, Jin-Woo was also deeply flustered by what transpired just now.
‘Just what the hell is up with this situation?’
That lady suddenly screamed out and fell down, the Hunter Bureau’s agents pointed guns at him, and finally, their deputy director jumped up and down in a huff before apologising with a deep bow of his head.
At first, he was dumbfounded. Next up, he was speechless, and finally….
“….It’s fine. No one got hurt, after all.”
He didn’t even feel like getting angry here.
He kinda figured that angrily threatening the other party was a pretty disgraceful thing to do, especially when the second most powerful man from another country’s top organisation was quick to admit the mistakes of his subordinates and apologised like this.
A part of him also didn’t feel much of anything when guns were being pointed at him. Rather than weapons, they looked more like children’s toys to him now. That was how wide the gap between them and Jin-Woo was.
“Thank you for your understanding, Hunter-nim.”
Only after Jin-Woo let it go did the deputy director raise his head back up again. He then sneaked a glance at Jin-Woo’s face and confirmed that the Korean wasn’t being sarcastic or anything. He felt that he had really dodged a bullet here.
‘If something like this happened in front of either Thomas Andre or China’s Liu Zhigeng, then….’
The hearts of those two agents pulling out their guns would have stopped beating long before he had the chance to apologise. What a relief that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was such an understanding gentleman.
The deputy director sighed out in relief and wiped the pooled sweat off his nose. He managed to put out the most pressing flames first. Next, it was time to focus on the other matter.
The deputy director bowed his head one more time and then, urgently checked up on Madam Selner’s current condition.
“Madam? What happened?”
“Madam? You’re sweating so much… are you feeling unwell somewhere?”
The deputy director may have shed a few cold sweat drops over the volatile situation just now, but she was completely soaked from head to toe at the moment.
‘What’s going on here?’
Worried about her condition, Jin-Woo got up from the chair and cautiously made his approach, but she didn’t want to look him in the eye and began shivering even harder. Seeing her react like this, the deputy director could only chew on his lower lip.
‘With her condition, we can’t….’
He had succeeded in bringing Hunter Seong Jin-Woo to the table with much difficulty, but now, the most important negotiating hand was no longer available to him. Madam was in no condition whatsoever to use her ability.
The deputy director turned around and while carrying a heavy, distressed expression, spoke to Jin-Woo.
“Madam Selner’s condition isn’t very good today. May I give you a call at another time?”
Around the same time.
An important guest was waiting inside the President’s office of the Korean Hunter’s Association. It was none other than the President of the Japanese Association, Matsumoto Shigeo.
Two Presidents of the respective organisations settled down on the opposite sides, with no one else except their interpreters accompanying them.
Goh Gun-Hui was the first to open his mouth.
“I’ve heard about what happened to Mister Goto.”
“It’s truly a lamentable thing.”
An expression of bitterness briefly flashed past Matsumoto Shigeo, before his complexion recovered.
“However, I didn’t come here to discuss what happened in the past, but to talk about the way forward.”
Goh Gun-Hui nodded his head. There were a few matters between these two men – no, between the nations of Korea and Japan, that needed to be settled.
First of all, splitting up of the magic crystals. The original plan was to divide the loot one year later, when all the ant monsters would’ve have died out on the island. But Jin-Woo had completely exterminated every single one of them before that.
Japan did discover his utterly unbelievable actions through their spy satellite and its high-tech camera, so they were aware of this fact, too.
– W-what is that man trying to do?
– The ants…. The ants near Seong Jin-Woo are disappearing one by one?!
– The summons he controls have begun hunting down the ant monsters!
– His summons are spreading to all corners of the island.
– Could he be…??
The old idiom said that uncertainty would kill a man.
In the proverbial blink of an eye, all traces of magic energy disappeared from the island of Jeju.
With the sole exception of one, that was – the massive bundle of magic energy suspected to be that of Hunter Seong Jin-Woo.
‘Incredible physical strength. Unpredictable movement patterns. And the ruthless streak to hunt down every single monster, even though it’s no longer necessary….’
Where would one find a Hunter more suited to a life in Japan than that man in this wide world?
Matsumoto Shigeo smirked to himself after recalling the atmosphere of the mission control room back then. He then pushed forward several documents to Goh Gun-Hui.
“And these are?”
Goh Gun-Hui asked as he picked them up.
“This is the official declaration that Japan will give up on the rights to our share of magic crystals from the Jeju Island.”
Feeling not entirely convinced, Goh Gun-Hui browsed through the documents, and eventually, his brows gradually rose up higher. Matsumoto Shigeo was telling the truth.
Why was the Japanese Association, who had suffered heavy losses themselves, willing to give up on such a massive revenue source?
His answer arrived soon enough.
“In return, hand Mister Seong Jin-Woo over to us.”
Goh Gun-Hui guffawed out and leaned against the back of the couch.
“Regretfully, he’s not affiliated with the Korean Hunter’s Association.”
Of course, even if he was, Goh Gun-Hui never planned to ‘hand over’ such a Hunter to anyone, to begin with.
Matsumoto Shigeo replied as if he was waiting for this moment.
“However, he has a very close relationship with the Korean Association. And it’s currently impossible to get in contact with him unless it’s through your Association.”
It was truly unfortunate, but the Japanese didn’t enjoy the kind of information network the American Hunter Bureau did. Which meant that, if Matsumoto Shigeo wanted to get in touch with Jin-Woo, then he needed to get permission from the Korean Association first.
“I didn’t mean to imply that you are being forced to do something. No, just give me an opportunity to negotiate with him, that’s all.”
“Are you throwing away this astronomical sum just for that chance?”
Matsumoto Shigeo readily admitted to it.
Japan lost ten of her top-ranked Hunters through this incident.
In the current situation where Japan needed to import top-ranked Hunters quite urgently, her Association was blessed with ample cash reserve to pay out the compensation meant for the victims of the raid.
Indeed, they had so much money that it was practically rotting away in the bank right now. So, if Matsumoto could get his hands on a Hunter of Seong Jin-Woo’s calibre, then he didn’t give a rat’s a*s about those magic crystals anymore.
The reply Matsumoto Shigeo got was different from what he expected.
“What do you mean, you refuse?”
The Japanese man was stunned by that answer.
He was deeply confident of winning Hunter Seong Jin-Woo over to Japan’s side, but just in case, he told Goh Gun-Hui that he only wanted an opportunity to negotiate with that young man.
But, to think, his counterpart would say no to the offer first.
“Are you turning down an opportunity like this because you’re afraid of losing Hunter Seong Jin-Woo to Japan?”
“Not at all.”
Goh Gun-Hui slowly shook his head.
“No, I’m saying that, from the beginning, you people have no right to claim even a single magic crystal from us.”
The Japanese interpreter quickly looked at Goh Gun-Hui after he made that bombshell of a declaration packed full of hidden implications.
“Sir, should I relay that in full?”
“Of course. Don’t miss out on a single word and translate them in full.”
Matsumoto Shigeo’s complexion reddened considerably the moment he heard the interpreter.
“President Goh Gun-Hui! What nonsense are you spewing now?”
His voice naturally rose up higher. But then, Japanese unhurriedly flowed out from Goh Gun-Hui’s mouth.
“I wish to speak to you without the presence of the interpreters.”
Matsumoto flinched and gasped in surprise.
“You… know how to speak Japanese?”
“My father used to run a small company in Japan when I was a young lad. It’s been a long time so it’d be difficult to hold a conversation, but….”
The two interpreters left the office soon after Matsumoto agreed to the suggestion. And he fired the opening shot first.
“We lost over ten of our rank S Hunters for you people.”
Japan’s top Hunter, Goto Ryuji, was also included in that list.
“If you do not wish to accept my suggestion, then there’s nothing we can do. Not only will we demand the agreed-upon half of the magic crystal haul, but we will also claim compensation from the Korean government, too.”
Goh Gun-Hui simply snorted in derision.
“President Matsumoto…. Looks like you still mistakenly believe that you hold an upper hand here.”
Matsumoto shot up from his seat, his glare getting fiercer.
“Is that something you’re supposed to say to someone who fought for your people?”
Unlike the agitated Matsumoto, though, Goh Gun-Hui remained collected throughout.
“I couldn’t understand this one thing.”
Goh Gun-Hui’s calm demeanour managed to cool Matsumoto’s own rage, and the latter slowly settled back down on his couch. Waiting until he was completely seated. Goh Gun-Hui carried on.
“And that would be – why did your people, who enjoyed showing off in front of the world, decide to entrust us with what was arguably the core part of this raid, the hunting of the ant queen.”
“That’s obviously because the Koreans lacked the means to buy the necessary time from the ant army….”
“If that’s what you were thinking of, then wouldn’t it have been better for you to insert the Koreans as a part of the distraction, like how you had split up yours into four different groups? And then, hunt the ant queen with some of your top elite Hunters, instead?”
‘He is as I expected…’
The light in Matsumoto’s eyes changed.
“…..So, what is it that you want to say to me, President Goh Gun-Hui?”
For some reason, he was enunciating Goh Gun-Hui’s name as clearly as he could.
“And the timing of your people withdrawing…. It looked as if it was your plan all along, regardless of the mutated ant monster or not.”
“You have gone crazy.”
“It’s you who have gone crazy. Just what were you planning to do after driving the Korean Hunters to death?”
Goh Gun-Hui’s eyes narrowed to a slit.
It was then, Matsumoto burst into a fit of loud cackles.
He then pulled out a voice recorder from his pocket. He slowly shook his head and continued on.
“Everything you said just now, it’s been captured in full. Your sins of insulting the Japanese Hunters without proof, and using that as an excuse to back out of the earlier agreement, everything is here!”
An odious smile formed on Matsumoto’s lips.
“You shall be judged by the international community.”
Just this little sound file containing Goh Gun-Hui’s voice was more than enough to cover up the fact the Japanese Hunters withdrew in the middle of the operation. As for the public opinion, that would come around soon enough.
This was clearly a slip-up on Goh Gun-Hui’s part, because he doggedly pursued his conviction and nothing else. What if he lost his cool completely and laid a hand on Matsumoto right now?
Now that would be seen as even more irrefutable proof.
The sound file was already transmitted to the computers in the Japanese situation room by now.
Too bad for him, though.
“Proof? Of course, I have it.”
Goh Gun-Hui pulled out a black-coloured object the size of a stamp from his inner pocket and left it on the table.
“Hunter Seong Jin-Woo found it on the location.”
Sensing something ominous was about to go down, Matsumoto’s attitude had softened a tad.
“What… is this?”
Goh Gun-Hui smirked at the sight of the puzzled Matsumoto Shigeo.
“It’s a black box attached to your communication equipment, the one Goto’s team was using.”
Right away, the colour of Matsumoto’s complexion changed to ash. Not missing out on this opening, Goh Gun-Hui also brought out an MP3 player and proceeded to play the sound file extracted from this black box.
– “How long has it been since the Koreans went inside?”
– “Hold on. They say it has been less than 10 minutes.”
– “Ten minutes, is it….”
– “Time to start the withdrawal process.”
The voice of Goto Ryuji, one of the most famous Japanese in the world, could be heard clearly from the recording.
Goh Gun-Hui switched the player off and continued on.
“Do you know why I didn’t reveal the existence of this file to the rest of the world, President of Japanese Hunter Association, Matsumoto Shigeo?”
Matsumoto slowly shook his head. The ashen complexion of his was now getting paler than a sheet of white paper now.
“It’s simply because I didn’t want to dampen the joy of my fellow countrymen basking in the glow of a hard-fought victory with this bullsh*t you people managed to cook up. Do you get it now? I’ve only delayed its release for the sake of our people, not you.”
The recorder fell from Matsumoto’s hand with a thud. Meanwhile, Goh Gun-Hui relentlessly pressed on.
“I’m sure that you get what I’m saying to you, President Matsumoto.”
Goh Gun-Hui then crushed the player in his hand to pieces with his physical strength of a rank S Hunter.
“Get the f*ck out of this office. Now.”
After Jin-Woo had left, the deputy director found himself alone with Madam Selner in the hotel’s suite.
“Madam. What happened back there?”
They had worked with many Hunters before, and this wasn’t Madam Selner’s first rodeo either. Meaning, this would be the first time something like this happened.
She suppressed her pounding heart and managed to squeeze out her trembling voice.
“He is a ‘king’. A very powerful ‘king’.”
The deputy director’s eyes grew wider and wider.
Those who knew how her power worked were the director of the Hunter Bureau, the deputy, and of course, Madam Selner herself. Only these three. And she confirmed that Hunter Seong Jin-Woo was a ‘king’.
The deputy director sensed his heartbeat pick up pace.
“Which means…. he’s on the same level as the Special Authority-rank Hunters?”
She shook her head.
“No, I don’t…. This was my first time experiencing such a phenomenon, so I can’t be sure at all. He is definitely a ‘king’, but he’s also different from the other ‘kings’.”
“Excuse me? Please, explain it in simpler terms….”
“When I looked into him, ‘it’ too was looking back at me.”
“But, other Hunters also….”
“No!! Not Hunter Seong Jin-Woo, but the endless darkness hiding within him was staring back at me!”
Madam Selner hysterically cried out. Her complexion paled again and her body shuddered greatly. This was the display of an instinctual fear all living organisms possessed: the fear of death.
But, that wasn’t important at the moment. No, the truly important thing was, even though her entire body continued to shiver in terror, she still managed to recall one more thing.
The deputy director focused on her words again.
Her lips parted with so much difficulty.
“He doesn’t have any limits.”
< Chapter 131 > Fin.