A certain village located in Ishikawa Prefecture.
The entrance of the village had been bustling with so many people since early morning that there wasn’t enough space to walk through.
“What’s going on? What is everyone out here for?”
One of the villagers, who hadn’t heard of the news yet, looked around and asked his neighbours.
They should be quite busy with rebuilding their village right now, but for all these people to come out here like this? For this villager who had been working hard to remove the debris of a collapsed building, he couldn’t help but be flustered by this new development.
“You see, the thing is….”
A kind auntie was about to explain the matter to this man and parted her lips. However, she spotted a vehicle revealing itself at the far end of the road that led to the village and pointed to it instead.
“Oh, my goodness!! There they are! They’re coming!”
The villagers discovered the vehicle and began raising a fuss.
Seeing the light of excitement gleaming brightly within their eyes, the whole atmosphere of the place came across as if they were here to welcome a long-lost relative living in a faraway land or some such to the confused male villager.
‘But then again, there’s no way that this many people would share the same relative, so….’
The man used the towel around his neck to wipe the sweat away and looked on with a puzzled expression.
“I’m asking you, just who is coming here today?”
An uncle on the side couldn’t endure it any longer and spoke in clear frustration.
“The Hunter-nim is coming today.”
“Hunter-nim? Which Hunter-nim are you talking about?”
“Which Hunter-nim do you think I’m talking about here?”
When the vehicle got closer, the villagers raised their hands and welcomed it with all of their hearts. Their expressions all contained genuine happiness and gratitude.
‘Could it be….?’
Only then did this villager realise just who was coming to pay a visit to this village. His head reflexively swivelled behind him.
And that was where he saw the wretched state of his village, currently half destroyed at the hands of the Giant monsters. He could also see resting tools and unmoving construction equipment brought on to rebuild the village here and there as well.
If no one stepped up to stop those Giant monsters, would any traces of his dear hometown have even survived like this? His home, filled with countless memories of his life, could have been wiped out without a trace.
‘The schools I went to, the roads I walked on, and even the place I work for.’
When he thought like that, a certain emotion surged up from the deepest part of his heart. The end of his nose stung, too.
‘That person is really coming here?’
His head swivelled back to the road.
The villagers gathering like this to welcome the Hunter was not something the higher-ups had organised, nor were they putting up a facade for the sake of others to see.
No, they were here because their hearts told them to do so. It was the thoughts of gratitude that made their legs move.
Before long, the male villager had taken the towel off his neck and swung it around in the air as he yelled out a loud cheer at the approaching vehicle.
Even though the top-end black van driving on the empty road was definitely brand-new, it looked as if it had gone through hellish terrain from the way it was covered in a thick layer of dust and mud. It now looked like it had been in use for at least ten years or so.
The words ‘Japanese Hunter’s Association’ written on the number plate instead of the actual numbers were covered in so much mud that they became almost impossible to read.
The van’s rough condition seemed to tell the story of the bitter, bloody battles it had witnessed in the last few days, and that in turn warmed and softened the hearts of the villagers. Those overflowing with rich emotions even began shedding tears, as well.
A short while later, the van driven with expert skill came to a stop in front of the crowd.
As he received the adulations of the crowd, the sunglasses-wearing Yu Jin-Ho exited from the driver’s side of the van.
Yu Jin-Ho made sure to wave his hands at each of the villagers rushing in to greet him. It was around then.
An employee of the Japanese Hunter’s Association waiting for Jin-Woo’s group to arrive somehow managed to push through the throngs of people and stood before Yu Jin-Ho.
He bent over and panted heavily to catch his breath before standing upright to ask a question.
“Are you Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim?”
The Association employee was speaking in Japanese, but thankfully, Yu Jin-Ho could recognise a few of the words spoken just now.
He leisurely shook his head, before raising his finger and pointed at the sky.
“De-eol.” (TL note at the end)
When he did…
….The Sky Dragon Kaisel screeched out a cheerful roar as if responding to his calling.
“W-what on earth is that?!”
Didn’t the old saying go ‘once bitten, twice shy’? The villagers who had been living in fear of the Giant-type monsters saw the large black lifeform flying in the air and their shoulders all flinched greatly.
Fortunately for them, Kaisel simply remained circling above their heads and did nothing else.
The villagers finally recognised that Kaisel didn’t mean any harm. They continued to look up with mystified eyes, although their expressions still displayed how scared they were.
It was then – a dark humanoid shape jumped off from the back of Kaisel.
The villagers watched Jin-Woo land lightly on the ground by using his ‘Ruler’s Authority’ skill and their collective eyes nearly fell out of their sockets.
Especially for the Association employee closest to Jin-Woo – he stood motionless while tightly holding the ends of his glasses, utterly unable to mutter a single thing out right now. So, Yu Jin-Ho spoke to Jin-Woo on his behalf, instead.
“Hyung-nim, this gentleman here was looking for you just now.”
Jin-Woo turned around and stood before the Association employee.
The latter belatedly regained his wits after seeing Jin-Woo approach him and quickly shook his head left and right. The higher-ups told him in no uncertain terms that he must never make a ‘mistake’ with this Hunter-nim.
The employee managed to shake off all distracting thoughts and formed a sombre expression before bowing his head.
“It’s an honour, Seong Jin-Woo Hunter-nim. My name is Tanaka Hiroshi from the Japanese Hunter’s Association, Kanazawa branch.”
He raised his head and explained the purpose of him coming to greet the Korean duo like this.
“I am tasked with guiding you, Hunter-nim, during your visit here today. I’ll be in your care.”
Of course, every single word he spoke was in Japanese. Jin-Woo glanced at Yu Jin-Ho. The latter stared right back at the former without a word.
Jin-Woo saw the bright, happy-go-lucky smile on Yu Jin-Ho’s face and spat out a long groan. He just realised that the kid had not one thought of wanting to understand a lick of Japanese.
Left with little choice, Jin-Woo summoned a Shadow Soldier who could act as a trusty Japanese interpreter.
‘Oh, my king….’
Beru emerged out from the shadow and politely bowed his head. He finished greeting his Sovereign and turned around to face the Association employee.
‘I shall take care of this man.’
‘No, hang on. When you say that, it almost sounds like you meant something else and that kinda worries me….’
Jin-Woo must not be the only one thinking along that line, because not only the Association employee, even the gathered villagers saw Beru’s imposing figure and their expressions were frozen solid right away.
Beru walked over to the Association employee and addressed him while opening up his chest wide.
“What is it that you wish to convey to my liege?”
Gasps of astonishment simultaneously leaked out from the villagers watching on. Even Yu Jin-Ho was taken greatly by surprise as he also had never seen a Shadow Soldier talk before.
“Hyung-nim?? That guy could speak all along?!”
Jin-Woo nodded his head.
The Japanese he spoke was so fluent that it wouldn’t be a problem to think of Beru as a native speaker. As long as one discounted the monster-like, loud, ringing voice coming from him, that was.
‘But, then again….’
Jin-Woo’s head was suddenly filled with a thought that, as far as the number of people Beru had eaten was concerned, he had digested more Japanese than Koreans, so perhaps this should be seen as an inevitable result. For some reason, though, he felt a dull pulsing ache develop in his head and began slowly massaging his forehead.
Meanwhile, Beru exchanged a few words with the Association employee and turned around to address Jin-Woo next.
“Oh, my king. This human has been tasked with guiding you through this village. He swears to sincerely serve you to the best of his abilities, my liege.”
“Okay, fine. By the way, just what did you tell him that the poor guy’s face ended up completely white like that?”
“I warned him that, if he dares to resort to any underhanded schemes, I shall devour him in his entirety, from the tip of his toes all the way up to the ends of his hairs, oh, my king.”
“…..Oh. I see.”
What did it matter, anyway? As long as the intent had been communicated, it was fine.
The Association employee fearfully observed Beru now standing behind Jin-Woo and cautiously raised his voice.
“This way, please.”
Jin-Woo found it rather unfortunate that the employee’s complexion had paled to such a pitiable degree, and nodded his head.
Jin-Woo’s group was led to an abandoned storage facility located somewhere within the village with the guidance of the employee.
There was no need for an entrance, as one of the walls in the storage facility had been blown cleanly away. The corpse of a Giant-type monster lying on its back could be seen within the ruined structure.
“It’s over here.”
The employee pointed to the corpse and stepped aside.
Jin-Woo walked closer and confirmed the status of the monster’s remains.
The corpse was filled with clear signs of the bitter, harsh battle it went through with… And there were a countless number of bite marks which resulted in various wounds indicative of the monster having been eaten.
‘Your boys…. Did they chow down on this thing?’
Jin-Woo looked back at Beru as his glare became a level sharper. The former ant king had bent his waist well before Jin-Woo even started looking back at him, his gaze firmly fixed to the ground.
Why was this? Why did Yu Jin-Ho picture a section chief stuck in his job seemingly forever kowtowing and currying favours with his department head when looking at the relationship between his hyung-nim and the ant creature?
Jin-Woo shifted his gaze back to the monster’s corpse.
In all honesty, as long as some parts of the corpse remained intact, there was no problem with extracting the shadow.
‘It’s just that I feel a bit weird, that’s all.’
Now that all living Giants within Japan had been eliminated, Jin-Woo was going around to find those remains of the monsters killed off by his soldiers so he could perform ‘Shadow Extraction’ on them.
As he immersed himself in this new task, he could easily tell which division had engaged which creature simply from the conditions of the monster corpses.
Pretty much all the monsters unlucky enough to run into the ant army couldn’t avoid ending up in this pathetic sight.
Jin-Woo stared at the monster that probably had died while getting devoured by hundreds of ants and let a sigh leak out of his mouth. He then rolled his sleeves up.
He pointed towards the corpse. A dignified voice soon left Jin-Woo’s lips.
And then, this happened.
Didn’t matter who it was, the tightly-packed gathering of villagers following after Jin-Woo gasped out in astonishment almost all at the same time.
Along with the distinctive scream, a Giant soldier, his body having recovered to full, emerged out from the shadow and knelt down on one knee before Jin-Woo.
It was yet another success. As easy as they come. With this, he had gotten himself the 27th Giant soldier.
‘I guess there are two left now, right?’
Jin-Woo looked up at the imposing-looking giant soldier and grinned brightly.
At the same time in South Korea.
Goh Gun-Hui was currently sifting through various TV channels with a remote inside his office, located in the Korean Hunter’s Association.
No matter which broadcast he changed to, they were pretty much all dominated by the news of Jin-Woo’s feat in Japan. However, this phenomenon wasn’t happening only in Korea. It was the same story even with the international news channels, as well.
There was no doubt now that, through this incident, Hunter Seong had branded his name in the psyche of the entire world.
A bright smile remained etched on the face of the Association President Goh Gun-Hui as if he was the one experiencing this event.
What if he managed to dissuade Hunter Seong Jin-Woo that day when the young man declared his intentions of going to Japan….? Just thinking about that possibility made him shudder uncomfortably.
He almost ended up making the biggest mistake so late in his life.
The status of the Korean Hunter community had seen such a meteoric rise in fame through this incident that he simply had to thank Hunter Seong for willingly stepping forward like that.
All because of the actions of a single person, some are even openly saying that South Korea had become the new global Hunter superpower now.
That is why the Association President felt proud and happy at the feats Jin-Woo had achieved so far. However, there was one thing he felt quite worried about, and that would be….
“Association President, sir.”
With good timing, Section Chief Woo Jin-Cheol knocked on the door and stepped into the president’s office. He was a man who, by achieving back-to-back results early in his career, got to wear the title of the youngest-ever Section Chief.
He performed a light nod of his head as a greeting and made a report on the current situation.
“The monster has changed its course towards China, sir.”
“Is that so?”
Now that was an unexpected change in the situation.
As Jin-Woo busied himself with killing the Giants in Japan, one of them escaped out into the sea. The creature had been heading into the Pacific, but the news of it completely changing course towards China was a bit of fresh shock to the Association President.
Goh Gun-Hui quickly asked.
“How are the Chinese responding to this situation?”
“We heard that Liu Zhigeng will personally step up, sir.”
Goh Gun-Hui leaned his back against the couch.
“In that case, there should be no problems, then.”
The Giant-type monster should be ripped to shreds even before setting a foot on the Chinese mainland now that Liu Zhigeng, one of the five most powerful Hunters in the world, had decided to get involved.
It was a big relief that the d*mn monster wasn’t headed to South Korea when Hunter Seong was still absent from the country. Woo Jin-Cheol saw the relief in the Association President’s face and also formed a smile as well, perhaps his own tense mind relaxing a little now.
His eyes then caught the TV screen.
The scenes of destroyed Japan, painfully sobbing and screaming Japanese people, as well as the ongoing rescue efforts and reconstruction work getting off the ground, were displayed one after the other.
Woo Jin-Cheol clicked his tongue.
“Indeed, it is unfortunate….. Utterly so.”
Goh Gun-Hui agreed with that simple but succinct assessment.
South Korea also had suffered similar pain four years ago back on Jeju Island. The wounds inflicted on that day still ran too deep to say that he had forgotten how painful it was. The reconstruction of Jeju Island was ongoing even as they spoke in this office, after all.
Goh Gun-Hui raised his voice again.
“However, someone’s pain can also become someone else’s ray of hope.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Do you know the reason why Japan, completely ruined after losing the war, had recovered to become the second most financially prosperous nation on Earth?”
“Wasn’t that because of the Korean War?”
“That’s right. Through wartime special procurement. And something similar is about to happen to our nation.”
With a wry expression, Association President Goh Gun-Hui placed his hand on top of the thick pile of documents currently resting on the table.
“These are all quotation documents sent in by the local corporations wishing to get involved in Japan’s restoration projects.”
The Korean companies were quick to make their move. Some of them even sent in these documents as soon as Hunter Seong had left for Japan. All the other corporations should have finished with their preparations by now, as well.
‘Someone’s pain can become someone else’s hope, is it….’
No, to be more correct, it’d be someone’s profit, instead.
Having accurately understood what the Association President was implying just now, Woo Jin-Cheol also began forming a wry expression to mirror his boss.
Before long though, he quickly spoke as if he recalled something else just now.
“Ah, by the way, sir.”
“The Japanese Association President Matsumoto has apparently handed himself over to police.”
“He did what?”
Why would such a shameless man suddenly have a change of heart?
Goh Gun-Hui was about to discuss the details of that news, but then heard the ringing of the phone and reached out to it.
He picked up the receiver only to be greeted by a rather urgent voice.
– “Association President, sir. It’s me.”
The voice belonged to his personal doctor. He should have been beyond busy dealing with patients rushing in at this time of the day, though.
Goh Gun-Hui could only tilt his head.
“My friend, what made you call me at this time of the day?”
– “I thought that the matter at hand was too important, so I was compelled to….”
Goh Gun-Hui’s voice also became quite serious.
Several likely scenarios fleeted in and out of his head just then. However, his private doctor ended up mentioning a completely unexpected name, instead.
– “By any chance, were you aware of the condition Chairman Yu Myung-Han was in?”
Chairman Yu Myung-Han was one of the biggest contributors to the Korean Hunter’s Association. He was even a personal acquaintance of Goh Gun-Hui, as well.
What had happened to him, then?
The Association President pressed for an answer, and the private doctor continued on with his explanation.
– “Chairman Yu Myung-Han has been admitted to our hospital earlier today, sir.”
Goh Gun-Hui shot up from his seat.
“He’s not in any critical danger, is he?”
– “It is truly unfortunate, but… there is not much we can do for him at this stage.”
A heavy silence descended in the office.
The private doctor’s voice, keeping silent for a moment or two, quietly continued on.
– “Chairman Yu Myung-Han, he has entered the ‘final sleep’ state.”
< Chapter 178 > Fin.