Dedicated to Klemen_Tine who gave me the necessary fuel to follow my current obsession.
My phone is now littered with Jin Woo’s face and daydreams even at work… *wink*
P.S. Unbeta’ed so yeah. May have forgotten to use my grammar checker thingy so that’s that.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I live in a modern world full of magic and empowered people.
Portals that leads into a dungeon full of various creatures that plague the nightmares of many.
Of weapons and armors and extraordinary abilities that used to belong in video games and movies.
Danger awaits everyone if those portals known as 'Gates' cannot be closed off in time.
I started to worry when my brother awakened. A very powerful Hunter that specializes in healing magic.
Even if that is his primary ability, he fights well thanks to the self-defence lessons our late father taught us. And even if his combat abilities cannot be compared to his senior, Baek Yoon Ho, he's a decent (and very good looking) Hunter admired by many (fangirls beware).
I think of dissociating myself to all these chaos despite my volunteer work in the hospital that caters to Hunters and all that are affected by various sickness caused by these strange phenomenon… and there I met him.
Sung Jin Woo may be another Hunter but unlike my oppa, he is considered to be the weakest of them all. Yet he strives real hard for the people he cares about. And I happen to know one of the primary reasons why he continues to endanger himself despite my and his sister's concerns.
His mother is one of my patients inflicted by an incurable disease called "Eternal Slumber". A sickness caused by the magic that now permeates our world.
Whenever Jin Woo has a mission, I always see him injured one way or the other.
I even became friends with that pretty healer who came with the raids that he is always a part of. Worry with Jin Ah. Cry when we taught that Jin Woo will never return (just like what happened to their father). Scold him when I got the chance. Support him silently when he got that determined look in his eyes.
So when I got a call that day and ignored the questioning gaze my brother had, I rushed to the hospital and consoled Jin Ah while wondering why the Monitoring Division of the Korean Hunters Association are interrogating my friend.
Taking note of Chief Woo Jin Chul's dismayed reaction (and his curiosity seeing me at the hospital during my day off not even wondering how he knew my schedule), I silently observed Jin Woo and noticed the darkness that is starting to surround him.
"Would you believe me if I told you about a voice I heard before I lost consciousness telling me that I pass some sort of a test giving me an opportunity to become a 'Player' of some sort?" He started after we saw Jin Ah out of his hospital room.
I stilled upon hearing those words and looked at his face while the man himself stares in front of him as if seeing something I cannot. With a sigh, I patted his hand and held it tight before letting go.
"Just promise me that you'll tell me everything if you plan to participate in whatever this 'play' is and that you won't do anything reckless which may endanger your life, okay?"
Despite Jin Woo's assurances, my anxiety remained.
When Yu Rah mentioned how she found her patient the other day, I felt annoyed knowing that Jin Woo may have gone ahead with this 'game' of his without telling me. Eyeing him suspiciously as I brought his snacks (feeling a bit satisfied when he avoided my gaze in silent apology).
So when he got discharged, I patiently waited outside to confront him verbally. He may have not seen me at first but one cannot deny the fact that he looks different. Recalling how he looked a few days before compared to what he looks now… seems like what he told me that day isn't just a delusion.
"What did you just said?! A System similar to a video game? Daily Quests that gives various rewards and stats that can be managed depending on your preferred attributes?!"
Screeching at the top of my lungs, I walked around in circles as he sat on the bench of our favorite corner behind the hospital.
We might have claimed that particular spot as ours whenever he is admitted and decides to spend our day on it given the chance.
Jin Woo did look rueful enough as he waited for my rant to finish. Seeing his reaction calmed me a little so I stopped nagging and looks at him in the eyes.
"This 'System' sounds a bit suspicious for giving you all these stuff without anything in return. Possibly because it is bidding its time or whatnot. Are you sure that it is not using you for any nefarious reasons that may potentially endanger your life even more?"
He told me that even if the System is using him, he will use it in return. He still wanted to continue being a Player… to level up and become strong.
To be more powerful than before.
Jin Woo stated that this is his only chance to change what destiny has planned for him ever since he awaken as a Hunter.
So that he will never be mocked again because of his rank.
So that he can protect his family… and make me proud.
"But I'm already proud of you, Jin Woo, despite what your rank is…"
He raised his eyes from its downcast gaze and looked at me. Did he finally see his worth?
Sensing the sincerity in my words, Jin Woo smiled in response and took my hand.
It was the same smile that I liked so much.
Before, our hand matches in size whenever we held each other's. But because of his physical changes, his hands are now bigger. Soon he'll be able wrap his around mine.
"Thank you, Jeong Hui."
It was a good shift that day.
Jin Woo texted earlier that he's going on a raid. Despite my trepidations, I ordered him to stay safe ignoring the fact that he can now protect himself as needed.
The so-called 'System' may have given my favorite hunter (next to my brother… or was it the other way around?) the platform he needed to get stronger or level up continuously. Regardless of its nature, I'm thankful that an opportunity was given to Jin Woo in order for him to overcome all obstacles standing in his way.
Prejudice that remains rampant despite this strange phenomenon.
With a resigned breath, I took my bag and followed Yu Rah out.
She, along with some coworkers are planning a girl's night out but when she elbowed me with that sly look in her eyes, I noticed someone unexpected waiting for me outside.
"I'll tell the others that you won't be coming with us tonight." With a smirk, the other woman whispered teasingly. "You better take this chance and totally claim him, okay? Or else, someone might snag him away from you."
My blush deepening with her innuendo, I was about to throw her my bag when Jin Woo approaches curiously.
"Did I come at a wrong time?"
Ignoring Yu Rah's retreating laughter, I tugged Jin Woo to our bench and huffed annoyingly in response. My friend smiled in amusement seeing how I acted like a child.
"I thought you're on a raid. Did it finish early?" Controlling the fast beating of my heart, I decided to catalog any tears and wounds on Jin Woo's clothes. Even if he can heal abnormally fast courtesy of his Daily Quest rewards (and that special buff), his clothing cannot be recreated by the damn system.
Feeling satisfied that nothing is amiss, I happen to notice the blank look in his eyes that remained glued to both of his hands.
Finally noticing the bag he brought along, I sat beside him and waited patiently. From our years of being acquainted, I learned that he need a few minutes to gather his thoughts before saying anything. Perhaps, Jin Woo's being considerate ever since the incident with the Double Dungeon that made me jitter whenever he mention something about his day as a Hunter. That anything might offend me especially after everything that just had happened to him. He knew how I felt about his circumstances and respected my opinion.
I decided to undo my hairbuns and tied it low but a few strands escaped. Thankfully enough, it wasn't as windy as yesterday were my hair are all over the place.
Jin Woo tucked the wild strands behind my ear. His eyes spoke volumes of his internal dilemma.
"Will you…" His voice sounded indifferent but I can feel the weight of his words. "…will you still hold these hands even if… even if they are now tainted?"
My brows furrowed and studied his expression. My mind is speculating various reasons what could those statement mean. And then I saw a somewhat familiar stain on his hoodie.
"Are you sure you're not hurt?" Panicking, I was about to run back and get a first aid kit from my locker when he held my arms. Questioningly, I tried to pry his hands away when I finally saw what he meant.
There are specks of blood on his sleeves.
Not the kind of blood one would saw in a dungeon.
Could it be?
"It was my life… or theirs…" Jin Woo added softly. Pulling away, he was about to hide his hands into his pockets when I grab them and held it tight.
In our current situation were monsters are now a normal occurence, killing those things will ensure the safety of the human populace. However, it doesn't escape me how others use the dungeons as an opportunity to hurt other people.
Taking another human life is not to be taken lightly and yet I already knew the answer to his question.
"I'm not in a position to judge anyone for what they did.… especially inside those dungeons." With deep breath, I placed both of his hands near my heart. This way, Jin Woo can feel its steady beating. The truth in my words. "But there is one thing I am certain," I opened my eyes and looked at him. "I'm glad that you're still alive. For your mother's sake, for Jin Ah… and for me."
Whoever those people are… they deserved it. That makes me an accomplice then right?
Hunters aren't saints. Neither am I.
Even if majority choose to use their powers to fight those monsters… to protect the people, some still uses their abilities for their own personal interests.
So it didn't surprise me at all when Jin Woo happen to met some unsightly people.
Perhaps the System made him do those things. Perhaps it wanted Jin Woo to live. To become what it needs him to be.
For whatever purpose, I hope it won't take him away from me… or it will break my heart.
With my pitiful strength, I tried to pull him up.
"I'm starving. Let's grab something to eat, okay?"
Thankfully Jin Woo smiled in response and envelopes me in his warm embrace. Inhaling his scent, I burrowed myself into his arms. And before I forget myself (and these feelings that started to bloom unexpectedly inside my chest), he whispered something that made my heart flutter even more.
A promise that I'll always remember for the rest of my life.
"I'll always come back to you… no matter what happens."
After getting my favorite drink that day, I decided to hang out in the coffee shop where Jin Woo will meet and talk to the other survivor of the "lizard" incident. The young man happens to be the second son of the infamous Yoo Myung Han. Yoo Jin Ho happens to be a D Rank Hunter. Jin Woo did mention how he intends to use the younger man and the said opportunity to level up even more.
Rolling my eyes at him, I reminded him not to forget how to be grateful to others especially to those that showed him kindness. I know everything that had happened in the Double Dungeon and because of it, he became jaded in terms of trusting other people.
Keeping him grounded and remember his humble beginnings is the least I can do.
Seeing him off to this new instant dungeon created by the System, I prayed that he will remain safe and persevere no matter what.
Absentmindedly doing my chores in the hospital and replacing Mrs. Park's flowers earlier that day, I sat by our favorite bench to spend the rest of my lunch break when a shadow blocks my peripheral.
"Chief Woo Jin Chul, to whom I owe this pleasure?" Greeting the Monitoring Division Chief with a warm smile, I patted the seat beside me.
Removing his sunglasses, he deliberated for a moment and gave me a folder containing some Hunter profiles before sitting beside me. Wondering who these people are, I did pause seeing Hwang Dong Suk's face.
"His younger brother called the Association asking for Hunter Sung Jin Woo's contact information."
Eyes widening, I think I know what that meant.
"Because of your connection to Hunter Sung, there is a chance that Hunter Hwang Dong Soo may come after you…"
Massaging my temple for an incoming headache, I sighed and returns the folder in his hands. At best, Jin Woo's current level is in between rank A and B. Not enough to defend himself against an S rank. He might die if that Hunter decides to show up now. Worst comes to worst, the said Hunter might target Jin Ah… or even me. Still the chances are slim since Hwang Dong Soo is a good-for-nothing asshole who chooses money and fame over his own country. The Association will definitely do something about it.
Mistaking my silence for fear, Woo Jin Chul assures that they won't let anything happen to me. Not that they can do anything against an S rank Hunter with a very shady track record similar to his older brother.
Thanking the Monitoring Chief's visit and concerns, I ponder on my next course of action. I was about to call my brother to ask for guidance but remembered that he's currently in Japan. Despite being retired, he helps the Association with some tasks so long as he isn't forced to go into another raid.
Troubling that man may cause unnecessary memories.
The trauma caused by the Jeju Island Raids are still fresh from my mind. How I helped my brother from his nightmares and made him function as a normal human being. Baek Yoon Ho-oppa helped. But it took a while and… oh? Oh!
Sending him a text message, I hope he won't tell my brother this favor I'm about to ask.
Instead of answering my message, White Tiger's Guild Master Baek Yoon Ho called me in return.
"Is there someone bothering you, Jeong Hui?"
I assured him that nothing is wrong and asked him as briefly as I could on what kind of troubles a crazy S Rank Hunter may do to civilians. As expected, the man reacted exactly the way I knew he would. Assuring him that it was just a rhetorical question, I hurriedly said my excuse.
I don't want to burden Jin Woo even more by telling him this and it may force him to do something drastic.
As it is, I never want to hide this kind of information from him as well so I decided to tell him once I got the chance. Just maybe, he might be able to figure something out.
Seeing Yi Ju Hui again makes me smile. However when I learned her intent to retire makes me want to cry.
"I appreciate your concerns, Miss Jeong Hui… really. I'm just glad to have met you and Jin Woo during my stay here…" Tugging the woman closer, I hugged the female Hunter and did something I rarely perform outside the safe confines of the hospital. Jin Woo's eyes are solemn and quietly waited for me to finish healing Ju Hui's magical core. After that, we walked her towards the bus stop taking note of her invite to visit her hometown someday.
"She's going to be fine, so you don't need to worry anymore." Nodding, I took Jin Woo's offered hand and allowed myself to be dragged home.
Hearing what happened inside the dungeon didn't surprise me at all. It really seems like the man is being continuously tested by this damn System. Still, he tugged me closer assuring me that he's a lot stronger than before. That he can protect himself so I don't need to feel on the edge anymore whenever he is on a raid. Not that his positivity helped.
Meeting Yoo Jin Ho personally made me want to cuddle the kid… er young man. Pinching his cheeks, I laughed when he fluster shyly away from me.
"It's good to finally meet you Yoo Jin Ho. And I also appreciate all the hard work you are putting into these raids." Jin Woo muttered inconspicuously that it was him doing all the fighting so I elbowed him lightly while minding his hard-rock physique (idly recalling the first time I tried to hit him that caused a slight injury to my wrists). Handing him the lunchbox I prepared earlier, I reminded him to be safe as always.
Jin Woo sighed but decided to humor me regardless. "I'll let you know once we're finished for the day. I promised Jin Ah that we'll dine out tonight."
As their van leaves, I tucked both hands in my pocket and started to walk away. Their raid might take a few hours more or less (depending on how fast Jin Woo will clear gates today), so I decided to be productive of my spare time. Perhaps do some grocery as my brother is scheduled to arrive in a few days. Our laundry's all sorted and my stuff is back in their respective locations. My pet plant's watered and should be able to bloom its first flower in a few days.
Scratching my chin, I may have forgotten something very important. Thinking nothing of it, I decided to text Jin Ah so that I'll know when I can pick her up. I did notice two men who are trying to be discreet a few meters away. Remembering their faces, they are Yoon Ho-oppa's employees, I shrugged my shoulders dismissively and went on to continue my day. They are probably here to recruit someone into that man's guild.
"Are you sure she's someone very close to him?" Ahn Sahng Min, White Tiger's 2nd Division Chief asked his Vice Chief Hyun Ki Cheol. Both are observing Min Jeong Hui's retreating back. The van containing the man they are looking for are nowhere in sight. Perhaps Hunter Sung Jin Woo already left.
"Yes chief. I'm positive."
Hmm. It might not be as difficult as he first thought.
S Rank Hunter Min Byeong Go's little sister is somewhat related to the man they are trying to recruit into their guild. An opportunity he will make sure to take advantage of now that they have someone they can talk to before making the offer to the hunter in question.
He just hopes it won't bite them in the ass for involving the woman into their schemes.
Jin Woo requested me to attend Jin Ah's parent - teacher meeting in the unlikely event that he won't be able to make it. However he did promise to finish up his current 'task' as soon as possible so that he can come himself.
A class change was offered allowing him to choose a job and add new skills to his ever growing arsenal. It seems like the said 'System' really is like a game but on a very large scale.
Knowing what type of 'job' he will choose, I wish him luck and went ahead to purchase the clothes he will be wearing on that particular meeting. I happen to see the contents of his wardrobe… or lack thereof. The same clothes my brother took notice of when he called me later that day. Perhaps disabling the video feed should stop oppa's nosiness.
"Ah, you brought the said friend a nice set of clothes and yet you haven't given your beloved older brother any piece of reward for all the hard work he had given to our humble abode…" Byeong Go commented rather tearfully so I decided to smack him in the face (virtually of course as the real one will follow once he's within reach) with a wrapped gift I also prepared for him beforehand.
"You are being dramatic, oppa." I huffed in reply and chuckled in amusement when his eyes sparkled excitedly seeing his welcoming gift. He did not need to hear my explanation but I still added that it was the man himself who requested me to get his clothes for his meeting with Jin Ah's homeroom teacher.
"So, how's your second favorite hunter doing nowadays, hmm?" He must be in denial after I acknowledges the fact that he is now second on my list followed by Baek Yoon Ho-oppa and Hunter Cha Hae In.
"He's doing well, thanks for asking." I stated conversationally and placed the clothes in a nice paperbag. "He's currently on a raid right now…"
My brother wonders out loud why I still let Jin Woo continue being hunter even if the said occupation is hazardous to his life. Perhaps not telling him the Double Dungeon incident is for the best. He might have taken a liking to my friend after I rant to him about Jin Woo during that one time. And if I am really a good friend, I should be the one to stop him.
Despite my need to do just that, I am not his wife to stop Jin Woo from doing whatever he wants. My brother frowned hearing my explanation but decides to let it go for now.
Ending the call, the said thought didn't leave my mind.
Thinking of that notion (despite the fact that Jin Woo never mention anything about his feelings for me), I also wonder myself about my feelings for him. He's just a friend, correct?
I became aware of the fast beating of my heart, I knew that is what I believed in… that Jin Woo is a precious friend and yet…
"It is probably a crush. This too will pass. Yeah?"
My brother's voice echoed one word that I ignored pointedly.
"Ah, the meeting went well. And Jin Ah's teacher asked me for a favor." I handed him a plate of chocolate pudding I prepared earlier.
Jin Woo found out that one of the hunters they employed in their raids to fill up the required headcount happens to be a high school student, and Jin Ah's close friend.
"So what are you going to do now?"
Jin Woo's smile is kind of alarming but he assured me that it is nothing to worry about. After that, he made a call to someone asking for a small favor. Hearing his plan makes me fret even more so I thought of a way to make things… bearable.
"You are bringing a young girl with no raid experience inside a dungeon. So why would I not torment myself with worry, huh?" I might scolded him for a few more minutes and even if Jin Woo's explanation makes sense, we could have just explained it to the girl in question.
"Seeing it firsthand will allow her to realize how dangerous it is." Jin Woo is determined and knowing him, he already made up his mind.
"So, can I come too?" The spoon he is holding folded like it was nothing but a scrap of paper.
My brother will probably froth in the mouth if he learns of this 'trip' so I decided to send a forewarned message to Yoon Ho-oppa in the event that this escapade of mine reach Min Byeong Go's ears. Oppa responded almost immediately asking what I meant which I ignored by turning my phone off. After a brief introduction to the White Tiger's raid team consisting of new recruits - one rank A, seven rank Bs, and four rank Cs, for the total of 12 members - Jin Woo could not stop himself but glare back to the designated team leader when he gave the three of us dirty looks. He might have shielded me from the man's disdainful look so I patted him gently in the arm and asked my hunter to play nice.
Huh? Since when did I label Jin Woo mine?
Frowning slightly, he asked if I wanted to stay behind thinking that I was scared. So I told him that I'm not afraid since he's with me so I took his hand and dragged him when others started to walk into the gate.
For whatever reason, I'm kind of excited. Perhaps it's because I'm going inside a dungeon with Jin Woo. It is like a date. Ah. I shook my head to clear my thoughts. So after our charge entered the gate, Jin Woo noticed something different. With a frantic look in his eyes, he released my hand and was about to push me back then shouted a warning to the remaining employees of the White Tiger Guild to call for their main assault team.
However, it was already too late as I was sucked into the gate along with Jin Woo. The terror in his eyes was the last thing I saw before darkness swallowed us whole.
"Well, well, what do we have here, hmmm?"
W-who? This isn't Jin Woo's voice?
"A human… but not quite… someone like us…"
What are they talking about? Are they referring to me?
"No matter. Show these humans what we are capable of. Kill everyone and make this traitor suffer for taking their side…"
Traitor? What are they talking about? No. Stop!
Forcing my eyes open (and silently hoping that Jin Woo is safe somewhere), I tried to punch the creature holding me when it took my hand. Frost started to cover my skin as it smiled menacingly.
It feels so cold.
"I will offer your dead body to our king. A fine tribute!"
Jin Woo! I'm so sorry…
As the raid team talks over their next course of action, Jin Woo expanded his senses to look for Jeong Hui's unique signature while gritting his teeth in anger.
Of self-loathing and worry.
They got separated when they were sucked into the gate.
Damn it! He shouldn't have let go of her hand. It's all his fault. Trying to calm himself, Jin Woo glances towards the young hunter whose face is as pale as snow that falls softly around them. He gently grasped her shoulders and promised that he wouldn't let anything happen to her.
And if he has to, he will tear this place to the ground to find his Jeong Hui.
Suddenly his hand shot out towards Hahn Song Yi's face. If it wasn't for his high perception stats, he would not be able to catch the arrow aimed at one of the weakest members of the group.
The first arrow already reached its target, killing him on the spot. The others scream in surprise as Jin Woo and Kim Cheol look towards their attacker.
Far away, they saw several creatures with long white hair and icy white skin. Their ears are pointed similar to elves.
However, they are not the type of creatures one would find in fairy tales.
They are monsters just like the others found in these gates.
The one who shot the arrow smirked knowing that his attention is directed towards them and signaled its companion to move forward.
Jin Woo's blood ran cold when he saw the captive these bastards are holding.
It took all his restraint not to attack then and there (Jeong Hui would be so proud if she knew). Crushing their welcoming gift in his hands, Jin Woo's eyes saw red when the creature smiled mockingly at him and then it pushed my friend to her death.
The fall will kill her.
Before the others can react, he sprinted over in a blink of an eye and catches her fall. He was about to follow them when he saw Jeong Hui's condition. Panicking, he called out for help. The others didn't even see him move and they look surprised seeing where he was.
"Is there a healer among you?!"
One of the B rank hunters rushes over to his aid but was stopped by the large man.
"She's as good as dead. Don't waste your magic and…"
"Shut up!" Jin Woo's voice gone flat with a hint of murder as everyone felt his anger. "Or I'll make you…" Others started to step back idly wondering if this guy is just an E Rank.
He felt like their Guild Master, Baek Yoon Ho.
"J-jin Woo, I'm a-alright… just a bit c-cold," I mutter carefully while the stutter of my teeth continues. God, I feel like a human popsicle. I looked at my hands… I couldn't even move my fingers, darn it!
Thankfully, Jin Woo calmed down a little and asked the healer once more. "Please, help her."
The healer nodded and ignored the large man's warning look. For that, I am grateful. As the magic heals the damage my body received from the Ice Elves, I tried to reach out my hand over the hunters own (giving him a slight boost) and mutter quietly at him. "Thank you." The healer smiled in response (he may have frowned a little seeing the immediate changes knowing the limitation of his magic) and tore a few scraps of his cape as a makeshift bandage to cover my almost frozen hand.
Turning to Jin Woo, the hunter explained that he only did first aid and that I'll still need medical attention to ensure that my hand didn't have long lasting damage. Or someplace warm.
"Thank you." Relief clearly visible from my hunter's eyes. However, I can feel the anger he feels inside. I squeezed the hand holding me and gave him a comforting smile.
I'll never blame him for anything that might happen to me… especially here.
They were left to their own devices when the hunters of Yoon Ho-oppa's guild discussed their plans to clear the gate leaving the rest (mostly the C ranks and the freeloaders) behind.
Three B ranks came with Kim Cheol as the others stayed with us. Jin Woo sighed and looked at my encouraging reaction, we decided that he'll took lead of this group.
Walking into the woods, the only woman from the raid team tried to persuade us to take another route, panicking that we are walking into our deaths.
Jin Woo scratches his cheek as he looks at me as if asking for permission. Raising my brow, I shrugged dismissively and tried to wrap my scarf around my face mentally wondering why I didn't bring my jacket. It was then he carefully covered me with a warm fur coat and showed a pair of winter boots and gloves. He handed the same items to the others. Oh right. There's a store in the System. How very convenient.
"Since you followed me here, I will take full responsibility and protect everyone ensuring that all of you will make it back alive. However…"
Jin Woo will never answer their questions or cater any of their demands. Well except for me of course but I kept my mouth shut and tried to clasp the buttons of my coat with some difficulty because of the bandages. The girl, Song Yi, offered her help. God bless her kind heart.
The B Rank female hunter, Park Hui Jin, suddenly shout out in alarm when an Ice Bear showed up. Bravely, she stood in front of everyone and asked us to ran away as she will try to draw its attention. Before she can do anything, she was yanked back and I catched her before she fell while eyeing Jin Woo with a disapproving look. He smiled sheepishly in response to my chiding and took a step forward.
"I almost forgot to tell this earlier, just so we're clear… I'll be hunting all the monsters from here onwards."
The hunters may have freaked out questioning Jin Woo's declaration. And before he took another step towards the creature, he turned to look at me and winked. It's as if he wanted to show me something.
How strong he had become.
With just one punch, he defeated the Ice Bear.
Ignoring the stunned reactions of the hunters from oppa's guild (including Hahn Song Yi), he approached me quietly and waited for my reaction.
"Well?" Jin Woo asks and strangely enough, I might have saw the old him looking right back at me… it's as if he's asking for my approval. "I leveled up and grown a lot stronger now. So…" He is waiting for my praise. I raised my good hand out and touched his face. With a proud look, I gave him a smile and I felt his relief even from where I am standing.
"You're right. There is no need to worry anymore." Still, deep in my heart, I know that I'll always keep worrying for as long as he is a Hunter… and a Player of the System. Until then, I will remind myself not to voice out my fears, keep them to myself until I'm certain of one thing.
That my Jin Woo will no longer be considered the World's Weakest Hunter.
Baek Yoon Ho, Guild Master of the White Tiger Guild was never a religious person.
His understanding about the said topic changed the day the first gate in Korea opened and along with it, the changes within him and the world in general.
In this new profession that he grew awefully familiar with, he met comrades that got his back. Some became competition… while others became friends.
So many lives lost. But this didn't stop him to continue fighting and protect this world from monsters.
Min Byeong Go feels the same.
Before he awaken, his father Min Yu Lee, is a soldier and one of many that responded when monsters started to get out of the gates. And he is one of the many casualties that first fell that day.
Back then, people thought that ordinary weapons has a chance against these creatures.
We were wrong.
It took several men (those who suddenly experienced unimaginable power coursing through their bodies) to defeat those monsters. And the rest as one would say is history.
Jeong Hui's circumstances are quite different from the rest.
And when the newly established Korean Hunters Association knew what she can do, Byeong Go demanded several things which he supported along with others who knew what she is capable of doing.
She was twelve at the time.
With Jeong Hui, he knew that whatever happens to her, Byeong Go will fall apart. And perhaps this time, he won't be able to help his friend.
With a sigh, he brushed his hair away from his eyes and glances towards the gate that continues to ripple like a lake of blood. "I'm thinking of several ways to inform Min Byeong Go on what happened here. I-i…" Teeth gritted in anger, he's about to curse whoever this 'friend' is for dragging the woman into this quandary. Baek Yoon Ho pointedly ignored Ahn Sahng Min's explanation that Hunter Sung Jin Woo did try to push Miss Jeong Hui away so that she won't be sucked into the gate along with him. Fool.
Any seasoned hunter knows that Red Gates are unpredictable. Perhaps knowing the man's rank pacified his mind but still wants to blame someone for his inability to do something.
"Look, the Red Gate! It's finally opening up!"
Surprise clearly visible on everyone's faces. The two chiefs, Joo Sung Chan and Ahn Sahng Min looked at one another and silently hoped that their respective hunters have survived this ordeal.
Of the twelve White Tiger's hunters that came inside, only seven survived. Majority are C ranks.
This can't be right.
"Are these all the survivors?" Park Hui Jin nodded tiredly and glances towards the three outsiders. The Guild Master is already in front of the three as he went straight for the mysterious woman and hugged her tight. Seems like she is… important to him as well.
Jeong Hui noticed her looking (Hui Jin quickly quelled her jealousy knowing that it's unfair to the other woman) and she smiled back sincerely with a farewell wave. She answered Vice Chief Hyun Ki Cheol's questions as the man began crossing out the names of the deceased with a bit of difficulty.
Baek Yoon Ho-oppa releases me and tried to ease the tension he feels within by joking that he almost called my brother.
"No, you didn't!"
"As I said, I almost called Byeong Go… and then, here you are…" He must be really scared. I'll make sure to apologize and explain everything. "Are you alright?"
I glanced sideways to look at Jin Woo's whose hand I still hold (it also gave me a sense of comfort when he responded with a soft squeeze). My oppa's eyes noticed our exchange. "I have a lot of questions… but that can be done later. You need to rest." I smiled gratefully in response and wandered towards Hahn Song Yi. He remained in front of Jin Woo and stared wordlessly at him.
"Ready to go home?" The girl smiled weakly and nodded. I laughed quietly and led her to our borrowed van. "I felt like we went on a vacation…" Song Yi added that it was an experience she'll never forget. Noticing the growing tension between the two men, I asked her to wait inside the van. But before I took another step towards the two, I might have blacked out (why do I feel so sleepy?), a now familiar set of arms catches and carried me carefully like I'm made out of glass.
"I'm taking you home." I nodded minutely thinking that Jin Woo's referring to my place and waves a hand at Yoon Ho-oppa's direction promising to see him tomorrow.
And then I went out like a light after I rested my head on his shoulders. The events inside the Red Gate seemingly forgotten knowing that Jin Woo's safe. That he's with me. That we're okay.
The Red Gate incident was kept within the White Tiger's Guild in respect to the survivors requests. The Korean Hunters Association was informed in the briefest way possible. The Guild Master knew how other guilds have their own contacts (spies) inside. It was also to protect the identities of all involved.
At the moment, all B Rank Hunters that are part of the said raid are called in for debriefing with Park Hui Jin and Hwan Doo Woh discussing to one another what they can or cannot tell.
Perhaps they still remember their savior's conditions. Yun Ki Joong did pointed out that they cannot ask any questions or demand anything from their temporary Team Leader but nothing was mentioned about telling what they saw to the others, especially to their Guild Master who has every right to know.
Before they can enter the conference room, a slight commotion was heard from the main hall.
Min Jeong Hui entered casually while ignoring the receptionist's attempt to stop her. The woman smiled as she saw them and changed her direction to greet everyone.
"Miss Jeong Hui, what are you doing here?" Idly wondering if Team Leader… ah, Hunter Sung Jin Woo came as well.
"I might have ran away from that man because it seems like he wanted to lock me up or something." Puffing her cheeks in irritation, the older woman may have acted like a child but Hui Jin can finally see what kind of charisma this person has.
Just like that Hunter.
"Are you here to check on us?" Doo Woh asks politely and greeted the woman with a follow up question about her condition. The woman nodded and smiled while thanking the Healer for his concern.
"I came to explain everything to Yoon Ho-oppa. It's the least I can do…" Before Hui Jin can ask the what she meant and how she addresses the man so casually, the doors of the conference room slammed wide open with their Guild Master looking like he's about to bite someone's head off. Oh, seems like they forgot about their meeting. Nodding to herself, the newcomer (the receptionist still tried to stop the woman but was continuously ignored) approaches the man and stands before him with a determined look in her face. The female hunter did feel awe seeing Miss Jeong Hui stand confidently in front of strong hunters and a little sorry for the employee when she tried to explain and apologize for the trouble which their Guild Master also ignored. Huh?
"Jeong Hui? What are you doing here?" The change in their Guild Master's expression is still a sight to see (a complete 180 degree transition from his earlier reaction) which everyone in the room noticed. "You're supposed to be resting…"
"I'm here to explain everything, oppa. So if it's okay, can I talk to you for a few minutes?"
Let me know what you guys think? Uh, a no go or something that shouldn’t be shared? Oh well…
Ah!! I’m certain that all of you knew that Solo Leveling is getting the side stories by Jang Sung-Rak aka Dubu of Redice Studio and the anime. Oh-em-Ghee… waaahh!! Can’t contain myself. Fangirling too much!!
As it is, here’s the second chapter. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jin Woo's raids are finally over and they plan to celebrate with a hearty meal in Jin Ho's new favorite restaurant. I was invited as well but I politely declined. I don't want to intrude as the kid seems to idolize my hunter judging from his starry expressions. Haha!
Just before he left to see the kid that night, Jin Woo mentioned about going back to the Demon Castle. He said, he needed to level up even more. To get stronger. Knowing that I cannot stop him, I didn't voice out any objections. So I silently bottled up my fears while avoiding his gaze and pretend to prepare their dinner that night.
I stilled when he approached me behind my back and hugged me, his lips almost touching my right ear. "I will keep my promise, Jeong Hui, I'll always come back to you no matter what." I turned around and bravely followed Yu Rah's suggestion.
I dragged his face down and kissed him… letting him know that I trust him to keep his promise no matter what. That I'll always wait for him.
That I love him… I think.
It was a brief kiss and after I release him, Jin Woo stared at me surprisingly and my face turned scarlet. I backed away and was about to run into Jin Ah's room to hide when he blocked my path with an arm. Thinking of an escape, I turned around and his other arm took hold of my exit route.
Entrapped, I couldn't even look at him in the eyes so I shut my eyes and covered my face with both of my hands.
"Jeong Hui… what is…"
I told him that I didn't expect any response. That I just wanted to make him feel what I felt. That I-i… that I like him very much. Shyly, I breathe in his scent hoping it will give me courage.
He's too close.
"I know it is not yet love… but I really do care for you, Jin Woo. Not just a friend. I… I think I'm falling for you day by day and that…"
Taking my face into his hands, he smiled in wonder and told me that he feels the same. That he couldn't imagine life without me. That I am one of the reasons why he wanted to become the best. To be stronger than anyone. So that he can protect me and care for me and stay by my side. Forever.
My heart beats faster with all these words that I started to cry. Laughing quietly, he wiped away my tears and whispered softly. "I'm going to kiss you, Jeong Hui. Properly this time, okay?"
I reacted indignantly and told him that the kiss was supposed to be stolen. Eyes crinkling in amusement, he responded that I must take responsibility as it was his first kiss. Blush spread from my neck up to the tips of my ears as he cradled my cheek and tilted it to one side with his face closing in.
It was my first kiss too…
"I like you too, Jeong Hui. And I also think, that I'm falling in love with you… day by day."
My mind is wandering.
We did a lot of things the night before that made me blush just by recalling them. And even if I almost gave myself to him… even if Jin Woo wanted to claim me as well, he wants to do it right.
And that made me fall in love with him even more.
Yu Rah noticed and her eyes sparkle mischievously when she saw me commit a few mistakes that day. In turn, I may have reacted automatically and blush like a tomato. Avoiding her teasing gaze, I went on to continue my tasks. At random times, my mind goes to think of a certain hunter.
I still hope that he isn't doing anything foolish that may hurt himself. And despite the difficulties of those dungeons he now invades, he'll be able to accomplish his tasks and level up without any problems.
With a tired sigh, I went on my break. Dr. Kim did ask me to rest (perhaps he is worried that something might happen if I continue to loose my focus).
Sitting at our bench, I took out my phone. I did smile seeing Jin Woo's message and the accompanying photo he took earlier (I was nodding my head off so he leaned me against him and tucked me under his chin). Seriously, that guy is a menace.
"Miss Min Jeong Hui?" Startled, I almost drop my phone when a voice called my name. The voice happens to be sitting beside me. Jin Woo will probably click his tongue in worry if he knew how absentminded I was this day.
"Chairman Go? What are you…" Oh right, today is his check up. How silly of me to forget. I apologized and asked him to wait for me in the clinic when he asked me to sit by his side.
"Hunter Baek Yoon Ho went in earlier to inform me of what happened."
The President of the Korean Hunters Association Go Gun Hee, also known as The Chairman to all Hunters and civilians alike, reminded me of my circumstances and that I should never endanger myself in any way.
I know that and yet… "I am confident in Jin Woo's abilities to protect me if something is to happen." I answered back defiantly and the old man did frown in response. "I doubt he'll let me near any gates in the foreseeable future, so you don't need to worry, sir."
Sighing, Chairman Go patted my hands comfortingly and reminded me to keep my head down. That if the world knew that I can manipulate mana around me, generate it continuously from within and use it to awaken the latent ability of others, they'll target and use me for their own nefarious reasons. Even Hunter Sung Jin Woo.
I assured him that my hunter would never think of using me in any way since he already knew what I can do and yet he still treats me just the same.
Remembering our 'kiss', I might have flushed a little and the Chairman may have noticed it. Letting him make his own assumptions, I placed both of my hands inside my pockets and watch him along with Chief Woo Jin Chul as they left me on my own. He promised that he would make time and meet this friend of mine very soon.
I just hope that their encounter will turn out alright.
Jin Woo came back from the Demon Castle and showed me a parchment that contains the ingredients and how to craft the Holy Water of Life.
A very special potion that can cure any kind of illnesses.
Strangely enough, I was able to touch it now unlike before. Maybe because we have the same feelings for one another? Or was it related to what happened back in the Red Gate where I can understand the language of monsters. Pondering on these, he did not noticed where he placed the parchment because of his excitement. But Jin Woo's eyes… his entire demeanor is determined to achieve this specific task.
"I think it's time to stop pretending, Jeong Hui."
"Are you sure?"
With a soft smile he nodded and grabbed me closer as he kissed me on top of my head before taking me into his arms. I might have fainted a little seeing his body so up close (he just finished taking a shower and is naked from the waist up). I can smell the body wash he used. All of him and nothing more… but this is still too much. Clenching my hands together or I might regret something later, I breathe a little slower to calm my heart.
God! He smells so good.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
Taking the courage brought upon by my inner demon (it is her fault, not mine, okay?), I placed my hand on top of his heart as my other hand hesitantly stroke his bare back. His heart started beating a little faster due to my ministrations as both of his hands held me tighter, his breath heavier. I found myself almost straddling him as my blush deepens. Huh? When did I pushed him down on his bed…?
Shaking his head as if to clear his mind, he closes in and whispered. "Seems like I need to prepare myself if I am to ask for your brother's blessings. And your Yoon Ho-oppa as well…"
Chuckling at my dumbfounded reaction, his thumb ran over my lower lip and I automatically closed my eyes. He might have said something about officially courting me and whatnot but it went past my other ear as he started kissing me. Moaning into his mouth, he deepened our kiss and I clung to him even more.
W-what… what are we talking about again?
Getting a call from Jin Woo, he was told that he need to come back in three days.
"What's the delay?" Ignoring my brother's incessant nagging, I threw something at the man-child and slammed the door into his face. Hearing the commotion from my end, he laughed and said that he'll pick me up in a few minutes.
I might have panicked a little as I don't know what to wear.
It came down to the first dress I grabbed. It happens to be the same one Jin Ah gifted me in the past. The ash colored hooded knee-length dress Jin Woo complimented when I wore it the first time telling me that it matches the color of my eyes. Seeing my clothes and flustered expression, Byeong Go nodded sagely and asked me to bring protection.
Seeing Jin Woo again made me smile as he always brightens my day whenever. But then I suddenly remembered what my brother told me so I asked him what oppa's words could have meant.
Jin Woo choked on his spit and told me to ignore my brother's teasing. Though his face and neck as well as the tip of his ears are red as an apple. Must be a man thing if he was able to understand what my idiotic brother is talking about.
Proudly showing him the flower crystals I created for his mother, that once he succeeded in creating the potion, it will serve as an added decoration in their home and will allow me to monitor her condition from afar.
Tugging me close, he muttered that he doesn't deserve someone like me. That I'm too perfect for a lowly hunter like him.
Huffing, I patted his cheek and let him know that he isn't just a lowly hunter. So I dragged him to his mother's room as I wave in greetings to my co-workers (and cheekily to Yu Rah who is busy taking our photos from afar).
"They said that they need to use a specialized equipment to accurately measure my magic levels." He thinks that in his current condition - with all his hard work and all the changes - it still wasn't enough. With a sigh, I stand in front of him took his face within my hands. "Jeong Hui, what are you do-…?"
My eyes started glowing and I smiled at him, allowing me to touch his magical core.
The darkness that is within him is endless as the stars but for whatever reason, I am not scared of it. His shadow… and his light. I can feel his strength and his power. It was intoxicating.
My insolent fingers started to move on their own, caressing his soft skin as my gaze drops from his eyes… and then his lips. I bit my own in worry, hoping that my emotions aren't showing in my eyes and scare him in any way. Jin Woo does have this weird look in his gaze as his hands travel from my hips upwards, guided me to sit on his lap and tugs me closer.
I can clearly see his Adam's apple move. Fascinated, I swallowed down my own nervousness and dragged myself closer.
Before I can kiss him (or him kissing me) as we are just a breath away when a sudden knock interrupted our moment. With a sigh (and a bit of longing from my part for the wasted opportunity), I told him to stay still while I check who's on the door. Thinking of a way to get off Jin Woo (my legs feels like jelly), he effortlessly carried me in one hand and carefully placed me down. Before I can react, he captured my lips in a deep kiss and released me seconds later.
"I'll go and check." With a pause, his thumb ran over my lower lip and added huskily. He might've licked his lips and my eyes zoomed into it… perhaps he tasted my lip gloss? Oh no! He murmured and cupped my cheek. "Stay?"
I nodded shakily as if I'm drunk and my hunter smiled charmingly as he brushed away the wild strands that fell on my eyes.
I tried to collect myself and took deeps breaths to calm the fast beating of my heart. And then I heard Chief Woo Jin Chul's voice.
"May I speak to you in private?"
Jin Woo answered that no secrets are kept between us so whatever the Monitoring Division's business is, he can tell it out loud. But knowing the importance of this meeting, I told him to go ahead and that I'll wait here. Reluctantly, my hunter agrees.
It took a while and after rearranging Mrs. Park's mana crystals for the nth time, Jin Woo reentered the room. A look of contemplation on his face.
Sitting beside him, I leaned my head on his shoulder and took his hand. He automatically intertwined our fingers and it made me hum in contentment.
I'm certain that the Association made their offer (judging from the information the Chairman shared the night before). The reevaluation is just an excuse or so I've heard. So when he started talking, I listened.
As if expecting for a response, I sighed and traces the lines on his palm. "As much as I wanted to see you in the four corners of an office doing menial stuff (I cringe imagining that scene at the back of my mind), I already knew where you belong…"
Yes. I believe it is time to let go of my fears knowing that he… that Jin Woo is now capable of standing his ground against other S Rank Hunters.
Against the world.
It won't be long, but I'm positive that he'll become even stronger than everyone.
Kissing his knuckles, I told Jin Woo that I'll always believe in him. That no matter what happens, I know that he'll fulfill his promise to come home to us… to me.
With a nod, Jin Woo smiled and took me into his arms. "You're right. No matter what happens… I'll always keep my promise, Jeong Hui. Especially to you…"
"A miner?" With a jerk of his head, Jin Woo showed me the ad he's looking at. His name and license number already listed for a temporary mining job.
For formalities sake, he needs to wait two more days before he can be reevaluated even if I already confirmed his current level. My hunter is an S Rank. Possibly much higher than that. Along with his raids inside special dungeons provided by the so-called System, Jin Woo's level will continue to rise up even more.
Nodding, he said that he want to see how a large guild works and everything in between. Perhaps he wanted to see if it is something doable once he acquired his new license. The kid (er young man) is also included in his plans as we (him most especially) grew fond of Yoo Jin Ho.
I might have volunteered to be the third member of his new guild but he shook his head (still remembering what happened back in the Red Gate) and stated that I am an honorary member. The same position I held in Yoon Ho-oppa's guild. Clucking my tongue in annoyance, he ruffles my hair and kissed my cheek before preparing for his part-time job that night. I did averted my eyes when he took off his shirt. This guy already lost all inhibitions. Maybe because he grew awfully confident in his body. I really need to control myself or else. Ugh!
Looking back at the wanted posting, I frowned seeing the name of the guild. I just hope nothing weird happens during his stint there.
I might have said the jinx word a bit too soon when I saw Jin Woo with Chief Woo Jin Chul at the lobby the next day.
"Something happened?" I asked flatly and Jin Woo had this unrepentant look in his eyes. The Monitoring Division Chief have expertly hid his surprise seeing me at my hunter's apartment and explained what occurred earlier.
With Jin Ah in her room, I sat quietly beside him and waited for Jin Woo to start retelling the events that took place earlier.
New shadow soldiers added to his ever growing collection and a group of hunters spared from untimely deaths. I did ask him if I need to send an apology to the Hunters' Guild Master for his intrusion but Jin Woo vehemently opposed to my idea. Besides, it was the raid's team leader who requested for his help and aside from taking the shadows of his opponents, he never even took the magic crystals.
"I'm not letting that man near you, Jeong Hui." Huh? "Your brother told me what that guy did. So not a chance…"
Oppa said what?! Choi Jong In did what now?! And since when did these two started talking to one another?
Suspiciously eyeing him, I texted my brother without taking my eyes off Jin Woo. Laughing quietly in response, he took my phone away and dragged me into his bed, pinning me down with both of my hands beside my head. Mumbling something I cannot hear. I gasped In shock when I felt his lips on my forehead and then his hands on my neck with his fingers caressing my earlobe. He's distracting me and somewhat succeeding. Ugh! He's really annoying.
"That tickles! Get off!"
Seeing all the reporters in front of the Korean Hunters Association, I wonder what kind of commotion this day may bring. I knew how Jin Woo hated attention. And from what Chief Woo Jin Chul told me, the Association President prevented everyone from accessing my hunter's personal information (and in extension my very own profile) so this is probably connected to another big shot hunter.
Seeing the parked van from afar, I sent it a venomous glare and tugged Jin Woo's hand to capture his attention. "Let's use the back door, it's too crowded here…"
The front door is just a few steps away so he decided to push our way through. I mentally apologized to the people he bulldozed along the way. However we were stopped by a bald man wearing a business suit telling us that we are not welcome there. Pushing us back, I may have lost my footing and almost fell while Jin Woo didn't budge an inch. Thankfully he was quick enough to catch me. He growled menacingly towards the other man who paled considerably and took a few steps back. Diffusing the situation, I feinted an injury and my hunter's attention diverted towards me. Crisis averted. Whew!
Then I saw this idol what's-his-name-again scowl at us and ordered baldy to remove us from his 'stage' as he was about to start his press conference. Huh?
After Chairman Go Gun Hee's rescue, we were led inside the evaluation room. Not surprised to see Yoon Ho-oppa and Choi Jong In, my eyes may have popped out a little seeing my older brother waving cheekily at us. Glaring at him, Byeong Go's eyes crinkled in amusement and approaches Jin Woo. They didn't exchange any words but one could feel the tension between them.
And then they started Jin Woo's reevaluation. Still showing the same result even with the upgraded measuring device. Every association employees' jaws (even my brother and oppa while Jong In is as composed as ever) dropped to the floor when Jin Woo showed a few of his summons (an assortment of his shadow soldiers and the tall one with the red plume on its 'his' helmet which he introduced to me the other day). Noticing me, Igrit approaches (much to their surprise including my hunter) and kneeled in front of me. The others reacted when the shadow soldier (Igrit looks more of knight than a soldier) took something behind him.
With Yoon Ho-oppa's partial transformation and Jong In's hand cover with flames, I told them to stand down. To my defense, oppa added that no ill intent is felt from the summon since Jin Woo will immediately react if in case his soldier will act maliciously against me though he expertly hid his surprise seeing Igrit's reaction and the weapon he is now offering to me.
It is a very beautiful dagger with intricate designs especially on the handle with a black and reddish gem on the hilt.
My brother's hand shook a little betraying the comment he stated earlier (I will definitely apologize to him later) and looks curiously at the weapon in my hands.
While discussing Jin Woo's class, they couldn't decide whether he's going to be a Mage or a Fighter (thinking of closs-range with his previous skill set as an E Rank). I can remember their awe seeing him pulverize the ground with just a tap of his finger. Then there's the Assassin class (although for this one, both of us decided to hide this specific skill from everyone just to be safe). I suggested making a new class exclusive to my hunter since he cannot be labeled that easily.
The Association President agrees while laughing out loud and with that said, Sung Jin Woo, former E Rank, is now Korea's 10th S Rank Hunter.
His license may only showed one title 'Mage' but I knew he is more than just a summoner as he is very proficient in close and long range combat.
Because of the announcement, Jin Woo's face is all over the news. An instant celebrity ever since Hunter Cha Hae In's debut two years ago. And because of what he did (escaping the reporters with me in his arms - he did made sure that my face is hidden), many thinks that he's a snob. Jin Ah's furious and wanted to respond snarkily to her brother's critics but I told her not to as the matter will only get worse.
I'm not even able to visit because reporters are loitering in front of their apartment building.
We only got to see each other at the hospital or whenever he escapes using a different 'method'. For some reason, the shadows surrounding me seems to move on its own. I did ask him if he put one of his soldiers in my shadow and weirdly enough, he cannot do so (even if he wanted to) which is why he ordered one of his shadows to follow me whenever.
And for whatever reason, Jin Woo and my brother had an unspoken agreement concerning me. So whenever we got to some time together (thankfully alone), he distracts me with soft kisses and warm hugs. When Jin Woo learned that showing off his body made me lose my focus, he uses it to his advantage.
So after several discussions, their guild is now a work in progress.
Jin Ho accepted my hunter's offer to become our new guild's vice master. Because of that, he was kicked out by his father. I offered my home since I got my brother with me but Jin Woo rejected the idea and instead invited him to their apartment while Jin Ah will be staying with me. Thankfully, the kid's mother came in to his rescue and help relocate the kid.
"What about 'Solo Player'?"
The two are discussing potential names for their guild. I sighed in defeat when most of the names are either too fancy (Jin Ho's) or too egoistic (Jin Woo's).
Letting Jin Ah know her brother's shenanigans, she jokingly suggested a combination of her name - Ah Jin. Ah (我) means 'myself' while Jin (進) means 'moving forward'. Combining them together will mean 'I shall progress forward'.
Hugging the girl to myself, she laughs in delight and returns my embrace. Jin Woo joined in minutes later and we tangled up with one another in bouts of laughter and limbs.
Hastily, the girl screeches in glee and escaped. Sticking out her tongue at us, Jin Ah ran inside her room.
"That went well…" Jin Woo commented happily and tugged me closer. In response, his sister upped the volume of her radio drowning out our laughter.
"I can't believe you… seriously?" Instead of answering, he laid me over him and gave me a kiss on my eyebrow and then my nose until he reaches the corner of my lips. Sitting upright, we may have make out a little (still mindful of his little sister). As if hearing something I cannot, Jin Woo sniggers again and released me albeit hesitantly.
"Let me take you home. Your brother might come barging right thru our door and break it. Again." That specific event is something to reminisce albeit irritatingly because my brother went a little crazy that day when he misheard what I said about sleeping in Jin Woo's place and broke the Sung's apartment door as if he's going into war.
Disappointment lit my eyes but I nodded in acquiescence and pushed him back playfully. With a smile, Jin Woo held me tight before he stood up bringing me along as he set me on my feet.
"Yeah, home…" I mumbled and clung unto him for a bit then release myself from his arms as we make our way out. I might have freaked out a little when Jin Ah suddenly opened her door and told me that I'm always welcome to stay for the night (or any other nights moving forward). That she really doesn't mind me sleeping over since her brother already told her about his intent. Surprised, I look at Jin Woo who shrugged his shoulders dismissively while blushing slightly.
That day, he will return to the Demon Castle to look for the last ingredient he needed to craft the Holy Water of Life. Wishing him luck, he did promise to return as soon as possible.
Jin Ho is waiting at the van and promised to take me to my next destination.
Before he used his key, my hunter stopped on his tracks and walked back to where I was standing. His hoodie is up which protects his face from prying eyes (though our location is partly hidden which is moot at this point). Staring at him curiously, he smiled and then I felt his hand on my cheek with his lips pressed softly on my own.
When the need to breathe made its presence known, he releases me with a sigh. "I'm missing you already." I would have told him not to go but I knew how important this 'trip' is.
"Same here." With a smile, I cradled his face and tapped the corner of his sinful lips.
"Please be safe, okay?" Rolling his eyes at me, Jin Woo hugged me one more time before taking out the key to the dungeon and disappears in a blink of an eye.
Dr. Kim Choi sent me to the Association as per the Chairman's request. The old man probably have questions about Jin Woo's whereabouts.
The kid become my instant chauffeur whenever I decided to go somewhere (that must be the reason why Jin Woo asked for my permission to give my number to Ahjin's Vice Master). When I told him not to, Jin Ho said that it was a promise he made to his hyung. Giving up, I did reminded the kid that he has a lot of things to do especially in setting up their office and to look for employees. With a determined look, the young man insisted that it wasn't a burden. He may have also added that he enjoyed spending time with me as I reminded him of his big sister. With a sigh, I relented and ruffled his hair affectionately.
Upon entering the KHA premises, I felt two powerful magic signatures. Comparing it to my Jin Woo, they paled in leaps and bounds. Not to be cocky about it, he might as well be the world's… no the entire universe's most powerful hunter. Perhaps to me since I am very biased. But that's the way it is especially if he continues to level up courtesy of the System.
"Miss Min, the Chairman is expecting you at his office." Chief Jin Chul accompanied me and made a brief conversation about my day. Somewhere along, he may have asked about Jin Woo. I giggled amusingly in response and the man flustered sheepishly in return.
Before I can respond, one of the strong presence I felt earlier (it was a National Level Hunter from the U.S.) came out from the Chairman's office and saw me standing outside. Staring at me curiously, the Chief of the Monitoring Division stood in front of me as if to shield me from the large man's gaze. Not that it helped. Raising one brow towards our direction, the hunter huffs in response and mutter something under his breath before turning around.
President Go Gun Hee reveals that their visitor is here for Hunter Sung Jin Woo and to request for his own hunter's denial in entering the country. However if Hunter Hwang Dong Soo still attempts to enter, no one in the Association can do a thing.
That buffoon is no longer of consequence even if his Guild Master made the request. I am also certain that my hunter is going to be fine if they face one another now… though there is a chance that the idiot will play dirty.
"Assuming that this isn't the reason why you called me here, may I know why another hunter from Japan came to visit?" The President gave a weary sigh and because he looked so tired, I decided not to be petty. He told me about my brother's mission and Japan's proposition.
I stilled when I heard what the other country wants so I requested if I can be included in their meeting. Japanese happens to be my secondary language. For that, he gave me a thankful gaze and ask Chief Woo to lead the way.
Same as always, when strong hunters see me, I knew that they can sense something different.
Just like my oppa and Jin Woo, I am also an Awakened.
I'm not a fighter since I am too weak for combat nor am I a support type since I tire too easily when using my abilities.
Despite my ability to manipulate the surrounding mana and generate it continuously from within, using it for longer periods of time drain me physically. It already caused my hair to change its natural color. It used to be dark as a raven, just like my brothers… but now I look like an old woman because it turned greyish. Jin Woo corrected me that my new hair color is silver (not white) and that it matches my eyes.
At one time, just before I met Jin Woo, I was asked to awaken the latent ability of several others. Before he became in charge of the Monitoring Division, Woo Jin Chul was a trusted employee of the Association. And when I saw him that day, I can sense the magic within so I asked my brother and the Association President if I can 'wake' him up too.
It took a toll and I learned that I was unconscious for three whole days. After I regaining my consciousness, I might have panicked as my patients needed me. And there, Jin Woo saw me for the first time in his mother's room. Surprised as he was finally able to see the person helping his mother, the young man exclaimed and thanked me repeatedly.
So when Goto Ryuji saw me, he couldn't stop looking at me and if it wasn't for the Chairman and Chief Woo, the Japanese would have attempted to approach me.
Not that I dislike others knowing me… but they'll eventually knew that I'm different. Aside from the fact that Jin Woo is the only other person I allow to hold me aside from my brother (which is already given), those who have awakened will feel something 'off' once they touch my skin.
"Mr. Goto?" The Japanese interpreter called for his attention and the meeting went without a hitch despite the uncomfortable feeling of being watched.
I did sense that something is amiss which I told Chief Woo and the Chairman. As it is, I asked them to be careful in dealing with their Japanese counterparts.
"Thank you for your hard work today, Miss Min." Responding with a smile to Dr. Kim's appreciation, I bowed before waving in farewell.
And as my usual routine, I passed by Mrs. Park's room. Checking her vitals and ensuring that her life support apparatus is working perfectly while taking note of the mana stones magic output. A shadow appeared from the window that opened suddenly and I dropped the medical chart in surprise.
"Jin Woo? How did…? Ah, never mind…" I did tried to calm myself but the fast beating of my heart took a while before settling down. Seeing his flustered expression, I sensed that this isn't just an untimely visit.
"I did it, Jeong Hui, a medicine that can cure mom's disease…" Showing me a bottle of a reddish liquid that looks like a high-grade potion from the System's store, he immediately approaches his mother. Without even questioning when he crafted the said potion (he might have just cleared the Demon Castle), I help raise his mother's head. Jin Woo stilled seeing the scars behind Mrs. Park's neck. I happen to recall the story behind it so I quietly called his attention. Despite that, the hand holding the potion is shaking.
"It's going to be alright…" Encouraging Jin Woo, he took a deep breath and poured the liquid into his mother's mouth up until the last drop. Immediately, I noticed the changes that occur because of the potion (and the surrounding mana that fixes her body). Seeing the color of life return to Mrs. Park's skin and her lungs that used to need the support of an oxygen mask to breathe can now do so on its own.
"Jin Woo, it's wo-.…" Seeing his crestfallen reaction, he might have tought that the medicine didn't help cure his mother's condition. But it really did. I was about to tell him when his mother opened her eyes for the first time in four years and saw me with her son. With a soft smile, she put a finger on her lips and carefully sat upright.
Taking the hint, I slowly backed away and gently placed a hand over his shoulders.
"Is that… you, Jin Woo?"
Patting his shoulders, I saw his eyes that turned big as a saucer while gazing emotionally towards his mom. With a slight chuckle, I left the room and places the chart near the door after writing one final recommendation that Mrs. Park can now be discharged.
Quietly closing the door, I wiped away my tears. For once, I'm thankful that the System is there for Jin Woo. To provide him everything he needs to accomplish his goals.
To become the man he is destined to be.
And then I heard something I never thought I would hear in this lifetime. Jin Woo's explanation about how the system notifies him suddenly makes sense.
You have completed the necessary requirements to acquire a very special reward: "Rebirth".
This reward allows you to unlock your past memories and regain full access to your powers without any after effects.
Failure to accept this reward may cause the death of the new Shadow Monarch and the complete annihilation of this world.
Do you accept?
A floating holographic message pops up right in front of me.
Past memories? My full powers? Annihilation of the what now? W-what the?!
Part One is technically finished but I decided to post them in three chapters. Maybe I wanted to test the waters first? So sorry about that :(
I failed to notice my notes about the honorifics. How younger Koreans of the opposite sex calls their older brothers (and sisters) including friends of another gender very differently from one another. So yeah. So sorry about that.
Cross-posted in Fanfiction dot net. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Does your system messages looks like a projection of an alert-like hologram similar to that superhero movie we watched the other night?" Jin Woo added a more thorough description and drew a similar image on a piece of paper. Humming curiously to myself, the similarities are uncanny and he asked why I suddenly took interest on the system's prompts.
I'm not sure if I need to tell him about my very own rewards message and if it will cause him to question the system itself. Possibly angering it. So I made an excuse and told him a somewhat pitiful story. He didn't believe it at first but Jin Woo never asked any additional inquiries but his gaze became analytical to an extent.
As what I already knew and from my brother's smug expression whenever I tried to lie, I'm very bad at it. Thankfully my hunter's attention was diverted when I made an inquiry about something else.
Arriving in the Korean Hunters Association building, Jin Woo went up to see the Chairman. I recalled what my brother told me during breakfast and went to the gymnasium to check on Hae In and Yoon Ho-oppa. I promised to wait for him near the entrance.
Ah. Yoon Ho-oppa seems to be having fun while the Japanese Hunters are standing on one corner. Goto Ryuji once again saw me and was about to approach me when an arm protectively tugged me within an embrace. Claiming me.
I felt a sense of relief and smiled in response to Jin Woo's 'possession' while the Chairman is curiously observing our interaction. "Sorry if I didn't went up to see you, Chairman Go. My brother told me about the practice so I rushed over here as soon as we arrived…" Waving my concerns off, Go Gun Hee patted my head like I was a child and smiled congenially. Jin Woo remained glued to my side as if fending off unwanted attention. I pinched him to calm the growl that started to emanate from his chest. Not that it helped.
When the two groups started playing tag, Jin Woo intervened when one of the Japanese Hunters started to go berserk after Hae In's attack. It then escalated to a one-on-one match against my hunter and Japan's Goto Ryuji. The gymnasium suffered considerable damages.
After Jin Woo's attempt to rile the Japanese hunter up, Yoon Ho-oppa and Hae In feared for the worst and stopped my hunter's own attack with a bit of difficulty while Mr. Goto was held by three of his hunters.
I approached quickly and took his hand after the two releases their hold. I can sense the relief in Jin Woo's eyes when I touched him. I prompted his special buff ability to take immediate effect to heal the graze on his cheek. Making a quick eye contact to my other two favorite hunters, I dragged him away after giving the Chairman a hasty excuse while ignoring the rest. I can still feel the foreign hunter's scrutinizing eyes behind my back.
"I'm sorry to be a bother… but can I stay here temporarily?" Surprised to see me that morning, Jin Woo led me inside their home without any questions. "My brother is being an idiot."
Mrs. Park gave me an understanding smile and asked Jin Ah to clean up her room for my stay. I volunteered just the same despite the teen's objections whispering to me that it's all for show knowing that her oppa will probably bring me into his room later that night. Blushing, I told her that we won't be doing anything of that sort since their mother is already here.
Laughing at my baffled expression, Jin Ah also added that I can call Mrs. Park 'mom' now that Jin Woo and I are going steady.
The atmosphere was solemn after I told Jin Woo what happened. How my brother decided to go and participate in the Jeju Island subjugation. He knew that I will never blame him for his decision not to take part (as that is what I would want myself) but my oppa is another matter.
Byeong Go and I had a fight because of it when I tried to stop him from going but he was very persistent. I can still see the fear in his eyes. He said that he wanted to protect me too which is why he needs to go. And that he couldn't let his Yoon Ho-hyung and Hae In on their own without a healer. That his participation is going make a difference.
So when it started, I was trembling non-stop and Jin Woo held my body close to comfort me. To give me strength.
After their new enemy appeared, swatted Hae In like a fly, toyed with everyone and went straight for my brother, I mentally shrieked at him to evade and move his sorry ass somewhere else or he's going to be killed.
I can even feel Yoon Ho-oppa's terror from where I am.
In doing so, I may have used a considerable amount of mana for my voice to reach him causing me to cough out blood. Jin Ah shouted out alarmingly while Mrs. Park gently cradled my hunched form. I saw Jin Woo freeze from my peripheral. But before I can beg for his help, he disappeared without his family noticing.
And I think I knew where he went.
When the live broadcast resumed (they were still able to show how my brother's arm was bitten before they cut it off… damn them!) I immediately saw various creatures decked in black armors and flame-like smoke. Jin Woo's Shadow Soldiers began their assault and the rest of the hunters are led to a safe corner with Yoon Ho-oppa's quick maneuvering.
Byeong Go looks pale because of the blood loss but otherwise alive (thank God) when the voices started to clear out and we finally heard what they're talking about.
It was then Jin Woo answered my brother's inquiry why he was there and my tears started to fall as the whole of Korea (and quite possibly the whole world) learned about our relationship.
"If something happens to you," Jin Woo also turned to look at every hunter upon that claim as if including them in his statement. "My Jeong Hui will lost her smile. And I don't want to see her sad… so… I will do everything in my power to make sure she stays happy… always."
Hearing those words, I fell on my knees and cry. Mrs. Park motioned for Jin Ah to get a glass of water from the kitchen and she led me back to the sofa while holding me tight.
"Everything is going to be alright, hush now…"
It was as if she's giving us her blessings. Within her arms, I suddenly recall the time my own mother held me in hers.
My emotions… chaotic.
It was late that night when I received a call from my brother. That they arrived back safely with Yoon Ho-oppa while Hunter Cha Hae In is now out of danger. I may have reacted badly because of his nonsensical tone but he laughs out in response to my nagging. He promised to see me tomorrow so he asked me to stay for a while longer at Jin Woo's place for the meantime. Not that he have given us his blessings. Not yet official anyway as he insisted repeatedly.
Seems like he wanted to say something else so I assured him that everything is going to be fine and that I'll see him tomorrow. Our prior disagreement… forgotten.
I then felt Jin Woo behind me and I couldn't stop myself from lunging towards him. Tears started to fall as I held him tight. Burrowing myself into his arms while I mutter how thankful I am for his help… that because of him, my brother is alive and safe. That Byeong Go will continue to be an annoyance and that he will probably never give us his blessings.
Laughing when he heard my complaints, Jin Woo added that I shouldn't thank him because he is also worried for my brother… or rather everyone from the Korean Raid Team and it is somewhat his responsibility knowing that he can do something about it.
The bruise from that ant's punch is already fading yet I couldn't stop myself from touching his face.
"Jeong Hui…" He asked me to stop knowing that I haven't fully recovered yet. But I told him that it's alright. Now that the dangers are past, we shouldn't have to think about my condition.
I fell asleep in his arms while he held me tight.
Though it wasn't a dreamless sleep as I first thought and Jin Woo took me further within his embrace as I cried silently. He then showed me my brother from one of his soldier's eyes. His arm is fully regenerated and that he's sleeping soundly for the first time in all the Jeju Island raids he participated in. Perhaps it's because Hae In is sleeping a few beds away? Yoon Ho-oppa is still awake while reading a book and Choi Jong In is talking with Hunter Mah Dong Wook. Hunter Lim Tae Gyu arrived minutes later with a tray of refreshments.
"We can go there now if you like?"
Shaking my head, I knew that I'll see my brother tomorrow. So I told him that it's fine.
"Will this be okay?" I gestured our current position. I'm currently wearing his old shirt and Jin Ah's pajama bottom. "Your mother might say something…"
Chuckling quietly, he tucked me under his bedcover and observes my flushed reaction after he kissed me on my forehead with a palm cradling his head. "Mom adores you… and Jin Ah may have already ratted me out. She said that I am too slow for someone of my caliber and that I should do things right as she wanted to make everything official for the two of us."
Questioning him for that statement, Jin Woo kissed me softly in the corner of my lips and hummed in contentment. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. For now, sleep…"
His presence did help especially when he placed me over him and led me where I can hear his heartbeat. It gave me a sense of comfort. A sense of security. That we're still okay and together.
I'm not going anywhere…
I know… because of that, I love you more.
As I love you… always and forever…
A few days after the successful subjugation, a memorial was held for all those that lost their lives in the Jeju Island dungeon break.
Many came and it was televised around the world.
When it was our turn to make an offering, I heard whispers behind our back. Despite what Jin Woo did, many criticized him. If only he participated early on, the Japanese wouldn't have lost many of her hunters including Goto Ryuji.
Most say that what my hunter did wasn't enough.
Glaring at these people, I let them feel my displeasure by making the surrounding mana feel heavy.
Jin Woo squeezes my hand and shook his head. He admitted that everything was partly his fault so he wouldn't take it against these people. And that my opinion is all that matters and no one else's. So their words didn't bother him at all.
After the ceremony, Chairman Go Gun Hee talked to Jin Woo so I walked away in a respectable distance to give them privacy. I also noticed someone that doesn't seem to belong. As their intent isn't malicious, perhaps they are visitors who are related to one of the victims. Or a member of the foreign press.
On our way home, it was then we were approached by the same man (an American named Adam White) who invited my hunter for a brief talk.
Norma Selner couldn't believe her eyes upon gazing on their target's companion.
A young woman whose abilities surpasses her own.
And yet because of her duties, she couldn't deny the need to entice this young man to their side. Of what they can offer and more.
Perhaps along with him, this woman will come as well.
But Sung Jin Woo terrified her when she looked into his eyes. She discovered that the said hunter has no limits thus what they can offer is of no use. Because… he is already a King.
Michael Connor is astounded especially when she informed him about what happened when she failed to tempt him.
And then there's the woman.
"Are you certain?"
She nodded and told him about the information she acquired from an old acquaintance of hers about Min Jeong Hui and how their Korean counterparts are proactively protecting her existence.
"We have to tell the Director…"
Jin Woo was quiet but he couldn't stop looking at me. Thankfully, the traffic gave him the opportunity to do so and I don't think it would be a problem even if it wasn't.
"I don't think they knew. But the woman… I think she felt it. What I am…" I sighed and played with my fingers while busying myself with the scenery. He took my hand and kissed the insides of my wrist. With a determined look, he promised that he won't let anyone touch me. Not even a single strand of my hair.
Looking at it from the mirror, I see silvery strands starting to show themselves. Seems like the hair dye is no longer working.
"You also don't need to hide anymore, Jeong Hui." Surprise etching my features, he saw right thru me. How I dislike the precautions imposed on me to hide my powers from the world. "I'll always protect you." I grinned in response and joked that in doing so, it will prevent him from going to the United States and accepting their offer.
His eyes glinted playfully and answered indulgently. "America doesn't have you… so I'm not interested at all." He did pause and added that he's just curious about the woman, the Upgrader. And that he would rather go to the System's instant dungeons, penalty zones and local raids than leave Korea for something that is already attainable and who they cannot offer - me.
"Perhaps I worry over nothing." He smiled and dragged me closer and put his arms around me. I leaned back and sighed contently while our fingers intertwined placing it on top of my chest as he affectionately nuzzled the top of my head.
The traffic itself doesn't seem troublesome for whatever reason as we enjoyed each other's company. It was then Chairman Go Gun Hee called and told us about an A Rank gate that suddenly appeared in the middle of the skyway.
Ah. The cause of the traffic.
I asked if it will be alright for Jin Woo to close the gate on his own, the old man laughed and assured us that its fine. As one of his conditions (I glared sharply at him and he responded with a sly smirk), the Association will do what they can to help Hunter Sung Jin Woo establish his new guild without any problems. It will also be a test run for Ahjin Guild and its Guild Master.
Arriving at the location of the gate (we strolled as if we are walking at a park during our usual setup whenever he took on his daily quests), it is as huge as the Red Gate from before. The Association employee won't even let Jin Woo thru so he called the Chairman to verify our claim.
And before I can sneak into the gate, he stopped me with a disapproving look.
"I won't take long. So stay here, okay?"
Pouting, I gave him a look that my brother or even Yoon Ho-oppa cannot resist. But he safely diverted his eyes away and gently tapped my nose with a finger. Jin Woo suddenly had this look. A sure way plan to stop me from my attempt to follow him inside the gate, so he approach me quietly and then took my face in both hands and then he kissed me in front of everyone (some may have taken a photo or two… not that I noticed but Jin Woo certainly did). With a wink, he gave me a tight hug and went thru the gate. And as his infamous luck would have called it, the A Rank gate turned into a red one.
"Miss Min? Will Hunter Sung be fine on his own?" The Association employee asks nervously as we both gaze on the gate in front of us who politely ignored the public display of affection Jin Woo showed to everyone (I can even see the questions in her eyes). For that I am thankful. She also wanted to know if she needs to call for backup.
I sighed and patted her shoulders reassuringly and went to sit on one of the barricades littering in the area.
I'm sure he'll be fine.
I did not notice it earlier but people started to show up beyond the restricted tapes thinking that they are here for a closer look at the Red Gate.
But then I received a text from Hae In while Yoon Ho-oppa called and asked me what is going on between me and Jin Woo. Seems like what he did minutes ago has already been uploaded somewhere and viewed a hundred thousand times and counting. Huh?
It was then Byeong Go's shrill voice rang out loud and furious after taking the phone from oppa who reacted outrageously from the background.
"Min Jeong Hui! Your face is on social media! What the hell?! Just because he saved my life doesn't mean I gave him the permission to kiss you in public! That son of the b-…!"
I abruptly ended the call while blushing profusely.
All I want to do at that time is wish for the ground to swallow me whole. The Association employee watches sympathetically from the sidelines while ignoring her own phone that continues to receive incoming calls one after the other.
Oh Jin Woo… did you plan it all along? What are we going to do now?
Her brother might skin her hunter alive. And Yoon Ho-oppa will probably help him including Choi Jong In. Oh dear.
This concludes season one. Yay!
Hopefully y’all enjoyed this current obsession of mine.
And please have mercy with the reviews (or lack thereof)… lol! Kudos is also accepted! As it is, thank you for giving this story of mine a look while I have those other stories I needed to focus on but continuously being ignored because of Jin Woo… *sigh*
Also, the artist behind the manwha has passed… may God rest his soul. Thus I am re-reading the novel again for the nth time in remembrance (and inspiration)!
/Me watching random anime on T.V. when my eyes caught this blue haired skater boy slash snowboarder with a red haired bestie… whoa!/