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The Art of Solo Leveling

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo slowly trudged along the busy streets of Seoul. He listlessly went about the practiced motion of walking as he thought.

 

‘The tunnel that connects another dimension to our world’

‘ “The Gate” ‘

‘And the residence of Monsters, the “Dungeon” ‘

 

Sung Jin-Woo stopped in his tracks as he felt the Mana waft from the intersection to his right. The old earphones not blocking the sound of the quiet mutters and groans from the pedestrians gathered there.

 

“Huh?”

“A Dungeon?”

“The Dungeon’s open”

“Looks like the Hunters will come”

 

‘Those who hunt Monsters are called “Hunters” ‘

 

Sung Jin-Woo shook his head at the blaze attitude of the Non-Hunters before he hurriedly made his way through the sea of people.

His eyes glazed as he recalled the unimaginable sights and fights that he saw on a frequent basis. It was something out of fantasy novels and fiction. It was something that was far removed from reality just a decade ago. But now it was not just the stuff of legends it was the new reality.

 

‘My name is Sung Jin-Woo. A Hunter.’

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the bittersweet feeling the thought evoked. His mind wandered to his eternally slumbering mother his eyes blazed with determination as his resolve grew firmer.

 

“Let’s try our best today!”

‘But I am a Hunter that struggles in even the most basic Dungeons, an E-Rank Hunter.’

 

Sung Jin-Woo recalled the many times he had gotten hurt, more often than not grievously, when others in his Party didn’t so much as have a scratch on them. He was really fortunate to have Miss Ju-Hee in most of the Raids he participated in. He felt the flush of embarrassment surge through him at how frequently he had to be healed by her, much to her displeasure.

 

“You’re hurt again?”

 

The soothing effect of healing magic doing wonders to his beaten and bruised body.

 

‘World’s Weakest Hunter’

 

‘If I want to pay my mother’s medical bills’

 

‘I can’t quit…’

 

Sung Jin-Woo told himself that every time he got his hard-earned Magical Core, more than one if he was lucky.

He never thought he would be part of such a peculiar and terrifying situation that would change him and his life in ways he wouldn’t have been able to conjure in his wildest dreams.

 

‘However, the hardest Dungeon that had been hidden within a D-Rank Dungeon, the “Double Lair”. ‘

 

Sung Jin-Woo lay crumpled on the intricately carved altar, blood flowing from every orifice. His scrawny frame trembling from the exertion and pain as he held up the sword of Mr. Kim Sang-Shik.

 

‘Traitor’

 

“Haah”

 

His vision was blurry as his right sclera turned crimson from his eyelid tearing and the internal bleeding. More blood dripped from his banged-up head, running from the bridge of his nose, down the slope and cheek like a river flowing through a valley.

 

“Haah”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was in such agony, unlike any he had felt during his unfortunate encounters in most Raids. He had been stabbed in the back by goblins, ones that even the lower end of E-Rank Hunters succeeded in fending off their attacks. He had once starved to death, left behind when the Dungeon he was in closed. He remembered the helplessness those agonizing memories left him in, the same helplessness that haunted him in half forgotten musings and sleep. He was uncomfortably acquainted with pain of various kinds, and even more so, with the concept of death. But by some impossible odds he always came out alive.

 

The torn off leg left him the "Weakest" Hunter even more helpless in the face of these unforgiving monsters, they were incomparable to any he had seen in the low rank Dungeons he frequented or the ones he read about in the Hunter forums. The pain was unbearable. He was a cripple he couldn’t even support his family any more. He was worth nothing in the world of hunters, and now less than that. He would be but a burden on his young and naive sister, who he raised as though she were his own child.

 

He remembered his mother lying still on the hospital bed. The Mana run life support machine was effectively her only lifeline still chaining her to this world. He wanted to believe his father would turn up one day smiling and more importantly alive and thus making living an easier burden to carry. He loved his parents but they were taken away from him, out of his reach in one way or another. His sister really, he was more concerned about that pure child. She had been too young when both of them disappeared from her life. He knew she loved them but he knew he was her father, her mother, her everything at this point in her life. She had no one other than him to call as family.

 

Blood steadily drained out of him, from the multiple lacerations and torn flesh and muscle. The beautiful intricate altar under him dyed red as his blood flowed out of his dismembered leg that was alarmingly turning numb.

 

“Goddammit”

 

‘In the end, I could not escape death’

 

The behemoth statues of the Knights with their towering spears, their menacing axes and swords approached him. He was going to die, he resigned himself to that fact. He felt the rage and overwhelming bitterness at the hand he was dealt overcome him. He stared at death, eyes burning with life, the only remarkable feature in his average face and stature. They were a dull grey most of the time but when he was cornered on the edge of death finally shedding the masks he wore, enough that, even he was unsure on how to be without them, they burned like the hottest of flames charming in their intensity.

 

The intimidating Kinghts neared him like the harbingers of death. He watched with stubborn eyes and gritted teeth reluctantly admiring the poise and grace of their stances and forms as they swung their colossal powerful weapons at the behest of their unholy God at him.

 

'The pain came then death welcomed me as I flited across the veil'

 

Beep~

 

Beep~

 

‘However, as I was fading away, I woke up in a hospital’

 

‘And’

 

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                                                                                       X    

                 

                       [YOUR DAILY QUEST HAS ARRIVED.]                    

                                WILL YOU ACCEPT?           

 

                     

         ********************************************************

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         ______________________________________________________

 

 

 

“What is this?”

 

 

            ______________________________________________________________________________________

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            *****************************************************************************************

                                                                                                                                         X 

                       

                          DAILY QUEST – GETTING READY TO BECOME POWERFUL AND WORTHY

                         

                           [INCOMPLETE] PUSH-UPS

                            -0/100

                           [INCOMPLETE] CURL-UPS

                            -0/100

                           [INCOMPLETE] SQUATS

                            -0/100

                           [INCOMPLETE] RUNNING 10KM

                            -0/10

                           ! WARNING – FAILING TO COMPLETE THIS DAILY QUEST WILL BRING A

                           PUNISHMENT ASSOCIATED WITH THIS QUEST.

                                    

 

         *******************************************************************************************

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          _______________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

After that day, I received a new Skill.

A Quest Window only I could see.

If I trained in accordance with my Quests and hunted Monsters, my Level would rise.

 

“Alright!”

 

“Let’s Go!”

 

“HAAAA!!!”

 

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                                                                 X                    

                               

                                [LEVEL UP]                             

                               

                                                     

              **************************************

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             _____________________________________

 

 

Changing from the Weakest Hunter to the Strongest S-Rank Hunter!

And also … well let’s just leave it at that.

Solo Levelling!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

‘My name is Sung Jin-Woo’

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s hand spasmed as his muscles pulled and twisted, the pain overriding his movement. He panted, the sound loud in the deathly silent room. Sung Jin-Woo was the only one left, body broken, his heart too he supposed.

 

“Haah”

 

He bit his tongue to swallow the scream building up in his throat as he moved his lead like hands slowly towards the sword of Mr. Kim Sang-Shik. Just thinking about that man had his already mounting rage to climb higher. His weak grip on the sword barely holding it caused it to almost slip through his blood-soaked fingers. Only the steely resolve of fighting until his bitter seemingly inevitable end fuelled him through the burning pain. He wanted to spit at the demonic God sitting regally on its throne of malice and evil. He wanted it to know it was not his God, he wanted it to realise the human sacrifice sitting atop this altar was a curse not an offering. He was going to die anyway. 

 

“Haah”

 

‘E-Rank Hunter’

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the hysteria of the events slowly settle in. He was the reason for the few that still lived. But he was abandoned, it is to be expected because he was...

 

‘The Hunter Guild’s...’

 

“Haah”

 

The tremors running through him making the already excruciating act of pointing it at the monstrous Knights of the unholy God approaching him to swiftly steal him of his life, unbearable.

 

“Haah”

 

‘...Lowest Rank and Weakest Hunter’

 

‘I never expected this to happen to me...’

 

‘Never’

 

His senses were slowly but surely fading into incoherence as the shock of his grievous injuries threatened to paralyse his body and override his sensibilities.

 

“Haah”

 

He gazed at the massive giants, the dull grey of his eyes growing duller still. But his eyes still burned, like the coldest of ice did, life still spilling from the otherwise unremarkable pair.

 

“Haah”

 

He felt his blood curdle as the immense pressure of the Monster’s presence slowly encroached on him. His primitive instincts going into overdrive, he gritted his teeth as a snarl made its way on his bloodied and bruised face.

 

“Goddammit...”

 

 

        ……………………………………………………

 

                                SEOUL,

                          SOUTH KOREA

 

        ………………………………………………………

 

 

E-Rank Hunter Sung Jin-Woo.

 

An average black-haired man who looked more like a boy, walked the busy streets of Seoul. He was average in every way. Average height. Average looks. Average built. A mob character who had absolutely no distinguishing feature or presence.

 

‘If you disregard my slightly abnormal strength and regeneration,’

 

The boy was wearing a worn-out hoodie and jeans with a backpack. The only odd thing about the boy’s appearance was the bandage and gauge on his face. It was something that gave him a stark reminder of his place.

 

‘It’s embarrassing to even call myself a Hunter’

 

He slouched further as he walked amongst normal civilians, head hanging low.

 

‘Of course, I’m always getting hurt and even had a lot of near-death experiences’

 

‘The job where your life’s on the line, the Hunter...’

 

His eternally asleep mother’s gaunt pale face flashed to the forefront of his mind as he approached his destination with dread.

 

‘I’m not doing this because I like it’

 

 

      ……………………………………………………………

 

                     A CONSTRUCTION SITE

                              IN SEOUL

 

       …………………………………………………………….

 

 

The stacks of concrete slabs and metal pipes lay haphazardly throughout the entire site. The cranes and another heavy-duty machinery flanking them. It was like any other construction site save for the odd glowing blue drifting through two unfinished structures. It was a swirling radiant looking portal that emitted sporadic bursts of concentrated Mana. It pulsed as if it was alive, looking unnatural and fantastical.

 

‘I barely pay my sick mother’s medical bills with what the Hunter’s Guild pays me’

 

‘For a normal person with no particular talent, I had no choice but to become a Hunter’

 

Kim Sang-Shik was not an old man but he was not young either. His face was etched with the lines, wrinkles and greying hair that age brought, though his body and stance was of strength and easy confidence. He leaned against the blue truck of the Hunter Association as he waited for his coffee.

 

“Here, Good luck on your Raid today”

 

Kim Sang-Shik gave a confident smirk at that.

 

“Thanks~ ”

 

“HEY ~ KIM!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik startled at the shout as his eyes automatically sought out the source of the call. He was surprised to see a familiar face here at a Raid. It was a chubby man younger than Kim Sang-Shik. His stout frame heavy around the torso. To a normal person he didn’t look like a man who worked out let alone hunt monsters. It was a well-established fact that Hunters were strong and that they came in all shapes and sizes. His brown curly hair and side burns making him look the slightest bit comical.

 

“It’s been a while”

 

“Wait, Bak! What are you doing here?”

 

The now identified Bak strode towards Kin Sang-Shik wearing a sheepish smile. He reached out his hand which was clasped by Kim Sang-Shik.

 

“Didn’t you leave because you didn’t want to become a Hunter?”

 

Bak’s expression grew wearier as he replied.

 

“Well, my wife is pregnant with our second son, Haha...”

 

Kim Sang-Shik’s smile became sympathetic at that understanding why someone who retired was back in the fray.

 

“True, there’s nothing like a Raid to earn a fortune”

 

“It’s not easy to live life...”

 

Bak closed his eyes in frustration as he heaved a drawn-out sigh.

 

“I’m worried... It’s been so long that I might fall behind”

 

Kim Sang-Shik hummed at the warmth as he sipped the piping hot coffee. It was a cold winter day, the coffee was wonderful the Hunter Association, if nothing else, made sure every Hunter was taken care of before a Raid. Kim Sang-Shik’s attention was drawn to the sudden exclamations from the other Hunters gathered. He felt relief flood through him as he realised just who had arrived.

 

“Yo~ Sung! You arrived!”

 

Bak continued looking abashed and worried,

 

“My skill was already bad, and it worsened after I took a break”

 

He heard the sudden buzz of excited chatter around him, turning to look at who was being greeted so enthusiastically.

 

“Sung, Thanks for coming”

 

“It’s cold out there, isn’t it? Good Job”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the condescending gazes of the Hunters gathered as he strode into the construction site where the Gate had opened. The warm words he knew were not well intentioned, he knew they were just relieved that the Gate would be that much more easier and safer if the world’s Weakest Hunter was called to a Raid. Sung Jin-Woo smiled and graciously accepted the mocking greetings, he knew better than to show his displeasure because once inside the Gate, a Hunter who was already able to get away with a slap on the wrist for things like murder will be able to get away scot free if the same were to happen inside a Gate. Afterall ‘accidents’ where common place in their line of work.

 

“HaHa, It’s nothing...”

 

“I’ll be in your hands today too”

 

Kim Sang-Shik grinned widely as he waved his hand towards Sung Jin-Woo, he knew Bak didn’t need to worry so much anymore, lady luck was on their side today. He enthusiastically greeted Sun Jin-Woo feeling a mix of derision and relief at his appearance.

 

“Yo, Sung!”

 

“Sung! You eat yet?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo smiled politely at Kim Sang-Shik and nodded.

 

“Yeah, Mr. Kim Sang-Shik. Thanks for worrying about me”

 

Bak, clueless as to the identity of the scrawny boy who didn’t look all that much, was surprised at the loud joyous greetings obviously pleased with the mystery boy’s appearance. He was a Hunter and knew better than to judge another Hunter without knowing all the details. It could get you killed after all. He stared at Sung Jin-Woo’s back as he walked away.  He pointed a finger at him questioning Kin Sang-Shik about Sung Jin-Woo.

 

“That man, is he a powerful Hunter? Everyone’s happy to see him!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik snickered at the irony of the statement, everyone knew Sung Jin-Woo and strong were worlds apart.

 

“HeHeHe...“

 

“You wouldn’t know since he came right after you quit”

 

He mockingly continued finding the situation even more hilarious,

 

“His nickname is...”

 

“The World’s Weakest”

 

Bak asked baffled,

 

“The World’s Weakest? Not the Strongest?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik grin grew wider as he replied.

 

“Bro, that’s what we call S-Rank Hunters. Sung is considered to be the Weakest”

 

Bak was still unconvinced at what Kim Sang-Shik was implying.

 

“Is he actually the Weakest?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik knew just how weak Sung Jin-Woo was first hand. He was stupefied on how the boy could get hurt so grievously in even the lowest of E-Rank Dungeons.

 

“Yeah, he’s probably the Weakest of us all”

 

“I mean, he’s weak enough to get hurt in an E-Rank Dungeon...”

 

Bak raised an eyebrow at that, scorn colouring his eyes as the information set in.

 

“He’s actually that weak?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik enlightened the significance of the presence of Sung Jin-Woo, who was dead weight, making up the Party gathered for this Raid. The Hunters tolerated his presence even feeling happiness at him being part of their Raid because of exactly what he was, the Weakest.

 

“So that means our Dungeon will be weak as well since he came”

 

Bak drily replied, assurance and confidence surging in him at the failsafe,

 

“Ah... I see”

 

Kim Sang-Shik chuckled and silenced Bak from commenting further.

 

“Hey, he might hear us. Let’s end it for now, Fu Fu...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo deadpanned at the comments he could hear clear as day. Sung Jin-Woo may be the Weakest Hunter but he was a Hunter nonetheless. His senses were sharper than normal people and also, he bragged in the privacy of his mind, his intuition was better than most of the Hunters he had encountered.

 

‘I’ve been hearing you, old geezers... Ha...’

 

Sung Jin-Woo slowly approached the truck stationed nearby. At least he could get some decent coffee for free. He politely requested the familiar server at the truck for just that.

 

“Hi, may I have a cup of coffee?”

 

The server frowned as he realised the coffee had run out. He replied flustered,

 

“Ah, Hunter Sung Jin-Woo. I’m sorry, all the coffee ran out just now...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo frowned and grimaced eyes dulling further. 

 

“...”

 

‘Not even coffee... feels bad, man'

 

The server genuinely felt bothered that the coffee was unavailable. He apologised again,

 

“Really sorry about this, Hunter Sung Jin-Woo”

 

Sung Jin-Woo dejectedly replied as a cloud of gloom enveloped his hunched figure.

 

“No... It’s fine”

 

Sung Jin-Woo almost toppled over at the force of the scream directed at him a moment later. He deadpanned at the words.

 

“AH! JIN-WOO! YOU’RE HURT AGAIN!!!!”

 

Ju-Hee panted as she ran towards Sung Jin-Woo, worry clear in her eyes. The cold making her breath visible. Ju-Hee was wearing the standard issue brown attire Healers preferred. Her long light brown hair fell to her waist neatly. Her dark blue eyes darkened further at her worry and exasperation at the sorry figure he made. Sung Jin-Woo shrugged at her question and blasely greeted.

 

“Oh, Hi! Looks like Miss Ju-Hee is also attending this Raid?”

 

Ju-Hee put her hands on her hips as she stared down Sun Jin-Woo. She huffed.

 

“Of course! But that’s not the problem! Why is your face hurt again!?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo nervously laughed it off,

 

“Dunno... It just happened while I was Hunting, HaHa...”

 

 “Really... What actually happened?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo and Ju-Hee decided to sit atop the stacked iron slabs as they waited for the Raid to begin. Ju-Hee frowned as she listened to Sung Jin-Woo explain what happened.

 

“You even went to a hospital?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo mumbled dejected as he recalled his unfortunate but expected encounters.

 

“Yeah...”

 

“We were in an E-Rank Dungeon and I was the only one hurt”

 

Ju-Hee gaped at him looking equal parts worried and gobsmacked.

 

“Huh? How could that happen...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo continued sadly,

 

“The others were all higher ranked so they didn’t even bring a healer”

 

Ju-Hee quietly voiced her disapproval,

 

“Even so, they really didn’t bring a healer just because they would be safe?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo gave a resigned smile at her concern. He was bitter about it but what could he do? Nothing.

 

“It’s okay. It’s only because I’m weak...”

 

“I’m used to it. Miss Ju-Hee also knows that, right?”

 

Ju-Hee expression turned despondent at the sight Sung Jin-Woo made. She could not find the words to lift his spirits.

 

“......”

 

Sung Jin-Woo shook himself out of his reverie. He stood up his eyes that were dull a moment ago were now bright, full of life. He urged Ju-Hee up so that they could make their way to the Party gathered infront of the ethereal luminous Gate.

 

“Well, looks like everyone’s getting ready to go into the Gate. Let’s go as well.”

 

Ju-Hee quietly voiced her agreement as she too stood up,

 

“Ok…”

 

Song Chi-Yul stood imposingly in front of the Gate. The clear difference in power between him and the rest gathered, of course except Ju-Hee, was acknowledged by everyone present. Though he was much more powerful than the D-Rank and E-Rank Hunters he still was an upright and model citizen. Song Chi-Yul raised his voice to gain everyone’s attention.

 

“EVERYONE!”

 

Song Chi-Yul had an easy smile on his face. He was an older man whose stance was disciplined from years of being a Sword Master. His copper brown hair was swept back from his wizened face full of laugh lines and wrinkles around his eyes. They were not too prominent but it was a testament to the man’s endurance and spirit even as he advanced in age.

 

“We’re off to go happy hunting so I’m not really qualified to say this, but…”

 

He confidently continued,

 

“I’d like to be the Party Leader for this Raid, is that alright with you people?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik gave a lopsided grin at the confident man before him.

 

“Mr. Song, you’re the highest ranked here! I’ve got no problems”

 

Bak similarly gave a wide grin at the steady presence of a Hunter of Song Chi-Yul’s calibre leading the way easing his nerves.

 

“Well, if it’s Mr. Song, we can trust him. It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed his skills”

 

The rest of the Hunters gathered took that as cue as they voiced their wholehearted agreement.

 

“Yeah, I agree as well”

 

“Yeah, count me in”

 

“Me too~~ ”

 

Sung Jin-Woo smiled genuinely pleased at the prospect of the Party being led by a capable Hunter like Song Chi-Yul. That was not the only reason, he found Mr. Song to be more reasonable and kinder than most Hunters he crossed paths with.

 

“Take care of us, Mr. Song Chi-Yul”

 

Ju-Hee was similarly pleased at that, she had an extremely low tolerance for violence and blood. That’s why she, a B-Rank Hunter could barely stomach D-Rank and E-Rank Dungeons. She was glad because a veteran like Mr. Song would lead in a way were injuries and the like were minimised.

 

Song Chi-Yul yelled enthusiastically boosting the morale of the party.

 

“ALRIGHT, THEN LET’S ENTER THE DUNGEON”

 

“LET’S GO!!!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik glanced back at Sung Jin-Woo as he said.

 

“Mr. Sung, try not to get injured behind us, okay?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was never too sure when it came to him whether it was concern or mockery. He decide it was a little bit of both. He monotonously laughed out.

 

“HaHa… Okay”

 

Ju-Hee strode in front of Sung Jin-Woo beckoning him to follow.

 

Let’s go, Jin-Woo”

 

Sung Jin-Woo sighed even Ju-Hee who could not tolerate the slightest of violence and bloodshed was trying to protect him. He felt his almost non-existent pride crumble further. 

 

“Ok, Ok…”

 

The dull grey black eyes of Sung Jin-Woo that was as forgettable as the rest of him looked at the Gate through which the Party had disappeared into. His eyes then sparked with resolve and will making his eyes hypnotizing and unforgettable. The light within spilling through. He exhaled out determination set in his face.

 

“I’m going to try my best today!!”

 

The swirling effervescent blue converged around him swallowing his silhouette until there was no trace left.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The swirling blue twisted and turned emitting Mana in a whirlpool of power. The aiders from the Hunter Association watched as the World’s Weakest Hunter Sung Jin-Woo disappear into the glowing Gate. They were non-Hunters, normal people who can only watch from a distance powerless to do anything less. They couldn’t sense the Mana but knew of its incredible energy as the dust and rubble nearby flew away clearing the path before it of any iron bars or concrete slabs. The unforgiving gusts of winds stinging their cheeks as the cold frosted over their skin. 

 

“All clear! Let’s go!”

 

They sighed in relief at that. Normal people always felt the feeling of foreboding when in presence of a Gate. Their primitive instincts going into overdrive. It seems they instinctively knew that for whatever lied past these portals of energy they were prey.

 

“Ah, Ok”

 

One of the servers from the truck for replenishments and food arranged by the Hunter Association for Hunters under their privy looked conflicted as he stared up at the Gate. His co-worker sensed his displeasure as he enquired,

 

“What’re you thinking about?”

 

The frowning server continued to stare intently at the swirling blue vortex as if staring at it hard enough would allow him to see what was happening inside. He expressed his nagging thoughts to his friend.

 

“It’s just... Hunter Sung Jin-Woo...”

 

“I’m a little bothered that we couldn’t give him any coffee”

 

This caused the other server to turn towards the Gate. He gazed at the Gate still not comprehending the concern his partner was feeling. He then remembered just who Sung-Jin-Woo was, the World’s Weakest Hunter.

 

“Ah~ The Weakest Hunter in the E-Rank Category?”

 

He questioned his curiosity piqued,

 

“What Rank is this Dungeon?” 

 

The concerned server’s frown became more prominent as he recalled the Rank of this Dungeon.

 

“They said it’s about D-Rank”

 

“I’ve never seen Hunter Sung Jin-Woo uninjured in my whole time at the Hunter’s Guild”

 

His friend just shrugged at that pulling the other away from the Gate.

 

“A D-Rank Dungeon... Well, don’t think anything’s gonna happen. Let’s go!”

 

 


 

 

A luminous orb of energy that glinted in warm yellow and green tones sparked as Ju-Hee pushed more Mana to heal the deep almost grazing the bone cut Sung Jin-Woo had acquired during his scuffle with an E-Rank monster. This was not counting the multiple laceration and bruises he had obtained during the raid. The warm soothing glow of healing magic covering Sung Jin-Woo like a film brightening his silhouette. Ju-Hee frowned and scowled at Sung Jin-Woo who was sitting on the ground haphazardly. She crouched beside him bringing the healing magic closer still to the gaping wound on his knee now that she healed the horrific injury Sung Jin-Woo inflicted on his chest more grievous than the alarming wound she was currently healing. She was taxed even though such an injury was healed relatively easily as a B-Rank Hunter because of the sheer number of times she had to heal him of such wounds over the course of the Raid. She asked eyeing Sung Jin-Woo intently with a grim expression.

 

“Jin-Woo, why are you so adamant on working as a Hunter?”

 

“Fighting like this will only bring even more risks!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo flushed with embarrassment as he was reprimanded. It was not his pride as a man for he did not hold such sentiments. It was because of his incompetence and helplessness in face of the most insignificant of Monsters.

 

“Sorry...”

 

Ju-Hee sighed at his mumbled apology frown growing deeper.

 

“I’m not saying this for an apology! I’m just worried”

 

Ju-Hee startled as he felt the sudden warmth from a blaze, she turned to look at the winding down fight between Hunters and Monsters. The Fire Magic was from none other than Song Chi-Yul controlling his flame with the grace of a Master Swordsmen. Kim Sang-Shik was no slouch either cutting through the Monster before him with ease. Attack-Type, Mage-Type, Defence-Type were all contributing to the fight. Ju-Hee, after a cursory glance, relaxed as she found no injuries on the other Party members. She sighed with relief.

 

‘At least this Raid is almost over’

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s attention was caught when he saw Ju-Hee look up from the wound to gaze at the battle before she sighed in relief. He gazed at the battle as the sounds of fighting died down. He saw as the Hunters who had finished up gather together as all the Monsters were killed.

 

“Looks like it’s done!”

 

“Mr. Bak, you’re not dead yet, huh?”

 

“Ha, this is a piece of cake”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt more useless than before at the sight of the perfectly fine Hunters.

 

“......”

 

Sung Jin-Woo turned at the sound of his name. Ju-Hee gazed at him looking like she was about to ask something that was bothering her for quite some time now.

 

“Jin-Woo, do you have a reason…”

 

“To not quit being a Hunter?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo immediately gave a nonchalant response as his expression turned carefree.

 

“I’m just a Hunter for fun. If I don’t do this, I might actually die from boredom!”

 

‘Telling her personal reasons will make me even more embarrassed...’

 

Ju-Hee snarked at that catching Sung Jin-Woo off guard.

 

“Looks like having “fun” two times will send you Raiding in the afterlife.”

 

The suddenness of the joke making him burst out with laughter.

 

“PFFFFT- “

 

He regretted his laugh immediately as his body jostled reminding him why exactly he should have stayed still.

 

“ACK!!”

 

But he couldn’t help laughing despite the pain.

 

“DON’T LAUGH!! YOU’LL OPEN YOUR WOUND!!”

 

Ju-Hee helped him up after healing his wound, both of them joined the rest of the members of the Party. Song Chi-Yul was explaining something interesting to a riveted audience. He was a Mage-Class Hunter and it showed as he explained away.

 

“Yeah yeah…”

 

“This is what get after killing a Monster- The Magical Core”

 

 

…………………………………………………………………

 

                      A MAGICAL CORE

          FROM EVEN A C-RANK MONSTER

                  IS WORTH THOUSANDS.

 

…………………………………………………………………

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………

 

                            HOWEVER, SINCE JIN-WOO

             WAS AN E-RANK HUNTER, C-RANK MONSTERS

                            WERE IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM.

 

………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo grimaced as he took stock of his reward.

 

‘After all my injuries and troubles, I only earned a single E-Rank Magical Core...’

 

He felt bitter that after all his struggles this was all he had to gain from it.

 

‘Considering I put my life on the line to earn this, it’s too small’

 

He dejectedly mumbled,

 

“Earning money like this is...”

 

before he was interrupted from wallowing in his misery.

 

“HEY! EVERYONE! THERE’S ANOTHER ENTRANCE HERE!!”

 

The whole Party gathered at the mouth of what seemed like another cave system. They loitered around uncertain. Sung Jin-Woo didn’t have a clue on what was going on but the difference in the routine Raid registered sharply in him. He felt unease creep up on him. Song Chi-Yul lent against the entrance expression serious. He conjured a ball of fire and sent it through the tunnel. The ball of fire illuminated the tunnel as it whizzed through the air. The tunnel was unremarkable just a tunnel dug out of rock. But the concerning thing was the unsettling realisation that after a few moments the distance was too long for even a pinprick of light to be visible from the no longer discernible flame.

 

“The Double Lair... looks like it’s actually real”

 

Song Chi-Yul expression turned contemplative.

 

“Hmm... everyone, listen to me for a moment”

 

He confidently exclaimed a possible course of action from here on out.

 

“The Gate does not close if the Boss is still alive !!!”

 

He pointed towards the tunnel as he continued,

 

“Since the Gate is still open, it seems the Boss is inside there”

 

“Usually, we’d need to contact our Guild and await their orders, but…”

 

The surrounding Hunters looked at each other as they quickly caught on, some decisive some conflicted. Song Chi-Yul reasoned on the best decision to make.

 

“If the other Hunters get to it first, our profits would dwindle”

 

“So, I wish for all of us to go kill the Boss…”

 

“Since it could be dangerous, why don’t 17 of us take a vote?”

 

“And no complaining after the vote results”

 

Kim Sang-Shik and Bak without prompting called out their decision at the same time.

 

“We vote to fight”

 

The others chimed in their responses,

 

“Nah”

 

“I vote to go”

 

“I say no”

 

“Let’s fight”

 

When Ju-Hee’s turn came she looked down expression remorseful but resolute as she whispered her choice.

 

“Sorry… But I don’t want to go”

 

Song Chi-Yul smiled as he voiced out the results so far.

 

“It’s 8:8 so far, huh?”

 

He turned towards the only person remaining and asked. Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes widened as if a deer caught in the headlights.

 

“How about Mr. Sung?”

 

 

………………………………………………………………..

 

               EVERYTHING DEPENDED

                     ON SUNG’S VOTE.

 

………………………………………………………………….

 

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt sweat build up as everyone awaited his decision as it was the deciding vote. He felt mixed emotions as he considered his options.

 

‘I don’t have enough money...’

 

His trembling fingers clutched tightly around the glimmering Magical Core he obtained after spilling his blood, sweat and tears.

 

‘Soon, I even need to send my little sister to college...’

 

‘And...’

 

His resolve hardened as he remembered his fragile mother lying still eternally asleep. The magical life support machine the only reason why her life force wasn’t completely depleted.

 

‘My sick mother...’

 

‘For my family!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes blazed as he shouted his agreement determination colouring his expression.

 

“I’M GOING!”

 

‘JUST ONE MORE TIME! LET’S DO THIS!’

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The Hunters slowly crept through the unlit tunnel using their flashlights to light up the path before them. They were more relaxed now than they were at the beginning of the trek. They were still cautious as you never know what may lurk in the dark. Dungeons were treacherous where the slightest slip in attention could lead to an untimely demise. Some of the Hunters expressed their uneasiness as they walked with no end in sight.

 

“Aren’t we going too far in?”

 

“How long did we walk?”

 

“About 40 minutes”

 

“The Gate closes in an hour after we kill the Boss so we have about 20 minutes left”

 

Sung Jin-Woo slouched as he trudged in silence for, if what the Hunter before him said was accurate, 40 minutes. He was stonewalled the second they stepped foot inside the tunnel. He took small peaks at Ju-Hee hoping her anger had cooled a bit only to be met with her staring straight ahead as though there was no one walking beside her. Sung Jin-Woo was woefully lacking in communication skills he was an introvert, it showed. He finally mustered up the courage to talk to Ju-Hee as the cold silence from her grated at his nerves. He feebly whispered.

 

“Hey... Sorry...”

 

He was resigned he wasn’t going to get a reply. He was thus startled as Ju-Hee coldly intoned,

 

“About what”

 

Sung Jin-Woo turned to gaze at her nervousness apparent on his face. He hastily replied,

 

“Forcibly coming here after I voted Yes...”

 

He was afraid she was going to go off on him therefore he was taken aback when Ju-Hee merely replied without any inflection.

 

“I’m fine so you don’t need to worry about me”

 

Sung Jin-Woo hadn’t been around many people since High School so he didn’t realise he stepped on a landmine when he said

 

“Are you... really okay?”

 

Ju-Hee’s hair fell over her eyes ominously as she trembled in rage at the idiot beside her. Sung Jin woo gulped at the death glare directed at him that threatened to kill him multiple times over.

 

“To be honest... No. I am definitely not okay”

 

Ju-Hee raised her fist swinging it before Sung Jin-Woo as she went off on him not bothering to quieten her voice. He could feel her fury wafting off her in flames.

 

“ARE YOU INSANE??”

 

“JUST NOW IF YOU’D BEEN STABBED A LITTLE ABOVE, YOU WOULD’VE HAD A HOLE IN YOUR HEART!”

 

“AND THAT’S NOT EVEN CONSIDERING YOU ARMS AND LEGS!! EVEN THOUGH I BARELY HEALED THEM!!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked properly chastised and his eyes drooped at the hard swallow truth in her words.

 

“WHAT EVEN MADE YOU SAY YES, HUH??”

 

“DID YOU ALSO HURT YOUR HEAD?!”

 

“HUH?!?!”

 

He remorsefully recalled the many times Miss Ju-Hee had saved his hide.

 

‘True... I’m only alive because Miss Ju-Hee is a B-Rank Healer. I’m in her debt yet again...’

 

“Sorry...”

 

Ju-Hee angrily asked again.

 

“Are you sorry?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo dropped his head down low.

 

“Yes...”

 

Ju-Hee huffed exasperated before walking a few paces before Sung Jin-Woo. She entangled her fingers together behind her back twisting her hair nervously. She casually asked,

 

“If you’re that sorry... How about treating me to some food?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo eyes widened at her words. He was caught off guard by the sudden turn of events.

 

“Ah...”

 

He flushed at her hint making him unsure on how to proceed.

 

“......”

 

Ju-Hee waited for a reply of some kind from Sung Jin-Woo. She liked him well enough maybe they could be more than friends. She wanted them to spend some time to at least become friends and not just Hunters who usually end up in the same raid. When the silence grew awkward Ju-Hee was anxious that she said something she shouldn’t have. She played it off by glaring and pouting at Sung Jin-Woo while complaining. She wanted him to be comfortable with her. She realised he was alone more often than not he could use a friend.

 

“What. You don’t like eating with me?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo stuttered surprised yet again. He reflexively replied,

 

“No! No, of course not...”

 

Before one of them could talk any further. One of Hunters exclaimed with relief,

 

“IT’S HERE!! THE BOSS ROOM!!”

 

The Hunters flashed their light at the massive door before them it was easily 30 feet tall. It resembled a medieval European styled double door. It was a pretty periwinkle blue it seemed at least somewhere close to that shade from the dim lighting their flash could provide. The double doors had gold accents similar to an interlinking of arches. The golden handles were elegant and beautifully carved. It was thankfully at the height a human could reach to push the doors open.

 

“I’ve never seen a room with this type of door before...”

 

“It’s strange”

 

Kim Sang-Shik let the grin slip off his face as he considered the prospect that things weren’t going to be easy anymore. He warily asked Bak,

 

“Hey... Isn’t this place dangerous?”

 

It seemed he wasn’t the only one feeling uneasy at the situation.

 

“Yeah”

 

Song Chi-Yul felt the hesitation from the Hunters behind him. Truth be told he should have taken into account the general unease but he was itching for a fight and a D-Rank Boss would be perfect also the treasures found within a Boss’s Lair were unlike the ones gained from the rest of the Monsters in the Dungeon. He channelled his confidence clear in his voice as he pushed against the enormous door.

 

“Are you going to return empty handed after coming here?”

 

He noted the dilapidated state of the door the fissures marring the surface of the door.

 

“We could be the first ones to enter this Dungeon...”

 

“Those who want to leave can go.”

 

“I’m going in there alone if I must”

 

Sung Jin-Woo and Ju-Hee watched as the other Hunters conversed amongst themselves on how to proceed. Murmurs echoed in the tunnel not too loud not too soft.

 

“Well, Mr. Song Chi-Yul is amazing. He’s also extremely offensive styled out of C-Rank Hunters”

 

“That man, if he wasn’t about to be 60, he would’ve been in any big Guild”

 

“Since we came here because we trusted Mr. Song we might as well follow him to the end”

 

Song Chi-Yul determined he had most if not all of their support moving forward, he pushed against the door testing the pressure.

 

“Opens easier than I thought it would...”

 

He intoned as the doors were pushed further.

 

“Let’s go in”

 

The moment they stepped through they noticed the torches mounted on the walls flare up in blue flames the source seemed to be luminous stones placed within the hollow of the torches. The stones emitted a glowing wispy flame that lit up the daunting room eerily.

 

“Oh~ The lights are on. Nice~ ”

 

Song Chi-Yul muttered as he looked for any Monsters lurking within. The Hunters looked in awe at the large cathedral like throne room which was wide open for the most part. Against the outer perimeter of the round room many exquisitely sculpted statues remained poised. The High arched ceilings and elegant design gaining their admiration.

 

“I’ve never seen a Dungeon like this. Alright, let’s scatter and scout the area”

 

The Hunters noted the creeping moss growing on the crumbling ceiling and the walls in disrepair.

 

“It seems like no one’s been in here for a long time”

 

They felt a sense of foreboding as they looked at the still statues that for all intent and purpose just that. Their eyes nervously darted across the room as they hoped for a Monster to jump out so that it could dispel the sinking feeling of dread rooting deep in them.

 

“These statues... They feel weird”

 

“They’re all holding something different. Some of them are even holding instruments”

 

“There’s quite a lot of them... It feels scary since there’s so many”

 

Sung Jin-Woo dazedly looked up at the imposing statues and the gothic architecture of this strange room.

 

“Wow...”

 

A Hunter suddenly whispered anxiously to another.

 

“Doesn’t it feel like someone is staring at you?”

 

“Stop saying such negative things”

 

Someone shouted voice tinged with awe and terror.

 

“Wow, look at that! It’s huge!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo turned to look at the statue that was sitting atop a colossal throne its size towering over its subjects standing poised around it. It was easily at the very least three times bigger than the other statues in the room. It was the only one sitting though he supposed it made sense seeing this room resembled a throne room.

 

Sung Jin-Woo absently listened to the passing comments as he stared up at the giant statue. 

 

“That’s not the Boss, right?”

 

“Don’t think so. It’s only a statue after all”

 

He mumbled to himself feeling his blood run cold.

 

“This is the only one that’s huge”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was distracted by the odd result their search has obtained thus far.

 

“There’s nothing that resembles a Monster here”

 

“Right?”

 

“Huh, can’t see even a single one”

 

Song Chi-Yul paced around the room perplexed. He came to a sudden halt as he felt his feet bump into something.

 

"TAP"

 

“Hm?”

 

He gazed down only to be surprised at the sight of a circle with runes and lines, it seemed to be etched and crafted with the same golden metal, the colour offsetting the gold was the same blue as on the door. 

 

“What is this... a Magic Seal?”

 

Song Chi-Yul’s inspection came to an abrupt halt as he heard a Hunter shout out to him.

 

“MR. SONG~ ! SOMETHING’S WRITTEN HERE! I THINK YOU NEED TO COME!”

 

All of them gathered before the statue of what looked like a hooded angel holding a tablet with strange inscriptions chiselled on it. Song Chi-Yul was a Mage-Type Hunter he like most of them had taken the time to learn this strange script used in crafting magical tools. Human race’s current understanding of this script was rudimentary at best. But here it was spelled out as it is much to his relief.

 

“This... is it in Runic text?”

 

“Let’s see...”

 

“CARTHENON TEMPLE’S COMMANDMENTS”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt a chill down his spine as the words reverberated solemnly in the still air.

 

“First, Worship the Lord”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt his heart race rapidly his dread increasing with each syllable.

 

“Second, Praise the Lord”

 

He flinched as he felt a tug on his sleeve. He heard Ju-Hee stutter out frightened.

 

“H-Hey, Jin-Woo...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo turned to gaze at where she was pointing listening to her shuddering words.

 

“Th... There... The huge statue...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo distantly heard the third commandment the suffocating feeling now unbearable.

 

“Third, Prove Your Faith”

 

Ju-Hee’s words were barely a whisper.

 

“The eyeball just moved... It was looking at us...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked at the daunting statue’s face it was expertly carved it was devoid of any emotion. Blank and unfeeling. It stared right ahead the curious lines running from the middle of the lower eyelid to the jawline. He gently assured her even though he was unsure himself. Miss Ju-Hee didn’t do well under duress she needed to be calm.

 

“Huh? Right... You must be mistaken...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes widened diluting as he felt the sudden shift in the room. His intuition blaring alarms.

 

‘Wait!’

 

‘What... This Feeling...’

 

‘It got so quiet that the air seems chilly’

 

Sung Jin-Woo knew he had to do something he didn’t know what exactly before it would be too late.

 

“Those who do not follow these Commandments,”

 

He barely collected himself when he heard the solemn words of the last of the text resounded. He knew before anyone else it was too late now.

 

“Will NEVER return alive”

 

The resounding slam of the doors closing sounded like the final nail in the coffin. Everyone turned simultaneously towards the now closed doors. The two towering Guards more ominous than before. The blue unearthly light casting shadows that seemed a bit too dark.

 

“WHAT!!! THE DOOR JUST CLOSED!!”

 

One of them quietly asked,

 

“What do we do now?”

 

She was abruptly cut short by a bruising shove from a Hunter who was easily one of largest among them.

 

“Dammit! Can’t stand this anymore”

 

He pushed past her enraged. He furiously expressed his displeasure.

 

“YOU GUYS ARE ALL SPOUTING NONSENSE! IT WAS A MISTAKE TO EVEN COME HERE!”

 

He turned on his heel moving towards the firmly shut doors.

 

“I’m leaving!”

 

He turned his head to glare at them as he said through gritted teeth,

 

“The Boss, Treasures, whatever! You guys can take it”

 

He raised both his hands to push the door open.

 

“Good Luck!”

 

Song Chi-Yul saw the slight movement from the previously unmoving statue. His eyes widened as he screamed out to the Hunter.

 

“STOP!! DON’T PUT YOUR HANDS ON THE HANDLE!!!”

 

But it was too late. None of their eyes could follow the swift swing of the intricate trident of the Guard sparks flying at the friction against the ground. The Guard swung up in one smooth move decapitating the Hunter who dared to try to leave its master’s domain. The body slouched against the door hand still gripping the now blood speckled handle. The guard righted its posture before gracefully balancing the trident on its serrated bladed palms over the bottom of the deadly weapon. The raw power causing sweeping winds to ripple around it. All the Hunters screamed in disbelief and fear at the brutal show of power. Bak felt the overwhelming fear undo his rationale as he regretted ever coming back from retiring.

 

“TH... THAT THING MOVES!!”

 

“THE HELL!!! WE HAVE TO FIGHT THOSE?!?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo blanched at the gruesome demise of one of them. His eyes widening pure dread filling them as he felt the uncontrollable trembles race through his body. Ju-Hee screamed her throat raw doubling over as she clutched desperately at Sung Jin-Woo’s sleeve closing her eyes tightly. Sung Jin-Woo felt like he couldn’t breathe, it felt as if someone was chocking him. He realised with a start his heart plummeting, -

 

‘Wait...’

 

‘ Th-There the eyeball... ’

 

‘If that was really true...’

 

He turned his head abject terror blatant on his face as he saw the glowing gold eye looking down at him.

 

“Ah...”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The blood splattered against the blue door dyeing it red. The sheer volume of the spray of blood was horrifying. The beheaded body slouched against the door the sight sending despair coursing through the other Hunters veins. The looming statue of the Guard had blood speckled across the expanse of its armoured chest. The trident like face plate looking demonic with the droplets of blood clinging to it. The more squeamish of the Hunters screeched the sound shrill in the suddenly suffocating room. Bak screamed out panicking.

 

“TH... THAT THING MOVES!!!”

 

“THE HELL!! WE HAVE TO FIGHT THOSE???”

 

Suddenly the disquieting statues looked much scarier. They were D-Rank and E-Rank Hunters save for Song Chi-Yul and Ju-Hee. They couldn’t comprehend that there was actually Monsters of such calibre and the sheer number of them traumatising. This seemed like it was going to be less of a fight and more like a straight up slaughter.

 

“WE HAVE TO FIGHT THOSE?!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s eyebrow knitted together in vexation and fear. He gritted his teeth as the severity of the current situation set in.

 

‘What was the Rank of the one who died just now?’

 

‘D-Rank?’

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked peevishly at the solemn Guard that had just killed off one of them with laughable ease.

 

‘If even he was bad, he still would’ve been stronger than an E-Rank like me”

 

‘But in one hit?’

 

His suddenly intense eyes darted across the room noting that they were surrounded completely by these seemingly lifeless statues. His wariness grew as he catalogued the varied types of weaponry all of the finest craftsmanship no doubt more than enough to do away even High Ranked Hunters. He looked at the statues holding instruments not knowing their purpose as he was sure they all had one. The Guard Knights, either side of the door, preventing anyone from leaving without their Lord’s express permission. He shook himself from his wandering thoughts as he contemplated. 

 

‘This Dungeon is a D-Rank at most’

 

Sung Jin-Woo unconsciously moved closer to the other Hunters as his instincts went haywire. He felt the cold sweat drip down his neck and spine as he looked around eyes skittish looking for any hint of another attack.

 

‘I’ve never heard of Monsters as strong as them in the likes of D-Rank Dungeons!’

 

Song Chi-Yul’s apprehension was clear in his voice as he hypothesised still keeping his wits about him. He felt regretful and the burden of knowing he had led everyone down into something even his worst nightmares couldn’t conjure. And he knew deep inside it was just going to get worse.

 

“If all the statues here can move...”

 

Song Chi-Yul felt the blood drain from his face as his lips trembled as he gazed petrified at the large statue sitting rigidly in its throne.

 

“Don’t tell me...”

 

“Even that one...?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo knew death intimately he was always skirting the lines of life and death so often, he couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t. He felt the world around him grow distant their gasps and cries growing fainter and fainter until it was just him and his senses in this precarious situation. He felt the trembling form of Ju-Hee press against him as she clutched his sleeve in a death grip white knuckled. He quivered as he twisted his fragile neck to gaze up at the Lord of this hellhole.

 

His eyes grew wilder as the dread creeped over him like an icy chill, numbing his brain. His heart pounded against its cage of bone and cartilage futilely, the pressure increasing ever so often. It was like it was trying to flee whilst his body shook like falling leaves in autumn as his legs went weak. The statue stared straight ahead but he felt his breath grow erratic as he stared unblinkingly eyes crazed. His eyes dilated further as he saw the stone pupil shifted to gold as they roved to look at him. He froze his stomach filled with lead as adrenaline flooded his system.

 

His flight or fight instincts surging as he tasted the saliva thickening in his throat and sweat trickled down his brow. He had never felt terror as consuming as he had right now. He had many times flirted with death either caught off guard or with resignation but now his primal instincts clawed at his insides making him think he was better off dead than in the presence of such monstrosity.

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

                 THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME I

               ENCOUNTERED A NEAR DEATH

                            EXPERIENCE.

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………..

 

                     DURING MY FIRST RAID, I

                  ACCIDENTALLY BROKE AWAY

               FROM MY PARTY AND GOT LOST.

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Lost in the gnarly ominous woods with the fog slowly but surely enveloping him, a dense mist, leaving him unable to tell left from right stranded for all intents and purpose. The smoke and mist leaving him at the mercy of whatever lurked within.

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………….

 

                  I ALSO GOT HIT BY AN E-RANK

               MONSTER IN THE BACK AND WAS

                     HOSPITALIZED FOR WEEKS.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………..

 

The cackling imp like Monster slashing across his back the pain unexpected as he was caught unaware. The medical bills were thankfully taken care of by the Hunter Association as it was the first injury. He didn’t have insurance as normal insurance companies considered Hunters high risk investment. He had wanted to apply for one in the Hunter exclusive services that cropped up because the world was run by Hunters. But his infamy led to him being rejected. He had hoped otherwise as every Hunter he met had one even the lower E-Ranks. The World’s Weakest Sung Jin-Woo in their opinion was not a Hunter not even an E-Rank.

 

……………………………………………………………………………

 

                I EVEN ALMOST STARVED TO

               DEATH AFTER BEING TRAPPED

                       INSIDE A DUNGEON...

 

……………………………………………………………………………

 

He remembered one of the worst experiences of his life of which he had many. Lying on the cold Dungeon floor not being able to even twitch a finger. He was forgotten by the rest of the Party Members, leaving him to be trapped in the desolate Dungeon wasting away. He remembered the way his body grew thinner until he was only skin and bones. The thirst cracking his lips bloody as his throat reflexively swallowed for moisture. Breathing was painful each shallow breath growing fainter pinching sharply at his bruised ribs.

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

                EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE ALL

               LOW RANK DUNGEONS, I HAD TO

                    PUT MY LIFE ON THE LINE.

 

……………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

               OTHERS TRADE THEIR MAGICAL

                CORES FOR BETTER WEAPONS

 

………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Sung Jin-Woo could only look in envy and longing at the weapons and armour of his compatriots. He couldn’t afford even the most inexpensive of such goods. Good defence and offensive capability were important to survive the vicious world of Hunters and Monsters.

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………….

 

               TO DEFEAT STRONGER MONSTERS

 

…………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

 

By using the right weapons and charms effectively one can hunt down more monsters and thus more profit with which they can buy even better ones as everything wears out soon while raiding.

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………..

 

               AND TO EARN MORE TREASURES.

 

……………………………………………………………………………..

 

Normal humans couldn’t even begin to comprehend the mystical and otherworldly realm he found himself in after he was Awakened. It was straight out of a fantasy novel. Yet he too can just look from afar like the normal folks.

 

 

………………………………………………………

 

               I CAN’T DO THAT.

 

……………………………………………………..

 

His mother silently sleeping away her days as she was lulled deeper into the embrace of dreamless death. Her muscles slowly atrophying as she remained motionless still as a painting save for the barely noticeable rise and fall of her chest. Sung Jin-Woo knew the desperation he had, to allow his mother to continue to live with the magical life support machine that operated on Mana as her lifeforce burned through like gasoline.

 

………………………………………………………….

 

               ALWAYS UNEQUIPPED.

 

……………………………………………………………

 

 

His body was the only thing he could use he had to get by somehow. It had hurt unbearably so when he first got hurt, if he was a lesser man he would have stopped Hunting. But Raid after Raid never uninjured never not in pain never not bleeding, he had grown numb to it.

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………

 

                  BUYING A POOR SWORD WOULD JUST

               RESULT IN IT BEING DESTROYED QUICKLY

                                 ANYWAYS, AND

 

…………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

It wasn’t like supplying yourself with weapons that needed replacing so frequently was a one-time investment. He as he was, had to do.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………

 

                  HAVING A HEALER WOULD MEAN MY

               INJURIES WOULD BE HEALED GIVEN THAT

                        IT’S NOT EXTREMELY SERIOUS.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s face wiped clean as if a screen had been pulled down to hide his emotions as he hurried along. Eyes plastered to the ground and he appeared to have suddenly gone deaf.

 

“That brat came out injured again”

 

“In a mere E-Rank Dungeon?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo didn’t flatter as his strides grew longer. He had better things to worry about than some naysayers running their mouth off at him again.

 

“I feel bad for the Healers raiding with him”

 

“They have to work twice as hard”

 

Sometimes he wished they would afford him some human decency by at least making sure he couldn’t hear their less than pleasant words. Hunters really have forgotten etiquette at least to some extent the power getting to their head.

 

“Did you know?”

 

“These days, he’s called the World’s Weakest Hunter”

 

“Meaning even though he’s a Hunter, He’s useless”

 

Sung Jin-Woo remembered that day clearly as he found himself in a thankfully near empty park making him relax as he sat down at a bench. His clothes where by no means high end they were cheapest he could find. Hunting had gone terribly wrong and deadly no surprises there. He looked like he got mugged to someone with no context.

 

‘My shoe’s been destroyed’

 

His worn-out shoes was completely obliterated and he knew he had no money to spare to buy new ones. He had to take the hard decision to skip his meals for a few days to stretch the cash.

 

………………………………………………………………

 

               SO THE FIRST, SECOND,

 

……………………………………………………………..

 

He didn’t ever want his sister to go to bed hungry or having only old clothes to wear. He made sure it was all the best quality same as the rest of the girls in her high school. She was a smart child above all she was understanding always being hesitant in asking him for anything. He made sure she didn’t have to ask providing her with what she needs unprompted. Doing this while paying his mother’s medical bills was wearing down on him but he swore he would continue to do so even if his body gave out. 

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

               ALL THOSE DAYS WHERE I CAME

               OUT INJURED, I IGNORED THEIR

                          SNEERING REMARKS

 

……………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo grew colder and distant as the days went by. He still kept a polite hardworking façade up. He was like that still is but the smiles felt faker as they slowly turned to plastic. Even his bratty sister slowly losing him to his apathy. He would burn the world for his mother and sister but he had changed. They were normal while he was Awakened. They can never understand even with him being the Weakest. He detachedly wondered if that was how his father had felt too before he had gone missing.

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………….

 

                AND EFFECTIVELY WORKED A JOB

               THAT COULD RESULT IN MY DEATH.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

He wondered as the lights went out in his house and sleep eluded him whether his father was dead in a Dungeon killed with nothing to show for it or, did he just up and leave because even with a family he was lonely. Sung Jin-Woo was thankful for the duties binding him with reality. He smiled and laughed hoping one day it would sound more real, fake it till you make it. His promise to his mother and duty to ensure his sister had the best foundations set in school and college having a steady well-paying job maybe even seeing her one day married. Leaving his mother in the care his sister someone who could actually relate to her. He was not a normal human he had seen too much to be anything other than a Hunter. Maybe then he would wander the way the lost ones roam. 

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

               MAYBE IT WAS BECAUSE OF THIS,

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

His life blurred with death so much so its black ink merged into the red of his lifeblood.

 

.....................................................................

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

              

             THAT I KNEW VERY WELL.

 

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

…………………………………………………………

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo stared into those gold- no it was not gold it was the glowing fire when lava emerged from under stone the smoking fumes as the moisture in the air dried up calmed his rattled instincts as it lost the restlessness of not knowing the source of danger. The Statue was frowning at him probably because he was doing something it was not amused by. Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes brightened as his innate intensity and light awoke. Ju-Hee was clutching the side of her head fingers tangling into her hair as her eyes grew wet, she was panicking. He swirled his head back to the Hunters in front of him as he grabbed Ju-Hee who he knew instinctively was not going to react fast enough and screamed as he ducked down low letting their bodies hit the ground as fast as he could the force knocking the wind out his lungs.

 

“EVERYONE, DUCK!!!”

 

The others startled at the shout some not comprehending its urgency and desperation fast enough. A blinding flash of scorching light streaked through the air not even a second later. Sung Jin-Woo felt his back burn as just being that close was so unbelievably hot it burned like a ray of the sun in close proximity. He knew he was its first target as he felt the beam of light and destruction flew past few inches above his and Ju-Hee’s prone forms. The light burned into his retina searing into his brain, he shut his eyes as he winced at the strobe like light. Sung Jin-Woo heard more than saw the ground whereupon it touched melted and broke into sizable chunks that flew erratically around the path of destruction.

 

Everyone went still holding their breaths waiting for the next attack. When nothing happened, someone screamed at the person lying next to them.

 

“WAKE UP!!”

 

“HEY!”

 

Bak asked concerned as he dusted off Kim Sang-Shik’s back. He was thankfully uninjured but looked a bit ruffled up.

 

“You okay?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik was still dazed at the near brush with death. He looked a little worse for wear but no injuries as Bak. His mind distantly registered the question. He stuttered out.

 

“Y-Yeah… You?”

 

Bak replied quietly still taken aback.

 

“I’m fine”

 

Someone screamed terror in their voice.

 

“AHHHHHHHK!!!”

 

Bak and Kim Sang-Shik both turned to the source of that aghast scream only to see a still smoking dismembered hand the burnt hand had lines of molten fire running through it. They noted disquietedly that there was no body lying close to the horrific sight understanding that the owner of the hand was completely vaporised leaving not even ash behind.

 

Bak grimaced at the precarious situation they were all in. He solemnly said to Kim Sang-Shik.

 

“It’s not just a few that died...”

 

Kim Sang-Shik clenched his teeth at the statement frowning as he recalled just how close he was to dying in the same gruesome way. He was grateful for Sung Jin-Woo who had saved him with his shout of warning. He never thought he would be in a situation where he would be indebted to Sung Jin-Woo, the Weakest Hunter.

 

“I barely dodged it. If Sung didn’t yell out, we could’ve been wiped out”

 

Sung Jin-Woo groaned as he hefted himself on his sore arms the other palm protectively resting on Ju-Hee shoulder. His eyes watering slightly as the dust settled in. He absently noted that there were still floating embers of fire and light drifting all around them implying the unimaginable power behind the laser beam.

 

“Ugh…”

 

He gazed down at Ju-Hee only to widen his eyes in panic as he saw her lying curled up on her side clutching her ears. Her expression was one of denial and fear Sung Jin-Woo was worried that she had gotten hurt in the attack though he could see no injury. He knew Ju-Hee may be in shock he didn’t know how to help her.

 

“MISS JU-HEE!”

 

She had retreated inside of herself no longer hearing any sounds from the outside fear swallowing her as she remained petrified.

 

“MISS JU-HEE!!!”

 

Song Chi-Yul had many regrets in his life the same as anyone his age regrets accumulated piled upon each other it was true for everyone. But never he felt such self-recrimination as he understood the fatal consequences of his decision. He knew everyone had voted to come and join him. But he felt guilty all the same. He was the one who initiated this sequence of horrifying events. But no matter how much he wanted to just plead scream come to terms with it he couldn’t at least not at the moment.

 

He needed to hold the fort because no matter how small a chance of survival of the remaining he would do everything he can to ensure just that. He was one with the sword his mind grew still like a lake with no ripples. He shouted out his resolute command to the people who may not trust him no more but who would still listen because he knew that they knew he had more experience than them when dealing with High Ranked Monsters.  

 

“DON’T STAND UP! JUST REMAIN IN YOUR POSITION!”

 

“IF WE STAND UP, IT WILL ATTACK US AGAIN!!”

 

The rest of the Hunters looked at him flinching as they saw him calm and steady even at the face of adversary. They admired the man enough to follow his orders they weren’t sure if they still trusted him but knew he was much more equipped to handle this than anyone of them lower ranked Hunters, 

 

“Mr. Song...”

 

“Ok...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo distractedly listened to Song Chi-Yul having already come to the same conclusion from a cursory inspection. He was far more concerned about Ju-Hee who seemed to be spiralling into a panic attack. He helplessly looked at the not responding figure of Ju-Hee heart tugging at the sight. Miss Ju-Hee was someone he could rely on always kind to him he didn’t want her to go into hysterics at this moment not matter how justified because now was the time to keep her wits about her if she wanted to survive. if the other Hunters think she was dead weight they may just abandon her. He knew just what desperate Hunters were capable of he didn’t think at least the Hunters in this Raid were like that but you could never be too careful.

 

Song Chi-Yul looked at Sung Jin-Woo with mixed emotions he was grateful for the boy’s timely warning. He could very well imagine what the alternate would have been. He admittedly in the recess of his mind he admired the boy for trying his best even though it put his life at risk but it was something he had like the rest of them considered a pain. Sung Jin-Woo’s infamy as the World’s Weakest Hunter preceded him at least in Seoul. He shook his head from wandering thoughts as he placed his hand on Sung Jin-Woo’s shoulder drawing his attention. Song Chi-Yul bit back a wince as unbearable pain lanced through him. Sung Jin-Woo darted his eyes when he felt the palm and Mr. Song’s steady voice penetrated the fog of his mind.

 

“Mr. Song Chi-Yul!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo sighed in understanding and exhaustion as Mr. Song continued.

 

“Miss Ju-Hee can’t handle fear that well”

 

“That’s why she can only do basic Raids even though she’s a B-Rank Healer”

 

Song Chi-Yul turned to face the menacing Statue whose eyes were still hot enough to steam the air around it in smoky ribbons. 

 

“But here...”

 

“It doesn’t seem basic...”

 

Song Chi-Yul with sincerity and appreciation intoned.

 

“Only those who moved died, all the people who lived listened to you”

 

Sung Jin-Woo answered taken aback by Mr. Song’s proclamation.

 

“Oh... Is that true?”

 

Song Chi-Yul heard the surprise in Sung Jin-Woo’s voice he turned to see the young man’s face as inquired with disbelief.

 

“Wait didn’t you yell because you knew what would happen?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo replied sheepishly feeling embarrassed all of a sudden.

 

“No... It was only because it felt dangerous...”

 

Song  Chi-Yul’s eyes and mouth were frozen wide open in an expression of stunned surprise for moment before he wheezed out.

 

“HUH?!”

 

“SIR, YOUR ARM!”

 

Song Chi-Yul’s face had paled several tones lighter as the blood seeped out of his dismembered right arm. His face was clammy with sweat at the pain he was in but he still grinned as he huffed out.

 

“I’ll be fine. Just help me stop the bleeding, will ya?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked at the grinning man for a moment before crawling around Mr. Song to reach his bleeding stump. He had bandages and gauge on his person at all times with the frequency he got in it was an unavoidable necessity. He expertly bandaged the bleeding mutilated arm his motions clean and precise taking care on not disturbing the nerves and muscle and flesh but stopping the insistent blood flow. Sung Jin-Woo was engrossed in his task the familiar motion soothing his rattled nerves. His attention was caught when Mr. Song questioned him worn down and contemplative.

 

“Sung... What Rank does that look like to you?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looped the ends of bandage as he replied with pursed lips.

 

“Don’t know... I’ve never been into a raid higher than a D-Rank...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo listened attentively to Mr. Song as he tied the last knot securing the makeshift bandage

 

“I’ve only experienced a B-Rank Raid once or twice”

 

“I can definitely say that this place exceeds that of a B-Rank Dungeon...”

 

“Even there, there weren’t any Monsters of this calibre”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked towards the behemoth Lord of this godforsaken place. He noted wirily as he looked at it the intensity of his gaze turning dull dark grey almost black eyes a shade lighter sparkling igniting. But no human had ever been witness to the light inside Sung Jin-Woo, his mother may have before her everlasting sleep but worldly burdens that threatened to buckle him under the weight mounting every year  shuttered his eyes of its hue and intensity.

 

“That one is A-Rank...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo detachedly registered Mr. Song’s words as he studied the goliath Statue. It was wearing a long robe with simple regal lines atop it was a stole with a minimalistic design. Its headpiece was the most interesting and intricate of the articles of clothing. The crown was different from any he had seen in this world from movies and such. It had long shards of blade like petaled elegance. The more curious part of it was an untethered compass like circlet around it. Really if he didn’t see this in a Dungeon, he would have thought it was the remnant of an ancient civilisation. He listened to Mr. Song as his voice turned grave.  

 

“No...”

 

Those fiery eyes still glinted gold looking down upon them in every meaning of the word.

 

“Maybe a S-Rank...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo stayed quiet for a moment as the implications hung in the cold air turning colder still at the revelation. Sung Jin-Woo looked up at the condescending gaze holding it for a second before turning to face the robed Vassal another deceptive Monster now he knew Monsters didn’t need to be ones with rows of blade like teeth and razor-sharp claws to count as one. Sometimes the worst of them all lurked in the unamusing in the beauty. Sung Jin-Woo murmured inquisitively at the runic scripture held in the Winged Servant.

 

“Just now there was the Carthenon Temple’s Commandments”

 

“First, Worship the Lord”

 

He continued more to himself as his mind raced.

 

“Second, Praise the Lord”

 

He turned quiet and solemn as he uttered the final rule.

 

“Third, Prove Your Faith”

 

“Those who do not follow these commandments, will never return alive”

 

“These were written on there”

 

He faced Mr. Song as he gravely told him his conclusions.

 

“Mr. Song... The Lord...”

 

He glanced at the unnerving glowing eyes signalling they could be annihilated at any given time.

 

“I think...”

 

His voice tapered off pensively.

 

“means that one, right?”

 

Song Chi-Yul drily replied as he agreed with Sung Jin-Woo’s assessment feeling the helplessness that nestled in him grow firmer.

 

“Killing all of them would also take too much time...”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

               ………………………………………..

                                                       

                                THE GATE              

                                                   

               ………………………………………..

 

 

Glowing blue that twisted upon itself swirling with otherworldly energy that morphed the space upon where it appeared. It was an unbelievable sight as the shifting blue tore space and time.

 

 

              ……………………………………………………………

                                                                                         

                                   THE TUNNEL THAT                    

                                CONNECTS THE OTHER                 

                                    WORLD TO OURS.                            

                                                                                           

               ……………………………………………………………

 

 

The awe and terror at the unknown sweeping over humankind testing their fragile understanding of the cosmos.

 

 

               ……………………………………………..

                                                                      

                              10 YEARS AGO,             

                                                                        

               ……………………………………………..       

                                                                    

              

There was no prelude to this unprecedented occurrence.

 

 

               ……………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                           

                              AFTER THE GATE APPEARED,              

                          THE WORLD EXPERIENCED MANY               

                                        BIZARRE EVENTS.                            

                                                                     

               ……………………………………………………………………          

                                                                                 

 

The world as they knew it was no more as they were laid siege to by beings that belonged in stories and folklore. It was brutal as none of these beings had any desire other than to kill humans. But humanity was blessed by the very same forces. 

 

 

               …………………………………………………

                                                                                 

                              ONE EXAMPLE IS                      

                                THE HUNTERS.                                

                                                                                            

               …………………………………………………

 

 

Hunters were humanity’s one hope against these monsters that they couldn’t fight off with their normal means science became obsolete at the face of these phenomena.

 

 

               ……………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                                   

                                    THEIR LEVEL OF POWER                                          

                            STAYED THE SAME – EVEN AFTER                                     

                                    BECOMING HUNTERS.                                    

                                                                                                           

               ……………………………………………………………………

 

 

An Awakened was someone who was blessed with powers or attributes that separated them from the rest of humanity. It was not a hereditary trait as it showed no correlation to DNA thus genomes could not be studied and mimicked by experimenting and other means. It was in a way a safeguard for Hunters to be treated as special and discrimination against the miniscule population of Hunters was not tolerated.

 

 

               ……………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                                 

                              I TOO, BECAME A HUNTER,                                 

                           BUT MY STRENGTH WAS ONLY                          

                              ENOUGH FOR AN E-RANK.                              

                                                                                                            

               ……………………………………………………………………

 

 

Hunters enjoyed special treatment and made quite the fortune by raiding even the Lowest Ranked Dungeons. But the general populace grudgingly accepted it as a Hunter was courting death every time they entered a Dungeon or encountering Monsters. They were also the only reason humanity wasn’t wiped out. Hunters essentially were the entire world’s military, attack and defence forces, the only line of defence against the never stopping opening of portals containing bloodthirsty being that were waiting to be unleashed to partake in hedonistic slaughter. 

 

 

               …………………………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                             

                                    ALTHOUGH I AM STRONGER THAN                   

                              MOST HUMANS, THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN             

                                    OTHER RANKS AND ME WAS VAST.                     

                                                                                                                   

               …………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

But not all Hunters were equal, the powers and abilities granted may be a wide but categorizable variety such as Attack Class, Defence Class, Mage Class and so on. The number of different abilities and powers under each of these broad classifications was exponential.

 

 

               ……………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                          

                                THOSE WHO RECEIVED THE                        

                            POWER TO CROSS THE GATE TO                      

                                    DESTROY MONSTERS,                          

                                                                                    

                ……………………………………………………………………

 

 

An Awakened doesn’t necessarily become a Hunter. An Awakened has a choice to be a Hunter or choose another career path. But only Hunters enjoy certain privileges and leeway due to the inescapable need for them.

 

 

               ………………………………………………………

                                                                                              

                                 AND DID THIS AS                                 

                               THEIR CAREER WERE                             

                                CALLED “HUNTERS”.                           

                               

               ………………………………………………………

 

 

Since people have no means of knowing just how unearthly the powers of Hunters and the true horrors of the Monsters that lie within the Gate they do not actually understand the gravity of this new reality even if they can intellectually rationalise it. 

 

 

               …………………………………………………

                                                                                         

                                 SOMETIMES,                                   

                           BEYOND THE GATE,                              

                           THERE CAN BE AN                              

                                                                                        

               …………………………………………………

 

 

But sometimes they get a rude awakening when a Dungeon Break happens letting loose the horrors within. Then they are reminded of the delicate balance between the two worlds.

 

 

               ………………………………………..

                                                                      

                              OMINOUS                   

                                                               

               …………………………………………

 

 

Even Hunters encounters things they never expect to in even the Lowest Ranked Dungeons, an ill-fated surprise.

 

 

               …………………………………………….

                                                                       

                              DESPAIRING                     

                                                                     

               …………………………………………….     

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the unbearable pressure that had settled on him after the first attack weigh heavily on him as he quietly looked at the towering Statue. His skin prickled as cold sweat dripped down his back.

 

 

               …………………………………………………………

                                                                                     

                              INSANE MONSTER                    

                            THAT SPRINGS OUT                        

                                OF NOWHERE.                            

                                                                                       

               …………………………………………………………

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo turned to face Mr. Song who was looking worse for wear as time went by, he was losing too much blood. He worriedly asked,

 

“Will you be fine? The bleeding’s not stopping”

 

Mr. Song chuckled as he quipped in an exhausted tone his face clammy with sweat and pale like a sheet of paper.

 

“There’s nothing we can do now, is there?”

 

He panted as he drew in quick shallow breaths discomforted, he gazed at the smoking trench of rubble that was the only thing left in the annihilated path of the beam. He murmured,

 

“I brought only three Healers because I thought this would be over quickly...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo turned to face the scorched path silently listening to Mr. Song. The sorry crumpled forms of the remaining Hunters as they trembled in senseless fear slowly losing it. The sheer destructiveness of the beams from the nightmarish Lord unlike any even Mr. Song had witnessed, he swallowed, his throat parched and dry.

 

“One got attacked so brutally that not even his corpse remained,”

 

Song Chi-Yul nodded towards a man who was curled in tight clutching his head leaning against one of the one large slanting slab of stone propelled after the swathe of stone had been decimated by the literal burning stare.

 

“One is so shocked that he’s acting like that,”

 

The shudders coursing through the Healer was sporadic and pronounced as he mumbled too far gone.

 

“Save me... Save me...”

 

“I want to live...”

 

They both gazed down at Ju-Hee prone form on the ground that trembled as she cried tears of fear eyes closed her entire force ridden with denial. Song Chi-Yul wirily continued.

 

“Even a B-Rank Healer like Ju-Hee probably never experienced anything like this before.”

 

“Heh, that’s why receiving healing may be a little hard for now”

 

Song Chi-Yul and Sung Jin-Woo gazed up at the stoic laser eyed Statue refusing to take their eyes of what was clearly the biggest threat of them all for more than a few seconds.

 

“I think it would be better to just stay still against the likes of him”

 

“When the situation clears a bit, let’s try running then”

 

His voice faded as he continued.

 

“Although it won’t be easy...”

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo listened to the hysteric mutters and whimpers of the Hunters around him reduced to crying snivelling messes. Mr. Song informed him of a possible course of action with resignation.

 

“Hu-hu-huuuuuuuk...”

 

“Why do we have to...”

 

“This is only a D-Rank Dungeon... only a D-Rank...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo frowned as he narrowed his eyes in quiet contemplation. He clenched his jaw as he thought of the likelihood of escaping this hellhole.

 

‘Just like what Mr. Song Chi-Yul said, we’ll get attacked if we move’

 

He recalled the feeling of pure despair as the unholy Lord of this place ignited his eyes with light and heat that destroyed all in its path. There was no possible defence against that thing except moving out of its path falling to the ground in less than a second.

 

‘Even if we somehow bypass him, we still have to go through the Guard statue’

 

The imposing Guard stood stoic and disciplined at the side of the entrance ready to strike down anyone leaving without their Lord’s permission. Quick swift and brutal in execution.

 

Sung Jin-Woo glared up at the mammoth Statue sitting imperiously atop his throne. He was feeling oddly vexed the fear giving way for rage and defiance.

 

‘He probably never intended for us to leave!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo snapped his eyes like the rest of the Party to the side when he heard the flurry of movement skidding on the asphalt formed from the debris scattered throughout the circumference of the room after the attack. He looked to see a young Hunter who was probably around his age crouch down low the sole of his feet shattering the stone underneath.  

 

“I won’t die like this”

 

Sung Jin-Woo knew he was an Attack-Class Hunter looking at his posture and build. He listened stupefied at the reckless young man who was clearly going to do something that was not going to end well.

 

“I finally joined a big Guild,”

 

Sung Jin-Woo guessed he was probably a Hunter whose power was in increased agility and speed.

 

“So I can’t die here”

 

Song Chi-Yul was agitated and worried as he understood what exactly this young Hunter was going to do. He shouted alarmed at the Hunter.

 

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! DON’T MOVE!!!”

 

The dust around him shifted as his legs tensed preparing to leap.

 

“Yeah! I can do it!”

 

He muttered more to himself with shaky confidence as he pressed down hard before streaking through the air.

 

“If anything, I’m confident in my own speed”

 

The recoil of the force of his jump shattering the stone floor into a large crater.

 

“I’LL GO THROUGH THAT DOOR IN AN INSTANT!!”

 

He zipped through the air feet barely touching the ground as he made his way to the door. He looked at the beheaded body lying against the door. As he closed the distance to the door in a few seconds he grinned cockily at he wasn’t attacked yet. His cockiness was short lived as unbeknownst to him the molten eyes of the Statue glowed brighter as it ignited the air with a beam of light of such high temperatures it burned through anything and everything so completely that not even ash remained. Sung Jin-Woo felt the shock of seeing another Hunter vaporise into nothing knock every wisp of air from his lungs.

 

One second the Hunter was streaking through the air the next there was nothing left of him. He was there and then he wasn’t, only his still hovering feet till above the ankles remained as the rest ceased to exist in a second.  The glowing streak of light blinked out of existence as the detached feet rolled at the ground the momentum that was propelling them lost. Sung Jin-Woo knew Mr. Song was feeling the same overwhelming hopelessness crush his being as he swore and gasped under his breath the sound almost silent. The rest of the Hunters broke down further breaking their already fragile state into shattered ruins the scream of one of them shrill and pained.

 

“KYAAAAA!!!”

 

They flinched away from the gruesome sight eyes closed and head hanging low with loss and despair. Sung Jin-Woo cursed as he smashed a fist against the ground anger at being toyed with grating on his frazzled nerves.

 

“FUCK!”

 

“These guys can kill us whenever they feel like it, can’t they...”

 

Song Chi-Yul replied shaking his head in disbelief as he stared wide eyed at the show of power.

 

“It would be easier than squashing a bug”

 

Sung Jin-Woo calmed down his anger was one that burned cold more deadly than the hottest of flames. His mind sharpened as he became just the slightest bit more unfeeling. Sung Jin-Woo never thought much about this unsettling trait of his since it was nigh impossible for most people to push him to the edge. His brows furrowed as he glanced at Mr. Song’s still stunned face his mind racing a mile a minute as he asked.

 

“They could wipe out all of us this instant...”

 

“So why aren’t they?”

 

Mr. Song seemed like he was still processing what had just happened his mind barely registering Sung Jin-Woo’s question.

 

“Dunno...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked pensively at the huge Statue whose eyes were still that bright golden red.

 

‘Even if it could, it does not kill’

 

He had never met Monsters such as these existing in Lower Ranked Dungeons. A Monster capable of reasoning and intellectual action.

 

‘It’s different from the Monsters who blindly attack Hunters on sight’

 

It seemed like it attacked only if their actions provoked this Lord in some way. He let them be even if he could in the blink of an eye wipe them out.

 

‘The Guard statue that attacks when approaching the door’

 

He recalled that the Hunter was decapitated only when his fingers had grazed at the handle of the door not a second before.

 

‘The large Statue that shoots beams when you move’

 

This Lord only shot them down when they dared to move.

 

‘They attack in a pattern!’

 

He gritted his teeth his ears ringing as he realised what he had just thought. His eyes went wide his expression turning incredulous.

 

‘A pattern...?’

 

‘It can’t be...’

 

He snapped his head so fast that it was a blur as he faced the Hooded angel like statue holding the stone tablet.

 

‘There’s a rule in this room?!’

 

‘THE COMMANDMENTS OF CARTHENON!!’

 

His entire form vibrated with excitement at the possibility, it was chance they could live to see another day. He twisted his body to take a hard look at the mysterious looking statue as his mind raced heat beating rapidly as adrenaline surged through him.

 

‘Yes! That’s it!!!’

 

He hurriedly asked Mr. Song not bothering to lower his voice.

 

“MR. SONG CHI-YUL! WHAT WAS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT??”

 

Song Chi-Yul looked quizzically at the suddenly excited young man he answered nonetheless.

 

“Commandment?”

 

“The First would be...”

 

“Worship the Lord?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo glared up at the colossal Statue his lips pulled back in a slight sneer as his eyes glinted like the edge of a blade colder and brighter.

 

‘The Lord, Huh...’

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the way the adrenaline coursing through him made his senses sharpen and change on high alert. Every colour brighter, every sound sharper and time flowed slower. He whispered to Mr. Song curtly as he slowly got up.

 

“Sir, There’s a rule in this Dungeon”

 

Song Chi-Yul almost felt his heart give out as he saw Sung Jin-Woo slowly get up from his place beside him. He didn’t know how this sensible boy was suddenly doing such a senseless thing as this. He was grateful for the boy but he needed to be aware he was weaker than all of them. He couldn’t keep on risking his neck like this. He shouted furiously eyes glaring at the boy.

 

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING??”

 

Sung Jin-Woo paid no mind to Mr. Song’s words or justified anger. He was lost in himself again as he breathed in deep, eyes resolute and burning with conviction.

 

“If I’m correct...”

 

Song Chi-Yul felt the panic surge as the boy didn’t listen to him growing frustrated.

 

“ARE YOU CRAZY??”

 

Song Chi-Yul eyes stretched wider as they took in the resolve and fire in Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes that suddenly made him unrecognisable from the boy he saw just a moment ago. Sung Jin-Woo panted as he steeled his nerves loosening up the tension coiled in his body. Song Chi-Yul whispered with amazement clear in his voice as he took in this side of the World’s Weakest Hunter.

 

“Those aren’t the eyes of a man who seeks death”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s world shrunk down to only the menacing Statue and himself still he voiced his assumptions to Mr. Song eyes staring intently at the regal Statue.

 

“He doesn’t attack those who move”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Sung Jin-Woo slowly raised up carefully noting the glowing eyes of the statue the brightness remained the same. He whispered to the benefit of Mr. Song who was angrily shouting at him desperate to stop him.

 

“Sir, there’s a rule in this Dungeon”

 

Song Chi-Yul felt his heart gallop as he saw the boy next to him be so reckless risking his life by getting up when it had just gotten one of them killed. He screamed at the boy frustrated hoping to talk some sense into him.

 

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

 

Song Chi-Yul gazed at the boy’s face taken aback by the quiet confidence in them his expression was of single-minded determination and concentration. Song Chi-Yul muttered out amazed feeling something akin to hope bloom in his chest.

 

“Those eyes aren’t the eyes of a man who wishes to die”

 

Sung Jin-Woo swiftly straightened his back keeping careful watch on those laser eyes of the statue. He saw the pupil brighten further signalling it was about to shoot its deadly beams. Sung Jin-Woo stooped down low in a flurry of movement instantly at that. Sung Jin-Woo panted as he awaited the possibility of being struck down if he was wrong. He looked down at the ground frightened for a second before lifting his gaze to those glowing eyes. He was overjoyed to see the pupil revert back to its normal glow unlike the blinding brightness as it heated up further to annihilate him when he stood up.

 

‘He starts to attack if you move past a certain height’

 

He glared in distaste and the uncharacteristic rage bubbled under his skin. He was feeling oddly brave and triggered. But now was not the time for him to dwell on himself.

 

‘I finally understand the meaning of the First Commandment!’

 

He turned to face the rest of Hunters shouting loudly garnering their attention.

 

“EVERYONE!!! BOW DOWN TO THE STATUE!!!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik cursed incensed at the unbelievable words the Weakest of them was spewing. He felt anger swell at the suggestion to bow down to that Monster that had already killed some of them and would most likely to kill them all.

 

“SUNG JIN-WOO, HAVE YOU GONE MAD?!”

 

“HUH?”

 

Bak shouted at Sung Jin-Woo frustrated as the words made no sense to any of them. Did he want them to beg for mercy? Reason with a Monster that was hell bent on killing them all.

 

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!”

 

Song Chi-Yul stared at the young man beside him eyes complicated as he asked quietly.

 

“You figured something out, right?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo gaze never left the large Monster his eyes were lighter and his expression was grave and one of contempt. He seriously explained to the rest of them his quiet voice loud in the suddenly silent room.

 

“Yes”

 

“He attacks if you move past a certain height,”

 

“and therefore doesn’t attack when you bow down low enough”

 

Sung Jin-Woo slowly lowered himself to the ground kneeling as his forehead almost grazed the ground.

 

“ “Worship the Lord”, means to literally bow down and worship him”

 

“So when you bow down to him...”

 

Song Chi-Yul asked grimly as the words settled in his mind.

 

“This didn’t come from just a gut feeling, right?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo frowned as he hesitated before answering.

 

“... it did for now”

 

Song Chi-Yul was more than impressed by Sung Jin-Woo’s mind and intuition he had never seen someone with such sharp instincts and intuition. He grinned before blasely deferring to Sung Jin-Woo’s judgement.  

 

“Well... There’s nothing else we can do right now”

 

The other Hunters looked startled as they saw Song Chi-Yul heed that insane suggestion but they too were at the end of the rope. They were desperate to try anything on the off chance they could be saved from this nightmare. The other Hunters even the still trembling Ju-Hee kowtowed facing the Monster that paraded around as a lifeless statue.

 

Kim Sang-Shik was distressed having never expected things to go so awry having to heed the words of the Weakest of them all. But Sung Jin-Woo was the only reason the rest of them were alive he felt bitter and the embarrassment remembering his arrogant attitude no matter how he dressed it as never showing it to Sung Jin-Woo seemed suddenly derisive of him.  He knew the others felt the same way. He was ashamed of his behaviour and snide comments like the rest of them. He desperately hoped Sung Jin-Woo knew what he was doing.

 

‘We get to live?’

 

The possibility of such a thing had hope fluttering against their chest like a caged bird trying to be free.

 

‘We can finally get out of here??’

 

The simplicity of what they were doing to get out alive seemed like a farfetched joke but they had to try.

 

‘By just bowing?’

 

Ju-Hee trembled as she bowed down low her eyes shut tight as silent tears dripped down her face. The Hunters watched those ominous eyes that were alit slowly blink out of existence leaving behind its cold stone pupil lifeless as it had been at the beginning.

 

Bak felt the regret that welled up in him the moment those doors slammed shut surge felt even more anguish at his lamentable choice to return to Hunting. He had known the chances of dying and getting hurt went hand in hand with being a Hunter. But he didn’t expect to meet such a horrid hoard of Monsters that caused his primal instincts to quiver and shake he didn’t want to die he had to take care of his pregnant wife and child however if he had to die during a raid he would have chosen any other than this godforsaken place. His face turned pale as he took in the horrifying expression on the previously apathetic face.

 

‘Wh-What’s with that face...!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the tension slightly loosen as the dangerous light faded only for it come back ten-fold as he saw with horrified eyes his pupils dilating and quivering as fear ran rampant through his system.

 

‘His expression...’

 

The impassive stone face of the Statue now had a ear splitting grin lips pulled back from his sharp teeth the gum a disturbing dark purple the sharp edges of the teeth and the deranged smile was mind numbingly scary. Its stone face pulled into creases that crumpled the smooth finish of stone into an expression of abject insanity and smug oppressiveness. His face didn’t crack the way stone did showing the true monstrous quality underneath it was anything but a stone statue such an unassuming disguise.

 

Its’s grin was so wide it took up half its grotesque face its teeth were large and wide a dull white. His sclera was black as its pupil shinned a deep red of blood darker surrounding the metallic gold. The blood red sheen making the already diabolical face more sinister. If it was just stone it would have cracked and broken down at the stretch of that demented grin it just showed it was well and truly a Monster.

 

‘It changed?!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo heard the gasp on his left indicating Mr. Song was just as petrified by the immobilising expression. The face looked skeletal as if suddenly striped of its impassive mask.

 

‘How many has he attacked before?’

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt his lungs burn as breathing became difficult the adrenaline pulsing in him feeding his mounting rage and helplessness and the paralysing fear. It was a dangerous mix of emotions one he could not hope to dish out he was the Weakest after all.

 

‘How many are still alive?’

 

He flicked his eyes from the Monster he could see the rage colouring his eyes he did not want the Lord of these powerful Monsters to know of the anger and derision in him. The Statue may just be slighted enough to end them all not that that wasn’t his plan but he wanted to buy as much time as he could to get out of this place or die trying.

 

‘How long...’

 

He lowered his head holding the respectful position even if all he felt was unadulterated fear and anger. He gritted his teeth in frustration.

 

‘How long do we have to do this?’

 

Bak kept gazing up at that horrifying face making sure to never meet his eyes head on he didn’t want to be singled out by this depraved Monster. He noted it made no move to vaporise them or something like that. He sighed with relief when none of the other statues in the room made a move too. He quietly whispered knowing everyone could hear him in this deathly silent room.

 

“... Looks like he stopped attacked”

 

Kim Sang-Shik lifted his head the slightest as he saw Bak straighten up sitting on his knees. He replied incredulous.

 

“No way...”

 

He could not believe that bowing down to it was all it took for this insane Monster to not attack them. He voiced out his concerns warily.

 

“Don’t you think he’s going to try something else now?”

 

He felt the cold sweat drip down his spine at the chilling alarming expression of the Lord of the Monsters held within this wicked place.

 

“Is everything actually going to be fine now because we bowed to him?”

 

Bak stood up balling his fists as he took this leap of faith. He stood still for a second waiting to see the same beam that decimated at the very least half of their total numbers. Kim Sang-Shik reprimanded this ballsy move growing scared for Bak. 

 

“H- H- HEY!! IF YOU STAND UP LIKE THAT...!”

 

Bak could not express the utter relief that washed over him as nothing happened. He happily rejoiced easing everyone’s taut nerves.

 

“L-LOOK!”

 

“THE ATTACKS STOPPED!!”

 

One other brave Hunter quickly rose heart hammering in her chest she exclaimed with joy.

 

“IT’S TRUE!”

 

“HE ISN’T DOING ANYTHING!!”

 

The others were quick on the uptake as they shakily stood up their knees weak with fear before elated cries broke within them.

 

“NO WAY, IS IT REALLY OVER??”

 

They looked at the still maddening grin fearfully but despite their better judgement they broke down into shouts of relief.

 

“WE SURVIVED!”

 

“WE GET TO LIVE!!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the wave of trepidation overcome him as his instincts went haywire again.

 

Danger. Danger. Danger.

 

It was worse than the fear he had felt so far in this cold cold Dungeon. His eyes widened in horror as he looked up at the terrifying face. His mind kickstarted as he gasped suddenly. 

 

‘No...’

 

The unholy glee in the Monster’s face a prelude to what was to come.

 

‘Not yet...’

 

The other Hunters’ joy was short lived as the ground underneath them shifted and moved rattling the whole foundation as if there was an earthquake. They saw the gigantic Statue rise from his throne the force of such a simple action seismic. The true extent of his height had them cowering shrinking away with primal fear.

 

“!!”

 

Its barren feet shattered the stone beneath into a sizable crater the stone cracking and shifting through the entire expanse of the Dungeon. Kim Sang-Shik felt crippling fear unlike any he had felt as he took in the lumbering enormous form of the Monster before him. He gasped out desperately as he unconsciously took a step back.

 

“W-WAIT. IT’S NOT OVER YET???”

 

The Hunters were in various states of denial and desperation as the Monster righted himself his crown almost touching the domed ceiling.

 

“Ah... Ah...”

 

Inconsolable pleas and warped sounds resounded as some of them were reduced to relying only on their instincts as their rationale dissolved in the sweeping tides of fear.

 

“NO...!”

 

The manic grin sending shivers down their spine one of them asked aghast blood draining from all of their faces.

 

“Don’t tell me we have to face him?”

 

Song Chi-Yul felt his blood run cold as he saw the Monster approach them himself. He prayed Sung Jin-Woo would save them all after all he had done so twice already. His erratic desperate enquiry was laced with helplessness at the face of such a Monster.

 

“SUNG!”

 

“SUNG JIN-WOO! DON’T YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PLANS?!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo had never felt such malevolence ever in his life not in the Monsters that mindlessly screamed for blood not in some Hunters who were worse than Monsters.

 

“Even if you ask me...”

 

He looked at the Monster as his eyes roved around to mockingly look at them all waiting to be brutally killed. The rows of teeth sharper and more menacing against the black purple. This was but a game for this Monster now he seemed to revel in their fear.

 

 

Song Chi-Yul felt his hope dwindle the slightest when he saw the stricken expression on Sung Jin-Woo’s face he needed to come out of his stupor he yelled at him making him realise they were pressed for time.

 

“YOU REALLY DON’T HAVE ANY IDEAS?!?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was frustrated that he seemed to be the only one capable using his mind at the face of this absurd situation. These Hunters had mocked him belittled him but now they were asking him for help he didn’t feel smug just the heavy crushing burden of their expectations and hope. He never wanted to be in a team he had always been that way but he was the Weakest Hunter if he wanted to Raid he needed other Hunters to do so.

 

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO EITHER!”

 

Everyone stumbled as they felt the ground beneath them quake as the Monster took a step stomping its sole. The ripples reverberated through the air. Sung Jin-Woo felt the adrenaline rush to his brain as his thoughts flashed in his mind in lightning speed. He yelled out to the others hoping someone would find something with the clues.

 

“OH, WAIT! THIS DUNGEON HAS ITS OWN RULES!!”

 

He screamed stressing each syllable getting them out as fast as he can while making sense.

 

“THE FIRST WAS TO WORSHIP THE LORD!”

 

He looked at the group beside him as he enunciated clearly, laced with the veiled unsuspected anger at the rest of them, for the next commandment making sure they understood his words even though he knew there was no way they could miss it as he was screaming himself hoarse. The anger was undetectable only the Monster noting the resentment as its evil grin quirked up further blood red sheen in its sinister eyes shinning with interest. It would prolong this game, just so it could break this boy.

 

“THE SECOND IS TO PRAISE THE LORD!”

 

“THAT HAS TO BE THE KEY!!”

 

The other Hunters no longer questioned Sung Jin-Woo’s words as they would have if not for it being the only reason they were breathing.

 

“PRAISE?!”

 

One of the Hunters who was wearing a prominent golden cross a rarity among Hunters who were usually atheist or agnostic.

 

“IF IT’S PRAISING, THEN...”

 

“I WILL GIVE IT A SHOT!”

 

He stepped forward as he explained to the other Hunters.

 

“I WAS A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH CHOIR”

 

He felt confidence bubble in him he was certainly well versed in praying,  feeling like God had seen his faithful self and was leading him away from danger.

 

“IF IT’S SINGING AND PRAISING, I’VE GOT THIS!”

 

He closed his eyes as he clutched the cross like a lifeline he began to chant and sing praying with every inch of his being.

 

“I approach the Lord,”

 

“Make me anew,”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt something was wrong he didn’t think this was the right answer.

 

“And pour your graces”

 

“The weakness found within me,”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt like the words couldn’t be further from the truth what this Hunter was preaching was not at all what this nightmare come alive was.

 

“All will wash away”

 

“From the love of the Lord,”

 

He watched as the Monster got nearer and nearer to the Hunter who was still signing with his eyes closed. Sung Jin-Woo’s mind screeched to a halt as he recalled what he had scornfully thought this prayer is obviously not for the bloodcurdling being before them.

 

‘!!’

 

“Your love holds on to me”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes widened as he saw just how close the Statue was to the unaware Hunter. He heard Kim Sang-Shik question voice anxious.

 

“IS IT WORKING??”

 

Bak looked at the slowing Statue before voicing his observation.

 

“IT DOES LOOK LIKE HE’S MOVING SLOWER...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt his breath quicken as his hypothesis took form as he stared at the chilling sight before him.

 

‘NO...!’

 

He barely opened his mouth to scream at the Hunter to get away to run as the hymn continued.

 

“Like an eagle flapping its wings above,”

 

‘That’s...!’

 

He looked at the evil grin that stretched too wide that crumpled the stone face like paper like a horrific skeletal clown. The eyes that looked derisively down at the pious Hunter whose ode to his God grew more impassioned.

 

“I shall also walk with my Lord above”

 

He watched the sudden movement of the Statue lifting its feet it happened in less than a second he didn’t even have time to gasp out his warning.

 

‘THAT’S PRAISING THE WRONG GOD...!’

 

He watched terror stricken as his grey eyes that had lightened in shade as his inner light spilled out now quivered darkening at the feet that trampled the man under it leaving only splatters of blood and gore. He understood then just how much it hurt to be weak being so consumed by fear.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The foot hovering above the pale ardently chanting Hunter the rest of them paled at the sight scared witless.

 

“I shall also walk with my Lord above”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s intuition honed in on the jumbled mess of his thoughts this Monster was as unholy as they come. The words of compassion and love being preaching was laughably inaccurate.

 

“From within the Lord’s love,”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the scream bubble in his throat to tell the Hunter to run away that his God was not the evil being before him to turn away to flee but it was too late.

 

‘That’s praising the wrong God...!’

 

He watched helpless the heavy feeling in his heart dropping to his stomach full of dread as he saw the macabre grin full of sharpened teeth and those malevolent eyes gleefully revelling in their pain and fright.

 

The hymn of grace still being spilled from quivering lips as the Hunter felt the air push down on him from unknowing pressure. Then blinding unbelievable pain then no more as only a crater of blood and gore was left of him.

 

“KYAAAAAA!!!!!!!”

 

The sobs of loss and hopelessness echoed in this cold cruel Dungeon as they scampered feeling the nauseating distress solidify even further.

 

“AHHHHH!!!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik had Raided many times faced many unlikely situations but this was a hopeless situation where they couldn’t even lift an arm in defence. His adrenaline charged as the hellish creature moved towards them, he yelled shaking everyone from their daze.

 

“RUN!!!”

 

Panicked cries and screams escaped them as they ran like they have never run before the adrenaline pushing their bodies overriding pain.

 

“HELP ME!”

 

“GYAAAH!!!”

 

One of them had remained unmoving lying haphazardly on the floor lost to the world around her as she went into shock and remained paralysed with fear.

 

“uuu... uu...”

 

Her incoherent mumbling no more as the monstrous feet flattened her to a bloody mess.

 

Song Chi-Yul shouted trying to give some direction to the remaining Hunters who were losing themselves to the madness and running around aimless and frantic.

 

“IT’S DANGEROUS TO GROUP UP!"

 

"SEPARATE FOR NOW!”

 

 Sung Jin-Woo shakily agreed to that as he diverted his path from Mr. Song’s hands still holding Miss Ju-Hee’s hand firmly.

 

“Y-YES!”

 

She would have probably crumpled like that Hunter paralysed and unable to stop her inevitable demise.

 

‘But I can’t leave Miss Ju-Hee behind...’

 

Her face was covered in tears that never dried, her crying hysterical, her face was blotchy and swollen from the continuous tears that fell like a waterfall. She looked like a wreak her ugly tears tugging at Sung Jin-Woo’s compassion for this young woman who had helped him healed him many a time.

                          

Bak ran feeling his lungs burn at the exertion his eyes stinged as tears fell down flying past his sideburns as he ran as fast as he could.

 

‘I can’t die here!’

 

He remembered his beautiful wife who he loved so much and the thought of never seeing her again broke his heart into pieces. He regretted not listening to her.

 

“How about you quit being a Hunter and find a safer job?”

 

Her belly swollen with their second child as she looked at him worry clear in her eyes.

 

" We already have two kids”

 

The easy placating attitude of his had brought him here so close to death so close to never seeing his family again.

 

“What are you talking about… We have to earn more money for their sake…”

 

He remembered the love he had for his children his flesh and blood he loved them so much he wanted to be there for everything.

 

‘I’m finally determined to be a father of two but this...!’

 

He yelled at Kim Sang-Shik who was nearby skidding to a stop before a towering statue of a knight with a sword.

 

“OVER HERE SHOULD BE SAFE RIGHT?”

 

Bak looked at Kim Sang-Shik looking at the horrified expression with a feeling of dread he listened to the words that were being yelled at him desperately.

 

“MR. BAK!!! BEHIND YOU!!!”

 

Barely having time to even think he felt the wind sweep from the broadsword.

 

“TURN AROUND!”

 

Bak felt the sharp unforgiving pain of being cleaved into half in one smooth move not dead immediately as he weakly clutched his head as the two halves of himself slid down spilling gore and blood.

 

“Ah...”

 

The Guard behind righted its sword back to its position holding it upright.

 

Sung Jin-Woo was frustrated as he turned the words in his head again and again and again.

 

‘Praise the Lord’

 

The behemoth Statue was still chasing them down it was revelling in their pain and terror.

 

‘Praise the Lord’

 

He clutched Ju-Hee’s hand tightly as he tugged her forward running as fast as he could away from that Monster.

 

‘Praise... the Lord’

 

He gritted his teeth he knew running around like this was only prolonging the inevitable if he didn’t solve the puzzle, they were all already good as dead. He felt vexed as the long strides of the Monster that was just pacing caught up closing in dangerously close.

 

‘HOW DO WE PRAISE A GOD LIKE HIM?!’

 

He pushed his body commanding it to run even as his legs burned.

 

‘THAT’S THE DEVIL!!!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked at the utter carnage happening all around him the Guards brutally swiftly disposed of any that entered their range.

 

‘Behind us stands the Guards...’

 

Their nefarious God was merrily picking them off one by one with the same damned parody of a smile that was unsettling no matter how many times his eyes laid upon them.

 

‘In front is the colossal Statue’

 

He willed himself to study the moss-covered statues of the Guards as pierced sliced maimed the Hunters before them.

 

‘They attack when we get too close to them’

 

He looked at them intently even when the cries of pain grated uncomfortably in his ear the sound piercing.

 

“AHK!!!”

 

He noted the weapons of the Guards his intuition nudging him to do so as he relentlessly took stock of their despairing beautifully crafted weapons that unlike their deceptive moss-covered state were in perfect condition.

 

‘An axe, a spear, a sword,’

 

He twisted his head to analyse the next few statues he felt his heart quake at the sight of Hunter lying prone in front of a Guard who cleanly detached his arm from his body. He continued studying knowing he had no time to dwell on other thoughts now.

 

‘A hammer, a flail, a bow, an instrument...’

 

The armless Hunter screamed in agony and another Hunter beside him was split in half his lower body swaying for a few moments before falling.

 

“MY ARM!!!”

 

“MY ARM!!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the world close in on him caught between a rock and a hard place.

 

‘WE CAN’T GET CLOSER AND WE CAN’T RUN!!!’

 

‘WHAT DO WE DO?!’

 

His frenzied mind slowed as a single thought came to the forefront of his mind.

 

“Huh?”

 

He gasped as he recalled there were some statues with instruments scattered between the Guards.

 

“... An instrument?’

 

He racked his mind trying to remember if any of the victims were attacked by a statue with instrument.

 

‘Do they attack with instruments too?’

 

He steeled his heart as he analysed the attacks initiated by the Guards. The brutal precise moves to carry forth execution to satisfy their Lord’s bloodlust.

 

‘The Guards only attack when you get too close’

 

‘Once you do that, they move based on predetermined motions’

 

Predetermined motion a Knight with a sword slashed a Guard with spear stabbed and so on and so forth.

 

‘If the statues holding instruments do that too, then...!’

 

Music was the way most religions expressed their devotion and worship to their gods. He shouted his voice laced with urgency and something akin to relief even though he wasn’t safe yet far from it

 

“EVERYONE! RUN TOWARDS THE STATUES WITH INSTRUMENTS!!”

 

His words were shouted around voices hopeful.

 

“THE ONES WITH INSTRUMENTS?!”

 

Song Chi-Yul ran towards one of the robed Vassals holding an enormous animal horn he trusted Sung Jin-Woo’s judgement the boy was quite bright he could have a brighter future in the normal world but he remained a Hunter for whatever reason and he respected that. He panted as he reached the statue, he gazed up at it surprised as a mesmerising deep note resounded from the horn. A beautiful sound in such a dreadful place.

 

“It... started playing?”

 

He shouted out confirming Sung Jin-Woo’s words to be true hoping they would heed Sung Jin-Woo’s intuition. The beautiful sounds from the horn reverberated in the air as the other Hunters looked moved to tears at the lifeline being thrown.

 

“THE STATUES HOLDING INSTRUMENTS DON’T ATTACK!!”

 

“FIND THE ONES WITH INSTRUMENTS!!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik sprinted through the air to reach the Herald with the violin he sat exhausted in front of the statue that had started playing. The sound beautifully mingling with the horn. He finally let it all out as broken sobs racked his form.

 

“uuk...”

 

“uuk”

 

“euuk...”

 

It was, he trembled as he saw the massacre this demonic God has left in his wake, hell. The mutilated bloody bodies and smears not one intact. He felt the onset of anger get snuffed at the face of this insanity.

 

“huk...”

 

He crumpled further as another bit the dust another bloody mark in this desolate Dungeon.

 

“You... bastard”

 

Sung Jin-Woo rushed forward tugging Ju-Hee towards a Vassal with a drum. He pulled Ju-Hee into its sphere of influence. He scowled up at the still silent statue feeling the rage turn his eyes cold. His innate coldness seeped out the slightest.

 

“HURRY UP AND START PLAYING!!”

 

He felt the quivering whimpering form of Ju-Hee press against him thankfully bringing him back from his apathy and anger. He screamed at the statue again now worried for Ju-Hee who really couldn’t handle this anymore.

 

“C’MON!!”

 

He felt the despair come in crushing waves.

 

“Why...”

 

Sung Jin-Woo groaned inside his mind as he multitasked keeping Ju-Hee calm and figuring out the reason for the uncooperative statue.

 

‘Wait! Could it be that two people can’t stay underneath the same statue?’

 

Ju-Hee wailed looking up at him her eyes flooded with tears and ugly blotches of colour settling on her ruddy nose and cheeks.

 

“Jin-Woo...”

 

He wanted to console Ju-Hee but they were both running out of time he knew he had to be the one to go on a mad dash again Ju-Hee couldn’t he knew that. He yelled sternly as he dashed away from the drummer statue.

 

“DON’T MOVE!! YOU’LL BE SAFE IF YOU STAY HERE!”

 

Ju-Hee screamed scared at the prospect of being alone but listened anyway knowing Sung Jin-Woo was the only reason she wasn’t one of the decorative splashes of red strewn across the room.

 

“JIN-WOO!!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the manic gaze his instincts prickling as he felt like he was doused with a bucket of ice cold water. He knew to trust his intuition now after seeing it saving him time and time again, he felt bitter feelings of being useless no matter how he tried to make himself less of a nuisance and burden.

 

“Just a little more...”

 

His eyes zeroed in on a statue that seemed to holding a lyra or a harp he wasn’t too sure but that was his one shot.

 

“A little more!”

 

He heard the loud thumps of those enormous feet smash through the floor sighting him. He saw the shadow of the foot coming down atop of him. He instinctively sided to the side using the recoil to slide off a jutting piece of stone. His trajectory was towards the statue he wanted.

 

“IT’S NOT THAT WAY!!”

 

But Mr. Song terrified and anguished scream had him widening his eyes now a slate grey as he looked death in the eyes again. 

 

“!!”

 

He couldn’t stop his momentum as he streaked tearing his already frayed jeans more as he saw what exactly Mr. Song was talking about.

 

‘It wasn’t an instrument, but a shield...’

 

Sung Jin-Woo cursed, his life flashing before his eyes like every other time he stared at death but this time he dreaded was probably going to be his last. Even a cat had only nine lives after all.

 

Ju-Hee had never felt so useless in her entire life she knew she couldn’t handle blood and violence that’s why she stuck with lower level Dungeons even though she was B-Ranked Healer. She did it because if someone could benefit from her abilities she wanted to do so. Healing was a joy but she knew she was a crutch a burden for Parties or Guild that Raided higher Ranked Dungeon.

 

She knew it all too well and accepted it yet here she was being a burden a deadweight to their champion the Weakest Hunter. She had feelings for him everyone but Sung Jin-Woo knew that and when she finally mustered up her courage to make her feelings known even if they were to be rejected because she didn’t know whether he was in a relationship or that he simply didn’t have feelings for her.

 

It was ironic that he was saving all of their lives since they entered this godforsaken Dungeon. It was because of her ineptitude that Sung Jin-Woo had to drag her along with even giving up the statue for her as he raced against time and death to reach a safe haven. The wicked malicious Lord hunting him down as Sung Jin-Woo closed in on a statue that turned out to be a Guard not a Vassal. She screamed with such grief and horror she wondered whether her feeling ran deeper than she thought.

 

“KYAAAK!!"

 

"JIN-WOO!!!!!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the world tilt as he was in so much pain his complexion turned ashen resembling a corpse. He felt his body and insides in a chaos a mess. Something bothered him something hurt something felt so wrong so invalid, but he fading in and out consciousness as his ears rang and blood dripped over his eyes and drained out from him through various wounds some deep enough to spurt rivulets of blood, couldn’t for the life of tell what.

 

Sung Jin-Woo whispered weakly feeling the burning gaze of the deadliest of them all approaching him. He didn’t need to turn to see the depraved sickening grin on that skeletal face with cold mocking debilitating stare nor did he hear the approaching footsteps over the ringing in his ear and it didn’t help he was sure he had concussed his head more than a couple of times he wouldn’t be surprised if there was a haemorrhage in brain.

 

“Instrument...”

 

‘Please...’

 

He whimpered feeling the life drain out of him.

 

“An instru...”

 

His agony was numbing he didn’t know what hurt and what didn’t anymore he was getting sucked into oblivion even as he prayed to a higher power, he never believed in, to God, to the devil anything to save him from this nightmare.

 

‘If there truly is a God…’

 

‘Please…’

 

He would give everything and anything, even if it was his soul, to be free from its cruel clutches. It was anger and rage that burned colder than the coldest of ice. It was always within him but he felt it bloom unfurl as he crawled unseeing as he felt a gentle tug forgotten in the pain lead him somewhere.

 

 

………………………………………

                                                                                           

                  LIFE…                                                                      

            AND DEATH…                                

 

………………………………………

 

 

He knew how many times he had walked out alive when he shouldn’t but it seemed now was one too many a time.

 

He gasped as he felt an inimitable supernatural unworldly intense pleasure that took away all the pain... all the suffering... even his identity... as he was swept in whirlpool of divine euphoria and pleasure.

 

He heard a faint whisper brushing against his soul something of the likes...

 

‘Mine…’

 

It was otherworldly eerie transcendentally beautiful and bewitching he couldn't make out much it was as though his mortal soul was incapable of even perceiving the descending mystical ethereal empyreal divine...

 

the words were not in a language he was familiar with... he was sure it was not of this world or any world even the mysterious worlds of Monsters, it was like an endless rhapsodic litany of languages of unknown dimensions and realms...

 

some intangible...

 

some melancholic...

 

some euphonious...

 

...

 

   ..........

 

      .................................

 

It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard in his life he would attest to that even if he had not been in the miserable state he was in currently.

he felt a dizzying array of emotions and sensations incorporeal and absolute...

 

in their purest existence...

 

it was like a amaranthine timeless seal... a deathless everlasting mark of eternity binding him to ...

 

he knew not...

 

encompassing all of Jin-Woo...

...

   ...... 

 

all swept under the unknowing golden haze buried under mortal pain and distress... quiescent for now...

 

Jin-Woo had much to deal with now...

 

Sung Jin-Woo crashed back to reality as the pain and his twitching body came rushing to him, he didn’t know whether he had blanked out as the white spaces in his memory struck him, maybe he had a delirious hallucination he didn't remember in the blank span of time, brought up from the mind-numbing pain.

 

 

……………………………………………………………

                                                                                  

               I WAS HOLDING ONTO                     

             A THREAD THAT KEPT ME              

                       FROM DYING…                               

                                                                               

……………………………………………………………

 

 

He unconsciously crawled ever so slightly in an effort to get away from the behemoth Lord closing in on him.

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………

 

               BUT NOW

                IT FEELS

                 LIKE…

 

                                                             EVEN THAT

                                                            MAY BREAK…

 

………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

He closed his eyes as his body gave out no more energy left in him to twitch a finger blood dripped down his skull the blood warm against his icy face. He heard a beautiful and captivating voice sing in a language unknown it was a lovely voice but nothing less than nothing when compared to...

 

compared to ...

 

...what?

 

Jin-Woo knitted his brows in concentration as a hazy confusion blanketed his whole self... body mind heart and soul...  He shook himself out of the strange trance shelving away the thought for later when he was not in the very real danger of dying.

 

He quirked his eyes at the sound a feeble laughter at his death-defying luck gracing him with its presence. He knew the bloodthirsty Monster had stopped in its tracks as the Second Commandment was fulfilled by the few of them who remained alive.   

 

“Haha…”

 

Ju-Hee sprinted towards Sung Jin-Woo the moment the colossal Statue stopped moving she felt the adrenaline push her as she hurled over stones to get to his side as soon as possible. She screamed feeling her heart beat frantically as she hoped he was okay.

 

“JIN-WOO, ARE YOU OKAY?!?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo didn’t know what he was feeling right now it felt like he was being burned alive as his insides throbbed with insistent pain as his organs felt gripped tight in a vice. He was numb he couldn’t tell what was his hand his chest his legs anymore everything hurt but he was breathing that was all he knew and that was enough for now.

 

He replied barely getting the words out his bruised mouth bitten bloody as he coughed out droplets of blood, there was definitely internal bleeding. But the numbness quickly overcame whether it was the copious amount of blood lost or something he did not know at least this allowed him with some of his mental faculties even if he couldn’t account for his body. His mind had proven itself priceless in this death trap and he was grateful to still have it even if the concussion made it hard to think. Miss Ju-Hee fragile state was something to take into consideration he hoped he didn’t look a mess

 

“Yeah, so-so…”

 

Ju-Hee felt relief at Sung Jin-Woo’s reply only for it to quickly change as she took in his state and his glaring grievous injury.

 

“Jin-Woo, How A-AAAHHH…!”

 

She pressed her palm to her lips as she devolved into tears, she felt horrible and bitterness took its ugly roots in her broken heart as she cursed the world at such injustice. Sung Jin-Woo detachedly heard her pained scream as she looked at him eyes brimming with fresh tears and emotion. He turned still not completely grounded as he looked down to where she was staring with such horror.

 

“Huh?”

 

His dazed dead eyed stare noted something odd the something that had bothered him when he was in the throes of pain something wrong.

 

“Oh…”

 

He saw the curious lack of something his leg almost half of it from a few inches down his right knee. He stared at it dazed as he exclaimed with no inflection too lost in the numbness to feel emotion for now.

 

“My leg…!”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked around as his head throbbed insistently, he didn’t know how to process his leg being dismembered by that Guard statue. He was in unbelievable pain yes but it was a pain he couldn’t vocalise as his energy was non-existent, he was thankful at least his mind was disassociating him from the world of pain and suffering even if everything echoed and registered like a half-forgotten dream.

 

His head injury was probably a cause for concern but Miss Ju-Hee’s healing Magic was doing little to abide the slow continuous blood flowing out of the stump where his leg had been. Miss Ju-Hee tried again and again in vain he appreciated her effort still worrying about him in this hellscape but this was doing no favours for the both of them. His mental state was pretty good the familiar ingrained apathy coming out shedding the kind polite façade... well.... he was kind and polite his mother had raised him well after all but his cold disposition was as innate as the rest of his characteristics.

 

He was the World’s Weakest Hunter that tag had made him the outcast among Hunters and he didn’t have the time or opportunity to meet new people other than Hunters in whatever Party the Hunter Association assigned him to. He alternated between risking his life yet again and recovering from a life-threatening injury his only interactions being with sister when she was not reprimanding and worrying over him. He had no friends no family other than his little sister and his quietly slumbering mother for eternity.

 

He shook himself from his quiet introspection as his tired dull eyes that were half mast and bruised looked to see the utter carnage surrounding them. His dead looking eyes chanced upon his torn off leg feeling nothing but the slight interest at seeing a part of himself detached from his body, if he was in his normal state maybe he would have broken down crying venting screaming but the blanket of numbness was shielding him for now.

 

He mourned the now useless to him blue canvas sneakers he had gotten begrudgingly just a few weeks before... if this was what he was concerned about when there were many other things to grieve over and needed his utmost attention maybe he was going mad off to the deep end. 

 

He quietly whispered to Miss Ju-Hee to gently stop her from wasting her Magic futilely.

 

“It’s okay now, Miss Ju-Hee… you can stop…”

 

Ju-Hee eyes were still wet tears gathered around the corners of her eyes as her face set with an expression of determination and desperation it was reflected in her voice as she resolutely said.

 

“HOLD ON FOR A LITTLE BIT!”

 

“I PROMISE I’LL HEAL YOU!”

 

Ju-Hee felt a burning pain as blood spluttered from her nostrils and she began coughing out blood. Sung Jin-Woo looked at her still in a daze as he sighed when he realised Ju-Hee was still trying to heal him the glowing light not dissipating.

 

“COUGH”

 

“COUGH”

 

Song Chi-Yul gazed at Sung Jin-Woo’s broken and bloody body feeling guilt and despair at the bright man suffering from such a life altering injury. He knew Ju-Hee’s intentions were commendable but she was not powerful or skilled enough to handle an injury of such magnitude. He muttered as the other remaining Hunters stood together looking at the pitiable sight.

 

“Will she be okay?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik felt sympathy for Sung Jin-Woo he never expected he would owe his life to the Weakest Hunter he felt ashamed of his sneering remarks and snide comments but he was sure that everyone whether deceased or alive felt the same shame curl in their stomach. But they were Hunters here power was everything. He whispered worn out.

 

“How terrible…”

 

He truly didn’t think Sung Jin-Woo would survive but he was glad he did as a selfish part of him knew he was no matter how banged up their best shot at escaping alive.

 

“Well, at least he survived”

 

He remembered the jovial face of Mr. Bak as he talked on and on about his family, he had looked forward to raiding with him again they always meshed well but now that was nothing but wishful thinking.

 

“We started out with 17 and now there are only 6 left…”

 

Song Chi-Yul felt the burning pain as blood still gushed down his bleeding stump his pallor grey as he winced at the congealing blood darkening into coppery brownish hue feeling the very fluid of his life drain away slowly. He knew Sung Jin-Woo was much more gravely injured his own missing leg as the blood drained faster in streams more that his own slow droplets of blood leaving him. He would die if he didn’t get medical attention soon and Sung Jin-Woo sooner.

 

“And two are gravely injured…”

 

Kim Sang-Shik felt anger boil deep inside him as it churned within hungry for a target something he could actually confront and spew this rotting twisted anguish out.

 

“It’s unfortunate that you lost your arm, but this is all because you made rash decisions as the Party Leader”

 

Kim Sang-Shik hated Mr. Song almost as much as that heinous Monster right now he wanted him to pay because it was on his words they came here. If he had done his duty right this wouldn’t have happened. His reason had already left him in the wake of disaster he didn’t care if he was right or wrong to say so to blame him but hatred was irrational like that.

 

“Mr. Song… you just wait for your punishment”

 

Song Chi-Yul sighed in agreement feeling the guilt that gnawed at him eat away at his soul he knew all too well that his confidence was the reason these Hunters followed him into Double Lair it is remarkable that Sung Jin-Woo didn’t seem to harbour any resentment a strange kind hearted boy who was full of surprises. Still it did leave a bitter taste when that same guilt that was already rancid being thrown at his face.

 

“Yeah…”

 

The tension that hung heavily over them was cut through when they heard and felt the ground shift under them. The Monster was at it again walking covering vast distances with its crushing strides their adrenaline charged like a raging bull at the thought of running around from what seemed like certain death again and again. Their bodies were burnt of all its energy running it dry and the constant crippling strain on their minds chipping away at their sanity.

 

“THAT BASTARD… NOT AGAIN!”

 

They all looked terrified at the prospect eyes locked on his lumbering form the fear that was placed in the backburner bulldozing its way to the forefront of their wrecked minds. Their desperation clear in their voice. Sung Jin-Woo looked eyes fluttering feebly as he saw the Statue that was at the epicentre of all this. He looked with an aloofness as he throbbed in pain and felt that he couldn’t bring himself to care.

 

“WHA- WHAT’S GOING ON?!”

 

He watched curious about what was going to happen next if this was going to be the end of his miserable life. Sung Jin-Woo felt the ground quake under him but it wasn’t like he could get away being crippled and all. The others reacted gasping in worry and surprise as the Monster lifted his hands gesturing at the air. A section of stone before the Statue started protruding causing the shakes to vibrate more, the stone beneath them cracking, making them think it was going to cave in completely.

 

“AN EARTHQUAKE?!”

 

The watched stunned as the concentric rings of intricately carved stone risen in the middle of the Dungeon. They looked at demonic Statue stand still making no move for a second. Sung Jin-Woo was amused even though he shouldn’t be knowing what exactly the Altar erected implied.

 

He was in pain and his familiar coldness is the only thing comforting him. He wasn’t cold hearted anyone who knew him knew that but maybe if he makes it out alive, he should just be more of himself instead of the boy who always hung his head low and exuding the politeness the weak afforded the strong.

 

He didn’t want to make enemies or get on anyone’s bad side, rules and morals are for the normal people in the world Hunters could and have dominated, had taken advantage of their strength in Dungeons or out in the normal world. He was a cripple now and could not join Raids anymore if he made it out alive and he was the Weakest when he had all his limbs intact so he had no choice. He will have to find a normal job leaving behind this cold cruel world of Hunters and Monsters where he belonged... more than the normal world even if he was the pariah a  joke in the merciless realm of Hunters, he shook himself from his disquieting thoughts thinking about the outside world and a tomorrow when they were still in mortal peril.

 

He listened to the panicked question escaping Kim Sang-Shik’s lips.

 

“W-What is that?”

 

He couldn’t help but sigh even though he was dying dealing with multiple concussions and bleeding profusely he was sure he had lost almost half of all the blood he had in him and the dismembered leg of his that may very well be progressing to muscle and nerve death as numbness slowly edged out the blinding pain he could figure it out... were Hunters really just muscle heads?

 

He dully intoned his voice barely audible as he looked at what was clearly an Altar.

 

“… An altar”

 

Mr. Song looked at asking him tentatively.

 

“Altar?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo appreciated the man’s easy trust in his intuition from the very beginning he supposed he had to elaborate to the benefit of others.

 

“You know, like the ones from mythologies,”

 

He remembered fondly all the myths and folklore he loved one of the few things he knew he enjoyed when he was a child having grown up too early barely a teen he had no time to discover himself, he didn’t know what he liked or disliked having no time or resources to spare on such trivialities.

 

“where they sacrificed living beings for their Lord…”

 

He pictured ancient cultures circling a pyre and sacrifice a number of things to the sacrificial Altar to please their gods that were not all benevolent.

 

“cows, pigs, sheep, children, virgins, etc…”

 

He had an idea on what this demonic Lord wanted seeing his bloodthirsty rampage and glee at their drawn-out screams of agony and suffering.

 

“and the Last Commandment is…”

 

He passively intoned drawing out the syllables.

 

“ ‘Prove your Faith’ “

 

He looked at Mr. Song’s distressed face invoking some emotion from him he needed to think he had done the impossible many times over. He should shake himself out of this stupor it was not over yet. He shifted just the slightest intentionally so that the pain sliced sharply through the fog in his mind, he didn’t make a sound the movement unnoticed he didn’t want to worry Miss Ju-Hee.

 

‘THIS IS PROBABLY THE LAST TRIAL!’

 

The rest of them looked at the Altar and the Statue as they processed Sung Jin-Woo’s words they grew tense as the implications set in. Kim Sang-Shik suddenly angrily gnashed his teeth as he gritted out with what sounded like righteous fury.

 

He growled out the words as he pulled out the sword that came in a pocket space enough to fit just that for which he had spent a pretty penny. Spatial magic charmed on it was rare, no one could make a pocket dimension space to hold more that two items and very few mages were blessed with the ability to cast spatial magic of course they couldn’t do anything but that.

 

“No matter how stupid I may be, I think I can tell what’s going on now”

 

Song Chi-Yul knew just what the man was hinting at it was more of a blinding neon sign than a hint. He readied himself to disarm him if he went too far though he felt he would take the decision to trade his life for the others without prompting.

 

Kim Sang-Shik coldly gazed at Song Chi-Yul as he continued his cruel damning words.

 

“Mr. Song, this means that we have to sacrifice someone, am I right?”

 

Song Chi-Yul listened quiet as regret washed over him once more.

 

“Who brought us here?”

 

Kim Sang-Shik glared with hatred at him as he remembered the horrific death and carnage that happened in this Dungeon all that life lost in what was supposed to be a D-Rank Dungeon.

 

“Song Chi-Yul, it was you”

 

He remembered, chocking up, Mr. Bak being killed in such a horrendous way the sight of his pained whimper as his guts brain heart spilled out.

 

“Someone who bragged about his wife and two kids was cleaved in half…”

 

He remembered the familiar faces and the friends he made going on Raids with some of them over the years, all dead. gone.

 

“And 10 other people were killed as well…”

 

He pointed the gleaming blade at Song Chi-Yul's throat feeling his irrational rage overwhelm him.

 

“You agreed to take responsibility just now, right?”

 

He pressed the blade closer almost grazing Song Chi-Yul’s neck showing just how resolved he was to carry out his threat. 

 

“Then prove it, now”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked at the hostile exchange between Mr. Song and Mr. Kim bewildered, what on earth was happening? just now why was Mr. Kim acting like it was all one person’s fault?

 

He tried to reason with the visibly enraged man hoping to talk some sense into him.

 

“Mr. Kim Sang-Shik… That’s too…”

 

Kim Sang-Shik may respect Sung Jin-Woo more and was grateful for him but he should really know his place this wasn’t something the Weakest of them could intrude in. He was angry he needed Sung Jin-Woo to not intervene he was a naïve kid.

 

“YOU SHUT UP AND STAY STILL!”

 

Song Chi-Yul stopped Kim Sang-Shik from speaking another word understanding his rage and he agreed with his sentiment. Sung Jin-Woo didn’t need to gain the animosity of the few left alive Hunters can be cruel they won’t hesitate to strike someone down if they felt like they were being a thorn in their way.

 

“Mr. Kim is right. I must take responsibility”

 

He gently pushed away the blade as he turned to go to the Altar as a tribute for this monstrous Lord. He cradled his bleeding shoulder trying to put pressure to stop the bleeding even though he was ready to face death the resignation crumpling his disciplined form into a sombre figure.

 

“I want to go by myself, so please take that away from me”

 

Sung Jin-Woo seethed the first strong emotion as he left his daze, he felt contempt at Mr. Kim's behaviour even if they make it out alive, he would never forgive him. 

 

‘BUT IT’S NOT HIS FAULT!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo hefted himself up using the raised platform in front of the singing statue he sneered at Mr. Kim he felt like he could kill him right now, really where did this righteous anger come from? He barely heard Miss Ju-Hee worried voice whisper.

 

“Jin-Woo, your wounds are still…”

 

He remembered the enthusiastic support Mr. Kim gave to Mr. Song it was not an autocratic decision everyone who came here did so out of their own free will.

 

‘WE ALL VOTED TO COME HERE!!’

 

He had no power to stop him he knew Mr. Song had resigned himself to death but that didn’t mean he didn’t have a few choice words to say to Mr. Kim to show him just where he was in the moral high ground.

 

‘IT’S COWARDLY TO SAY IT’S HIS FAULT NOW!’

 

His mind coldly formed just the right words to say to cut the legs from under Mr. Kim even as Mr. Song approached death he wanted him to see not everyone blamed him. Mr. Kim may decide to kill him for what he was about to say but he knew they needed him more than ever and he wanted his words to hurt take their bitter roots in his heart he will not allow Mr. Kim to ever think he was in the right for suggesting what he did trying to blame someone when it was no one’s fault.

 

Before he could get a word out, he saw Mr. Song swiftly reach the Altar not flattering even though he was going to his execution. He watched dreading what he was about to see as Mr. Song stepped onto the raised platform of the Altar. Song Chi-Yul gazed at the hieroglyphic carvings and writings intricately inscribed on the raised inner circle.

 

He waited for the Lord to do away with him or the Altar to kill him somehow to show the insane Monster his body as tribute. Instead a ball of flame appeared behind him suspended in air. He heard the air crackle as the flame made no move to burn him alive it just remained where it was. Kim Sang-Shik watched with mixed emotions as he saw Song Chi-Yul very much alive and the odd ball of flame that floated behind Song Chi-Yul.

 

He gasped out vexed and surprised at the yet another unknown element springing from this convoluted place.

 

“WHAT…!”

 

“WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?”

 

Song Chi-Yul ignored Kim Sang-Shik’s frustrated exclamation knowing he wasn’t expecting an answer he turned around to see the flame hovering behind him at the edge of the Altar. He knew the person who could figure it out was Sung Jin-Woo his remarkable mind leagues ahead even though he was half dead broken and bruised.

 

He shouted to Sung Jin-Woo who he noted with worry was bracing against the statue behind him standing up he knew the boy probably got up to stop him from going he really was an upright man.

 

“HEY, MR. SUNG! IS THIS NOT WHAT WE’RE SUPPOSED TO DO?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes dulled as he saw Miss Ju-Hee still trying to heal him even though she had coughed out blood pushing her body and Magic.

 

‘One flame?’

 

He sighed as he thought of what this meant.

 

‘What does that mean? Did he not want a sacrifice?'

 

He mused thinking he had little time left so might as well make it count maybe just maybe he could live to see another day. He said out loud having their attention diverted to him at the appearance of the flame.

 

“Can someone help me to the altar?”

 

The rest looked shocked at the unbelievable request, that was, as he had said, a sacrificial Altar, what was he doing? did he want to die? But still the pretty woman and the tall broad man the other two making the group of survivors headed his words even as the man blinked his eyes slowly and asked with disbelief as Sung Jin-Woo listlessly requested again.

 

“Let us go to the top of the altar”

 

He was thankful for their help as they guided him slowly carefully so as to not cause him more pain than he needed to. He supposed they knew he was the only one who was saving them from certain death all this time so maybe it wasn’t all unmotivated kindness. 

 

“W-WHAT DID YOU SAY?!?”

 

He quietly reassured them the platitude ringing false none of them knew what could happen but they still helped him to his fee-foot as they slung his arms around their shoulders holding him under his arms as they lugged him along.

 

“It’ll probably be fine”

 

Sung Jin-Woo knew it still took whatever courage they had left to come to the Altar even Miss Ju-Hee remained where she was. He heard her shout at him taken aback as he hobbled along with the two to the Altar where Mr. Song was looking at him with wide eyes.

 

“JIN-WOO!!”

 

When they made it atop the first concentric circle the platform where Mr. Song stood the two of them holding him upright he noticed the immediate shift in the stale air.

 

“!?”

 

They gasped in shock as three other flames lit up evenly distanced along the edge of the platform. Sung Jin-Woo contemplated his intuition proven right again looking at the flames that seemed like flickers of hope.

 

‘So that’s how it is’

 

Sung Jin-Woo asked Mr. Song voice inquisite.

 

“Do you think the other Hunters will save us if we stay here?”

 

Mr. Song looked at him with sad eyes as he replied voice morose.

 

“Today’s the one week mark after the Gate was opened”

 

He looked at the towering statues of the Guards standing imposingly deadly and merciless he felt a shiver run up his spine as a ball of apprehension coiled in his gut.

 

“Those things will move before reinforcements come”

 

Sung Jin-Woo groaned at the unfavourable answer it brought forth a new worry in him as he understood the severity of such a thing happening.

 

“They neglected this Gate because it’s only D-Rank…”

 

Mr. Song sighed shaking his head feeling his helplessness rise at the thought of no help arriving anytime soon or at least before they were all dead.

 

“Well, nothing new from what the Guild does”

 

 

 

…………………………………………………………

              

                 THE GATE OPENS UP

                  COMPLETELY AFTER

                       SEVEN DAYS.

 

……………………………………………………………

 

 

 

The vicious bloodthirsty Monsters running rampant through this planet seeking to kill all life as they were freed from the barrier dissolving leaving them to inflict mayhem and destruction in their wake.

 

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………..

 

                      THE MONSTERS CAN COME

                                 THROUGH

                 IF THE GATE IS COMPLETELY OPEN.

 

………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

Normal people had no chance of surviving even the lowest Ranked of Monsters, modern weaponry... obsolete, the weapons Hunters used were created using the minerals and ores from these Dungeons that’s why it was so expensive to outfit a Hunter. Normal people couldn’t wield those weapons having no Mana. 

 

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………….

 

                     RAIDS HAVE THE PURPOSE OF

                   KILLING THE BOSS AND CLOSING

            THE GATE BEFORE THE SEVEN DAY LIMIT.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

That’s why Hunters are so revered they were the only thing stopping these alien creatures from annihilating all life on earth. They weren’t shunned nor ostracized for their powers their Awakening even though only a miniscule percentile of humans were Awakened and every Rank had sparser and lesser people as the Rank progressed to the top of that food chain.  

 

 

 

…………………………………………………………

 

               IF WE FAIL NOW…

 

…………………………………………………………

 

 

 

The Guards were surely at the very least A-Rank according to Mr. Song and they were terrifyingly powerful even though he barely saw their capabilities as just one strike killed off many of them. He could imagine just how sickening and tragic the carnage that will happen before a Hunter strong enough could join the fray and take these Monsters out for good.

 

 

 

……………………………………………………………..

 

               IT MEANS THAT MONSTER

              CAN COME TO OUR WORLD…

 

………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

He grimaced as he looked at the deadly Lord of these Monsters that he knew were at least A-Rank meaning the Boss was a S-Rank. He scrutinised the still Statue the terrible expression that stretched twisting its visage into a face so harrowing unlike any most Hunters will encounter in their lives replaced by the blank lifeless expression that shifted the skeletal ghastly face his lips reverted to the same unfeeling line no longer the ear-splitting petrifying grin with sharp teeth.

 

His fatigued eyes glanced at the Statue his instincts telling him they were out of danger from that particular menace for now. He turned his head barely the effort making him feel fainter as his drooping eyes made even more lifeless at the bruised dark bags under them his pallor matching the grey of a dead corpse. His drained expression and tone conveying his precarious situation.

 

“You two should come up here as well”

 

He knew he needed extrapolate on that given Mr. Kim’s reluctance and unwillingness to cooperate and Miss Ju-Hee was crippled by her fear he hoped she would take a leap of faith and do what he asked of her.

 

“For every person on the altar, a flame appears”

 

Kim Sang-Shik and Ju-Hee exchanged glances before silently concurring.

 

“It also looks like the trial will only start when everybody’s on here”

 

They strode over quickly complying with the request disgruntled on Mr. Kim’s side. All of them watched as they saw two orbs of flames conjure out of thin air. Sung Jin-Woo noted how all the flames were evenly spaced around the altar like clockwork. Sung Jin-Woo had already studied the intricate Altar fascinated by the peculiar hieroglyphics he noted that the lower elevated circle the platform they were standing on had curious cracks like spider web etched into either by design or chance.

 

He was stunned however to see them light up in the same enchanting electric blue bursts of what he assumed was Mana zap through from the centrepiece inscribed in runes and images they were all surrounding. It then zapped into those curious straight circuit-like lines in the outermost concentric circle when it reached the end blue the same as the trailing energy come into being at its edges.

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked at the orange coloured flames like the fire alight in their world exactly one for the six of them at the edge of the inner platform and the multiple blue flames at the outer circle that were definitely more than six. The electric flames sizzled and crackled as Sung Jin-Woo noticed the extended hand of the Lord of these hellish Monsters raise the slightest but it seemed he was the only one who saw that as the double doors swung open widely letting in a rush of cool air in the stifling stale Dungeon.

 

Song Chi-Yul could not believe it what they were desperately wishing for now dangled in front of them like a piece of meat before their starving ravenous selves the desire to run through those doors away from this nightmare hit all of them hard.

 

He exclaimed in stunned disbelief.

 

“THE DOOR OPENED???”

 

Kim Sang-Shik startled at the inexplicable turn this series of hopeless events carefully orchestrated to destroy their sanity and hope had taken. He gasped his voice sounding winded.

 

“WHAT?!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo thought his eyes widening as hope unfurled in his chest bringing back emotions and feelings back his heart quickened excited pushing more blood quicker in his veins along with the emotions he winced as the unbearable pain registered, he was now acutely aware of just how many and how dire his wounds were. He speculated eyes set firmly on the ajar doors his eyes scrunched up in concentration.

 

‘WHAT IS THIS?!’

 

He looked at the wide-open escape route taunting and teasing them to just run with no second thought.

 

‘can we leave?’

 

His eyes shifted to the headless corpse lying haphazardly in front of the open doors it was like being doused with cold water a remainder that these were treacherous halls that held one nasty surprise after another.

 

‘No, something else might happen…’

 

Sung Jin-Woo was alert knowing things could not be that easy... it never was... his attention snapped to the silent almost inaudible pop as one of the blue flames extinguished as if it was never there. The fading embers the remnants that quickly dissipated offset to the sudden loud thud as the statues circling this tomb of misery and horror moved forward towards them.

 

Kim Sang-Shik asked alarmed at the Monsters closing in on them their intentions clear.

 

“WH- WHAT NOW?!”

 

Song Chi-Yul broke into a cold sweat as he looked at the deceptive statues that looked to be in disrepair being covered in moss and dust settled on them indicating they had remained unmoving in the same position for a long time.

 

“THEY’RE APPROACHING US!!”

 

He thought they were made of some kind of stone but now seeing the cold glean and the blue sheen at the edges of their armour and their impressive intimidating weapons it was clear they were made of something alien to them. Deadly.

 

“ALL OF THEM JUST STARTED MOVING!!”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

They all turned to look at the sound of heavy footfall the reverberating stone beneath the statues feet caving in with each step. The blue flames illuminating the Monsters and their deceptively worn-out moss-covered armour and weapons the now noticeable sharp edges gleaming sinisterly. Cold blue wisps brightly pulsated from within as if ghostly phantoms were enshrined in unfeeling armour.

 

Song Chi-Yul fearfully whispered as his steadily widening eyes saw those towering Guards approach them from all sides.

 

“ALL OF THEM JUST STARTED MOVING!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo noticed one of the suspended blue flames sizzle out surprising him his immediate attention was drawn back to the others whose frantic exclamations grew hysteric and loud as they watched with dread what was essentially steadily approaching death. Kim Sang-Shik cried out his mind crumbling slowly under the pressure he felt like they were just delaying the inevitable he trembled with fright and desperation.

 

“W-WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO NOW??”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the shivering clammy grip of the two Hunters hoisting him up. He could almost taste their fear he was in too much physical and mental pain to actually feel the abject terror everyone was clearly experiencing.

 

“THE FUCK IS THIS?! SHIT!!”

 

His tired drooping eyes quietly surveyed the room studying the bright blue seep through every groove and edge of the armours of the Guards. They felt different now than before they were freely approaching not like a set of predetermined moves not restricted to their place around the Dungeon. His grey eyes darkened as he analysed the moving statues, he steadily looked at the Guard who was moving a pace more than the others. He held his stare noticing the axe wielding Guard stop in its tracks. He came to realisation as his eyes shifted to another statue watching it as it stopped mid step as if frozen in place.

 

His mind raced conclusions forming and solidifying as he looked around. He caught Miss Ju-Hee who was standing beside him the other woman who had helped him up was behind him he supposed the burly Hunter beside him was more than enough to steady him. He felt the familiar frustration gnaw at him at the sight of Miss Ju-Hee shaking like a leaf covering her face too scared to look at the fear inducing sight before her.

 

His weak limp arms surged as the adrenaline and feelings slowly penetrated the fog of his mind, he shook Miss Ju-Hee clutching at her arm none too gently she needed to snap out of her terror now he had no time to placate her.

 

His words carried a feeling never seen in Sung Jin-Woo it was a tone that left no room for argument.

 

“MISS JU-HEE, YOU CAN’T CLOSE YOUR EYES!”

 

He turned his gaze to the statues before him staring unblinking as he hoarsely continued explaining the rules of this new phase of this sick game.

 

“IT’S THE SAME AS THE GAME WE PLAYED WHEN WE WERE YOUNG”

 

Song Chi-Yul knew now to heed the young boy’s words he had proven himself time and time again his intuition was a marvel in and of itself. He turned to look at the statues before him a different set than Sung Jin-Woo he noticed with a sigh of relief the Guards actually stopped in their tracks. Kim Sang-Shik did the same he wasn’t an idiot even if it still felt unreal that the Weakest of Hunters was proving to be the only one able to get them out of this nightmare.

 

“THEY COME CLOSER WHEN YOU TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF THEM!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo panted chest heaving slightly as even the act of speaking a few words was proving to be monumentally difficult. His drooping eyes saw another blue flame sizzle out his mind connecting the dots as the complete picture slowly unfurled in his mind’s eye.

 

“EVERYONE, DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF THE STATUES!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo heard a whimper from behind knowing it was the pretty tan woman it was a situation that could break the best of them the utter powerlessness in face of such monsters laughable.

 

“uuuu…”

 

He knew without a shred of doubt that woman must have closed her eyes because of the loud thud of an approaching step echoed throughout the room. He startled further when he heard the shrill cry of sheer terror making him glance behind him dreading the cause of such an anguished scream from her.

 

“AHHHHHHHHCK!!!”

 

He watched gasping as his eyes widened in despair and an odd feeling of betrayal as the woman jumped off the platform seemingly running head first to her demise he screamed hoping to stop her from her reckless sprint.

 

“NO!!!”

 

Kim Sang-Shik yelled at the girl not wanting another person to die again because of their own blind fear.

 

“HEY!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s grey orbs darkened with a cold rage before the flash of ice was swallowed by the current predicament he watched helpless to stop the woman she hurriedly jumped of the final ledge when he quietly noted eyes sharpening as an orange flame which he knew there was exactly one for each of them disappear dying out. He quietly watched unsettled as he looked at the beheaded body lying at the entrance the trail of other body parts and blood and gore her mad dash didn’t stop as she ran through it jumping over the large body headless at the entrance.

 

He and the rest watched stunned as none of the Guards made move to eliminate her not even the Guard who was in his position flanking the door unmoving it had mercilessly done away with the Hunter who dared to run away. Kim Sang-Shik gasped out in surprise and the slightest hint of hope as he looked at the fading back of the Hunter.

 

“W-WHAT?”

 

The others exclaimed in quick succession desperation and a kindling of hope emerging colouring their voices. They asked eager for a life saving explanation from Sung Jin-Woo maybe this was it they could all run away from this goddamn Dungeon.

 

“MR. SUNG, HOW’S THIS POSSIBLE?!”

 

The dazed question that was fliting through their minds was blurted out by one of them needing to say it out loud to reaffirm it voice still suspended in disbelief.

 

“SHE’S STILL ALIVE?”

 

The weak gasp of surprise barely audible at their suddenly loud thoughts and the hope that bludgeoned in their hearts despite the unlikeliness of such a miracle still strummed through their veins warming their petrified selves.

 

Their hopes soured as they looked at the wide-open doors slightly close in before stopping staying still in place. The unsettling realisation ringing shrill in their agitated minds as the hope withered slowly still stubbornly sprouting through the cold fear and dread.

 

“THE DOOR CLOSED A LITTLE…”

 

But it was human nature to cling onto hope no matter how it dwindled if even a spark remained it was enough. The Hunters may not be ‘human’ but they were in their DNA their very fabric of being the same in essence their powers intangible unable to be recreated or even experimented upon in labs so for all intents and purpose they were human.

 

“SHE WENT THROUGH THE DOOR!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo eyes were now noticeably grey a startling fact that most never saw his eyes darkened to a pair of dark eyes either brown or black. The tired film that glazed those orbs shuttered open as he felt the tang of something that he knew was death rise up at the back of his throat. His pupils dilated in and out shifting his suddenly enrapturing eyes. He felt his brows scrunch together as he tried to make sense of what was happening.

 

‘What? What is this?’

 

He took in a shuddering breath as he slowed down his rapidly beating heart his gaze flickered to the blue flames surrounding the Altar though now with noticeable vacant spots.

 

‘A blue flame disappears after a set amount of time’

 

His gaze caught a blue flame flicker out before he shifted to look at the red flame surrounding them now just five for the five of them that still remained.

 

‘One of the red flames, that appeared based on the number of people on the altar, disappeared as soon as left’

 

Sung Jin-Woo recalled all the mess that went about as they stepped foot into this ungodly place he grimaced as he remembered their pathetic scramble to just survive. He objectively analysed shedding his emotions off for but a moment. The cowering bodies that trembled as the kowtowed forehead kissing the stone.

 

‘The First Commandment is Worshiping the Lord’

 

He felt bitter as he remembered the angelical music and voice from the winged statue more beautiful than any sound he had heard in his dim life, he would have appreciated it better if he wasn’t so close to death literally hanging off a snapping flimsy thread. His mind suddenly accosted by the blank white expanse a perplexing gap in his memory of that time.  

 

‘The Second is to Praise the Lord’

 

He sardonically thought his dry dark humour soothing his overheated skin even though his core temperature dropped alarmingly the amount blood he had lost by no means little.

 

‘At least the steps so far weren’t riddles like the Sphinx would ask’

 

He knew one thing for sure though the dark twisted hell this place was wouldn’t allow for such an obvious easy relief it was all designed to break their wills and minds crumbling their sanity.

 

‘But the open door is a TRAP

 

Because what fun would it be for these sick monsters that can at any moment wipe them all out with no effort, they had to make a game out of such easy pickings.

 

‘A false hope’

 

He quietly contemplated the speed of his thoughts increasing even though it was the opposite of what should be happening to him after suffering such life-threatening injuries and the heavy blows to his skull.

 

‘When all the red flames appeared, the door opened’

 

He remembered the fading back of the Hunter who ran away leaving them all behind feeling anger and a tinge of what he would later identify as betrayal.

 

‘While it closes just a little every time a red flame disappears…’

 

He snapped his eyes to the front stopping the advancing Guards in the line of his vision frozen in place there was no time to spare he needed to stop as many as he could with his eyes.

 

‘THE DOOR WILL DEFINITELY CLOSE WHEN ALL THE RED FLAMES ARE GONE!’

 

He felt the same bafflement at facing such intelligent and equally insidious Monsters that he knew were only found in the highest Ranked Dungeons.

 

‘ ‘Prove your Faith’ means that even in’

 

His eyes burned knowing he had popped a blood vessel or something in his eyes but he still looked ahead without blinking because to do that was invite their massacre.

 

‘terror and danger,’

 

The open door taunting them all and since one of them made it out of those very doors unharmed it looked at least at first glance an escape from this hellscape.

 

‘with sweet temptations,’

 

If in some strange world this Monster was their God, he knew he was not the benevolent kind he was more like the gods humans worshipped in their dawn merciless and powerful and there was no such thing as good or bad a human construct. The cruel bloody sacrifices to appease the sensibilities of these cold cruel gods still revered but equally feared.

 

‘YOU KEEP YOUR FAITH!’

 

What choice did they have? it was literally do or die. Sung Jin-Woo eyes drifted up as he felt the large arm that was holding him up slowly slip off of him the trembles running through the brawny Hunter’s hand made his stomach drop as an uneasy feeling settled over him tensing his shoulders.

 

“S- Sorry”

 

Sung Jin-Woo knew what was going to happen as he took in the petrified despairing look on the man’s face like he loathed but was resolved to go through his decision anyway. The Hunter’s voice was quiet and apologetic as he whispered looking at Sung Jin-Woo with wide eyes guilty and fearful.

 

“I don’t think I can stay any longer either…’

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s horror evident in his scream as the man’s arm finally stopped supporting him completely flinging him against the elevated altar his back slamming against the hard stone knocking the remaining air out of his lungs. He looked at the large Hunter make a mad dash towards the exit leaving him churning with trepidation and fear knowing the ever-increasing odds of survival for the rest of them grow slimmer exponentially.

 

“NO!!!”

 

His grey eyes slowly turned still the light growing dimmer as his stare burned into the back of the man who had left them all to die like the woman before him. Sung Jin-Woo never trusted anyone knowing full well to never expect much from people Hunter or otherwise around him. It may seem surprising but he never did trust anyone and now he never will if strangers like the people who had fled could hurt his world weary heart at their betrayal, he knew better now it was all because he was weak he had to rely on someone it was a miracle people listened to him to save their hides. Sung Jin-Woo never wanted to be with anyone in any capacity anymore.

 

Kim Sang-Shik exclaimed surprised at seeing another Hunter flee and escape the clutches of these despairing Monsters. Ju-Hee didn’t know how to feel she was shocked at the sudden turn of events the fear still flowing through her never ceasing their assault on her fragile psyche. Song Chi-Yul signed clutching at his bleeding stump it was to be expected after all it was human nature.

 

“… UH, WHAT?!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s eyes flared bright, eyes almost mercury like they were feral as he snarled his cold rage clearly evident dropping the temperature around them by several degrees. The rest of them were surprised at the complete change in Sung Jin-Woo’s demeanour it screamed danger and commanded respect even as he was obviously not able when he was hale and healthy to carry out the promise of retribution and judgement in his startling silver-grey eyes.

 

“DON’T MOVE! WE CAN’T HAVE MORE PEOPLE LEAVING!!”

 

His usually soothing voice now turned cold as steel as he continued to bark out commands not requests as he felt the innate coldness within him seep out of him giving him strength to do so.

 

“ANY LESS AND WE WON’T HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE TO LOOK AT ALL THE STATUES!”

 

He didn’t mince his words he wanted everyone that remained to know what the stakes were, he looked at the Guards and gritted his teeth at the realisation most of them had advanced to near the outermost circle of the raised concentric circles.

 

“WE WILL DIE!!”

 

Song Chi-Yul looked at the Guards in his field of vision as he followed Sung Jin-Woo’s command the certainty in Sung Jin-Woo’s voice leaving no room for argument. The boy was proving himself to be more than capable and trustworthy but still seeing the two Hunters escape run away from this hellhole he felt his resolve shake the tiniest fraction. If he was a lesser man, he would have hightailed out of here but he was a man who followed the way of the Sword such a thing is deplorable. He asked wanting to know what the rules of this Commandment was.

 

“MR. SUNG, WHAT’S HAPPENING?! PLEASE EXPLAIN!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was glad for Mr. Song voicing out his question it jerked him back from the apathetic furious state of mind he was in. He solemnly relayed his observations his grey eyes fluctuating through a myriad of shades but this remained unnoticed as they all were looking ahead of them each covering a direction to halt the towering Monsters in their steps.

 

“ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS STAY AND LOOK AT THE STATUES”

 

“UNTIL THE BLUE FLAMES DISAPPEAR!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo intoned as another blue flame blinked out of existence his emotions complicated.

 

“THE BLUE FLAMES ARE A TIMER”

 

Will it be that easy? He could not say the Lord of this Dungeon seemed to revel in the fear and chaos it invoked prolonging their misery toying with them.

 

“WE’LL ALL BE ABLE TO LEAVE ONCE THEY ALL DISAPPEAR”

 

Kim Sang-Shik quietly listened to Sung Jin-Woo ears straining to catch every word even though Mr. Sung’s voice was loud and clear. If someone had said the deadweight who was the World’s Weakest Hunter would be the one saving them from such a hopeless situation he would have laughed and asked with mocking concern to see if they had hit their head. He was grateful and indebted to the boy who was the only reason he was alive the boy had lost his leg it was truly terrible but he had to do what he had to do.

 

He asked knowing he was about to do something awful so hard to justify he swallowed the lump in his throat.

 

“Hey, Mr. Sung…”

 

His voice growing sombre as he drifted off.

 

“You may be right…”

 

The fear settled like lead in the pit of his stomach he didn’t want to be in the presence of such brutality and bloodshed anymore all these mind games playing to the tune of these sadistic monsters who could end them all in a single strike if they chose to but didn’t because where was the fun in that?

 

“But couldn’t the door just close completely when the blue flames run out?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo listened to the shaky tired voice of Mr. Kim all pretences and platitudes shed in the wake of untold death and despair.

 

“Are you certain?”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the solemn question bare down on him like a sledgehammer there was no way for him to guarantee his hunch in a concrete way no matter how many times his intuition has come through he had hoped he had proven time and time again in the past trials. Kim Sang-Shik couldn’t hide his bafflement in his voice and felt the hot flush of embarrassment and chastisement colour his corpse like pallor.

 

“To be honest, I never imagined someone as weak as you could be so helpful”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt alarm bells ring as he heard Mr. Kim’s voice grow quieter as he continued contrite.

 

“I always looked down on you,”

 

Kim Sang-Shik clenched his fists as he lowered his head shamefaced, eyes closed in spite of himself the guilt gnawing at him for the first time on all the mean spirited jeers and comments he and all of them had passed on the boy who was the Weakest Hunter of what seemed to be the entire world.

 

“never really expecting anything from you, even when you joined our party”

 

Kim Sang-Shik opened his eyes looking at the devastation and death that lied all around them the Hunters he had worked with many a time and Mr. Bak who lay with his insides spilled out.

 

“A lot of people died when we entered this room…”

 

“But the ones alive is because of you”

 

The irony that the one that was their lifeline was the one they had all deemed worse than deadweight. The boy’s quick mind a tool far more powerful in face of such powerful Monsters a beacon of light in the darkness of the senseless sadistic massacre. What use were they? All D-Rank and C-Rank Hunters not including Miss Ju-Hee who couldn’t handle bloodshed, none. that was how useful they all were only Sung Jin-Woo’s presence let them dodge from death.

 

“All because you managed to solve the riddles here”

 

Kim Sang-Shik hated himself for what he was about to do but this was scary he was beyond terrified. He channelled every bit of gratitude in his tired voice as he could to show Sung Jin-Woo in spite of what he was about to do he was truly grateful to him.

 

“I’m also alive because of you”

 

“Thank you”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the cold slowly creep in as his grey eyes dilated the pupils elongating vertically almost catlike the grey a mercurial silver. Each word while seemed to be a sincere… maybe it was sincere… heartfelt… maybe it was heartfelt… show of gratitude and repentance but Sung Jin-Woo's skin prickled with unease and agitation something was horribly wrong and he swallowed his throat suddenly parched as he rasped out.  

 

“Mr. Kim Sang-Shik…”

 

Kim Sang-Shik trembling weak grasp on his sword gave out as primal fear took hold of him entirely, he whimpered the sound weak and pitiful an unsettling offset to the sharp metallic clang of metal that echoed throughout the room as the sword hit the ground.

 

“But,”

 

“But…”

 

Kim Sang-Shik tears fell in heavy tracts across his battered face his nose running his face twisted into an expression of shame and guilt.

 

“I also have a family”

 

He tried to justify to himself so the guilt wouldn’t drown him beneath its unforgiving sea.

 

“I don’t want to die here”

 

Who was he kidding? he loved his family as much as anyone else did would go to the ends of the world for them if he had to but they were safe and only he was in the presence of such cruel Monsters the merciless slaughter he saw sickening and terrifying.

 

“I don’t want to die…”

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

He unsteadily took a step towards the ledge as he quietly whispered resigned to the crushing guilt at his actions.

 

“I don’t think I can stay here any longer”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt the torrent of emotions of pain and betrayal of the nauseating note of how much it was not a surprise, Sung Jin-Woo felt bitterness well up in him as even though he scrambled to hold the pieces desperate for Mr. Kim to understand and stop in his tracks he was not in the least surprised.

 

“MISTER!!!”

 

His eyes shifted to see the man jump off from the Altar sprinting towards the open doors leaving them all behind leaving them all to die.

 

“I’m sorry”

 

Sung Jin-Woo screamed his voice filled with anguish his eyes wide with horror his chalky face gaunt and warped in pain.

 

“MISTER!!!”

 

Sung felt the sliver of hope that had allowed him stay afloat this unceasing tide of helplessness and despair shatter and fade away. A red flame blinked out of existence like a beacon of light in the dark snuffed out leaving nothing but impenetrable darkness.

 

 

 …………………………………………..

                                                          

               THANK YOU?                     

                                                               

……………………………………………

 

 

 

He watched tears streaming down, they were not tears of sadness but of a rage he never knew he was capable of him his eyes staring unblinkingly as the man disappeared from his sight.

 

 

 

………………………………………………………………..

                                                                  

               DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH!                       

                                                                               

………………………………………………………………….

 

 

 

He closed his burning eyes as he slammed a fist against the stone as he clenched his teeth lips pulling back into a snarl. He unknowingly whimpered wetly as the hot rage slowly froze over the still burning flame of anger.

 

“uuuk…”

 

“huk…”

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                        

           YOU…

                                                                                                          

                                                            YOU RUNNING                    

                                                             FROM HERE…                       

                                                                                                           

………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

He clutched his lowered head in his hands as he heard the rhythmic footfall of the menacing statues that were now all of their considerable numbers each easily at the very least A-Rank Mr. Kim running away was the final nail in their coffin.

 

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

               WILL RESULT IN OUT DEATHS.

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo clenched his jaw tight gnashing his teeth as he teared up at the anger welling up in him, these were not tears of despair but of cold fury that seethed and destroyed the compassion and kindness in Sung Jin-Woo.

 

“uuuk…”

 

His delicate worn out form quivered, a frozen fury too large for his brittle bones and mortal flesh.

 

“huk…”

 

Sung Jin-Woo clutched his throbbing head fingers twisting into lacklustre locks, too rough against the bristles and abrasions on his palms as they tugged painfully at the roots caked with blood.

 

He lowered his head closing his eyes... what use was it to open them only to helplessly watch terror and death come closer one step at a time?

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………

                                                                                                        

               YOU…                                                                                 

                                                                                                          

                                                            YOU RUNNING                    

                                                             FROM HERE…                       

                                                                                                           

………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

He heard even through the shrill ringing in his ears the frantic footsteps of that man… traitor…  as he ran to save his own hide… weak... it was all because he was weak…

 

What team?

 

What trust?

 

Those were just notions people came up with to mask their innate cruelty and selfishness, thin veneers that’s all it was.

 

Humans… Awakened or ‘Normal’… all of them when pushed to their limits discarded the disguise… reduced to their primal selves…

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

               WILL RESULT IN OUT DEATHS.

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Song Chi-Yul looked unsurprised as Kim Sang-Shik broke down showing the fear he was sure was present in all of them. He didn’t think any less of the man heaven knows this was hardly the worst people were capable of... even he, if it were not for his relentless tempering of his mind and body would probably have succumbed to his shrieking instincts and despair clouding his crystal-clear mind.

 

He stayed quiet for a moment letting the brave sharp boy compose himself, he was pleasantly surprised as the boy calmed down faster than he expected. He knew they didn’t have much time left... he sighed as he came to a decision, there was no panic just a quiet content acceptance.

 

“The door’s nearly closed…”

 

He had lived a full life seen his share of joys and sorrows... these young’uns were just starting their lives and god willing it would be long and complete.

 

“It’s too late now, but I finally get what’s happening now”

 

He was really feeling the pain now. He had lost an substantial amount of blood, the throbbing ache fogging his mind even further, he knew he wouldn’t survive if this went on any longer.

 

“You all should leave”

 

More importantly Sung Jin-Woo was even more gravely wounded than he was, he needed help now. The boy lost a foot more crippling than losing a hand, he was a bright kind boy and he didn’t mind if this was the way, saving the kid, was how he would depart this world. The guilt had already taken root, the deaths of so many who trusted him to keep them safe weighed on him, he was bound by them, this was the least he could do to make amends.

 

Sung Jin-Woo was quietly brooding, eyes cold the grey hard as steel he felt nothing... feeling one of his emotions diminish in intensity, feeling all the more detached from the world than he already was. However, Mr. Song’s unexpected proclamation had Sung Jin-Woo swirling his head towards Mr. Song taken aback and disquieted. Maybe there was hope for this world after all... but he didn’t like what Mr. Song was suggesting.

 

He voiced out his shock and displeasure, ringing loud and clear in his flustered exclamation.

 

“MR. SONG CHI-YUL?!”

 

Song Chi-Yul continued staring ahead looking at the almost closed door knowing there was no time to spare, he still appreciated the boy’s concern. He sighed with easy acceptance and resignation.

 

“The door won’t close fully as long as there’s at least one person on the Altar, right?

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo was frustrated, he couldn’t move much from his position seeing he was one foot short and losing blood at an alarming rate but still this was wrong he needed to…

 

... do something

 

he didn’t know what...

 

but…

 

but…

 

this couldn’t be it!

 

 

His slate grey eyes darkened as he remained helpless, never having felt this burdensome pain of an exchange between lives. He realised that what Mr. Song said was the only option if at least one of them were to escape with their lives.

 

“You two have many more years left ahead of you… you should leave”

 

Ju-Hee was lost in this new situation just contemplating what Mr. Song was saying was heartbreaking, surely there must be some other way? What can she do? There must.... must be something she can do! Even though she was a B-Rank Hunter, Ju-Hee never felt more like a burden than during this hellish drawn out struggle against these insane Monsters. It was a bitter pill to swallow. What use was she?

 

Song Chi-Yul turned to Miss Ju-Hee eyes serious and grave as he asked her, solemnly willing her to stay strong.

 

“Miss Ju-Hee, could you help Mr. Sung?”

 

Ju-Hee startled at the abrupt request, her blue eyes growing wide as the weight of Mr. Song’s words settled heavily on her weary shoulders. This... This, she was determined to see it through, she will ensure Sung Jin-Woo life if it is the last thing she will do. She understood the urgency and answered tripping over her words but there was no hesitation in her voice.

 

“Y- YES!”

 

Hardly had the words slipped past her lips, she felt her legs give out from under her. She couldn’t feel them anymore, it was like they were disjointed from her. She felt the tremors coursing through her, nerves jolting and pinching like a million ants crawling under her skin, it wasn’t too painful but it was as if gravity was pinning her down.

 

“Ah…”

 

Her eyes watered as she looked down at her unresponsive legs, no matter how much she willed them to move… to move... they did nothing. She had to help Sung Jin-Woo up and save him! she had to... just had to...

 

“What...”

 

She looked blankly down at her legs mumbling in disbelief, her shock was apparent, uncomprehending why? why? why?

 

“What,”

 

Calm.

 

She had to keep calm... she had to... for Sung Jin-Woo’s sake but her legs just wouldn't move!

 

Pathetic.

 

This wasn’t nerves…

 

what was happening to her?

 

“What?”

 

She turned desperately to look at Sung Jin-Woo, she needed to see him to centre herself before the despair drowned her confining her in the prison of fear her unsuited mind would become.

 

“My legs…”

 

She shouted frantically looking to Sung Jin-Woo, wanting to say all she wanted to ever say they shined through her eyes tearing up. She swallowed her confession as she stated the obvious. She didn’t need Sung Jin-Woo to burden himself over her feelings.

 

“They won’t move!”

 

Song Chi-Yul was exhausted, the continuous stress not to mention, his severed arm doing him no favours, he couldn’t even muster up more than a quiet whisper as he analytically took in Ju-Hee’s state. He had seen this before.

 

“It must be Mana Exhaustion”

 

He didn’t begrudge her on trying so very hard to heal Sung Jin-Woo, the girl very clearly cared a lot about him as a friend, maybe even something more.

 

“You used way too much Mana trying to heal Mr. Sung”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked like death warmed over, he knew he was close to losing the fight to stay conscious. Through the haze he came to a conclusion, there truly was no other option, he owed that much to Miss Ju-Hee.

 

“......”

 

He calmly told Mr. Song to do what was now clearly the only thing he was okay with, he had to make peace with that. He will. Sung Jin-Woo had skirted the lines of life and death too much, it had blurred so much so, the lines were no longer distinct. Maybe it was time to let go.

 

“Mister, you should take Miss Ju-Hee out of here”

 

Song Chi-Yul flinched horrified at what he was hearing, he didn’t think he could live with the burden of letting this bright young boy die. Sung Jin-Woo was showing an alarming lack of self-preservation, why on earth would he say what he did? He shouted vexed, determined to talk some sense into the boy.

 

“I SAID I WOULD STAY!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo looked at Mr. Song with icy dark grey almost obsidian eyes that chilled his blood at the remorseless coldness in them. His vision had dulled in the course of this terrifying situation or else he would have noticed the cold metallic glint in what he thought were black eyes.

 

He sternly asked Mr. Song not waiting for a reply as his eyes darted around them, the Guards with the icy blue edges their towering intimidating silhouettes steadily approaching the Altar.

 

“THEN WHO WILL HELP MISS JU-HEE OUT OF HERE?”

 

They were frighteningly close.

 

“THERE’S NO TIME! GO!!”

 

Song Chi-Yul knew the boy was right. Sung Jin-Woo didn’t want to leave if it meant leaving Miss Ju-Hee behind. Sung Jin-Woo was dead serious. Song Chi-Yul had no other choice, he will carry out the boy’s wish.

 

“......”

 

Ju=Hee screamed in denial not allowing Sung Jin-Woo to sacrifice more than he already had. It was because of her incompetence and helplessness Sung Jin-Woo lost his limb, she could not live with herself if Sung Jin-Woo lost his life because of her.

 

“NO! Jin-Woo… I’d rather stay…”

 

Sung Jin-Woo felt around his pocket fisting the warm hard Mana Crystal, he had no use for it now, at least he will keep his promise.

 

“I promised to buy you dinner, didn’t I?”

 

Ju-Hee cried profusely, her eyes swollen red as her sobs raked her body at the words that had her, just a few hours ago though it seemed as if many lifetimes from here and now, filling with hope now they sounded like a death sentence.

 

“Eat it first”

 

Ju-Hee with trembling fingers took the Mana Crystal still not accepting that Sung Jin-Woo was going to stay here to face these horrifying creatures and die.

 

“I’ll get my payment from you when I return”

 

Ju-Hee was determined to stay she yelled at Sung Jin-Woo to understand if anyone was getting out of here it was Sung Jin-Woo.

 

“THIS ISN’T THE TIME FOR JOKES- “

 

Ju-Hee saw the world around her blacken and fade to nothing as she felt a sharp pain at the back of her neck then she was swept under as she lost consciousness. Song Chi-Yul muttered apologetically looking at Sung Jin-Woo with a complex expression as he slung Ju-Hee’s unconscious body over his shoulder on his uninjured side.

 

“… Sorry, but there really isn’t any time left”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was unusually calm in such a precarious and hopeless situation, his eyes were shadowed with dark bruised bags as they stared dead eyed at Mr. Song taking in Ju-Hee for the last time, she was, dare he call her that, his friend. He asked Mr. Song quietly looking at him solemnly, his one last request.

 

“Please, take care of her”

 

Song Chi-Yul tilted his head towards Sung Jin-Woo in respect and regretful farewell as he answered earnestly before turning on his heel and making his way towards the door, each step weighing him down further as he moved away from the brave kind boy.

 

“Yeah, I will”

 

Sung Jin-Woo shallowly breathed as he watched Mr. Song and Miss Ju-Hee pass through the doors.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“huu…”

 

“huu-“

 

Sung Jin-Woo stared blankly with no ripples in his grey eyes, cold and metallic, the lustrous shine dimming snuffed out.

 

‘Thank God’

 

He closed his tired eyes in resignation and something akin to relief.

 

‘At least I’m the only one that’s dying…’

 

He sighed in morbid humour musing over something mundane, the steady thud of heavy armoured feet as they drew closer, 

 

“I would’ve at least gotten an insurance if I had known this would happen…”

 

not that he would have gotten a great one.

 

A bright glint caught his waning attention, it was Kim Sang-Shik’s sword, the one he paid an amount of money Sung Jin-Woo hadn’t earned in all his years of hunting. Sung Jin-Woo’s hand spasmed as his muscles pulled and twisted, the pain overriding his movement.

 

He panted, the sound loud in the deathly silent room. Sung Jin-Woo was the only one left body broken, his heart too he supposed.

 

“Haah”

 

He bit his tongue to swallow the scream building up in his throat as he moved his lead like hands slowly towards the sword of Mr. Kim Sang-Shik. Just thinking about that man had his already mounting rage to climb higher.

 

His weak grip on the sword causing it to almost slip through his blood-soaked fingers. Only the steely resolve of fighting until his bitter seemingly inevitable end kept him up. He wanted to spit at the demonic God sitting regally on its throne of malice and evil.

 

He wanted it to know it was not his God, he wanted it to realise the human sacrifice sitting atop this Altar was a curse, not an offering. He was going to die anyway. 

 

“Haah”

 

The tremors running through him, making the already excruciating act of pointing it at the monstrous Knights of the unholy God approaching him to swiftly steal him of his life, unbearable.

 

‘Since it has come down to this, I’m gonna take at least one monster with me!’

 

“Huk”

 

Blood steadily drained out of him from the multiple lacerations and torn flesh and muscle. The beautiful intricate Altar under him dyed red as his blood flowed out of his dismembered leg that was alarmingly turning numb.

 

His senses were slowly but surely fading into incoherence as the shock of his grievous injuries threatened to paralyse his body and override his sensibilities.

 

“Huk”

 

He gazed at the massive giants, the dull grey of his eyes growing duller still. But his eyes still burned like the coldest of ice did, life still spilling from the otherwise unremarkable pair.

 

“Huk”

 

He felt his blood curdle as the immense pressure of the Monsters' presence slowly encroached on him. His primitive instincts going into overdrive, he gritted his teeth as a snarl made its way on his bloodied and bruised face.

 

“Huk…”

 

His vision was blurry as his right sclera turned crimson from his eyelid tearing and internal bleeding. More blood dripped from his banged-up head running from the bridge of his nose down its slope and cheek like a river down a valley.

 

 

The behemoth statues of the Knights with their towering spears, their menacing axes and swords approached him. He was going to die he resigned himself to that fact. He felt the rage and overwhelming bitterness at the hand he was dealt overcome him.

 

He stared at death, eyes burning with life, the only remarkable feature in his average face and stature. They were a dull grey almost black most of the time but when he was cornered on the edge of death, they burned like the hottest of coal charming in their intensity. They neared him like the harbingers of death.

 

He watched with stubborn eyes and gritted teeth reluctantly admiring the poise and grace of their stances and forms as they swung their colossal powerful weapons at the behest of their unholy God at him. The pain came then death awaited welcoming him as he flited across the veil.

 

“Come.”

 

 

The long spear met flesh, soft and made a sickening squelch as the tip of the sharp spear sank deep enough to tear a bloodcurdling scream from Sung Jin-Woo. The Monster twisted the menacing spear in its hand expertly all the while sinking it deeper and harder. Sung Jin-Woo felt his skin being torn to shreds as the spear relentlessly trusted into him the nauseating sound of his insides his organs, blood vessels. tissue, muscles, nerves... every fragile human part of him being gouged, growing louder. It went through him like a hot knife cutting through butter, the spear coming through his back scratching the stone underneath.

 

“EEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!!!!!”

 

The Guard suddenly jerked the spear still embedded into Sung Jin-Woo skywards as he was swiped off of the spear tossed as he landed on his back atop the intricate cold Altar. His cry was a pathetic unsettling sound, guttural and chocked, nothing human about it.

 

“HRRRK!!”

 

Sung Jin-Woo was in unbelievable pain as he lay prone convulsing and trembling like a rabid animal as it slipped into the final grasp of death.

 

“uuu…”

 

Thick blood flowing freely from the gaping hole in his back the strangely riveting cascade of his lifeblood gushed out in all directions staining the Altar crimson. 

 

“uuuuu…”

 

 

The scarlet liquid growing colder as life seeped out from him, it squirted up like a fountain spilling blood over him warmer than the colder blood draining from his back. Eyes widened as they watered with helpless scared tears, breath ragged and broken, with his hand twitching and trembling at his sides.

 

‘I don’t wanna…’

 

Coppery metallic blood filled his mouth as it chocked the breath from his damaged lungs. Black mist swirled at the edges of his mind beckoning him to the sweet oblivion that was death.

 

‘Don’t wanna die’

 

Pure terror surged through his veins, icy unforgiving daggers straight to the heart.

 

‘I DON’T WANNA DIE!!’

 

 

The thoughts were accelerating relentless in their pursuit to hammer a bitter truth inside his mind engraving it into his soul. They flash through his mind with such force he feels like he will blackout under the sheer weight of the revelations.

 

‘Of course it’s not “Fine”. ‘

 

Rage consumes him like an inferno he… he did everything right!

 

Everything he could to help the rest of them and yet…

 

and yet…

 

‘What do you mean “THANKFUL”!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo did not think he was capable of such emotion, it was a vexation and blinding rage that seemed to spring from his very soul. His back burned like it was being held against a searing flame licking at the gaping wound, it was ironic because he was stabbed in more ways than one. At least these Monsters had the chivalry to let him see them coming even if the fear incapacitated him against these maddeningly powerful Monsters.

 

The cold stone was a stark contrast to the fire alight through him as his hands shivered along the beautifully carved edges of the Altar and fragments of hope.

 

‘QUIT IT WITH ALL THESE BETRAYALS!’

 

He never felt anything strongly only his family being the sole exception to his innate apathy. He felt raw like his innermost self had been stripped of all defences and masks.

 

‘I HAVE A FAMILY TOO…!’

 

His sister what will she do? Will she quit school even though the child clearly loved studying because she found herself in a cold cruel world left to fend for herself? Will she run herself ragged trying to pay their mother’s hospital fees? He hoped the Hunter Association would take care of her as he was had been a Hunter… surely that would amount to something?

 

‘I DON’T WANNA DIE EITHER!!!!’

 

The panic starts like a tightening of the chest, as if the muscles broken and mangled as they were, were trying not to let another breath in, locking his lungs in a frantic fight to not give up, to not ache for death.

 

 

‘GLAD FOR BEING THE ONLY ONE DYING HERE?’

 

The part of his nature kept hidden under such stifling locks and walls it is a surprise it hasn’t withered and rotted away, taking the rest of him down because it was selfish like that and selfless like that. He exercised his control over every vagrant emotion until it was as easy as breathing, now that his breath stuttered and died in his aching parched throat, the walls crumbled down shuddering the very foundations of who he deluded the world and himself as.

 

‘STOP LYING TO YOURSELF!’

 

The part of him that only cares for himself, the part of him that wouldn’t bat an eye as the world burned around him, not lifting a finger to help another. It wants only what benefits itself, himself.

 

‘YOU LIAR!!’

 

Such a cruel part of him still longed for someone whose only world was him and him alone, whose light was because of him, whose love was for him.

 

‘I…’

 

Someone who looked at him like he was their sole reason to exist to steal his breath away from his lungs, not like how he was now gasping desperately for air to live but as if he wouldn’t mind dying, wouldn’t mind the burn as impassioned fervent kisses ardently claimed his lips searing through him in a blaze of love all-consuming and everlasting.

 

‘DON’T’

 

Someone who would obliterate time and space, life and death for him as if their universe begins and ends with him. He dreamed of such poetic things, the only reason he vividly read all those fairy tales and myths, even though he kept it under wraps, boys weren’t supposed to dream of happily ever afters, and magical and fantastical love.

 

‘WANNA’

 

Seeing his mother wait devotedly for his father who was probably dead and from what he remembered his father was as enamoured with his mother as she was with him.

 

‘DIE…’

 

All these were hopes and dreams that was Sung Jin-Woo somehow untainted and unbroken even as he faced humiliation after humiliation danced around with death far too much, constantly.

 

‘IF ONLY I HAD,’

 

He hadn’t lived yet, all he ever did was keep his family afloat, a burden he had been far too young for. He wanted to live so these regrets wouldn’t haunt him inescapable even in death. Next time death came knocking it wouldn’t be such a sad state of affairs, he wanted to live so he wouldn’t die without ever having lived.

 

‘JUST ONE MORE CHANCE!’

 

 

 

The hieroglyphs and symbols glowed with an ominous light as if molten lava lurked underneath the stone. He looked at the ominous monster as it lifted its sword to finish him off, the mercurial lake of molten silver glimmered with sorrow as shimmering tears fell in glistening streams. He watched as the blue light shifted to the same molten lave like light at the sharp edges of the imposing armour.

 

Unknown to Sung Jin-Woo, the sole blue flame flickered out of existence dissipating as the sword cleaved through the air one final time to take away his life. Electric blue light crackled as the blood seeped into its cracks, vibrant whips of energy as the altar lighted up with blinding light.

 

Sung Jin-Woo watched unblinking as the death blow descended on him, his interest however was at the suddenly stuttering glitching vision, was the world flickering out like a bad old timey film or was this nothing but a delusion like the one he remembered not when he scrambled towards a shield wielding Guard as a mistaken instrument playing vassal. He watched dazed, completely out of it as the pain covered his mind in a blank expanse.

 

He looked with glassy eyes curious at the peculiar sight before him, a royal purple tinted translucent screen chimed into existence which was bizarre in and of itself but the words calligraphed in an exquisite flourishing hand, made no sense whatsoever. He was uncertain whether this was the result of him being delirious with pain and anguish or it was actually happening. When the Guards moved no further as if frozen in time and the sword was stuck in its descent suspended, it was like a film separating him along with the curious purple window from the rest of the world.

 

 

 

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>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                         <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                              __________________________________________________________________

                                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>……………………….<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<          

                                                                 

                                                                   YOU HAVE ACCEPTED THE PROPOSAL.

                                                            EARNEST CONGRATULATIONS TO YOUR GRACE.          

 

                                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>…………………………<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                              __________________________________________________________________

                                      

                                                     

                                                       YOUR WISH: TO BECOME STRONG HAS BEEN EVALUATED.

                                                        YOU HAVE COMPLETED THE NECESSARY REQUIREMENTS.

 

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

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.....................................................................................................................................................................................................

 

 

Music.

 

No.

 

No.

 

It was simply too beautiful to be just that but he had never found human language to be so limiting, he recalled feeling something similar to this sheer awe and bliss an impression of numinous theistic… warmth?...

 

no but something that was sacred and inhuman… remembered feeling? it in the depths of his soul that for a moment suspended in time dissolved everything leaving him entwined with inexplicable transcendent existence in a tranquil euphoric ecstasy. He was ensnarled in its unworldly beauty before it faded into softer than a whisper caress, lingering but no longer perceivable.

 

‘Huh?’

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s sluggish thoughts raced, still he couldn’t make heads or tails off of this. So many unanswered questions cropped up in his mind until his head throbbed in reminder, he was in no state to expend that much energy, not when he had one foot… hah hah... his only foot… in the grave.

 

‘What the…?

 

He sifted through his memories not as thoroughly as he would have liked but he was not keen on replaying his nightmare over and over again.

 

‘ACCEPT…?’

 

He bloody well didn’t remember agreeing to anything… Sung Jin-Woo felt discomforted as a sharp nudge tugged at his wandering thoughts before it submerged in the sea of misty fog and the sudden peaceful calm, he had a foreboding feeling it was of grave importance but it slipped through his hands like water through a sieve.

 

‘CONGRATULATIONS…?’

 

Sung Jin-Woo’s metaphorical eyebrows twitched as his fingers curled with the sudden urge to beat the living daylight out of someone preferably the asshole behind this screen who couldn’t read the goddamn situation, he did not appreciate this not one bit.

 

 ‘…for what dying?’

 

He sardonically snipped, his dark tone blatant without any mirth, he was already good as dead and someone or something had the gall to amuse themselves over his misery.

 

‘Your… GRACE…?’

 

He wondered whether he should be offended on what the words implied, that he was in some unknown way, powerful, when in fact he was the exact opposite of the word. Weak. The Weakest.

 

‘Is that referring to me?’

 

He mused still waiting for the harsh final blow to end him.

 

‘I’m hardly royalty…’

 

While this, certainly the most peculiar and entrancing part of this… whatever it was…

 

‘Seriously…’

 

But…

 

But what caught the attention of the part of him that, to his surprise had not given up and accepted the bitter truth like the rest of him awaiting death unwillingly.

 

‘And the second part…’

 

He desperately hoped this wasn’t a dream an intricate mirage his desperate mind had conjured up to ensure his sanity.

 

‘What even?’

 

Who was he kidding? It was just that.

 

‘Maybe I really did hurt my head too hard…’

 

But he supposed it was better to die hopeful than the sulphurous pool of seething emotion he was feeling, piercing deeper than the blade ever did.

 

‘brain… haemorrhage…?’

 

‘…probably’

 

He wished however, his imagination would have willed him away to a place far far away, away from all the blood and death around, away from that unholy monster. Indeed, that would be much more calming… hell in fact forgetting this ever happened and ignorantly dying in the world of dreams and no pain was all he could hope for at this point.

 

Maybe his brain would take the hint and do just that. If he was going to die delirious, he might as well be happy.

 

‘Surely his mind wouldn’t be cruel enough to through his regret back at his face…’

 

Not when he was dying so miserably…

 

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

********************************************************************************************************

 

                                                 ***************************************  

                                                 ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                                                                       ! ALARM

 

                                                 ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                                                 ****************************************

 

 

               [YOU HAVE COMPLETED ALL THE NECESSARY REQUIREMENTS OF THE SECRET QUEST

                                                            COURAGE OF THE WEAK]

 

 

**********************************************************************************************************

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

__________________________________________________________________________________:____________________

 

 

 

He wondered at the words, twisting and turning it in his fogged-up mind, this was familiar but, it was a blue tinted translucent screen instead of violet purple, the letter typed with an elegant imposing font.

 

‘What’s this?’

 

 

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

********************************************************************************************************

 

                                                 ***************************************  

                                                 ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                                                                       ! ALARM

 

                                                 ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                                                 ****************************************

 

 

               [YOU HAVE COMPLETED ALL THE NECESSARY REQUIREMENTS OF THE SECRET QUEST

                                                            COURAGE OF THE WEAK]

 

 

**********************************************************************************************************

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

__________________________________________________________________________________:____________________

 

 

 

He read the weird words it still didn’t make much sense…

 

‘Secret Quest?’

 

What quest?

 

This was so… weird… even if it was a delusion…

 

‘Completed all the requirements?’

 

What requirements?

 

what the hell?

 

He heard a cold almost robotic voice, he couldn’t determine its gender, the voice intoned with no inflection primly reading out the words somehow cutting through the mist and fog of his tired mind commanding his dwindling attention.

 

 

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

               [YOU HAVE COMPLETED ALL

            THE NECESSARY REQUIREMENTS

                    OF THE SECRET QUEST

                 ‘COURAGE OF THE WEAK’]

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

 

‘Wait, where is this sound even coming from?’

 

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                  [YOU HAVE EARNED THE

               RIGHT TO BECOME A PLAYER.

                       WILL YOU ACCEPT?]

                             

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

 

He listened as it calmly continued, it was nice he decided, no matter how lifeless the voice sounded, to hear a voice, studiously ignoring the heavenly divine dulcet tones from before.

 

‘EARNED?’

 

Still it wasn’t clearing up his confusion just intensifying the already strange situation.

 

‘ACCEPT?’

 

He stopped parroting the words, the disbelief suspended in his thoughts, he tentatively thought... asking... for some kind of clarity because he was in shape to use his remarkable mind, physically and emotionally drained.

 

‘What’s going on…’

 

The voice kindly stated his rather precarious situation with the same unfeeling tone, more machine than human.

 

 

 

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

               [YOU DO NOT HAVE MUCH TIME REMAINING.]

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

 

No shit sherlock.

 

He didn’t.

 

He felt his life seep out, the Guard didn’t need to put him out of his misery, he felt the tether keeping him alive snap any second now.

 

 

 

..............................................................................................................................................................................................................

||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                                    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                             __________________________________________________________________________

                                             >>>>>>>>>>>>>>..........................................<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<          

                                                     

                                                                       THOUGH YOUR GRACE’S EMMINENCE IS

                                                                                        UNQUESTIONABLE.       

 

                                             >>>>>>>>>>>>>>...........................................<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                             ___________________________________________________________________________

 

                                      

                                         FOR THE SAKE OF REALISING YOUR POTENTIAL THE CONSEQUENCES ARE VERY REAL.

                                                            ERGO, ‘DYING’ MEANS NO MORE ACCESS TO THIS WORLD.

                                                                                YOU WILL EXPERIENCE ‘DEATH’.

 

 

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                                         <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

....................................................................................................................................................................................................................

 

 

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                        [IF YOU REFUSE, YOUR

            HEART WILL STOP APPROXIMATELY

                        0.02 SECONDS LATER.

                          WILL YOU ACCEPT?]

 

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

 

 

Maybe…

 

Maybe he would be saved…

 

Maybe he would live to see another day…

 

‘Ah…’

 

He thought no matter how absurd it was and it was probably nothing more than a figment of his imagination but still hope unfurled its thorns deep inside him it hurt… it hurt so damn good…

 

‘If I accept…’

 

His thoughts were a quiet thing childlike and innocent as hope spiked in him rendering those cold emotions unreachable like an ever-distant dream.

 

‘Then… I don’t have to die?’

 

 

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

*************************************************************************************************************

 

                                                       **********************************

                                                       ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                                                                        ! ALARM

 

                                                       :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                                                       ***********************************

 

 

                               IF YOU DO NOT ACCEPT, YOUR HEART WILL STOP APPROXIMATELY

                                                                0.02 SECONDS LATER.

 

                                                                   WILL YOU ACCEPT?

 

            

                   ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::                                                                         ::::::::::::::::::::::::::              

                           ACCEPT                                                                                       REFUSE

                   ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::                                                                         ::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

 

******************************************************************************************************************

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

He smiled, the first genuine smile in a long while, he thought he heard a sharp inhale the sound devastatingly beautiful…

 

It made his lips twitch wider the small tilt on pale bloodied lip,

 

reverently taken in by a glorious warmth inside Sung Jin-Woo, he didn’t know what the warmth was but it was a reassuring mind addling pleasure to feel it.

 

He felt safe…

 

the ominous glaring red of the warning seemed to shine brighter drawing his waning attention.

 

‘Yes… this chance…’

 

He felt the comforting amorphous transcendental presence press against him, the pain from his various grievous wounds fading to nothing. He instinctively knew this and the cold unfeeling screen before him were unrelated, at least in a sense.

 

The euphoric warmth nudged at him gently cradling his weary soul in a bliss unreal and incomparable, it was telling him it was okay… instinctively he knew it was telling him even if this offer turned out to be something horrifying, it would be dealt with.

 

He was safe.

 

‘I’LL TAKE IT’

 

An incandescent luminous light flooded around Sung Jin-Woo entering him, piercing into him in a gentle healing encirclement converging into him and flaring up around him, rays of light engulfed the entirety of the dungeon as Sung Jin-Woo was lulled into a serene dreamless sleep, he felt the heavenly ambrosial warmth embrace him close, incorporeal and seraphic, different from the light the was enveloping him. Sure, the bright light from the screen felt nice but unremarkable barely anything in the face of this divine entrancing warmth. 

 

He closed his weary eyes sighing in pleasure, not before he caught the blue screen that flickered into existence.

 

 

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

*******************************************************************************************************************************************

                                                                                                                                                                                             _    X

                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                       ***************************

                                                                                       ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                                                                                                     ! ALARM

 

                                                                                      ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                                                                                      *****************************

 

 

......................................................................................                                            ....................................................................................

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::                                                                              ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                                     ___________________________________________________________________

                                                     >>>>>>>>>>>>>>....................................<<<<<<<<<<<<<<          

 

                                                                              YOUR TASKS WILL BE INCORPORATED

                                                                                   TO YOUR REGIME AND QUESTS

                                                                                            TO ENSHRINE YOUR

                                                                                         SACRAMENTAL UNION.

  

                                                                                        WELCOME, YOUR GRACE.  

 

                                                   >>>>>>>>>>>>>>........................................<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                                   _____________________________________________________________________

                                    

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::                                                                              ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

......................................................................................                                            ....................................................................................

 

 

                                                                                             [WELCOME, PLAYER.]

 

 

 

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

‘U..NI…ON…?!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo twisted against cobwebs of sleep and oblivion as his perceptive now pain free mind grasped the allusive meaning, his uncanny perception and instincts guiding him.

 

‘DON’T TELL ME?!?!?!’

 

Sung Jin-Woo then knew nothing as black inky folds engulfed him completely.

 

‘SHI-SHITTT!!!’

 

He listened riveted as a ripple of transcendent beguiling hypnotizing lilting notes of amused chuckles echoed like a serenade of a thousand angels, lulling further into peaceful serenity in the confines of his blissed out mind, ringing through his very soul.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Sung Jin-Woo snapped his eyes open, the wild look in his eyes was feral dangerous like a savage beast ready to go for the jugular snapping the unsuspecting victim's neck in one swift move. The cold glint a knife being drawn out of its sheath glinting silver against unassuming black, the cold edge softened as he took note of his surroundings eyes bleary with confusion and the lingering warmth of sleep.

 

The familiarity of the clean and lacklustre room of a hospital the scent of the sharp clinical tang of what he assumed was iodoform cutting sharply in contrast to the expected sickening pungent smell of curdled blood and wasting odious bodies that were ones people he knew, not well but enough for a twinge of sadness to fleet through him before it dissipated. He flinched as his vision was bombarded with multiple translucent windows glowing with a soft eerie blue light, he stared at the odd screens wide eyed, he blinked in confusion rubbing his eyes a few times just to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating.

 

… it was still there.

 

 

                           _________________________________________________________________________________________________

                           :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                           *****************************************************************************************************

                                                                                                                                                                        _    X

                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                           *********************************

                                                               :           ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                                                                                        ~ MESSAGE

 

                                                                          ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::  

                                                                          **********************************

 

 

                                                                              -YOU HAVE UNREAD MAIL.

 

 

 

                         *****************************************************************************************************

                         :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                         _________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

His mind ever quick to respond immediately recollected the sadistic monsters, especially that one, were beyond anything he ever expected to face and to think he would survive. The wide arc of the longsword cleaving the air as it without a doubt descended to slice him maim him all for the pleasure of their Lord.

 

He sighed thinking about this was making the memories come back he wasn’t looking forward to finally breaking down as reality and trauma set in. Surely, he is traumatised even though it didn’t feel like it.

 

He had read somewhere that dissociation and suppression of emotions and memories are common in case of traumatising events and subjugation to horrors the mind was simply not equipped to handle all at once. Though something in him knew it was because of the innate coldness that burned quietly separating him from the rest for better or for worse.

 

He startled as the door to his hospital room was opened quietly with a click, his body tensing even though he knew he wasn’t in danger, couldn’t be. He deceptively relaxed his core still coiled tight as his body seemingly exhaled out the tension and defensiveness, the picture of calm and peace.

 

His eye darted to the open window it was dusk he guessed it was probably the third floor of the hospital where Hunters were treated for their injuries due to the kind of wounds monsters or Hunters seemed to inflict, in his opinion there wasn’t much difference between the two.

 

He turned his attention to the person entering the room, it was a nurse who looked to be in her fifties, she had a kind smile and even kinder eyes. Her eyes widening a fraction seeing him up and staring at her and a sigh with what Jin-Woo guessed to be abject relief at seeing him awake.

 

She asked in a voice that matched her maternal appearance and demeanour,

 

“Mr. Jin-Woo... Can I call you that young man?”

 

“Your last name is impossible for me to tell without butchering it beyond recognition...”

 

Jin-Woo nodded at her with a look of befuddlement in his now noticeably more grey than black eyes. Jin-Woo was surprised that the nurse wasn’t able to pronounce his surname which was fairly common and no one he had met couldn’t string the syllables together. The nurse spoke in perfectly fluent Korean and she looked like a Korean too.

 

However, this woman looked so obviously relieved and happy to see him awake he swallowed the questions that were waiting to slip past his stiff lips.

 

‘… and more importantly’

 

 

                           _________________________________________________________________________________________________

                           :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                           *****************************************************************************************************

                                                                                                                                                                        _    X

                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                           *********************************

                                                               :           ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

 

                                                                                        ~ MESSAGE

 

                                                                          ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::  

                                                                          **********************************

 

 

                                                                              -YOU HAVE UNREAD MAIL.

 

 

 

                         *****************************************************************************************************

                         :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

                         _________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

‘Isn’t she aware of that?’

 

Jin-Woo felt his apprehension mount when the nurse seemed not to notice the floating translucent blue window.

 

‘Could it be that she can’t… other people can’t see it?’

 

He smiled the genial smile he wore around people, kind people like this nurse,

 

“Of course, then please call me Jin-Woo mam...”

 

Jin-Woo felt uncomfortable but he couldn’t show it he waited for the nurse to continue or update him on what he missed out on when he was unconscious. He knew he was deflecting he was not ready to see his useless body the state of his grievous injuries, they must have pumped him with the best painkillers and drugs because noting felt out of place.

 

He waited to hear the nurse confirm what debilitating injury he knew suffered that made him without a shadow of doubt, a burden, he just wished the nurse would get on with it and not misguidedly spare him the pain of knowing for some more time.

 

He was also nervous not knowing what happened to those horrifying monsters at the very least whether there was a Dungeon Break letting those nightmarish creatures to wreak havoc in a city where his sister lived. He knew he should probably also worry about the general populace and what not but such selfless consideration was nothing more than a conditioned habit in most humans.

 

Why should he try to sell himself to others, fool himself into being a paragon of virtue and selflessness?

Look where it got him a foot short becoming a burden on his sister who was still in high school still a child.

 

He stiffened suddenly as he very clearly felt his extremities the toes he curled unconsciously against the sheets, the toes on the foot that shouldn’t be there, where the better part of his lower leg was dismembered. He quietly in stunned disbelief threw the sheets up and away from him he looked stupefied at the perfectly intact functioning foot on his leg no show of anything amiss.

 

He hastily placed his hand roughly palm first on his chest way too callously than was advised for someone who had his chest caved in and maimed to a horrifying degree.

 

‘And my impaled chest is back to normal…’

 

He hastily shifted his eyes back to the nurse who was looking at him strangely, he chuckled nervously and opted to say a truth-not-truth,

 

“I still can’t believe I made it out alive ...”

 

The nurse hummed sympathetically as she looked at him with understanding and pity for what she imagined to be a horrible incident.

 

“Yes, nasty business that...”

 

Her lips were a thin straight line as she looked at him grimly pity still clear in her face,

 

“I don’t know much about what happened...”

 

She sighed shaking her head dejectedly as she continued on in the same solemn tone,

 

“But the few of you who survived are in various states of having a complete and utter breakdown...”

 

She looked at him with an uncertain expression as if she wasn’t quite sure on how to react to something,

 

“But young man you are reacting quite differently,”

 

He felt a bead of sweat drip down as he fell under her inquisitive stare, he wasn’t sure how he was going to explain whatever odd feeling he seemed to have provoked in her. He was certain he will never tell another soul about what happened to him, the strangeness surrounding him.

 

It was his, his in a way nothing ever was.

 

“you don’t seem to be going into shock...”

 

Jin-Woo gave her an awkward smile as he latched onto the tiny bit of information she let slip, the others obviously was Mr. Song and Miss Ju-Hee the rest... he simply didn’t care...

 

Jin-Woo straightened his back as he eagerly enquired about their wellbeing, he hoped Mr. Song was recovering well without any complications given he had lost an arm, he instinctively knew that what miraculous event he was blessed with to keep his leg was solely bestowed on him.

 

And Miss Ju-Hee who so readily wanted to do anything in her power to help him was a friend, his only friend he hoped she didn’t beat herself for leaving Jin-Woo behind no matter if she was knocked unconscious and was in no way responsible.

 

He worried because it was clear without a shred of doubt who suffered the brunt of mental collapse and trauma, such a terrible incident left an indelible mark in all of them who were fortunate enough to survive, the intense pressure of knowing that their lives were merely prolonged for the purpose of derisive entertainment and the utter disillusionment and desolation that such a revelation wrought was enough to shatter their reality.

 

He cleared his throat swallowing the sudden lump that clogged his windpipe and the despairing taste of blood and death filled his mouth. He grimaced lowering his head and then asked the nurse voice hoarse and tired, worry still clear in the rasp of his raw throat.

 

“Mr. Song...”

 

“… and Miss Ju-Hee... are they doing fine?”

 

The nurse approached him letting him see her come as if approaching a scared wounded animal, she took his hand feeling his pulse noting it down and looking at the vitals and reading from the various machines by his bedside some of them were hooked to him as he realised with a start the sticky uncomfortable feeling on the various parts of his torso and left hand were the telemetry.

 

He kept silent not wanting to disturb her as she seriously studied his readings after she was done, she gave nod as if in satisfaction and turned to Jin-Woo with a smile.

 

“All seems to be in order”

 

She went over to the table at the corner of the room she bent down to scribble something on the neat looking writing pad before she turned to face him.

 

“Now that’s out of the way...”

 

“You’ll be pleased to hear Mr. Song Chi-Yul has healed well enough to be discharged day before yesterday”

 

“Whereas Miss Ju-Hee needed to be moved to psychiatric specialty hospital to deal with her PTSD...”

 

“The update we received is that she is finally starting to calm down and will most probably be discharged after a week or two of observation”

 

Jin-Woo smiled in relief at the reassurance when he remembered his sister Jin-Ah she must be worried but the exasperation of seeing him get hurt close to death had increased every passing day. It was sad now that he thinks about it but he knew she had his back no matter what.

 

Jin-Woo was about to ask about her when the nurse as if reading his mind continued, voice a tad bit stressed and worried,

 

“Whereas you, young man...”

 

“You were in a coma for a week now...”

 

Jin-Woo frowned at the rather long period he was asleep for but given what he went through it was alright it seemed reasonable. But that meant... Jin-Woo's frown became even more pronounced as he recalled with dread...

 

‘A week without waking up...’

 

“Your sister visits you every day...”

 

Jin-Woo shot up in surprise though he probably shouldn’t be so taken aback, his sister always visited him diligently never missing a day he was hospitalised due to the Raids, which was unfortunately a lot, given Dungeons were the equivalent of a minefield for Jin-Woo.

 

No matter how hard he tried to dissuade her from visiting him every day and considering how often he got seriously injured enough to be hospitalised... it was a... considerable amount of time where she spent in the hospital.

 

A truly dreadful place for more reasons than one for the siblings.

 

“A delightful child you must be so proud!”

 

Jin-Woo whispered head bowed as a complex flood of bittersweet emotions swept him under,

 

“Yes, she’s wonderful...”

 

The nurse looked at him apologetically as she said,

 

“It’s late in the morning now”

 

She looked genuinely sorry that his sister was not beside him when he woke up, Jin-Woo appreciated the kindness but he had been in the same place far too many times than was comfortable, both of them were used to it.

 

“Your sister is at school”

 

Jin-Woo fondly remembered a small Jin-Ah, when they found themselves truly alone left without a means to survive, Jin-Woo had taken upon himself to ensure that Jin-Ah had a future, a limitless one even at the expense of his own future, how she would stubbornly declare she would grow up and take care of him.

 

“I think she’ll come check up on you in the evening”

 

He never wanted to be a Hunter barely being an E-Level Awakened but in between his mother’s sky-high hospital bills and keeping his sister in school and seeing to the basic necessities that a growing girl would have; he had no other choice than to risk his neck as a Hunter.

 

It was that or becoming an unskilled worker who were paid almost nothing. Jin-Woo had been barely fourteen. Education incomplete and far too young to tread the cruel world of adults, growing up too soon. Missing out on life and childhood.

 

“Rest for now...”

 

Sometimes he cursed his absent father even though the man didn’t deserve it, he had left for a Raid like any other day however unlike the other times he didn’t come back. No one knew what happened to him whether he was alive or dead, though he was declared MIA everyone except his distraught mother believed he was dead.

 

“You will probably be discharged tomorrow if all the results come back fine”

 

He absently heard the nurse's words noting them with a detached apathy as he mused on... His mother waited every day with a burning hope that never dwindled, she was a wonderful mother reliable and kind but she was an absent one.

 

Not in the way of not showing up or deserting them, she was diligent in providing for them at the cost of her own health, took the time to talk to them, show them the care and affection she obviously held for them in her every gesture and action.

 

Jin-Ah didn’t see the ever-distant heart of his mother still caught up in the thoughts of their father but Jin-Woo did. Curiously Jin-Woo envied a love like theirs when all he was left with is broken shards of hopes and dreams that died before it sprouted the roots running deep to his core even if it never unfurled.

 

“I have to leave now”

 

Sometimes he wished his mother would wake from her eternal sleep and his father would turn up alive then his parents and sister can be a family once more and Jin-Woo can leave, where he would go? he didn’t know, what he would do? he didn’t know nor did he care.

 

Why wander he may never know, but he wanted to, desire and what others take for granted the simple act of living was not an option for Jin-Woo now or it seemed ever, just surviving until his body gave out from the strain and deadly situation it was witness to constantly barely avoiding death every time, he who toiled and bled to see his duty through but the small child inside of him ached for something it knew not.

 

But curiously the empty ever-present longing was no longer there, hadn’t been since entering and sealing his fate in that Double Dungeon. When he was young people would say he took after his father, his looks he supposed and even that was inaccurate because he and his family knew he was more his mother than his father in appearance and nature that grew more pronounced as he grew older.

 

“Oh! I almost forgot!”

 

He wondered whether the ice in his heart was seen by his mother, if she saw and accepted him unconditionally since she was almost the same. A cold disposition, a cool elegance but unlike his innate supernal nature, it was her personality.

 

He was different, his mother may be no more closer in understanding him like the rest but she would most likely accept him.

 

His waning attention sharpened as he heard something of interest.

 

“Some people from the Hunter Association came when you were unconscious”

 

His eyes widened a fraction surprised and intrigued but it was hardly unexpected knowing that such a hell could exist in a Dungeon where it shouldn’t be was enough for hardened Hunters to drop to their knees in despair and Mr. Song had confirmed that the monsters were at the very least A-Rank and most likely S-Rank.

 

“They waited for you to wake up for three whole days”

 

The Hunter Association would obviously be interested at such an unprecedented situation, it wouldn’t do to let such an oversight to occur another time, things may turn out far worse than anticipated if there was a Dungeon Break containing monsters of such calibre.

 

The nurse sighed while shaking her head,

 

“There was no sign that you were going to wake up anytime soon...”

 

He gathered from the nurse not mentioning anything characterising the horrors they had seen that thankfully there was no Dungeon Break. She looked stressed as was the case with people working in the medical field but nothing more than that no world changing event occurred in the span of time, he was unconscious for.

 

She continued looking cross disapproval clear in her voice with begrudging respect and wonder,

 

“They informed us that they were going to do some 'tests' to ascertain something and requested privacy”

 

She shook her head in clear exasperation as she went on about the truly baffling to a normal person behaviour of Hunters.

 

“It took them less than 5 minutes to come out and then leave...”

 

The nurse looked at him with an odd look of contemplation as if examining something alien and novel, Jin-Woo felt the stare bore into him but he surged it off with practised ease. Even though he was the Weakest he was still an Awakened, being ‘normal’ was no longer a viable option. He was not delusional like some of the other Awakened that nothing had changed and went about their ‘normal’ lives.

 

“... You Hunters sure are a strange bunch...”

 

The warm smile on the nurse’s wrinkled face hit Jin-Woo like a ton of bricks, he missed his mother, he wanted to be taken care of but such a simple thing was as unattainable to him as if it were too fantastical to be real.

 

He feared he would no longer remember the feeling of being taken care of, the vague memories never bringing up the same intensity of feeling he may have felt at the time. He fears one day he will forget all together the precious emotions of love and affection he had once felt.

 

“Take care Jin-Woo Shi please don’t do anything strenuous for a few days”

 

Jin-Woo smiled politely showing his gratitude as the nurse opened the door to leave, he said sincerely grateful for the nurse’s patience and kindness,

 

“Thank you for taking care of me mam”

 

The nurse laughed jovially the crow’s feet around her eyes crinkling in mirth and hearty laughter, she exclaimed lightly before shutting the door behind her quietly, leaving him alone,

 

“It was my pleasure and more importantly my job boy!”

 

Jin-Woo’s lips quirked at the sound of her laughter as he heard her footsteps fade away, now it was jarringly silent he couldn’t hear any movement outside on the corridor. He sighed as he rose to his feet wanting to stand to ascertain he still somehow had his foot, the soles of his feet slowly dragged against the smooth carpet.

 

He hesitated before taking a step and then another, he sighed in relief as it felt like how it should be, perfectly normal like he had never been hurt in the first place.

 

He turned to look around uncertain now on what to do with the time he found himself with, it would be a good while before Jin-Ah would be able to visit. He scratched his head as he pondered on how to wile away the time, he unconsciously strode to the window, pushing the curtain aside letting the shear material rest at the far end of its hinges before he slid the large windows open. The cool breeze and warm sunshine that greeted him made him sigh in pleasure.

 

He stood there quietly closing his eyes mind blank as he revelled in quiet and serenity. It was a long while before Jin-Woo opened his eyes he was feeling content and warm, his thoughts thankfully still innocuous keeping the unsavoury at the bay for now.

 

He quietly turned to survey the room he was in; the doctors almost certainly wouldn’t allow him out of his room so soon after he woke up. He had to make do with this spacious hospital room, he wrinkled his nose as the sting of tincture and iodine assaulted his delicate nose.

 

At least there was a TV a large flatscreen one that Jin-Woo was certain most middle-class people wouldn’t be able to afford, let alone him. He eyed the comfortable looking armchair by the table where the nurse had jotted down her observations.

 

He was bored with time to spare he made his way to the table vaguely curious about what was written, maybe it was about his psyche the nurse did mention the others were not handling the disastrous turn of events too well.

 

He curiously made his way over to look at the writing pad clicked on it was what looked like a normal hospital form, with multiple sheets surprisingly less than he expected. He traced the photo of himself staring back at him, he smiled humourlessly as he looked at the bandage on his cheek showing he was never not injured when Hunting. His eyes skimmed over the personal details printed below the picture,

 

Age.

24.

 

He just turned 24 how time flies by…

 

Sex

Male.

 

Yup he was one last time he checked.

 

Marital status.

Married.

 

‘Huh?’

 

Wait…

 

‘What?!?!?!’

 

Jin-Woo sent a distracted thank you to whichever kind soul had strategically placed the armchair as he gracelessly collapsed falling back into it when his legs gave out. He didn’t even notice his descent still staring at the same line, he was stunned speechless.

 

'What the fuck?'

 

'Married.'

 

'... Married?'

 

Right, right it was an error just a small mistake yeah, these things happen sometime.

 

‘Yeah…’

 

‘Yeah calm down Jin-Woo’

 

‘It was just a mistake’

 

Jin-Woo glanced down, his mouth slightly open his expression lost and frozen in shock, the wide eyed stare was no longer a dull black but depthless pools of liquid mercury, then as if the sudden influx of information that made no… no sense!

 

As if the petrifying confusion wasn’t enough his eyes darted to the next line the letters were something he was so familiar with forming his name, but now with foreign letters arranged neatly beside his name in a language he guessed was English was unfamiliar and different.

 

His sparking molten silver eyes glimmered with tangible distress and surprise as he felt more vulnerable than when he was fighting futilely for his life in that cold cruel Dungeon with monsters he wasn’t sure any Hunter less than a S-Rank maybe not even then could hope to match, more vulnerable than when he was crippled, more vulnerable than when the enormous sword came down to finish him off.  

 

Jin-Woo …………..

 

Jin-Woo growled in frustration and incensed anger he felt his fury coloured with indignation mount as he tried to read the last name, he had apparently taken in the time he was unconscious. One letter at a time then. He knew that much at least from the little time he spent in high school.

 

 

A.

 

His last name is something he couldn’t pronounce and the question is why the hell was it different in the first place?

 

 

M.

 

Married what a joke! He has never even liked liked anyone, let alone love someone enough to make a commitment like marriage. Hadn’t had his first kiss, his first crush, his first love, his first anything…

 

 

A.

 

What was happening?

 

Why was this happening?

 

 

R.

 

Suddenly the memories came in crystal clear flashes that eclipsed his panic, his eyes darkening to a leaden grey and losing focus.

 

 

A.

 

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                                                                                                          ! ALARM

 

                                                                                        ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

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                        ……………………………………………………                                                                     ..……………………………………………….

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                        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                      <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                                              ___________________________________________________________________

                                                              >>>>>>>>>>>>>>……………………………<<<<<<<<<<<<<<          

 

                                                                                        YOUR TASKS WILL BE INCORPORATED

                                                                                             TO YOUR REGIME AND QUESTS

                                                                                                     TO ENSHRINE YOUR

                                                                                                   SACRAMENTAL UNION.

  

                                                                                                  WELCOME, YOUR GRACE.  

 

                                                                   >>>>>>>>>>>>>>…………………………….<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                                                                   __________________________________________________________________

                                    

 

                        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>                                                                                                     <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

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                        ……………………………………………………                                                                     ..……………………………………………….

 

                                                                                                          [WELCOME, PLAYER.]

 

 

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                         _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

N.

 

Union?

 

Think Jin-Woo.

 

Think.

 

‘Union’,

 

he knew his intuition was right once more, he had somehow found himself entering a marriage, an eternal bond with someone or something. He had a dark foreboding feeling that it was not something he entered with no choice, somehow somewhere during the nightmare he had knowingly fallen into something he didn’t comprehend.

 

 

T.

 

He shivered as he dived deep into his memories tearing through them, the ethereal warmth that remained quiet twisting gleefully making its presence known.

 

His agony was numbing he didn’t know what hurt and what didn’t anymore he was getting sucked into oblivion even as he prayed to a higher power, he never believed in… to God… to the devil anything to save him from this nightmare.

 

‘If there truly is a God…’

 

‘Please…’

 

He would do… give… anything and everything even if it was his soul to be free from its cruel clutches. It was anger and rage that burned colder than the coldest of ice. It was always within him but he felt it bloom unfurl as he crawled unseeing as he felt a gentle tug forgotten in the pain lead him somewhere.

 

 

H.

 

He knew how many times he had walked out alive when he shouldn’t have defying the odds but it seemed now was one too many a time. He gasped as he felt an unknown intense pleasure that took away all the pain all the suffering even his identity as he was swept in whirlpool of divine euphoria and pleasure.

 

He heard a faint whisper brushing against his soul something of the likes

 

‘Mine…’

 

Sung Jin-Woo crashed back to reality as the pain and his twitching body came rushing to him, he didn’t know whether it was a delirious hallucination brought up from the mind-numbing pain.

 

 

T.

 

He looked at his trembling hands not really registering anything he gasped bewildered at the ever shifting shimmering lines and patterns all of transcendent enthralling design on his left ring finger inked in divine flourish on his skin, was part of him crafted and forged with the inimitable shades of lore, hues of myth and the unreal fliting with iridescence otherworldly and inexplicable like starlight and the void fashioned by the very threads that make the universe, is the universe, is infinity.

 

 

A.

 

The dreams and hopes of a young Jin-Woo suddenly seemed possible that all of those long nights where he lay awake lost and alone feeling his hope dwindle every passing day as the colours slowly seeped away from the world around him.

 

The part of his nature kept hidden under such stifling locks and walls it is a surprise it hasn’t withered and rotted away taking the rest of him down because it was selfish like that and selfless like that. He exercised his control over every vagrant emotion until it was as easy as breathing now that his breath stuttered and died in his aching parched throat the walls crumbled down shuddering the very foundations of who he deluded the world and himself as.

 

The part of him that only cares for himself the part of him that wouldn’t bat an eye as the world burned around him not lifting a finger to help another. It wants only what benefits itself, himself.

 

Such a cruel part of him still longed for someone whose only world was him and him alone whose light was because of him whose love was for him.

 

Someone who looked at him like he was their sole reason to exist to steal his breath away from his lungs, not like how he was now gasping desperately for air to live but as if he wouldn’t mind dying wouldn’t mind the burn as impassioned fervent kisses ardently claimed his lips searing through him in a blaze of love all-consuming and everlasting.

 

Someone who would obliterate time and space, life and death for him as if their universe begins and ends with him. He dreamed of such poetic things the only reason he vividly read all those fairy tales and myths even though he kept it under wraps boys weren’t supposed to dream of happily ever after and magical and fantastical love.

 

Seeing his mother wait devotedly for his father who was probably dead and from what he remembered his father was as enamoured with his mother as she was with him.

 

All these were hopes and dreams was Sung Jin-Woo somehow untainted and unbroken even as he faced humiliation after humiliation danced around with death far too much, constantly.

 

Hoping.

 

Dreaming.

 

Wanting.

 

Needing.

 

 

R.

 

Jin-Woo traced a finger hesitant touches barely grazing against the mesmerising lines that were twirling and exploring his ring finger claiming seeking sometimes spreading out to creep along the barely visible outline of veins pulsating bursts of nebulous clouds blooming like a breath-taking shock wave in rhythm with his heart beat.

 

 

A.

 

Some being he couldn’t begin to understand was his… his… soulmate? Their gender, appearance, interests, likes, dislikes, everything about them was a mystery. They were an enigma, the peculiar heavenly warmth-not-warmth a mind addling pleasure embracing his entirety coiled up as if in reproach at his displeasure.

 

 

X.

 

He was ecstatic he had someone because he laid out the terms in his half-forgotten dreams and hopes, it was all or nothing and since this being whoever they were chained him up so thoroughly he guessed they were same but even worse than even what Jin-Woo thought he was capable of, he didn’t mind that, he truly didn’t.

 

But his trust has been shattered so many times, he needs to see it feel it to believe it.

 

He is going to be himself...

He was going to be strong...

He will stand on his own two legs...

 

He won't let himself get hurt due to idealistic dreams...

 

 

I.

 

But if his… spouse was under the impression he was going to run into their arms no questions asked, they had another thing coming. The omnipresent nature of his… partner already captivated him, bewitching him, claiming his love for there is a soul wrenching emptiness in the freedom that comes with being alone and a fathomless liberty in being caught in this divine entanglement.

 

 

A.

 

Let’s see what the curious blue screens have in store, he was more eager to see more of the purple screens but the luminescent cold blue required his immediate attention. His other half can wait seeing that they wasted no time on putting a… ring… on his finger.

 

They can wait. 

 

 

                           

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                                                                                        ~ MESSAGE

 

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                                                                          **********************************

 

 

                                                                              -YOU HAVE UNREAD MAIL.

 

 

 

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                         _________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Jin-Woo felt his eyes twitch as he tried to touch the persistent blue tinted screen before him key word tried. His index finger hovered uncertainly before the intangible window for a moment before he sighed in frustration dropping his hand letting it fall on its side as he stared at the screen, for some reason it felt like the window was radiating mocking smugness at his dilemma.

 

‘Guess it’s not a touch screen’

 

He was sure it was unfeeling as a machine back when it first waltzed in bombarding his vision now it felt almost playful and his intuition nudged at him leading him to observe the peculiar screen which was emanating the curious feeling of  being ‘awake’ as if whatever this was, was slowly emerging from its slumber not fully awake but getting there.

 

He moped around as he was uncertain on how to make this cold blue screen open up to him hopefully leading him to the message he shrugged as he twisted on his side he was tired even if he was free of any and all aches and pains but that didn’t mean he couldn’t indulge on sleep for a bit it’s not like he can leave this room anytime soon.

 

He hesitated as a slight flush of colour pretty against the startling vibrant silver of his eyes appeared on his unassuming face forgettable unlike the breath taking vision on his metallic orbs when he looked at the strange ethereal dance of lines and patterns of ever shifting galaxies and pulses of supernovae utterly gorgeous on his ring finger showing he was claimed marked by someone... something… one of a kind… otherworldly and mysterious.

 

He flushed further as he caught himself staring too long intently at the tireless sight enraptured before an uncharacteristic quiet giggle slipped past his lips as he buried his burning face into the soft pillow ears visibly red.

 

Jin-Woo didn’t realise the hidden lurking presence of the object of his contemplation and interest hungrily take in all of Jin-Woo his every breath and action riveted. The being was hazy disjointed in reflection of the incomprehensible existence of them being rendered to this enamoured fool, Jin-Woo would later deadpan at the stalker his husband was being.

 

They sighed quietly remembering that humans valued their ‘privacy’ too much, they had to barricade against the omnipresence of their nature. The being looked at Jin-Woo one last time before fading a gentle caressing breeze with a promise of eternity that felt like the woven threads of fate against Jin-Woo’s fervent blushing cheek.

 

They had much to do, the game was afoot and as with everything they will win. Merciless they called the being. Every single one of them were in for a rude awakening it would be gentle having a fondness for their antics even as the fury of the Gods descended raining the visceral flames of hell annihilating them completely.

 

Jin-Woo felt awash with a strange sadness as the lovely calming breeze twisted and twirled through the matted strands of his hair before the sudden stillness in the wind chimed like the last note of a farewell.

 

Jin-Woo stayed still staring at the ceiling with hazy eyes as his lids grew heavier, sleep beckoning him in her oblivious embrace. He raised his hand looking at the gorgeous mark as his eyes slowly drooped shut. Jin-Woo was asleep a dreamless slumber with the hum of the ocean of golden viscous warmth cradling him in ardent folds. He remained unknowing and in peace for the first time in a long while.

 

 

 

 

The nurse knocked on the door to the young man’s room as time grew closer to when the boy’s sister would visit. She pushed a tray of food in a trolley rice porridge and a warm cup of tea alongside her, the boy had been in a coma, he needs to take it slow when it comes to the food he eats for a few days to avoid painful cramps and nausea. There was no reply she quietly twisted the doorknob letting herself in making sure to not make too much noise, Hunters startled easily.

 

She squinted at the dark room even as the red and orange rays of the setting sun and the dusk coloured sky lighted up the room. She smiled at the adorable picture the boy made all curled up in the crumpled white sheets in the soft white of the hospital gown surprisingly becoming of the boy. She chuckled quietly as she saw the boy cradling in left hand with his other the long fingers brushing against his slightly parted lips frozen in an uninterrupted kiss against the incredibly enchantingly beautiful that adorned his left ring finger.

 

The ring was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen nothing in the catalogues of the elitist magazines and the boutiques and luxury hotspots anywhere in the world seemed to hold anything that compared to even a sliver of perfection of the gorgeous molten silver coloured incarnation of beauty in its entirety. Even nature herself with all her uncreatable wonders and visions of awe and beauty couldn’t compare.

 

She knew more than one of the doctors and nurses were tempted to take off with the beautiful ring but like all the curious things with Hunters no one could seem to get it off it had no qualms shocking them with an electric charge that smarted for days on end when such an intention was made no matter how well intentioned. It therefore wasn’t a surprise they couldn’t even let their fingers hover well over it or think treacherous thoughts in its vicinity

 

They couldn’t take the boy through the MRI and other such tests had to be done in such a way so as to isolate the encased hand. Her eyes softened at the adorable sight she quietly pushed the trolled next to the boy and closed the window, it was going to get cold before she turned on her heel and left, closing the door behind her with soft click. 

 

She had been taken aback when she found out that the boy was married not when he was so young especially in this day and age. Back in her day it was normal, boys and girls were expected to get hitched as soon as they became ‘adults’ preferably to the person chosen after careful consideration by their parents.

 

Though she had been cross when the boy’s spouse husband another surprise there didn’t show up only his sister diligently visiting his unconscious self. Her anger had cooled when the daily marvellous creations of flowers were left at the front desk addressed to Jin-Woo she was quick to swat off the eager hands that wanted to read the clearly intimate folded notes tucked in the flower arrangements.

 

His hospital bills were paid by his husband but what was curious was he was always footing only Jin-Woo’s bills not his mother’s. Why? Especially since it appeared that the husband had more than enough money to spare. 

 

 

She had asked Jin-Ah during one of her visits why Jin-Woo’s husband couldn’t come in person.  She had been taken aback when she had replied,

 

 

 

“In all the years he had been married, not once has he brought home his husband or even spoken a word about being married.”

 

Jin-Ah jutted her chin as she continued looking slightly exasperated,

 

“But that ring is such a blaring sign even someone who was an absolute idiot would know”

 

A tender smile creeped up on her young face lighting her up she clearly loved her brother very much.

 

“Brother wants to be in a relationship because of love…”

 

“so, it is probably unlikely he would ever drag his husband into our problems until he is confident that he could resolve it on his own…”

 

She looked at the sleeping Jin-Woo beside her looking at him with a curious mix of emotions proud and sorrowful. Not for the first time the nurse wondered what this pair of siblings went through in their short lives.

 

“… he’s not headstrong but this is a burden he has chosen to bear alone”

 

She smiled with the careless ease of teenager flipping the morose mood that had settled into something that was light hearted and not. She exaggerated her voice like one those snobby stuck up madams they saw in dramas pointing her nose up.

 

“I guess bro’s husband is very rich so he probably doesn’t want to rely on him just because he can”

 

She and Jin-Ah looked at each other before they broke into peals of uncontrollable laughter cracking up at the comical turn the conversation had taken.

 

 

 

 

The nurse startled as she heard a cheerful voice greet enthusiastically, Jin-Ah had a wide grin on her face as she waved at her.

 

“Hello Nurse An”

 

She was wearing her uniform and she was alone she wasn’t accompanied by a friend. The nurse smiled at the child as she jovially said,

 

“Good evening Jin-Ah”

 

She asked scrutinizing Jin-Ah her eyebrow raised and questioning,

 

“Alone today as well?”

 

Jin-Ah smiled sheepishly as she admitted looking slightly uncomfortable,

 

“I told them all not to accompany me anymore”

 

She shifted uncomfortably on her feet looking to her side clutching the straps on her backpack a little too tightly.

 

“Visiting the hospital every day is… just too much to ask of them…”

 

“… I guess?”

 

The nurse could clearly see Jin-Ah was never comfortable fully there if the other person wasn’t her brother even if the only interactions she has seen of the two was one lying in slumber as the other simply watched on, fleeting reaffirming touches hesitant but desperate to hold onto her brother and ease her distress as she watched with dull wet eyes at the unresponsive state of her brother.

 

The nurse said nonchalantly trying to pass it off as normal and frankly because her reaction she could tell was going to hilarious, knowing that the girl wouldn’t have worry no more she felt extremely delighted that she was the one who was going to tell her the joyous news.

 

“Well I mean you don’t need to visit the hospital as frequently anymore…”

 

 

Jin-Ah slate grey eyes widened before she took off running to the hospital door just a few meters away. She hurled the door open with surprising force as she ran through it almost tripping over in her hurry to reach her brother.

 

Jin-Ah felt every fibre of her being vibrating with anticipation, adrenaline was coursing through her veins her hands trembled and her grey eyes shined wetly with tears dilated with excitement and hope. Jin-Woo was asleep she knew asleep as in just sleeping not like the unnaturally still slumber he had been in.  He was lying curled in and cradling his hands against his lips the unmistakable vibrant glow of the ring was soft and soothing.

 

She couldn’t handle it anymore she was just a kid she couldn’t stop the wailing that escaped her trembling lips she cried with such force collapsing beside Jin-Woo feeling so relieved so thankful she couldn’t hope to ever express it fully. She didn’t know what she would if Jin-Woo left her behind it would break her he was her everything.

 

 

Jin-Woo woke up the moment the aghast crying started he could never mistake Jin-Ah’s voice no matter how warped it got never mistake her presence for anyone else. He saw the blotched wet face of his sister crying her eyes out she didn’t stop and the mothering instincts in Jin-Woo surged as he scrambled on the bed grabbing hold of Jin-Ah even as tears wreaked through her body pulling her against his chest.

 

Jin-Ah looked at him with burning eyes showing all her emotions clear as day. He looked at her helplessly and chastised as she yelled at him her voice hoarse and pained. 

 

“STUPID!”

 

She continued her voice breaking, breaking Jin-Woo’s heart at the pure desperation and hurt laced in her painfully young voice.

 

“You are an idiot, if you get hurt one more time…”

 

He grimaced at the alarming threat and promise she made and he knew it was a promise she was a Sung after all they would carry out their will and desire by any means necessary. It was truly a reassuring thing they didn’t want for much.

 

“I’ll drop out of school and work!”

 

She hit him over his head with no force to show her displeasure.

 

“You are not going Hunting ever again”

 

She nudged at him insistently making sure to drill it through her idiot brother’s thick skull how mad she was going to be if something like this happened again.

 

“Do you get it?!”

 

“Huh?!?!”

 

She raised her voice a tempo getting in Jin-Woo’s flushed and morose face looking at tempestuous swirling silver winds in those crystalline quicksilver orbs.

 

“DO YOU?!”

 

They never got like that anymore it was a rare thing rarer than a blood moon to see the truly stunning beauty of those deceptive orbs that remained hidden peeking through stormy nights and desolate days.

 

“God… do you know how worried I was…?”

 

Jin-Ah moved closer hugging him tight as she whispered so quietly it was barely audible even with Jin-Woo’s superior senses.

 

“Don’t do anything stupid like this ever again… I love you…”

 

Jin-Woo buried his face in her hair gently rubbing soothing circles on her back as he anguished over the pain he had put his baby sister through. He channelled every emotion running through him, every unspoken feeling into his voice hoarse and raw.

 

“… I’m sorry”

 

“I love you…”

 

Jin-Woo held Jin-Ah comfortable in the silence quietly tracing directionless patterns along her back. He didn’t know how much time had passed it could have been minutes seconds hours he absently gazed out the window, the sky was a splash of red and oranges slowly taking on a violet tint,

 

‘It's going to be dark soon…’

 

He sighed as he turned to gaze down at his sister who was looking at him inquisitively at his sigh, he smiled helplessly at her.

 

“It’s getting late now Jin-Ah…”

 

“You need to leave now if you want to get home by sun down”

 

Jin-Ah reluctantly got up stretching her arms sighing in turn however their attention soon turned to the rap on the door. The nurse walked through the door with a flower arrangement that easily dwarfed her petite form thankfully she was pushing it in a trolley Jin-Woo wasn’t sure if she could have moved it an inch otherwise.

 

She smiled as she placed it beside him where he noticed was another cart with closed dishes, he had not seen it before.

 

“Jin-Woo shi, another work of art for you…”

 

Jin-Woo flushed red ducking his face his unruly strands covering his tell tale blush.

 

“…Ah… thank you…”

 

The nurse sighed dreamily looking at the gorgeous creation, Jin-Woo superstitiously kept his eyes off of it. He wanted to be alone when he took it all in.

 

Jin-Ah squealed looking dazed at the beautiful bouquet it was full of exotic flowers they didn’t even know had existed.     

 

The nurse hid her smile as she caught a glimpse of the pretty flush, she cleared her throat distracting Jin-Ah who was no doubt going to tease Jin-Woo to death.

 

“Are you leaving now Jin-Ah?”

 

The Cheshire grin across her face fell as she replied,

 

“Yes…”

 

The nurse sighed as she felt Jin-Ah’s unwillingness to leave feeling for her, she held out her hand grasping a bag in her hand,

 

“This came for you…”

 

Jin-Ah eyed the bag curiously before hesitantly reaching out to grab it, she pried it open looking in before a genuine ecstatic grin came upon her face, Jin-Woo was curious he couldn’t see what was in the bag at tis angle however he didn’t need to as he flinched at the scream,

 

“CHICKEN!!!”

 

Jin-Woo winced at the ringing in his ear he grinned wirily at the proclamation Jin-Ah’s favourite food was chicken no question asked.

 

He was glad she had something she liked to eat after her emotional day today.

 

He grinned at her obvious joy but still urged her to leave his overprotectiveness shining through,

 

“The sun will go down any minute now, hurry now Jin-Ah”

 

Jin-Ah was too happy to reply with her usual sass,

 

“I will be going”

 

The nurse grinned at Jin-Woo her eyes twinkling madly,

 

“I will take my leave as well…”

 

“Please don’t forget to eat…”

 

Jin-Woo nodded in acknowledgement smiling at the kind woman expressing his heartfelt gratitude,

 

“Thank you for everything”

 

Both of them walked out waving him goodbye, Jin-Woo collapsed boneless on the soft yet firm bed throwing an arm over his eyes, the only sign of his emotions was the small tilt on his lips and the slight pink caressing his cheeks. The sun gently entered in it slumber as the dark soothing vestiges of night coloured the now moonlit sky.