Jinwoo sighed in relief . From the 1st Floor to the 100th, he had finally reached the end of the long journey that was the Demon Castle . In order to compose himself, the man closed his eyes briefly . The image of his mother entered his mind .
‘ . . . ’
When he reopened his eyes, numerous System messages were still waiting for him . First and foremost, there were four level-up alarms .
‘Four levels in one go, huh?’
The Hunter’s face brightened . Considering just how slow the level-ups took after reaching Level 90, it was an unbelievable gain . He quickly checked his status–
Indeed, his levels had risen exactly by four .
Jinwoo clenched his fists . An electrifying joy doubled up on top of the relief of clearing the Dungeon . However, he put aside his happiness and calmed himself . There was something more important right now .
‘The Purified Blood of the Demon King . ’
The last piece of the Holy Water of Life . Removing the wrapping on his hand, Jinwoo stretched a hand toward the Demon King Baran’s corpse .
You have found the Monarch of Demons’ Ring Would you like to acquire it?
You have found the Demon King’s Longsword Would you like to acquire it?
You have found the Demon King’s Dagger Would you like to acquire it?
You have found the Demon King’s Dagger Would you like to acquire it?
You have found 2 Baran’s Horn Would you like to acquire it?
You have found a crafting ingredient, Purified Blood of the Demon King Would you like to acquire it?
Looking at the item messages pop up one after the other, Jinwoo remained nervous instead of being excited . It was because the item he wanted did not appear until the end . When the Purified Blood of the Demon King finally appeared as the last drop, he screamed in joy .
He acquired and put the other items aside . Then, Jinwoo picked up what appeared to be the Purified Blood of the Demon King .
Purified Blood of the Demon King Rarity: ?? Type: Ingredient A liquid purified from the blood of the Monarch of Demons, Baran . While exuding a strong magic power, it remains poisonous even after being purified . In order to neutralize the harmful effects, Fragment of the World Tree and Spring Water from the Echoing Forest are needed .
The red liquid swirled around in a transparent glass bottle .
‘This is the demon king’s blood…’
He had already obtained the other two ingredients . Was there a reason to hesitate? Jinwoo quickly called up his crafting skills .
Crafting Skills — Consumable: Holy Water of Life (3/3)
Unlike in the past, the words “Holy Water of Life” were now blinking . Opening up the skill information, the words “Craftable” now appeared in the description .
Holy Water of Life Craftable Ingredients: Purified Blood of the Demon King (1/1) Fragment of the World Tree (1/1) Spring Water from the Echoing Forest (1/1) Would you like to craft the Holy Water of Life?
Wanting to see the results quickly, Jinwoo replied without hesitating– “Craft . ”
With a stilled breath, Jinwoo waited for the results .
7, 6, 5 . . . Depending on the crafter’s Intelligence stat, the success rate and the amount crafted will change .
Jinwoo’s eyes widened .
‘The success rate and the completed amounts are dependent on my Intelligence stat?’
Did that mean that if he was too stupid, he wouldn’t even be able to make the item?
. . . It was strangely logical . Jinwoo nodded at the idea . Meanwhile, the countdown continued .
Why was he so hung up on the words “success rate”? He was grateful that he had invested a large amount of points into the Intelligence stat .
1, 0 . The crafting is complete! You have succeeded in crafting! You have obtained 6 Holy Water of Life!
Having waited with a pounding heart, Jinwoo saw the success message and raised his arms to the air .
And he discovered something strange . In his right hand, the bottle that contained the demon king’s blood was still filled .
‘The amount decreased a bit, but…’
With a tilted head, Jinwoo called out the Fragment of the World Tree and the Spring Water from the Echoing Forest from his inventory . The giant piece of wood came out, only having a small portion of it shaved away . However, looking through his inventory, the spring water was completely gone .
‘Does that mean…?’
He checked his crafting skill . It was as he guessed–
Among the ingredients, only the Spring Water from the Echoing Forest had turned to 0 .
‘ . . . The ingredients aren’t completely used up . Only as much as needed . ’
Ignoring the other ingredients, which still had quite a bit of themselves left, the crafting had stopped with the depletion of the spring water . The demon king’s blood looked like only a small amount was used in the first place for crafting, and the piece of wood was large to begin with . It made sense that the spring water, in its small bottle, was the first to run out .
‘This is not bad news . ’
If he could just obtain the Spring Water from the Echoing Forest from somewhere else, he could craft the Holy Water of Life again . Actually, the idea of “again” might not even be needed . Initially expecting only a single bottle, Jinwoo looked at the six wooden bottles at his feet and had to calm his pounding heart .
Could this item truly heal his mother’s sickness?
‘ . . . I’ll find out today . ’
His heart continued to pound vigorously . Jinwoo carefully put the six bottles of Holy Water of Life into his inventory, along with the other ingredients . Still, he had several other items to pick up .
‘A ring, a longsword, two daggers and even two junk items . ’
As expected of an S-rank Instant Dungeon’s boss, Baran had given him quite a bit . The elegant looking items caught his curious eyes, but he had no time to go over them right now . His number one priority was to get out of here and go to his mother . Jinwoo just shoved the remaining items into his inventory . Clapping his hands, he looked around the area .
‘Just because I’m busy…’
. . . Doesn’t mean he had to forget the important things .
They say to slow yourself down as you become hasty . Turning around, Jinwoo saw the Shadow Army had had triumphed over the enemy ten times their number . Behind them, corpses of demons covered the landscape .
Jinwoo looked for the demon king’s mount . However, no matter where he looked, all he saw was the mountainous pile of demon corpses . The wyvern was nowhere to be seen .
‘Did it run away during the battle?’
His worries only lasted for a moment .
Iron walked over while dragging a large corpse . It was the wyvern, Kaicellin .
“Iron?! This isn’t like you!”
Being praised after a long time by Jinwoo, Iron scratched the back of his head in embarrassment . Well, the back of his helmet .
Jinwoo tapped Iron’s shoulder proudly and walked up to the wyvern’s corpse .
‘As expected . ’
As he guessed by looking at the monster’s name and shape, the familiar black smoke was rising from the wyvern’s corpse . Jinwoo knew what this meant . The Hunter stretched out a hand .
“Arise . ”
With his raised levels, there was zero chance of this failing .
Compared to the usual scream, a beastly shriek rang forth from somewhere, and with it, a beast shrouded in black steam rose from the wyvern’s shadow . The new Shadow Soldier immediately recognized its master . It came over to Jinwoo and lowered its head .
Jinwoo put on an amused expression . Because he had not seen it in battle, he had only planned to use it as a mount . Contrary to his expectations, it seemed the wyvern was stronger than he thought . It was a Knight Grade soldier . Considering the fact that the ace of the Shadow Army, Ygritte, was a Knight Grade just a while ago, this was an amazing thing .
Something like a demon king probably wouldn’t be riding around on a weak monster .
Satisfied by the new soldier’s grade, Jinwoo replied– “Kaicellin– No . ”
Four syllables were too long . “Kaicell . ”
Receiving its new name, the wyvern’s shadow raised its head to the air and let out a long cry .
“Everyone . You’ve done well . ”
Jinwoo recalled every soldier, including Kaicell, back to his shadow . It was time to leave the Demon Castle . There was just one last thing to do .
You’ve completed the ‘Ordinary Quest: Collect the Demon Souls! Part 2’ The reward for completing the quest has arrived . Would you like to verify? (Y/N)
‘Yes . ’
With that reply, the reward screen appeared .
You’ve received the below rewards . Reward 1 . Top-class Runestone Reward 2 . Stat points +30 Reward 3 . Unknown Reward Accept all?
‘Shadow Swap, huh?’
Just what was this skill? Having been curious since he received the quest, Jinwoo selected the top-class Runestone first .
‘First, give me reward number one . ’
With that message, he felt a small stone appearing in his hand . When he opened his hand, the Runestone was on his palm . Unlike an ordinary Runestone, this one was colored black . However, it was a blackness that could not be compared to an ordinary shade .
Before he could even break the stone, the Runestone cracked by itself when he thought of the idea . A black aura was released by the Runestone, surrounded his entire body, then was absorbed . Jinwoo immediately checked his skill screen–
Reading down the skill description, Jinwoo’s eyes widened . There was a small drawback in the form of a cooldown . No, if anything, it was such a great skill that wouldn’t have made sense without a cooldown .
‘Does this mean that I can swap my location with a Shadow Soldier no matter where it is?’
Depending on how he used it, it was no different than a teleportation skill . He was about to summon a soldier to test the skill then changed his mind .
‘If I’m going to test it, it’s better to use one that’s far away . ’
In fact, there were a few soldiers he had left outside of the Demon Castle . There were three with his little sister, and five patrolling his neighborhood .
‘Well that’s a no brainer . ’
Not knowing what the skill’s effects would look like, he could not teleport to his sister . He did not want to give her a fright . As such, Jinwoo selected one of the Shadow Soldiers patrolling his neighborhood . He mentally connected with the soldier .
“Shadow Swap . ”
When he spoke the words– “Uh, huh?”
As if pulled by a powerful gravity, Jinwoo fell into his own shadow .
* * *
Before he was fully swallowed by his shadow, he heard the System’s voice–
The feeling of falling down only lasted for a moment . The gravity that he felt was flipped suddenly and he felt himself rising . His vision clouded by darkness cleared up and returned to normal .
‘This place is…’ Jinwoo looked around .
A street light flickering on and off as if it was on the last leg of its life . A car parked close to a wall . A utility pole with ripped off posters . It was the familiar alleyway that he passed through often on the way home .
‘It’s our neighborhood . ’
Coincidentally, it was the exact same place that he first tasked the five Shadow Soldiers to patrol the neighborhood .
‘I really swapped my place with a soldier . ’
Even as he continued to suppress his surprise, he calmly checked beneath his feet . Just like when the Shadow Soldiers were summoned, he had risen from the shadow . He carefully stepped on his shadow .
‘ . . . ’
When the skill was activated, he fell through his shadow like through a surface of water . Now, it was solid again . With an awe, Jinwoo checked the skill information . As the description previously noted, a timer was counting down now .
‘Amazing . ’
Confirming the skill with his own eyes, Jinwoo’s heart began to race .
‘Just like that, in an instant…’
The moment he began to fall into his shadow, Jinwoo had maintained a focused state, slowing down the world around him . In that world of slowed time, he was able to ascertain just how instant the skill really was . The Hunter gulped in excitement .
Shadow Swap .
Depending on how he used it, it was a skill with infinite potential .
‘Wait, now is not the time for this . ’
Jinwoo calmed his excitement and retracted his magic power . He had finally obtained the cure for his mother, he should not be wasting time in awe here . With a tinge of impatience, Jinwoo checked the time through his phone .
His brows furrowed . It was already past 10 p . m . Although it was past visiting hours, Jinwoo did not hesitate and called the wyvern’s shadow .
‘Kaicell . ’
Receiving his master’s orders, Kaicell cried with happiness and poked its head out of Jinwoo’s shadow . Soon, a lizard the size of a truck made its full appearance . Rather, a wyvern, with giant wings where its front arms should be . When Kaicell spread its wings, the alleyway that wasn’t exactly narrow felt cramped . Thankfully, there was no one around .
When Jinwoo approached, Kaicell lowered its head so its master could get on easily . Although it was the first time the man rode a flying beast, for some reason, it felt incredibly familiar to him . As if he had rode such a beast for a long time . Anyways, Jinwoo realized there wouldn’t be any problems with using Kaicell as a mount .
‘I don’t care if anyone stops me . ’
Whether it was the hospital’s employees or police or the goddamn army, the S-rank Hunter would not be stopped . Above all else, he did not want to be hindered by anyone .
‘Let’s go . ’
When Jinwoo gave the mental command with a determined face, Kaicell flapped its wings and took to the air .
Soon, Kaicell and Jinwoo flew towards the direction of the hospital .
* * *
Even at this late hour, the employees of the Korean Hunter Association continued their work . The coalition Raid between two countries was right before them . In order to make sure nothing went wrong in their fourth reclamation operation, the Association poured their heart and soul into the planning process .
“This is the information from Japan . ”
An employee pressed a button on a remote . On a large screen, a footage recorded by the magic power camera mounted on Japan’s satellite was playing . It was the record of South Korea’s first, second and third reclamation operations . Go Gunhee’s eyes narrowed .
‘Except for the ant queen and the queen’s bodyguards, all ants are leaving the hive . ’
Indeed . The ants were moving as the Japanese representatives had said . Although it was worrisome that there were bodyguard ants remaining behind, it was not an unusual occurrence for a high-level Dungeon’s boss to have subordinates guarding it . Still, the possibility of danger lingered in Go Gunhee’s mind .
“How likely is the possibility that the ants will turn around quicker than planned once they realize that the queen is in danger?”
Japan had an answer for that .
“They say they’ll use an interference wave . ” “An interference wave?”
“According to them, unlike ordinary ants, the ant-type magic beasts communicate with each other through a unique wavelength . ”
That made sense . In order to move the thousands of ants as one, something like that would be needed . Go Gunhee nodded–
“And you can throw that off with an interference wave?” “That is what they say, association president . ”
“So all we have to do is focus on the queen and her guards…”
The plan was simple . And even though it was simple, it felt more possible than the previous efforts . So why did the elderly man feel so uneasy about all this? Go Gunhee put a hand on his chin .
‘Is the reason why I am so uneasy because of…’
In that moment–
Go Gunhee turned his head sharply to the window . The elder’s eyes were wide open . At the association president’s sudden movement, all the employees in the meeting room jumped . Chief Woo Jincheol who had been protecting the association president quickly ran to his side–
“Sir! What is it?” “Just now…”
Go Gunhee stared at Woo Jincheol . The HSD chief’s expression was normal . “Did you not feel it?”
“Sir? I’m not sure what you mean…” “ . . . ”
Just now, Go Gunhee felt an incredible wave of magic power from somewhere . The magic power quickly hid itself after a brief moment, but Go Gunhee had definitely felt it .
‘ . . . ’
Looking at the elder who was unable to take his eyes off of the window, the employee who was overseeing the meeting carefully asked–
And finally, Go Gunhee just tilted his head and looked away . He was worried about the sudden wave of strong magic power, but for now, he had to focus on the meeting .
After thinking about something for a long time, Go Gunhee asked an employee– “Are we still unable to contact Hunter Sung Jinwoo?”
* * *
Baek Yoonho was looking behind him . Without turning back, he asked– “Did you feel it too?”
Min Byunggu nodded and replied–
“Just because I’m retired, doesn’t mean my rank fell . ”
The two S-rankers were sharing a drink at an outdoor bar after getting together since some time . Baek Yoonho finally turned his head back .
“What was that just now?”
“Maybe Choi Jongin and Cha Haein got into a fight over some Hunters Guild affairs . ”
Having stopped with a drink in his hand, Min Byunggu chuckled and drained his glass . Baek Yoonho looked at him in disbelief–
“Was that a joke?” “Wasn’t it funny, hyung?” “ . . . No, nevermind . ”
Including his sense of humor, Min Byunggu was a strange one .
‘He’s probably the first S-rank Hunter in the world to retire when nothing’s wrong with him . ’
Probably the first in the world . And the only one .
Considering just how much an S-rank Hunter could earn, how many person would have thrown away the career as he did? On top of that, it wasn’t like the man came from money either . Feeling Baek Yoonho’s gaze, Min Byunggu asked–
“Hyung, are you really going to go?” “Yes . ”
“You remember how Eunsuk hyung died . ” “And that’s why I have to go . ”
Min Byunggu stared at him with confusion . Baek Yoonho drained his glass and replied–
“If we leave the ants alone, the entire nation will fall like Eunsuk . ” “Since when were you such a patriot…”
“Well, it’s nice to put a cool reason to something I have to do anyways . ”
The Guilds could not refuse a mobilization order from the Association . Just as the Association allowed the Guilds to be comfortable, the Guilds had to reply to the call of the Association . If they really wanted, they had the choice of leaving the country . However, there were no countries willing to accept a Guild that ran away from a difficult Raid to protect the country . Once a coward, always a coward, is what they believed .
‘It’s not like I want to run away anyway . ’
Baek Yoonho smiled widely . Min Byunggu made a stern declaration–
“I’m not going . Never . If you try to force me, you’ve approached the wrong man . ” “I’m not here for that . ”
Baek Yoonho paid the bill and stood up . They had just finished their last bottle . “I wanted to see you just in case . Who knows if we could see each other again?” “Hyung…”
Min Byunggu stared at Baek Yoonho disappearing off into the distance and gave up on trying to convince the man . Baek Yoonho should be fully aware of just how dangerous this operation would be .
‘And he’s still going . ’
However, the man did not look like he was being forced against his will . Rather, the Guildmaster of Baekho’s face was filled with a determination . A determination to crush every ant bastards that came his way . In a way, the man almost looked excited . With a hint of disbelief, Min Byunggu finished the snack in front of him .
‘Now that I think about it… I can’t think of any Hunters that don’t like fighting magic beasts . ’
Well, there were a few among the Healers . However, those Healers loved healing another person . Min Byunggu stared at his plate and scratched his temple .
‘Is loving to fight a precondition for becoming an Awakened Being?’
Ha ha ha, as if . Min Byunggu chuckled to himself and finished his meal .
* * *
Jinwoo quickly arrived at the hospital .
‘It was… room 305 . ’
Having no intention of going through the front entrance from the start, Jinwoo was atop of Kaicell looking for the window to the room where his mother was .
‘Ruler’s Hands . ’
The curtain behind the window slowly moved out of the way . His mother was quietly asleep in the hospital bed . Just as he remembered her the last time he was here . Using the skill again, Jinwoo opened the window and quietly entered the hospital room . Kaicell had already disappeared into the Hunter’s shadow .
Jinwoo stood in front of the bed . With the efforts of his labor about to bear fruit, the man could not calm the thundering of his heart .
‘If something goes wrong, there’s no going back . ’
His mother had been unconscious for a long time . She might not be able to swallow the Holy Water of Life, and even if she could, there was no guarantee that it would work .
Up until this moment, Jinwoo had witnessed many miracles from the System .
Things that others would not even believe if they heard it . If anything, the number one proof of the System’s power was right here .
‘The E-ranker has come this far . ’
It was all due to the System .
After staring at his hands in silence, Jinwoo raised his head . Even now, his mother looked like she could wake up if he just called to her . Jinwoo summoned the Holy Water of Life from the inventory .
A bottle made out of wood appeared in his hand .
Making sure he hadn’t missed anything, Jinwoo read over the item’s description over and over again . When he finished poring over the information thoroughly, enough to memorize the entire description, Jinwoo finally obtained the courage to remove the bottle’s cork .
The man was able to remain calm even during the battle with the demon king . His hands were trembling now . He took a deep breathe to collect himself .
‘If I mess up, mother will be hurt . ’
When he made the determination to not make a mistake, the son was able to compose himself . Light returned to his eyes . His hands stopped shaking .
‘ . . . I’m ready . ’
Jinwoo gently placed a hand behind his mother’s head and put the bottle to her lips . Through her open mouth, the Holy Water of Life flowed . Without hurrying, Jinwoo carefully looked at the draining bottle .
At the side of his mother’s neck, there were scars from a burn . The scars extended all the way behind her neck . It was not visible from this angle, but entire back of his mother’s head and neck were covered in these burn scars . Jinwoo knew this better than anyone .
‘ . . . are from me . ’
* * *
MANY YEARS AGO .
All Jinwoo wanted to do was wash his mother’s hair, as his mother had done for Jinah . However, the young boy did not understand how hot the water could be at the public bathhouse .
The young boy gathered the nearly boiling water into a bathhouse bowl . Being careful not to spill a drop, the boy approached his mother’s back slowly .
He had poured the scalding water over his mother’s head .
His mother flinched . Instead of jumping up, she tightly hugged Jinah in front of her, making sure that her daughter was not harmed . The woman stayed still until her flesh turned blood red .
Without a single sound .
The screams came from the other ladies in the room .
“OH NO, OH NO!”
“MRS . SUNG!”
And with that, young Jinwoo realized he had done something wrong . All he wanted to do was help his mom . He dropped the bowl and was about to cry, but his mother quickly grabbed his shoulders .
During that time, his young mind had expected to be scolded . But Jinwoo would never forget the memory of that day and his mother’s words to him from then:
“Jinwoo, are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere?”
* * *
‘I tried living life without falling into a debt to someone . ’
He had neither wanted to get into debt nor have someone be indebted to him . As such, the man had expected to live his entire life without a debt .
However, after their father had disappeared, the woman had single handedly raised her two children, Jinwoo and Jinah . And to that mother, he had owed a debt that he could never repay .
The last drop fell into his mother’s mouth .
Jinwoo put the bottle aside and put his mother down . He waited for the results with a prayer in his heart .
BA DUM BA DUM BA DUM!
His heart felt like it was about to explode . He gulped .
‘ . . . ’
There was no change .
The Hunter clenched his fist so hard that he pierced his own skin . Blood was about to fall from his hand when–
Like a person coming out of the water after almost drowning, his mother took in a rough breath with closed eyes .
‘ . . . !’
Jinwoo’s eyes widened . The color was returning to his mother’s pale face . As if a black and white film was being restored with color, his mother was returning to a healthy form .
A single second felt like an entire hour . How long did it take?
His mother slowly opened her eyes . Taking a brief look around, her gaze stopped on her son .
“Are… are you Jinwoo?”
Jinwoo nodded as his heart skipped a beat . Of course she wouldn’t recognize him .
It had been four years since she had fallen asleep . On top that, he had undergone quite a change in the past few months . Jinwoo did not press her and patiently waited .
Like a water filling an empty bowl, the memories that had skipped four years came flooding back to Jinwoo’s mother, Park Gyunghae . It did not take her long to realize why she was in the hospital .
“How long was I out?” “Four years . ”
He knew the exact time but did not feel the need to speak it . In order to make sure his mother was as comfortable as possible, the man did his best to keep composure in his words and expression .
Hearing that she was asleep for four years, Jinwoo’s mother asked with surprise– “What about Jinah? Is Jinah alright?”
Jinwoo struggle to hold in his emotions . To think that one of the first things she would ask is about her children . If the man did not bite down on his lips, he knew he could not hold back the tears .
‘Jinah’s not the one you should be worrying about right now . ’
Is what he wanted to say . However, he suppressed his feelings as best as he could and smiled–
“Mm . She’s doing well . ”
With a sincere expression of relief, his mother sighed .
‘Everything will return to normal now . ’
The fact that his mother’s sickness was cured truly hit him . His heart fluttered at the thought of the future .
Suddenly, he realized his mother was holding his left hand . “Mom?”
“Thank you, my son . You kept your promise . ” Promise?
Ah, he had forgotten . It was such an obvious thing that it could not even be called a promise . The sleep that would worsen periodically until you would never wake up, the Eternal Sleep . As her condition worsened every day, his mother pulled him aside one day and had asked him–
“When I fall asleep for the last time, you’ll take care of your little sister, right?”
She had said it with a casual attitude, as if asking him for an errand .
But this is how Jinwoo had endured it until now, never lamenting his situation . All he did was pick up the heavy weight from his mother .
However, his mother squeezed his hand knowingly– “My son… it must’ve been so difficult for you, wasn’t it?”
Jinwoo wanted to reassure his mother again with a smile . He wanted to .
But he could not .
The tears that he held back came pouring out . “ . . . Yes . . . ”