Chapter 1: Awakening
Year of 1995.
Mysterious swamps emerged all across the globe. Although they were inherently different from the swamps formed in nature, people referred to them as such because of the resemblance.
When a swamp appeared for the first time, people were lost on how to handle the situation. With no information on the scale of its impact, everyone was helpless in the face of the oncoming threat.
In the beginning, the swamp was about the size of a small mire. However, it gradually grew over time. It continued until the length of its radius reached 3 meters. It took a while to discover that the radius grew by 0.5 centimeters a day. Once it hits 3 meters in length, the swamp would open up. Monsters, dwelling inside, would then spring out from below.
Most of the time, the creatures were much larger than the actual size of the swamp. That didn’t make it impossible for them to come out. Those who weren’t aware about any of this could do nothing as they were attacked by those beings.
People came to learn that swamps were the habitat of monsters. In addition, a certain length in radius must be reached before they surfaced. Even though this was a known fact, no one could find a way to deal with them for a long time. Despite mobilizing the military and deploying their weapons, the troops were simply overpowered by the creatures.
That was until individuals called “Hunters” appeared before the very desperate. Having the ability to control chakra, they wielded weapons emitting chakra to inflict damage upon their enemies. If a heavily armed force, geared with modern weapons, dealt 10 damage after relentlessly shooting for an hour; Hunters, with chakra control capabilities, could inflict 50 to 1200 damage with a single attack depending on the rank of the damage dealer.
Now, more than 30 years have passed since swamps have appeared on Earth. Humans and monsters have been coexisting together. People were able to predict what type of creatures dwelled within just by looking at the border of the swamp.
At first, no one had a clue on what the border’s color meant. But eventually, they found out the color changed depending on how dangerous the enemies were thus correlating to their strength levels. For convenience purposes, the swamps along with its monsters were categorized into five classes. Swamps with a dark brown border were inhabited by the weakest monsters, ranking them 5th Class. The rest was as follows:
Class 5 – Dark Brown Border.
Class 4 – Dark Red Border.
Class 3 – Purple Border.
Class 2 – White Border.
Class 1 – Dark Green Border.
As of 2025, a swamp with a dark green border manifested. The strongest monsters resided in this swamp therefore ranking it 1st Class.
Mentioned previously, more than 30 years have passed since the spawning of swamps. During that time, countless raids have taken place where Hunters exterminated monsters through assault. However, there was yet to be a precedent for success in clearing the 1st Class swamp. Concerns did rise over what would happen if the raids at the 1st Class swamp failed. There was speculation how it could cause enemies to emerge from the swamp once it hits 3 meters. On the contrary, the 1st Class swamp did not grow. In consequence, Hunters could enter to attack, but no creatures would come out.
As research on monsters progressed, it turned out their existence did not only bring disaster to mankind. Hunters found low-grade ores from the monsters’ carcasses. Those ores were called Rupstones¹; they would ignite when they reached a certain temperature.
While more studies were conducted, people realized the ores could be used as a source of energy. Due to the depletion of fossil fuels, demand for new and renewable energy soared. Rupstones began to garner attention as a highly-efficient and eco-friendly energy source. Consequently, governments all around the world invested a ton of manpower into investigating how to apply Rupstones to their technology. The growing support for the commercialization of these ores soon resulted in the complete replacement of fossil fuels.
As the supply and demand for Rupstones increased, their price steadily grew as well, adjusting to the monster’s class ranking. The prices of the ores were as follows²:
Class 5 – $100 million.
Class 4 – $500 million.
Class 3 – $2 billion.
Class 2 – $5 billion.
Class 1 – $???
People could only guess approximately how much 1st Class Rupstones would fetch for. However, the exact amount was not known because no one has ever hunted down a 1st Class monster before.
Capitalizing on these ores became a way to generate income. However, the corpse itself was much more versatile in its usage. The organs were composed of various unique substances which did not exist in the human body. This discovery led to major breakthroughs in the medical industry. Thanks to the creatures’ internal parts, a path opened where it was possible to treat diseases that were previously classified as terminal or incurable.
The corpses were also utilized in construction sites due to its slow, corrosive, and deteriorating nature. Its use was endless as it was even applied to manufacturing household appliances.
As for Hunters, they found the most value in the monsters’ hide and bones. Their skin had special properties for resisting other monsters’ attacks so it was used to manufacture protective gear. The bones were used to produce equipment and weapons that could amplify a Hunter’s offensive capabilities.
But what would happen if monsters cease to spawn in modern society?
Now, a world was unfolding, where such an assumption might be more frightening if it were to come true than not.
The heat seemed to have arrived earlier than expected.
Ahn Jiwoo, a sales rep for Lim Corporation, did a last-minute check. He went through his bag one more time and looked at his brochure as if he were inspecting some tool. He finished up by checking his reflection on the glass window.
“Perfect! You can do this, Jiwoo. The world is yours for taking.”
Jiwoo was still at a point in time where he was curious about the world and held expectations for it. While he was checking himself out in front of the glass window to someone’s store, Jiwoo was unaware that the people inside were staring at him. He simply went on with what he was doing, straightening his necktie. He thought there was nothing lacking in his appearance that could take away from him looking like a reliable expert. He had good-looks and left a good impression. Among clients, he was seen as a handsome guy and evaluated highly for it.
Jiwoo had steeled himself to deliver his sales pitch at the barber shop today. He cleared his throat after he saw no customers inside the quiet shop. As soon as Jiwoo opened the door and stepped inside, three hairstylists greeted him simultaneously.
“Welcome, sir. Please take a seat. What kind of hairstyle would you like? Do you have a specific one in mind?”
Whenever he was greeted like that, Jiwoo would wave his hands as if to express he had done something wrong. His entrance was like an act of betrayal to those who welcomed him believing a customer had finally entered their empty store. Although Jiwoo tricked himself into being confident, it didn’t last five seconds.
“Oh no, it’s not like that. But I’ll definitely come here when I need to cut my hair. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you. I’m a sales representative from Lim Corporation. I’m here to promote various of our great household appliances. You’ve heard a lot about us, right? Have you ever used our products before?” Jiwoo smiled brightly as he recited the words he had prepared in advance.
“Geez. Not this again.” Just like that, the mood was ruined. It was as if someone had dumped water over the blazing firewood to extinguish it.
Seeing how he wasn’t a customer, the stylists dropped their service smiles and loosened up.
They still seemed to show some interest in him. Had Jiwoo’s face been unattractive, he would’ve been treated coldly before being kicked out. Thankfully, his face was carrying him hard.
Jiwoo presented a brochure and explained the advantages of Lim’s appliances.
“Lim Corporation is a rapidly growing company, ranked top 3 in the industry. It’s steadily increasing its market share as well. Many people are using our products already. Have you heard about the new item we’ve just launched? It’s been on commercials these days.”
“Oh, the one Shin Jimin was in? I think I saw it.” Fortunately, a woman who appeared the youngest, responded to him.
“Ah, that one? That was Lim’s? But I heard they weren’t good at making household goods?” Another woman, who seemed to be the manager, said.
Jiwoo frowned. There was always someone who put a damper on things wherever you went.
“Lim’s appliances are kind of mediocre. You’re better off buying from Maritime.” Her attack continued.
“But still, I like the new design they released.”
Whenever Jiwoo heard something positive about Lim, he thought this was the time to jump in and win the customer over. Sadly, Jiwoo’s chances to speak were repeatedly blocked by the spiteful Maritime defender.
“Maritime came out with a new product too. It’s the commercial that Im Jeong was in. I ended up liking everything she promoted.”
“Lim uses Im Jeong as a model too. Wouldn’t that make them reliable? Then again, is she going to advertise their products? Im Jeong will be busy filming ads for the top product in the industry… I wonder how many countries she saved in her previous life? She’s a skilled Tanker. She also has a pretty face and a body that even females drool over.”
The women completely forgot that Jiwoo was pitching Lim’s goods to them. He tried to reel the conversation, which was on Im Jeong, back to the main topic at hand.
“That’s right. We want to feature Ms. Im as a model for one of our commercials too. Also, in terms of performance, Lim’s products are superior to—“
“Lim is superior in performance? Don’t be ridiculous.” Jiwoo’s comment was knocked down immediately.
When a person throws a wrench in the works, this action influences the people around them. In the end, Jiwoo returned to the office, wasting nearly two hours and yielding zero results. He shook his head as he left. His strategy failed. He thought he might’ve succeeded had the manager not been there. He set his mind to visit when she was absent and make his moves again.
Exhausting oneself on deals that blow to smoke barely gives anyone the energy to return to the office. Still, Jiwoo managed to make it back without collapsing. His coworkers, who survived their little or big battles of the day, arrived first. They were finishing their shift by reporting their activities into the work logs.
“Did you catch anyone?” Asked Lee Sangmin, the colleague who sat beside him.
“Nope. They pretended to be interested, asking all sorts of questions including if I had any free samples. What are we, a cosmetic shop? Why would you ask for samples? I told them we would provide a good service if they purchased it. Then, they asked me what type of service we would provide. After all that, they said they’ll contact me later if they need it.” Jiwoo sighed as he spoke. He pointed his chin to Sangmin to question his situation.
“Same here. There were some people who said that Lim’s appliances were lacking. They told me we should stick with whatever we’re good at. What do you expect me to do? Does saying something like that to a salesperson make the product any different?”
“Our goods are pretty mediocre. Even when someone asks me to recommend appliances, I can’t advise them to use any of our stuff. If my family needs household items, I’d tell them to never purchase Lim’s goods. They’d be better off getting Maritime.” Jiwoo said, weakly laughing.
“There’s nothing more pathetic than a salesman who has to sell obsolete goods.” A fleeting thought crossed his mind.
“Even a retired prostitute selling her tattered body would be more confident than any one of us.” When Jiwoo blurted out what popped up in his mind, Lee Sangmin and the workers around him bursted out into laughter.
“Don’t say that in front of the manager.” Lee Sangmin warned as he continued to smile.
“I’m pretty sure the manager uses Maritime too.” Jiwoo considered it with a genuine expression.
“Do you think the manager is the only one? I bet if you drop by all the houses of Lim’s employees, they would be using Maritime.”
“That’s what I’m getting at. I know I don’t have poor marketing skills, but I think I grabbed the wrong end of the stick just to get scraps everyday.” Jiwoo let out a lifeless sound. None of them were wrong in what they said.
“Then you should’ve gone to Maritime from the start.”
“Their acceptance rate was too low. It wasn’t easy to apply here either. Getting into Maritime is impossible.”
“We all had the same fate, losers. Entering Lim itself meant that we were all failures. You would’ve gotten into Maritime if you were talented from the start. What can you do now that you’re here anyway? Endure it. You have to keep working hard in hopes you’ll snag a pushover one day.”
After making a few more dissing remarks, Jiwoo recorded his day into his work log too. He wrote down the few places he went, areas worth revisiting, and potential customers to target.
At that time, the manager called on Jiwoo.
“Mr. Ahn, please come to my office once you’re done with your logs.”
“Okay.” He tilted his head questioning what was up, but no one gave him an answer.
“What’s going on?”
“Who knows?” Lee Sangmin replied.
Jiwoo entered his supervisor’s office clueless as to why he was summoned.
“Have a seat.” Seo Jiyeol, his supervisor, said before going through his logs.
“You have performed the lowest, Mr. Ahn.”
“I didn’t call you to hear you apologize. I want to know why you delivered less than ten contracts within the last three months.”
“You did fairly well in the beginning. But now, you’re like this. Did you fall into a slump?”
“No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Should I say the problem lies with Lim’s products? Even the manager should know how hard it was to sell outdated goods.” Jiwoo thought.
People pointed out that Lim Corporation fell behind in their competitive edge. One person scathingly criticized how they were unable to stand out in terms of energy efficiency, durability, and design. That person also brought up how unfortunate it was for someone as sincere as Jiwoo to have become a sales rep for Lim. He heard from many folks that he could have easily improved his performance had he been a salesman for Maritime.
“Our departments each have our own assignments. Up until now, other employees have filled in for what you couldn’t accomplish. But this time, it’s much worse compared to other months. The deadline for the 10th is just around the corner, but we couldn’t even hit the 50 percent mark.”
Since the deadline was on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of every month, the contracts also closed on those dates. The manager explained how there’s still a lot of time left until the end of the year. Jiwoo doesn’t know whether he said that to get him to relax or to suffocate him.
“Do you have any acquaintances? Perhaps a relative?”
He couldn’t explain how difficult it was to ask for favors again. When Jiwoo first got his job, he was able to land as many contracts as he wanted. The people who congratulated him for entering into a good company, purchased Lim’s products, no matter how expensive they were. However, Jiwoo always found it difficult to meet up with them again because the products ended up being of poor quality.
When people called customer service over a defective product, they were confronted by rude staff and were charged repair center fees despite the product being less than a year old. The cost to move appliances was much higher compared to other places. People were upset over the unsatisfactory services and complaints piled up endlessly. Naturally, Jiwoo’s desire to sell to his acquaintances vanished.
Jiwoo was anxious and couldn’t utter a word, but the manager hit him with a powerful blow.
“If you don’t have any close connections, then you can buy it, right? These are all stuff you’ll need when you get married, Mr. Ahn. If you buy something you need early, you can use it comfortably from now on, don’t you agree?”
“What’s wrong? Are you implying that a salesperson for Lim Corporation is not satisfied with our products?” The manager threw a curveball at him, the player.
“I have to write a report on the quota for the 10th and explain it at the meeting. I’d like Mr. Ahn to do it this time. Don’t you think you need to have that kind of mindset?”
“Let’s have you go with the washing machine and the wall-mounted TV.”
Jiwoo had no choice but to do what the manager told him before leaving the office. Deadlines were like that. There was no time to relax despite the closing since the next deadline would roll right around the corner: three days a month, on the 10th, 20th, and 30th. It was a short reprieve that the deadline was met somehow, but the following came on the 20th. Jiwoo had yet to land a single new contract.
Although Jiwoo’s colleagues would make such remarks about Lim’s products or workers, at the end of the day, they were still able to deliver two or three contracts. Everyone seemed to be on the same side, but he felt jealous and pathetic when he saw other people getting results to much surprise. They were good at sales. When he sees that he’s the only one struggling, he thinks rather than it being the product’s fault, he was the problem instead. Even if he was determined to do his best, things didn’t work out for Jiwoo.
On the 20th, Jiwoo was called in by the manager again. The conversation followed the same pattern. Even the brief silence felt like it was scripted.
Before leaving the office, Jiwoo took the refrigerator, oven, and air conditioner with him. Although he met his quota easily for the month, the thought of repaying it all back made him dizzy. Even so, his colleagues encouraged Jiwoo that he could somehow recover his losses by claiming allowances. Jiwoo thought the same as well, which was why he surrendered to the pressure of his supervisor.
Never in his wildest dreams had he expected his own company to scam him. There was a point in time where rumors spread about Lim’s financial status. Apparently, Lim’s local offices and branches were in the process of being liquidated. It was brushed off as a groundless rumor though. Six months had passed since then, but none of the offices or branches were closed so Jiwoo had lowered his guard. But, that very thing happened now.
He was in a hurry to get to work: when he got the call.
“Mr. Ahn, where are you?” It was his team leader. Even someone of his standing wasn’t clued in on the progress of the company’s affairs.
“I’m heading to work. What brought you to call me this early?” Jiwoo asked.
“This is no time to be asking that!”
Despite hearing the shutdown of the company, Jiwoo couldn’t believe his ears. He made a dash for the office. His colleagues were standing in front, infuriated, banging, kicking, and yelling at the tightly locked door.
Later that day, the building’s security guard came up to them. They could only hear the truth from the guard. The rent had been in arrears for three months now. Jiwoo’s face turned completely pale. It was not only Jiwoo, but his coworkers too. As if he were determined to finish his work off with a bang, the manager did a job well-done before he dipped out of there.
¹ Translated literally, the ore is called “Rough Stone.” However, it can be spelled stylistically to fit the gaming setting. For that reason, the spelling was changed and the words were combined into one forming “Rupstone.”
² Prices of the ores in South Korean Won (KRW) converted to USD.
Currency exchange rate (approximate):
$1,181 KRW = $1 USD
Class 5 – $100 million won / $84,400 USD
Class 4 – $500 million won / $422,000 USD
Class 3 – $2 billion won / $1,688,000 USD
Class 2 – $5 billion won / $4,220,000 USD
Class 1 – $???
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