Chapter 12: Awakening
“You ought to have learned something by now after your ordeal with Lims. How can someone make such little progress? Did you know how much the surgery would cost when you signed off as the guarantor? Didn’t your parents teach you not to go signing anything?” Kijeong berated him like he waited for this moment all along.
Jiwoo stared at him in awe. Truth be told, he hadn’t expected Kijeong to recover this much. All of the victims from the stabbing case died shortly after they were brought to the hospital. Kijeong was the only one who survived the assault from the unidentified perpetrator.
“But I didn’t sign it on a whim.”
Kijeong shook his head in response, as if to say Jiwoo still had a long way to go.
Jiwoo opened the refrigerator and organized the drinks he bought into a row. He displayed them how he would in the convenience store. It was an occupational habit of his.
“Besides, I make good money now. There’s no need for you to worry. I’m a Hunter after all.” Jiwoo said energetically.
“Yes, the infamous Tenten.” Kijeong replied with a concerned tone.
Jiwoo was curious how he knew of his nickname. He had been called by a female Chinese name, Tenten, in the lab, due to his garbage stats.
“Who told you about that?”
“It was in the news. You’re also a celebrity now.”
“My base stats were revealed in the news?”
“Well, it’s not like it was your body measurements.”
“That would’ve been better. There’s nothing wrong with my body size. Just why? Oh my god. Seriously, they’re ridiculous. Why are they revealing someone else’s stats? They didn’t even get my permission!”
“It’s probably because it’s intriguing. They might have wanted to show it off to the world.”
“Was my face shown too?”
“No, but I knew right away that it was you. This information will likely be controlled soon. It seems the government and the Hunter Association disclosed the information because they weren’t aware of what was going on.”
“Well, what good would it do them to reveal this type of information? We’re in an era where a country that houses the most Hunters becomes the world powerhouse; there’s no benefit in widely publicizing news of a lately awakened Hunter.”
“Is that how it works?”
“Perhaps they’ll be more active in regulating the information in the future.”
“There’s a lot of stuff at home I didn’t bring with me. Will I not be able to get them?”
“I think that would likely be the case.”
This issue wasn’t even Kijeong’s fault or something to argue with him about, so Jiwoo dropped it and focused on organizing the fridge.
“Oh yeah, I took care of Lims’ trash. The Hunter Association was researching the swamp and bought anything that could have been involved in its spawning.” Jiwoo said, almost forgetting to mention this important piece.
“All’s well that ends well, but do they really believe that rubbish played a role in the creation of the swamp?” Kijeong laughed at the absurdity but immediately grimaced from the pain of his wounds.
“Dang it, that hurts. Is the culprit still at large?” He asked.
“I believe so.”
“By the way, I spoke with the HR team and they said they were going to make room for me. Because there were no job openings, they were going to hand me your position. I really thought you were going to pass away.” Jiwoo said.
“Oh, that’s right. It completely slipped my mind.”
“We can forget about it now since I’m a Hunter. So don’t go out of your way for nothing to find another position for me. Get better and go back to work quickly.”
“It feels so comfortable here that I’m losing the motivation to go back.” Kijeong jokingly said.
It felt like a miracle having a conversation like this with Kijeong, alive and well. Jiwoo couldn’t easily tear his eyes off him.
“Don’t stare at me that way. Even though everything looks intact, it really isn’t. They went through a lot trying to restructure every bone of my broken face.”
“Who did? The doctors?”
“Your face was broken too?” Jiwoo asked in surprise.
“It was like they were solving a puzzle, collecting the pieces and matching them. It wasn’t only my face, but also my collarbone and shoulder bone.” Kijeong light-heartedly explained.
When he saw Jiwoo’s stiff expression, he closed his mouth. Kijeong knew as well something major could’ve gone wrong.
“Well it’s fine, I didn’t die. Let’s stop talking about dull things and talk about something fun. How does it feel to be a Hunter?”
Jiwoo still had a lot to ask, but decided against it since Kijeong didn’t want to pursue the subject anymore.
“It’s also a boring story. How it went down more or less was I rose from a peasant to a prince. I spent my life as a peasant when I was supposed to be a prince. Then, the day I took my rightful place as royalty, the monarchy collapsed and a republic was established.”
“What do you mean?”
“I thought I would be someone amazing, but I realized that I was still an insignificant nobody. If the Hunter classes were divided into two categories, raiders and transporters, it’s now divided into three – Hunters who do raids, low-level Hunters, and then me, Ahn Jiwoo.”
“Wow, you’re at the bottom of the chain there too?”
“It’s the lowest of the pit that no one can reach.” He sullenly said.
Kijeong glanced at Jiwoo to see if it was okay for him to laugh. Unable to hold back, he cracked out laughing.
“But you can transport the corpses, can’t you?”
“Yes, maybe. I can probably do that.”
“Then you’re fine. You can diligently work to carry the dead bodies and make enough money to start a business. That should work. There’s no law stating that Hunters must only succeed as Hunters.”
“Yes. I feel so motivated.” He sighed, responding soullessly.
Jiwoo had believed all his problems would be solved instantly if he became a Hunter. The fact that he had to climb from the very bottom felt a little too overwhelming.
“Someday, I’ll regret feeling like this. I should count my blessings.” Jiwoo quietly cheered himself on.
Now for the swamp in Jiwoo’s living room, it was producing no results. A professional team from the Hunter Association was dispatched to the house. They stayed there to conduct experiments on individuals whose tattoos did not appear in the past Hunter exams. They brought them into Jiwoo’s living room and had them dip their arms into the swamp.
After hearing from Jiwoo about his encounter, they tried to reenact the scene as closely as possible. They had the subjects holding the same smartphone model, dropping it into the swamp, then proceeding to take it out from the water. Yet no tattoos appeared.
Eventually, they were ordered to withdraw from the scene since the swamp was set to expire soon.
However, because the swamp’s unique border color wasn’t anything like anyone had seen before, people were interested in what kind of monsters were inside the swamp. For that reason, an assault was secretly prepared to target the monsters in Jiwoo’s house.
Little did they know, the swamp would completely flip the Hunters’ paradigm upside down.
Generally, it was possible to predict what kind of monsters dwelled in the swamp based on the color of its border. However, this swamp in Jiwoo’s house gave no such hints.
B-rank and C-rank Hunters from the Hunter Security Forces were sent in. The assembled party was considered to be the very best. Due to the fact that there were only three A-rank Hunters in the world and none has appeared in Korea yet, Korea’s top ranked Hunters were all B-rank.
One Tanker and nine Dealers lined up in front of the swamp. They were equipped with gears and weapons with the highest defense and attack amplification rate.
The sight made everyone tense. The two colors of the border looked like swaying flames, mingling together as if they were engaged in a dance.
The Tanker, Kang Dongho, looked at the Dealers. There was not enough information to brief them on their mission. This was because he himself had no intel on this swamp.
“Nothing is known about the monsters inhabiting here. There could be a creature that is more powerful than a first-class monster.”
The Dealers furrowed their brows. They all had experience battling first-class monsters. The reason why they remembered those battles was because defeats like that could not easily be forgotten. The fear they felt, when they realized there were no other options but to run away, was engraved in their brains, etched to their very bones.
“Depending on the situation, we may have to enter and retreat immediately after checking the information window. Keep your guards up when you carry out the operation.”
“Yes sir!” The rest of the Dealers responded in unison.
The first thing Hunters checked was the information window upon entering the swamp. In this window, the monster’s physical strength and the timer of the swamp were displayed. If the monsters were the same level as the swamp then their strength would be similar too.
The Tanker would then assess it, come up with a strategy, before getting into formation to attack.
By stating they’ll return after checking the information window, was like saying they’ll enter enemy territory just to go back empty-handed. However, no one questioned Dongho’s decision as tension was still high.
Dongho stepped on the swamp. It opened up and his body smoothly descended and disappeared. The rest of the nine Hunters followed. After the last Hunter made their entry, the surface of the swamp regained its original state of tranquility. Looking at the calm water, they couldn’t imagine what could possibly happen once they were inside. They couldn’t tell what to expect about the swamp’s environment either.
Each person there had thousands of raid experiences. The Hunters quickly tried to check the information window by getting into position. However, unlike other swamps where information windows popped up the moment they entered, none appeared here. To make matters worse, there was a strong snowstorm. It was hard to even raise their heads or open their eyes.
Despite the difficulties, the ten Hunters did not waste time. They tried to find the information window quickly.
It was strange. No matter how hard they searched, there was no window. It was taken for granted that a pop-up window would appear once they were in the swamp; they usually didn’t need to go out of their way to search for it like they were doing now.
“I can’t see the information window.” Hyun Dongki, who was standing closest to Dongho, said.
“I don’t see any monsters either.” Lim Jaewook, one of the veterans added.
He was right. No monsters could be seen anywhere.
The size of the map changed depending on the swamp’s level. If the map’s radius was approximately 1km for swamps holding fifth-class monsters, it doubled in size for fourth-class monsters and tripled for third-class monsters.
Regardless of how large it was, it was unusual for no monsters to be in sight.
First, they had to gather as much information as possible even if they had to retreat without being able to target monsters.
“Why don’t we search in groups of three? We still have a lot of time left. Shouldn’t we do something since we’ve come all the way here?” Jaewook asked.
Yoo Jinah tilted her head.
“We can’t be sure that we have a lot of time left. This swamp is too much of an anomaly. If there’s no window or monsters, isn’t it possible the swamp may not last for 12 hours?”
Opinions were divided in two. Some supported Jaewook, while others believed Jinah had a point. While discourse was on and about, time continued to pass, and Jinah became increasingly impatient.
“There are no monsters in this swamp, sir.” Jinah looked at Dongho with an intense expression that urged him to make a decision quickly.
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