Chapter 13: Awakening
In the end, Dongho sided with Jinah. He believed there would be no point in carrying out reconnaissance in a swamp with no information windows. It was terrifying just to imagine wasting time there and then getting trapped inside the swamp.
“Everyone, we’re leaving.”
At his command, the Dealers left the swamp in the opposite order they entered.
Jaewook did not object. It was not his style to needlessly gamble on an uncertain situation.
They gathered little information in the end. The only things they knew was the fact that the map was 5.3 kilometers in radius and that there were no information windows or monsters in the swamp.
Even after exiting, they stayed at Jiwoo’s living room for a while.
The swamp continued to grow. They could’ve set aside their worries if the swamp did not grow like a first-class swamp, but unfortunately its radius silently increased by 0.5 centimeters every day.
“Why doesn’t the swamp disappear when there are no monsters? Can a swamp be formed without them existing?” Jinah asked.
Dongho was deep in his thoughts before he finally opened his mouth.
“If the swamp continues to grow like this, and a monster emerges 6 months later… Wait, no, that’s assuming they actually exist in there…”
“Let’s form a team to go down there and observe the conditions everyday. I don’t think it’ll be enough to check the swamp’s size from the outside.” Jaewook said.
He didn’t give his take on whether he believed there were monsters or not. There was no reason for him to fight with Jinah over it.
“Although I would like to keep this team, it’s impossible. The people who joined today play important roles in assault operations. We can’t just stick to this swamp forever. We will explore it as soon as possible. That’s it for today.”
The rest of the Hunters agreed on his call to continue the investigation on the swamp.
Afterwards, the state government expropriated the block of apartments where Jiwoo’s house was located.
In that empty house, the swamp was continuing to grow quietly.
Human beings are animals that adapt to the environment. In that respect, Jiwoo showed remarkable adaptability. Although his stay at the lab was boring, he found ways to kill time there.
The Hunter Association Research Institute was a data storehouse. Jiwoo spent all his time collecting any information he could get, making it completely his, and gaining intimate knowledge with the material.
What he found the most interesting was how to fight monsters. He believed he would join raids someday, so Jiwoo made plans for the future and trained.
The Hunter Association came up with some hypotheses on what may have caused Jiwoo’s Hunter abilities to awaken late. The first hypothesis the researchers came up with was that Jiwoo had a unique constitution or mutated gene. However, as they continued the tests, they came to a conclusion that ordinary people like Jiwoo were rare too.
They conducted supplementary experiments to confirm they didn’t miss anything. No one seemed to feel sorry for Jiwoo or his struggles.
Jiwoo spent most of his time on the top floor of the institute. It was partly because his temporary accommodation was there.
Following his usual routine, Jiwoo went to the library in the basement to borrow some books. He was on his way back to his room, when he saw Im Jeong running toward the closing elevator.
“Wait a minute. Let’s go up together.” He heard her call out to him.
Jiwoo wanted to stop the elevator, but he couldn’t press the button since both his hands were full. The stack of books occupying his arms piled up all the way to his mouth, the top book pressing onto his lips. Since he couldn’t do anything about the already moving elevator, he rode it to its destination and then got off to wait for Im Jeong.
When the elevator arrived on his floor again, she stepped out. Im Jeong looked touched that he waited for her.
“Why didn’t you go on ahead?”
“Time goes by slowly here, there’s no need for me to hurry. There’s also the fact that this is too much to carry by myself.” Jiwoo said playfully.
Im Jeong took the books without hesitation.
“Instead of saying that, go train. Just because a Hunter awakens their abilities does not automatically mean their chakra control will go up on its own.”
“I mean I want to practice it too, but I can’t quite get how to.”
“I think I can help you with that.”
“It’s important to use your chakra at will. By the way, Jiwoo, it may hurt your pride if I say this, but it’s the truth. Can I be honest with you?”
“Yes, yes. You can go all out. I have a feeling I know what you’re about to say.”
“Right, because your base stats are extremely low, you’ll need to figure out ways to raise them. You’re not going to join raids immediately, but it’s best to prepare yourself even as a reserve Hunter in case there’s a need for one someday. You have to run raids to increase your EXP, and that’s how you can rank up, but in your current state…”
“Yeah, it’ll be difficult to do raids.” Jiwoo said hopelessly.
“Even if we postpone and buy a weapon to increase your amplification rate, let’s do what we can for now. We’ll increase your chakra proficiency. It’s definitely not something you can master in a day or two. But you need to know how to do it so you can train and practice.”
“I understand. I’d really appreciate it if you could teach me.” He asked with a desperate tone.
Im Jeong understood full well what Jiwoo was going through. She had been in the same boat as him when she first started out. She wanted to improve her chakra proficiency, but she couldn’t get a feel for it at all. She was full of passion and driven to do well but because her training did not go as planned, there were many times she’d burst out in anger and take it out on the people around her.
“How did you master it?” He asked.
“Before, seriously… I did everything I could. I thought I could find someone who could help me so I chased down anyone and begged them for tips. I still couldn’t grasp it though. They said, ‘If you do it like this, it’ll work, so try your best.’ But none of it worked. I just wanted to break all my fingers. I kept questioning why I couldn’t do it.”
“That’s how I feel right now.” Jiwoo sighed.
“I always hated people who said the day would come when they would suddenly get it… But after I did the same thing over and over again, it would be accurate to say, it did suddenly ‘strike me’ one day.”
“Is there a faster method?”
“Someone once said if you’re attacked till the verge of death, that would suffice too.”
“At that point, you would only be thinking on how to live, so you’ll eliminate all unnecessary movements and focus your strength on necessary ones.”
“Will that really happen?”
“I don’t know. It never happened to me. I learned it another way.”
Im Jeong looked at Jiwoo. Then, she walked in front of him to guide him to a place where Jiwoo was not allowed to enter during his time there. He hesitated, wondering if he was allowed to follow her in, but Im Jeong glanced back at him and nodded.
Jiwoo stepped inside. It was a unique room furnished with special soundproofing materials on all sides.
“It’s a place where top Hunters come to train, but only a few people use it. When someone else enters, they cut their training short since no one wants to reveal their own training methods.”
Jiwoo put down the books while looking at her. Im Jeong did the same.
“You may find it childish but this is how I learned it. I’ve never told anyone else.”
Jiwoo looked at Im Jeong with high anticipation.
“I thought about what kind of energy was circulating throughout my body and focused on its flow. Concentrate, from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.”
Im Jeong’s words did not register at all.
“The fact that you have a tattoo means you have the ability to control chakra too. It’s your job now to find out how to increase it and become proficient.”
“It may be better if I were just attacked until I’m nearly dead.”
“Let me know if you need me. I can also do that for you if you ask.”
Im Jeong left, leaving Jiwoo to pursue his training.
From that day forward, he practiced in that room without taking a day off. If Jiwoo could not be found, the ones who needed him would go find him there.
At first, he didn’t feel any difference. However, even though he didn’t realize it, Jiwoo was indeed changing.
It happened a few days before he left the lab. Im Jeong went looking for Jiwoo. When she found him, she saw Jiwoo smiling. But she didn’t laugh at his funny expression. Im Jeong knew when such a smile came out, it meant Jiwoo had finally grasped it after the extended periods of practice he put in.
Jiwoo felt a satisfying feeling that was difficult to express. When he saw Im Jeong looking at him, Jiwoo approached her without saying a word. She first broke the silence by chuckling.
“You feel dumbstruck, don’t you? When you grasp it, you can only ask why you didn’t get it before, right?”
“Yes. That’s right. It really is true.”
It was amazing she could easily explain what he wanted to express.
“Don’t stop and continue to train hard. I don’t know when I’ll see you again once you leave, so prepare to surprise me the next time we meet.”
Jiwoo nodded silently, lost in his thoughts. He didn’t want to lose what he was feeling.
Two days later, Im Jeong was looking down at the parking lot from her office, when she saw Jiwoo approaching the corner of the lot. There was a puddle of rainwater. She took the elevator down to see what Jiwoo was up to.
Unaware he was being watched, Jiwoo gathered chakra to his finger. The blue energy gathered at the tip of his finger, its color gradually turning yellowish. It became sharper and hardened into the shape of a small marble bead.
Im Jeong saw Jiwoo putting his finger on the surface of the puddle. Even though his finger did not directly touch the water, it fluctuated leaving a ripple.
She exclaimed quietly. It was a small sound that could barely be heard. She had never expected for him to reach this far, rather she had never seen anyone grasp chakra control in such a short time, so her surprise was all the greater.
It was only the beginning, he was still at the stage where he’s stopped crawling. He basically took his hands off the floor to stand up on his feet, but it was still a feat.
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