8 Chapter VII
Front, back, left, and right.
In order to secure all four directions, four people were the bare minimum required.
Jin-Woo himself, Ju-Hui, Mister Song and finally, Mister Kim. A single person leaving now would result in a gap within the field of vision.
Kim wiped the sweat off his forehead and asked urgently.
"Mister Sung, just what is going on here? Explain it to me properly."
"We'll make it as long as we wait here! Only until all the blue flames are extinguished!"
Jin-Woo spat out everything he had deduced so far. Kim nodded his head as his ears perked up.
Jin-Woo quickly ended his explanation and added one more thing at the end.
"Remember, everyone here can get out of here alive."
The laws of this chamber always left open a path for one's survival. The final law would not deviate from that. Jin-Woo was certain of no one else needing to die as long as the remaining people trusted each other.
Too bad, Kim's thoughts were quite different from the youth's. The older Hunter asked hesitantly.
"Look here, Mister Sung… you could be right on this one, but… could the door close shut instead when the timer runs out?"
Jin-Woo couldn't answer that one.
He came to his conclusion after considering several variables, but until the result was in, he couldn't be 100% certain of anything.
However, what Kim wanted was a definite assurance. Rather than an uncertain promise of everyone's survival, the definite survival of his own self had proved to be far more alluring in the end.
"I'm sorry about this, but… I don't think I can stay here anymore."
With that parting word, Kim stepped down from the altar. He then ignored Jin-Woo's urgent calling and ran towards the door. He stopped and looked for a brief moment just outside the door, but Kim did not step back inside the chamber again.
Jin-Woo gritted his teeth.
"God d*mn it!!"
He had saved the lives of others, but what he got in return was definitely not something like gratefulness or friendship.
His entire body shuddered from the pain of betrayal.
Just as he suspected, as soon as Kim had abandoned them, a gap within the surveillance had been created. It was impossible for three people to guard all four directions.
And so, the statues positioned in the blindspots began creeping closer to the altar.
The encirclement of the stone statue was gradually tightening. Song took a look around and then, spoke to Jin-Woo and Ju-Hui.
"Both of you, you should leave now."
His voice was full of resignation. Jin-Woo looked at the old man.
"Just as Kim had said, I was the one who dragged us all in here. If someone has to remain behind, then it'd be only right that I'm the one."
"You two with a better future ahead of you should be the ones to survive today."
Song began smiling, then. He was thinking of these two young people's hearts as they would have to abandon him here.
Jin-Woo helplessly nodded his head. He was uncomfortable about this whole thing, but there was no time left to argue back and forth who should remain in here.
Song then tried to ask Ju-Hui to take care of Jin-Woo.
"Miss Ju-Hui, can you help out Mister Sung here for a bit?"
However, just as she was about to prop him up, Ju-Hui plopped down to the floor.
Ju-Hui tried to get up, but then, tears began forming around the edges of her eyes.
"My legs… I, I can't move my legs…."
Both the expressions of Jin-Woo and Mister Song hardened in an instant.
Ju-Hui's current physical condition did look terrible even from a casual glance. Her lips were in the shade of pale blue, while her entire body continued to tremble ever so imperceptibly.
She was suffering from the side-effects of overusing her magic energy when she was already at her physical limit.
'Because she tried to heal my leg….'
Jin-Woo felt his chest tighten and couldn't say anything. However, they really didn't have any time left now.
The stone statues were relentlessly approaching them without a moment of rest even now.
Jin-Woo shoved Song's hand away and plopped down to the ground himself. Seeing this, Song's eyes grew wider.
Jin-Woo spoke up with a determined expression on his face.
"Ahjussi, please take Ju-Hui and get out of this place."
"I told you, I'll be the one staying behind."
"In that case, who's going to help Ju-Hui?"
It was pretty much impossible for him to take Ju-Hui, who couldn't even stand properly, and leave through the door within the time limit.
There was the other choice of abandoning Ju-Hui behind, as well. However, Ju-Hui had saved his life several times already, and the only reason why she was in this state was because she tried to help him with all her might.
He definitely did not want to suffer the guilty conscience of abandoning such a person behind in this godforsaken place.
"There is no time left. Please leave now."
Song's expression remained hardened as he helped Ju-Hui up. She shook her head desperately while tears streamed down on her face.
"No, you can't… Mister Jin-Woo can still survive, you know? Let me…."
"I promised to buy you a dinner, didn't I?"
Jin-Woo pulled out the rank E magic crystal from his pocket and placed it in her hand.
"Please, use this and enjoy one on me. When I get out of here, I'll be coming around to collect the change, you see."
A smile formed on Jin-Woo's face, prompting Ju-Hui to cry out in anger.
"How can you crack a joke in this situation, Mister Jin-Woo?!"
It was at this moment that Jin-Woo signalled to Mister Song with a nod. The older man then lightly chopped on the back of Ju-Hui's neck.
With that, Ju-Hui lost her consciousness. Song picked up the unconscious girl and placed her over his shoulder.
"….I'm really sorry about this."
"This is my choice, so it's fine."
Mister Song bowed his head to Jin-Woo.
With that goodbye, Song quickly left the altar.
During the time the three of them were chatting, the statues had arrived at the proverbial stone's throw away.
Jin-Woo got on his knees and took several deep breaths.
He spotted the sword Kim had left behind next to him. So, he reached out and picked it up.
'Now that it had come down to this, I'll take at least one down with me.'
When he looked behind him, Jin-Woo saw Mister Song safely leaving through the doorway with unconscious Ju-Hui still perched upon his shoulder.
What a relief that was.
'Only I'll die here now….'
He wasn't doing this because of some noble determination to sacrifice himself or anything like that. No, there certainly was an element of him calculating the best possible outcome in his decision.
Even if he survived and got out of here today, he would have to live as a cripple for the rest of his life.
Obviously, carrying on as a Hunter would be impossible, then. And it was also questionable whether he'd be able to live normally as well. He was only a high-school graduate, and since he didn't have any discernible job skills, he simply didn't have too many options left to put food on the table.
'Mom's hospital fees… and my sister's school fees, too.'
If that were the case, then he might as well make sure his family would receive a better compensation from the Association, even if it was just a single cent more.
'Was the compensation paid out to the family members 300 million Won or 400, when one dies during a raid?' (TL: Between $267,000 and $356,000)
That was a huge amount for a worthless life of a rank E Hunter.
Finally, the statues arrived.
The first one to arrive climbed up on the altar. Jin-Woo glared at it and lifted the sword up.
Unfortunately, the expected attack didn't come from the front, but his back.
A long spear penetrated into Jin-Woo's back and exited out of his chest.
Jin-Woo spat out a mouthful of blood.
An unimaginable amount of pain rushed in like a tsunami wave.
"If you were stabbed a couple of inches higher, you'd have a hole in your heart by now!"
Ju-Hui's nagging he heard only a few hours ago slipped past his mind like a scene from a revolving lantern.
The stone statue lifted up the spear. Jin-Woo was lifted up along into the air, still pierced through by that spear. He only got to struggle for a brief moment, though – because the statue slammed him down on the altar.
Sounds of bones breaking could be heard from all corners of his body.
He shrunk away from the intense pain.
"Euh….. Euh, euh….."
As he began trembling, the stone statues slowly surrounded him. They formed a encirclement around him. Jin-Woo raised his head and glared at them, his entire being shuddering non-stop.
'I… I don't want to die like this.'
Now that he was facing his final moments, tears pooled on his eyes.
He recalled the faces of his family. He even recalled the face of Ju-Hui, her face full of anxiety and worry for his safety…
'I don't want to die…'
He didn't want to end his short twenty-four years of life in this place.
The stone statue wielding a sword took a step closer without a hint of emotion. Then, it raised its sword up high.
Even though he was shaking hard, Jin-Woo did not avert his gaze away from this b*stard.
Finally, the statue's sword slashed down.
'Only if, only if I had one more chance!'
Jin-Woo's eyes shot open wider.
It happened then.
*SFX for the statue's movements suddenly stopping*
As if someone had pressed the 'pause' button, the scarily-fast moving sword suddenly stopped in mid-air.
No, that wasn't actually correct; it hadn't stopped at all. It simply had slowed down so much that he ended up thinking that way.
One millimetre in one minute?
It was very slow, but the sword was still definitely coming down.
'Wha-what's going on here?'
Jin-Woo couldn't hide his astonishment.
It was then, a voice of a female he had never heard of before resounded within his head.
[Completion requirements for the 'Secret Quest: the Courage of the Powerless' has been met.]
Secret quest? Completion requirements were met?
Jin-Woo couldn't understand any of that.
'No, hang on a minute. Besides all that, where did that voice come from?'
Too bad for him, the voice ignored Jin-Woo's questions and continued on regardless.
[You have acquired the rights to become a 'Player'. Will you accept?]
He had acquired a right? Accept what, exactly?
'Sounds like I'll be given something….'
He grew up dirt poor since his childhood, so he had never refused freebies until now. However, that was a story for when he was still alive. What use was there for free stuff when he was dead?
When Jin-Woo hesitated and didn't answer, the voice in his head asked again as if to urge him on.
[There is not enough time left for you to make your decision. Your heart will cease functioning precisely 0.02 seconds after you refuse to accept. Will you accept?]
He couldn't tell whether he was hallucinating or not, but he still got to figure out that he was only a moment away from dying for good. He finally spotted countless other weapons headed in his direction, beside that d*mn sword, that was how.
Now that the things had devolved to such a degree, he might as well.
'….If you're giving it to me, then just give it to me already.'
There was no need to utter anything out at all. He simply thought about it in his head. Even then, the voice of the female replied to him immediately.
[Congratulations on becoming a 'Player'.]
A blinding light suddenly wrapped around Jin-Woo's body – and at the same time, he lost his consciousness.
Part 6: Penalty
He opened his eyes.
He saw a white ceiling, and his nose stung from the odour of disinfectants. He also felt the sensation of a hard mattress against his back.
Jin-Woo immediately recognised where he was.
Ever since he met the rank B Healer, Ju-Hui, the frequency of him staying in one had decreased somewhat, but still, hospitals were familiar places for Jin-Woo, just as he'd be with a local convenience store.
So much so that, he even heard a rumour of there being a special seat reserved for himself at the Hunter's hospital, too.
Jin-Woo raised his upper torso up. He then placed his hand on his chest and felt the vibrations coming from there. His heart was beating without a problem.
It wasn't only that, though. Unlike before, his entire being felt light and airy. He'd be feeling heavy-headed and fatigued whenever he woke up from a hospital bed.
But, it was a different story now. No, it was as if he had woken up in his own bed after a night of a good rest.
'What's going on….?'
This shouldn't have been possible when he thought back to the moments before he lost his consciousness.
A sword was falling on his head right before his eyes.
Even if he got lucky and the sword missed, he was still surrounded by countless scary enemies. Those d*mn things were strong enough to give the assault team formed solely from the rank A – no, rank S Hunters a genuinely hard time.
'But, I came out of that situation alive?'
Was he dreaming things, then?
Fortunately, there was a good way of confirming it for himself.
Jin-Woo pulled away the blanket covering him.
If that situation had been real, then his leg would still be gone, and if he had been dreaming, then his leg would be…
"You've finally woken up."