9 Chapter VIII
Jin-Woo was surprised by the weighty voice coming from the corner of the hospital room, and hurriedly turned his head to look.
"I apologise if we took you by surprise."
"Unfortunately, we are unable to wait any longer."
Two men kitted out in black business suits approached Jin-Woo's bed. The youth tilted his head and asked them.
"Who…. are you?"
He had never seen these two's faces before.
One of them with the close-cropped hair like a soldier and wearing a pair of sunglasses presented him with a business card.
"This is who we are."
Jin-Woo received the business card and read what was written on it.
'Woo Jin-Cheol, the section chief of the Monitoring Division, the Korean Hunter's Association?'
The Monitoring Division was the only department in the Hunter's Association with many strong Hunters in their payroll. Well, since this department was tasked with managing the country's Hunters so, quite obviously, they would employ many high-class Hunters to facilitate that purpose.
"What does the Monitoring Division want from me?"
Woo Jin-Cheol dragged a chair closer to the bed and sat down. The other man, who must've been his subordinate, stood behind him.
The unspoken pressure emanating from the two buff guys staring down in close vicinity was quite heavy. The story they conveyed was rather surprising, though.
"I was unconscious for four days?!"
"By any chance, do you remember what happened before you blacked out?"
"Yes, I do."
"Please tell us everything you can remember."
Jin-Woo told them everything truthfully, minus the strange hallucinatory words he heard before he lost his consciousness.
"And that's when you lost your consciousness… Is that all?"
"Yes. I open my eyes next, and I'm in a hospital."
Woo Jin-Cheol and his lackey exchanged meaningful glances. For some reason, they seemed to be troubled by Jin-Woo's lack of knowledge.
Actually, Jin-Woo was the one who wanted to find out what happened the most in this room.
"Just how did I get to this hospital? Did a large Guild participate and kill those d*mn things?"
Woo Jin-Cheol awkwardly opened his mouth.
"By the time the agents of the Monitoring Division and the White Tiger Guild arrived at the scene after being briefed by the survivors…."
The White Tiger Guild was a super-massive Guild and also one of the top five in the country. The Association had recognised the danger, hence they requested the aid of such a huge Guild as the White Tiger Guild in the first place.
Just what did happen back there?
Jin-Woo nervously swallowed a dry spit.
"By the time….?"
"….Everything was 'gone'. The only thing to be found within that open space was you, Mister Sung Jin-Woo. There was not one trace of the god statue nor the stone statues."
Jin-Woo displayed a shocked, disbelieving face.
"It's hard for us to believe it as well. If there had been any inconsistencies in the testimonies of the survivors, or if we had failed to find the remains of the victims in the chamber, we might have suspected something fishy was going on."
Woo Jin-Cheol scratched his chin.
It'd been six years since he got ranked as an 'A' and started working for the Monitoring Division. He could confidently say that he had witnessed and experienced pretty much everything during his tenure. However, this kind of situation was a first even for him.
He had asked other Guilds as well as the Associations in other countries, but the end result was nothing worthy to speak about.
That was why…
"So, this is what we've been thinking…."
Woo Jin-Cheol carefully opened his mouth.
"There were powerful creatures in that chamber, without a doubt. But, they were taken care of by an unknown group, or an unknown person. Because, no otherworldly beings escaped from the Gate before it was closed, you see."
They had to consider all the possibilities. Even if the odds were low, they had to confirm them all. The head honchos of the Association deliberated, and then deliberated for some more, and finally came up with a theory.
Woo Jin-Cheol carefully studied Jin-Woo's reactions as he continued on.
"We… suspect that Hunter Sung Jin-Woo-nim might have gone through another Awakening."
Jin-Woo's eyes shot open wide.
Although extremely rare, there had been instances of a human who had awakened his or her abilities as a Hunter going through yet another Awakening.
Often referred to as 'Re-Awakening', those who undergo this process would normally become extremely powerful compared to before.
Originally, once a Hunter's rank was assigned at the beginning, it rarely changed. A Hunter's abilities were determined the moment one went through an Awakening, that was why.
However, it was a different story for those going through the Re-Awakening process.
Jumping past their own limitations to rise up from, say, rank C to A, or even from B to S, such things had happened before.
Woo Jin-Cheol nervously swallowed his saliva.
'Sung Jin-Woo…. If he went through a Re-Awakening and became a rank S, no, maybe even exceeding that, then it's possible for him to kill those monsters all by himself.'
The god statue was said to have melted rank C Hunters with nothing but its eyes, according to the survivors.
If one were able to kill such a creature even while unconscious, just how powerful one could possibly be?
To prepare for this unlikeliest possibility, Woo Jin-Cheol labelled this incident as 'top secret' and made sure everyone involved would keep their mouths shut.
This was also the reason why Sung Jin-Woo found himself in a hospital room all alone, as well as being looked after by some of the finest medical practitioners in the nation.
Woo Jin-Cheol's chest began beating real fast.
'Could Korea finally have a Hunter on the level of an international powerhouse….?'
There were less than ten people in the entire world that could truly be described as a global powerhouse. But, what if Korea were to possess a powerhouse that were said to rival a nuclear warhead in terms of pure firepower?
Of course, confirming the truth of the Re-Awakening wasn't difficult at all. Didn't the wise elders once say to make hay while the sun still shines?
Woo Jin-Cheol signalled to his lackey.
"Bring it here."
Then, the lackey went to the corner of the room and began rummaging through a briefcase placed there.
Before Jin-Woo could finish his question, Woo Jin-Cheol explained first.
"It's the device to measure your magic energy."
He added that, although this device had been miniaturised, its efficiency or accuracy did not fall short of the actual full-size measuring device located in the Hunter's Association.
"All you have to do is to place your hand on this magic crystal over here."
On top of a circular plate, there was a fist-sized magic crystal embedded in the middle. Its colour was pitch-black, as if it was a black hole that wanted to suck him in!
It was one of the highest quality magic crystals that cost as much as a billion won, not to mention that could only be found in monsters ranked A or higher. (TL: Almost $900,000)
When Jin-Woo stared at the magic crystal without saying anything, Woo Jin-Cheol formed a dignified, serious expression and spoke up.
"This is a necessary step during our investigation, so please, cooperate with us."
Jin-Woo nodded his head.
If he indeed had undergone a Re-Awakening, then his life would do a 180 in an instant. And they were going to test it out for him for free, so who was he to refuse?
Jin-Woo placed his hand on top of the black crystal and soon enough, warm rays of light oozed out from it.
Cold sweat drops formed on the foreheads of Woo Jin-Cheol and his lackey.
*SFX for a beam of light dissipating*
Not too long after then, the light surrounding the crystal dissipated.
Woo Jin-Cheol hurriedly took off his sunglasses and confirmed the numbers.
Right away, a small earthquake rocked Woo Jin-Cheol's eyes.
"How can this be?!"
He rechecked the numbers, but it remained the same.
How could a person holding a Hunter licence possess the magic energy value of only 10?!
When considering the fact that the lowest average value for rank E – the bottom rank – was around 70 to 100, Sung Jin-Woo was no different from a regular person.
"Is it really a Re-Awakening? If it is, what could be my new rank now?"
Jin-Woo's hands were soaked in the sweat of anticipation.
Seeing the suspicious reactions of the two Monitoring Division agents, the result must've been somewhat beyond their expectations.
Meanwhile, Woo Jin-Cheol was comparing the existing data on Jin-Woo with the new measurement.
'His first measurement returned the value of 12. Four years later, it's 10. It has decreased by 2, but it is within the margin of error.'
In other words, the magic energy measuring device was working fine. Instead, it was Sung Jin-Woo's magic energy that happened to be just illogically, nonsensically low.
It was a miracle that he had survived until now.
Woo Jin-Cheol rapidly realised that being here was a waste of time, so he got up from his seat.
Woo Jin-Cheol and his lackey quickly packed up to leave.
"Uhm, excuse me. Can you tell me what is…."
Just as Jin-Woo was about to ask, Woo Jin-Cheol bowed his head slightly.
"Thank you for your cooperation. If you remember anything else, please give us a call anytime."
As if their rear ends were on fire, two men-in-black rapidly left the room as soon as they put away the device.
The hospital room that felt rather small suddenly became quiet and lonely.
Jin-Woo scratched the back of his neck.
'I guess that was a no, then.'
Well, if he thought about it, besides him feeling refreshed, there didn't seem to be any change to him at all. Even if he did go through a Re-Awakening, it'd still be difficult for him to kill all those statue b*stards, anyways.
'Maybe, you might have a chance against them if you were either the ultimate weapon, Hunter Choi Jong-In, or the rank SS Hunter Goh Gun-Hui.'
Of course, him speculating like this was meaningless, since he had never seen them in action before. There was always a thick veil of secrecy draped over the Hunters ranked S.
They were more like clouds in the sky to him, actually.
He thought up to here and inadvertently raised his head up. And that's when he saw 'it'.
He looked up without thinking, and then, saw 'words' floating in the air.
[You have several unread messages.]
He closed his eyes and opened them again.
[You have several unread messages.]
The words remained floating up there without a single change. He shook his head hard a few times and even rubbed his eyes, but they were still there.
Jin-Woo massaged his aching forehead and lowered his head.
'It hadn't been a long time since I started hearing weird things, but now, I'm even seeing them, too….'
Could something in his head really be broken?
There was a condition called PTSD, after all. People who experienced a huge accident or a traumatic event usually suffered from this condition.
It was only a few days ago since he witnessed the deaths of many of his comrades, not to mention he himself nearly died as well, so it would not be so strange to hear or see weird things as a possible side effect.
However, there were a couple of things that prevented him from dismissing this out of hand.
Jin-Woo's sight lowered to his leg – the leg that got cut in half by the shield of the stone statue was now all fine and dandy.
The voice he heard out of the blue inside the underground temple hidden within the depths of the dual dungeon; his completely-cured leg; and now, those words floating in front of his eyes.
Too many weird things were happening all at once.
There was a chance that all these things were not isolated events but linked to one another. When his thoughts arrived here, his aching head felt just a bit clearer.
Jin-Woo slowly raised his head.
Once the confusion in his heart died down and he felt calmer, he became quite curious about the contents of those so-called unread messages. There might be answers to his questions found within those messages, after all.
In order to confirm the messages, he reached out towards the words.
And his hand simply went past them.
'It's not touch-operated?'
It seemed that he got way too used to how a smartphone worked. He couldn't think of any other way to access the messages other than tapping on the 'icon', though.
While he was deliberating on the means to access the messages, he recalled the memories from the moments before he blacked out.
"Right. That happened."
Back then, he could only get his intentions across to that unknown voice by 'talking' to it.
'Just like back then, I should either form the words in my head or speak it out loud.'
Thinking that this must be the case, Jin-Woo then began to mutter the potential combination of words one by one.
"I want to read."
"I want to look."
"Hey, show me already, will ya?!"
It was then.
"…..Just what is it that you wish to see that bad?"
He felt a cold, probing stare coming from the side, so he turned his head to look. And, spotted his little sister in her school uniform looking at him from the gap of the half-open door.
Jin-Woo became speechless.
Her oppa, busy glaring at the ceiling while demanding someone to show something to him – he simply didn't know how to explain this one to her.