Chapter 1. Prologue
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After running nearly all day, he stopped at a large open space.
Behind him was the stairs he had climbed up until now, and from now on he could see the stairs he had to climb.
And on both sides of the vacant lot, two large stone statues stood.
‘It looks like a stone statue being in a temple.’
A huge, hideously contorted face, and long ears. And in its hand, it was holding a falchion that was taller than his height.
There was nothing else in the vacant lot. It was literally a place that seemed to just rest in moderation.
Still, he thought there might be something, so he decided to look around carefully. He approached the statue and lightly touched it.
“There’s nothing here.”
― There is nothing.
There was still no sign that something was there. At least he should be satisfied with the fact that it was a place other than the stairs.
― What do you think? Will you take a little break?
“That’s fine too, but.”
In the middle of the vacant lot, Do-joon and Kalish began to talk about a lot of things.
At that time, things began to happen where the two of them could not see.
The two statues began to move silently.
The goal is, needless to say, Do-joon’s back.
When the two stone statues slam falchion towards the defenceless back.
The ground trembled violently, and dust rose thickly.
The two stone statues raised their heads. To check the tired enemy.
“It seems difficult to rest unless I kill them first.”
The sound was heard from the side.
When the stone statue turned his head and looked to the side, Do-joon, rather than dead, stood with his spear.
― This guy is a monster of this labyrinth.
【Stone Statue of the God of Infidelity】
A whopping 20% higher fit rate than Orcs.
It seemed that the fit rate was high because each individual was powerful, and was not in a group like them.
― By the way, you knew it. There were no signs at all when approaching.
“The truth is, I knew it from the beginning.”
When he first arrived here, he saw the stone statue and used the insight first. Then, as expected, isn’t the fit rate reflected?
Thanks to that, he had already guessed that they were monsters.
― What are you going to do? Are you going to fight now?
At Kalish’s words, Do-joon stared at the stone statue. He glared and checked his physical condition.
‘I’ve been running with all my energy for more than 20 hours to get here. Both my stamina and mana are low.’
A cool-headed self-evaluation.
He didn’t just run, but he was running while learning a new technique, so his efficiency was very low now.
As a result, of course, his choice is.
“Let’s retreat for now.”
It was to return.
Afterall, there was no reason to take unnecessary risks.
[Skill: Use Return.]
It shone brightly. The next moment, Do-joon found himself not on the stairs above the clouds, but in the basement workspace of his store.
― Well thought. It would be a fight in vain if those stone statues started to increase in number.
Listening to Kalish, he checked the skill window.
[“Entrance to the Labyrinth: Tier 5 Sky Road” remaining cooldown of 167h]
Cooldown of 7 days before re-entry. If he prepares again next week and goes in, it wouldn’t be a problem to destroy two statues.
It was a monster with a 60% fit rate he saw for the first time, but there was no fear. Even so, he never thought that those two guys would be stronger than the elf back then.
“You have worked hard. Go in and rest.”
― Okay. Call me later when you’re training. You need to review what you learned right away so that you don’t forget it.
Do-joon laughed at the words similar to what he had heard a lot during his old schooling days. After all, it means that there is something that works when it comes to learning, whether it be academics or martial arts.
After putting Kalish in his inventory, Do-joon went up the stairs.
It was still early in the evening, and So-eun seemed to have gone to bed early.
Siewellin was watching TV with her chin on her hand at the counter. A small TV set on one side of the store, not in the room.
「”Oh? You came early this time?”」
When Do-joon greeted her, Siewellin replied. Usually, when entering the labyrinth, he used to stay there for almost two to three days.
But this time, he came out after only one day, so she can’t help but wonder.
“This labyrinth is a bit unique. There are no monsters, but there are endless stairs…….”
Do-joon briefly explained about the hiking trail. There was not much to explain because there was nothing in the first place.
Siewellin blinked and listened to Do-joon.
She was also very curious about Do-joon’s ability to enter the labyrinth.
As thanks to that ability, she was able to escape from the curse and live a peaceful life like this.
“……Anyway, I think I’ll only be hiking for the time being. Even after defeating the stone statues, I saw that the stairs continued.”
「”The air must be nice because it’s clear!”」
Do-joon smiled seeing Siewellin’s positive words for a strange place.
“I’ll wash off my sweat first and shift with you. So-eun seems to be sleeping, too, but you too, go early today and rest.”
Siewellin didn’t necessarily refuse. Seeing that her eyes kept glancing towards the TV, there obviously must be a drama she really wanted to watch.
The TV was called an idiot box in the past, but Do-joon welcomed Siwellin to watch TV. And thanks to that, she was quickly learning the common words and senses here.
After taking a shower and wiping off sweat and dust, Siewellin was already ready for the shift change.
She took off her apron, folded it well, and changed into a comfortable sweatsuit. Then she placed potato chips and coke on a tray. She finished setting it up in front of the sofa in the room.
「”Then thank you~ I’ll help you after watching just one more episode. This is a very important scene right now where they are trying to find out whose daughter Yena is.”」
“Okay, it’s time to close soon.”
Do-joon smiled and sat down at the counter. It was a time where there would not be many customers, so no extra hands needed.
Do-joon stayed at the store while taking out dried herbs and grinding them.
By the time all five roots and herbs were finely ground.
The bell rang and a customer came in.
Do-joon woke up to say hi. But, the customer seemed very familiar.
It was Son Chang-il, the president of the association.
“I’m here because I have something difficult to say over the phone.”
“Is it something hard to talk over the phone? Ah, please sit here first.”
Do-joon guided him to a seat. And he has been familiar with tea. It was just a tea that was brewed with tea bags.
Son Chang-il took a sip of tea and started speaking.
“Your special promotion. Actually, something like this came up… … .”
His following words were surprising.
“What? On the first expedition into the stem?”
“That’s right. If you play well enough there, there will be no one against you becoming an A-class.”
First, Son Chang-il raised the topic and explained why he came up with this saying.
The fact that there is a need to organise an expedition to keep pace with foreign countries’ rapid movements, and the fact that several guilds are very ambitious for this task.
The four major guilds are watching for now, but they will likely participate in it, and the Karma Guild is the one that shows the most enthusiasm.
“It was Oh Tae-jin, the representative of the Karma guild who brought up the word about you. He is considered the strongest among domestic A-class hunters.”
It’s not a very good relationship……. Why did they recommend him there?
“He had a point. You are currently the only man in Korea who has killed an elf directly. Neither Oh Tae-jin nor Shin Yu-seong did it.”
In fact, Shin Yu-seong turned to the rear from the middle of the fight and tried to heal the wounded, and by the time Oh Tae-jin arrived at Hwaseong, the elf had already fled.
That’s why he couldn’t do it, whatever the case, but the fact that the only domestic hunter who killed an elf remains unchanged.
“So that’s how it came about.”
“It’s like that.”
Do-joon was convinced. Apart from his relationship with Karma, it was a situation where his name could be sufficiently mentioned.
Perhaps even if it was not Oh Tae-jin, someone might have brought up his name on the spot.
“So what will you do?”
Do-joon was lost in thought for a moment.
The president of the association, seeing that, was a little thirsty. Naturally, the teacup in his hand headed towards his mouth.
Although it was brought up by someone else, the president of the association knew that this could be a pretty good opportunity.
In particular, Do-joon is a man who works alone without any guild. For him, the opportunity to enter into such a large expedition is really rare.
‘If he can finish this job well……. He may really grow into a hunter who truly represents the country.’
He was seeing great possibilities for Do-joon, and he was giving great value to this opportunity.
Son Chang-il took another sip of tea. Eventually, when he brought the third sip to his lips.
“I’m sorry, but I will refuse.”
Son Chang-il’s eyes widened.
“Refuse……. you mean?”
“Yes. No matter how much I think about it, it seems difficult to accept this job.”
Do-joon spoke calmly.
A faint disappointment passed in the eyes of the association president who put down the teacup.
He thought he was a more passionate man. In the video of him killing an elf, Do-joon’s abilities and actions are shown there. And, apart from all that, the desperate expression on his face.
Son Chang-il, who was even touched by that unknown expression on his face, would still occasionally watch the video.
“Is it… … .”
Well, he can’t blame him.
Everyone’s life is precious, and the president of the association also knows it. Rather, considering his usual beliefs, it was a choice worth cheering for.
It’s just that a little bit of disappointment remains.
At that time, the door opened from the side of the room and So-eun came out. She rubbed her eyes and trudged to Do-joon as if she had just woken up.
“Oh, So-eun. You woke up?”
“Uh… … .”
Do-joon hugged So-eun. His two strong arms wrapped around the child and patted her on the back.
The child began to doze off again, perhaps because she felt very secure in his arms.
And Son Chang-il, who was looking at Do-joon.
“… … Is this your daughter?”
He was very surprised.
Do-joon was a man with few facial expressions. It’s not like he is emotionless, cold-hearted, or anything like that. Laugh when he laughs and frown when he frowns.
Basically, a blunt impression.
But what does that smile mean?
‘Come to think of it, that child…….’
It looks familiar. Isn’t that the child that the clerk lady here hugged in the video?
He couldn’t have seen it wrong. It’s rare to see such a cute kid.
Seeing Do-joon soothe the child’s whining, Son Chang-il realised.
The identity of the unknown emotion he felt in Do-joon’s expression in the video.
So that’s why he rejected this one, too.
“Thank you for the offer, but since it’s the first expedition, it’s going to be very dangerous.”
“That’s right. Honestly, how safely the expedition team can come back…… It’s unknown.”
Do-joon swept the dozing off child’s hair from his arms. Softly, so that the tangled hair is loosened.
A faint smile crept across his lips.
“There’s a place where I need to spend my life. We’re not even sure if that’s where the stem that just appeared there.”
“So it seems difficult to get that offer.”
Son Chang-il nodded. A rejection that could not be clearer than this. He didn’t even think of trying to persuade Do-joon.
“Okay. Let’s make your promotion test an ordinary A-class dungeon as before.”
Do-joon smiled bitterly at the scale of calling A-class dungeons ordinary.
Well, compared to the unknown danger of the stem, it could be said that it was quite ordinary.
“Will it be okay?”
“Of course it’s okay. Who am I? Isn’t I the bread and butter of the association? Hahaha.”
‘the bread and butter’, What an old term…….
After that, only ordinary everyday conversations came and went. Apparently, Son Chang-il broke up with his wife early, so he is now living alone without children.
Eventually, he returned when two more teacups were emptied.
* * *
The next day.
“I will go!”
After a long time, Do-joon took So-eun to kindergarten. Usually, she’s sent on a bus, but it would be nice to have a day like this.
So-eun waved her hand and ran to Kwon Soo-young.
After receiving the child, Kwon Soo-young bowed her head toward Do-joon.
Do-joon also greeted her and left.
Then, for a while, I wandered around the academy site aimlessly. He didn’t have a specific purpose, but it was just a change of mood.
‘Hey, you’re here?’
‘Kek kek. What are you going to do with today’s test?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ll take it out.’
Meanwhile, he saw students going to school far away. Looking at the school uniform, he felt like they were high school students.
‘I heard that high school students here also get combat training.’
Normal education is provided until middle school, but specialised education is provided for children who have set their future as hunters from high school.
The academy’s teacher’s job was also a workplace where many retired hunters came. Even Kwon Soo-young alone might have retired early and come here.
‘It’s been almost 20 years.’
Do-joon smiled at the sudden nostalgia. It’s already been more than 20 years since he was in middle and high school.
Still, the reminisce on memories that came to mind remained unchanged.
He took a walk in such a good mood.
‘Because that b!tch is an elf!’
‘Ahhh. Isn’t that girl a cosplayer?’
‘It’s not a cosplay, but it’s real! No matter how much I’m a student, I am awakened, but would I get beaten up like this by a normal person who cosplayed?’
‘She must have been a cosplayer hunter.’
Do-joon’s expression hardened at the sudden conversation.
It was very far, but it couldn’t avoid Do-joon’s ears, whose sense stat reached almost level 50.
The next moment, Do-joon’s divine form disappeared and appeared behind the students who were talking.
“Wa, sir! Oh my gosh!”
When Do-joon tapped their shoulder, the two students jumped and looked back.
“Who are you?”
There was a slight tension in the eyes of the two looking at Do-joon.
It’s insufficient, but they are being trained every day. However, they didn’t feel anything until Do-joon touched their shoulder.
‘If it were an enemy or a monster… … .’
It would have been over at this moment.
Of course, Do-joon had no hostility towards the students he had met for the first time.
“Can you tell me more about what you just said?”
“Are you talking? About what?”
If a man who was just passing by suddenly asks something like this, it would be strange, but the two people are nervous about what happened just now.
Thanks to this, they answered Do-joon’s question quite sincerely.
“That’s… …. As you can see, this guy got thrown and is injured. He said that she was an elf fan.”
“She was really an elf! Her ears were this long and brown skin, and, uh, a pretty face. But with that face, she beat me and my friends like dogs.”
He could have just dismissed it as nonsense, but Do-joon listened to the two seriously.
To summarize, he was hit by a woman on the street, and it turned out that she looked like a terrorist in a boisterous elf costume like these days.
‘Long ears and brown skin……. Aside from the skin, it’s true if the ears are long.’
However, after hearing the story, Do-joon was a little apprehensive.
Do-joon knew a little more information than what was revealed to the media.
In particular, their purpose. He was the one who knew their hostility towards humanity who harmed the World Tree.
‘But she just made him faint and moved on?’
The wound of the injured student seemed to take a while to heal, but it did not appear to be life-threatening. Far from life, it was not even a crippling wound.
It was far from the image of an elf he experienced and heard from Son Chang-il.
“Uh… … . Then I can get going, right? If it’s any late, then I’ll be in trouble.”
“Oh, yeah. I’m sorry to hold you.”
The students glanced at each other and left.
Soon, Do-joon sat on a bench on one side.
‘Is it a real cosplayer hunter? Or is it a difference in personality?’
Do-joon frowned and fell into thought. It doesn’t matter if it’s the former, but if it’s the latter case, it’s a big deal.
‘It means that there is still one more elf hiding somewhere.’
Do-joon took out his cell phone with a stiff look on his face.