Solo Leveling (I Alone Level-Up) - Chapter 118
[One year before the Korean-j.a.panese Hunter alliance visited the island.]
The ant queen could not help but worry.
‘This island is now totally lifeless, besides us.’
She had grown her colony into a kingdom, and thousands of her children ran amok on the island. But that also meant thousands of mouths to feed, and now, without any sustenance left, her children had begun resorting to cannibalism.
‘This will not be the end of us.’
No, she would not permit her children to die like this. They will abandon this little s.p.a.ce they had made their own, she decided, and go to a new place, a place teeming with life – with prey, and build a new kingdom there. If the first step had been to dominate this island that was now theirs, this would be the second.
But the queen remembered them, too.
Intruders. Powerful intruders, who had set foot on the island many times in the past. They had managed to defeat them each time, but every victory was costly. A countless number of her children were sacrificed in each fight. What if they ran into those same enemies in the new lands? Would they be able to beat them again?
‘Stronger soldiers. The strongest possible soldier, stronger than anyone, anything else.’
And so the queen decided on creating the strongest possible soldier herself.
Half a year later, she gathered all the mana and life she had in her, and gave birth to it. Her overwhelming desire to create an unbelievably strong fighter, combined with the order that had been ceaselessly beaten into her head, to kill all humans, into a twisted abomination, a monster that defied common sense. The strongest soldier, a creature born for the sole purpose of being the perfect killing machine.
It’s natural ability could perhaps be called ‘Predation’: it gained in magic power and acquired the knowledge of every single thing it ate.
From its birth, it was possessed by a ravenous hunger, driven by an insatiable desire to become stronger. It began consuming even its own siblings, but the queen simply watched in fascination and delight. What she wanted and what her creation wanted were one and the same – for him to become boundlessly powerful, and she was delighted as he gained in strength day by day. Soon, he would be unstoppable, and he would lead a new army of soldiers to new lands and conquer them for her kingdom.
Again, there were intruders on the island. Smaller in number, but far more powerful than any that had come previously. But this time, the queen did not fear. For she had ‘him’ now, and this would be the perfect opportunity to test his power. She sent him out, along with her royal guards. He easily completed his first mission.
But when he returned to his queen, she was already dead. He became angry at her death. But, fortunately, there were still many strong men on the island. They would be the target of his anger.
The king of the humans was the first target. He died quickly. Then it was those who were with the king. They were easily picked off, one by one.
One of them cried out as he was being killed.
“What the h.e.l.l are you!?”
He paused as the question registered. His thoughts had grown more complex recently, as a result of his ‘Predation’ ability. He became introspective.
The answer was simple: he was the queen’s weapon. But that was before. It was no longer so simple. The queen was dead.
‘What am I now then? I am the one who must lead the colony in fights.’
There was only one word he knew to describe this existence.
‘If you kill the king, then you become the king.’
The logic was clear to him.
He bit off the last remaining human’s head. The king and his followers were now all dead. Now it was time for the rest.
Suddenly, he froze. An enormous aura of magic, like a raging typhoon, erupted from where the queen’s dead body lay.
Intuitively aware of the power that threatened even his own, the newly christened ant king raced back towards the queen’s chamber.
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“What’s going on in there?”
Up until the past few minutes, the broadcasting station had possessed a celebratory atmosphere like a wedding. But now, it felt like an emergency room.
They had cut the live feed as soon as the mutant ant had begun attacking, nay, destroying the Korean team, and now, all the phones were ringing off their hooks, as viewers demanded in panic and anger to know what had happened on Jeju Island.
A staffer meekly approached the director, bowing before very quietly speaking.
“Um sir…we’re going to be inundated with calls from viewers if we don’t resume the broadcast.”
The director looked at the staffer in disgust. He cringed at the withering glare.
“And what? You want me to run a live broadcast across the entire country, and G.o.d knows how many other stations are picking up, of a scene where all our S-rank hunters are getting slaughtered by a single ant?”
“Er, no sir…”
The director impatiently shooed the staffer away, before closing the door to his office and turning around in his chair. He buried his head in his hands and groaned.
The broadcast had been cut off right as the bizarre winged ant had approached the team: before Cha Hae-in had been nearly killed in a single blow, and the rest of the team had been devastated by the monster. It was hardly a surprise that the viewers were curious about the outcome of the fight, but unfortunately, the station could hardly continue and show Ma Dong-wook getting his limbs torn apart and Min Byung-ku getting eaten alive.
“Oh G.o.d…it’s over. It’s over…”
They had gambled the fate of their company on this broadcast. And they were about to be ruined by this single ant.
Everyone in the room looked around uneasily. Dread was written on every face, and a heavy silence filled the air.
“What the heck?”
The production director, who had continued to wordlessly monitor the broadcast even as it had been pulled from the air, suddenly let out a shocked expression. He ran to the director’s office.
“There’s someone – a hunter, on the scene right now.”
“You don’t have to report every single time a hunter shows up on the screen, there’s no point.”
The director didn’t even lift his head from his lap as he spoke.
The director cut off the PD before he could continue. He opened his mouth, as if to protest again, then closed it, before heading back into the broadcast room and turning up the volume.
In an instant, the room was filled with the screams of dying ants.
The staffers immediately snapped to attention and began crowding around the TV screen.
“Oh my G.o.d.”
“They’re…they’re dying everywhere!”
“Where’s the director? We have to get the director!”
From inside his office, the director stared at the wall with a blank expression on his face.
“It’s all over. It’s -”
The sudden din from the broadcast room caught his attention. He looked outside, to see the entire staff eagerly crowded around the TV, watching the broadcast with antic.i.p.ation.
‘What the heck?’
Slowly and laboriously, he pulled himself from his chair, before making his way to the broadcast TV. The staffers parted as he approached.
For what seemed like an eternity, he could only stare at the scene unfolding before his eyes.
“Oh my G.o.d.”
The silence stretched forever, before…
“What are you all standing around here for? Resume the broadcast immediately! Do you want to be the one responsible for the viewers missing this?”
The PD quickly tried to dissuade the suddenly reinvigorated director.
“Wait wait hold on a second! Director, if we start this broadcast now, it’ll have to be real-time, no delay! What if it all goes wrong again?”
“It doesn’t matter. Start the live broadcast.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“What does it matter if an emergency happens? We’ve already cut the broadcast. Even if it all goes wrong, we still can’t be in any worse shape than we’re in right now.”
“Well…that’s true, but…”
The production director grasped for an excuse that never came. He turned back to the broadcast.
A new hunter had suddenly been caught on camera. They didn’t know if he was Korean or j.a.panese – no, they didn’t even know if he was a hunter. But for the moment, none of that mattered. He was winning. He was the station’s best hope.
With a grim expression on his face, the director nodded.
“No matter what, we have to resume the broadcast.”
He grabbed the nearest chair and sat down next to the PD.
“Our station’s fate is in his hands. G.o.dspeed to him.”
“I did it.”
Even as he was on the brink of collapsing, he had no regrets.
‘Doesn’t everyone dream of this as a child?’
‘I wanted to be a hero. Barring that, I wanted to be a sidekick.’
By the time he had become a senior executive at the broadcasting station and a well-respected camera operator, he had thought his opportunity had pa.s.sed.
But then he had become an cla.s.s hunter and started a new career as a hunter, and, finally, he had reached this point. Because of him, the world was able to see, for the first and likely only time ever, the raid of a S-cla.s.s gate and the defeat of a S-cla.s.s boss.
‘This will be my legacy.’
Eventually, all the ants would die out. The world would see how the S-cla.s.s hunters sacrificed themselves to clear the S-cla.s.s gate, through his camera. To the cla.s.s cameraman, it was enough.
‘All my efforts, all the time I spent studying cinematography, all the raids I partic.i.p.ated in as a hunter, they were all worth it for this.’
A face flashed in his mind and he felt a tinge of regret.
His father, who had toiled ceaselessly to take care of his cancer-stricken mother and still provide for the family. His heart broke as he realized he would never see his father again.
There was a sickening sound as an ant tore into his shoulder. Blood poured from his arm, but he felt no pain; he had already lost sensation in that arm.
‘I’ve managed to survive this long as a tank, but this is really my limit I guess.’
His legs buckled and he fell to his knees. All he could think of was his father.
‘What was my last conversation with him? d.a.m.n. If I knew this would’ve happened, I would’ve just canceled my appointments when he came to Seoul, just to spend a little bit more time talking to him. Now it’s too late for anything but regret.’
The cameraman looked up to see the terrible mandibles heading for his face. He was out of mana. This was it.
Tears rolled down his cheek as he closed his eyes.
A silver blade flew through the air, pa.s.sing through the ant’s head like b.u.t.ter.
Disgusting fluid splattered all over his face as the sound of exoskeleton cracking reverberated through his ears. He was still alive.
He opened his eyes suddenly.
In front of him stood an ant with a long red collar around its neck.
‘What? Did this ant just kill the other ant?’
He blinked as the realization dawned on him that it was not, in fact, an ant which stood in front of him. A soldier, wreathed in black armor wearing a shimmering red plume, pulled the silvery blade from the ant, which fell limp to the ground.
‘Wha…? How can…?’
As the black soldier stepped aside, a man with a vaguely familiar face walked forward.
“Open your mouth.”
Before he could comprehend what was happening, the man forced open his jaws and poured a mysterious liquid down his throat. 
He felt strangely refreshed as he swallowed. 
“…who are you?”
There was no response as the man turned to face the ants.
“What are you planning on doing?”
The cameraman rose to his feet, and then stopped in shock.
‘Wait a minute…how did I just stand up? Come to think of it, my arms are feeling a lot better too.’
He looked down at his body. It wasn’t his imagination after all; ever since that strange man had forced him to swallow that mysterious liquid , his condition had begun improving rapidly.
‘What did he do to me? What was in that liquid?’
Suddenly, he remembered where he had seen that face.
“Don’t tell me you’re – !”
Jinwoo calmly looked around the chamber. He grimaced as he took note of the situation.
When he had gone to watch (and inadvertently partic.i.p.ate in) the S-rank sparring session a few days prior, he had decided, just in case, to hide one of his soldiers inside Baek Yoon-ho’s shadow.
‘I’m really glad I did that. They really cut the broadcast before the worst of it; this is way worse than what was showing on the TV.’
Jinwoo had prioritized the weakest member of the party, the rank cameraman, but the rest of the Korean team weren’t in much better shape. The ants had them surrounded, and without a doubt, they would almost certainly have all been killed in a few more minutes.
‘Now, what to do…’
The easiest way to clear away all the ants was obvious: bring out Tusk and have him blast them all away with one giant fireball. Unfortunately, that fireball wouldn’t really discriminate between the ants and the S-rank hunters, which meant that he was just as likely to kill the hunters with the ants. A more…precise option would be required.
Jinwoo briefly pondered the question before he realized the solution.
The enormous shadowy tank slapped his chest as he stepped forward, drew his breath, and let out a roar that filled the chamber.
[Iron used the skill “Provoking Shout”!]
The effect was immediately noticeable. All of the ants who had been swarming the hunters immediately turned towards Iron and charged at him.
Jinwoo slapped Iron on the back, and drew the twin daggers he had acquired from the demon king.
[You have equipped “Demon King’s Dagger”]
The blue blade glittered under the faint light of the chamber.
Hundreds of ants swarmed across the ground, screaming as they charged onto Jinwoo’s position.
In the blink of an eye, Jinwoo vanished from sight.
There was a flash, and a dozen ants. .h.i.t the floor, limp. Then a hundred shadowy forms appeared from nowhere, and the sounds of blades and mandibles, explosions and claws, and of ants screaming as they died, filled the chamber.
Baek Yoon-ho and the other hunters, all injured to some degree, took the opportunity and huddled away in the far corner. The cameraman joined them.
Baek noted, with relief, that everyone seemed to still be breathing. Thanks to Jinwoo – more accurately, thanks to Jinwoo’s summons drawing aggro from the ants, the rest of the hunters had been able to retreat to safety.
Ma Dong-wook panted as he slumped against the wall with one arm around Baek Yoon-ho’s shoulder.
“What’s happening? Who’s fighting right now?”
His eyes stared forward vacantly. Baek grimaced as he noticed how badly they had been wounded. He put his hand in Ma Dong-wook’s.
“Ma…it’s okay now. It’ll be alright.”
Baek’s attention turned back to Jinwoo. Ma couldn’t see who was fighting, but even before Baek had turned see, he could guess who it was.
‘How much power does Sung Jinwoo have?’
He felt relief as he saw Jinwoo and those black soldiers move towards the swarm of ants. Sure enough, Jinwoo began tearing apart the ants that had nearly killed Baek and the other S-rankers like they were paper dolls.
The screams of ants dying so rapidly became dizzying. He sighed in relief.
‘It’s all okay now.’
He had told Ma Dong-wook that, but he hadn’t meant to rea.s.sure the tank. He had meant it to rea.s.sure himself. At this moment, Sung Jinwoo alone felt more reliable than all 20 j.a.panese S-rankers combined. They had hope again.
‘…hmm…I don’t even belong here anymore.’
Baek Yoon-ho sat down next to Ma Dong-wook with a smile. It might have hurt his pride, but all he could do now was sit still and watch Sung Jinwoo.
He gestured at the cameraman, then gestured at Jinwoo.
“Please, make sure you follow him. You’ll see something very interesting soon.”
The Korean team was done – that much was obvious. But, for the cameraman, his work was far from over. What had happened at the Red Gate and the Hunter’s Guild raid…this would be the opportunity to see the power that had made it happen. The cameraman nodded excitedly.
He tried his best to keep his camera pointed at Jinwoo while staying far away from the ma.s.sive melee.
He gulped as he saw the ants swarming around Jinwoo. Then, suddenly, there was a scream from the creatures, and ant bits fell to the ground in heaps.
Jinwoo looked around. He had killed about half the ants in this chamber – about a thousand in total. He felt surprisingly comfortable; in comparison to the highest floors of the demon tower, this was surprisingly easy.
‘I guess I’ll speed this up a little bit then huh.’
He glanced at the bodies all around him, and clenched his fists.
Discord Link: https://discord.gg/N4HXUaY
Translated/Transcribed by Aster0x
Proofread/Edited by Aster0x
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