Solo Leveling Novel, Chapter 136
Solo Levelingi 136
Ber began .
In a sense, Jinwoo’s orders were simple: defeat Cha Haein, but don’t physically harm her . In another, they were simply contradictory: fight and win, but do not injure .
But Ber understood . He had once been the ant king, the pinnacle of his species . He knew how to crush an opponent without lifting a finger .
‘I will destroy her fighting spirit . I will show her the insurmountable gap between us, and she will give up . ’
In an instant, Ber disappeared from Cha Haein’s sight . Before she could even register what had happened, she suddenly became aware of Ber standing right in front of her . She jumped backwards in shock .
“ . . . !”
Instinct and training took over from surprise . She swung, without thinking . A beautifully choreographed sequence flowed from her blade . A dozen slashes in the span of a second, masterfully chained .
Without taking a single step from where he stood, Ber easily avoided every attack . Every movement was perfectly precise, without any waste, as if he had an eternity to wait for each of her attacks .
Except her swings were timed in milliseconds, and he moved so much faster it left afterimages in her wake .
She was an S-rank Hunter . He made her look like a toddler fighting a pro boxer .
Panic rose inside Cha Haein’s mind . Her eyes trembled in disbelief as she saw how easily he avoided her .
‘It’s dodging all of my attacks at this distance without moving its feet?’
She thrust forward at the ant’s neck . Ber leaned back, casually, as if he were merely playing limbo . Her blade met only air, again . He looked up at her condescendingly . She felt her pride collapsing . No matter how quickly she attacked, no matter which angle she chose to approach from, he had dodged everything she had thrown at him with ease . He wasn’t even fighting her . He was just toying with her .
‘How . . . ?’
And to top it all off, it wasn’t even a real magic beast . It was merely a summon which borrowed power from a corpse, and it was overwhelmingly powerful .
‘Sung Jinwoo-ssi freely controls a summon like this…’
Fear seeped into her mind, poisoning her strength, sapping her will . Her movements dulled, ever so slightly . Ber did not overlook this opening .
She swung again, but this time, instead of simply letting the sword move past him, Ber slapped the edge away with the back of his hand . The force sent Cha Haein stumbling backwards . With the tip of her sword tossed aside, the ant king rushed forward, opening his mouth mere inches from Cha Haein’s face . A stench of death filled her nostrils .
‘It’s over . ’
With the giant mandibles looming in front of her, she could not help but scream .
Fortunately for Cha Haein, Jinwoo had explicitly instructed Ber not to harm her . Instead of clamping those mandibles down on her head, it simply paused, and let loose a terrifying roar .
The scream, infused with magic power, sent Cha Haein tumbling back .
Jinwoo furrowed his brows and frowned . As he had expected, he felt growing dissatisfaction in his stomach at the idea of watching a fight which was so one- sided it was practically bullying .
He cocked his head to the side as he saw Cha Haein stand up once more, and raise her blade towards Ber once more, a look of determination across her face .
‘What is she thinking? Did I . . . misjudge her?’
The Cha Haein he knew was not so egotistical that she could not accept an existence stronger than her own, so it was not for pride that she stood again . Plus, on top of that, Cha Haein had never been stupid; she wouldn’t rush forward to certain death .
‘Which means . . . she’s got something up her sleeve?’
An uneasy feeling swept over Jinwoo . As the shadow soldiers were all connected to him, Jinwoo could feel how much effort Ber was expending simply to suppress his murderous desires at the moment . But Cha Haein looked surprisingly determined, given her apparently hopeless situation, and it worried Jinwoo . Ber would not take a slight like that lightly, which meant that the fight had the potential for getting seriously out of control .
‘I hope she’s making the right call . ’
‘ . . . ?’
Ber did not understand the woman’s decision . He had just repeatedly shown her how vast the gap in their abilities was, and yet, she persisted in her challenge . Why? She had to know it was pointless; he could kill her in an instant if he tried, and she couldn’t even touch him .
The ant king who once stood at the pinnacle of existence began to feel a rage boiling inside at the arrogant defiance of this pathetic female, who would’ve been no more than mere food to him in his past life . Enough . He would not stand for insolence any longer .
Again, he stepped forward, appearing in an instant in front of the female Hunter . This time, the woman neither stepped back nor drew her weapon . He leaned forward until he was inches from her face, and stared into her eyes .
His gaze was cold, violent, hateful . Hers was scared and shaken . When two living beings’ eyes met, they could tell, just from a glance, who was the prey and who was the predator . It was a warning, borne of primal instinct . Ber had intended to awaken this instinct within her and crush her fighting spirit .
Unfortunately, he failed . As Jinwoo suspected, Cha Haein had one last trick up her sleeve, and now was when she would use it .
‘Sword Dance . ’  This was the skill that Cha Haein had the most confidence in . A flurry of swings, each flowing into the next with hypnotic rhythm . At the center, stood Cha Haein, her blade knifing through the air in elegant arcs as she glided across the floor, like a ballerina twirling her wand .
*clang!* *clang!* *clang!*
Into that cacophony of steel, Ber strode, almost casually . He held a single pinky up, letting his nail deflect each of Cha Haein’s attacks with a disdainful indifference .
Undeterred, Cha Haein continued her pointless assault . Ber scrunched his face in annoyance at her continued defiance .
‘Enough playing around . ’
He effortlessly plucked the sword from the air and held it in his palm for a brief moment, before crushing the blade in his hand .
The top of the sword shattered, leaving only a broken blade attached to a hilt . But, to Ber’s surprise, in the moment where she should have despaired, her eyes flashed with cold fury .
She had anticipated that Ber would attempt to break her sword, and, once he did, he would assume the fight was over, and relax his guard substantially . In that brief moment before he could realize what she had up her sleeve, she would have her chance to strike .
‘I only have one shot at this!”
Cha Haein gathered all of her magic power into what remained of the sword .
‘Sword of Light!’ 
This was her trump card: a skill so powerful that it could end the fight in a single instant, and so mana-intensive it could only be used once anyways . She had reserved it for just this moment .
A brilliant light enveloped the broken blade . In the fraction of second before Ber could recover, Cha Haein ducked in under his guard and thrust her sword straight into his chest .
Jinwoo’s eyes widened .
The golden sword pierced through the darkness that was Ber .
But Ber was not the one Jinwoo was worried about .
Even as Cha Haein tore into Ber’s body, a thousand thoughts raced through his mind .
‘This woman is an enemy . ’
It did not matter if Ber’s body was harmed, or even if, somehow, it were killed . But if he fell, then nothing would stand between this woman and his lord . At that moment, the basic instinct that had been engraved deep inside his subconscious, the instinct he shared with all the other shadow soldiers, activated .
PROTECT THE KING!
In that instant, his mind went blank . Restraint no longer mattered to Ber: in order to protect his master, he became a monster . His body grew, becoming bigger than Cha Haein, bigger even than Jinwoo, as magic energy surged into him . His mandibles enlarged, clicking together with a fierce impatience . His nails extended into terrifying blade-like claws .
The ant leapt forward . Incomparably faster than before, he rushed forward before Cha Haein could react . Ten wicked blades sprung from his hands, and he brought them down on her defenseless form .
Cha Haein froze, closing her eyes in front of inevitable death, and then –
She opened her eyes . The claws had stopped, mere inches from her face . A powerful hand, backed by a muscular arm, held the ant king’s shadowy wrists firmly in place .
“Ber . I told you to stop . ”
Jinwoo’s eyes flared with anger as he spoke . As Ber met Jinwoo’s gaze, the ant king began trembling furiously . He leapt backwards, and, without removing the sword still embedded in his stomach, slammed his forehead to the ground again and again .
“Y-your majesty, mercy…”
Jinwoo sighed . It was, at the end of the day, a mere unfortunate accident . Ber hadn’t ignored Jinwoo’s orders, at least not of his own volition . The instinctive order in his head to protect Jinwoo was so strong that Jinwoo could feel Ber’s thoughts echo in his own mind . He glared at Ber a bit further before turning to Cha Haein .
It was only for a brief moment, but Cha Haein had seen her inevitable death at the hands of an overwhelming power . She collapsed to the ground, trembling .
“Are you alright?”
As Jinwoo approached her, Cha Haein tried to stand, but her legs lost strength each time . Her cheeks mottled with embarrassment, she simply lowered her gaze and nodded .
“ . . . yes . ”
‘What do you mean, “yes”? Man . . . ”
Jinwoo helped her up and continued his questions .
“Why are you willing to go through all of this? Surely you don’t have to join my Guild specifically?”
“ . . . ”
It had merely been a test – no, to be more accurate, it was even less than that; a complete farce that he had improvised on the spot for the sole purpose of keeping her from being able to join . And yet, far from dissuading her, it appeared that it had only made her more determined than Jinwoo thought possible . To think that she would even go as far as to use a hidden trump card like that, all for a test!
‘That goes way beyond mere competitive spirit . Hmm . . . well, perhaps . . . ?’
“Hmm . . . is it maybe . . . ”
Jinwoo spoke carefully, hoping not to upset Cha Haein .
“ . . . do you like me or something?”
Cha Haein turned (a little too quickly, in Jinwoo’s opinion) to face him, with a shocked look on her face, as if she were dumbfounded by his question . Jinwoo tilted his head, puzzled .
‘Oh? Was that not it?’
There was a tense silence, as Cha Haein appeared to gather her thoughts . Jinwoo noticed a blush mottle her cheeks .
“ . . . yea, I think so . ”
[The U . S . Federal Bureau of Hunters Headquarters]
The director sat in the meeting room with his hands crossed over his chest and anger written over his face . He had heard the recruitment of the Hunter Sung Jinwoo had somehow failed, and the displeasure showed . Instead of bothering with an official report, he had decided to simply call the deputy director to a meeting to explain himself . A recruitment attempt that made use of Lady Selner’s powers had never before failed in the history of the FBH .
The man arrived with Lady Selner in tow . The director didn’t even give him a chance to sit down .
“Alright . What happened?”
The deputy director’s expression darkened as he lowered his head .
“I have no excuse, sir . ”
“I didn’t ask you here for an apology . ”
The director pressed a button, instantly locking the doors and turning the glass walls an opaque black . The room was now sealed from the rest of the facility . In order to avoid any possible information leak, it was the FBH’s policy that any conversations involving Lady Selner were to be done strictly in person, with no electronics at any point, in a secured room if possible . As such, the director had no idea what had happened in Korea .
“Tell me what happened . ”
The deputy director briefly glanced at Lady Selner, who nodded slowly . The man began to speak .
“Lady Selner performed an ‘Observation’ of Hunter Sung Jinwoo . ”
The director already knew, in depth, how Lady Selner’s abilities worked, and he also knew that the result of this ‘Observation’ would basically determine the success or failure of the recruitment attempt .
“Hunter Sung Jinwoo is…”
The deputy director trailed off, his mouth dry from nervousness . The man swallowed, licked his lips, and continued .
“A person worthy of being called a ‘King’ . ”
The director immediately shot up from his chair . This was not a title lightly given . Of all the S-rank Hunters Lady Selner had met in the past, she had called only three of them “A King . ” She had never been wrong: each one of them wielded power and influence on par with the most powerful nations on Earth; indeed, one could even say they each ruled over part of this planet like a kingdom . They were, truly, the pinnacle of Hunters . And if Lady Selner had just put Jinwoo in the same category as those three . . .
The directory turned to the lady .
“Does that mean Hunter Sung Jinwoo has the power of a Nation-level Hunter?”
The woman shook her head .
The director furrowed his brows, confused and frustrated at Lady Selner’s response . The deputy director understood his frustration; he had asked the exact same question, and gotten the exact same response . The woman sighed .
“Let me . . . try to explain . ”
Both men remained silent . She continued .
“First, you’re both aware of exactly how my power works, correct?”
Without missing a beat, both men nodded . The director opened his mouth first .
“You’ve told us that Awakened Beings are connected to an unknown power from an unknown source . That’s what gives them their abilities . ”
Lady Selner nodded in agreement . When she looked into the eyes of an Awakened Being, she was able to sense the ‘tunnel’ that connected the Awakened Being to the ‘other side . ’ In exactly three instances, she had felt so much power pouring in from the other side that it was like staring into the sun itself: a blinding light, overwhelming all of her senses . These three were the ones fit to be called “A King . ”
“So what did you see with Sung Jinwoo’s tunnel . ”
“He doesn’t have a tunnel . ”
Both men blinked in confusion . The lady trembled, as if recalling a nightmare . Her voice shook as she spoke .
“When I looked into his eyes . . . it was like the darkness within him was staring back at me . Oh god . . he was darkness incarnate . ”
The deputy director spoke up timidly .
“Err, but he helped a lot of people as a Hunter . I don’t think he’s evil . . . ”
It was his honest opinion . If Hunter Sung Jinwoo had possessed a shred of evil, the two FBH employees who had stupidly pointed a gun at him would’ve died in that room . But Sung Jinwoo had seemed willing to overlook the incident without any further issues .
Lady Selner shook her head in disagreement .
“I’m not talking about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, or what kind of man Hunter Sung Jinwoo is, deputy director . ”
She continued, her eyes resolute .
“I’m talking about where his power comes from . ”
The director stroked his chin .
“But, Sung Jinwoo is a strong Hunter, correct?”
The woman nodded, before pausing, as if to gather her thoughts .
“It’s not just that Hunter Sung Jinwoo is a strong Hunter . It’s where he gets his power . He doesn’t borrow power from the other side . Instead of having power pour into him through a tunnel, he uses his own power . The size of the tunnel limits how much power can flow through right? Without a tunnel, he -”
“Doesn’t have a limit . ”
The deputy director blurted it out . Now it all made sense . Even a ‘King’ possessed only so much power; no matter how overwhelming vast it might seem . But if Hunter Sung Jinwoo possessed a limitless power? It would be hard to even imagine what that would look like . He turned to the director as comprehension dawned upon the two men . They shared wide eyed looks, before a thoughtful expression returned to the director’s face . A few moments later, the man nodded, as if he had made a decision in his mind .
“My lady, we thank you for your efforts . ”
He bid farewell to Lady Selner, before stopping the deputy director as he exited, and motioning for the man to follow instead .
“Director, where are we going?”
“Basement Level 9 . ”
“Oh? The archives?”
“It’s not just the archives down there . There’s something else . ”
The elevator continued its slow descent . The director continued his explanation .
“Clearly, we can’t use Lady Selner’s powers to recruit him . But that doesn’t mean we just give up . We’ll have to find an alternative method . ”
A young man, with literally unbounded power .
If Hunter Sung Jinwoo really had the limitless power that Lady Selner had told them, regardless of whether it was the power of light or the power of darkness, the FBH had to acquire him . Korea may not have any intention of using Sung Jinwoo for political ends, but even if someone raised a sword solely for self- defense, everyone else would still see it as drawing a deadly weapon . The director of the FBH wanted the sword known as “Sung Jinwoo” .
They reached the 9th level of the basement . With just a hint of impatience, the director strode through the elevator doors and began making his way deep into the complex, quickly opening each locked door the pair passed . A few employees greeted them as they walked by, but the director didn’t even bother to glance at them as he hurried past .
“Do you remember the first S-rank Gate ever?”
“Of course . ”
Who wouldn’t? Who could forget the worst Dungeon Break that had ever occurred, anywhere? The Gate, and ensuing Dungeon break, had resulted in the destruction of a large portion of the Western US . During that time, the US had offered an astronomical sum to the strongest Hunters in the world to induce them to help . Ultimately, they had succeeded in killing the boss and limiting the damage, but at a near-Pyrrhic cost . The boss had slain dozens of the world’s highest ranked Hunters, and only five S-rank Hunters had survived the attack . If it hadn’t been for their sacrifices, the United States of America might have been entirely destroyed .
After the boss was finally defeated, the five Hunters who had saved the US obtained a level of power and influence on par with most G-20 nations . Over time, they became known across the world as “Nation-level Hunters . ”
The deputy director shuddered as he recalled the name of the magic beast that had precipitated the worst disaster in the history of the US .
“The Dragon Kamish . . . ” 
The Mage-class Hunters had said that “Kamish” had meant unending flames . 
Finally, the pair reached a tiny room, hidden in a deep, dark corner of the level; the most secluded, heavily guarded room in the entirety of the FBH headquarters . The director opened one final door . Inside the room was a tiny stone with a rune inscribed on it . The deputy director nearly jumped when he saw it .
“Is this . . . ?”
“Yes . ”
The director placed a hand on the reinforced glass that protected the Runestone and smiled .
“It is the Runestone that came from Kamish’s corpse . ”
After the Kamish Raid, as it became known, had ended, two of the Nation-level Hunters who had survived took up a permanent residency within the US . In some twisted sense, these two were the gift that Kamish had left the United States .
Shortly afterwards, the United States vowed to never let such a disaster occur ever again, and created the Federal Bureau of Hunters, investing countless sums of money and man-hours into their efforts to obtain and train the best Hunters from around the world . In the meantime, as none of the five Nation- level Hunters were Mage-class Hunters, Kamish’s Runestone had sat in this tiny room, in the cold, dark basement of the FBH, waiting for an owner who could unleash its power .
Eight years had passed since the Kamish incident . The director’s smile broadened as he continued to stare at the Runestone .
“I think . . . it’s time Kamish left our country another gift . ”
: “Sword Dance” (검무): Pretty literal .
: “Sword of Light” (빛의 검): Pretty literal
: “Kamish” (카미쉬): proper noun; “ka” 카 + “mi” 미 + “shi” 쉬
: Throwback to a brief concept noted during Double Dungeon arc, where it was noted that only Mage-class Hunter could read Runic . It seems that Mage-class Hunters receive some sort of an other-worldly knowledge when they awaken .
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Solo Leveling Novel Chapter 136
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