Cha Hae-In immediately felt something was very wrong as soon as she saw the ant monster leisurely entering the queen's chamber.
'There's... no presence?'
It was almost impossible to locate the creature without keeping her eyes locked on it constantly; that's how difficult it was to sense its presence.
There were only two beings out of all the Hunters and the monsters she met until now, that had this sort of effect on Cha Hae-In. One of them was this ant monster right in front of her eyes, and the other one was....
'….Mister Seong Jin-Woo.'
She inexplicably recalled Seong Jin-Woo, who had finally bared his hidden fangs at Japan's most powerful Hunter a couple of days ago.
What if that man stood in front of her as her enemy?
She couldn't breathe anymore as a crippling chill ran down her spine.
Just imagining it alone caused her expression to harden considerably. The entrance of this unknown ant monster was definitely not good news for the Korean Hunters, who were still deeply fatigued from fighting the ant queen.
"Something's wrong with that monster."
"It feels really creepy."
It wasn't to the extent of Baek Yun-Ho or Cha Hae-In, but other Hunters also felt a certain sense of incongruence here.
It was just a single monster, yet the atmosphere was shifting rather rapidly.
'What should we do?'
Mah Dong-Wook was inwardly worried. When faced with an unexpected situation, a leader had to make a quick decision. Especially so, when they were pressed for time like this.
'It's a monster, so we should just kill it, but....'
Just why was he feeling this enormous sense of unease right now?
While they stood there pondering and hesitating, the ant monster narrowed the distance between them quite quickly. Its movements were so eerily quiet that goosebumps automatically rose up on their skins.
'We don't have the time to hesitate like this.'
By the time Mah Dong-Wook finally managed to suppress the warning bells rung by his instincts and made the next logical decision....
….The monster suddenly disappeared from his view.
Mah Dong-Wook's eyes opened super-wide as he hurriedly scanned his vicinity. The reactions of other Hunters weren't all that different, either.
The cameraman anxiously looking around belatedly located the monster and shouted out.
"It's behind us!!"
The Hunters were startled by this and quickly turned around. With the speed none of them could see, the ant monster had slipped past the Hunters to stand before the dead corpse of the ant queen.
'It went past us?!'
Just like that, the Hunters of the Korean raid team finally got to see what Baek Yun-Ho saw earlier with his 'Eyes of the Beast'.
Thump, thump, thump!
Their heart rate rapidly picked up and their breathing quickened in no time.
'….That's no ordinary monster.'
Cold sweat drops dribbled down Mah Dong-Wook's forehead.
The ant monster quietly stared at the dead queen, not even showing a hint of interest towards the Hunters. But then, it raised its head and....
It began screeching out a beastly howl so terrifying and loud that the entire ant tunnel began shaking from the reverberation.
The cameraman was the first to lose all his strength in his legs.
The other Hunters couldn't withstand the sheer pressure as well, and they began kneeling on the ground one by one. Mah Dong-Wook too carried a look of pure disbelief as he tried to support himself off the ground.
'I... I'm kneeling because of a howl?'
By the time the seemingly-never-ending howl came to an end, the only one standing still was Cha Hae-In and no one else. However, her two legs were wobbling noticeably too, as if standing upright was all she could do at the moment. Obviously, fighting back was out of the question here.
Only then did the ant monster display some interest towards the Hunters. With a clear hostile intent, to boot.
Cha Hae-In's eyes grew wider.
The creature's face was hideously twisted as it turned around to face the Hunters, as if it was expressing its anger at the death of the queen.
She did her best to calmly move her hand towards the hilt of her sword. However, the ant monster was a step faster than the speed of Cha Hae-In drawing her sword from her waist.
The ant monster literally blinked and reappeared right in front of her nose. Cha Hae-In's eyes shook hard. She didn't even have enough time to think about defending herself.
Being struck in the side of her head, Cha Hae-In flew away in a straight line and slammed into a far wall, before powerlessly falling to the ground.
Just one hit, and Cha Hae-In was rendered unconscious. All of her teammates couldn't hide their astonishment after seeing that horrible spectacle. Because... their strongest member had been knocked down in one hit, that was why.
Unfortunately, they didn't have any time to stay shocked like that.
They had confirmed the ridiculous power level of their new enemy. Through their experiences, these Hunters knew very well that their odds of survival would decline further the longer they remained hesitant as they were now.
As the main Tanker, Mah Dong-Wook took a step forward first.
Mah Dong-Wook powerfully bear-hugged the ant monster from behind and strengthened both his arms.
With the strength that could easily uproot a full-grown tree, he squeezed hard at the ant monster's body. Thick veins popped up all over his arms and his neck. Unfortunately...
When the ant monster increased its strength for a bit, both of Mah Dong-Wook's arms fell off, just like that. He fell down to his knees.
Baek Yun-Ho pounced forward.
If he failed to draw that thing's attention away now, then Mah Dong-Wook would be killed off in an instant now that he lacked the means to defend himself.
Baek Yun-Ho gritted his teeth. White fur began sprouting up all over his body; his claws extended and he transformed into a ferocious beast, before pouncing on the monster.
The monster disappeared from the spot again.
Even Baek Yun-Ho's 'Eyes of the Beast' failed to follow the monster's movements.
The scream came from his behind.
This time, it was Choi Jong-In, who was getting ready to cast his magic. The ant monster's long claw left a lengthy, diagonal cut wound on his upper torso, and he fell to the ground with a pained moan.
About five paces from where he was, Im Tae-Gyu had been waiting for an opening while hiding his presence. He immediately fired an arrow containing his magic energy.
'I'll never miss in this distance!!'
His strong self-belief was contained within that shot.
Too bad for him,
A powerful tremor rocked Im Tae-Gyu's eyes.
The ant monster snatched the flying arrow and easily snapped it in half.
Im Tae-Gyu hurriedly tried to nock his next arrow, but by the time he did so and raised his bow, the monster was already standing in front of him.
Im Tae-Gyu was struck in the face and flew away.
Baek Yun-Ho attacked when the ant monster's back was turned away from him, but the back of his head was grabbed by the monster instead, as the creature spun around in an instant. He was planted violently into the ground next.
Baek Yun-Ho's body quivered from the impact.
Just as the ant monster was getting ready to slam Baek Yun-Ho to the ground again, Mah Dong-Wook dashed forward and shoulder charged the creature away.
The ant monster rolled on the ground for a little while, before standing back up. Mah Dong-Wook's arms had been severed for sure only a moment ago, yet he was attacking the creature with all his limbs completely intact.
The ant monster defeated Mah Dong-Wook again, and then, proceeded to defeat other Hunters again, too. Yet, the humans that should've stayed down with crippling injuries were attacking again, all fully healed in the blink of an eye.
Only then did the ant monster begin to recognise the existence of a Healer. The monster scanned the vicinity to find this annoying human.
However, Min Byung-Gu stayed calm under the pressure.
His lone self-defence skill, 'Camouflage'.
He was able to completely hide himself with this skill that was quite similar to the 'Stealth' skill, but there was a drawback to it: He couldn't move from the spot. Even then, that was more than enough for a Healer like him.
He simply had to stand still in one spot and continue to heal his teammates, that was all.
When the healing skill continued to fly in from an unknown place, the ant monster changed its tactic. It selected Mah Dong-Wook who looked the sturdiest among the Hunters, grabbed his leg, and dangled him upside down in the air.
'What is that thing trying to do now??'
Min Byung-Gu was taken aback with great surprise.
The ant monster then proceeded to slowly destroy Mah Dong-Wook. Min Byun-Gu carried on healing him as that happened.
He had no choice there. The moment he stopped healing Mah Dong-Wook, that man would be dead in less than a blink, after all. Sweat poured out in buckets as Min Byung-Gu continued on with the healing magic.
The ant monster traced the continuously-firing healing magic's origin, and then, its head swivelled in Min Byung-Gu's direction.
'It can't be?!'
His heart skipped a beat; he blinked, and the ant monster was gone from the spot.
'What the hell?'
Where did it disappear to this time?
Baek Yun-Ho loudly yelled out.
It happened, then.
Blood sprayed out of Min Byung-Gu.
The pain of being burnt alive came from below, and he took a look down to see a huge hole in his stomach. And the ant monster's black arm emerging out of that hole.
He raised his head in disbelief and met Baek Yun-Ho's gaze.
Min Byung-Gu spoke in a faltering voice.
Baek Yun-Ho tried to get up, but he couldn't put any strength to his wounded leg.
The ant monster tore into Min Byung-Gu's head.
Baek Yun-Ho staggered unsteadily and ran forward. The ant monster discarded the now-headless body of Min Byung-Gu and grabbed Baek Yun-Ho by his neck.
He struggled with all his might, but it was still insufficient to escape from the creature's incredible grip.
Suddenly, the ant monster opened its mouth.
"Hyung.... Run.... Hyung.... Run....."
Baek Yun-Ho was freaked out of his skull, his brows shooting up real high in shock and terror.
The ant monster was perfectly mimicking the speech pattern of Min Byung-Gu. If one subtracted the off-putting crack in its voice, one might even mistake it as Min Byung-Gu's, even.
The ant monster repeated the same words for a long time, before looking straight into Baek Yun-Ho's eyes.
"You are all..... weak."
From the mouth of the ant monster, a familiar language flowed out. It sounded inarticulate, but for sure, it was still undeniably Korean.
Baek Yun-Ho's eyes widened even further.
"This side... Queen, dead..... Killing soldiers..... Not enough payment... your king, who?"
The ant monster strengthened its grip on Baek Yun-Ho's neck.
"Your king... where?"
Baek Yun-Ho's brain kicked into gear.
With the strongest person in the Korean team, Cha Hae-In, still unconscious, he needed to find someone who could buy him and the rest of the group a little bit of time.
And he immediately thought of the Japanese team that had abandoned the Koreans. More specifically, the strongest among the Japanese, Goto Ryuji.
The ant monster raised its head up. It seemed to be searching for something, before speaking again in a satisfied tone of voice.
"...There..... A strong one."
And then, it discarded Baek Yun-Ho as if he was not even worth wasting time on, and disappeared from his sight in a scarcely believable speed.
Baek Yun-Ho lay on the ground and panted out heavily. He quickly took a look around him.
This wasn't the time for this. Before that thing comes back, they needed to get out of here.
While they were engaged in the battle against that ridiculously overpowered monster, the swarm of ants had returned to the ant tunnel and were slowly encroaching upon the queen's chamber now.
Goto Ryuji sheathed his sword back in the scabbard. Corpses of ants were piled up like small hills all around him. At a quick glance, there must've been over a hundred of these creatures.
It was a perfect demonstration of the abilities possessed by Japan's strongest.
"Looks like we've taken care of most of them."
His teammates nodded their heads while admiring the sight of the always-trustworthy Goto Ryuji. They thought that, as long as they stuck by his side, they at least would avoid the fate of getting killed off.
"Sir, I've been told that we'll be the last to withdraw."
The Hunter receiving the transmission from the operations centre relayed the message. Goto Ryuji nodded his head and turned in the direction of the coast.
Goto Ryuji didn't get to finish his sentence.
Because an ant monster suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was now standing before his group, that's why.
With a single glance, Goto Ryuji figured out the capabilities of the new enemy.
'That isn't a normal ant at all.'
His colleagues tried to step forward to help him, but he held them back.
"I'll handle this."
Against an opponent this strong, his colleagues would only prove to be a hindrance, instead. Going at it solo would be simpler for him.
Trusting his judgement, the teammates heeded his order and retreated to a distance while leaving everything on his shoulders. Goto Ryuji unsheathed his sword with a circumspect look on his face.
"An ant.... You seem to possess a pretty strong aura."
Perhaps the ant monster had also sensed his power, because it wasn't budging an inch from the spot.
But, that was to be expected – if that creature displayed even a hint of movement, Goto Ryuji was planning to slice it up into hundreds of fine little pieces.
It was then, the ant monster opened its mouth.
"You are... the king?"
Goto's eyes opened wider.
An ant just spoke a human language!
However, it was already a well-known fact that intelligent monsters conversed in their own languages. So, it wouldn't be a stretch of his imagination to think that a monster would succeed in imitating human's languages.
A smirk formed on Goto Ryuji's face.
'A king, is it....?'
When Association President Matsumoto Shigeo finishes building his empire of Hunters, then indeed, he was the one and only viable candidate to assume the throne, wasn't he?
"That's right. I'm the king."
As soon as the desired answer came out of his mouth, the ant monster fully unleashed its magic energy.
Like failing to realise how big an iceberg was from seeing only its tip, Goto Ryuji misjudged the true power of the enemy from the small portion of its magic energy that leaked out. His eyes imperceptibly trembled.
'This, what is this....?!'
The bone-chilling cold air woke goosebumps up on his skin, and all the hair on the back of his neck stood right up. He had experienced a sensation like this only once before.
Almost at the same time as the ant monster made its move, Goto Ryuji's head fell to the ground.
The Korean team was currently surrounded by the swarm of ants.
Mah Dong-Wook fought; Im Tae-Gyu fought; Choi Jong-In also fought, and even the cameraman had to kill the ants. However, there was seemingly no end to the waves upon waves of ants.
"Pant, pant, pant....."
All sounds had stopped and all Baek Yun-Ho could hear was his own heavy breathing.
'Is this the end?'
He quickly wiped the blood trickling down below his eyebrow with the back of his hand. With their lone Healer-type Hunter gone, they had no avenue to deal with these many monsters now.
This resistance was a futile one, indeed.
Even then, he couldn't bring himself to give up – because, two of his most precious friends had lost their lives in this d*mn place. He definitely didn't want to dig his grave where they were buried, too.
He destroyed the head of yet another ant. However, countless more replaced the dead one and tried to pounce on him.
Baek Yun-Ho powerfully shook off the ants and stood with his back against a wall. Like this, he at least wouldn't get surrounded from all sides now.
He raised his head and searched for other Hunters. His colleagues, who had been fighting alongside him only a moment ago, could no longer be seen, their figures completely buried within the swarm of ants.
No way. He wanted to believe that it wasn't possible....
He bit his lower lip, but then, was jolted out of his senses with a sudden presence appearing behind his back.
He spun around rapidly and threw a punch, but stopped before he reached his target. Because... the one standing behind him wasn't an ant.
'What.... Who is this?'
It was, in fact, a 'soldier' decked out in black full-body armour.
This was his first time seeing one, but then again, he heard plenty of times before about this 'thing' from Park Hui-Jin who had been involved with the Red Gate incident.
Baek Yun-Ho cried out in surprise.
"Why is this thing here?"
It was then.
From the soldier, a familiar voice came out.
< chapter="" 117=""> Fin. 5 Best Chinese Romance Books of 2018 So Far