Book 2: Chapter 28
“That’ll be all for today.”
When Lukas said those words, Leo collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
His entire body shook heavily like tree leaves in a strong breeze. His lungs felt like they would have climbed up his throat just so that they could fill themselves with the air they desperately desired.
How much did he sweat? His throat was parched.
He was so exhausted that his body felt like a dried carcass in a desert. If his sweat were to dry at this moment, he was half sure that salt flakes would fall like when sea water evaporated.
Leo had never neglected even a day of training in his life. He always tried his best when training, and if he felt that there was something lacking, he wouldn’t hesitate to push his body even further.
But today’s training with Lukas was different.
It wasn’t just his body. Lukas persistently and brutally attacked his mind as well.
“Move! Use your head! Don’t stop thinking!”
“Fool! Is that the only thing you could’ve thought of after squeezing your brain? Do you really think that’s the best choice?”
“Why didn’t you reach your arm out? You shrank away from something as simple as a shake of a hand.”
Lukas didn’t miss even the smallest mistakes. And Leo couldn’t refute him because nothing he said was wrong.
Leo grit his teeth and constantly look for better moves, but he was always met with harsh criticism.
He had felt that he didn’t have a weak will in front of anything but the Demons, but after listening to that constant abuse for an entire night, his brain felt like a wet rag.
But… it was still worth it.
The most terrible part was what came at the end.
“Focus from now on. If you can’t endure it and pass out… I’ll kill you.”
With those words, Lukas’ aura changed.
The invisible pressure that Lukas exuded seemed to penetrate his entire body. Not just his skin and muscles, even his internal organs could feel it.
Even breathing became painful.
His entire body shook.
Fear similar to when he faced a Demon filled his body. No. It might have even been greater.
‘Die. I’m going to die. He will tear me to pieces and kill me…’
The only thought resounding in his head was his inevitable death.
Lukas didn’t move.
He just stood in place and released his aura.
But that alone was enough to make Leo panic.
The shaking got worse. He felt like his brain was slowly melting. It was like lava was flowing around his skull.
His thoughts had already gone blank. He didn’t even know if he was still standing.
How long had it been? How much longer did he have to endure this torture?
He couldn’t breathe.
He’d reached the limit.
Leo’s face gradually began to turn white.
— He would really… die…
Just as Leo’s eyes were about to roll back into his skull.
The pressure disappeared.
Leo’s body collapsed to the ground and became what it was now.
His breathing still hadn’t calmed, but Lukas spoke briefly.
“Today is just a taste.”
“I will increase the intensity tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.”
Fear blossomed on Leo’s face.
When he saw this boy looking up at him with an expression of fear, Lukas felt a thread of sympathy in his heart, but his voice was still cold.
“If you don’t return by midnight, I’ll take it that you’ve given up.”
Then, he left the room.
He didn’t give any comfort or encouragement. What Leo Freeman needed was not warmth.
He was a wildflower. The harsher the winds blew, the more barren the ground was, the more violent his environment, the more beautifully he would bloom.
Lukas’ gaze sank.
He had to go to a very important place now.
* * *
There was an unprecedented scene in the Chinese Branch of the Hunter Association’s Headquarters in Beijing, China.
Most of the association’s heroes who represented East Asia had gathered in the conference room, which could seat hundreds of people.
In terms of influence, the people in this room were completely mind-blowing.
The Great Shaolin Master, Warrior Nun(1), and Sword Saint of Mount Hua.
Hwarang(2) Leader, Heaven and Earth Fighter, and Bow God.
Ying Yang Warrior, Beastman, The Black Armor General, etc…
(TL: I decided to translate the names since you wouldn’t really understand if I just romanised them, that’s why some of them sound strange.)
They were all representatives of the different regions, and they were heroes who received explosive support from the hunters and the public.
And there were two exceptionally young and extremely powerful beings among these heroes.
Heavenly Dragon, Kim Go-hyuk, and the Earthly Dragon, Kano Aya.
Two of the Three Dragons who protected East Asia were attending the meeting.
The Heavenly Dragon, Kim Go-hyuk, looked around and grinned.
“Hey. This is quite the sight. What’s going on? Are we picking the East Asia team for an All-Star Game?”
“If we really were called here for such a stupid thing, I’ll punch someone. I pushed aside my busy schedule to come here. I had to cross a sea.”
While Aya grumbled, Kim Go-hyuk looked around before tilting his head to the side.
“I don’t see Lee Jong-hak. I heard he’s still alive, so why didn’t he come? There’s no way he wasn’t called as well.”
Without him, it felt like something was missing.
In fact, that was simply the impact that Lee Jong-hak had on those around him.
“It’s said that he’s currently on a mission in Europe. He’s always wanted to be on the frontlines, and now, he can do it under the guise of repaying his debts. So he’s like a fish in water.”
“Oho, that guy’s a real hero. No wonder he easily took first place in the East Asia Popularity vote.”
“What the hell is that?”
“Haven’t you seen the questionnaire? For your information, you’re 4th place. I’m 12th, so I think I need to improve my look.”
“I don’t think that’s why your ranking is so low.”
Kim Go-hyuk simply chuckled when Aya spoke in a sarcastic voice.
Then the door opened and an old man appeared. The chatter in the room disappeared in an instant.
At first, they couldn’t recognize him because his appearance was very different from the last time they saw him.
The Great Shaolin Master couldn’t help but mutter in a soft voice.
“President Cha Gung-hwan?”
Only then did these people realise that this old man was Cha Gung-hwan, President of the Chinese Branch.
‘What’s going on?’
It had only been a few months since she last saw him, but he’d aged so much it was like a few years had passed instead.
Gone was the impression of a strong middle-aged man. Instead, he only looked like an old man who was about to cross over to the other side at any moment.
It wouldn’t be a lie to say that everyone’s attention was focused on Cha Gung-hwan, whose expression was abnormally tense.
“Thank you for putting aside your busy schedules to come here today. Not everyone could make it, but I think we have roughly everyone we need.”
“This is the second time the President has called for an emergency meeting. What the hell happened?”
When the Nun asked this question in a blunt tone, Cha Gung-hwan responded with a slightly shadowed face.
“He will tell you the details.”
At that moment, most of the heroes seated in the room leapt from their seats.
“What the hell?!”
Cha Gung-hwan pointed to a place that should’ve been empty, but when they looked, a man was sitting there.
It was a man with blue hair and an emotionless expression.
He looked at those who’d gotten up before saying.
Those who had jumped to their feet were forced to sit down, as though pressed by an invisible force.
All those who were gathered there were those who wouldn’t be frightened by high-ranking Demon nobles but who would instead draw their swords with great spirit. But now, they had been forced to sit with one word from a man whose identity was still unknown.
There were some who grit their teeth and tried to withstand the pressure, but they didn’t last very long. This was because it felt like their bodies would crumble if they resisted any further.
The man then spoke in a cold voice.
“From today on, you’ll obey me.”
“Who are you?”
When the Sword Saint asked this in a forced voice, the man spoke nonchalantly.
“Nodiesop. I don’t want much from you. Obey me, and I will lead your people-”
“You son of a bitch…!”
Nodiesop turned to the man who cut him off.
It was the Black Armor General. He was a man who wore large black armor that didn’t reveal even a bit of skin. He was one of Japan’s greatest heroes, and he was known for his exceptional sword skills.
Cha Gung-hwan hurriedly tried to restrain him with a pale face.
“Black Armor General! Stop!”
“It’s you who should stop! President Cha Gung-hwan. Who is this man? Did you just call us here to have him insult us?!”
The Black Armor General spoke in a fiery tone.
“Answer me! Who are you?!”
“I am Nodiesop.”
“I was asking about your identity, not your name!”
Nodiesop stared at the Black Armor General.
After a while, a soft smile appeared on his lips.
“My identity? Fine. Since you want to know, I will show you.”
“Y-, you can’t! Stop! Nodiesop!”
Cha Gung-hwan desperately tried to stop him, but it was too late.
“U-, uk… urk…”
“Wh-, what’s going on?”
‘What are you doing?”
Pujik, pujik, pujik…
An eerie sound could be heard from within the armor.
They didn’t know what was happening inside it.
Suddenly, following a popping sound, the Black Armor General fell to his knees.
Blood trickled from the gaps in the armor.
“H-, he’s dead!”
Despite the threat of death, the heroes glared at Nodiesop.
But that was all. As if they had been bound by an invisible force, they still couldn’t move their bodies.
“What the hell did you do?”
“Didn’t he ask who I was? I just told him.”
It was at that moment when the armor, which had still been maintaining a human shape, fell into pieces.
“Such a thing…”
The Black Armor General within the armor had become a ball of blood. His entire body had exploded like a balloon.
‘He became like this just for asking his identity?’
Aya’s expression became hard.
She tried to calm her pounding heart.
In her opinion, Nodiesop was way more powerful than any Demon she had ever encountered. His power completely surpassed human perception.
But it was Cha Gung-hwan’s expression that truly caught her attention. He bowed his head beside Nodiesop with a sorrowful look on his face.
‘Is this the reason Cha Gung-hwan called us here?’
To make them submit to that man?
“What do you want?”
It was the Great Shaolin Master who spoke in a heavy tone.
Nodiesop responded as though he was waiting for this question.
“I want you to find a man. It would be good if you could bring him to me, but if that’s impossible, just telling me his location would suffice.”
“A man…? Who are you talking about?”
Nodiesop spoke with a cold expression on his face.
1. Nun in this case is referring to a female monastic in buddhism, or a ‘Bhikkhuni’. As Bhikkhuni or Buddhist Nun are quite the mouthful, I settled for nun.
2. Hwarang was basically a group of youth(usually handsome) from ancient Silla(one of the past Korean kingdoms) who were trained under the guise of strengthening their body and mind. But in truth, the main purpose of the group was to train highly capable soldiers.)