Chapter 5: Divinity (1)
It had been a week since a gate appeared in the Honam Plains, the region responsible for rice production in South Korea.
The crimson gate, with an average capture difficulty rating of A, was expected to be cleared smoothly as the Phoenix Guild had won the bid for it.
If only the Phoenix Guild had properly executed the capture.
“What on earth happened here!”
Manager Kim Jin-su and Deputy Han Hari flew straight to the Honam Plains on a helicopter. There, they could meet the guildmaster of the Phoenix Guild, Lee Yong-wan.
“Oh, Manager Kim. We have our rookie, Han Hari, with us too?”
Despite the gravity of the situation, he remained nonchalant. Seeing his expression, the two of them had a gut feeling.
‘This b*****d… did it intentionally!’
No doubt about it. The Phoenix Guild intentionally performed poorly in the gate capture to deliberately trigger a dungeon break!
‘After demanding exemption benefits so vehemently, they pull off something like this?’
Friction between the Association and the Phoenix Guild had been frequent recently.
Throughout the year, the Phoenix Guild had persistently demanded exemption benefits for themselves, as one of the top 10 guilds in the country.
They demanded exemption benefits up to 1 trillion won concerning the income generated from gate rewards, magic stone imports, and monster materials.
They justified it as increased expenses for backward cultivation and medical treatment for guild members.
The government, which already provided various benefits to large guilds in the country, expressed its displeasure and rejected Guildmaster Lee Yong-wan’s demands.
One might have expected some kind of retaliation, but to resort to such tactics amidst the chaos caused by the appearance of a black gate after 13 years!
‘Damn bastards! How dare they do this to the Honam Plains! The purification of the Naju Plains hasn’t even been completed, and now they pull off something like this!’
Since the gate incident, global food trade routes had frozen solid.
In the initial gate incident, the vast plains, including the renowned songbird breeding grounds, were contaminated by the mana, and the situation was the same in Korea.
The amount spent on purchasing purification reagents from the Tower was astronomical!
If the farming in the Honam Plains is disrupted immediately, the self-sufficiency rate of food, which had been maintained somehow, would be shattered.
In a state of urgency, Deputy Han Hari made a request.
“Hunter Lee Yong-wan! We need to close the gate right away! It’s been a week already! If it goes beyond that—”
“Yes, I know. The authority for the won bid gate has been transferred. But what can we do?”
Guildmaster Lee Yong-wan taunted the two of them with a sinister smile.
“Our guild members are heavily injured. It seems difficult to proceed with the capture in this state. Our Phoenix Guild will have to give up on the Honam Gate capture.”
The faces of Manager Kim Jin-su and Deputy Han Hari turned red with anger. They wanted to curse at the b*****d in front of them and throw punches, but he was an S-rank hunter.
Even the A-rank hunter, Han Hari, as well as the mere B-rank hunter, Kim Jin-su, could only be considered his subordinates.
“These bastards! Are they saying it’s impossible to capture the gate with so many A-rank hunters?”
“What do you suggest then?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“How did the Association handle the monsters that emerged in the first wave? But you do realize the gate hasn’t completely exploded yet, right?”
Thanks to the staff who were deployed due to the black gate, the Association currently had some leeway.
However, it was only temporary. From the 7th to the 10th day, the gate filled with monsters to the brim would trigger a dungeon break.
In other words, the crimson gate in the Honam Plains hadn’t completely exploded yet.
“Right now, we can’t take away the capture rights of the gate… Why are you acting like this, Manager Kim? According to the Hunter Act, the guild that won the bid maintains the capture rights until the 8th day.”
No matter how much it was the Association, they couldn’t forcibly take away the capture rights of a gate that had already been won. Guildmaster Lee Yong-wan was exploiting that fact.
“We’ll try our best until tomorrow as well. But we have so many heavily injured comrades, so I’m not sure if the capture will go smoothly.”
Han Hari couldn’t hold back her curse. Lee Yong-wan smirked and remained calm.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we reached a mutual agreement? Are we the only ones like this? Heroes like Cheong Sung-ha, Mu Jin, and Sang-eo, who risk their lives to protect this country, can’t even ask for a small benefit?”
“But we already… already received so much support and tax benefits…”
The benefits that the government gave to the large guilds were by no means insignificant. The problem was that these pigs didn’t know how to be satisfied.
“Should we go to Japan then? They promised to treat us much better there than this wretched South Korea.”
Yes, that was the problem.
The battles between survivors and awakened individuals happening all around the world.
The wealthier countries tried to recruit high-ranking hunters to ensure their own safety, even at the cost of diplomatic friction and machinations.
To preserve whatever remaining power they had, the Korean government had tied the large guilds with enormous benefits… but even that had its limits.
“Don’t you… have even a trace of patriotism?”
Even if despising the weak and devouring the strong was considered a virtue in this world, at the very least… shouldn’t there be a minimum of conscience and justice?
“Patriotism? Justice? Those things went out of fashion a long time ago. Why are you being so childish? Hari Yang, do you remember what I said during last year’s draft? In this world, money and power are synonymous with justice.”
Hari trembled with anger, swallowing her rage. This was exactly why she joined the Hunter Association.
The prevailing attitude of Korean hunters who only cared about money and risk, without considering the damage caused to others.
A society devoid of humanity, where justice wavers and mocks those who strive to live righteously.
It was a repulsive reality for a young girl who idolized heroes and wanted to protect people.
But should she acknowledge it? That the world revolves solely around money and power? If she accepts such a miserable reality, where will she find justice?
“How truly despicable and vulgar these authors are.”
That’s when it happened. All eyes turned to the voice that came from beyond.
“Y-Your Majesty Leon?”
“Do not address the king’s name lightly, woman. Only formal titles are permitted to you.”
A man who had followed the two hurried figures, claiming to show them the world. He stood in the gap, as if he had heard the entire conversation.
“And who might you be? You seem European…”
“I am a loyal servant of the king! How dare you mock me with your insignificant tongue!”
Lee Yong-wan, an S-rank dealer, was not only one of the 20 S-rank hunters in South Korea but also the guildmaster of the influential Phoenix Guild.
In an era where a hunter’s power was synonymous with authority and wealth, no one dared to mock him recklessly. But…
“What is this insolence?”
The guildmaster of the influential Phoenix Guild and one of the 20 S-rank hunters being called insignificant? What nonsense was this about a loyal servant of the king?
“I want to die…”
“Stop, Hunter Yong-wan! He is a survivor!”
Upon hearing those words, Lee Yong-wan lowered the magic he was channeling. Yes, a survivor. They were foreigners who came from a different culture than Earth.
Setting aside their cultural differences, survivors held significant value in themselves. Of course, not everyone was like that.
Lee Yong-wan didn’t foolishly antagonize survivors.
“I apologize for my rudeness. I am Lee Yong-wan of the Phoenix Guild. A survivor… Could you be from the Black Gate?”
“A King does not repeat himself.”
The statement silenced Lee Yong-wan, and Leon turned to Hari and Kim Jin-su.
“Explain the problem.”
“Do not make me repeat myself. This King does not have a comprehensive understanding of gates. Summarize the problem concisely and report.”
Hearing this, the two individuals exchanged glances. Leon had shown his determination to personally resolve this issue as a survivor.
“It’s a dungeon break! When a dungeon break occurs, mass mana is released, contaminating the land! In that case, there is a possibility of contamination spreading throughout the Honam Plain! Even now, the spreading mana is polluting the land!”
“What is the solution?”
“We need purification through exorcism and we must clear the dungeon as soon as possible to eliminate the dungeon itself!”
“Understood. The problem involves contaminated land and an expanding gate. Gather the forces. As soon as the deadline for these bird-like creatures or whatever expires tomorrow, I, the king, will personally intervene.”
“Are you serious?”
Leon was at least an S-rank hunter. There was no fool who would refuse assistance from such a powerful individual.
“However, before that…”
The two individuals were willing to accommodate anything he desired. Should they start with weapons? No, he already had his own sword.
It seemed like there was no armor, so perhaps they should urgently go to an auction and acquire some items?
However, what Leon requested was completely unexpected.
“The king of another country cannot engage in military actions in someone else’s territory without permission. First, I must obtain direct approval from the king of this country.”
“What? No, it’s, it’s alright…”
“In all matters, there are proper procedures and protocols. I should send a letter to your king as soon as possible.”
Even the top 10 guilds in the world wouldn’t dare to request an audience with the president. Lee Yong-wan thought in that moment.
‘Isn’t this guy even worse than me?’
* * * *
Fortunately, the president, who was on an overseas trip, did not have to fly to the Honam Plains.
When Leon heard that the president had been informed about his request for support regarding the black gate incident, he was satisfied and ended the brief phone call.
“Your Majesty! We have prepared a fully equipped squad of 50 members under the Hunter Association!”
Han Hari and Manager Kim Jin-su, who had filled the 50-member team required for the official expedition, stood before him armed.
“Good. The deadline for those pesky birds is tomorrow.”
Hari stared at Leon with surprise. Considering his status, it seemed like he would disregard any legal procedures and rush into the gate immediately. His unexpected behavior left her bewildered.
“Do you see this king as a barbarian?”
“What? No, I would never!”
“In civilization, there are laws that govern proper procedures. How can one be called an honorable knight if they do not uphold the laws established by the authority of the nation?”
The association staff were in awe. Leon seized them all at once, displaying his natural leadership.
“Rather than that, have you made the necessary preparations?”
Upon hearing those words, Hari and the association staff couldn’t hide their uneasiness.
“Um… Your Majesty.”
“We have made the preparations as you instructed, but… may I ask, what exactly are these for?”
What Leon commanded were bows and arrows, decorated with trinkets, and pumpkin skulls. He also ordered them to make dolls out of straw.
“The precious land has been contaminated. We must purify the land from the pollution.”
Over a hundred straw dolls were hastily requested by the association staff, who frantically asked “women who have given childbirth” around the city to make them.
“Are those the women who made the dolls?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
Over a hundred women, who were reluctantly dragged along by the association and office staff in the early dawn, stood in line.
The age range varied from young women to middle-aged and elderly women.
“Show me the dolls each of you have made.”
Although there were some murmurs of discontent with the commanding tone, the rewards offered by the association bestowed a sense of leniency upon them.
Leon began inspecting the straw dolls made by the women.
“Hmm… This is absurd.”
“To think that these nonsensical, grotesque figures can be called dolls.”
The first straw doll was flung aside.
“Oh, what’s this?”
“D-do you like it, my lord?”
“It’s like a living doll.”
“I don’t think they’re that well-made─”
“Living with such a pathetic appearance, one would choose death by suicide.”
The second, third, and twentieth dolls were also discarded. It was Han Hari’s turn.
“Hmm? Did you participate as well?”
“Oh, yes! I have some skill in making dolls!”
Indeed, Hari’s doll seemed believable. Despite being made of straw, it had a charming shape and was well decorated.
“Surprising to have childbirth experience.”
“What? Oh, no, I’m not married. It’s fine for any woman to─”
“No, you fool.”
“Oh, no! My doll!”
The brutally torn straw doll was carried away by the wind, disappearing into emptiness.
After such cruel scrutiny, the eighty-ninth and final doll caught Leon’s attention. It was an elderly woman.
“Excellent! Madam, how many children have you borne?”
“Twelve, my lord.”
“Hmm, a true patriot and a source of living life at a young age. Do you have any plans for more children in the future?”
“Well, my inspiration has passed away.”
“Haha, with such abundant vitality like yours, remarriage would certainly be possible. Since you’re still young, take about ten years to carefully consider it.”
“I’ll die before then.”
“Normally, we would dispatch a knight to deliver the rewards and gifts directly to a lady who has borne more than ten children. However, I understand that the circumstances are not favorable.”
Leon kissed the back of the elderly woman’s hand and placed the straw doll on the altar.
“The conditions have been met.”
Leon took something out in front of the prepared items.
As a dimensional space opened, a worn cup, faded in color with gold accents, appeared on his palm. No one could take their eyes off the old cup, as if it emitted a mystical energy.
“You are the mother of a bountiful land. May the children of the earth find solace within the fertility offered by this doll.”
The cup was filled with water. As the cup, filled on its own, was placed in front of the altar, something strange began to unfold.
The water inside the cup began to bubble and surge, as if flowing in reverse, and it surged into the straw doll!
“Wh-what on earth is happening?”
The employees of the association, the women who made the straw dolls, and the guild members of the Phoenix Guild couldn’t take their eyes off the unfolding scene.
The sunset approached.
The red light painted the clouds, signaling the beginning of another repetitive day.
However, on this day, May 24, 2032, the sunset would mark a special beginning for the entire world.
“Lionheart, my child.”
The straw doll stood up. The divine doll, infused with sanctity, affirmed its own existence with a benevolent voice.
“Greetings to the Earth Mother. O divine essence of life and abundance, Demera.”
A divine presence had descended upon this land.