One day, a mechanical but distinctly feminine voice was heard by all humans. This is the voice who later introduces herself as the “Operator”.
[A hunt will soon begin. Prepare for combat.]
And the moment they heard the sentence, every man, woman, and child were teleported to a blank white room alone. The room itself was not large; just slightly over 66 m^3. And in the middle, a large hologram appeared.
Chapter 0 – Living Mannequin
Time Limit: 30 Seconds
A simple information about the enemy appeared, and then
[Annihilate the enemy. If you cannot, you will die.]
A simple ‘rule’ is explained.
[For the first Chapter, just this once, you will be provided with a weapon. Select your weapon.]
[Club], [Broad Sword], [Katana], [Hand Axe], [Long Spear],
[Long bow and Short Sword], [Spiked Gauntlets]
When Sungjin saw this, he said out loud,
And in the next instant, a katana appeared in his hands. It was a Japanese curved single edged sword. Inspecting the weapon, he whispered to himself.
“Wow, it’s been a long time since I last saw this.”
Once the weapon was selected, the operator began a countdown.
[10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0]
After 10 seconds, the billboard disappeared, and the ‘enemy’ described in it was summoned. Chapter 0, Living Mannequin. An eerie doll hung on a cross-shaped wooden stand.
As promised, it was a living Mannequin. It stood there unmoving. Sungjin left the Mannequin alone and gazed at his weapon.
“I have to do this… all over again…?”
Sungjin’s memories flashed before his eyes. Never ending series of battles, constant pressure to kill, and a steady stream of the death of irreplaceable comrades. While Sungjin was preoccupied with his thoughts, the Operator continued to speak.
[20 seconds remaining. Annihilate the enemy. If you cannot, you will die.]
Rows upon rows of sharp steel spikes appeared from the ceiling.
“I can’t do this anymore…”
Sungjin hung his head, shaking it as he stood there. The Operator spoke again.
[10 seconds remaining. Annihilate the enemy. If you cannot, you will die.]
The ceiling, which was now covered in spikes, began coming down. There was no place to hide and nowhere to run. The operator began countdown once more.
[10, 9, 8, 7…]
The ceiling was now low enough to touch by jumping up, but Sungjin did not move. He watched the ceiling approach closer and closer, and thought to himself.
‘This is it? Is this the reward for being the last human to die? I’d rather…’
[6, 5, 4 ]
But before he finished his thoughts, he recalled a promise he made with someone.
“Swear to me! You must…”
Sungjin frowned. And then
He swung the katana he held.
The blade cut through the air and drew a red line on the neck of the mannequin.
[0 You have…]
The moment the Katana cut the mannequin’s neck, the Operator’s voice became garbled as if bugged. The ceiling also stopped in its tracks. In a happier tone than earlier, she announced:
[All monsters eliminated. Closing the chapter.]
Following the announcement, a hologram appeared.
Completion Reward: Status Point 0
Kill Reward: Black Coin 0
Sungjin spoke to himself when he saw the message.
“Yeah… maybe, this time, it will be different.”
Once Sungjin was finished, he was summoned somewhere else.
The place he was summoned to was an enormous hall of an unknown size. And within it was an uncountable number of people.
Regardless of race, all ethnicities were present in the hall. The only interesting fact was that an overwhelming majority were ‘adult men’. The people who were summoned looked panicked and confused.
“What’s going on?”
“Where am I?”
“What is this?”
Sungjin watched with his arms folded over his chest. He reacted the same way as those people the first time he was here.
“Is this some sort of a reality tv show?”
And then, people realized that they could understand one another.
“You know how to speak Chinese?”
“How did you learn Arabic?”
“Hey, are you aware you are all speaking English?”
And the Operator’s voice was heard once more, interrupting everyone’s thoughts.
This time, the voice wasn’t coming from inside their head, but coming from above. People naturally gazed upward to see who was speaking.
Above, a beautiful woman’s face appeared.
[My name is Operator. I am here to welcome you all for becoming representatives of mankind.]
Sungjin smirked when he heard her words.
‘Welcome… what a farce.’
Regardless of what Sungjin thought, the Operator continued to speak.
[This place is called ‘The Hunter’s Hall’. It is where the hopes and dreams of hunters are gathered.] (See notes)
[You are all here as a result of completing the Chapter 0]
[And thereby earning the right to become hunters who will represent all of humanity.]
The reaction from the audience was varied.
“Hunter? What does she mean?”
“Is she talking about that… that thing I just killed?”
“Did you kill that too?”
“Yes. I suppose you saw the same thing?”
Chapter 0 is something akin to a tutorial. Faced with the threat of imminent death, are you able to land the killing blow on the mannequin?
Naturally, elderly, children, and disabled are unable to pass. That’s not all.
“It was much harder than I thought. It kept on screaming so loudly…”
“Yours as well?”
Living Mannequins scream for their life once attacked. Because of this creepy life-like behavior, those with difficulty in taking a life are also eliminated from Chapter 0.
Physically weaker women, and also a small portion of men are part of this group. Someone comments in hindsight.
“I should have stabbed its heart first.”
[Definition of Hunter:]
[Strongest representative of the entire species, living proof of the species’ strength.]
With that said, the image of the Operator changes with that of another location. The image is filled with countless women, children, and elderly.
[This place is the Purgatory. Neither heaven nor hell.]
[Gathered here are all the people eliminated from Chapter 0.]
This is only a guess, but the image on the screen was probably different for every person because people started screaming and shouting once seeing the screen.
“My love… why are you…”
“My Daughter! Give me back my daughter!”
The Operator was showing everyone the people most important to them.
Sungjin swore under his breath, but he didn’t become upset like the others. He was an orphan. The only ‘close’ people he knew were several employees at the orphanage he grew up at, but he didn’t feel emotionally connected to them or their fate.
[Hunters who perish during the hunt will also be moved to the purgatory.]
[If someone completes all objectives and clears the challenges]
[Everyone contained in the purgatory will be returned alive. However,]
[If all hunters fail and are moved to the purgatory]
[All of humanity will be purged.]
Sungjin doubted those words.
‘Purged? If that’s the case, then why send me back?’
Others continued to stare blankly as the Operator continued her explanation. They have yet to understand the gravity of her words.
[Prove your power by overcoming any and all obstacle that stands in your way.]
[And with your own strength, prove the worth of your species.]
[If you fail to do so, Humanity as a specie will be made extinct.]
Whispers among the crowd grew.
“Us? All of humanity?”
Some were expressing anger.
“Who is this bitch?”
But the Operator’s indifferent tone of voice remained unchanged by the people’s reactions.
[Now, the explanations are over.]
[I pray that we will meet again.]
The hall is now completely inundated with insults and expletives.
“You fucking whore!”
“What the fuck did you say?”
Despite the abuse pouring out from the audience, the Operator continued her indifferent speech.
[Hunting will begin shortly. Prepare for battle.]
Despite the deafening roar of insults being thrown at the Operator, Sungjin kept his calm and planned his next move.
‘If things are the same as before…’
Sungjin bit his lip and lifted his katana up to inspect the sword. The blade reflected his gaze back.
Looking into the eyes reflected on the blade, he vowed to himself.
‘This time, I will perfectly clear every chapter.’
Sungjin fixed his grip on the Katana and prepared himself. Moments later, he was teleported away from the Hunter’s Hall.
The part about “hopes and dreams of ________ are gathered” is reference to Magical girl anime, like Sailor moon. It is a very hopeful and lighthearted way to say that the place is special, which is funny because this place is where people come to kill or face extinction.