Chapter 38: Let’s Go! (3)
“I heard later that there was some trouble at the Shahnaz camp,” Eshnuna said monotonously. She explained that there were originally two candidates for Shahnaz’s succession: Shahnaz Hawa and her older sister Shahnaz Hayi. However, a couple of days before the D-Day, they heard reports that Hayi had suddenly deserted the camp, and the Shahnaz camp couldn’t find her anywhere.
“I mean, it’s understandable how angry she must have felt. Not only was her position stolen by Hawa, but she had to also become a sacrifice in a ceremony that her sister performed.”
“Are you saying…that Ms. Hawa’s sister had brought the broken beings to commit revenge?”
“That’s probably what happened.” Eshnunna stared at the empty s.p.a.ce before her. “The day before the attack, the only ones who knew of the plan were the recruits, me, and a couple of people from the Shahnaz camp.” And yet the broken beings had ambushed the recruits the day before the D-Day.
“Of course, Hayi could have simply failed to understand Shakira and run away. But whatever her intention was, there’s a high possibility that she was connected to the first arrival of the broken beings.”
Chi-Woo fumbled through his memories.
[I want to live. Let me live, have mercy…!]
[Help..! Granny…! Please…!]
[You d.a.m.n hag—!]
[I will kill them! Kill them all! I will kill this d.a.m.n b.i.t.c.h and shred the rest of you to pieces—!]
He nodded, recalling what the vengeful spirit that possessed Hawa had screamed. If the vengeful spirit’s true ident.i.ty was Shahnaz Hayi, Eshnunna’s story held validity.
“Then the fifth recruits…”
“Most of them died at that time. And those who survived were dragged away.”
“Dragged away? Where to?”
“Those beings had a deep interest in the existence of heroes and a slight fear of the unknown.”
Although Chi-Woo hadn’t directly talked to these beings, he remembered the powerful and malicious energy he felt when he touched a cursed being. It was enough to make the hair all over his body stand on end, and he still remembered the intense feeling.
“Those beings desire only one thing: they want me to gather as many creatures from other Worlds as possible and further increase their number,” Eshnunna said. “In other words, they want me to be their ranch manager.”
“That’s essentially what I’ve been doing. I gather as many animals as I can find, take care of them, feed them…”
Chi-Woo was so shocked that he thought he must be mishearing things, but he soon regained composure and asked, “But if their purpose isn’t to kill them…why are they doing this? What is their purpose…?”
“I don’t know,” Ehnunna replied simply. “There’s one thing I’m certain about, though. I don’t know why they do what they do, and I shouldn’t be privy to the knowledge.”
“Do you know the situation we’re in on Liber?” Eshnunna asked apropos of nothing after Chi-Woo fell into silence.
“We are livestock, no different from caged beasts.” Just like animals, they were to be tamed and raised in a confined community. “Of course, for livestock, we receive quite superb treatment. We’re allowed to prioritize ourselves as long as we serve them, while a majority of our people had died in the attack.” The current population on Liber is less than 10% of what it was. Taking into account those who are imprisoned or kept in confinement to reproduce, we’re left with about half of the remaining population.
“Considering that,” Eshnunna said, “How do you think those beings would see heroes like you, who have come from other worlds?”
“As food, you’re the ultimate delicacy, difficult to hunt. As pets, you’re the ultra-rare exotic pets.” Eshnunna shrugged. “Where do you think that leaves us then? We’re neither special nor rare, and we can’t do anything more than beg and wag our tails to them in exchange for mercy.” A faint smile tugged at her lips. “Rather than trying to figure out what they are thinking and angering them in the process, we have to show them we are useful by following all their orders.” Eshnunna’s smile didn’t look gleeful, but empty and helpless instead. “That’s the only way we can stay on their good side and receive our treats.”
Chi-Woo let out the breath he had been holding. Although he had a rough idea, the situation was more serious than he had thought. In Earth’s terms, they were as good as animals like dogs, cats, chickens, and cows. No, considering everything he had heard up to this point, that might be too generous an a.n.a.logy. They were probably at the bottom of the lowest level of the food chain, and the same was true of the hero recruits. With their powers stripped away, they weren’t much different from the natives.
“Were the sixth recruits not much different from the fifth?”
“They were a bit different.” Eshnunna snorted. “I had some expectations for them, but after dealing with the sixth recruits, the fifth recruits were practically saints in comparison.” Not only were their abilities nullified, but their personality and behavior also left much to be desired.
Chi-Woo let out a humorless laugh. He didn’t know how terrible the sixth recruits were, but there was something else he needed to know.
“What happened to them?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are they still alive? Or were they like the fifth recruits…”
Eshnunna huffed out a soft breath and shook her head. “I can’t…say for certain, but I did take all of them to those beings.” Unlike the fifth recruits, a very small number of whom had survived, she had turned over all the sixth recruits alive.
‘Why?’ Chi-Woo wondered about the difference between them, and the answer came to him after a moment. Eshnunna had told him that the broken beings feared the high place where the fifth hero recruits came from. Why would they have captured the sixth recruits with this fear of the unknown?
‘That doesn’t sound like something an evil spirit would do.’ Perhaps something about the fifth recruits scared them. Then he recalled the hero from the fifth recruits he heard had disappeared—the sorcerer who first realized the nature of the broken beings. According to other people, the hero claimed to be unable to do much other than seeing the broken beings; however, it was difficult to tell if that was the truth. There was a good possibility that the sorcerer could feel their fear and finish some of them off. Perhaps the hero had been letting Eshnunna reign in control while keeping watch from behind the scene, acting independently in risky situations, and ambus.h.i.+ng some of the broken beings when convenient.
‘Without cooperating with the natives, the sorcerer could be going after the mutated beings by themself…’
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Chi-Woo reorganized the information he had gained from his conversation with Eshnunna. These guys were certainly no idiots, nor were they simply vengeful spirits that only acted upon their instincts. Perhaps they were capable of forming communities and engaging in complex social activities, and they were trying to do something after gathering the recruits. Chi-Woo gave the thought some time.
“Ms. Eshnunna, I—”
“Didn’t you say you understand me? Haha. Thank you so much. I thought you would. You seemed different from the others somehow.” Eshnunna’s voice became thick with indescribable worry and anxiety. “Good. Please help me then!”
“Help me. I’m telling you to help me. You told me that you’ll help.” Her eyes reddened. “Please help me live. My brother as well, and all the natives who depend on me. Please don’t tell us to become sacrifices. Can you do that?” Eshnunna couldn’t even understand what she was saying anymore. “Please just—" She wavered and struggled to stay upright; all the energy in her body had left. Her words came out as a whimper. “….save me….”
Silence fell between them. Eshnunna steadied her breathing and regained focus. She slowly looked up with a sad smile, lamenting the ridiculous state she was in. “Would you be able to do that…?”
And Chi-Woo, who had been quietly watching the whole time, said with a shocking lack of hesitance, “Yes. Let’s do that.”
Eshnunna was stunned.
“Let’s do as you say.” He took in the look of shock on Eshnunna’s face and repeated her words, “Let’s save you and your brother and the natives. And in the process, let’s save the heroes who have been caught. Is that what you want?” No one had to die, and no one had to be sad. It was a happy ending where everyone could rejoice.
Eshnunna was left speechless for a while. She soon recovered and let out an empty laugh. “How?”
“It’s simple,” Chi-Woo said. “All the problems stem from the broken beings, do they not? If we defeat those beings, then, won’t everything be alright again?” Chi-Woo quickly added, “Of course, without sacrificing anyone.”
Eshnunna looked at him like he was out of his mind. Of course, everyone would be happy if the future Chi-Woo pictured could become reality. However, the important thing was how realistic it was, and if it could really be brought about.
“…That’s absurd.” Eshnunna snorted. “You don’t know anything. You don’t know how frightening and evil they really are.” In a small part of her heart, Eshnunna had secretly been hopeful, so her disappointment in Chi-Woo’s overly simplistic remarks was obvious. “Don’t you know? The cursed ones aren’t the only problems. So are the broken ones that can mutate. Ah, I heard that you dealt with one of them at the Shahnaz camp. Unfortunately, all you did was defeat the weakest among them.”
‘As expected,’ thought Chi-Woo. Eshnunna knew them well. With a nod, he said, “You can’t trust me. That’s basically what you’re saying, aren’t you?”
“It’s not a matter of trust!”
“And I’m not telling you to trust me right away,” Chi-Woo calmly replied. “I’m asking you to give me a chance to earn your trust.”
Eshnunna narrowed one eye as if she couldn’t quite understand him. That was only natural, though. The situation had stumped everyone up until now, and yet Chi-Woo had suddenly come to her and claimed to have a solution. Even if Eshnunna decided to work with him by blindly following him just this once, their failure would surely doom them all. Chi-Woo could tell that Eshnunna was probably imagining the worst-case scenario.
“Why don’t we do it this way?” Chi-Woo considered her position and explained the plan he had in mind, which made Eshnunna question her hearing again.
Eyes wide, she asked, “Wh….what did you say?” She wasn’t the only one reacting this way. The middle-aged man was completely shocked witless as well; he even dropped his sword at his feet.
“What do you say?” Chi-Woo got up from his chair. Dusting his pants, he smiled at Eshnunna, who was gaping so hard her jaw might fall off. “If we do it like this, Ms. Eshnunna, at least there will be nothing for you to lose.
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