Chapter 59: Finally a Tutorial
A sudden silence befell them, so smothering that they couldn’t even hear the sound of breathing.
“…You think we’re being followed?” Allen Leonard broke the silence. “Is it your speculation, or are you sure about that?”
“We are being followed,” Zelit said firmly, bringing about another stretch of silence.
“We found traces of them two days ago,” he continued. Throughout the march, Zelit had been relying on the entire recruit members for surveilling and scouting purposes. Recently, however, he had taken about half of the surveilling team to scout instead. “One of our scouting teams told me that there is a group chasing after us.”
Allen Leonard’s eyes turned sharp.
“How big is the group?”
“There are about five hundred of them.”
“How many mutants?”
“About one-tenth of their total force.”
“What is their distance from us?”
“Roughly 1 km.”
Allen Leonard quickly looked around and saw only the wilderness covered in darkness. He groaned and shook his head.
“Even if we are to fight them, we can’t fight them here.”
They would be facing three times the number of enemies that had attacked them at the base camp. Additionally, they had no guarantee that the particular group was the only one following them. To make things worse, many of them were still injured, and fighting in a vast open s.p.a.ce would be suicidal.
Zelit thought the same. If they had to fight, they had to go to a place where they would have the most territorial advantage. They needed a proper defensive architecture; even a castle wall would be helpful right now since that would allow them to limit the possible points of attack.
However, the main problem was that there was no guarantee their enemy forces would simply follow them quietly. In fact, they had been tailing them covertly until they made themselves known recently. It was unclear what the change meant.
“Eshnunna,” Zelit said weakly. “The place we’re going to—can we go a bit around to get there?”
“Take half a day's worth of detour or even half that distance; we just have to make our enemies think that we’re going somewhere else.”
Eshnunna nodded. “It’s possible, but why…” They had to get to the fortress as quickly as possible, but instead of taking a shortcut, they were going a roundabout way?
“We have to know our enemies’ plan.” Zelit sighed. “If they wanted to catch up with us, they would have done that a long time ago.” However, their enemies had been purposefully following them from a distance. It was clear that they were up to something, and were simply observing them for now.
“Our enemies might respond to our course change. We have to know what their plan is first,” Zelit declared in a strained voice before announcing the end of the meeting.
Marching commenced right after that. Resting was too much of a luxury after their enemies showed themselves. Everyone realized that Zelit’s theory was spot on after a quarter of the day had pa.s.sed.
“Stop! We have to stop! Spotted an enemy force 500 meter in front of us…!”
Not long after they resumed their marching, a hundred or so cursed ones blocked their path. They would certainly encounter the enemies if they continued forth like this. They changed direction, but things ended up the same way. Their enemies always blocked their paths no matter which direction they took; it seemed that the cursed ones weren’t willing to let them through. The same thing happened a couple more times until they were left with only one option—the original path that they had planned to take in the first place. With this, it was clear what their enemy’s plan was.
It was sunset by this time, and Zelit gathered all the important figures in the group and said in a stern voice, “They’re driving us into one spot, the fortress.” Just like how hunting dogs cornered their prey, the enemies were pus.h.i.+ng the recruits and the natives to go to the fortress. But what for? There was no way the cursed ones would want them there so that they could better defend themselves.
“The master of the hunting dogs in this case seems quite cautious,” Zelit said. “But I can understand why they’re behaving like this. After all, we are a group that has not only blown away their enemy faction's plans but also blocked their own group’s efforts easily.”
“It wasn’t easy though,” Ru Hiana said.
“Yeah, we had to make many sacrifices,” Zelit said with a snort. “But this is about how our enemies see us. I’m sure they have absolutely no information about us.”
Hearing this, Ru Hiana pursed her lips. Zelit seemed to be warning them to be vigilant no matter the cost, or else there would be serious consequences.
“There’s a high possibility that the fortress we are going to has a considerable enemy troop waiting on stand-by.” In other words, their enemies wanted a guaranteed victory. This was the only possibility that they could think of at the present, and thus ended the discussion. Everyone in the group had all sorts of thoughts in their heads, but was careful to speak their thoughs. No matter how remarkable Ru Amuh was, he had only reawakened a tiny portion of his original power. Furthermore, he was only one person. It was impossible for him to protect everyone by himself. If they continued towards the fortress like this, nothing would change. They would have no place to run to. They were truly stuck in a dilemma.
“…We would have to fight.” In the end, Zelit let out a deep sigh. To some, it almost sounded like he was saying, ‘We would have to die.’
“It’s too difficult.” Ru Amuh shook his head.
“It can’t be helped,” Zelit said, staring at Ru Amuh with a blank look on his face. “There’s no other option.”
“I know. I know we have to fight. But we’re in no state to do so.”
Ru Amuh was certainly right. For the past couple of days, they hadn’t been able to have a proper meal, not even any root vegetable to fill their stomach. They were able to quench their thirsts somewhat because it had rained during the night, but their throats were still quite parched. Furthermore, morale was at an especially low point. Since many of the group had been dispatched to scout the area, most people knew how dire their situation was. Thus, the atmosphere among their teams was like a funeral home, and what kind of incompetent general would lead such a group of weak-willed, disheartened people to war?
“Then what do you suggest?” asked Zelit.
Ru Amuh bit his lip. In the end, they were back to square one. There was no good option. It was then they heard a commotion from behind. After glancing at each other, the partic.i.p.ants of the meeting headed to the source of the noises. The place was in a mess when they reached there.
“Die! Die, you b.a.s.t.a.r.ds! Don’t you have a conscience?!” One hero was yelling his heart out while being pulled back by several others. In front of him, seriously wounded heroes were hanging their heads low.
“Don’t you have any conscience?! It’s all because of you!”
“Stop! Please stop!”
Even though those around the hero tried to stop him, the hero didn’t listen to them and continued yelling. His lips were burst open and bleeding like he had already had a scuffle with someone else before.
“It’s all because of you! If only it wasn’t for you!”
Any bystander could guess what had taken place. It was a long time coming. People showed their true colors when pushed to a corner in a desperate situation. During the past few days alone, the recruits and the natives had witnessed many similar conflicts. If they had hope, they would be able to stay strong. However, the situation worsened day by day. Even though they had gone through great pains to arrive at their first destination, what awaited them was greater despair rather than hope. Eventually, one of the recruits snapped and vented his grievances once the truth was out of the bag. The anger that he had been suppressing so far had finally burst out.
And this anger was first directed to those who were injured. Not only were they unable to stand guard or act as scouts, they also required help from others. Moreover, the group had been forced to take more breaks for these injured heroes, which further slowed down their travel. It was only natural that some would consider the injured a burden when everyone was under tremendous pressure, especially since ‘that event’ in the forest.
“What? What happened?” Ru Hiana approached Chi-Woo and asked in an annoyed tone.
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“If you had sacrificed yourselves back then, I would have at least considered you my comrades! But how are people who only drag us down our comrades!? Do you have no shame!? You got anything to say!?”
“We can’t just stay still like this.” Ru Amuh looked around and continued, “We have to start fighting before it’s too late.”
“You’re suggesting that we fight?” asked Zelit.
“Are you going to object again?” asked Allen Leonard.
“No, I’m just making sure,” Zelit calmly replied. “But when, where, and how are we going to fight?”
Allen Leonard’s eyes shone brightly. “We’ll play it by ear,” he spoke clearly before shouting, “I’m all for it. I’ll fight!”
Their reasons might differ, but the three of them came to a consensus that a fight was inevitable. Ru Amuh, Zelit, and Allen Leonard then turned to Chi-Woo one after another, and their gazes seemed to be asking for Chi-Woo’s input. While Chi-Woo was startled—
“f.u.c.k!” After a few seconds of silence, the hero who had stirred up trouble earlier aggressively stretched his arms and got to his feet. “Fine!” he shouted. “It’s fight or die anyway! Rather than waiting for death like a bunch of sitting ducks, let’s just fight instead!”
People began murmuring amongst themselves, but they all soon reached a consensus.
“Well, there’s no other way.”
“It’s better to die fighting than starving to death.”
“Yes! Let’s fight instead!”
“f.u.c.k. If only we had our powers, it would’ve been a piece of cake to deal with them!”
One after another, the heroes nodded in agreement. They were already in a state of extreme hunger. If they waited another day, the strength they could muster as a group would drop sharply. They had to fight while they still had the energy to swing their fists. Opinions among the group began to overwhelmingly s.h.i.+ft to one side. ‘Let’s fight’, ‘We’ll fight’, ‘We need to fight’. Similar sentiments were being voiced and echoed. Chi-Woo stared blankly at the heroes who had started to shout among themselves.
‘I understand what they’re saying, but… Why are they all looking at me?’
With their mind made up, the recruits banded under the same goal for the first time. Everyone gathered their heads together and shared their thoughts in a strategic meeting.
“We can’t fight here. Rather than fighting them head-on in an open plain like this, we would have a better chance of winning at a location with places to hide.” This was said by Allen Leonard, who became in charge of strategy.
There was no time for arguments, and Zelit agreed with him.
“I know it may be too much to ask for a valley or some other choke points, but do you know a place where we can easily take cover while fighting?” Allen Leonard turned to Eshnunna and asked.
Eshnunna thought for a bit before she replied, “Yes, I can think of one place.”
They began marching immediately. Even after arriving at a mountainous terrain with hills protruding everywhere, the meeting continued.
“Even though we can take advantage of the landscape here, this alone is not enough. We’ll have to use everything at our disposal.”
Under the leaders.h.i.+p of Allen Leonard, a strategy was established. However, it was more of a desperate attempt to push everyone to give their all than a strategy. There was no turning back now, and there was nowhere for them to go. They either moved forward, or they died. And now, there was only one thing left for them to do—to wait for the right moment. Since they were pressed for time, they quickly concluded the meeting and finished strategizing.
The sun set and dusk arrived. Soon after, the night deepened, and the world turned pitch black without a star in sight.
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