Chapter 75: Finally a Tutorial (17)
Hawa didn’t climb the mountain immediately but instead guided the search party into the canyon. After wandering through the maze-like canyon for a while, they reached a dried-up valley and scaled the cliff between it and another valley. Thus commenced the arduous climb. The mountain was very steep and rugged. There was moss all over the rock; they could slip and fall from the slightest misstep. Chi-Woo had to heighten his senses and place great care in every step he took. Although Chi-Woo hadn’t expected to walk through a nice, well-established path, he hadn’t expected the path to be so harsh.
As expected of heroes that awakened their powers, the Ru siblings didn’t have much trouble climbing. Hawa also had little trouble since she had been trained since her youth, and she swiftly climbed the wall like a resilient bouncing spring. The only two people having problems were Eshnunna and Chi-Woo. Every time they had to go over a rock on a slope, they tensed up first. Still, the Ru siblings were always there to help them up. Before they knew it, everyone had stopped talking. Although they couldn’t be sure of it yet, they could be infiltrating into an enemy’s camp base, so everyone had been focusing only on climbing the mountain with their mouths firmly shut.
A long time pa.s.sed. Climbing was difficult work, and they soon became fatigued due to their prolonged anxiety. Their hair and entire body were soaked in sweat, and their mouth started to taste sweet.
‘How much longer do we have to go?’ Chi-Woo cursed inside his mind and grabbed onto Ru Amuh’s hand to climb up a boulder. When the sole of his feet landed on the ground again, he found a comparatively flat surface than before. Although it was still b.u.mpy, the fact that he wasn’t on a steep slope made it feel like he was in heaven.
“Why don’t we rest a bit?” Ru Amuh said with a smile when he saw Chi-Woo collecting his breath. Chi-Woo instantly sat down like he had been waiting for this moment. Following him, Eshnunna also climbed up to the area while holding onto Ru Hiana’s hand, looking very pale.
‘Why is this reminding me of my time in the army?’ Chi-Woo hadn’t expected to partic.i.p.ate in such an intense rock-climbing session on Liber. He stuck his tongue out and heaved while looking through his backpack. He took a gulp from his water bottle and felt a gaze on him. Hawa, whose complexion appeared the same as ever, was staring at him. Chi-Woo handed his bottle to her, and Hawa immediately grasped it. Chi-Woo smirked as he watched her clean the bottle’s top before drinking from it.
‘How much longer?’ With his head raised high, he looked up to the faraway clouds above the mountain’s peak. It was fortunate that he had at least done some running exercises before coming to this place. His cardiovascular system had been strengthened over the past month, which allowed him to come this far. If he hadn’t been training, he would’ve collapsed a long time ago.
‘Maybe I should have tried climbing Mount Everest.’ While those useless thoughts whirling in his mind, Chi-Woo calmed his breathing and got up to look down at the distance he had climbed so far. They had made so much progress that they could no longer see their starting point. The gorge that had looked so big from below looked like a piece of lego from here. Feeling dizzy from the view, Chi-Woo quickly backed away, but then he felt someone tap on his back. He turned around and saw a woman with a blonde ponytail: Ru Hiana. Chi-Woo was about to speak, but stopped himself when Ru Hiana quickly placed her index finger against her lips. For some reason, she looked extremely excited.
‘What’s going on?’ Chi-Woo tilted his head and looked to where Ru Hiana was pointing with her index finger. Chi-Woo goggled when he saw the subject of her attention.
It was a bird, or at least an animal that looked like one. A bird the size of a pigeon was looking around its surroundings on top of a boulder and pecking the ground every now and then.
‘There’s a bird…on Liber.’ Now that he thought about it, Chi-Woo realized that he hadn’t seen a bird or other animals even once since coming to Liber. It was always monsters he ran into. A strange feeling thus rose in his heart when he saw this bird, followed by another carnal desire: hunger.
‘How will that bird be…cooked inside an oven?’ He wanted the meat cooked properly rather than dried jerky; he wanted to taste its juicy flesh as oil dripped down its skin. His mouth salivated at the thought. It seemed Chi-Woo wasn’t the only one who felt this way as Ru Hiana wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. A moment later, Ru Hiana began approaching the bird one step at a time, treading slowly and carefully. When she was within a meter from the bird, she kneeled without making a sound. Silencing even her breath, she reached out with both hands. Chi-Woo cheered her on with an anxious expression, while Eshnunna was already thinking of ways to cook the bird if it was caught. On the other hand, Hawa was watching them disapprovingly, as if she was saying with her face, ‘That’s not how you do it.’ Finally, Ru Amuh s.h.i.+fted his focus from his map to Ru Hiana with a frown on his face.
Perhaps the bird had sensed something off, and it stopped pecking at mosses to look up, quickly darting its gaze sideways before stretching its wings like it was going to fly away. Ru Hiana quickly shot out both hands.
“Chirp!” The bird chirped and was about to fly when—Bam! Sling! There was an explosion, followed closely by a piercing screech.
Chi-Woo almost let out a yelp in surprise, but managed to keep his mouth shut, his throat twitching while he reeled from the sudden noises. Ru Hiana was also shocked, frozen with her hands stretched halfway. The pupils of her wide-opened eyes shook vigorously. The bird remained perched on the same spot while pierced by a large awl-shaped drill. The drill not only pierced the bird, but burrowed deeply into the rock below it. Everyone stopped and turned to the thing connected to the drill. The drill didn’t come flying; just like how Ru Hiana had stretched out her hands to catch the bird, somebody else had reached out for the bird. Attached to the drill was a long, rubbery appendage that looked too strange to be called an arm, and yet there seemed to be no other way to describe it.
It sounded like somebody was winding a k.n.o.b or scratching lines on the ground. Soon afterward, a figure came sliding down the slope like they were skiing down the mountain. As it came down, its long, stretched-out arms shortened. The figure that came into view was so bizarre looking that it was difficult to describe it with words. It had a face that resembled a sea lion’s, and it had no eyes. No, upon closer inspection, it appeared to have two tiny beady eyes the size of beans that were barely noticeable. Two large canine teeth just like an elephant’s ivory tusks stuck out from its mouth, and its body looked like a slab of skin wrapped around a long vertebra sloping down vertically. Rib bones wrapping around its upper torso twitched nonstop like living tentacles, and at the end of both of its arms, it had drills for hands. Its legs were as thick as tree trunks, large enough to be likened to the thighs of a King Kong. Above all, the monster was enormous; its height alone looked to be over 3 or 4 meters tall.
‘A mutant? No.’ Chi-Woo frowned. The cursed ones and the mutants still had remnants from their human days, while the monster in front of them didn’t show any identifiable human features. It was simply a monster. As the monster slid towards them like water flowing down, Ru Hiana drew her sword. But Ru Amuh quickly gestured at her to not do anything.
‘Why?’ Ru Hiana mouthed, confused. Ru Amuh shook his head slowly and warily looked at the monster.
Thump, thump, thump, thump.
In the meantime, the monster had landed right in front of Ru Hiana. It pulled out the drill stuck in the rock and lifted the bird right to its face. Then it opened its mouth wide to over ten centimeters in diameter. The fangs on the roof of its mouth were clearly visible. The monster pushed the bird deep into its mouth and bit down.
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The sound of the monster chewing its food echoed. The bird’s blood dripped down on Ru Hiana’s face. n.o.body moved even an inch; they all just blankly stared at the monster like a rock. They didn’t know why, but they felt a strong sense of foreboding that if they moved even a little bit, they would end up like the bird.
Allen Leonard, who had departed earlier than the exploration team, had traveled quite far. Even though he’d dug up some medicinal herbs, he didn’t think it was enough. Eshnunna had told him that Chi-Woo was in a dire condition. Ordinary medicinal herbs wouldn’t be able to do anything to help Chi-Woo. To find proper medicine, Allen Leonard pushed the limits of his pre-set boundaries until he reached all the way to the point where he could clearly see the capital of the Salem Kingdom. It was where they had first gone as a group after leaving the main camp and the forest for the first time.
He thought he would easily find what he wanted in the capital city, and he half-heartedly hoped that the skeleton on the pole would descend again to sweep away all the monsters here.
“…I can’t believe it.” Allen Leonard looked down with disbelief. “It…doesn’t make sense…” He unconsciously shook his head in utter shock. “Why…Why is it…”
When they left the main camp, their first destination had been the capital. But they had turned around as soon as they arrived because of the shocking state of the capital. Cursed ones had filled the city completely without leaving any gaps, and many of them were mutating. That had been the last image Allen Leonard remembered of the capital. However, the capital he was seeing now had completely transformed.
“What is…that…?” He saw something that looked like a giant snake with a human head crossing the road like it was gliding on water. He also saw something with eight legs like an octopus and a spider with human-head climbing on the walls of a building. There was even a being that was running on top of buildings with four legs. The capital was occupied with these bizarre beings, and some of them were eating the cursed ones as well as the mutants. They also fought amongst themselves while they ate. Whenever a fight broke out, many of them would gather around and join the fight, or clap while jumping up and down in excitement. It looked as if they were enjoying a festival.
At that moment, one of the beings jumping on top of the buildings suddenly turned around and looked in the direction Allen Leonard was in. Allen Leonard pulled his attention away from the madness and hurriedly dropped to the ground.
‘Did…’ their eyes meet? At this distance? His heart beat fiercely, and s.h.i.+vers ran all over his body. Allen Leonard didn’t even dare to raise his head. After a while, he began to slowly inch backward like a worm. After putting enough distance between him and the capital, he got up and stared at the sky with his mouth agape.
‘Just now…’ He had no idea of what he had just witnessed, but he was sure of one thing: There were new enemies, and just like how the cursed ones had changed into mutants, the mutants had evolved further into a new breed of mutants. No, it would be more accurate to say they had reached a new stage of evolution. Their new enemy was not as uniform as the previous mutants. The monsters that Allen Leonard saw showed great variations, differing in shapes and sizes. And there were hundreds and thousands of them. He had no idea how this happened, but one thing was clear.
‘I need to tell the others.’ It was not time for him to stay still. He needed to find a way to relay this information as fast as possible. ‘But…’
Allen Leonard deeply frowned because he hadn’t found any medicine for Chi-Woo yet. After some deliberation, he turned to the natives.
“Listen to me carefully.” Allen Leonard explained what he had just witnessed and sent the natives back to the fortress ahead of him. “You must tell the others what I just said. You must!” Then he set out by himself.
‘I pray that we won’t be too late…’ He silently prayed as he moved away, treading carefully in case the monster that he met eyes with was chasing after him.
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