Chapter 11

“So, in proportion to the structure of the body, this ‘Algon’ seems to have great jumping power, and it’s likely that it attacks mainly with the sharp claws on its forefoot, right?”

“Because the hind limb muscles are large and stable like a large bird’s, it’s very possible that the forefoot has evolved solely for hunting purposes. Therefore, it will not only be able to shoot its claws up and down but also swing it from side-to-side in various angles. Still, the decisive attack seems to be from its teeth. I think it will be an attack pattern of piercing with its mouth after stabilizing and immobilizing its prey with its front talons.”

“Shouldn’t the movement be relatively dull as only the muscles of the lower body are developed?”

“I agree, but, since its center of gravity is stable, I don’t think we should expect it to become unstable with a single blow.”

“Do you think it’ll lose power and mobility with a bullet to the hind legs?”

“I think that’s what we need to try. The strength of its skin will be a problem, but once you break even one muscle, its jumping power and mobility will definitely drop.”

“Yeah, anyway, the biggest problem is that we have a limited number of bullets. If the bullet fails to immobilize the target, we need to start fighting it physically with a primitive weapon, but… hmm… I would have no issues with hand-to-hand combat if the opposition was a human, but I’m not confident against this Algon species.”

“That’s the largest problem. However, it’s something we’ll have to face anyway, so let me speak my thoughts freely. What do you think their intentions are?”

“Entertainment? Games? Or gambling?” answered San.

Biyeon nodded at his conjecture. 

She then stated, “I agree. So, our opponents will probably not be simple. Captain Kang, have you ever played online games?”

“Online games? I tried it at the communal barracks when I was at Seoul Command. It was very addictive. I fell down a rabbit hole, playing an online game throughout the night. It was the best way to kill time. I quit when I got back to my squad, though.”

“Then it’ll be easier to explain my thoughts.”

“Are you saying that we’re in a similar situation to a character in an online game?” San asked while staring at Biyeon. He too had a similar feeling of being trapped in another person’s game when he saw the messages on his cell phone.

“It's a much more serious situation because we’re risking our lives. I’m suspicious of the possibility of being ‘summoned’ for somebody's purpose. Doesn’t it seem off that we’re put into an environment where there’s no way out, given messages and information through dead cell phones, and how we’re given just enough information in a timely manner to grow and develop as characters?”

“Then, it’s probably not a coincidence that our abilities were created and only given to us now? Then, what are we? Have we been modified into characters to suit their purpose without our knowledge?”

“I don’t know. If my conjecture is correct, then it seems as though the person or people who brought us here have the power of gods. Regardless of our initial capabilities, it seems we’re meant to grow our abilities as we progress through this game. Of course, it's an absurd conjecture. Nothing’s for certain. If we survive this game through tomorrow, I believe things will become clearer. The writing on the pit wall also mentioned that we would be reborn if we happened to die.”

“It's terrible just thinking about it. Damn it… is death so simple?” San stated as he leaned back. His uvula expanded and contracted violently as if he was holding something down his throat.

“Even if resurrection is possible, I don't think it’s a good idea to not hold onto our current lives dearly.”

“I agree. If life is such a simple thing, isn't it too sad and meaningless? Is life so light?”

“Even if we do resurrect, we’ll be different. We may be ourselves but not truly ourselves. Those summoned before us would have also received the message to not be afraid of death. If true, perhaps they felt a sense of elation and comfort as they experienced resurrection. I feel that I would also be happy initially, but I would have lost the most precious thing.”

“The most precious thing?” asked San while meeting Biyeon’s eyes. 

“Can a person who takes life so lightly love one’s own life? Other people's lives? This world?”

The two looked into each other’s eyes and came to an unspoken understanding.

“Let us not die. Never.” 

“Please take care of me.” 

“That's what I wanted to say as well. Please take care of me, too.”

They held each other’s hands tightly. It was the first time they felt the warmth of a person's body to be so comforting and precious.

***

“You’ll need strength to survive,” San said as he shared his experiences from earlier in the day with Biyeon. He went on to briefly explain the sharp pain and instant increase in strength.

“Then, are you saying that there will be other powers we don't know about yet?”

“Yeah. If it's only me, then I’m not sure, but if the same thing happens to you, I can only come to that conclusion. I don't know if they intended it, but I want you to try it too…”

San voiced his opinion in a quiet voice. He didn’t want to recommend what he went through earlier in the day to her, but he felt it couldn't be helped. If the odds of survival could be higher, shouldn’t they exhaust all options?

“How can I test it out?” 

“First try breaking this stick.”

San handed Biyeon a rather thick stick. The stick was as thick as a grown man’s forearm, so it shouldn’t be easily broken, even for an adult male. Biyeon grabbed both ends and put strength into her hands and arms.

“Hoo-”

She trembled and shuddered while putting all her strength into breaking the stick.

“How do you feel? Did you feel something cut through your whole body?”

“Yes, I think so,” Biyeon said through clenched teeth.

Doo-Duk-

“Phew- it's really broken,” she said in a surprised voice.

“First- I think physical changes are given equally. I had the same symptoms as you. Now let's try it another way. The next stage seems to be dependent on one’s state of mind. It isn’t easy.”

“What state of mind should I be in?” Biyeon asked as she received a thicker and harder stick from San.

“A very desperate feeling with extreme anger, desperate enough to want to destroy the whole world. A desperation to the point of wanting to give up. Something like that. It’s hard to express, but it was this utter desperation that triggered the effect for me. At some point, the pain of being burned followed with an outflow of incredible power.”

He looked at her with an apologetic look. He knew he was leading her towards excruciating pain if she succeeded. Biyeon tilted her head in thought and then resolved herself to envision the emotional state that San explained.

“Try as best as you can. Try and get to that state.”

Biyeon applied power to the stick. Her hands started shaking softly. The veins on her neck and forehead were becoming swollen.

However, no matter how hard she tried, the resulting spike in strength that San talked about didn’t come. Biyeon persistently tried various methods. She had no doubt about his words. She repeated various actions for almost an hour without result.

“Stop, don't be in a hurry…” San murmured with a pity-filled face. Biyeon was still trying. Sweat mixed with drool near her mouth while tears flowed down her face. Biyeon felt a sense of urgency, helplessness, and despair. These negative emotions were heightened when she felt she couldn’t follow through in reaching a power spike.

Tuk- The solid wood stick broke. She collapsed onto the ground at the same time. She started convulsing, banging her head against the ground to try and endure the rush of excruciating pain.

“Yeah… so this power has been given to both of us. Be patient. It might feel really long, but it’ll pass. It’ll go a few more seconds,” San stated with a bitter expression.

***

Though they were lying on their sleeping bags in the dark pit, both San and Biyeon were wide awake. They were each deep in their own thoughts in the complete darkness…

‘It’s my body, but I don’t recognize it. Who the hell am I here? Besides having the name of San Kang, is there anything else that can prove my existence? Am I still San Kang?’

Rather than become lost in an internal struggle with the philosophical implications of what he was going through, San decided to start planning countermeasures for the eventual attack that would come tomorrow. He needed to think about how to fight and deal with each situation and species…

He also made a wish. He wished to not think too much about all the precious, important people he left behind. He wanted to interpret this situation as a long-term training exercise, one that would return him back home once it ran its course.

Biyeon was also staring into the dark ceiling while trapped in her own thoughts. Though she felt an excruciating amount of pain reaching the second step, the speed of her recovery was surprisingly fast. She also reached the same conclusion as San.

‘What’s the use of worrying? The presence of ‘me’ is the only truth that cannot be broken no matter where I am or at what time I’m in. I think… therefore, I exist.’ She felt that further questions were meaningless. Since I’m alive, I need to survive. And as for preparing for tomorrow… sleep.’

After tossing and turning in her sleeping bag, she closed her eyes.

San glanced towards the partition that separated him from Biyeon.

‘She definitely has her merits. If I wasn’t married, I would have probably made a move already… Alright Lieutenant Kim! Let’s survive until the end and go back together!’ 

At the same time, Biyeon opened her eyes and also looked at the partition.

‘Unlike his rough appearance, he’s a much more delicate and thoughtful person. That’s a good thing, right? If we have some down time, I wouldn’t mind getting to know him personally.’

The two spent the night of the second full day in the dark, divided by a partition.

Episode 1. Book 2: Unravelling – Chapter 6

“Hey, Lieutenant Kim. Shouldn’t you wake up now?” 

“Well- yeah…” Biyeon sluggishly replied while rubbing her eyes. She must have fallen asleep late at night.

The morning light came into the pit and was quite bright. In front of her, she saw San already fully dressed and armed in his full combat outfit.

“Don’t be surprised. It seems we have guests,” San said in a low voice.

“What-?” Biyeon screamed as she hurriedly got up.

“First, get into your battle gear. It’s going to be relatively safe here. Let’s eat breakfast first. I made something yesterday, so let’s eat that and then start hunting.”

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