Chapter 26

San slowly got up into a sitting posture. He reached out and grabbed her hand. He was deliberately avoiding her gaze.

He felt her hand. For a woman’s hand, it was embarrassingly tough, calloused, and scarred. Scars spread out like holes an earthworm had dug in the ground. Her hands were also filled with rough calluses and unnatural bumps from having reset broken bones.

He reached out and touched her chest. It felt rugged rather than soft and supple. Her chest was like a modern freeway network with recovered scars and wounds branching off in all directions.

They naturally touched each other’s body freely. From their various battles and struggles within the last year, there wasn’t a place that they hadn’t injured or damaged in one way or another.

Wherever they went, they worked and lived together. Oftentimes, they would become each other’s hands and feet. There were days when they had to help carry the other’s urine and feces, and there were times when one had to hand over chewed food from one’s mouth to the other person’s mouth.

Their sense of unity, formed from extreme trust, far exceeded what any other summoned pair could imagine. Their bond wasn’t formed through drugs and sexual exchanges in the fantasy and hallucination state created by nectar.

San walked out. The sun was setting. The huge sun, four times larger than the Earth’s, was falling, coloring the whole sky a deep red.

Under the breathtaking twilight, he gazed into the distance.

‘A place we must go to... a place to go. There are so many things I want to ask of this world. Who can answer me?’ He clenched his fist while pulling his hands behind him. The evening breeze was blowing softly. He felt refreshed.

It had already been 2 months since they advanced from the 2nd to the 3rd Stage of Acceleration. This strange acceleration ability was the reward for overcoming an extreme struggle and for refusing to become a ‘slave’. A smile formed on his lips.

‘There’s nothing free in the world. Without investment, there’ll be no compensation…’

His body was like a puzzle. There was always something new to discover and understand. It was like a secret hidden in another secret.

‘The world he could see and comprehend in the 3rd stage of acceleration went beyond his imagination. This ability was not within the intended range of expectations that ‘they’ considered. We may still be weak in the grand scheme of things. Even though no one knows what fate awaits us, we know that no one can break our determination.’

He felt her leaning on his shoulder. He reached out to his side. He grasped her narrow yet firm shoulders.

In front of them, the sun was setting. It was as if the slow retreat and absence of light was foreshadowing the screams and violence of a dying way of life.

Episode 1. Book 3: Escape – Chapter 7

Nil tilted his head. His gaze was fixed on the pair that secretly left their pit.

“Going for a stroll this evening as well?”

“They’re really funny. What do you make of it? Why do you think they’re still acting like this?”

“They must be conducting some secretive training. They can develop their battle sense and enjoy the scenery. Their physical abilities seemed to have improved considerably, no? Oh! Today, the flow of his thoughts is coming in quite well. The connection and sensitivity are pretty good.”

“Hmm- the signal is definitely stronger. But… they still have thoughts of escaping. Goodness sake, are they really that dull and stupid?”

“That’s a human trait. They’re being raised like cattle. Wouldn’t you want to go outside? That will for freedom will always remain deep inside them. But they’ll never make it out of here with just that will.”

“How many attempts has it been now?”

“Their seventy-third. It was from the 40th time that they gave up on escaping through the mountains, so I’m sure they're very stupid.”

“Is this also a record?”

“Of course, twenty-three attempts were the record so far.”

“If they try to escape today… would you say that they’re great for achieving a record?”

“In some ways… it’s still evident that their ego hasn’t been eroded. Anyway, they’re great if we don’t consider their combat power. The behavior and actions they exhibited in trying to escape were quite creative.”

“I agree! They were pretty creative in trying to escape. Honestly, I’m still not sure about them. Are they really stupid or really cunning?”

“Whatever the case, as a result of their evening excursions, their nighttime adaptation and combat capabilities are improving as much as the others. Anyway, their results suck, so it’s no fun watching them. It’s impossible for even us to get out of this space…”

They glanced at San once more before swiping to another screen. In the sixteen channels that were open, the offering of spirit and flesh between the pairs was held without exception.

These summoned weren’t thinking about escape. They were fully immersed and enjoying the ‘play’ in this space.

***

It was a dark night. It was so dark that light from a flashlight would probably be absorbed by the darkness. However, using their 3rd Stage of Acceleration, San and Biyeon swiftly moved around as if they were moving in the day.

Their visual cone and rod cells were capable of discriminating objects with 100x the gradation and resolution, even with virtually no light. Their world looked black and white, but they weren’t hindered in their movement.

“Will this be the last time?”

“I hope so.”

“Nil and Null seem to have turned their attention elsewhere. They seem to be watching live videos of sex and violence every day. Those perverts…”

“Good for us,” she replied with a smile.

The two were wondering how to cross the acidic lake and make their way up the pillar. The distance was too far to leap.

The length from the shoreline to the pillar was around 300 meters. Even if they used the small reefs rising in the middle of the lake, they’d have to leap 100 meters at a time. It was an impossible distance for humans to cover.

“Do you think this will work?”

“We’ve practiced a lot, right? We’ve executed it in the field, also. Let’s put our new abilities to good use. Have confidence in yourself.”

The two put on leather masks. San put on his sunglasses. These were the Ray-Ban's sunglasses he prepared for the commemorative photos that they were supposed to take after the training exercise.

They carried several shoulder-width thin bamboo plates in their Archon-skinned backpacks. They equipped straps onto the backpack to quickly take out the bamboo plates when needed. 

San moved first.

He went into the bamboo forest that hugged the lake’s shoreline and started running at full speed. He zigzagged up the bamboo trees and climbed upwards.

He propelled himself off the top of one of the taller bamboo trees, shooting himself into the lake.

He flew like an arrow. He stepped on the middle reef and then leapt upwards once more. He made the same movements for the second and third reef. There were no more reefs after the third. He had about 50 meters left to the pillars’ double chained ladder.

After reaching the top of his jump, he started quickly falling towards the lake. Hydrochloric acid was boiling from below. The sour smell of the acidic lake made his head dizzy.

Biyeon gripped her hands tightly and clenched her jaw. The air disturbance halo that appeared around San’s body became more visible.

While in the air, he took out a bamboo plate out of his backpack, lifted it, and threw it calmly forward. The bamboo plate slid across the lake’s surface like water skis gliding across a body of water.

The plate was moving further away from San. It didn’t seem possible for him to reach the plate. He took in a deep breath and muttered, “Believe! 3rd Stage Acceleration! Move forward using the air.”

Surprisingly, his body bounced forward from his falling trajectory without any support.

In Biyeon’s eyes, he fell from the air, turned diagonally, and shot forward.

While falling, he was calmly calculating his trajectory in relation to the bamboo plate. Everything unfolded slowly in his eyes.

He felt like he was moving within a stationary space. The bamboo plate was advancing slowly in front of him.

His legs swung forward and landed squarely on the fast-moving bamboo plate. He landed exactly on his target, as if he had measured it with a ruler. The bamboo plate skid forward atop the acidic lake water like water skis.

Acidic liquid was splashing from below, but his Archon-leather shoes were effectively blocking the splashes from injuring him.

As the bamboo plate was decelerating, he kicked off the plate and shot upwards. He could see the chain-linked ladder twenty meters away. He quickly approached and grabbed onto the ladder.

He raised his hands to inform her of his success. Biyeon calmed her beating heart. It seemed easier than they originally thought. Biyeon also succeeded in reaching the ladder using the same method as San’s.

“That was pretty easy.”

“Yes, that worked out much better than I thought.”

“If I get used to it a little more, I think I can bend toward the sky.”

“Then you’ll start flying in the sky?”

“Yeah! Though, the duration may be a problem.”

***

The two quickly climbed up the ladder. However, they weren’t in a rush.

They closely observed their surroundings as they climbed the spiraling chain-linked ladder.

It was hard to discern the details of the pillar in the dark. What they did observe was that the pillar’s diameter was increasing as they went higher up. It was if they were climbing a large spin top.

“What is that?”

“Perhaps a passage to go inside? What should we do?”

“What else can we do? We have to go in.”

A strangely twisted staircase ran through the passage. In some parts, the steps were on the ceiling.

“I guess one can’t get through unless one has the speed to follow the inverting path.”

“Is this also a test?”

“If it’s a test, then we just need to take it.”

The two ran without hesitation. Following the path for a long time, San finally stopped. Biyeon slowed down behind him and peered inside. She felt goosebumps rise from her body.

In the middle of the large, dark opening, they could see a nest of winged beasts. There were so many of them that they could barely differentiate them from the darkness.

There were also beasts that they fought against in the past. They seemed to have no will. The creatures seemed to be staring at them with no response.

“This is terrifying. There’s thousands of them.”

“They don’t seem to be asleep, but there’s no response from them at all.”

“Probably because no one is giving them orders.”

“Are these the beasts that come to our plaza in front of the pit during the day?”

“Most likely.”

“What do you think is their expected travel route?”

“It’s hard to say. There doesn’t seem to be an underground connection.”

“Maybe Nil or Null moved them. They probably have the ability to move objects through space.”

“This… will probably be a problem later…”

“Has anything been easy for us? Let’s reach the end of this passage.”

The two finally reached the top.

The passage opened up into a large clearing. 

Although they finally made it up, the two became speechless. Though it was a dark night, they couldn’t hide their wonder at the sight in front of them.

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