Chapter 4

*** 

San gave a wry smile. His thoughts were complicated. He recalled his nightmarish SERER training exercise. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and Recovery (SERER). That training exercise was the most hellish experience of his life. Though it was training, he had to go through hunger, endless pursuit, narrow escapes, and constant fear for his life. He couldn’t help but feel sick whenever he thought back to that training. He expected this situation to be as much if not more of those same feelings.

His mouth instantly dried up.

“What are your thoughts, sir?” asked Biyeon with a worrying look. 

“What other thoughts can there be? We need to go into survival-mode. Like you said, we’ll need to find water and a safe place to cook. Since we don’t know what’s out there, stay close to me at all times.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you have a whistle on you?”

“Yes.”

“Keep it on your person at all times. If anything happens, blow on your whistle.” 

“Yes, sir.” “But…” stammered Biyeon, unable to continue her words.

“I made yours over there, so go ahead. Do you need some toilet paper?”

San pointed with his chin towards an area while taking out a cigarette. He dug up some pit toilets behind a few trees last night.

“N-No, that’s fine. I’ll be right back, sir,” she answered. 

With a reddening face, she rushed towards one of the pit toilets behind a tree. San gave a knowing smile before exhaling a long trail of smoke. ‘She must have been holding it in all night… that’s for causing me some trouble, little kid.’

“Oh wait! The wooden planks may not be sturdy enough, so watch out…”

Cr-rack-

At that moment, Biyeon had one foot inside the pit toilet while exasperatingly looking up at the sky.

*** 

After collecting their supplies, both stood up. They buried their main and reserve parachutes and helmet in front of the largest tree. Biyeon marked an ‘X’ on the tree trunk. She found that the bayonet went right into the trunk, like a knife through a cake. Looking at the bayonet sticking out of the trunk, she tilted her head and frowned. She couldn’t help but make a quirky smile.

San held up a rock the size of his head above his shoulders with both hands. He also tilted his head quizzically. He then took off a hand and started throwing the rock above his head like a basketball. He lifted a larger rock. He gave a quirky smirk like Biyeon and then smiled. 

“This is definitely a crazy place. How is a rock so light?”

He brought a few more rocks in front of the ‘X’ marked tree and started making a mound. Afterwards, he brushed off his hands with a few light claps. Biyeon took out her glasses before taking them off. She started rubbing the glasses and lens with a frown.

“Watch our backs.”

Both of them picked up their supplies and started walking forward. San loaded his pistol with a live round cartridge and handed it over to Biyeon. He then swung his rifle to the front, put on the bayonet, and strode forward. San was cautiously moving forward while Biyeon was walking backwards, manning their back. Though they had no luck last night, they hoped to find a path during today’s daylight…

*** 

The path they took was dangerous and tough. There were large boulders scattered everywhere and a base layer of decaying leaves on the ground that often caused them to fall in knee deep. As they reached higher ground, leaving behind the dense forest of tall yet brittle trees, they started to see a new surrounding that was hidden from their line of sight inside the forest.

Like folding screens, large dark mountain ranges could be seen on their right and left. The mountains sloped inward like the inner shell of a vase. They had to bend their neck all the way back to see the tops of the mountains. 

They couldn’t see the center of the terrain. The tall trees of the forest blocked their vision from the ground and a collection of vertical cloud formations shot up from the upper parts of the tree to the sky. It was as if the sky was entirely filled with columns of clouds.

The sunlight started shining down from the mountaintops on their right. The entire world seemed to have brightened up considerably. Sunlight reflected off of the snow and ice caps on the tops of the mountain. They were momentarily blinded by the sudden light

“On that mountain top, that looks like a year-round icecap ridgeline, right? That means it’s at least 4,000 meters high?”

“There may be a valley between the ridgelines.”

“That means we need to at least reach that ridgeline…”

Both of them continued forward while observing the view closely. They could see the geothermal heat rising up from the ground. Sweat covered their faces. With each step they took, they sunk into the ground, which was littered with large, luscious leaves, thick above-ground roots, and black decaying matter. Every once in a while, a puff of steam would rise up from the ground.

They searched an area around a 100-meter radius. There was no reasonable way out. The large trees, dense vines, the fortress-like walls of the forest, and large rock face walls caused both of them to quickly get tired.

“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s so fucking hot. And wet. Shit, I wish I would hurry and wake up.”

“This looks like a volcanic area. There are geysers, too, and… huh?”

Biyeon let out a small cry while covering her own mouth. To their right was a bamboo forest. Something hid behind the wall of bamboo trees. Hearing her muffled cry, San quickly turned around with a frown.

Biyeon focused on one spot in the bamboo forest. San followed her line of sight. Nothing could be seen.

“What did you see?”

“Uhm, a bird? A white bird? A really large white…” 

Her face was pale and stiff. San changed places with Biyeon. His eyes glistened with aggression. He took out his rifle magazine to make sure he had live rounds before putting the magazine back and loading a round into the chamber. He pointed his rifle towards the forest.

“Anyways, you saw something, right? We need to check and confirm.”

Episode 1. Book 1: Deviation – Chapter 5

Though it was the middle of the day, the bamboo forest was dark. A small opening could be seen in the midst of the dense vines. San cleared the vines and moved forward. In the eerily still darkness, they saw a bamboo tree that seemed to be partially cut. After removing the leaves and vines around the tree, he saw an opening that was just large enough for a single person to pass through. 

“Lieutenant cover our rear,” stated San. 

He then looked through the opening. The opening continued onward like a corridor with bamboo trees making up the walls. A sliver of light shone through the canopy of leaves. He couldn’t guess the distance to the end of the corridor, but he could see a vertical white line at the end.

That must be the end of the corridor. Looking at its design, he felt there was a high likelihood that a person must have made this corridor. He stepped into the corridor with Biyeon following right behind. The path was dark and the air cool. A weak condensation could be seen coming out of their mouths whenever they took a breath. The atmosphere was eerie.

“Huh?”

A white feather slowly wafted down under the reflection of a beam of light that came through the dense collection of bamboo trees. He picked up the feather and observed it before handing it over to her. She took the feather and also observed its features before rubbing it between her fingers.

“What do you think it is?”

“It seems like a bird’s feather, but it’s very hard. It feels like reinforced plastic. I don’t know any bird with this type of feather structure.”

“It should be big, right?”

“Probably…”

“Do you think it’ll be tasty?”

“Huh?”

“Hey, relax. Why are you frozen over with fear? Can a soldier be afraid of battle?”

She relaxed some of her anxiety and glanced at San. However, she looked like her pride took a slight hit.

The two came out of the bamboo forest. Without lowering his vigilance, he kept his sights forward. Behind them was the bamboo forest and on their right was a stone wall.

The stone wall was very tall. They could see some boulders jutting at the top. The rest of the wall was covered in thorny vines and roots as thick as a grown man’s thigh. The intertwining vines and roots gave the illusion that large worms were interweaving amongst each other. To their left was a swampy wetland. At the farthest visible area of the wetland were large lotus flowers spread out in what seemed like stagnant water. A thick fog covered the area behind the visible wetland.

“It seems like there’s only one way to go,” mumbled San.

He could see a small pathway leading to the higher ground up ahead. The path turned sharply ahead, making it impossible to see what lay beyond.

“Hmm?”

San looked up toward the sky. A group of dark rain clouds roiled about, blocking the sun’s rays. It seemed like the entire world suddenly became shrouded in darkness. Without a moment’s notice, large raindrops started pouring down along with streaks of lightning. They both went under a large leaf to avoid the rain. In a brief amount of time, a large amount of rainwater came down. A piece of ice bounced off the ground. It seemed like rain and hail were falling at the same time.

“The weather is really something.”

“Doesn’t the atmosphere here seem very unstable, sir? The ground is warm, but the air above seems very cool.” 

As the pouring rain started to lift, the two started walking up the path. Their wet clothes and the now muddy ground made it difficult to walk. The rising geothermal heat created mists like what one would see in a steam room. The rain stopped, but their surroundings were still covered in shades of darkness.

With cautious steps, the two reached the top of the hill and looked down below. Through the fog, they saw glimpses of a basin with trees and boulders jutting out in various places. A bolt of lightning streaked across the sky. The sudden brightness of light briefly created a silhouette that briefly revealed the landscape below.

Biyeon widened her eyes while San dropped his jaw in disbelief. They both looked upward toward the sky and were left momentarily speechless. Through the dark clouds, the scattered sunlight started streaming down, illuminating small patches of the landscape below. It was as if the heavens and earth were quickly opening up. It was the moment of a great reveal. A huge rainbow crossed the basin, from a mountaintop peak on one side to a mountaintop peak on the opposite side. Through the patch of scattered light, a white object soared across the sky. It was a human with large wings completely unfolded. Its appearance was magnificent and fantastical. It was as if time had been turned back, revealing the creation of the heavens and earth.

“T-T-That…” stuttered Biyeon.

“An angel! Where is this place?” groaned San.

Biyeon softly cried out, “Heaven… have we died and gone to heaven?” 

She looked up towards the sky with teary eyes.

The two stopped speaking and looked at each other. Both their faces were drained of life from shock. San shut his mouth tightly and hung his head down. With the clouds rolling out, the light started illuminating the entire landscape below.

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