Chapter 52

“What do you call it… The goddess of hunting or whatever… do you think she has it in for us, aligning herself with this potential search party?”

“I’m not sure yet. Looking at the development so far, it seems more likely that they haven’t found us yet. But if they’ve started searching, they would have predicted where we would have landed and our movement radiusThey would’ve determined that we landed in the forest or an area adjacent to the forest. If so, logically, it’s likely that the goddess of hunting, ‘Diana’, will be in charge of the search since she’s a local.”

“That makes sense.”

“Moreover, we must keep in mind that, in this world, they’d know that the only way we’d be able to survive was through hunting. That’s what I think. Following this line of thought, the possibility that we’ve already been discovered can’t be excluded. Or…”

“Or?”

“There may be other reasons to leave us alone. If you look at the contents of the goddess’ message, there seems to be a clear intention of wanting to approach us. Again, there’s too little information to properly judge or come to any conclusion.”

“Damn it.”

***

From some point, all the warriors and hunters were holding their breaths. It was their instinct. The cries of the monsters and beasts in the forest stopped. The buzzes and other natural sounds from forest bugs and insects also stopped. It was as if someone had given an order for the entire forest to fall silent.

“It seems it’ll start soon,” San muttered in a deep, contemplative voice.

“Before the heavyweights, they’ll probably send in the smaller creatures first. The Hawks are a very smart species. In the end, it’ll be difficult to fight this battle without revealing ourselves.”

After staring at her surroundings, Biyeon poured some salt into her mouth and then handed San some salt.

“Two… no three Hawks. Are you getting the same number?” San asked. 

“Yes, it seems like three,” Biyeon replied.

“Where are their locations?”

“One on the left and one on the right… the center one is a bit ambiguous.”

“What is their control range?”

“At least 1km?”

“So, they’re probably calling in all the beasts and monsters within a 1 km radius, right?”

“Yes. Even if we catch all the Hawks, it’ll be difficult to avoid damage on our side. We'll inevitably be exposed as well.”

“No. I think there’ll be a way…”

“?”

***

Some ‘things’ were approaching from the darkness. The starlight was obscured by something in the dark sky. Dark objects gradually took shape as the large bonfire’s light reflected off of them.

“So, do you mean that all of those things are being directed by someone?” asked Dongye with a surprised expression.

“They're beings called ‘Hawks’. They’re a beautiful, angelic, and winged creature said to live at least 1,000 years. They’re as intelligent as humans, and they can speak. The small ones are about waist-high, but the larger ones are as big as humans and have strong fighting power. What’s scary, though, is their ability to control the will of all the beasts, monsters, and animals around them. They can even direct the beasts and monsters through mind control.”

“Then, all these beasts’ organized movements are because of them? Why?”

“I dont know the exact reason, but we think they’re thinking of building a nest here. We’re uncertain about what’s happening in the northern lands, but it seems like they’re relocating.”

San gave a general answer. He knew that this situation probably had something to do with the Goddess of Hunting, Diana. ‘If I tell him that the Goddess of Hunting has impure intentions, will he believe me?’ He didn’t know for certain, but he also didn't want to take a chance.

“What can I do?” asked Dongye.

“I need a weapon that can be shot from a distance. Do you have anything like that?”

“We have some useful personal firearms. We have ample ammunition, too.”

“How is your body?” 

“I’m moving around fine now thanks to you two.”

The hunters and warriors inside the base camp raised their weapons. They tightly tensed at the ominous sight and the strange aura that seemed to be approaching them from the forest surrounding them. At night, everything was scarier than it actually was during the daytime. Fear was easily transmitted, especially if the opponents were acting abnormally

Suddenly, a commotion arose. On the ground, something like black water floated upward, seemingly against gravity. Afterward, sparkling phosphorescence-like eyes appeared one by one from almost every direction. In the sky, the sound of violent thrashing wings vibrated the night air. It was like iron sheet plates crashing into each other from the effects of wind.

In the midst of this cacophony of sound and general stirring of fear, Yuren was checking where San and Biyeon were looking. He glanced at his captains. They looked ahead and were still relaxed. In the reflection of the light, there seemed to be a little irritation on their faces, but…

‘If that’s the case, it's no big deal!’

Yuren suddenly felt at ease. Not only Yuren, but all of the support staff members were also reading the seriousness of the situation from their captains’ every step and every look. They all calmly checked and rechecked what they needed to do.

To the returning hunters, this entire scene looked absurd.

The calmness of the support staff, who were looked upon as the weakest fighting power among the groups, seemed to exude a ‘specialness’ that exceeded their abilities. This feeling of the support staff’s specialness started from the moment the hunters entered the base camp and saw the large monster carcasses neatly organized and stacked up.

The support staff were told what signals to observe, what situations to analyze, and what to do. Yeria was also doing her job from the back.

The Dong-Myung warriors were deployed at a distance in the rear to provide long-range attacks. They were prepared and ready with the ranged equipment and weaponry they brought in reserve.

In front of the square, five layers of long, knee-deep trenches had been prepared beforehand. After the trenches, there were piles of stones and other barriers installed at regular intervals. Another knee-deep trench ran vertically from behind these barrier structures, allowing access from the frontline to the rear and vice versa. Traps made of vines and various-sized branches were installed behind the physical barriers, and long spears made of wood were erected at an angle behind them. The people within the base had dense trees and large boulders behind their backs, so the terrain wasn’t suitable for monsters and beasts to attack them from behind.

The black waterish flow started to seep into the trenches. They were small crustacean-like creatures that resembled ants and were called ‘chik’. However, they were closer to a terrifying swarm of tiny carnivores. They had sharp teeth and possessed toxic poisons in their saliva, so once one was surrounded by these chik, there was virtually no way of escaping. When they were finished, even bones wouldn’t remain.

Fear started showing on the faces of the groups of hunters. In their minds, the screams of their colleagues who had been eaten by all of these monsters and beasts still remained in their minds like an afterimage.

The black current passed through the first trench, which killed a countless number of chik as the knee-deep trenches were filled with water with a thin layer of oil, extracted from the Archons, on top. However, the ‘black flow’ passed the first trench by stepping on the corpses of its comrades, leaving countless corpses in their progress forward. They were now entering the fifth and last trench without hesitation. Following closely behind, a group of Alpins started marching in at regular intervals with their deadly stingers readied.

‘A little bit more…’

Yuren was staring at the captains who seemed to possess superhuman patience. The moment the first group of chik were about to cross the last trench,

“First line, ignite!” 

“5th line, ignite!”

Dongye’s order rang through and shattered the silence in the mountains. Two torches were simultaneously thrown into the first and last trench.

Hwa-re-re-re-

Two bands of fire that ran at least 30 meters horizontally rose from the front.

All the chik that had already reached the fifth trench were instantly burned to death in the fire barrier, and the ones between the first and fifth trenches transferred the flames with their oil-stained bodies. Everything was on fire. In the mountain’s basin, the smell and smoke of burning protein filled the air. The flames followed the insect’s oiled paths and jumped from one area to another, creating a fire barrier that didn’t extinguish.

The group of approaching Alpins and larger beasts wandered around in place, unable to advance any further. Due to the large fires, the monster and beasts in the backline were clearly visible as if it was broad daylight. All the monsters were caught in the hunters’ sights. There were over a hundred beasts, eyes shining white from the flame’s reflection, that were gathered from side to side.

“First row, fire!” Dongye commanded.

The warriors and hunters notched arrows flew out. Since they were firing directly at their targets from a relatively short distance, the power and effectiveness of this wall of arrows were tremendous. In addition, the bright lights from the burning chik and bonfire illuminated the entire enemy line. The snarling monsters in the front row quickly rolled over on the ground with arrows pierced through them.

“I think they’ll be able to take it from here,” San calmly said as he surveyed the battlefield.

“Fortunately, there’s no monster stronger than an Algon,” Biyeon concurred.

San and Biyeon shot off into the darknessSan leaped to the left while Biyeon moved to the right. On the left and right sides of the flames, the forest’s darkness protected their movements.

A ‘Hawk’ sat comfortably on a tree branch.

Its wings were darkly dyed like a bat and neatly folded in. Its angel-like eyes were looking ahead, filled with the flickering lights from the fires. The corners of its mouth were curved upwards.

‘This is fun. There seem to be pretty smart humans here. They prepared very well as if they had expected the attack. Still, the forest is big and there are many moving things. Let’s see how long you can keep this up. How are you going to stop the attacks from the sky?’

Its gaze turned upwards toward the sky. The sky was turning black, completely blocking the starlight from reaching the base camp below. The hunters’ screams could be heard. The tail of the Hawk’s mouth rose even higher. The Hawk felt satisfied.

“Seems like you’re immensely enjoying yourself. It’s not very fun for me, though. Anyway, why don’t I have any affection for your kind?”

The Hawk quickly turned its head. At the same time, it kicked off with its legs and spread its wings. Its movement was based on instinct. Before recognizing the source of this voice, it knew that it should avoid it

Pu-ook-

Before it even took off, it stumbled on one side and fell off the branch. However, its body never touched the ground.

Something flowed down its face, dripping onto the ground.

‘Blood?’

It looked back. The human man was smiling. It turned its gaze towards its back. He was missing a whole wing. A familiar-looking wing was held in the man’s hand. The other wing was held in the man’s other hand, preventing the Hawk from descending onto the ground.

Only after realizing what happened did the excruciating pain from its back shoulders run through its body. The subsequent burst of blood obscured its view.

“Who?”

“A simpleton doesn’t need to know… if you ever come back to life, charge the Dong-Myung Clan for any damage!”

Its sight, though blurred with blood, momentarily saw a weapon used by the Dong-Myung Clan.

Bang-

Its head burst. The Hawk’s headless neck drooped down from the sudden, unexpected attack…

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