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(TL note: this chapter hasn’t been edited. If you spot grammatical faux pas every now and then, please do forgive me.)
The overall atmosphere wasn’t so good.
Quite some time had passed since the expedition had come to a stop, yet Dylan was maintaining his silence. An expression of unhappiness was writ large on Samuel’s face, too. Both them were simply glaring at the blameless ground. Since two Archers acknowledged by the others as experienced and excellent were displaying roughly the similar expressions, it was quite likely that something had gone terribly awry somewhere.
And when the waiting time extended even further, Ian had no choice but to step up, although he didn’t want to do so originally.
“Is something the matter?” (Ian)
“….We found the traces of footprints that are definitely not human, but we can’t figure out who they belong to yet.” (Dylan)
Dylan replied in a straightforward manner. Samuel too slowly shook his head. Now that the worst situation had come true, Ian was also displaying a crumpled expression.
“Hmm… If both of you are not sure, would you mind telling me if there is something of note? I can’t give you any guarantees, but because I’ve been virtually living inside the royal library for a long time, I ended up memorising the unique characteristics of most monster species.” (Ian)
Samuel found Ian’s suggestion reasonable, so he shifted his gaze back to the ground.
“First of all…. The length, and the width, of each footprint are quite large. The smallest is around 1.2 times bigger than an average human male, and the biggest is around 1.5 times.” (Samuel)
“A good chance it’s a species with big physique, then. Anything else?” (Ian)
“The depths of each print are also substantial. It’s not like the surface here is soft as it was back by the entrance of the forest, either… Ah, and we can also see several strands of earth-coloured fur as well.” (Samuel)
“Earth-coloured, you say?” (Ian)
Ian’s brows quivered unsteadily.
“Are they light in colour? Or are they dark?” (Ian)
“They are light.” (Samuel)
Samuel swiped the ground with his index finger and nodded his head as if he was sure of it.
“And then….” (Samuel)
“By any chance, are their six toes, no, I mean, six claw marks as well?” (Ian)
Ian’s question sounded rather urgent. The person who told them to stay calm couldn’t keep his anxiety down at all.
“Pardon? Ahh, yes, that’s correct. I was about to tell you that just now.” (Samuel)
“Also, are there small but deep grooves somewhere in the prints? Like, a sharp object pierced the ground then pulled out, something like that?” (Ian)
Samuel dazedly stared back at the Sorcerer. His face seemed to say Well, how did you know that?
Ian began biting his lips.
“D*mn it, they are Lioners!” (Ian)
“Excuse me?” (Dylan)
Quite unlike him, Dylan grandly flinched after hearing that.
“Lioners…. That Lioner?!” (Samuel)
Samuel belatedly began frowning as well.
“But, but…. But, that doesn’t make sense. Why would Lioners be here at the Forest of Denial….?” (Samuel)
“I also know that Lioners don’t live in the Forest of Denial, but call the mountain range on the other side their home. But that’s not what’s important, is it not? All the clues you’ve found match the description of a Lioner. And you actually discovered their trace right here, right now!” (Ian)
“Looks like this expedition is now over.” (Dylan)
Dylan turned around as if to indicate that there was no point in going further forward, but Samuel remained hesitant.
“Samuel, let it go. Those b*stards are well known for their wily smarts as hunters, never mind their expertise on cloaking their presence, too. Trying to fight them inside the Forest of Denial is a complete madness.” (Ian)
Even when Ian urged him with a desperate voice, Samuel continued to hesitate. Seol Ji-Hu wondered why he was wasting time like that when there was a clear danger waiting for them up ahead – then, the youth recalled the conversation of the night before. And that bitter smile on Samuel’s face at the end of it, too.
Seol Ji-Hu was about to activate ‘Nine Eyes’, but stopped himself. He needed to regulate his emotions, after all. He was not confident of maintaining his calm if he saw deep, deep red or jet-black colour. Since Ian was doing his best to persuade Samuel, Seol Ji-Hu decided to wait for a bit longer.
“However…. We’re almost there. We’ve definitely gone past the entrance of the forest. Give me one hour. No, 30 minutes. I am confident of locating the tomb. And besides, we should be able to handle three or four Lioners if it comes down to that.” (Samuel)
Samuel couldn’t simply let it go. Ian was frustrated, but he kept his cool and continued on with his words.
“My friend. Indeed, there are a few occasions where a Lioner might act on its own, but most of the time they hunt in large packs. More importantly, an adult male Lioner is capable of overwhelming a level 3 Warrior, and it can fight on an even ground against a level 4, too.” (Ian)
“Is that all? The pack’s most important priority, the female Lioner, might not necessarily participate in the battle, but…. even then, it easily exceeds a level 4 Warrior. And the leader of the pack is a true, bona fide monster that can fight on equal footing against a level 5 Warrior. Kahn most likely died because of that thing!” (Ian)
As soon as Kahn was mentioned, Samuel sobered up. His inner conflict lasted only for a brief second. Samuel gritted his teeth and made an announcement.
“….This expedition is officially over. We are leaving the Forest of Denial right away, everyone.” (Samuel)
Ian nodded his head in relief after hearing Samuel’s decision. Seol Ji-Hu also let off a sigh of relief as well. Now that the decision had been made, their movements were swift.
“We increase our pace! We will maintain this pace until we leave the forest, so do not fall behind!” (Samuel)
His expression was dark but still, Samuel shouted out energetically and turned around. But, it happened then.
A weighty noise entered everyone’s ears. Shortly after that, the sounds of the tall grasses rustling around, too. Everyone in the expedition froze on the spot.
“They were already waiting for us?!” (Ian)
Ian spat out a rueful groan after realising that it was already too late. Seol Ji-Hu instinctively activated his Nine Eyes, and saw a sea of red around him.
Something that had been lying flat on the ground out in front slowly raised its body up. Seol Ji-Hu’s line of sight rose upwards to match the creature even before he realised it.
The giant that silently rose up was a monster boasting the eyes of a predatory beast and the wild set of lion-like manes. Its height easily exceeded three metres, and the light earth-coloured fur covered its entire frame. The muscles on the upper torso was developed evenly like that of a human being, but the lower torso resembled more of an animal – lean, but taut and firm.
One eye-catching detail was a lengthy scar extending from its chest all the way down to its belly. It was more or less fully healed now, but still, it seemed fresh.
“It’s the….. leader of the Lioners!” (Ian)
Ian spat out a long sigh.
The first Lioner to reveal itself kicked the ground. It ran as if it was flying and closed the distance in an instant, landing in front of the expedition with a loud boom.
One could sense that the Lioner in front of them was on a different level altogether from all the other monsters they had fought until now, simply from the aura it exuded.
Shortly after that….
*SFX for the Lioner growling*
Lioner’s vividly yellow eyes seemed to gleam in a dangerous light, before its chest expanded and its mouth opened up wide.
A powerful roar so shrill that a spectre could have made it reverberated throughout the forest.
Seol Ji-Hu fell down on his knees after his senses were assaulted by the roar that tried to rip his flesh into pieces. It wasn’t only him, however – there was no need to mention the two porters; Klara, Grace, and even Alex fell down as well. Not only that, even Samuel and Cho Hong faltered, too.
His eardrums were numb. His sight blurred and his consciousness became muddled. What drove him even more crazier was the fact that he so desperately wanted to deny ‘something’.
“Motus stabilitatem!!” (Ian)
It was then – along with Ian’s shouts, Seol’s blurred sights cleared up in an instant. His heart felt more comfortable, and his consciousness sharpened as well.
“That was….?” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu muttered to himself and raised both of his hands. Some kind of shining powder strewn from above landed on his palms and seeped under his skin.
“Tsk. I should have ‘memorised’ at least one attack spell.” (Ian)
Ian lowered his staff and without a warning, got down on his knees. He then unfurled a scroll on the ground and opened his gown before pulling out a small potion bottle. He quickly poured blue salt-like powder on the paper.
Alex too had recovered his wits and rapidly pulled out his crucifix and began mouthing a chant.
“Hey, that – isn’t that Kahn’s weapon?” (Dylan)
Dylan spoke as he pointed with his crossbow loaded with a bolt.
Just as he said, the Lioner leader was holding a black halberd in one hand. As it was held by a giant of a monster, it looked a little like a toy, but from a human’s perspective, it looked plenty threatening still.
Along with the sound of explosion, the Lioner leader retreated while raising its arm. There were two bolts stuck in its forearm, but none of them had penetrated too deeply.
The black irises contained within the narrowly-opened eyes lowered slightly. The Lioner leader was staring deeply at the Sorcerer kneeling on the ground, not Dylan in front. (TL: Nope, I didn’t make a mistake here; raw clearly said ‘black’ irises….)
Because it was a creature that didn’t possess a high enough intelligence and thus remained faithful to its instincts, it was able to sense it – that the one responsible for reviving the prey on the verge of collapsing was that human.
*SFX for a low growling*
As soon as it spat out growling noises, other Lioners hiding left and right revealed themselves one by one. Three on the left, and four on the right. They all carried human’s weapons and slowly trudged closer to the expedition. They were all smaller than the leader, but none of them were shorter than two metres in height.
“F*ck me. Nine Lioners, huh…. Just what the hell is wrong with this d*mn forest?”
The lamentation was kept to a minimum. Seol Ji-Hu realised that the combatants of the expedition had circled around him already.
“I’ll take on the one in front. Hugo, Klara, take the left. Samuel and Grace, the right. We need to hold on until Master Ian is done with his spell.” (Dylan)
Dylan issued simple instructions and slowly stepped forward.
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And as soon as the other four also pounced forward, the team’s counterattack had begun for good. With loud battle cries, humans and monsters clashed.
Dylan fired his crossbow, and the leader of Lioners used an explosive turn of speed to close the gap and swung the black halberd down. It looked as if it’d cleave Dylan in two, but in the end, it simply slammed down on the ground, instead. Meanwhile, he had circled to the rear of the Lioner, pulled out a dagger sheathed in his belt, and slashed at the monster’s muscular thigh.
The surprised monster angrily tried to swat him away. However, Dylan again vanished from the spot and reappeared to the creature’s side.
He rapidly fired five bolts in quick succession. All of them were accurately aimed at the vital spots of the monster, but the Lioner reflexively crouched and protected itself. Of course, it still couldn’t avoid getting hit on the arms and the legs.
As if it got royally p*ssed off now, the Lioner leader began swinging the halberd indiscriminately.
Boom! Slam!! Bam! Kwang!!
Each of the hit was heavy enough to rock the ground, but none of them found the mark. Dylan easily evaded them all, took some distance, and continued to fire his bolts.
‘Maybe we can….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu grew hopeful, thinking that, although Dylan was unable to damage the Lioner critically, wouldn’t the big guy be able to win if he persisted in this fashion – only to end up flinching next.
Because, he just noticed the Lioner leader stealing glances in his general direction, that was why. It was as if it was being mindful of something.
‘Hang on a minute.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
What if that monster ignored Dylan and rushed over here?
The Lioner leader was actually going to do that, so it turned its body towards Seol Ji-Hu. But then, its expression crumpled rather unsightly after Cho Hong stood in its way.
Seol Ji-Hu spat out a sigh of relief. He was wondering why Cho Hong hadn’t entered the fray, but as it turned out, she was their ‘Keeper’. Dylan could concentrate freely only because she was protecting this area.
“Hey.” (Cho Hong)
Cho Hong suddenly talked to him.
“Don’t be scared and stick close by me. This noona will definitely protect you.” (Cho Hong)
Seol Ji-Hu thought about arguing the logic behind that statement, but shifted his gaze away after noticing Cho-Hong quickly alternating her gaze to her right and left.
Hugo was swinging that battle axe of his with everything he had. He was madly attacking the Lioners, but as he was surrounded by four of them, his wounds kept on piling up.
Klara was continuously firing her arrows, but none of them could penetrate the thick hide of her targets and simply bounced away, meaning she was not much of a help at all.
The situation on the right was even worse than left.
The battle hadn’t been long, yet Grace’s shield lay on the ground, broken. She was precariously hanging on with a single longsword. If it weren’t for Samuel crazily throwing whatever throwing daggers he had on him, she would’ve turned into a tenderised slab of meat a while ago.
The flow of the battle looked very unfavourable at the moment. Dylan was holding a upper hand somehow, but the situation on either sides were not so good. If one side collapsed, then the ensuing situation would be pretty obvious for anyone to see.
A sudden scream from the side caused Seol Ji-Hu to reflexively circulate his magic power.
A crisis finally happened. Grace inexplicably tossed her longsword away, grasped her head, and screamed. It would be hard to control one’s emotions during a serious life-or-death battle. And because of that, the effects of the Forest of Denial had taken over her mind.
On the flip side, this was the perfect opportunity for the Lioners. Just as they extended their weapons towards Grace rolling around on the ground, Alex shouted something out and reached out with his left hand.
A thin, semi-transparent barrier formed around Grace. It truly had appeared at the right time. All the attacking weapons got reflected away.
“God d*mn it!! Why don’t you help me out here too?!” (Alex)
Hugo cried out in a dissatisfied voice. Alex calmly reached out with his left hand again.
“Luxu – Lu – Luxuria!!” (Alex)
The four Lioners attacking Hugo suddenly stopped moving. Seizing upon this chance, Hugo swung his axe at the neck of one of his enemies, and a long line of blood flew in the air.
Finally, one had been felled, but Hugo was already full of wounds. His once-shiny armour was dented and crushed, while blood continued to stream down from his numerous wounds.
For a short while, the light of indecision flickered within Alex’s eyes. He chanted another spell, and Hugo’s body began emitting a bright light, as his sluggish movements regained some speed. However, his crucifix turned into dust right away.
Alex didn’t even have enough time to feel the pain of losing his precious item, and shifted his gaze to the right. The protective barrier was about to shatter.
“Cho Hong!!” (Dylan)
Dylan called out to Cho Hong and stood in between the Lioner leader and the expedition team. The b*stard resembled a hedgehog with all the bolts poking out from its body, but it still looked pretty much fine.
Meanwhile, Cho Hong was already on the move. Her long hair whipped about as she ran to the right. She ran like a streak of lightning and swung her mace at the back of the monster’s head as it concentrated on breaking the barrier.
A fountain of blood exploded and one more Lioner keeled over. The remaining three spun around to face her, and as if they had a prior arrangement, began attacking her simultaneously. She got into a defensive position and raised her empty left arm.
Thud! Thud! Thud!!
A longsword, an axe and a spear were all deflected away in that order.
In the empty air – no, on her left arm, a white shield could be seen.
‘A divine spell?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Cho Hong’s feet left a pair of long grooves on the ground as she was pushed back, but she was not wounded at all.
“Samuel! Throw them off and get back here!” (Cho Hong)
She displayed swift footwork and approached her enemies in a zigzag pattern, before spinning in a half-moon orbit and swung her mace. She didn’t just jump into their midst but made sure to circle around them and bought as much time as possible.
While Cho Hong attracted the aggro of all three monsters, Samuel dragged Grace away. The flow of the battle that could have tilted the wrong way stabilised once more with Cho Hong’s participation.
‘What am I supposed to do now?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
After circulating for dozens of times, both of Seol Ji-Hu’s Magic Power and Circuit had been warmed up properly now, and they felt boiling hot. His ‘Nine Eyes’ still returned the colour red.
He wanted to fight together with them. He didn’t want to be protected all the time.
However, he was not in a position to make a move carelessly. Didn’t he agree not to mindlessly jump into the battle before coming here?
It wasn’t only that, either. With Cho Hong taking over for Grace, there was no ‘Keeper’ anymore. She didn’t have a choice in the matter, but at this rate, both the Sorcerer and the Priest wouldn’t even be able to put up a resistance and die if there happened to be a sneak attack.
‘For the time being….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu made up his mind. He put the heavy bag down and pulled out his spear.
Both Dylan, still busy contending against the Lioner leader, and Alex, still desperately chanting out the next spell, glanced at Seol Ji-Hu. They didn’t say anything. Because, the current situation was precarious enough to ask a level 1 to do something. It was then.
Ian had finished what he was doing, and finally stood up from his spot. His entire face was soaked in sweat – so much so that even his lengthy beard was dripping wet as well.
On the ground, there were five unfurled scrolls. There were intricate geometric shapes drawn on them with the blue salt-like powder.
Ian’s eyes opened up wide. All five scrolls suddenly burned away and blue grains emitted bright light beams. They then rose up to the air in a helix starting from the left side, before the rotation picked up speed and shapes formed from the five spirals.
Their final forms were five spears made of ice. Resembling a stalactite found in a limestone cave or some such, the sharp blue spears began spinning crazily like a power drill.
Ian raised his staff up and loudly cried out.
“Ark – Se – Arkadia!!” (Ian)
Ice spears exploded forward as if they were catapulted off from a rubber band pulled back to the limit. Two spears to the right, two to the left, and the last one, to the front.
As soon as those ice spears flew off to their targets, pathetic cries resounded out from here and there. The monster with its head pierced through died instantly. There was one that managed to cover its vital spots, but still, its arms and the lower torso had been penetrated.
Too bad for them, the penetration was not the end but just the beginning of their troubles.
The ice spears penetrating the flesh gradually disappeared as if they were getting absorbed by their hosts. As they got smaller and smaller, layers of ice covered more and more of the Lioners’ flesh.
In the end, even the Lioner leader fell down on one knee. It was not spared either, as one of its shins with the ice spear lodged in it was gradually being taken over by the blue ice at the moment.
It had been paying a close attention to the Sorcerer, but it couldn’t shake off the Archer and ended up getting hit like this.
The flow of the battle had changed drastically now. Two monsters had died in an instant, while three of them had received mortal wounds as well. That was including the Lioner leader, as well.
Dylan would never miss a chance like this one.
“Don’t give them any respite, and kill them all!” (Dylan)
He quickly took a greater distance away while taking off the crossbow attached to his arm. He then pulled out his massive longbow. His main Job was the Arch Shooter. A sniper.
‘So, this is a Sorcerer….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu had been watching on anxiously, but after seeing this new development, he inwardly let out a cry of admiration.
With the good timing, Alex also completed his divine spell, and that allowed the dangerously-tottering Hugo to regain his balance. Seol Ji-Hu clenched his fist tightly.
‘We can this.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
The best proof of this was the colour of his Nine Eyes changing from red to orange….
‘What?!’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu’s eyes opened widely. The moment that Lioner leader roared, the forest that briefly changed back to orange reverted back to crimson red.
‘But, why?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Sure, their situation hadn’t become truly advantageous yet, but compared to before, it was definitely for the better. Both Cho Hong and Samuel worked together to suppress the enemies, and with Alex’s support, Hugo should be able to endure until the end of the battle, too. More importantly, Dylan had pulled the string of his longbow to the absolute max and was aiming at the Lioner leader.
Simply taking one look at all the arcs of electricity buzzing around the arrowhead told how dangerous this attack would be. If struck, the best one could hope for would be a mortal injury. However, the eyes of the Lioner leader, even as it stared at this arrow, was drawing a confident, mocking grin.
‘It’s laughing?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Just as Dylan let loose the string, Seol Ji-Hu formed a frown. The Lioner leader crouched and bared its fangs. At the same time, the youth felt a creepy, chilly air tickle by his neck.
Seol Ji-Hu witnessed the arrow of electricity penetrate the Lioner leader and hurriedly spun around to look behind him.
Right then, he spotted yet another Lioner without a set of manes leaping up from its hiding place and rapidly closing the distance.[The pack’s most important priority, the female Lioner, might not necessarily participate in the battle, but….]
Ian’s words rapidly popped up in his mind.
“Above youuuuuu!!” (Seol Ji-Hu)
Seol Ji-Hu cried out as if he lost his mind.
Dylan shifted his head slightly, only for his jaw to drop. Hugo was enduring with all his might started frowning even deeper; Samuel and Cho Hong, managing to kill one more Lioner through their combined efforts, began freaking out, too.
Despair filled the faces of Ian and Alex.
As if it had been aiming precisely for this moment, the eyes of the Lioner crossing the air gleamed coldly. As the monster pulled back the axe held in its hands, getting ready to chop down, Seol Ji-Hu suddenly found himself trapped in this strange sensation.
During this short period of time, everything he took in had slowed down to a crawl.
‘What am I doing?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
He felt dizzy now as if he was drunk.
‘I should be dodging.’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
His gut lurched painfully.
‘I gotta? Really?’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
All sorts of emotions swept past in his heart.
The front locks of his hair danced in the air. Only then did Seol Ji-Hu realise that he was running to the front.
He knew he shouldn’t have done that.
Yet, his body moved on its own.
The voice of shocked Alex grew further away.
The boiling-hot Magic Power circulated like crazy. It crashed all over his body with the force of violent storm waves.
The slow-moving world suddenly reverted back to normal. And in that moment, his breathing stopped from the powerful ennuying fear.
‘I want to live….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
Sweat seeped into his eyes and it stung.
‘I don’t want to die…!’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
His muscles were freezing up from the blades of winds slicing into his flesh. This was the terror of death he was feeling for the second time in his life.
Seol Ji-Hu grasped the spear shaft tightly. He gritted his teeth and glared at the descending monster.
He had been simulating thousands of times, and practised tens of thousands of times more back in the Neutral Zone.
‘I can….’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
All of those, exactly for moments like this!
‘….Do it!’ (Seol Ji-Hu)
In the next moment….
Seol Ji-Hu finally succeeded in straightening his arms that wanted to shrink back instead.
The axe falling fast and hard as if to split apart the world, and the spear smoothly gliding upwards collided in the middle of the way.
< 54. Can Be Done, Can’t Be Done (1) > Fin.
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