Chapter 32

“Someone’s pursuing us from behind.”

Two people were chasing them from underneath the clouds. While San and Biyeon made several jumps to cross the lake, the two pursuers jumped across the lake in one motion.

Biyeon tried to calm her deep, rough breath while fixing her helmet with a reddened face. Her whole body was drenched in sweat.

“There are two of them. I’m getting goosebumps on my back. Are they those almighty ‘Sages’?”

Something hissed by them.

“Eh… did they already reach the top?”

Biyeon looked up while sticking her tongue out. She glanced at the time on her watch. Turning her gaze downward, she stared at the last place where the bamboo shoots fell and frowned.

They continued up the spiral staircase. There was no attack from the monsters or beasts. As they expected, most of them were probably roasting in the square below. However, San and Biyeon seemed anxious.

At the top of the spiral staircase, the man and woman were leisurely waiting for them.

Sitting naturally on the topmost stair, they looked like they came out to play. San and Biyeon slowed down as they approached.

There were several roads ahead. Behind the Sages was a passage leading to the temple. A subtle light was shining from various buildings nearby.

The Sages were looking down at them with noble appearances.

San looked at them and tilted his head.

“Are you the guys Nil and Null? Or are you guys the ‘Sage’ dipshits I’ve heard about?”

“Your choice of words is very vulgar and disrespectful, young human.”

As if they came straight from the Greek era, the blond young man wore a Chiton-like robe and cloak. He smiled and waved his right hand. San hurriedly moved to his left.

San looked up-and-down his body to see if he was alright. The right shoulder portion of his jumper was sharply cut.

“Ho- look at this... isn’t this amazing? You were able to dodge using expanded spatial perception?”

The woman next to him looked at them with curious eyes. Biyeon glanced at San, and their eyes met, sparking a non-verbal conversation.

Biyeon changed the position of the rifle on her shoulder with her right hand and slightly zipped open her aviation jumper with her left hand. San put his left hand inside his jacket and raised his sword with his right hand.

Biyeon moved her feet to the side while looking behind. She gazed at the burning scenery below from the ledge of this plateaued area. San stepped in front of Biyeon while maintaining his attention on the Sages in front of him.

Biyeon quickened her pace. Her eyes were fixed on the Sages. For an outsider, it looked like she was trying to run away from fright.

The two approached the cliff together while being mindful of the Sages in front of them. She scanned her surroundings and then looked down the pillar’s cliff.

Her face was tense. A vast sea of flame was being created in the tower’s left area. It was their work.

The ‘Sages’ slightly turned their bodies away. They were enjoying this game. Their expressions were full of mockery. It was as if they were saying, ‘go ahead and do something if you can.’

“I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but it won’t work. Are you trying to escape after making your way up here and seeing that there’s no way of escaping? Where the hell are you going? The rumors must be true. You guys are idiots,” the female Sage, Setin, said sarcastically.

“Why don’t you guys just come with us instead of prolonging this idiotic game? Even though you guys damaged this place and wreaked havoc, you’ll be treated differently. Passing the third stage within a year and becoming true “Awakeners” … Wow! I still can’t believe it even though you’re both standing before my eyes.”

Biyeon stopped walking, her attention was fully focused on what was happening below the cliff. The sea of fire was raging below, about 1,000 meters below the top of the cliff.

She bit down hard on her lips. It seemed that something wasn’t going according to plan. Her anxiety had reached its peak. San’s expression subtly changed as he saw a Hawk flapping its wings in the corner of his eye.

The Hawk looked at the Sages with a terrified face while hiding behind a temple pillar.

San looked at Biyeon and the latter shook her head in response. Their conversation continued with their fingertips, glances, and facial expressions. He shrugged while she slightly sighed.

With grim eyes, Biyeon looked down again. San tapped the back of his sword on the palm of his hands. Their eyes were still strong and full of vitality, but their gazes were directed downwards. San started to speak, “Humans do things that sometimes seem useless. I want to choose when and where I die.”

“It’s not sometimes; it’s most of the time. Your species is a very dangerous and ugly race. That’s why Sages, and me in particular, dislike humans,” replied Seti, the male Sage.

“Sages aren’t human? If not, why do you look like a human that you so disdain? Isn’t there a contradiction in that logic?” Biyeon calmly retorted. Her voice trembled, and her eyes filled up with tears. The unfairness of it all…

“Well, we don't like that we look like human beings, either. Let’s just say there’s a long story behind it,” Setin responded.

“How is it to already be Awakened? I’ll make sure that you guys enjoy everything that can be enjoyed by humans. Will you be contracted? Show us your bodies. You’ll be treated differently,” Seti followed up.

At that moment, a large explosion rang out, followed by a small earthquake. Biyeon’s eyes lit up as she looked down. Seti and Setin tilted their heads with puzzled looks. San looked at Biyeon while saying, “How does it sound to you? Do you want to take up their offer?”

Biyeon smiled in reply.

“It sounds like a story about trafficking humans to become the Sages’ dogs. Shall we stay here and enjoy the carnal pleasures of violence and lust?”

San turned towards the Sages and asked with a bright smile on his face, “If we cooperate with you, can we return to our world?”

The Sages felt that the atmosphere was different than before.

Seti shook his head. “Well… that would be difficult.”

The earthquake vibrations were getting worse; even the massive temple was starting to shake. Seti and Setin’s complexions changed.

“What are you waiting for?” asked Setin.

Instead of answering, Biyeon fully unzipped and opened her flight jumper. She walked towards the cliff and smiled brightly as she looked at San.

“Thank you! Truthfully!”

San waved in response. It seemed like they were saying their goodbyes.

“Ha! That’s what I was going to say!” shouted San before Biyeon ran at full speed towards the cliff’s edge. The Sages’ eyes opened wide in surprise.

‘Suicide? After coming this far?’

At the same time, the two Sages leapt into the air and pursued Biyeon. Their movements were incredibly fast. Gunshots rang behind the Sages.

While they were momentarily stunned by being hit with San’s bullets, Biyeon had already jumped off the ledge. She vigorously stamped on the ground and rose up into the sky.

As she fell back down, she twisted in the air and looked towards San. She saw him pass the two Sages as he made his way to the cliff’s edge.

The Sages reached out to grab San with sneering faces. The sharp energy from their hands stretched out towards his back.

At that moment, something jumped in between. The Sages’ expressions became distorted. What was a Hawk doing here? The energy fired by the Sages broke the Hawk’s wing and shoulders. The refracted energy continued in a sideways path, crushing a temple pillar.

San jumped off the ledge and angled his body toward Biyeon’s direction. He abruptly changed the direction of his fall and shot out diagonally. His chest touched her back.

He tightly wrapped one of his arms around her waist and the other around her chest.

Biyeon’s hair fluttered upwards as they fell down together. He whispered something in her ear and bright smiles appeared on their faces. The Hawk stared at them with tears in its eyes. Below them was the lake of hydrochloric acid. Not even their bones would remain.

Something entered the Sages’ visions. The Sages’ bleak eyes opened wide.

Something white was coming out of Biyeon’s belly. It suddenly grew and bloomed like a blossoming flower.

Before long, the emergency secondary parachute, commonly referred to as ‘the white rose’ in the military, fully unfolded. The Sages looked at each other, their mouths half-open.

“Huh! This is… really amazing. The attempt was very good, but they still can’t get out of… huh?”

The descending speed of the parachute rapidly decreased as the hot heat coming up from below created a strong upward current. The parachute gained altitude, partly from the upward current and partly from the hot air being trapped in the billowing parachute, much like the effects of a hot-air balloon.

Before long, lava began erupting from the place where the bamboo shoots initially exploded. The eruptions, which started small, grew larger before shooting up like giant pillars on a massive scale. The compressed air shot up in the narrow space above the lava and was caught by the parachute, propelling the parachute ever higher into the sky.

As it climbed to a certain height, the parachute started moving faster laterally as it caught a powerful jet stream.

From a distance, one could see the ‘pores’ of the parachute open and close, adjusting the parachute’s direction.

The parachute, which unfolded once more in this alien sky, was beautiful. The white parachute drifted closer to the mountain range that enclosed this space. The strong updrafts and jet streams were quickly moving them along.

Their lives, hopes, and dreams were carried by the night’s breeze as they crossed the border of the space into the darkness beyond.

***

“So, my conclusion is that… under the best conditions, utilizing the best resources, and even using our full combat power, we failed to capture them. They also got rid of the means to pursue them. Isn’t that great?” stated the Master.

[End of Episode 1]

Exploration – Chapter 1

“Left foot-”

His voice rang in this simple space. Biyeon folded her right leg and stretched out her left. The motion of extending her legs while lying down felt comfortable and natural.

Her small feet had calluses here and there, but her toes were slim and pretty.

“They’ve grown quite a lot.”

San was in the process of cutting Biyeon’s toenails with the small scissors attached to his military-issued Swiss-Army knife. Her feet were naturally resting on his knees.

The nail clippers that they originally had were broken and unusable. Cutting one’s own toenails with scissors was very cumbersome and time-consuming, so they agreed to cut each other’s.

It was a bright and brilliant morning. The spring sun warmed their small open space on a mountainside. Light green sprouts squeezed through the ground all around them. The earth was filled with spring energy, and the sound of birds and water harmonized, leading one to feel a sense of peaceful drowsiness.

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