《Hark encounter on the way back》
Haroon’s group spent another night in Science Village. The villagers couldn’t hide their disappointment when they heard their chief explaining what Haroon’s visit actually meant, but they understood and were still thankful for the supplies Haroon brought.
Haroon accessed the only computer in the whole village for Bell to collect some intelligence, and someone even guided Haroon around the village. During dinner, he got to hear what his foster father was like from the villagers.
Haroon would have visited Cheong-il’s grave if there was one, but the village’s funeral tradition was to blow away the cremated ashes due to the fear of losing bodies to harks, so it was impossible.
He wanted to see and experience what sort of life they live, and what sort of contraptions they made if they had more time, but the others had things to do, so they had to go back to the Union. Haroon, too, didn’t really want to stay any longer with the pressure of fighting a horde of harks.
The chief, Ahri, and Bari didn’t bother to stop Haroon from leaving their village. It was clear they didn’t really care if Haroon left or not after discovering the truth, thought they didn’t express their thoughts with words.
Despite how they explained Haroon’s departing, the villagers seemed to be disappointed if not heartbroken. It seemed they weren’t expecting Haroon to come back to deal with the harks.
They also kept mentioning the amount of supplies Haroon brought. It seemed they were desperately trying to tell themselves that they’d gotten enough from Haroon.
There was no way Haroon couldn’t not see that, when he grew up being an unwelcome child in his foster families. He was upset to be treated so, but he could understand them, putting himself in their shoes.
At that point, he didn’t want to eat salt with them anymore. There wasn’t any reason for him to stay any longer.
The returning journey was much easier than the first one. First of all, there was no burden tormenting their shoulders. It was enough to make them feel much more comfortable about the long journey.
Just like the way they went to the village, the group moved in a line. It was still tiring, of course, as the temperature was murderously high when the sun was up, but there were no other threats. On journeys like this, it was best to move in a line, just focusing on the feet of the person in front, no matter what.
Haroon was at the tail of the group again. It was an intended position this time. It was normal for a group to position the beginners in the middle of the group when travelling outside of the barrier for the first time. In that way, the group could control the pace based on the beginner’s performance, and minimize the damage from possible threats. But no one in the group thought Haroon to be a mere beginner. Though he was at the tail of the group, they’d seen the stamina pool Haroon had, and how well he kept the pace.
Haroon left a piece of his consciousness to keep track of the footsteps of the group, and focused on his internal self. He focused on circulating ki in a precise route while casting Messenger Walking. The process of ki with fiery properties entering through his feet and circulating with his accumulated ki repeated.
According to the information in history that Bell recovered, people used to train their control of ki in a special posture called The Lotus Position, but it wasn’t like that in his case. The circulation of ki was achievable by repeating the same movement with minimum change.
It wasn’t an easy task, of course. At first the circulation would halt as soon as he lost focus. Ki was a sensitive thing that was affected by changes of the mind quite easily.
He’d experienced countless failures, but he already knew the answer: repeating the process with a strong sense of focus, and repeating it until the body learnt it.
It was a short journey, but there was no end to Haroon’s improvement after knowing the way of training it. He didn’t stop training even at the Science Village. He kept circulating ki by casting Messenger Walking whenever he could, and when it was time for them to return to the Union, his body was able to absorb and circulate the new incoming ki.
The group walked for six hours after sunrise before they stopped under the shade of a small forest. They were going to have some food, resting for about an hour.
Even though they were traveling without any burdens, their unmasked faces were still covered with sweat. Even with their thin clothing, they were still wet from sweat causing them to tighten around their bodies making it hard to breath.
“Yeah. You’re not even sweating, are you?”
As unmasked Haroon was taking a sip of water, Haeran and Nain came to chat. They weren’t just saying it. They were really surprised to see how Haroon was good at traveling outside the barrier. Nain was so surprised to see how calm Haroon was, and that was coming from someone who grew up in a village where they sent their children out traveling as a coming-of-age ceremony.
Haroon didn’t really have much to say about it, so just smiled back.
“How can you be so fit? I really want to know.”
“Me too. Do you happen to train Ki of some sort?”
Haroon didn’t answer. He couldn’t, to be exact, as Haeran was the one who got curious about what Nain had just asked.
“Ki? Is it something like mana?”
Nain tilted her head as Haeran asked.
“They say it’s hard to define, so I don’t know what exactly it is. What I do know is that it’s an unknown force that people who have broken their physical limit can use. In fact, there are many outers who have special abilities. Ki is one of them, and some use it on their weapons to deal with mutated creatures, or even sense dangers at a distant.”
Haroon was interested by her story.
He didn’t get to know ki in the specific way she mentioned, but even he could accumulate and use it, so maybe some outers learned to control ki and use it by studying it for centuries.
“It’s only a rumor, but they say there are mutated humans that have similar skin to harks or orgs. They can stay under the scorching sunlight, and can breathe air normally without getting any sort of cancer like us. They say it’s a human species that adapted to such environment, and that they’re much stronger than ordinary humans.”
It was an amazing story, that mutated humans existed. Maybe it was a natural thing, Haroon thought, as humans were known to be the most adaptive animal.
“It’s only a rumor, but that kinda proves that even ordinary humans have the potential to survive in such harsh environments. Well, this might have nothing to do with ki, but our chief can levitate things without touching them, or transfer his words into our peoples heads directly.”
“Whoa! That’s amazing. Isn’t it like a superpower then?” Haeran asked.
“Well, you could say that. The chief says it’s called psychokinesis, and that it excited in previous civilizations as well, but was too weak to be recognized as a significant power compared to scientific technologies. Nowadays, though, Earth is now full of that kind of energy so there are outers that have great potential in such energy, like teleporting, flying, even strong enough to bend iron sheets. But I guess that’s not the only thing that’s supernatural. You know, Rosu is three or four times stronger than an average warriors.”
‘The outside of the Barrier is full of energy, or ki? Is that why I was able to accumulate so much ki?’ Haroon thought.
It wasn’t something that anyone could answer. But then he got distracted by Seran calling everyone to get their food.
“Everyone, come and get some food!”
‘I guess I could ask Bell once I return to the Union. She said she’s got more sources of information so there might be something useful,” he thought.
He grabbed a bottle of traveling food Seran was handing out. It was the moment he was about to open the lid of his bottle with a soup-like content,
“IT’S A HARK!”
Some people shouted. They were workers who went into the forest to burn some grass. They were running, terrified, with their pants not properly pulled up.
The monster that was chasing the two men was definitely a hark. Unlike the last one that broke into the black market, it was a fully grown one.
The hark was at least four meters tall, had fur-less smooth skin, a muscular body, enormous fangs with saw-like teeth and its shiny claws were longer than 10 centimeters. As if showing off that it need not hurry, it slowly chased the workers.
It’s weight was making deep footsteps on the ground as it walked, but it wasn’t standing up straight like humans. It was slanted a bit forward. It was also wearing some kind of leather skirt to hide its lower body, which meant it was intelligent. Just knowing the concept of clothing proved how intelligent it was.
Haroon didn’t know that harks were this intelligent, as the hark he saw while working at a morgue wasn’t wearing any sort of clothing.
It loudly growled. The atmosphere shook, it was so threatening that the workers were cowering down, shaking in terror.
“Group up, everyone!” Rosu shouted.
His call was right. They were at the edge of a small woods, and there was desolate land behind the group with no cover. If they scattered and each ran for their lives, they all would have been caught by the hark. It was better to try fight it as a group.
“Get your weapons ready!”
On Rosu’s order, the warriors turned the handle of their weapons. The handle became twice as long in a second. It seemed that it was a specially designed weapon to deal with harks to match their tall height.
The situation was getting tenser, and Nain suddenly did something really unexpected. She couldn’t be more angry, and she was looking directly at the hark.
“It’s the one! That one is the hark that killed my father and his warriors! That broken fang is my father’s work!”
Shouting, Nain thoughtlessly ran forward. She had no weapon in her hand, but she wasn’t in a state to act rationally. Varan stopped her before anything stupid happened.
The warriors gathered around Rosu with their long weapons ready. They positioned themselves in a semicircular formation. They were preparing for a pincer attacks, but their face were pale with fright.
They were trembling, but they weren’t running away or cowering down like the workers. They’d been making a living out of escorting the merchants, so they stood strong and bravely faced the hark.
Haroon slightly moved his belt so he could draw his sword at any moment, and took out the throwing knife that killed the harkling in the black market. He was standing between the warriors and workers. No one was actually paying attention to Haroon. The workers were knocking their knees together, terrified at encountering a hark in such an open area.
The hark seemed to be outraged by the humans approching with their weapons and not intimidated by it. Slowly it ran toward the group, making horrifying growls. The ground shook and screamed with pain as its heavy steps hit the ground.
Just as they’d trained, the wings of the Youngheong warriors’ formation advanced slowly to put the hark in the middle. However, this strategy was easily defeated by the hark. The hark swung its club tearing the wind, the warriors scattered like scared geese. They couldn’t not be scared of getting hit by its powerful swing.
Varan avoided the club by crouching down, and using the momentum of jumping up to his feet like a spring he charged at the hark. His greatsword shining in the sunlight aimed for the chest of the hark.
There was a loud clanging sound. Taking it as the signal to make follow-up attacks, the warriors advanced only to be stopped the next moment by what they witnessed. Their eyes widened.
They were expecting it to be a successful attack, but the hark hit the side of the greatsword with its left hand. The claws that were over 10 centimeters long were as solid as swords, which explained the clanging sound.
Varan groaned as he staggers back from the impact of his mighty attack getting blocked and being knocked to the side. It had seriously good sight. It precisely hit the side of the greatsword that was being swung which only meant it had great eyesight.
While that was happening, the warriors surrounded the hark in a circle.
“Everyone, attack at the same time!” Rosu shouted as he dashes at the Hark.
The warriors each wielded their weapon at the hark. The hark was in range of their weapons as the handles were longer than usual. Haeran and Nain’s faces were bright with anticipation seeing ten warriors attacking the hark at the same time.
‘That’s not gonna work!’
Haroon wanted to shout. The attacks were too plain. The hark had the advantage in strength, and they were trying to fight it with pure strength. Their attacks were simple, It was unknown whether they intended to not approach with a strategy or if they were just too scared to think of one, but they were all aiming at the same point.
And Haroon’s prediction was right. As the humans began to attack, the hark made a spin attack. Not only did two warriors get hit on their waists, but the others were forced to back off due to the sudden halt of their moves. However, Rosu lowered his upper body as if he was falling down, and got up as soon as the club passed over his head. At that moment, he was close enough to the hark, and it was as if the sacrifice of fellow warriors earned him a chance to attack the hark.
Rosu’s body was pushed backward with a horrible metal sound. It was its left claws again, that blocked the attack. But the attack wasn’t a total failure, as it broke one of its claws
The hark opened its mouth wide and cried out in pain, numbing people’s ears and making them gasp with horror. It’s cry was full of wrath. Haeran and Nain’s faces were pale white, and they were trembling.
‘Everyone will die if the fight continues like this!’, Haroon thought
He knew that the basics of combat was morale. The fight could be a even match if they had strong morale even if they were behind the power, but now the leaders were being defeated by the hark and it discouraged the warriors.
Biting his lower lip, Haroon put his throwing knives back into his belts and drew his sword.
Shouting, he dashed forward. He wasn’t casting Messenger Walking, but he was running as if he was a stretched spring going back to its original state. Like the beak of a bird, the steel sword pointed at its head and was shining white.
But the hark was swift enough to deal with Haroon’s speed. It’s muscular left arm twitched a bit, and its claws hit the side of Haroon’s sword, making the same clanging sound. Haroon was knocked over to the side form the impact, shot at the ground. With the pain of organs and bones shaking, he vomited blood.
‘Kugh! Lump orcs are nowhere close to the harks. It has good eyesight and reaction speed. Sense Sword would be no use here,’ he thought.
He wasn’t as swift as the hark, so Sense Sword that helped him look for an opening while blocking or dodging its attack had no use. If he were to use it, he should have joined them when they were making the first attack.
Fortunately, Varan and Rosu attacked the hark to distract it from attacking Haroon, and it earned him enough time to get back up. He was still staggering as if he was drunk. Though he still managed to hold his sword, his hands were in pain.
He shook his head to get his focus back, and he saw two men simultaneously getting blown back by the hark’s long arms. It was the result of them lunging at the hark to prevent the hark from chasing Haroon until he recovered.
‘We have to find a different method,’ Haroon thought.
That was the conclusion he made after facing it one time. It was so swift that it could leave afterimages with its large body. He might be able to deal with it more easily if he had the help of Brat and other elemental spirits, but he wasn’t in Beyond.
Considering what it was capable of, defeating it with throwing knives was hitting a rock with an egg. Keeping that in mind, he made a plan.
There was no more time to hesitate. The hark seemed to be moving to finish off the two leaders of the group. He saw the two who’d lost grip of their weapons, not being able to get up as the shock was too much to handle.
Shouting again, Haroon dashed forward, holding his sword in front. The tip of the blade was aiming at its heart. Its metal-like claws hit the side of the blade. But it was all expected. Haroon timed the impact and intentionally loosen his grip on the sword and let the torque control his body.
He worried that it might not work as he wasn’t playing a game, but it was rather successful considering that it was his first time trying it out. His body spun two times in the air after being bounced off, but his body was getting shot up into the air. In a split second, his legs were at the same level as the harks’ chests.
As he planned, he took out two throwing knives from his belt, using the time when he was spinning in the air but belatedly realized there was no time for him to throw them. He saw its right claw being brandished at his head, and he knew he was at a disadvantage while it became a race against time.
He hurriedly moved his legs to kick the hark in the air. He was planning to throw knives, while escaping its attack range by kicking off its right claw. He knew he could kick the hark before its claws reach his head.
But to others, it seemed that he would lose his head to the hark’s claw.
“NOOOO!” Haeran shouted.
“OOOT!” Nain made a strange shout.
She firmly gripped her fists and pushed straight forward at chest level, spread her legs as if she was riding a horse. Her hair stood on end, a sphere of light formed around her body, and it was shot at the hark.
‘What was that?’
When he kicked the hark’s chest, he felt as if the tip of his foot was getting electrocuted. But it only lasted for a moment before his body was being shot away from the hark.
‘It stopped!’ Haroon thought.
He didn’t know what happened, but he saw that the hark wasn’t moving at all.
‘This is the chance!’
His eyes brightened. He couldn’t miss such golden opportunity to attack the hark.
The hark was not moving at all, like a still image, but then it saw Haroon who was already at eye level with it. At that moment, its eyeballs moved. It was the sign that its stiffened body was moving again.
Haroon was spitting blood as the consecutive impacts messed up his internal organs, but he couldn’t miss the chance. Two throwing knives were shot at the stopped hark.
The hark couldn’t dodge the throwing knives that were shot just a few meters away. It sensed the knives and tried to jerk back its head, but it was too late.
Two daggers hit its eyes.
He was too close to the hark and wasn’t in a posture to powerfully throw the knives, but those daggers were sharp enough to stick into its eyes, making it cry with pain. The next moment, Haroon was hit and got knocked away by the hark as it aimlessly swung its arms in the air.
“It’s blinded! Surround it then attack!”
Rosu was bleeding from his palms and mouth, but he didn’t miss the golden opportunity Haroon made. The warriors were uplifted by their leader pulling himself together, and attacked the hark from all directions.
The hark swung its arms screaming at the pain of warriors stabbing and slashing its body, but it couldn’t defend or attack effectively while it was blinded.
Some warriors were hooked by its fast arms and flung into the air as they screamed, but the hark took serious damage as well. No matter how tough and hard its skin was, it had to yield under the attack of the warriors. Sharply refined weapons made countless scars, and it couldn’t run away as it is blinded.
Varan and Seran recovered and started attacking the hark. Without letting it have time to even breathe for over ten minutes, the hark became overwhelmed with fear. It tried to run away, ignoring the attacks.
The blades cut deeply into its flesh, but it wasn’t deep enough for it to bleed. When it escaped its surrounding humans, it changed its posture in a split second.
Like a beast, it started running using its arms as well. The way the hark was standing up seemed somewhat awkward, and it was all explained when they saw it running with four feet. Its speed while running on all fours was unexpected.
“We have to chase it and finish it off! It can find us with just its sense of smell! It’s vengeful, I say!”
Nain hurriedly shouted.
But there was no one who could chase it. None of them had such stamina or strength. Baran, Rosu and the other warriors had received major or minor injuries, and they were too exhausted. When the hark ran away, they collapsed to the ground, catching their breath.
Nain and the warriors felt grief. Now it would never leave their side and attack them at any time. It was fortunate that they didn’t get slaughtered by the hark, but now they had to face future troubles.
They knew how persistent harks were, as well as their unique vengefulness. But were powerless to chase it for now. They’d been wielding their weapons with all their might. Also, six warriors were badly hurt by its club and claws.
Nain, who was shutting her eyes from the concern of facing the revenge of the hark, opened her eyes at Haeran’s shout. Haroon, who was thrown aside by the hark got up before they knew it, and was chasing the hark..
“It’s dangerous! You can’t do it alone!”
But her warning was too late. Haroon was already dashing at the speed of the wind. Nain and the warriors’ eyes were chasing Haroon’s back in disbelief.
It was clear that Haroon received serious internal damage as he was vomiting blood, but he was running at a speed that matched the harks’.
The hark running on all fours was faster than the horse, with such flexibility and agility despite its size. And yet Haroon was matching such speed.
Looking at the hark and Haroon getting smaller as they reach the horizon, they became speechless.
“H-he’s really amazing,” said Nain, still not being able to tear her eyes off Haroon.
“Right, that pal’s a born warrior. He has a warriors’ talent of knowing how to fight,”
Said Rosu, who came close to Nain before she knew it. As he believed now was a good time to ease his tension, he collapsed on the ground.
He looked at Haroon’s back in unhidable admiration. Coming up with a plan to utilize the enemy’s strength after taking several hits that caused internal damage was not an ability one could easily build with experience. One needed to be persistent, cool-headed and quick at making judgements.
“What was that though?”
Haeran asked Nain, as they were out of trouble for now.
Nain’s hair was back to normal, without a hint that it once stood up in all directions. But her face was pale and rough as if she’d gotten 10 years older.
“Telekinesis. Also known as psychokinesis. It isn’t great, I can stop the target only for a moment.”
Haeran and Seran looked at her in surprise. They’d known her for a long time, but they only thought Nain was simply smart and had a great ability to perceive.
“So you were a superhuman.”
“That’s an embarrassing title. You’ve saw it too, didn’t you? All I can do is stop the enemy for two or three seconds. So just forget about it.”
Nain’s face color was now back to red, as she was finding it really embarrassing.
“But if it wasn’t for you, Haroon wouldn’t have been able to plunge his knives into the hark’s eyes.”
“Why, he’d already kicked the hark jump out. He would have made it without me using telekinesis. It was already going according to his plan.”
“Well, I know that’s true, but…….”
Then she remembered how awfully she screamed at the scene where Haroon seemed to be getting killed by the hark, and embarrassed herself, she couldn’t end her sentence.
“We have to treat people now,”
Nain stopped the conversation. Actually there was no time for them to chat. Warriors including Rosu received several injuries. Haeran sister and the workers were the only ones who were fine. Nain who used telekinesis could barely stand upright.
Translated by Channy
Edited by Kmatt