As a result of investigating the mountain over 2 days, I gained several pieces of information.
Firstly: There were a very large number of wild animals all over Mt Bukhan.
Secondly: The kinds of small animals varied from rabbits, squirrels, badgers, raccoons, to hedgehogs.
Thirdly: Dead animals with marks of being ripped apart with long claws were notably common.
Fourthly: Many traps had been recently set up.
The first and second were normal on a lush green mountain area, but the third and fourth bothered me. Especially the fourth.
‘Is it simply for hunting animals? Or…?
The traps were all over the mountain. The amount set up over the past month was especially overwhelming in number. It meant that there were either huntsmen or illegal poachers. Or perhaps…I couldn’t be sure of it. I still couldn’t throw away the likelihood that the fanatics of Aletheia had also returned to the past.
This was why I was hiding my tracks and searching for them. In case their aim was the ‘gate’, I had to be ready for combat. Fortunately, I had a slingshot. I would be able to put up a good fight if they’d only recently awakened. But if they possessed hunting rifles, air rifles, and the like?
‘It would become a pain in the ass.’
There was a limit to my current body. Dodging bullets were a feat only possible if the body was physically capable. The range at which slingshots could kill or maim was at most around 20m. A hunting rifle had almost twice this range.
Still, it wasn’t as if there was no chance of victory. While they weren’t aware of my existence, I knew that they were somewhere on this mountain. Ambush them and my odds of winning would be sufficient.
Erasing all hints of myself passing through, I chased after their traces the best I could. It was hardly difficult. They hadn’t covered up after themselves in the least, perhaps having never considered that someone would chase after them. Thanks to that, I could discover them just after a few hours.
Having set up a small tent, three people were sitting together and cooking ramen on a gas burner. All men, aged between 30 and 40. Their faces were unfamiliar to me. At the very least, they weren’t high ranking executives of Aletheia. They also didn’t give off that ‘fanaticism’ aura particular to Aletheia.
Hidden in the shadows of a tree, I eavesdropped on them talk,
“Ah, I’m going nuts. Hyung-nim! How long do we have to stay in this mountain?”
“Until we find the golden red squirrel! As long as we catch it, we’ll be rolling in money.”
“Is it even really here? We’ve searched around for a whole month, but we haven’t had a glimpse of its torso, much less its tail.”
“Haven’t you seen the photo? It was my first time seeing something so beautiful. Golden fur that shined.”
“Enough of that. One more time and my ears will scab over.”
While the two were heatedly arguing, the other one pointed his chopsticks at a serving of ramen.
“Hyung-nims. Stop fighting and let’s eat, so we can quickly catch it and go back. We’ve still made some progress haven’t we?
The man with a grizzled beard that appeared to be the eldest coughed dryly.
“So let’s bear with it for a few more days. It’ll definitely be near Insubong peak.”
“This is the last time I’m believing in you, for real.”
Their conversation ended, entering a lull as they quickly began devouring the ramen, while behind them I was in the midst of smiling to myself. What an unexpected gain. I was right to track these men.
‘A golden red squirrel!’
They weren’t followers of Aletheia, but the thing they were chasing after just might be related to the ‘gate’.
A change would occur to the animal harboring a ‘gate’. For starters, the differences that could be detected by the naked eye was size or color. Apart from that they would become faster and stronger.
The animal corpses scattered all around the mountain. I had confirmed that they were slaughtered by something with long claws. Having heard those three people’s conversation, it was extremely likely that this ‘golden squirrel’ was the culprit.
‘Gold is the color of the gate leading to the Ancient One’s altar.’
That was why I had been carefully listening to them talk. An animal was colored differently according to the type of ‘gate’ it harbored, and it took on one of 6 different colors: Gold, orange, purple, blue, white and black.
Golden gates mainly led to ancient relics, orange to something special, purple to the dwellings of powerful monsters or even false gods, and blue to places that other races inhabited. Most were white. Gates with colors were few and far in between, gold and orange being almost non-existent.
And last of all, black gates led into the depths of the abyss. These gates were never to be entered. Nobody had ever made it back alive one. It was speculated that beings like the Demon Lord existed on the other side.
However, I was slightly puzzled by one thing.
‘There’s too many dead animals.’
Even when mutation was taken into account, it was still just a red squirrel; the great multitude of corpses buried all over the mountain couldn’t have been possible even if it were assumed that it had the strength of a feral beast. It may have buried its victims into the ground, but that couldn’t fool my eyes.
It had such an intense desire for murder that it made me admire the fact that it hadn’t attacked any humans yet. At first, I’d thought something like a boar had done the deed. That was why I had felt something was up and widened my field of investigation, but to think it was a red squirrel.
‘An abnormal mutation.’
Perhaps it wasn’t a normal mutation? If that was the case, meeting these people may have turned out for the best. An abnormally mutated animal was practically a monster, and taking care of it alone would be difficult.
‘The golden red squirrel is near Insu Peak.’
My biggest gain was that I’d pinpointed its general location. Insu Peak was a rockface of granite, and it was within the scope of where I’d expected to find the mutated squirrel. I’d always suspected it to be near Insu Peak, but I could confirm it through those people’s conversation.
Although an abnormal mutation entailed danger…
Nodding to myself, I turned my gaze to the trio of men who were frantically eating ramen.
‘I’m sorry but you guys will have to become bait.’
The surroundings of Insu Peak wasn’t a small area, but I could still find traces of the golden red squirrel. Footprints that were huge compared to regular red squirrels. I was definitely onto it. I spent a whole day chasing after its trail.
‘It’s got a tremendous appetite. There’s not even an ant crawling nearby Insu Peak.’
The golden red squirrel’s desire for bloodshed went beyond my imagination, yet it still remained quite clever in its actions. It didn’t attack humans, and it buried its victims into the ground.
Even so, it appeared that it couldn’t fully restrain its own urges.
‘Looks like I’ll have to lure it.’
Rather than barging into its home ground in a frontal confrontation, I would be much better off fighting it by luring it to where I wanted it to be. Even better would be to have it face off with the trio of men.
The trio were going around and setting traps opposite to me, even though there was next to no chance of that mutated red squirrel getting caught in the likes of those traps. While they were off wasting time in that manner, I was hunting animals and gathering their ‘blood’.
I filled up 2 pet bottles with what I’d gathered, thoroughly blending the myriad kinds of animal blood; the resulting concoction giving off an unpleasant tang. This would be the means to sufficiently rousing the squirrel’s appetite.
‘I’m done preparing.’
I then closed the cap on the pet bottle to prevent the smell from escaping, and waiting for nightfall.
“Ah-oh, I’m tired.”
“Let’s sleep already. We have to hunt it down starting tomorrow.”
When night fell, the trio were soon dead asleep owing to the fact that they’d used up all their stamina, having set up traps for the entire day while keeping a lookout on their surroundings.
Erasing all signs of my presence, I approached their tent. The golden red squirrel would mainly would about in this area. Any unusual event would immediately catch its attention, not to mention the smell of blood, which it would most likely drive it nuts.
Opening one of the pet bottles, I directly poured it around the tent. I tied up and hung the other one at the tent entrance at just the right angle so that it would pour onto the trio when they come out of the tent.
It wasn’t long before a sharp scream pierced my ears. The sound of a crazily agitated beast came closer by the minute.
“Wha-, what’s that sound?”
“Oi! Wake up. Something’s coming.”
“Fu-…why’d you kick my head? Just what exactly is coming?”
The awakened trio of men was terrified out of their wits. And soon after, they picked up their guns and opened the entrance of their tent.
“Wh-, why did water fall all of a sudden!?”
“Blood! It’s not water but blood! It looks like some bastard pranked us?”
Soaked from the blood spilled from the pet bottle, the trio cursed in resentment. However, this situation didn’t last long.
“Wait…and just what is that?”
The man who looked to be the eldest was blinking repeatedly as he asked. In the distant darkness of the night, lit only by the moon, two pupils had appeared.
I watched this scene play out, hidden in the shadows.
Not long after, one among the trio raised his flashlight and illuminated the red squirrel. It was enormous in size, reaching the waist of an adult, and had razor sharp claws that looked as if they could cut steel; this was definitely no normal red squirrel.
It sniffed at the stink of blood given off by the trio of men, who all appeared mentally disturbed.
“Hyung-nim. Were red squirrels…always that big? It looks bigger than it seemed in the photo.”
“It’s definitely the right one. Look, golden fur that shines even in the dark! It’s jackpot if we catch it and put it up for auction!”
“It looks dangerous, so let’s put it to sleep with tranquilizer shots.”
“Right. Let’s do that.”
All together, the trio replaced their hunting rifles with tranquilizer guns, aiming them at the red squirrel.
The air was thick with tension.
Right in the middle of that situation, I felt skeptical. Bewildered even.
‘Why does it look black to me?’
The trio spoke as if it was golden, but to my eyes, it appeared black. I had never heard of such a phenomenon; that there existed a gate whose color appeared different according to the eye of the beholder.
But more importantly…this wasn’t a problem to be simply ignored. Black signified that the gate lead into the abyss; the Demon Lord himself had made his appearance through one such gate. That vicious demon had eradicated Korea and killed 499 heroes. A black gate was the kind that one could never dare to touch, nor even look at.
It was at that moment.
The gigantic red squirrel turned its head to stare at me who was hiding out of sight. The instant my eyes made contact with its pupils dyed in black, I felt electrified, a tremor running throughout my entire body. Simultaneously,
ㅡCome, come to me, come back…..
I heard that voice.
ㅡCome, come to me, come back…..
It was like a spell was being woven over me. I gripped my head as a tremendous wave of pain came crashing down upon it. So much pain, as if my mind and body would fall to pieces!
Turning its attention away from the trio of men that stank of blood, it charged towards me as if compelled to get rid of the abnormality that was me.
ㅡCome, come to me, come back…..!
[Spirit Synchronization was completed.]
[Temporary Spirit Transfer will occur.]
[Remaining time: 2,880 minutes.]
[The 3rd eye of truesight, ‘Mind’s Eye’, has been attained.]
[To protect the user from external impact, the spell of protection will activate.]
A line of messages I shouldn’t have been able to see in my current unawakened state.
It felt like I was being sucked in by something. When I opened my eyes once again, the environment I was looking at had changed. The scenery, the people; everything looked out of the ordinary.
“Ahh, Father! Finally! You have finally opened your eyes!”
Someone was holding onto my leg. Lowering my head, I saw that a young, beautiful woman with six wings had been gripping my leg, her face full of delight.
However, something felt strange. This height. This body. At the very least, it was far from what a ‘human’ should be. There was a sense of foreignness, as if this body didn’t belong to me.
Not to mention, the woman holding onto my leg was someone I was awfully familiar with.
‘The Queen of Terror!’
I was dumbstruck.
The right hand of the Demon Lord who had toyed with humanity: the Queen of Terror. Her red hair that was like burning flames and her otherworldly beauty heavily contrasted with her cruelty. Over a hundred heroes had died at her hands, their hearts ripped out and hacked to pieces.
I still couldn’t forget those scenes, the anguish I felt then still fresh in my mind!
“You have been asleep for far too long. I shall be attending to Father from now on.”
The Queen of Terror lightly stepped back and got down on one knee.
What was this? Was I seeing illusions? She was supposed to look at humans like they were insects. For what reason would she kneel to me?
A moment later she opened her mouth in a most reverent manner.
“The All-seeing one, my lord!”