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Joonbum almost screamed as he thought that he might have been killed just now. His leg started to shake.
“We’re looking for the baby.”
He heard the man say something, but he couldn’t understand as the language was not something he recognized. His mind was filled with fear and didn’t let him think correctly. But the sight of Galfus walking up beside the man gave him some relief.
Galfus walked beside the man, growling at him. The man was startled at Galfus’ action and lowered his bow, unconvinced.
He felt touched. As Joonbum watched, Galfus nudged the man’s back with her nose and moved herself next to the basket. The man quickly ran toward it and more men came through the fortress’ entrance. Joonbum tensed at the sight of more men.
The men discussed with each other, talking in a different language, looking around at the fortress and checking out the baby and wolf cubs inside the basket. After they examined those in the basket, they started taking up their interest inside the fortress.
As the men discussed, Joonbum noticed that they were pointing to various things in the fortress and they glanced at Joonbum multiple times. They also had a confused look when they saw Galfus. She was sitting right behind Joonbum as if she was protecting him.
Galfus’ gigantic head that stayed right next to Joonbum meant only one thing.
‘What in the world…?’
Joonbum was still holding his rifle, but he slowly regained consciousness as the men talked. His heart was still pounding and he still could not relax entirely.
One of men came toward him and started speaking, but Joonbum could not understand. However, he was able to recognize that the man was greeting him through his actions.
“Uh, wel-welcome. I’m Joonbum Jang.”
Joonbum bowed slightly at the men. Some of the men looked surprised, confused, and curious.
‘They don’t recognize my words either.’
“Joonbum, Joonbum Jang.”
Joonbum pointed himself while he repeated his name. The men followed him.
Joonbum felt relieved as the five men introduced themselves. Color returned to his pale face. Joonbum set up a spot on the table, brought out orange juice, and poured it into each cup.
The men watched each other, then peered at Joonbum. Ten eyes moved in unison. They had no sign of hostility but nobody moved to drink up.
‘They’re here with Galfus. They came for the baby.’
Joonbum continued with his theory as he felt a surge of relief.
‘How did they avoid all the traps? Well, I guess they were crude.’
The men seemed to be used to Galfus’ presence and so was Galfus. This proved that they acknowledged each other’s existences and stayed relatively close, regardless of whatever kind of relationship that might be.
‘I should’ve known…’
-A wild wolf can never be tamed.-
-You can’t tame it. It’s not like a dog. If you give it food, that’s all. You need to be really close like family with it, but no human can do that.-
-Not all are like that though. If you raise a cub from the moment it opens its eyes, there’s a possibility. But it’s not possible for adults. Oh, but if you can protect a baby, maybe…-
Joonbum realized everything at the sight of the men and Galfus’ interactions.
‘Then the baby…’
He slowly understood what happened with the baby also. He realized that the baby belonged to these people, hence the reason why Galfus was protecting it.
Joonbum broke out from his thoughts and turned to his visitors.
Sweat ran down his cheek to his chin. He was standing opposite them, with only the table in between. They stayed quiet for a while.
‘They don’t understand anything, so I can’t…’
Joonbum’s eye widened as all the men, including Joonbum, turned their heads to the man at the far right. His belly was rumbling rampantly, and when he started voicing something out loud, his face blushed with shame. Even other men seemed to be ashamed.
It was easy to see that they were hungry. Joonbum eyed the pasta he hadn’t started yet. It still gave out a mouth-watering smell as it was just the right temperature to eat it. It was obvious that the smell triggered the man’s hunger.
‘I need a plate.’
Joonbum moved to bring out disposable plates and forks and started serving the pasta.
‘Would have been better if I had a real dish.’
He thought about a porcelain dish, but shook it off. He had to work with what he had at the moment. The men started to relax as Joonbum started moving. They glared at the man who let out the rumble.
“It’s pasta, but you can have some. I don’t have a lot though, it’s only enough for five people. Hope it will satisfy your hunger at least.”
The mouth-watering smell spread as Joonbum prepared each dish with pasta. It included onions, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes that could be seen between the noodles.
The sound of a man swallowing his throat was heard. Joonbum swallowed too while bringing out the dish. When he was finished preparing, he watched them for a while and started eating with a fork. Sounds of him chewing on the pasta spread. Joonbum showed how to pick up the noodles with a fork and acted as if he was putting it into his mouth. The men slowly started to eat one by one.
Joonbum also drank the orange juice as they ate what was prepared for them. They watched him and started drinking that also. Joonbum cracked a smile as they talked to each other as they ate.
It seemed that serving food showed hospitality and they were also relieved. It didn’t seem like they were showing any more looks of suspicion. Even their way of speaking seemed to be less tense.
‘It’s always the food.’
“Did you find them?”
“No. None here.”
“Hope they’re not all dead.”
“I don’t see any Guardians. No cubs. I don’t see Arowen, the son of Howen, anywhere.”
“What? That can’t be!”
The area was full of newly-created potholes, debris, ripped flesh, and pools of blood. There was a bunch of dead gigantic wolves mixed with two-legged monster corpses.
The monsters’ corpses were all in terrible shape. Some of their heads had exploded, while some had their intestines ripped apart, spilling out and rotting.
The men could not believe what had happened around the big cave. There were more than ten people searching the area looking for any sign of survival, but the area was full of blood and death. It was real as it could be. The dead bodies of the gigantic wolves were proof.
Kawiqunin, the two-legged monster as they called it, was known as tyrant of the forest. Their corpses were laying around with a much larger number than that of the wolves.
“Six ancient wolves, the Guardians of the Khalodanian Forest, were all killed. They were exterminated.”
“I can’t believe this…”
Pree-an, Hunter of Ainos, reported as the people around him moaned in shock. It was shocking to know that all of the wolves had been killed. Pree-an kept on reporting what he found.
“I believe there were fifteen Kawiqunin that attacked this place and ten were killed. Five probably left here alive. Also, I cannot find any signs of the cubs or Arowen here.”
Howen, the Chieftain of the Ainos tribe and the head of the hunters, looked concerned. But he soon shook away any uncertainty and spoke up.
“Did you check inside all the Kawiqunin’s stomachs?”
“Yes, I cut them all open. There was nothing.”
Pree-an replied to Howen’s question. Another set of moaning ensued, but Howen only raised his eyebrows at the report. If Pree-an’s report was true, then five Kawiqunins were still roaming around nearby. There was also the possibility that his son was still alive.
‘Could he be alive?’
Howen weighed the possibility and calmed himself.
‘There’s no way. If anything, he’s probably inside the stomach of those five.’
Thinking of the worst possible scenario fired the rage in his heart. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, letting out a low moan.
“We’ll retreat to the vil-”
“There’s a sign! Chieftain! I see a sign of the Guardian!”
One Ainos raised his head suddenly. There was a bunch of others who were still searching the area, but they stopped in response to the shouting.
“Chieftain! It seems… it seems all five followed the Guardian’s trail!”
People fell silent at another finding. No Ainos spoke for a while until Howen broke the silence, asking grimly, “I thought there were only six Guardians?”
That’s what everyone thought. The current number of Guardians was six. People started becoming curious about the inconsistency.
“Huh? Weren’t there six?”
“I’m pretty sure it was six.”
The people were confused. There was no way of mistaking the number of Guardians. Some even doubted their way of counting.
“There were seven Guardians until just recently. One of the young female Guardians was gone. We suspected a fight broke out between them and the Kawiqunins when we found their bodies. Maybe she came back alive?”
“Is that for real?”
Pree-an carefully explained his theory and people brightened at the thought. The absence of the Guardians would mean a huge problem for the Ainos. Even Howen seemed to be hopeful at the theory.
“Gazlow, look for the trail. Bartras, lead your group with Gazlow and scout the area.”
A sign of hope brightened everyone. Bartras answered eagerly and ran towards the forest with four more Ainos beside him.
They were quick and agile. As forest people, they ran through the forest as if it were a wide open plain. They didn’t even let out a single sound and ran across the forest until Gazlow put raised his hand, pointing to his right, turning his group’s direction.
They ran the entire morning across the forest, following the trail before they stopped. It was almost noon when they found what they were looking for. They spoke, full of breath.
“S-Stop! G-Guardian. Gray and Brown!”
“She was alive! Oh God, we should let Chieftain know right away.”
Bartras and Gazlow spoke out at the sudden sight that appeared in front of the scouting squad.
“She really was alive!”
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