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There was a question in Howen’s eyes… The giant wolf in front of him was called the Guardian of the Khalodanian Mountains. It was the reason why the vast area around this location was safe from monsters.
There was a report of a young female that went missing, which the tribe considered to be dead.
These ancient wolves did not leave their packs unless they were seriously injured or no longer able to hunt, meaning its absence indicated that it was either its dead or dying somewhere.
It was highly likely that she was killed or seriously injured in the battle with the two-legged monster, Kawiqunin, which had appeared recently.
The Guardian was a very clever animal. They abandoned the sick wolves as soon as they got sick. It was their way of protecting the pack.
The ancient wolves that had been kicked out were either left alone to fight the disease or die a slow death. Fortunately, a wolf that managed to survive the disease would be welcomed back.
Everyone knew this about the Guardians. Its long absence only meant death.
However, the Guardian that was with the Ainos since long ago had kept this land safe and stood alive in front of them.
‘Thank God you’re alive.’
Howen was relieved. The others felt the same. Guardians were necessary for their survival in this vast Khalodanian mountain range.
Guardians wandered through a vast area, leaving its scent as they hunted monsters and dangerous beasts at first sight, but they had been very friendly to the Ainos since ancient times. Their existence was important to the Ainos’ survival.
The Ainos could still survive without them, but they had to suffer from the threat of being attacked by various monsters or predators.
“I don’t see any wounds.”
“Has she run away from the Kawiqunins?”
“From all five of them?”
Curious discussions continued as they watched the wolf, which they called Gray and Brown. Some examined the body of the wolf.
Doral spoke as he looked at the wolf.
“It is too clean, as if it were groomed. And it smells good too.”
There were no battle scars anywhere. The wolf looked as if it had been cleaned. She seemed to have lost some weight, but that was all.
Doral, who looked at her for a moment, put his head next to the fur and sniffed. The rest of the Ainos people gathered around and nodded at the good smell of Gray and Brown.
“She does smell good.”
“She sure does.”
Howen’s eyes turned to Gray and Brown.
“And the cubs? Child? Where are they?”
Gray and Brown eyed Howen for a moment, then she turned her head and began walking slowly. The Ainos followed as she started moving.
She walked slowly, but her tremendous size meant that her strides were very long, so the Ainos men had to walk quickly to keep pace.
“Oh, is this…?”
Howen’s eyes twitched. Traces of Kawiqunin scattered around were found as they followed.
“Chieftain, I think she was chased as we figured. These are the Kawiqunin’s footprints.”
All the Ainos reported the same news as they continued walking with the wolf, carefully surveying the area. Traces of Kawiqunin that disappeared from the Guardian’s nest were found in many numbers.
‘But how did she evade them?’ Howen asked to himself.
The ancient wolf, or the Guardian as they called it, was the most powerful being in the forest. They defeated any powerful monsters that entered the forest and protected it. Despite the fact that they were called Guardians, however, they were still animals. The Ainos named them out of respect for their might and strength.
They were mere animals that lived together with the people called the Ainos, forming a symbiotic relationship.
They were a powerful being with clear limitations. The first of its weakness was the need to wander for food and the second was that they formed small packs, not to exceed ten members.
It was inevitable for them to keep the pack small with such huge bodies. They still had to hunt through vast areas even with such small packs.
They did not stay too long in one place and constantly moved around.
It was the Ainos tribe that came into play as the pack traveled farther. They kept the forest clean and defended against small monsters. The most important thing was making the forest healthy. The forests that had not been touched by the Ainos flourished for a while before it withered away.
The untouched forests seemed to flourish with all the growing trees, but they gradually decayed from within.
Overgrown trees blocked the sunlight from reaching down to the ground, keeping the soil moist all the time, gradually hindering the growth of all the plants.
Animals left as the land shifted. Food became scarce, so they had no choice.
Animals also avoided any places with a heavy number of trees as it was hard to move around, making it difficult to escape from predators. As all living things left the area, the forest gradually withered.
The Guardians and the Ainos were surely symbiotic in their relationship.
The question remained.
‘It seems there is no threat from the looks of it…’
Howen watched the wolf which was walking in front of him. All the Ainos people followed Gray and Brown with the same question.
It was not long before they found fallen trees. The trees were tangled with each other in a disorderly fashion, hinting that it was artificial. The trees had been cut off by something. The trees were still full of branches, which heights varying from nine to fifteen feet. It was no doubt that its purpose was to build a barricade.
All of them stopped and watched with disbelief and the wolf stopped also.
The wolf watched them, as if she was teasing their sight.
Pree-an, who quickly climbed the tree, gasped. He gazed over for a moment and shouted, “Chieftain, you must see this.”
All of the Ainos, including Howen, climbed the tangled tree in response.
Many of them let out a small gasp. The place was empty, without any trees that once filled the area. Not only that, there was a huge tree in the middle that surprised them.
“It’s an Entra tree.”
“All the trees were cut down except for the Entra…” Doral muttered, gazing at the Entra tree. Howen’s eyes narrowed and he looked around. It was as Doral had said. Howen quickly searched for any dangers, and then turned his gaze back to the Entra tree.
Other than the Entra tree, the tallest and longest living tree in this mountain range, there was nothing else.
“I think they pulled out all the trees to secure visibility. But how did they come to build such a fortress? They even put an iron stake to work as a natural spear. It even fended off those Kawiqunins.”
Gazlow spoke as he stared at the fortress’ fearsome appearance.
“What can that be? Barbed wire?”
The Ainos were amazed at everything around this place.
The empty field and the fortress had popped up during the short time the Ainos could not enter the forest because of the appearance of the Kawiqunin.
‘They even removed all the roots?’
The fortress was unbelievable, but removing all the roots was another thing. The empty ground was covered with grass already.
‘Humans? Did they come back? ”
Howen doubted it, even while looking at the manmade fortress in front of him. The Khalodanian mountain range was a dangerous place for any normal human. The Ainos, who were called the tribe of the forest, had to coexist with the Guardians.
Moreover, this area was the center of the mountain range. It was too far from where the humans lived.
Questions continued one after another.
Gray and Brown started walking again, not walking straight towards the entrance.
“It’s a trap.” Pree-an explained as his eyes watched the ground. It was clearly different from the surroundings.
“More traps here.”
“There is one there too.”
There were traces of traps all around the area. It was very noticeable.
‘An ankle trap.’
Pree-an, who first found the trap, looked at it closely and uncovered the trap.
It was as expected. A trap was revealed with a twelve-inch wide and thirty-inch deep hole. There was a bunch of sharp iron stakes embedded inside.
“Look at this. It’s small and thin, but it’s the same kind of stake from the outer wall of that fortress.”
Howen pulled the twelve-inch-long iron stake and examined it, but he stopped as the wolf started moving into the fortress.
“Let’s think about this later. Be cautious. There might be more traps.”
Howen walked carefully toward the fortress, following the wolf.
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