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Joonbum looked at the forest covered in fog. It was a quiet dawn, just before everyone was about to wake up.
‘It’s quite chilly now.’
It was already fall. Just as he thought summer was almost over, the forest turned into varying colors, signaling the end of it. Just a few days ago, there were only one or two trees with colored leaves, but one-third of the ones he could see now was covered in red and yellow leaves.
Fall was upon him.
As far as he could see, the forest was covered in fog as the sun shone upon it warmly. The forest, which started revealing through the fog as it faded with the sunlight, was colored beautifully.
“Joonbum, are you ready?”
“I am done.”
“Let’s go. We have a long way to go today.”
Doral and ten other warriors were ready to leave. It was the beginning of fall hunting.
‘Todd, Bart, Jurio, Aiden, Grandy, Cabo, Baheet, Romic, Juilo, Pav.’
Joonbum remembered each of their names as he scanned through them. It was hard to memorize their names at first, but he somehow managed to remember them as time passed by.
‘I guess I’ll be able to memorize everyone else soon.’
“Be careful out there.”
Pav, the most experienced warrior of the group, shouted as they all started moving out. Joonbum had his tactical vest and a rifle on him with the Gladius sword on the side and a handgun on the other. His backpack also carried emergency food and a first aid kit.
“Huh? Bow? Why a bow? Joonbum, I thought you couldn’t shoot a bow?”
Joonbum blushed as a man with a dirty beard pointed at the bow on Joonbum’s backpack. Bart, the man with the beard, was twenty-eight years old and liked to joke around. He was one of the people who moved to the fortress.
“Why Joonbum? Why a bow? Eh?”
“Can you get at least 10 shots if you shoot 100?”
“Are you going to practice while hunting?”
“You should practice at the fortress!”
“It’s an important hunt. We’ll have to starve through winter if you mess up.”
Everyone started to speak out as they noticed. Joonbum’s skill in archery was terrible as they had mentioned. Even those who tried teaching him gave up, shaking their heads.
“Maybe once or twice…”
“Leave it here before you really mess things up.”
Doral shook his head as Joonbum’s mother, Sunsook Lee, shouted at him. Joonbum sighed and put down his bow and arrows.
People laughed at the sight while the warriors moved out of the fortress. They started moving through the small road, quickening their pace.
‘It’s a start.’
The Ainos warriors seemed to have no problems walking through the forest. They began gaining speed as they kept on walking. After an hour, they had already passed a small mountain in the distance that Joonbum used to watch from the fortress.
They fast-walked through the forest. Only an hour had passed, but Joonbum felt his mouth already getting salty, breathing heavily.
‘It-it’s still hard to keep up with them.’
Joonbum was the only one who was breathing heavily among them. Pretty soon, they slowed down and he was able to find his breath a bit.
“We’ll move slowly from here.”
Pav shouted as they slowed down. Joonbum managed to catch his breath and the warriors started drinking water as they walked. The forest was quiet and peaceful, not showing any signs of monsters or predators. There were birds or small animals that hid at their appearance, and that made Joonbum think that it was them who broke the peace of the forest.
“There!” Doral shouted as he pointed out to an animal on the tree, silently watching it. It was a feline animal about six feet in size. The gray fur made it unnoticeable, almost impossible see if it was dark.
“What is that? A mountain lion? Or leopard?”
It was similar, but it was still different. There was lush fur around its paws.
“Sharlott? Is it dangerous?”
Doral seemed hesitant.
“Not much if you’re an adult male. It’s weaker than it looks. But it’s dangerous if you’re not an adult. It never attacks those that are bigger than itself. It won’t attack those that look weaker even it’s bigger. It doesn’t attack from the front, but it’s still deadly to smaller ones.”
Joonbum frowned as Doral continued to explain its horror.
“There are animal cries from the forest mourning for their lost babies.”
“You mean that’s because-”
“It’s same with the Ainos. They grab the children when the adults are not looking. It’s too late when we find out what happened. That’s why they’re hated.”
Joonbum became curious. The Ainos had a special ability to notice things. They didn’t talk about it out loud, but their sense was something extraordinary. Doral spoke as Joonbum was puzzled.
“We do have some good senses, but there are a lot out of stuff out there that overshadow our senses. You see the fur under its paws? That covers all the sounds.”
Doral pointed at the animal’s paws.
“Are we not killing it?” Joonbum asked as they started moving. It seemed natural to kill such a dangerous creature at first sight.
“That’s a human’s way of doing things. It destroys the balance, so we don’t kill if there’s no direct harm. They’re also part of the forest.”
Doral walked away as he spoke. Doral and other warriors explained all kinds of unseen animals or plants or food as they came across them.
“You don’t seem to be smart.”
Joonbum blushed as Gazlow talked to him when he was desperately trying to memorize all of the names and the characters he heard.
Joonbum nodded and answered, “Yeah, I know. But didn’t I get better physically at least?”
If it was before, he would’ve cowered in embarrassment, but he had changed. Gazlow cackled.
“Haha, yeah you have, surprisingly.”
“You can barely walk, but I agree.”
“Look at that proud face. Humans don’t learn.”
“Well, I’ll give him that. He can keep up with the Ainos in the forest.”
People started commenting, joking at Joonbum. It seemed to loosen up the tense atmosphere as they continued moving.
‘We’re almost here.’
An idea suddenly popped up in his mind. He instinctively felt that they were almost at the destination.
There was a large lake. The moment they passed a small mountain peak, a large lake revealed its presence instead of a forest.
A large number of birds were either flying along or floating on the lake. There were thousands of them.
At a distance, Joonbum noticed a fence by the side of the lake. There were hundreds of tents inside the fence with Ainos people moving about busily.
“This is the base camp that all the Ainos use for fall hunting. We first have to catch those Basetts flying around this Lake of Yorgal. We can gather meat and feathers for arrows. We also send some of the meat to our village while we are at it. Then we preserve the rest with salt and keep it for the winter.”
“Are all of the Ainos in the area here?”
The tents had different color schemes as if they were trying to divide up the village. Pav called out to Joonbum as he watched.
“We are divided, but we are one. We all have the same roots. Let’s move.”
Pav started moving as all of them followed. Joonbum followed them as he felt his heart pounding from anticipation. His eyes shone brightly.
‘It’s hunting time!’
- An arrow soared through the sky and penetrated a Basett’s body. Tens of Basetts fell into the lake and the others flew away. Another set of arrows rained down on them.
‘I- I am no good with the bow…’
Joonbum shook his head as he lowered the bow.
“So have you decided to save the arrows from going to waste?”
Joonbum nodded as Pav teased him.
“Ugh, yeah. I give up. I’m not good with the bow.”
Doral, Pree-an, and Gazlow laughed at Joonbum.
Joonbum blushed. Romic and Cabo, the younger members of the crew, spoke to him, trying to comfort him.
“Joonbum, the bow is hard to master. We have been practicing for over ten years but we’re still at the intermediate level.”
“That’s right. I think you can be at the intermediate level in maybe twenty years.”
‘Are they insulting me or what?’
However, a smile crept up his face as he thought of another idea.
‘I will show them my secret weapon!’
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