Chapter 15: Morning Sun (V)
The tutorial is too difficult.
As soon as he thought of those words, a shiver ran down his spine. But Ivan ignored Kim Sunwoo’s reaction and continued his thoughts.
This is too hard. Even imagining Kim Sunwoo’s era objectively and trying to envision the game’s progression, it’s difficult.
Ivan, like, leaned against a tree, took a breath, and sighed.
If only we had someone decent, you know? If someone like Dimitri was on our squad, we wouldn’t be struggling like this.
Taking down two soldiers at one end, setting traps, then sprinting to the other end and making gun noises deliberately.
Doing this stuff for over 30 minutes? Even for Ivan, a tough guy, it’s seriously exhausting.
With only one gunshot allowed per fight, it made things way harder. And it left a mark on Ivan’s arm, man.
Ivan pulled out the last health potion but hesitated.
Hmm… I can handle this, let’s save it for later.
Taking a breather, Ivan sat under a tree, trying to make sense of things. Let’s just say this is the tutorial right after picking ‘Isabelle’ as the character.
I’m past the character selection. The loading screen’s showing me a bunch of ‘screw that’ world-building, and the loading bar’s almost done.
If it were a big-budget game, we’d have a cutscene here. Luckily, there’s something fitting.
Train terror scene. Total academy cliche.
So, the train terror happens, and she wakes up in a dirt heap. An NPC’s hurt instead of her.
But here’s the snag.
‘How did she get out?’
The issue starts with escaping from the buried train car. Let’s say there’s a puzzle inside that needs solving to break free.
And then, out of nowhere, elite soldiers show up?
Without explaining how to fight? And the tutorial boss… even has line-of-sight detection…
Considering Ecdysis’s scenario, it’s even weirder. Her tutorial was so easy, it could be done one-handed.
So, was this not a fight event but an escape event?
Or maybe a ‘get beaten’ event. Loads of games have that: you get caught and then escape.
‘Nah. These guys wanted to kill Isabelle.’
The armed forces weren’t looking to catch her; they were definitely up for murder.
So, getting caught isn’t on the cards. Usually, after losing, an ally comes to the rescue.
Ivan’s face went cold. His heart raced. Wait, was I the helper?
So, was I just an NPC?
Ivan pushed down the drumming in his chest. Keeping emotions in check was something he knew well. He coolly started counting on his fingers.
Would there even be a ‘Ivan Petrovich’ character in the original game?
Serving in the military, doing stuff for 18 years, fighting secret societies, and even setting up an orphanage after retiring. Were all these things already ‘set,’ no matter what he wanted? Were they just written into the story?
If so, what was the original ‘Ivan Petrovich’s’ destiny? Would he make it to the end? Would anyone even see his face in the final scene?”
Pushing away all those negative thoughts, Ivan stashed the healing potion in his bag.
There’s only one way to figure this out.
Why did this whole thing suddenly get so crazy hard? Was it a setup where you’d bite the dust without some backup?
He quickly climbed up a tree and made his way towards the train.
Sparks were flying as blades clashed. She couldn’t overpower with strength and struggled to gain the upper hand with skill.
Isabelle held onto the blade tight, giving it a twist.
It was like some picture-perfect sword move from a manual. Her strike flawlessly deflected the enemy’s sword without missing a beat.
It was Isabelle’s finest moment. She couldn’t imagine making a more beautiful attack than that.
“Sometimes there are dudes like that.”
Icarus deflected Isabelle’s sword and chuckled.
“Oh, absolutely. I mean, what’s more effective than nerds twirling sticks, thinking that’ll magically make them combat ninjas? Good!”
“You’re wrong. Tylesse’s knight.”
They kept blocking attacks. But every defense she made caused a bit more damage.
She didn’t have any visible wounds yet, but she could feel it. She was slowly getting cornered.
The balance between attacking and defending was a mess. She couldn’t budge, just steadily retreating.
And behind her were the civilians she had to protect.
She couldn’t step back any further. It was a stalemate, a real problem. Isabelle clenched her teeth and swung her sword.
“Doesn’t a blade actually need to hit for a slice to count? Sword skills are just a way to poke the other guy, right in the gut!”
“Imagine a hero’s kid who hasn’t seen a real fight at this age! I’m sick of the Union’s laziness.”
-Clang! Keng! Clang!
The fury in her swings started losing its finesse in technique.
Ivan was just swinging about, driven by anger.
But for Icarus, his experience was way too much to be beaten by such wild attacks.
He entangled her blade and flicked his wrist, making Isabelle’s sword bounce off the ground.
He could’ve ended it quicker, honestly. But the idea of ‘a hero’s kid’ kept him cautious.
Heroes like Maximilian always pulled off miracles at the last minute.
“But it’s done now,” Icarus sneered. He lost his soldiers for nothing.
“You couldn’t protect anyone. Maximilian’s daughter, Isabelle. Any final words?”
Isabelle bit her lip, gazing at her fallen sword. It was brave facing death, but she needed to focus on her opponent, not play the martyr. Icarus mocked her and raised his sword.
Ivan watched the scene from the tree.
He wasn’t planning to swoop in to save her. He needed to be sure.
If Isabelle bites it here, it means his guess was off.
Sure, in some games, you hit a game over by getting wiped by the tutorial boss. But this wasn’t that. The opponent was too tough to take down with her current skills.
If he dashes in to rescue Isabelle now, well…
He couldn’t ignore it any longer. It’s confirmed: ‘Ivan Petrovich’ is just an NPC in this game.
So, even if Isabelle kicks the bucket, he won’t step in.
After all, there are still five player characters left. Losing one to gather intel seems like a decent trade.
Lost in his thoughts, Ivan peered down at Isabelle from afar.
“You couldn’t protect anyone. Maximilian’s daughter, Isabelle. Any last words?”
Time felt like it was crawling for Isabelle. Like a lantern flickering at the brink of death.
The menacing blade, the demon’s face filled with rage and mockery, the eerie moonlight, her ragged breath.
Her sword lay fallen on the ground, a symbol of her effort and wasted time.
“Pick up the sword.”
A voice echoed. The old knight’s ritual, Diane August’s, muttered as he faded into unconsciousness.
Consciousness dimmed a bit more. Vague imagination surfaced.
[Among the gathered people, one person knelt.
Stand as the weak and see us with their eyes.
We raise the sword not for our bravery, strength, or superiority.
We do it simply because it’s right. For the righteousness that we must uphold.
A solemn declaration echoed. The knights in the hall raised their swords together.
The old man at the front placed the blade down and slowly lowered it.
Carefully, like a ceremony. Placing the blade over the kneeling person’s head.
Raise the sword because it’s right.
For your righteousness, not your strength.
Two gentle taps on each shoulder.
Now, you’re a knight.
See us with the eyes of the weak.]
Isabelle snapped back to reality amid the silence, her breath even halted.
The demon’s blade was descending toward her head, slowly. But her body felt heavier and slower than that.
And behind her, she heard moans, screams, and the sounds of panic and shock.
[Stand in the position of the weak and look at us with the eyes of the weak.
Raise the sword not for your strength, but for your righteousness.]
The voice just kept on echoing.
“Yeah, I’ll do it.” Isabelle reached for the fallen sword as if something compelled her. She grabbed the hilt.
Her body felt light, like it had never been that way before.
Her muscles flexed and then tensed up.
As Icarus’s blade finally dropped just above her head, Isabelle was ready.
Everything went quiet. Dead silent, not even the wind dared disturb her at that moment.
The clouds cleared, and the moonlight shone bright again.
The survivors behind her stared, forgetting to even breathe.
Right above Isabelle’s crouched head, the blade stood frozen.
And sticking mercilessly in the demon’s hefty back, the sword jutted out like a twig.
Icarus was baffled. He glared at Isabelle with empty eyes.
She didn’t show any expression. Her head was down. But at that moment, she was fully aware. This little girl. No.
This knight just took her first step.
Icarus sighed in disbelief. First the hero, now his daughter’s making holes in him.
He coughed up blood and staggered back.
With a clang, the sword slipped from his hand. He stumbled and dropped to his knees.
Isabelle, too, breathed out deeply, kneeling with the blade stuck in the ground. Worn out. Completely.
But she saved them. Everyone behind her.
Ultimately, she saved all the survivors.
In a hushed tone, she lifted her head. In the distance, a limping man was making his way over.
His face was unreadable under his bushy beard, but his bright blue eyes shone even in the darkness. He was smiling.
Seeing his arms dripping blood, his coat torn like branches, one could tell what kind of fight he’d been in.
She couldn’t have done it alone. Was that why she couldn’t help? Isabelle chuckled and nodded.
“This was the last one. Incredible. Seriously…”
Like looking down at a well-raised niece, the man smiled gently.
Isabelle found his words too spot-on to chuckle. This guy really saw her like a niece.
“Huh? What are you up to?”
He walked over to the fallen demon, opening a vile bottle of who-knows-what.
Phew, thank goodness. Kim Sunwoo let out a breath.
Thank goodness. Ivan smirked for a moment.
It was just a standard early awakening event, part of the tutorial.
Maybe Isabelle cleared out all the enemies in this forest. Sure, she might’ve accidentally taken out everyone, survivors included, and been the sole survivor.
His interference saved everyone. Good. It looked like in this world, Ivan was the one variable.
Ivan smiled with relief. That’s cool. Just by confirming he wasn’t an NPC, he’d done enough.
Now, only one thing remained.
“What are you up to…?”
“Because I’m curious.”
If the difference in tutorial difficulty between Ecdysis and Isabelle was usual, what kind of challenges might the other Hero Party members face?
Should he step in or play neutral?
This was the perfect moment. Unlike during Ecdysis, this time, the mastermind behind the chaos was out in the open.
How could the demons roam around Frechenkaya so confidently? How many infiltrated the academy? What was their plan? Who was calling the shots?
There was a lot to uncover.
And the Cleansup Unit had a curious nature and many ways to satisfy that curiosity.