Chapter 44

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Dwarves have dark vision. Since they originally lived underground, it wasn’t strange.

Although it doesn’t mean they can see through darkness like daylight, they can relatively perceive objects clearly in the dark.

So, Asturk could see the man approaching.

‘A big dwarf?’

Asturk was confused!

***

“Isabelle.” (Ivan)

“Oh, uncle?!! How did you get here…?!” (Isabelle)

“Are you hurt?” (Ivan)

Ivan walked towards Isabelle and stood by her. He briefly made a ‘hmm’ sound and placed his hand on Isabelle’s shoulder.

“Yes! Yes, I’m fine!” (Isabelle)

“Good. Stay still in this spot.” (Ivan)

Guardian duty was part of the elite training, but ensuring perfect safety in the dark was challenging. Ivan, being efficient, didn’t dwell on how his words might sound.

‘I’ve seen this before… like in romance novels!’ Isabelle’s eyes rolled.

The tension eased, and she sighed. Her legs trembled; the fear of an unexpected encounter with a man in a life-threatening situation couldn’t be ignored. Plus, the words ‘Stay in that spot’ sounded like a knight in a story asking to wait until they defeat an ancient dragon. ‘

‘This is a confession. Huh, awkward… well, can’t help it. Accepting it right away seems a bit much, so yeah. I’ll ask him if he’s free this weekend. As a reward.’

***

A pistol in his left hand, a longsword in his right. Five daggers at his waist and an axe slung across his back.

Ivan took a quick inventory of his weapons and walked slowly forward.

Ivan took a low breath.

There are some signs that are common to all creatures. Hormonal mechanisms.

The enhancement of the body by magic, the extreme streamlining of the neurotransmitter system, leads to a number of cascading effects. Among them is the amplification of each of the sensory organs.

Take the sense of smell, for example. It’s able to pick up even the smallest odors in the air.

Therefore, detecting the volatile odor produced by evaporating sweat becomes possible. In the realm of superhumans, this is an extremely important indicator.

Because you can read the opponent’s emotions.

Even in this primitive pre-modern society where the word ‘hormone’ doesn’t exist yet, the human structure follows the same laws, so body odor subtly changes with emotions. This becomes a physical indicator of emotions like ‘survival,’ ‘fear,’ and ‘affection.'”

When a living being feels fear, cortisol is secreted. This unique scent was slowly permeating among the dwarves.

“Are you scared?” (Ivan)

“Nonsense!” (Asturk)

Asturk walked, alongside with his comrades. Since war ultimately involves a psychological struggle, it’s challenging for a fight to occur when one side is pushed back in morale. Instinctively, he categorized the fight with Ivan as a ‘war,’ deliberately ignoring the fact and raised his weapon.

“Cleansup Unit. Those fuckers… I’ll kill them and honor the spirits of my comrades who left before me!” (Asturk)

“Well, that’s what you all say.” (Ivan)

It took Asturk and everyone some time to relalize.

That’s what you all say?

Suddenly, a chill ran down his spine. Who is he currently talking to?

It was a matter-of-fact confession that Ivan heard such words several times, and he had killed them all.

Asturk raised his axe with a determined gaze. In sync with his movement, everyone in the prepared formation raised their weapons.

Clank, clank.

The heavy noise of metal friction echoed in the passage.

Ah, this is nostalgic.

Memories of the previous battlefield where he faced Dwarven guards on the gangway.

It was during the Mine War.

Ivan thought while holding his sword. A narrow indoor space with limited visibility, Dwarves filling the entire corridor. Formidable guards impervious to axes or bullets.

Back then, he wasn’t alone. By his side were other comrades who always supported him.

Now, they are gone. In the midst of deep loss, Ivan gripped his sword.

However, they are not the military force of those days. At best, there are around thirty of them. Even with a generous estimate, it doesn’t exceed fifty. A small infantry unit.

And he is not the Lieutenant Ivan Petrovich of that time.

Ten years have passed since the Mine War.

Ivan has accumulated ten years’ worth of experience.

***

-Bang—!!

It starts with gunfire. The goal is to secure visibility simultaneously with the threat.

In the slow sense of time, where space is fragmented, Ivan sprinted.

The stopped Dwarven guards are like turtles. Solid, stubborn, and leisurely. Therefore, the layers of tactics need to be placed on speed.

“He’s coming!!”

A terrified voice echoes in the passage. It’s a familiar situation.

Dwarves usually belonged to the rear infiltration units in demon armies, and such operations were the most suitable environment for the Cleansup Unit.

So, during wartime, the Cleansup Unit was always recognized as the unit that killed the most dwarves individually.

-Kaang!

A welcome greeting is a sword strike. The swing downward is a feint. Before the one at the forefront can react, a light stroke hits the shoulder.

His weapon immediately comes forward. Dodging the piercing strike, Ivan turns and avoids it.

Closing his eyes, he counts the seconds. Ivan is precisely counting his steps.

One stride is 86cm. Isabelle is five steps behind.

It takes seven steps to reach the leader of the guards. The width of the formation is twelve steps.

The range he can act in is seventeen steps.

-Kaang!!

In an instant, he dives in, avoiding various infantry weapons pouring over him.

Kaang, kagak! The noise of thrusting the sword under the elbow of the frontmost opponent is heard.

Clank, clank. The sound of heavy-armored opponents moving intertwines.

Under his closed eyes, the distorted shapes of those he killed during the explosion replay.

Analyzing each ambient noise, he adjusts the positions and postures of the guards in real-time.

“You monster!!”

As he parries one opponent and slashes an arm, such a sound is heard.

Monster. Amusing. Ivan knew the true meaning of ‘monsters’ in a fight.

-Kaduk!

Ignoring the horrific scream of the disarmed opponent, he twirls his body two steps to the side.

Inserting a dagger below the neck of the opponent who had just raised his arm to chop with an axe, then another step half to the right.

-Kagak!

The next opponent was swinging a war hammer. Lowering his stance and sidestepping the formidable strike, Ivan stabs with his sword.

-Kaduk. The sword with its edge hanging by a thread broke.

It was expected. From the moment of the fight, he felt the blade wearing away through the sensation in his fingertips.

So, he doesn’t panic. Ivan is familiar with durability at this level.

“He dropped his weapon!!”

No, he let it go.

Ivan lowered his head and moved two steps to the side. Right below his foot, the axe had fallen precisely. It was the weapon the guy who had his arm cut off missed.

Picking it up, he dodged the next attack and raised his left hand.

Aim, align the breath, and fire.

-Baang—!!

“Aaaaah!!”

The broken sword was stuck between the guy’s teeth, precisely into the gap in his armor. A precise pinpoint shot. Like hammering a nail, the guy’s chest burst open.

Throwing the pistol into the air, Ivan ran forward. Catching the combat hammer the guy dropped with his left hand, he twisted his body.

One hand up, the other to the side.

And cleanly swinging down in a cross motion.

-Kwaang!!

As the fallen axe stuck into a guy’s helmet, the hammer swung without hesitation, slashing through his head.

As the guy’s body lost strength and twisted, Ivan threw the hammer and caught the airborne pistol.

Without aiming, directly facing the commander five steps ahead.

Fire.

-Baang—!!

This time, he opened his eyes. The situation became clear at a glance. When the flames of the pistol subsided, he closed his eyes again and visualized the altered formation of the guards.

The battlefield’s noise, the guards’ scent, the positions of those engraved below the retina. The sensation of wind brushing against his cheek.

The battlefield between superhumans, between breaths.

Ah, I miss it.

Ivan, reaffirming, dashed forward.

Because the human body is fragile. Even a small dagger can render someone powerless and lifeless.

Close-quarter combat is always a crossroads between life and death, where one stakes their life.

In the midst of clearly unfavorable situations, amidst enemy lines.

He had forgotten this sensation, the rush towards the enemy’s heart. For four years after the last battle, there hadn’t been a situation worthy of being called combat.

So, in this familiar battlefield, Ivan was experiencing an almost nostalgic feeling.

Being a highly objective person, he considered himself flawed.

This feeling became even more pronounced in everyday life. Among people who laughed and chatted casually, he felt a sense of isolation.

Thus, here. In this moment of life and death. He could be someone necessary.

He was still living in the war, despite hating the battlefield, despite living a mundane life, despite longing for his homeland.

Feeling the scent of missed comrades, Ivan counted his steps.

Now, one step.

There, 86cm ahead, were the ‘heads’ of those guys.

***

What kind of feeling should one get from the cannibal who faintly smiles while ‘slaughtering’ comrades?

With every breath, comrades fall one by one.

Block, kill, don’t! Stop! My arm! Agh!

In the midst of this, screams couldn’t surpass syllables. On that battlefield where only the terminal echoed.

The Cleansup Unit’s cannibal continued ‘work’ silently, without saying a word.

Shattered armor flies above heads. Torn limbs and droplets of blood scatter in the air.

It’s a storm. A form of disaster each individual cannot resist.

Literally sweeping, holding weapons, rushing.

Finally, even when it swiftly approached in front of his eyes.

His breathing was unchanged, just like the beginning.

“I am… I am Senior Lieutenant Asturk, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion under the 5th Dragon Brigade, ‘Webmaker’ Engineering Corps. What is your name?”

“Ivan Petrovich.”

“Hah…”

Asturk nodded.

He had heard that Ivan was dead.

So, that’s how it was. He was alive. If the reason he could intrude into this forest at the most precise moment was that, it could be understood.

“That beard. Are you imitating us?”

“…?”

Ivan’s face distorted for the first time.

Though Ivan was a very pragmatic guy, he never disregarded the insult to the Sun King.

Instead of answering, he swung the axe a nameless soldier was holding.

***

“Now you can move.” (Ivan)

“My legs feel loose now.” (Isabelle)

Isabelle laughed as she heard Ivan’s approaching footsteps.

It was a battle that could be clearly felt even by just hearing the sound. Even standing still right behind, she could feel the heat of the battle reaching her.

Honestly, it was overwhelming.

She stretched out her arms and said, “Lift me up.”

It was better to be carried than to wait for her legs to recover.

As Ivan was an efficient person, he lifted her without saying a word.

Soon, warm hands wrapped around his neck.

“Are you hurt?”

“No.”

“You’ve been through a lot.”

“Yeah.”

“Today might be a bit much, but can I treat you to dinner tomorrow evening?”

Ivan was currently an undercover agent in the reconnaissance headquarters.

Being an upright person, he didn’t embezzle money from the guarded subject.

“No.”

“Ugh.”

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