Free cities are places where people have randomly collected to form a free society, without a designated ruler. These cities rely on commerce or agriculture, usually the former, to sustain their livelihood. Free cities are more open and liberal than other cities, and where wanderers are most likely to be found. This characteristic floating population of free cities allows them to become larger than other towns. As long as you have chips, you can find food, lodging, water, weapons, bootleg alcohol - basically anything. They are also intermediary supply points that hunters would be foolish to pass up.
Of course, as is true of everything in life, there are two sides to every coin. These cities are susceptible to monster attacks, and the un-cleaned streets are more often than not covered with bodies and reeking of piss and shit. Diseases run rampant and nobody blinks an eye to murder in broad daylight.
Such indulgence and chaos is inevitable in a place without law and order.
‘It’s simultaneously inside and outside.’That’s how most hunters feel about free cities.
While in a sense these cities are inside and protected from monsters, threats and dangers that exist outside city walls also exist within free cities. Anyone venturing into a free city has to contend with threatening gangs and thieves that dare to steal from hunters. While anyone with enough sense to know the danger of a hunter would avoid such behavior, there are a lot of people in Old Korea who didn’t. A place as dangerous as outside the city walls, where threats, while slightly different than those of the outside world, exist - this kind of place is by no means safe.
To hunters, free cities are no different than dungeons. Until you get what you need and get out, you must protect yourself.
However, this free city, once playfully referred to as a dungeon, had transformed into an actual dungeon.
Zin was looking at the city’s trash wall from a distance. The wall, put together with random bits and pieces of metal, not surprisingly rose outward at an angle rather than vertically. It was short, no more than 4 meters high. There were some sharp parts of the wall jutting out - but these parts could easily be avoided in an ascent of the wall.
The roar of a monster exploded from inside the city. A hair-raising rusted metal scraping sound crashed the air, mixed in with a few other sounds as well.
Like many other free cities, Jado was built on the ruins of another city. Even if trash walls offer little in the form of protection, something is indeed better than nothing. Fallen cities are also the easiest places to find materials to build such a wall.
While Jado was on the small side for a free city, it was huge compared to Ard Point.
A city’s defense capability is, of course, inversely related to its size. Jado certainly did not have the defense capability to protect itself as it grew. The result of such a phenomenon was unfolding right before Zin’s eyes.
A group of monsters were ravaging scattered bodies. There were ghouls and corpse eating monsters entangled among all the dead bodies, along with scavenger birds and rabid dogs. Zin made sure to keep himself hidden as he watched this monster feast unfold from a distance.
Monsters are animals.
The normally snarling monsters didn’t show their aggression while they were eating.
Zin climbed the trash wall and ascended to the very center of this monster gluttony. Most people would be shocked by this kind of suicidal action. Zin didn’t hesitate.
‘These bastards must’ve been starved.’
Monsters are beasts. A few even saw Zin, but they paid him no mind. There was food right in front of them, and the corpse hunting monsters preferred dead bodies to killing someone to make a dead body.
What’s more, if those corpse hunters were starved enough to fight each other over the dead bodies, they weren’t going to bother with Zin.
This made running to preemptively attack the corpse hunters even more dangerous.
Zin showing himself to the monsters wouldn’t deter them from devouring the bodies.
Hunters survive in the wild not because they are strong, but rather because they understand monsters.
They understand what kind of attitude is needed for certain animals. Zin walked leisurely through this swarm of flesh eating monsters, when most people would run away in fear or recklessly start thrashing their weapons.
All the while, he was surrounded by the sound of bones being snapped and flesh being chewed.
A hunter thinks.
‘Jado collapsed a little over a month ago. If the monster attack occurred then, the bodies here should already be bones. Yet this feast is going on right now. Strange.’
‘The corpse hunters just arrived. Why did they leave the bodies lying here for a month?’
‘Are the monsters who attacked this city so dangerous that these corpse eating bastards stayed away for a month?’
‘There aren’t any monsters in Old Korea who hunt for reasons outside of finding corpses. Why did this monster up and leave without reaping the meaty rewards? Normally if a monster takes down a city, it’ll hole up, feed itself, and leave only when the corpses are gone…’
A hunter uses his judgment.
‘The corpse hunters didn’t destroy this city.’
‘The monster that attacked Jado wasn’t going after corpses.’
‘There isn’t a monster in Old Korea who doesn’t hunt for corpses.’
‘There is a possibility that a Wanderer type of monster found its way into Old Korea. Although the chances of that are slim.’
Getting to the truth of what happened here is getting more and more complicated.’
‘I’d better walk around a bit more.’
Corpse hunters don’t pose any threat. These monsters are by nature cowards, without a sense of fellowship to other monsters of their kind. They are solitary beings that never travel in packs - once the feast is over they’ll run away, avoiding the threat of other monsters. Just like monsters aren’t the only threat to humans, humans aren’t the only threat to monsters.
Residents of Jado dwelled in shacks or otherfairly intact buildings. A hunter slowly and deliberately discerns the nature of the culprit. There would most likely be corpse hunters inside the buildings. Zin stayed away.
The shacks hastily constructed of slate were almost entirely crushed. The remaining concrete buildings for the most part avoided that fate.
‘The monster was capable of leveling the slate shacks, yet couldn’t destroy the concrete buildings. The monster that attacked the city wasn’t a supersized or large monster, but most likely a medium-sized one.’
But medium-sized monsters are still too large to enter buildings. Zin could clearly hear the eating sound from the corpse hunters coming from inside the buildings. That must mean there were monsters small enough to enter the buildings and kill those inside.
‘This must have been a joint attack from both small and medium-sized monsters.’
Many larger buildings started appearing as Zin approached the center of Jado. The noise of the corpse hunters from inside these buildings grew increasingly loud. It appeared that everything in the city was dead. The more Zin looked around and appraised the situation, the more he failed to understand.
There were four clear, horizontal claw marks carved into the hardened mud. Instinctively, Zin remember something Beck Gu said.
‘It must have been the work of wolves.’
A giant wolf couldn’t take down a city of this size, however. It was also unreasonable to conclude that giant wolves, who don’t travel in groups, would come with a group of small monsters to attack the city.
Something was off. Making any type of conclusion was tough.
Jin witnessed something even more unbelievable as he reached the center of the city. What he saw was strange, enough to cause the normally unflappable Zin to blink twice.
It didn’t take much of a glance for Zin to conclude that there were at least 50 corpse eaters feasting on flesh. Ghouls, scavenger birds, corpse hunters, rabid dogs, and even insects - it was hell on earth.
Zin didn’t flinch at that horrible scene, however.
‘Beck Gu, you were right.’
The meat that the corpse eaters were enjoying was a pile of at least five giant wolves. Just as Beck Gu had predicted, Jado was razed by an attack from giant wolves, with small monsters in tow.
Yet those giant wolves were all dead now.
Zin ascended a slanted ladder to look down on the scene from a somewhat tall building.
Giant wolves attacked a city. The medium sized monsters were the giant wolves. The small sized monsters must have been the pups. Corpse eaters were tearing into the bodies of the baby wolves scattered here and there.
This couldn’t be happening.
Giant wolves are independent creatures. They hunt people and creatures that enter their territory, and they only leave that territory to hunt when they are starving and on the edge of death. It’s virtually impossible that ten giant wolves would be suffering from that kind of hunger simultaneously.
‘Did they die fighting each other after finishing their hunt?’
The fact that they all died in the same spot suggests that they tore each other up, ultimately destroying themselves.
That also explains why the corpse hunters arrived late. They wouldn’t have dared to approach the city - giant wolf blood emits tremors that would have scared them away.
Ultimately, however, the situation still defied common sense.
Regardless, Zin’s job was to investigate what attacked the city, not get revenge on the attackers.
Once Zin saw the corpse eaters and the pile of giant wolves, his job was done. The monsters were giant wolves, and they ripped each other apart after their hunt was over. The residents of Ard Point would be safe for the time being.
‘Not that they’re going to believe me…’
Zin was well aware that people probably weren’t going to believe his account of Jado’s fall. The situation was decidedly impossible - his words would no doubt be taken as fabricated. Even if he relays what he saw exactly according to fact, without a recording device, his testimony would not be trusted.
As far as evidence, he could pull out a few fangs from the giant wolves. He didn’t expect to receive his supplemental pay, however.
Hunters don’t go looking for the truth. They leave mysteries unturned and carry out only the task they were given. The world is full of things impossible to understand, and there’s no reason to risk your life trying to uncover explanations.
Zin looked down on the corpse hunters, greedily ripping flesh and filling their gullets with wolf meat.
‘This really does look like the work of a devil.’
Zin, however, could recall countless examples of things that looked like the work of a devil that turned out otherwise. While the kind of mystery unfolding in front of him was by no means typical, this kind of thing does on occasion occur. Coincidences happen every day. Whatever the reason behind these giant wolves forming a pack to attack Jado, it had nothing to do with a devil.
More importantly, Zin had bigger things to attend to than watch as this city was reduced to ruin.
The vault in Jado had lost its owner - and now a new owner was waiting. Jado was a fairly large city. If Zin could find its chips, he could extend his operation limit by quite while. In fact, one of the main reasons he took this job, more so than the pay itself, was the chance to recover whatever chips remained here.
Faced with uncertain circumstances, rationality trumps focus.
If something is obvious, than the obvious law of survival prevails.
‘At least the slaughters won’t come, thanks to the monsters.’
Thieves were bound to arrive soon, once they got wind that a city had fallen. For the time being, however, this group of monsters was deterring any slaughters from approaching. Even monsters can sometimes become a useful line of defense.
A hunter only hunts when he has to. Likewise, when he has to, a hunter will make use of a monster. From the rooftop, Zin began scanning the buildings for a suitable location for the vault.
‘Could it be over there?’
Zin started moving southeast to a relatively intact building.
He saw ominous signs of something retching from behind the scraps of corpses.