Kurilta and I couldn't help but stare in awe at the breathtaking view of Ark before us. The disparity between what we had seen on the monitor and what we were seeing in real life was immense.
"Do you see the height of those fortress walls? They make Chronos look like a child's toy."
"Chronos was a massive city in its own right, but... this is something else entirely."
"Do you think Ark was built for no reason?"
"Well, even Chronos doesn't exist anymore..."
As refugees exchanged various conversations, we finally arrived at the bridge before Ark's walls, surrounded by the sea.
"How are we going to cross?" Kurilta asked, to which I replied, "Just wait."
It wasn't long before a voice boomed through the speaker system.
The voice was both familiar and intimidating, sending shivers down our spines.
["Release all weapons."]
It was a world teeming with all sorts of monsters and demons.
In such a world, telling people who have lived their lives armed to disarm is no different than telling them to commit suicide.
No matter how much they called it "Ark," it was not easy to change the mindset that was deeply ingrained in their minds.
"…What should we do?"
Just as the refugees couldn't hide their confusion, a voice came through the speaker, as if to solve their dilemma.
["Failure to comply will result in death."]
There was no choice.
As Kurilta and I, along with all the refugees, disarmed ourselves, the speaker once again rang out.
Kurilta and the refugees looked at me.
"Just follow me."
After all, this was nothing more than a formal procedure.
If the Ark side wanted to eliminate us from the beginning, there was no way to survive in this situation.
After we stepped back, not long after, the gate, which also served as a castle wall, began to descend into the deep waters, and the soldiers of Ark, armed to the teeth, appeared before us.
I couldn't help but be drawn to the appearance of one soldier that stood out.
Short, red hair.
Eyes that seemed to blaze.
Beautifully defined features.
She was Lieutenant Imocia, a gatekeeper of Red-17, responsible for the management of the Red Line gates.
"No wonder her voice was familiar..."
Seeing her, it seemed like this place was her responsibility zone.
Without giving us a suspicious look, Lieutenant Imocia spoke to us.
"Where did you come from?"
Kurilta, narrowing his eyes, stepped forward and answered.
"We came from Chronos. More precisely, we came from a village near there."
"Chronos? What happened there that brought you here? The regular exchange date is still far away."
"Chronos was destroyed. And so were the surrounding areas. It was completely devastated."
I had read the background setting of The Defense so many times that I was no longer surprised, but Lieutenant Imocia's expression was something else.
"Explain in more detail."
The purpose of The Defense was to protect Ark, the last stronghold of humanity, but Ark was not always the last city of humanity.
There were cities outside of Ark.
To be precise, there used to be.
Chronos was also one of the countless cities outside of Ark.
The Defense began as these cities were destroyed.
"Are you all the survivors of Chronos?"
"It's not like that. There were other refugees who fled to other places. But there were more than a hundred vehicles heading to Ark."
"Is that so?"
Lieutenant Imocia nodded her head and shifted her gaze towards the direction where our truck was parked.
"Then what is that?"
Kurilta replied, thumping her chest as if proud of herself.
"Loot? Are you talking gibberish because you don't even know what that is?"
As Lieutenant Imocia's eyes filled with suspicion and caution, I couldn't help but intervene. I didn't want to leave everything to Kurilta and risk an unintended situation.
"I do know that it's quite valuable."
Lieutenant Imocia's sharp gaze turned towards me menacingly as I intervened.
"How did you catch it? It must not have been an ordinary creature."
"I shot a few arrows into its eyes and heart, and it became quiet."
"Is that all?"
I knew exactly what Lieutenant Imocia was worried about. There was only one thing to worry about after the death of the skull hound.
"If you're worried about him, there's no need."
As I pulled out the can from my embrace, Lieutenant Imocia took a step back with a guarded expression.
A strange noise could be heard from inside the can, causing Lieutenant Imocia to pull out her gun instinctively. The gun was a sophisticated piece of equipment that couldn't even compare to the handgun that Kurilta was carrying.
"It's probably what you're thinking."
The safety of Lieutenant Imocia's gun clicked off.
"Put it down. That's dangerous. It needs to be removed right away."
"I can't do that. It's my personal property."
If it had been another gatekeeper with a stiff neck, they wouldn't have been able to hold out like this. But Lieutenant Imocia was fundamentally different from the inexperienced paratroopers.
"That's an interesting thing to say."
In a way, it was confidence.
Confidence that no matter what happens here, she can handle it herself. Lieutenant Imocia had that confidence.
“Can you take responsibility?”
“What's your name?”
Said Imocia, the lieutenant.
“Wait here for a moment.”
Imocia went into the Ark without saying anything else.
It seemed like they were going to report to the higher-ups starting from the fall of Chronos, so the situation was urgent.
“Is everything okay?”
Kurilta, who had approached unnoticed, asked quietly.
Despite his savage appearance, he couldn't hide his concern.
Ark was always struggling with a serious shortage of troops.
It would be difficult to reject outsiders even in such a situation.
Especially if they were capable enough to hunt Skull Hounds.
“I'm a little worried, but...”
My ether sensitivity is exceptionally high right now.
It's almost impossible to be accepted at the very back of Ark, the Red Line.
Even within Ark, there are conflicting thoughts about ether.
In the far back of the Red Line, it is rejected unconditionally, while in the front lines, it is utilized as a weapon.
That's the part that worries me.
The scanner that has been scanning us in an annoying way since we arrived in front of Ark.
It had been observing and recording us since the moment we arrived in front of Ark.
I stared at the entrance to Ark where Imocia, the lieutenant, disappeared for a long time.
Imocia, the gate access control manager for Red Line Gate 17, couldn't help but be surprised when she looked through the belongings of the refugees who suddenly appeared.
“...They caught a Skull Hound with just these devices?”
Skull Hound, a Grade 8 monster.
As the leader of Hell Hounds and one of the rare enemies among the monsters that appear in the last line of Ark's defense, it was tough.
As a Grade 8 monster, it had a tough exterior and the wickedness of a leader leading the pack. Moreover, due to its unique characteristic of coexisting with bone parasites, it was a particularly difficult monster to deal with as it could create a Grade 7 monster if handled poorly.
Because of these characteristics, Skull Hounds were originally seen more often in the Orange Line rather than the last line, the Red Line.
However, the fact that an outsider, with nothing but toy-like devices, caught the beast that Ark boasted was difficult to catch, was hard to believe even though she was witnessing it.
'It's possible that they lost equipment while facing the Skull Hound, but... it's more likely that they caught it with these average level devices that are not worth anything.'
In other words, it was more likely that they caught the Skull Hound with those devices.
‘Did he say Carl Marcus?'
Starting from a strange atmosphere that couldn't be identified, he was an exceptional man.
["Lieutenant, scan results are in."]
["All 11 personnel are human. However, one person had a significant level of ether reaction."]
Imocia's voice slightly increased.
It was rare to see a human in Ark who exhibited an ether reaction, even in Ark adjacent to Yeongsan Noah.
However, it was not good news that an outsider who could not even identify his status showed an ether reaction.
"Who is that person?"
["He revealed his identity as Carl Marcus, who spoke with you, Lieutenant."]
Finally, Lieutenant Imocia realized that this was an issue that he could not solve on his own, and contacted his direct superior, Major Banol.
His tone indicated that he already knew what was happening at the gate.
As there had been several such reactions from Banol before, Imocia got straight to the point.
"I will report. Eleven refugees came to Red-17 gate, claiming to have come from Kronos in the east."
"According to their claim, Kronos had been destroyed, and only they survived among the refugees heading towards Ark."
["I see. What is their condition?"]
Even with the shocking news that few of the remaining human cities had been destroyed, Banol's voice remained mechanical.
"There are 11 refugees in total, and they seem to be mostly ordinary humans, but one of them had a significant ether reaction. As the Red-17 gate manager, I request permission for their entry."
["You may allow entry, but remove the person who had an ether reaction. There is a possibility of danger to Ark."]
As always, his tone was mechanical.
"They are skilled in catching Skullhounds with old equipment. They will be of great help."
Literally, it referred to the equipment from the era before the great upheaval.
Of course, the equipment they had was so old and worn out that it was insufficient to describe it simply as old equipment, but Imocia didn't bother to mention it.
He couldn't believe it himself.
["If he have Skullhounds, it is even more dangerous."]
"They seemed to have strong credibility among the refugees. It is not wise to remove them rashly. All of them have the potential to be excellent soldiers in Ark."
["Alright. It is up to your discretion regarding his disposal. But he cannot be allowed into Ark under any circumstances. Do you understand?"]
This was a very concessionary move on Major Banol's part.
It was evidence that Lieutenant Imocia was trusted, but that was all.
Lieutenant Imocia couldn't say anything more.
He knew better than anyone what Major Banol was wary of.
In fact, the Black Line, which was the very forefront of the previous Ark, was destroyed.
A terrible memory of the day when 15% of Ark's territory was lost.
Imocia still couldn't forget that day.
How much time has passed?
By the time Kurilta let out a yawn, the expression of Lieutenant Imocia who had been hiding his face was quite dark.
When I asked, Lieutenant Imocia nodded his head slightly.
"Access has been granted. You can go in."
Along with him, the refugees, including Kurilta, cheered.
"We're alive, we made it!"
"Carl! It's all thanks to you!"
But I couldn't join in their cheers.
Because I felt something from Lieutenant Imocia's expression towards me.
"I have something to tell you."
Although it was a short sentence, his voice was filled with strength.
Above all, the polite tone that was different from before made the audience feel the seriousness.
"What is it?"
Lieutenant Imocia's gaze turned to me.
"You cannot enter Ark."
<Ark> The End.