Dead End Chapter 124

Dead End

**Chapter 124**

From behind, Sohn Tae-hwan’s figure seemed less human and more akin to the immense wall that had obstructed Paula and the survivors. Be it maestro or beast, in front of their power, the survivors had long abandoned the thought of attacking them. Was it really a human’s power to be undefeated?

Humans, who had been Earth’s strongest creatures for thousands of years, had absurdly yielded their apex position to these bizarre beings, unable to overcome the mere black sludge.

It was possible that all the alpha zombies they had encountered in Punta Arenas possessed attributes of deities. Like gods that wipe out earthly beings without reason, the beasts and maestros attacked humans without cause.

Arguably, beta zombies, who attacked people to feed, appeared much more humane. The alpha zombies Sohn Tae-hwan had encountered didn’t seem particularly interested in preying on humans. They attacked them for no apparent reason in the eyes of the humans and pursued them just as tirelessly.

Zombies bestowed with god-like powers.

Perhaps that’s why, among the survivors Paula had met, there were those who even worshipped the alpha zombies. There existed a naïve belief akin to the ancient civilizations of Maya and Inca, where offering living humans as sacrifices would spare oneself from the attacks of maestro and beast.

Nevertheless, whether worshipped or not, neither maestro nor beast cared. Like a natural disaster, they would destroy altars built to appease them and mercilessly attack humans, creating a scene that couldn’t always be laughed off as black comedy.

As they offered children as sacrifices, they pleaded with the maestro not to attack them but to save them instead. Some children offered as sacrifices to the maestro had lived to tell the tale.

Through numerous tragicomedies, Paula painfully realized that one must not mess with these steam men.

“Yo-you’re not a steam man, are you? Right? Please, I beg of you.”

The dog looked ready to lunge at Sohn Tae-hwan’s neck at any moment, but the tentacle on Sohn Tae-hwan’s right hand protected him, moving as if it were a living creature itself. The dog growled and shifted its posture, obstructing the tentacle’s path, while the tentacle itself slid through the air like a missile searching for a gap.

Ever since their first encounter at the Livingstone Island base, the rag had never shown such aggression. The dog growled incessantly until suddenly it tilted its head, puzzled.

Shaking with fear, Paula came to her senses upon hearing Sohn Tae-hwan muttering to himself. He kept mumbling something and then sighed heavily.

“…… Gone.”

As if understanding his mumbles, the black tentacle slowly receded until it vanished back into Sohn Tae-hwan’s severed right hand. His hand darkened as though dipped in black paint, but he was still talking as usual.

Paula furrowed her brows and looked up at Sohn Tae-hwan.

“That can’t be right. Everything, including the motorboat explosion, wouldn’t happen unless someone did it. Right? Huh?”

Sohn Tae-hwan seemed like a madman, sorting through everything he had witnessed in Korean. To Paula, his behavior resembled that of a voodoo priest chanting a spell.

The dog, which had been riled up to attack Sohn Tae-hwan, suddenly switched demeanor and began licking his left hand. Sohn Tae-hwan kneeled on one knee and stroked the dog’s neck as it panted and fawned over him like a senseless creature.

“That’s it, rag. The answer was you all along. You’re the one left behind.”

Sohn Tae-hwan gathered his wits and surveyed their surroundings once more. He wondered how Han Soo-jin or Shepherd would have tried to contact him.

Instinctively, his hand reached for the dog’s collar. The rag had always worn a bright orange collar, and upon closer inspection, he noticed a post-it note folded into the clear sleeve for inserting a name tag.

Struggling with his left hand, Sohn Tae-hwan tried to retrieve the post-it from the dog’s collar, but the paper was hard to pull out with his worn-down fingernails. He paused to look around.

They must have realized that drawing the attention of the maestro was tantamount to a death wish, given its tremendous destructive power. Signals such as sound or light might provoke an attack.

Sohn Tae-hwan’s eyes naturally drifted toward the window where he had previously seen bloodstains. Now clearer, the communication antenna lay between the buildings.

“So it was a bridge. They’re alive.”

Sohn Tae-hwan distractedly stroked the dog’s head, his eyes twinkling. At least until the motorboat was destroyed, either Han Soo-jin or Shepherd must have been alive—the evidence was clear.

They had escaped this place.

Paula, having observed the entire event, dared not move rashly. What if Sohn Tae-hwan went mad again, and the black tentacle emerged?

Paula stealthily gripped Sohn Tae-hwan’s gun and aimed it at his head. She had had multiple opportunities to shoot him.

She thought that they were more likely to survive with him alive—that’s why she hadn’t fired. But if another beast awoke, they would all be finished. She lifted her finger off the trigger, hesitant.

She couldn’t tell if Sohn Tae-hwan had reloaded the gun while she was unconscious. She did as he did, checking the ammunition. The empty shotgun shells clattered to the floor as she checked. The .22 caliber had all been shot, and Sohn Tae-hwan hadn’t reloaded yet.

Paula hadn’t received any spare ammunition from Sohn Tae-hwan, pretending to show her faith. All remaining ammunition was with him. As she held the broken gun, Sohn Tae-hwan waved his hand at her, unsuspecting.

“Paula, put the gun away and help me. This fellow is the messenger.”

“Messenger?”

Paula breezily thought of a messaging app on a smartphone, tilting her head in confusion. Sohn Tae-hwan spat out an expletive, his face wearing a nonsensical smile, a stark contrast to his recent terrifying demeanor.

“F***, how am I supposed to explain this? Ah right, they must be the messengers too. My colleagues left a message on this fellow here.”

Realizing what he meant, Paula approached Sohn Tae-hwan. Her steps, though unsteady with fear, carried her forward as Sohn Tae-hwan struggled to remove the note.

Paula managed to calm her shaking hands and reached for Sohn Tae-hwan. Without nearby gunfire, she would be unable to shoot him. To get any closer would be dangerous.

Paula’s gaze landed on the rag. The wretched dog, as if aware of Paula’s inner turmoil, greeted her by licking her hand in an unaffected manner.

“Is this what you’re trying to get out?”

“Yeah, can’t seem to manage with one hand.”

Wordlessly, Paula extracted the post-it note from the dog’s collar. Her trembling fingers grasped the note. If its message was one of despair, Paula’s life was forfeit.

Anyone could see Sohn Tae-hwan was not normal, especially after witnessing that tentacle scene. Paula imagined the tentacle piercing through her head.

She wanted to live.

It was a natural wish. But more than that, she didn’t want to die impaled by a tentacle. She had watched from the barricade how people pierced by the beast’s tentacle ended up. The beast left no second wave of infected alive.

Throngs of tentacles burst forth from the body, turning the human hull inside out. Perhaps roaming the streets as a beta zombie was a far too lenient afterlife.

“Paula, what are you doing? Give me the note.”

“Just a minute.” As Sohn Tae-hwan stirred, a single shotgun pellet rolled toward her. She was about to snatch it undetected.

“Paula! Look! Just as I thought! They’re alive! Look, they survived!”

Sohn Tae-hwan grabbed her hand, and the pellet slipped out and rolled away. She cursed inwardly, but now wasn’t the time to arouse his suspicions.

Paula mustered a bright facade and fell into rhythm with Sohn Tae-hwan, looking at the post-it note. Written in hasty English were a few simple sentences.

We are safe.

Shepherd bleeding, but measures taken.

Shepherd cannot run for now.

Spotted a hospital sign. Heading there.

Beware of this place’s alpha.

At first, Paula tried to match Sohn Tae-hwan’s mood, but she almost cheered upon reading the note.

The doctor had survived.

Moreover, the destruction of the motorboat was a ruse by her and Shepherd. From this building to the harbor was less than 400 meters. Perhaps the boat could distract the maestro while they headed to the hospital.

“Wait, Sohn. Heading to the hospital?”

At this, both Sohn Tae-hwan and Paula’s eyes turned toward the hospital. The distance from here to the hospital was actually greater and, if misjudged, they could end up leading the maestro straight there.

Particularly near the hospital, zombies as dangerous as the maestro were rumored to lurk.

“Steam men are sensitive to the smell of blood. Very dangerous.”

Paula mentioned this as she casually picked up the shotgun pellet that had rolled away.

“Sensitive to blood?”

“Yeah, a woman on her period passed by that alley once and was targeted because of it.”

Despite the embarrassing topic, Paula spoke earnestly. Considering the amount of blood Shepherd was losing, it was likely greater than menstrual blood. Han Soo-jin would have taken measures, but the smell could not be helped.

“Darn it.”

Sohn Tae-hwan’s eyes wavered, and Paula’s heart sank.

“We must hurry. If we stay, Miguel and Alejandro are also in danger. We need to go, now.”

With natural ease, Sohn Tae-hwan took the gun from Paula’s hand, loaded it with shotgun pellets, and inserted the .22 caliber rounds.

Then, he chanced upon a loathsome firearm on the ground.

“Good Lord, how did this fall here?”

It was a detestable .38 caliber revolver. It had been used by several for suicide, and in Antarctica, it was the very gun that ended the iron spike-teeth creature.

Sohn Tae-hwan opened the cylinder and checked for live rounds. There was not a single one left from when they had killed the iron spike-teeth creature yesterday. He opened the cylinder, spilled out the empty shells, and tossed the gun to Paula.

“Paula, no bullets, but keep it with you. There must be ammunition in the school that fits this. This is our secret.”

Paula clenched her jaws and accepted the .38 caliber revolver. Coincidences continued to pile up. Sohn Tae-hwan’s survival gun could house 12-gauge shotgun shells and .22 caliber rounds. Hence, it was impossible for him to have .38 caliber rounds.

Holding the empty revolver, Paula swallowed hard. Sohn Tae-hwan wasn’t suspicious of her. Now she had a hidden shotgun pellet and a revolver. At this distance, she could easily kill Sohn Tae-hwan.

Even a ‘steam man’ would stop if shot in the head.

“Paula, don’t know how to use it? Slide the button on the side forward, and the cylinder will pop out.”

Sohn Tae-hwan kindly explained how to operate the revolver, but Paula’s attention was fixed on his right wrist. Was it her imagination, or had Sohn Tae-hwan’s right hand grown a bit more than before?

Comparing it to his left, it was clear—the part blasted by the shotgun was filling in, the flesh above his wrist extending. Like a hand cut diagonally with a knife, the flesh beneath Sohn Tae-hwan’s right thumb was regenerating. Paula froze in shock.

Human hands don’t regrow like plants.

Cult leaders claim to cure cancer and various incurable diseases, but they can’t grow new limbs from amputations. Growing new limbs? That was a miracle beyond human imagination.

Yet that impossible miracle unfolded before Paula. Sohn Tae-hwan talked about the gun and future plans, oblivious to the wonder.

‘Affected by that tentacle earlier. He’s turning into a zombie.’

Paula gripped the revolver with both hands, downing saliva. She had made her decision, but sadly, she had no weapon to blow off his head. Not hitting the head precisely would pose a danger to Paula herself. No matter how human Sohn Tae-hwan seemed now, if she shot him and failed, there would be no reprieve.

Without a bullet revolver and a loaded shotgun, she was without reason.

‘Stupid! Why did I say that?’

She had claimed it would be better if Sohn Tae-hwan held the gun. Paula cursed her past self, but there was no going back.

“Paula, let’s go. The hospital situation looks serious. My colleagues must have headed there too.”

“Yeah? Okay.”

“And let’s gather useful items from the plane first. There should still be some medical supplies or MREs left.”

With a grim nod, Paula followed Sohn Tae-hwan. He had already explained everything while salvaging items from the plane wreckage.

“Damn, can’t find where the sniper rifle dropped. Here are some spare magazines, though. Paula, you should take them.”

Sohn Tae-hwan passed a Dragunov’s spare magazine to Paula as well. He was fully committed…

[End of translated text]



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