Part 1: Five Heroes
I am a sheep.
To be clear, I am an anthropomorphic sheep.
Anthropomorphs are part human, part animal creatures, each with unique challenges.
For example, sheep anthropomorphs particularly struggle with their hair.
Their thin, curly hair grows long and dense, making it extremely difficult to take care of.
But if I were to trim it short, it may end up in wild, undoable tangles. As such, many anthropomorphs shave it off completely or fix it up in a tight knot.
As for me, I chose to braid my hair into two pigtails and let them hang down freely.
I wash my hair on a monthly basis.
That might sound unhygienic, but hear me out.
I regularly spray my hair with cleansing water carefully crafted from purifying plants. This prevents the buildup of grime and gets rid of the smell.
Of course, on the days I do wash my hair, it takes over three hours of hard work. This is followed by completely drying off my scalp before untangling and meticulously retying my hair back into braids.
It’s exhausting labor.
Trying to brush out these messy tangles drives me crazy. Not everyone can relate to that.
And that’s not all.
I also have to take care of my horns.
Although the shape varies depending on the anthropomorph, mine curve back with the ends slightly bent inwards.
Because of this, it’s much harder to apply oil.
But if I let it be, dust tends to pile up in the crevices, making it look dirty.
That usually happens in just four days.
So, I clean my horns with a brush every night and use scented oil. It really is time-consuming.
Anyway, today was one of the days that I washed my hair.
I woke up at 6 a.m. By the time I finished washing my hair, it was already 11 a.m.
It was particularly difficult to brush out those annoying tangles today. This obviously put me in a sour mood.
My shoulders, neck, and arms all felt strained... even my back felt sore.
I took a final look in the mirror while I gritted my teeth.
A fair-skinned anthropomorph with dark, golden eyes and braided hair that fell just below the waist.
It was the color of cream with a hint of peach. I might need to trim it, though, as it was getting quite heavy.
‘It’s exhausting enough to wash my hair as it is. When on earth would I find the time to trim it...?’
Grumbling, I draped a red scarf around my neck and put on a thick coat over my gown.
It was snowing outside, but I was dressed warm enough.
I carefully put on a fur hat that had holes in it for my horns and then put on my brown boots.
Today was the day I was going to pick some winter herbs. My mood lifted slightly at the thought.
Smiling, I opened the front door, “EEK!” and then slammed it shut.
A moment of silence passed.
I glared at the door grimly.
I couldn’t see what was outside. I wasn’t clairvoyant, but I felt like I needed to be at this moment.
My heart pounded loud and fast. The palms of my hands were already drenched with sweat.
The last time I felt this surprised was when I encountered a monster in the forest.
‘Did I see it right?’
Frantically, I thought up all the possible reasons why a guest might come up to my front yard.
And it made absolutely no sense.
Clearly, I was seeing things.
My front yard was set up to keep out not just monsters but any living creature.
Poisonous plants that could kill you in a single breath, for example.
‘That’s right. There’s no way someone could be out there.’
I opened the door again.
There were outlines of people standing outside.
Immediately, I tried to shut the door, but a big, strong hand stopped it from closing.
I froze and looked at the five figures standing before me.
To my horror, they were all humans.
If they recognized me as an anthropomorph, they’d surely sell me off as a slave.
Anthropomorphs are treated as being no more than beasts in this empire.
I was shaken to the core. My fingers shuddered on the doorknob.
Had I been able to think clearly, I would have seen the blood on their clothes and that one of them was also an anthropomorph with horns. In fact, he looked like he was about to pass out any second. But I was in too much of a panic to notice these details.
And my reaction was naturally to be expected.
After all, it had been years since I had last spoken to a stranger.
A bronze-skinned man stepped forward.
He was bear-like in stature and had spiky, sand-colored hair.
There was a claw-scratch-shaped mark on his left cheek. It was white and swollen, so it must have been an old scar.
Every inch of his body was heavily built. He could probably tear through his enemy’s flesh with his bare hands.
His clothes fit tightly against his muscles.
They revealed an outline of his brawny, masculine body.
There was an air of violence around him, the kind that made you think of dangerous thugs.
His body exuded pure danger from every pore.
When I met his eyes, I yanked back in alarm as though I got burnt.
His eyes were orange, and they seemed to rumble like a tiger’s growl.
I broke out in a cold sweat.
“Don’t come any closer.”
I straightened my body to look less like a cornered prey, which to some extent, I was.
In my mind, I hurriedly sketched out a plan to kill them.
If I can keep myself calm and collected, it just might work out.
Though my most deadly plants didn’t affect them, there were other poisonous herbs that I planted by the front garden for just such a situation. These ones seemed to take a toll on them.
I could tell from the purple streaks in the whites of their eyes that they’d die if they weren't treated soon.
But what if they forced open the door and broke into my house?
‘I’ll stab them with my needle.’
I'm an expert when it comes to acupuncture.
I know where all the vital points are on both humans and anthropomorphs.
If I could grab my case to get to my needle, I'd stab them in their vitals... they’d die on the spot.
That’s right. There was hope.
So, stop feeling scared.
I scrunched up my face to give off a fierce appearance and glared at him.
I might have a meek face, but I can look pretty menacing with a frown.
And this frown has helped me stand my ground before.
However, this man didn’t look one bit scared.
Trying to hide my dismay, I yelled:
“How did you get in here and why? Answer me, or I'll kill you where you stand!”
“Halik, I’ll take it from here.”
A slim man from behind stepped forward.
I turned to him with a piercing glare.
What caught my eye first was his deep blue hair that glowed like a sapphire.
His eyes seemed colorless, like clear water.
There might’ve been a hint of navy in them, but I couldn’t be sure.
His eyebrows were smooth and even, like thin brush strokes.
His eyelashes, lush, and delicate, were the color of the ocean like his hair.
They looked quaint against his colorless eyes.
His skin and lips were pale. Altogether, the only color he seemed to have was blue.
A man with a look as cool and as deep blue as the ocean.
Lost in thought, I gazed at him. He looked like a merman.
“Do you perchance remember me?”
He asked elegantly.
His upright posture exuded nobility.
He felt vastly different from the other man, who, in contrast, seemed like he had just trekked through a sandstorm in some hot desert.
I kept my guard up as I carefully looked him over.
I didn’t recognize anything about him besides him looking like a merman from head to toe.
This stranger was trying to act like he knew me. I was starting to get annoyed.
“I don’t know who you are.”
“Then, do you recognize this vial?”
He dug out a small glass bottle from his tattered pocket.
It was a thin cylindrical vial capped with a green cork.
My eyes narrowed to get a closer look and I suddenly rushed forward in surprise.
This was my portable medicine vial that had been specially designed by a master craftsman.
I had no idea why such a precious thing was in his hands.
I lunged forward and snatched the vial. I immediately froze and felt a shiver down my spine.
My lips quivered. I raised my head.
Five pairs of eyes were staring down at me.
I had a bad habit of throwing myself in danger for anything that had to do with herbs. I always knew it’d be the death of me, but I didn’t realize today would be the day.
Now, there was no turning back. I had stepped into enemy territory.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t move my legs. They were rooted to the ground.
“Please do not be nervous.”
The guy that looked like a merman crouched down beside me and took my hand.
His hand felt cool and slippery, like a water snake.
My body trembled and I flinched in response.
“We are not here to cause you harm. We are not in the position to do so, anyway.”
“How can I believe that?”
I snapped back. The man's lips broke into a thin smile.
For such a cold-looking man, his smile was unbelievably warm.
“It is not unreasonable that you cannot remember me. Are you, by chance, familiar with the Dicata Mountains?”
‘It does sound familiar...’
I trailed off as I racked up my memories.
“Yes. Five years ago, you lost your way in the Dicata Mountains and stumbled into a narrow cave.”
Then, I remembered. I would sometimes visit the Dicata Mountains in search of some rare herbs.
It was a mountain range that not many humans frequented. I wondered why he was suddenly bringing this up.
“Do you remember the underground facility connected to that cave? You met me there.”
It sounded absurd, but I gave it some thought.
“I don’t remember ever seeing anyone like you there.”
“That is probably true. I looked awful back there.”
“Dicata’s underground facility...... Wait a second!”
A memory flashed like lightning in my mind. I gasped.
Nightmarish memories from five years ago were resurfacing.
My breath was taken away altogether when I realized something.
I turned pale as the blood drained from my face.
In a thin, quivering voice, I asked:
“A-are you the man who was confined there?”
My mind flashed back to memories of the underground facility, which had been swarming with the Royal Empire’s magicians, guards, and countless slaves. Anyone would recognize it as the Empire’s top-secret base.
And this man was the central figure of that secret base.
The man who had been locked up in prison, the man who would have been chased to the end of the world by the Empire had he ever tried to escape...
That man was standing right in front of me... holding the empty vial that I had given him.
Shivers ran down my spine.