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“Did you hear the rumors? Another dungeon was discovered in Mule.”
“Yes, in the Forest of Darkness. The dungeon belongs to Vivian, an ancient alchemist. Should I go to Mule again? Who knows? Maybe there’ll be something left.”
“You discovered the Screaming Cave. Don’t be greedy. Hm… that’s odd. I remember that there was a group of users that discovered it a long time ago.”
“Yes, they accidentally found it and were killed in the end. No, that doesn’t sound right. Huh? A total of three people. No, or should I say one? What I mean is that…”
We quickly packed our belongings and left the Inn. Since it was early in the morning, I didn’t see Go Yeon-Joo. An Hyun kept on looking back at the “Modest Lady” in a way that hinted at disappointment about our departure.
Mule’s north gate was extremely bare in comparison to Babara’s. There were two guards guarding the gate, but you could tell how shabby it looks just by looking from the outside. It was hard to say that the representative clan was doing a good job just from its current condition, no matter how developed the city was.
“Good job. Please take good care of yourselves. May the angels bless the users.”
After answering the guards that saluted us, we exited through the north gate. Hearing the residents speak for the first time, Hyun asked with a curious expression.
“Soo-Hyun. What kind of people are residents?”
“The residents? They’re people that have always lived in Hall Plain. It’s the same thing as you having lived on Earth all of your life.”
“Hm. Are they any different from us? I heard this from the other users, but aren’t users considered nobility and the residents commoners?”
Nobility and commoners… The residents were weak. They were so weak that if there weren’t any users in Hall Plain, they wouldn’t be able to survive. Of course, the situation changes after Atlanta and the subsequent return to Tera, but right now the residents of Babara still needed protection by the users.
Once Mule was discovered and started development, the residents were pretty much out of danger. As for cities that haven’t yet been developed, no one knew what would happen to them. There have been cases where cities were already in ruins when they were discovered in the Northern country. Of course, there hadn’t been any residents there. People only assumed that they were killed by groups that invaded and attacked the city.
The natives often called users that protected them Apostles of God. They believed in the existence of a god in Hall Plain as some residents even receive orders from an angel. The Apostles were named so because they received Divine Order and Protection from the angels to aid in them protecting the native residents.
In reality, those users had been kidnapped by the angels and were forced upon powers, and was not a gift from God as the natives believed. That was why the residents looked at the users in awe.
What Hyun said about nobility and commoners was only the way users saw the relationship. The Western country was known for its freedom, but their relationship between users and natives was so bad that the residents were often treated like slaves. The Northern wasn’t as bad, but the natives were often looked down upon and seen as being of a lower class than the users. They were both people, so I wondered if it was truly necessary to treat them that way.
While investigating the cities, dungeons, and laboratories that were being discovered all over the place, hints that Hall Plain was once a flourishing place were often discovered. From what I recall, they had lost it all and even their powers because of some issue. It was so bad that the natives of today were worried about the possibility of monster attacks at any moment.
I summarized this information to Hyun. The others seemed to be interested as they nodded their heads. There was no need to be particularly sad about the residents, but there wasn’t any reason to treat them badly either. With that, I finished talking about the native residents of Hall Plain.
Typically we would’ve passed a couple of users by now, but I hadn’t seen any. The effectiveness of the Golden Clan’s plans was surprising. As the northernmost cities were practically empty, the southern, western, and those around Babara were probably filled with users. For a moment, I had an urge to join that throng.
I was feeling sentimental for a second, but that feeling quickly disappeared as I continued walking. As we gradually traveled north of Mule, the surroundings started to change a bit. The roads became more uneven and there weren’t traces of humans walking through here. It wasn’t so bad.
It meant that I could enjoy nature in its original state. As untampered nature was very rare on earth, and we had also been living in absence of nature, this was a welcome sight. When the cool wind started to blow, the members had on bright expressions and would often look around at their surroundings. Once the woods became thicker, I stopped walking and took out a map.
To the left was a forest. To the right were the plains. The Forest of Darkness was located, well, in the forest, not the plains. I checked just in case, but my memory was correct. After neatly folding the map, I placed it back in my pocket. I saw that there were many split roads ahead, but I headed towards north without any hesitation.
I started walking through the vast, green forest. The field connected to Mule’s north gate was a light green color. But as soon as the distance to the Forest of Darkness shortened, the color became duller.
As we continued walking, more and more dark blue trees started to appear. The tall trees had a massive presence within the forest. We were nearing the Forest of Darkness’s entrance. After making sure that the others were still behind me, I started to talk in a low voice.
“This is the entrance to the Forest of Darkness. Pay attention and be prepared.”
The deeper we walked into the forest, the more the gloomy atmosphere pervaded. The area we were at couldn’t truly really be called a forest as hills could be seen clearly and the surface was too even. Here couldn’t even compare to the forest that we were in during the Rite of Passage.
We were still near the entrance so there was some sunlight in different parts of the forest, but once we head in deeper, there wouldn’t be any light at all. Since it was this dark in the morning, I’m sure that it’ll be pitch black at night. I thought it would be best to find a safe spot for tonight, but since I was able to see my surroundings well I decided to look around a bit more. I looked back at the others and noticed them tightly gripping onto their weapons due to nervousness. Then—
Right when I turned my head towards the group, I noticed something odd accidentally. If I hadn’t turned my head, I would’ve probably missed it. Since my senses were on high alert I was able to catch sight of tracks.
On guard, the others looked at me, surprised. I first headed towards where I noticed the tracks and kneeled down to take a closer look. After seeing my expressionless face, they slowly gathered around me.
Someone… had passed through here, and not just a few people. I hadn’t seen anyone when we left Mule, but they could’ve come from a different direction. It had been odd that there weren’t any users, but it hadn’t been weird enough for me to take special note. These tracks were pretty fresh.
“Soo-Hyun, why are you looking at the ground all of a sudden?”
After looking at the ground for a bit, I activated the Third Eye in order get some detailed information. I heard Yoo-Jung ask a question as I looked towards the ground, but I didn’t want to answer her right now.
“Yoo-Jung. Soo-Hyun is Tracking, so wait…”
“Tracking…? Oh, but aren’t long-range users or assassins usually the ones that use Track?”
“That’s true, but I heard that if you have a lot of experience or if you learn it somehow you would be able to use it too. Although the information you glean might not be as detailed as those that specialize in tracking would.”
“No way. Are you saying that Soo-Hyun learned it?”
While filtering through the incoming information, I heard Yoo-Jung and Sol talking. An archer has the skill to lead the group, but they also have the skill to read the tracks left on the ground. However, since my Third Eye was an effective skill, it wasn’t difficult to gather data regarding the trace. I’m sorry Sol, but my inherent skill is far more superior to simple Tracking.
After analyzing the data, I stood back up. What I had done just now was exactly what Sol said. They all looked at me with a confused expression as I started to talk in a serious tone.
“I think a group passed through here two, maybe three, days ago. I think there were five, maybe six people. I don’t think they came from the north gate. They probably came from a different area…but I’m not sure if they were lost or if they came this way with the same goal in mind. It didn’t seem like they were lost, so their archer was probably somewhat skilled. Anyways, they were all walking in the same direction.”
I didn’t know what happened to them. In order to see exactly what happened at that time, I would have to see into the past, like what I did during the Rite of Passage. It wasn’t anything urgent though, so there was no need to. I was satisfied just from the inferences guessed through the tracks that I found.
Hyun and Yoo-Jung were at a loss for words after hearing my words. Even Sol’s eyes widened because she hadn’t expected me to explain in such detail. I just shrugged my shoulders in response to their gazes. Yoo-Jung tilted her head and asked, wearing a curious expression.
“Then, does that mean there’s another group here?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe… or maybe not.”
Yoo-Jung asked a good question. I didn’t tell the truth, so I answered vaguely, but Yoo-Jung looked doubtful. After letting out a deep sigh, I continued talking.
“It’s like I said. There are footsteps going into the forest, but there aren’t any that shows them leaving. There’s a chance that they left in a different direction, or they could still be roaming. If not those… then they might’ve all died.”
At this, they all became worried and looked at each other. I glanced at them calmly then turned around. I had let them have their fun while we were in the city, but I wasn’t going to go easy on them while we explore.
Noticing my serious expression and my silence, they started to walk even more carefully. Seeing how their footsteps became quieter, they were probably nervous. The deeper we walked into the forest, the taller the trees became and more of the sky was covered by the canopy. The sunlight that we saw near the entrance could no longer be seen.
We continued to walk for a while. The further we were from the entrance, the darker the forest got. It wasn’t so dark that we couldn’t see. But if it was this dark in the morning, I couldn’t imagine how much darker it would get once the sun sets. Here was truly the Forest of Darkness.
I didn’t tell them to do it, but the others were using their Sense. Thanks to me using my Third Eye and the others using their Sense, we were able to maintain our pace. There was nothing more I could say. Every step that I took was accompanied by the sound of legs sliding through the grass the huff of breathing.
I heard a cry. Something was moving within the grass, disturbing the silence of the forest. I noticed its quick movements; it seemed to know who we were and was preparing to attack.
As soon as it stopped moving, the others held their breaths. They kept their guard up and were looking around at their surroundings. They probably missed that a monster was approaching us. Once it comes within the range of their Sense they would notice, but I warned them as I had already detected it.
“It’s a raid. There is a monster approaching. Get ready to fight. Sol, stay in the center. Hyun and Yoo-Jung, turn your backs to each other and protect each other.”
“I don’t like repeating myself. Create a barrier with Sol in the center.”
They all had a confused expression when I said it was a raid. Yoo-Jung asked again, but after hearing my cold voice, she grabbed her daggers while trembling. Hyun was also wielding his spear and Sol quickly started casting a spell. After seeing them quickly get into position, I moved next to Sol. I was going to be the Priest Protector. As soon as I unsheathed my sword, I heard movement within the forest.
『 Special Skill. Blade Master has been activated. 』
『Undeveloped Skill. Close Combat has been activated. 』
『 Undeveloped Skill. Mind’s Eye has been activated. 』
While maintaining our defensive position, something moved within the grass and, at the same time, a screech filled the forest. Once it felt that we had noticed its presence, it had hidden within the darkest parts around us. A shiny tail quickly extended out of the darkness. Its targets, Hyun and Yoo-Jung.
“Don’t dodge! Block!”
I shouted after seeing them preparing to dodge, but An Hyun and Yoo-Jung had already dodged in opposite directions. They were able to dodge its attack through the usage of Sense. After side stepping, An Hyun was confused after hearing my comment. However, when it saw the tail coming for him, he became surprised and immediately blocked it with his spear. With a dull sound, I saw him counter-attacking part of the tail as it swerved towards Yoo-Jung.
Yoo-Jung ducked and exhibited her agility, but wasn’t able to completely block the tail. She had successfully dodged it, but that didn’t mean it was done; the tail passed by Yoo-Jung and slightly changed its course. Its new target was An Sol.
As the tail approached An Sol mid-chant, her face became blank.
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