༺ The First Letter (66) ༻
The week-long training under Professor Derek was fierce.
We had to simulate realistic battle conditions against a formidable foe, and to that end, we were beaten down repeatedly.
Professor Derek’s motto was ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’ He believed people got stronger the closer they were pushed to their limits. Senior Elsie had wanted to give up on the first day of training, but unfortunately for her, it was already too late to quit the moment she joined our team.
She had jumped onto our ship the moment I successfully persuaded her, and once you’re on a ship, there were only two choices available to you: To ride it till the end or die drowning.
No one picked the latter, and it was the same for Senior Elsie. She managed to complete her training with my encouragement and hatchet at hand.
Celine and Seria, who knew of Professor Derek’s reputation, completed their training without much resistance.
It was clear that there was no one better suited for the role of our trainer than Professor Derek, who had a reputation as a legendary hunter. The training was to prepare us for hunting demonic beasts. No matter how difficult it was at the moment, I knew it would all be worth it in the end.
However, even Seria and Celine had a moment of doubt over something I did.
I had specially requested Professor Derek to raise the intensity of training.
“Could you train us under the assumption that we would be facing a powerful demonic beast?”
Professor Derek seemed surprised by my request as he stared blankly at me for a short time.
“On a similar level as a named beast.”
After briefly closing his eyes, Professor Derek nodded in affirmation. He seemed to have thought I was preparing for the worst-case scenario during the festival.
Although that wasn’t exactly correct, it was true that I would have to face a named demonic beast in the near future.
From that day on, we were thrown into hell. Named beasts deviated from common sense. Not only were they physically strong, they were also endowed with all sorts of unique traits.
One week was an extremely short amount of time. Studying a week before the exam could be considered cramming and was even possible to get good results from it. However, a week was too short of a time to train the body to move instinctively.
With all that under consideration, I set only the single condition of fighting against a named-class beast in order to maximize the effectiveness of our short training period.
It was unfortunate that I didn’t know the characteristics of the demonic beast as there was only one bit of information written in the letter.
‘Its weakness is its horns.’
Hunting strategies were tailored based on the characteristics of demonic beasts. Therefore, the fact that I had no information besides it having horns was enough to make my head spin from the countless possibilities I would have to account for.
It was a situation that made me want to write back to ‘Sepia’ asking for more details. Alas, sending a letter 7 years into the future was impossible, and I had to be content that I had received even the tiniest bit of information.
Otherwise, I would have been unaware and a huge catastrophe would, without fail, strike down the festival along with the high-ranking officials from all over the world.
Innumerable students and attendees would suffer if a named demonic beast were to run rampant. It might be fine if the Academy were to notice it and take action before the beast could make a move, but it was a guy that had remained undetected within the woods for a whole year.
It was clear that this demonic beast was adept in stealth, and against stealthy opponents, it was necessary to take precautions against ambushes.
And yet, I was the only one aware of all this. I could easily persuade Senior Elsie with my hatchet, but it would be much more difficult to convince Celine and Seria. It wasn’t as if I could threaten them with a hatchet as well.
Both of them had already expressed their doubts about training against a single opponent rather than a group battle. However, there were too many variables that could change abruptly and various situations could arise in actual combat.
The demonic beasts that I had previously slain within the forest were such a case. Demonic beasts characteristic of wolves often traveled in packs. And although I was able to take them by surprise with the help of Emma’s potion, I still ended up having to fight two beasts at once.
The alpha wolf from back then was a high-rank demonic beast. Honestly, catching a beast of that level at the hunting festival would at the very least, guarantee a prize, and if lucky, win the whole festival.
No matter how creative Celine and Seria were in their imagination, fighting against a named-class in a hunting festival hosted by the Academy defied common sense and wasn’t something people even considered would happen. That was why the two girls wouldn’t be able to understand the reasoning behind why we were practicing under specific conditions when there were various possibilities to account for in live combat.
I had no idea if the named beast would fight by itself or in a pack. I had just picked the most reasonable situation for our group to practice.
In the case the named beast had subordinates, there was nothing we could do to triumph. In fact, there was just but a single situation in which we would be able to even have a winning chance.
It was for our entire group to fight against the single named beast. It sounded like a cliché from a teen novel of a group of heroes facing off against a single powerful demon king, but this was our reality.
Seria, who had firm trust in me, accepted it and silently went through the training. Celine, on the other hand, had always been the type that couldn’t keep any questions to herself.
Celine suddenly turned towards me and shot a question.
“Ian Oppa, why is this the only training we’re doing?”
We were currently taking a short break from training. It hadn’t been long since we started, but Senior Elsie was already heaving for air on the ground.
In contrast, Celine and Seria were faring better since their physical abilities were exceptional as swordswomen. They had been gasping for air just up until a moment ago, but their breathing have stabilized considerably as of now.
I, on the other hand, needed a longer time to recover since my mana was lacking compared to theirs. I glanced at Celine while pouring water over my head.
“I’m asking why we’re only doing this kind of training. Shouldn’t we also train for other possible situations we might end up in?”
Celine asked me with weary eyes while shaking off the sweat from her hair. It made sense for her to be tired and bored after the same repetitive training, but the fact that she was bothering to ask proved that she still had the motivation to perform well in the hunting festival.
It was a positive sign. She seemed to be giving it her all. I remained silent while pondering over what to say.
I wanted to tell them everything if I could. Maybe not, Senior Elsie, but my relationships with Celine and Seria were such that we held mutual trust for each other. I was confident that I could convince them if I were to talk to them all night long.
Unfortunately, it was simply impossible. I tried to tell them on many occasions, but my words couldn’t even reach their ears. My words kept getting distorted, making it impossible for me to reveal specific details of the future.
There was only a single thing that I could tell her. I put on an ambiguous smile and replied to her.
“…….I had a precognitive dream.”
It was partially true, but obviously, I didn’t get a positive response.
Senior Elsie and Seria, who had already turned their gazes to us at some point, started sending disapproving looks my way.
It was the same for Celine. She crossed her arms and tapped her arm with a bitter face.
Her body language was asking for a proper explanation, but even if I tried to explain, my words would end up being distorted and incomprehensible.
“Can you just trust me on this?”
Celine raised her hands up in surrender at my pleading voice as if saying there was nothing that she could do.
“…….You’re so unfair. How could I not trust you?”
Her voice which was full of trust still rang in my ears.
And the results of that faith were now being displayed.
The smell of blood intensified with every step we took. At first, only I had been able to smell it, but now, everyone felt the stench of blood clog up their noses.
The air was suffocating. We weren’t even at the scene, but the stench of blood was too thick. It meant that a large amount of blood had already been spilled.
At the very least, it meant our opponent wouldn’t be easy. Celine and Seria both proceeded with vigilance, and Senior Elsie’s expression was even more wretched.
A muffled voice spilled from Senior Elsie’s mouth.
Her voice wasn’t loud, but it was enough to focus everyone’s attention on her. There was only a heavy silence around us.
A bizarre silence where neither bugs nor birds made a single noise. I had witnessed a scene like this just once before.
It was when I had confronted the high-rank demonic beast in the southern forest. Just like our current situation, there was not a single trace of life at that time.
Every living creature would instinctively act to preserve its life. The fact that there was nothing to be heard or seen meant the other living creatures had already fled or were staying still in fear for their lives.
“I can feel incredibly dense traces of mana.”
“Could it be that a demonic beast is being born?”
Seria asked in a wary voice.
Her speech was unexpectedly smooth without any stutter. It was the result of telling her to say whatever came to her mind in order to prevent miscommunication.
Seria was already treating our situation as though we were about to be involved in a real battle. Senior Elsie’s eyes, which were closed to feel the mana, opened sharply to reveal her shining blue eyes.
“No, it’s not that. The mana I sense should be increasing rapidly if a demonic beast was being born, but it’s silent. Like a calm lake with still water…….”
The mood got heavier as that could only mean one thing.
The enemy waiting in front of us was pulling mana toward itself.
Mana attracted more mana in its surroundings. This was how master-class people were able to exert an astounding amount of force with even the tiniest amount of mana. As mana got denser, its attraction force also got stronger. If mana surrounded us, it meant that the epicenter of the mana – its source – was that much denser and potent.
It was highly likely that there was a demonic beast lurking nearby. Senior Elsie cautiously pulled out her wand from her waist.
“…….Be careful, it’s strong.”
Even Senior Elsie, who had the most battle experience among us, had on a stiff expression. She had experienced the notorious 4th-year practice dispatch numerous times, but even she seemed nervous about our current predicament.
No other words were needed for the rest of the group. Celine gulped and her hand quietly went towards her waist.
She was ready to burst into action at a moment’s notice. Seria also looked around with a sharp gaze.
We stopped walking shortly after.
A whimper escaped Celine’s mouth as she looked on in a daze. It wasn’t a human corpse, but chunks of meat that were once alive were scattered around.
A bloody mess. There was no other way to describe it. All the corpses were lying in pools of blood with their stomachs cut open and intestines spilling out.
From herbivores such as deer and rabbits to predatory beasts that would have been released for today’s hunting festival. Each and every one of their corpses was on grotesque display.
It was obviously the result of an evil and sickening hobby. It was reminiscent of how the high-rank demonic beast I had previously hunted toyed with its prey.
It also enjoyed spilling its prey’s intestines. At the time, I had thought it was an action rooted in its innate aggression, but what if it wasn’t?
What if it had learned from some other apex predator?
If so, it was highly likely that it had learned from its parents. Demonic beasts were once animals as well, and even animals had love for their offspring.
The grief and rage of parents that had lost their children were unimaginable.
We silenced our breathing and hid our presence. A dim light shone in the distance. It was an empty lot. The stench of blood and mana was concentrated in that area.
Celine’s expression became even more strained after having witnessed such a gruesome sight and her whole body trembled as I embraced her shoulder with my hand.
Her frightened eyes turned to look at me. I silently nodded and Celine gradually calmed down.
It was now time to face our harsh reality. The fewer variables there were, the better. With me in the lead, four hunters slowly crawled toward the empty lot.
Numerous corpses littered the ground with intestines. The only difference was that the corpses belonged to beasts that were higher on the predator chain.
Corpses of demonic beasts that resembled bears, lions, and tigers. All of them were bound to be fairly powerful, but they were all mauled the same.
Only a single demonic beast moved in that eerie stillness.
Our eyes, quivering in trepidation, turned towards the gigantic figure. A wolf sat idle, gorging on the meat of the beast that had probably once ruled the territory.
Its body, dark as the night, was well over 3 meters. I couldn’t even fathom how that colossal body was able to traverse through the forest. With a leisurely yawn, the black wolf slowly stood up.
Even its pupils were completely black. If it wasn’t for the whites of its eyes, it would’ve been easy to think it didn’t even have eyes to see from. After standing up, the colossal wolf silently glared at us.
Although we had tried to kill our presence as much as possible, it was insufficient to deceive the demonic wolf’s bestial senses. The beast’s stare gripped even Senior Elsie. Our initial plan to launch a surprise attack had gone down the gutter.
The wolf let out a puff of air as madness raged in its eyes. Those expectant, sadistic eyes.
It was only then that I came to my senses. I raised my voice.
“Prepare for battle!”
In the center of its forehead, was a single horn.
It was the encounter with the demonic beast that would later be named the ‘Intestine Collector’.
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