—Someone, please save me!
—Anyone out there, please!
So many people’s screams and cries filled their surroundings.
This place at the edge of the forest had been a relaxing resting place for people up until just now, however it had been thoroughly swept into chaos now.
And it was because, a few minutes ago, those things suddenly appeared through the bushes.
Those things that they were seeing for the first time in their lives.
With blue bodies.
And with eyes that were entirely black—no hint of white anywhere.
With the combination of their jerking movements and strange sounds, they looked almost like puppets that had broken off from their threads, now animating themselves.
Among the figures that appeared, there were both humans and animals.
Walking on the floor, crawling across the ground, flying in the sky.
With their sudden appearance from both land and sky, the nobles could do nothing but be horrified at the scene.
And, in the uproar, someone shouted these words.
“Mo…Monsters! Blue monsters!”
That singular shout was clear amidst the chaos, and soon, everyone implicitly called them ‘blue monsters’.
The nobles rushed towards the place where the carriages were parked.
One way or another, they wanted to get out of this dangerous place.
Yet it was no use.
So many more of those blue things appeared from the barracks and the storage tents.
It would be safer for them to stay on this side of the barracks.
There were knights and guards here.
However, choosing to stay behind with their armed forces wasn’t the best decision either.
Because there were overwhelmingly more blue monsters than there were guards and knights in that place.
‘What the hell are these things…!’
It was also the guards and knights’ first time seeing those blue monsters.
Therefore, they had no idea what kind of weakness those monsters had.
All they could do was swing their swords.
Unfortunately for them, this was ineffective against their opponents.
When slashed through with the knights’ blades, the blue monsters spewed out blue blood.
And that was all.
The monsters would stop in place for a moment, bleeding out, but they would move again.
Those open wounds healed quickly.
The only sign that wounds had ever been inflicted upon them were the remaining blue bloodstains.
Magic was useless against them, and blades were likewise ineffective.
Even if their limbs were to be separated from their torsos, those severed parts would move as if they, too, were alive.
Contrary to what the knights intended, these severed body parts would hold them down by their ankles, interfering with their fight.
As if there was no boundary between life and death.
The terrible, bizarre sight was enough to make some nobles vomit.
There, too, had been many victims already.
Red liquid flowed profusely, swept along with the rainwater that was tracking across the ground.
Dark red painted the grass, which had been made blue just a moment ago.
“Gaaaah! Please, please save—!”
Someone’s high-pitched scream broke off mid-sentence.
It was so evident what this meant—the person who was screaming just now had taken their final breath.
And to the other people in that hellish landscape, they could only hope that they wouldn’t be the next victim.
The trumpet was sounded, and it was a signal that was made under one certain circumstance.
It was the very signal to alert the people at the hunting grounds about the danger here.
There’s an emergency.
Stop the hunt.
And the trumpet kept going on.
There might have been people who didn’t hear it, so it’s imperative to keep sounding the trumpet.
The startled mountain birds flew up at the same time, and the dark, heavy clouds disappeared.
‘Never in my life did I imagine I’d ever send this signal,’ thought the bugler.
He had been keeping the post as a bugler at the hunting festival for more than twenty years.
It was an honor, of course.
However, even in the face of all this chaos, he had to continue doing his job.
The trumpet was sounded once more.
Then, the trumpet stopped there.
The man’s trumpet rolled on the ground.
As silence fell thereafter, the only sounds that continued were that of the blue monsters that filled the place.
A four-legged beast—with blood smeared across its mouth—wandered around in search of its next prey.
Its black eyes rolled around.
However, no matter how much those eyes looked all over the place, there’s bound to be a few places that it wouldn’t be able to see.
For example, an attacker from a distance.
A ball of fire came rushing in from out of nowhere, and the monster was struck squarely.
It could do nothing but groan and get flung away.
The huge animal was flung, and it hit a pillar of one household’s barracks.
The massive tent had been secured properly just until now, but it soon collapsed with a bang.
Smoke rose around it, then sank once more because of the rain.
There was so much noise in that chaotic situation.
People were shouting at the same time.
Even over the downcast sky,
Those noises and screams still echoed.
Loud enough that the sound would reach the forest path that was a considerable distance away.
In other words, even those who were walking along this forest path could hear it.
“God damn it.”
The person who uttered this under his breath was an apprentice priest under House Freesia.
He was someone who served God, and yet he was cursing like this.
Normally, it would have been an unthinkable thing, but at a time like this, anyone would have nodded in agreement with his sentiment.
The apprentice priest gritted his teeth as he watched all the people who had collapsed on the ground, then the people who were dumbstruck and in pain.
As a priest, it was not easy to just watch people suffer.
He could feel his throat getting hot.
Watching a hellish scene that he had never witnessed before, fear and anger rose within him at the same time.
Then, at that moment.
A boy, who at first glance looked fifteen, tripped over a protruding rock and fell to the ground.
The boy couldn’t stand up for a while, as if his legs were failing him.
Right then, a blue human approached the boy slowly from behind.
Like a beast, holding its breath in front of its prey.
The priest shouted loudly and jumped to block the boy.
By nature, he was not someone suited for combat.
The paladins were usually the ones who would fight the battles of a family that had roots in the divine.
He wasn’t even a paladin—just an apprentice priest.
He had come here in a group under House Freesia, and his only role was to be a medic.
In many ways, he should have been very far from any battles.
However, he had already jumped in.
He couldn’t turn back time.
And even if he could, he wouldn’t have done any other thing.
He gritted his teeth and extended his divine power.
This was the best defense and attack that he could muster.
It was then.
The moment that the divine light touched the blue man, it staggered back.
It flailed back, as if struggling with anguish, then it collapsed to the ground.
And even after it had already gone down, it continued to thrash around in pain for a long time.
Like a fish out of water.
The priest and the boy watched this blankly.
No, it wasn’t just them.
Everyone near those two watched with bated breath.
Even when the boy had been in danger, they all ran as if they couldn’t see him.
But now, in the middle of this silence, someone spoke up.
This soon became the ignition point.
The small murmur was like the spark, starting a fire that was spreading everywhere.
“Priests! We need priests!”
“Divine works against them!”
“Call the priests or the paladins! Right away!”
Come to think of it, these were monsters.
Since they were beings of evil, they were naturally weak against divine power.
Why was it that they only realized this now.
People were overcome with a mix of grief, regret and relief all at the same time, but they soon ran here and there in search of priests or paladins.
Soon enough, a group of priests had arrived.
They were originally here as medics.
Besides them, all those who could wield even a little divine power came forward, saying that they want to add their strength, even if it was a little.
Already the paladins were using their swords to slash at the monsters here and there.
However, compared to their attacks earlier, they were now focusing on using their divine power in the battle.
While light could be seen shining intermittently.
Every time the white light flashed, those blue things collapsed to the ground.
With uncanny groans of pain.
As the number of their opponents diminished, the hopes of the people left gradually rose.
“Yeah! We’ll be able to hold out until back-up arrives from the forest!”
“I’m alive… I’m alive!”
As their hopes were voiced out, those voices likewise elicited hope once again.
And people continued to be filled with hope as divine power was further unleashed unto the monsters.
Perhaps it’s because hope tends to make people blind to reality.
But there, in a place where people were gone—as they had flocked to one place—and only the fallen blue monsters remained.
The blue monsters were face-first against the ground.
Before long, the skin around their hearts began to boil.
As they had turned their backs against the fallen monsters, they were unable to notice the unfolding sight.
With the disturbance that ran amok here, the low cry of a beast flowed through the air.
Like the other things that were hit with divine power, a blue human lay collapsed on the floor, but this low cry belonged to it.
Soon, something that was bubbling near its heart started to spread throughout its entire body.
Starting from the chest, then the arms, legs, neck, shoulders, head and face.
Every inch of its body.
The blue human’s whole body swelled up for a long time and, before long, stopped.
All movements halted at once.
Its bumpy skin hardened as it was.
This firm skin looked as strong and as hard as a boulder.
And it was around this time that its closed eyes cracked open.
Its eyes, which were filled with only black and not a hint of white, rolled and looked everywhere.
Only its black mouth opened wide.
Through that newly ripped open mouth, a black tongue came out.
Accompanied by a harsh sound akin to a sharp thing scratching against a stone wall, the black, wet tongue licked its lips.
It was not long until the previously fallen body slowly began to rise once more.
And it wasn’t the only one.
The beings that raised themselves from the ground moved as though they were stretching, cracking their stiff necks.
Then, they all soon stared in unison.
The hunting grounds.
A forest path.
Leading to the mountain.
Towards where their master wants them to go.
Blue birds continued to roam the sky.
And the eyes of all those blue monsters continued to swirl round and round.
* * *
Meanwhile, back in the mountain.
Cassion ran heavily as he panted.
With blood running down one corner of his lips, he let out a suppressed murmur.
In between this murmur, his blocked breaths spilled through as well.
His entire body was wet due to the rain that was pouring down as if there was a hole in the sky.
Rather than running through a deluge of rain, it was more like he had fallen into a lake, drowning.
No, he’d rather that this was the case instead.
At the very least, if that really was what’s happening right now, everything wouldn’t be so obscured by the torrential rain.
Right now, he had to shake his head from side to side just so his vision wouldn’t be compromised as he ran.
Still, what worried him the most wasn’t his gasping breaths, nor his soaked clothes and his nearly nonexistent field of view.
The height of his worries was due to Rosetta, in his arms, limp.
What he worried about the most right now was her.