In the morning, Locke stretched lazily as he woke up in the cave and patted Angelina who was still sleeping beside him. Angelina rubbed her sleepy eyes. The wind was very strong last night. They had sheltered in a shallow recessed cave, so the cold breeze managed to come in. In addition to that, during the latter half of the night, the beasts of the Bering Mountains howled one after another. Angelina really couldn't sleep well.
As Locke was a person who focused on the bigger picture and disregarded minor details, the cold didn't matter to him. But ever since he woke up, his eyelids had been jumping from a sense of foreboding arising in him. This place was still too near to the Morphey Forest and they needed to leave as soon as possible. The threats were still near.
The two of them started their journey early in the day. After crossing this hillside and passing over another two mountains, they would have completely left Morphey Forest. The area beyond that was considered the hinterland of the Bering Mountains, and Locke planned to arrive in the evening. When they left yesterday, Locke and Angelina had agreed to not taking unnecessary breaks until they reached a safe zone. Even for lunch, they would settle with just eating a few fruits.
The cold breeze still blew through the forest in the morning. Everywhere was quiet because it was winter. If not for some migratory birds flying over the two from time to time, Angelina would have wondered if they had entered a realm devoid of life.
Locke led the two of them onwards. It was different from the lush jungle that Locke had seen before. The sight of silent winter stretched beyond their vision. There were no paths in the forest, so he could only try to figure them out himself. Locke waved a branch in his hand to clear the way. From dry thorns to sharp stones, the slightest accidental touch on any of them would leave a deep mark on even a survival-hardened man like Locke.
Angelina complained about this for a long time. The pointy thorns and branches didn't scratch her, but her clothes were about to wear out. Locke promised to find a place to rest tonight and help her deal with her clothes to see if it could be sewn back. Locke, who had never touched silk, was not very confident in handling it.
Just when the two of them reached the first mountainside they needed to cross, the old wolf who had been stalking them was now only a kilometre away. Wolves were known for their perseverance. The old wolf had been tailing them since last night, and after all this time it was merely breathing a little heavier than usual. Its green eyes stared directly at the two small black spots in the distance.
The old wolf who had just become a low-rank moonlight wolf originally thought that it could enjoy a big meal in the early morning. However, it did not expect the two prey he had his eyes on to leave so early. The terrible winter weather was rough and even monsters didn't want to move, so why did these two humans get up so early? The old wolf couldn't understand, but didn't want to dwell on it any longer. Only a rich meal could sate its ravenous stomach.
Locke, who was walking, halted. It was a familiar feeling of a murderous aura that threatened his life. Locke had been at ease for a long time. The last time he felt this way was during the battle at the Felmo Grand Canyon half a year ago.
Locke wasn't the only one who felt it, Angelina, who had a higher sensitivity, also noticed it. A caster's mental power was relatively high, and she was always sensitive to the malefic intent of other creatures.
The two looked at each other and became cautious. How could there be a murderous aura in this place? Could it be that a monster was targeting them?
Throughout their journey, Locke had carefully avoided some of the creatures that gave him this pressure, most of which were monsters. Although Locke wanted to see monsters for himself, he knew his priorities. The two were now wandering alone in the forest. If they were to get injured, even by a bit, none of them would be able to predict how it would affect their survival.
Could it be a beast like a tiger or a leopard? Locke could only think so. Since he started practicing impetus, Locke's strength had been changing every day. Now, he was firmly established as an entry-level Knecht, which meant that he could easily deal with 3 second-rate soldiers or nine third-rate soldiers at the same time. A normal beast that could suppress 10 ordinary people could only be as huge as tigers or leopards.
In fact, tigers or leopards wouldn't be able to do nearly that well. Even though he wasn't armoured or armed with a handy longsword and pike, Locke was also confident that if there were stupid beasts who came at him, he could teach them a lesson with his fists alone.
It wasn't possible for it to be a huge beast either. In winter, many large carnivorous beasts would choose opponents of similar strength because they weren't able to hunt for enough food. Wild beasts rarely had good senses. They relied on biological heat and aura to pick their prey. In terms of his aura, Locke, who practiced impetus, would not be too far behind a leopard.
They were close enough to be in the wolf's attack range. The old wolf no longer hid its whereabouts and stimulated its whole body. With a swish, it blurred and rushed towards Locke and Angelina. The moonlight gave the wolf more agility than other monsters. The speed of the moonlight wolf could even be comparable to the shadow leopard that sneaked on it yesterday.
The old wolf violently rushed towards Locke and Angelina, who had been wary of the previous murderous aura. They noticed the uninvited guest on the hillside behind them in an instant. The blurry figure left numerous afterimages, and Locke couldn't even see the old wolf's movements clearly.
"Run!" Locke turned around, pulled Angelina behind him and ran. With the momentum of the thing that was chasing them, Locke could easily guess that its level was definitely beyond him. When facing enemies who were stronger than himself, Locke generally chose to retreat. He was not an airhead, or he wouldn't have been able to survive on the battlefield for four years. Avoiding people who were stronger than himself was not shameful to Locke. It was mere natural selection and the survival of the fittest. There would only be hope for the living.
Locke dragged Angelina while running and looked back, only to be taken aback. The thing that was chasing them was getting closer and closer, and its speed was increasing. Locke and Angelina were not running slowly either and yet that thing managed to speed up and catch up to them.
"What the hell is this thing?" Locke asked as he was running with Angelina. She was like a living encyclopedia to Locke.
Angelina was significantly faster due to being pulled along. She took time to look back and stared for a while at their pursuer, only to be puzzled and surprised. "This is... This might be a moonlight wolf." Angelina said in uncertainty.
"Moonlight wolf? What's that?" Locke asked while maintaining his running speed.
"Moonlight wolves are low-rank monsters. They are of the light attribute and have good agility and endurance. They're a subspecies of wolf-type monsters," Angelina said, "Light-attribute monsters are very rare. I certainly didn't expect there would be a moonlight wolf here." The whole situation was quite strange. Luck was surely playing tricks on them. To think that there would actually be a light monster in the Bering Mountains out of all the other kinds that could dominate.
"Damn!" Locke cursed. He could understand only part of what she said. One was that the thing chasing them was a low-rank monster, a level higher than them. The other was that this thing had good agility and endurance. There would be no point in running. Let's just fight it!
While they were talking, the distance between the old wolf and them had been reduced to less than 20 meters. At this distance, the old wolf could catch up with Locke and Angelina with only two pounces.
The distance between the two sides was getting closer and closer, and Locke knew that it was useless to run. It was better to fight. So, they suddenly slowed. Locke guarded Angelina behind him and stared at the moonlight wolf.
Seeing that Locke had stopped, the old wolf halted as well. The huge wolf stared at Locke quietly. After it became a moonlight wolf, the old wolf lost some of its violent temperament and became calmer and more rational.
Locke really felt his luck was horrible. Initially, all he wanted was a Shalorian foe of the same level to test out his strength against after learning impetus. However, he didn't expect a group of blood-red armoured soldiers to appear, and for the head of the unit to slaughter their troops. He even had to jump off the cliff to avoid the pursuit. Had it not been for the lake under the cliff, he would have been animal food by now.
Later, it occurred to him that he wanted to experience minor monsters for himself. But in the saltwater lake, he only saw a group of miniature, lesser versions of the monsters with only the potential to become one. This was just great. Though he didn't manage to see any minor monsters, a major monster came knocking on their door.
Even his patience and composure had its limits. Since the beginning of the war between Faustian and Shalor, Locke had been active on the battlefield. He had seen many types of people and he had even killed opponents that were stronger than him, not to mention the first time Locke killed someone was after he just joined the army for two months. It was during his first battle. When he was 14 years old, the malnourished Locke couldn't beat anyone. But even then, relying on bloody instinct alone, he killed a Shalorian who was older and stronger than him.
In the past two years, Locke lived a lot more comfortably after becoming a squad jarl. He rarely had single fights with opponents of the same level. It was only in this predicament that he recalled how long it had been since he last killed someone of a higher rank. It was the bloody battle in Gordon Heights last year. When Locke and Caen escaped from an encirclement during the siege of the Shalorians, they desperately fought and killed a second-rate squad jarl despite being only third rate themselves. The medal of that second-rate soldier became an important factor in Locke's promotion to a squad jarl later on. Now, he didn't think he would lose to a monster.
On the other hand, Angelina informed him that this beast was only a low-rank one. This gave him some hope and ignited a flame in his heart. Before this, the blood-red armored man had given him too much pressure, causing him to have no desire to fight back at all. Now, this low-rank moonlight wolf had yet to push him into despair.
"Come on!" Locke dropped the quilt, dried meat and other things he carried on his back. He stared at the wolf, holding only the wooden stick used to clear the way earlier.
The old wolf also put away its previous contempt, and stood opposite to Locke. Only then did the old wolf realise that the two humans, which it had treated as its meal, was giving off a slight pressure. The wolf thought that they were only two ordinary humans, but it didn't expect these two to be at the level of monsters.
This was the biggest difference between humans and beasts. Locke and Angelina could know the basic level of the old wolf just by observing it from a distance. The old wolf on the other hand could only track the two by the smell. While tracking them, there was no way to know the actual strength of the two.
Moreover, human beings were different from beasts. Knights focused on practicing impetus, and that power circulated in the bodies. Unless there was a large gap in strength, they usually would not emit their turbulent aura like monsters did. Casters were even more low profile. Even if many powerful casters stood side by side with ordinary people, they could make it seem like the people beside them looked even more like casters than themselves.
The old wolf hesitated. It had just advanced to become a low-rank monster, and its mana had been used to repair its wounds. At this time, it was only relying on its newfound physical strength. Should I continue to hunt these two humans? The leopard from last night would be much easier to deal with than these two...