When you chew on meat jerky that’s been stored for months after they’ve been dehydrated, it has the consistency of wood. It tasted salty and dry. But to Yaruta, it was a rare delicacy in the forest. In the Anserra Forest, the further north you went, the colder it became. In the forest at the northernmost edge of the forest known as “Fogweaving Woodland”, you occasionally got snow at night. Even during the daytime, the frost could turn itself into a thin layer of fog, weaving among the trees.
Here, animals in the forest became few and far between. Except for the occasional thick-furred rodents, even experienced hunters had a hard time replenishing their food supply in the forest.
Yaruta cut a small piece of the meat jerky and put it in the bubbling pot. The soup in the black iron pot was made up of wild plants. The steam rose up as if to melt the snow on the branches.
The old noblemen certainly wouldn’t eat something like this, but this was a regular meal for hunters.
“We’re about to run out of rations…” In his mind, the young man turned over the furry pouch and only found some stale bread crumbs. He let out a small sigh in his heart, though he had expected this. They were already running out of food before they headed into the mountains this time -- his older sister said that after this expedition, they would have saved enough money to travel to Karsuk and join their relatives there. He sniffed at the delicious smells wafting out from the pot while his stomach grumbled.
He looked up at the row of neat and beautiful tents pitched on the other side of the landing. The sounds of argument kept coming from over there. He knew that the hunters from the town and the noblemen were having a difference in opinions, mainly because the hunters didn’t want to cross the river to the north and keep going.
Yaruta had shivered when he thought about the river to the north.
Across the Fogweaving Woodland, the Nugan River was the border to the Falling Needle Hills to the north. This river was connected to Lake Vallendaren and downstream to Lantonilan’s Azure Lake. Ice floated on top of the surface of the river year round, but there were even more terrifying rumors. When night falls, “things” would come out in the Frost Stained Forest Labyrinth and anyone who saw them never came back from the forest.
Legends like these have been passed down from generation to generation. Gradually, the region north of the Nugan River became known as the forbidden zone.
Even if Yaruta had heard these stories, such as “Treetop People” or “Knight Who Lost his Mind”, a million times, he couldn’t help but shiver in fear when he recollected the stories older hunters told around the campfires.
He glanced back in the direction of the hills. Every night for the last couple of nights, he had seen something blue, like a spirit, in the forest. He only told his sister but his sister said he had just been seeing things.
“Even if they’re ‘things that wander at night’, they didn’t look like what you said. You must have mistaken the Crystal Stag for something else. If that’s the case, maybe we’ll have good luck.” That’s what she had said.
But he knew that after that night, the number of hunters from the town standing guard at night doubled. The closer they got to the north, the suppressed tension in the air became more obvious. Conversation between people dwindled.
But Yaruta didn’t understand why his sister insisted on telling everything to the townspeople, even though it was clear the townspeople didn’t like them. Even if the motto of the hunters was ‘united we stand’, it shouldn’t be a one-sided unity.
He never liked the people from the town and especially didn’t like their looks of disgust.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of horse hoofs coming from outside the camp. Only the noblemen had horses -- he looked up and saw a few strong and burly knights come into their campground along with a team of the noblemen’s private militia.
What’s happening? Are they done talking already?
With these suspicions, Yaruta’s gaze traveled through the white steam rising from the iron pot. In the fog created by the stea, he saw a hunter walk towards the knight as if to ask them something. But one of the noble’s private militia came up and pushed the hunter to the ground.
Yaruta hurriedly stood up.
The noblemen’s militia spread out on both sides and surrounded the campground. He didn’t know what was going on. He turned around and saw soldiers with longbows walking out of the forest. He saw the nobles’ armored longbowmen, with their face completely covered, draw their bow and arrow in unison.
An instinct for danger rose from his heart.
A hunter stumbled out from behind the campground, his face ashen. Yaruta recognized him; he had two daughters. Once, his daughters had tossed sand at his face -- for the rest of his life, he’ll remember the look of disdain the guy gave him that time. But the guy’s expression then wasn’t as twisted as it was now.
“Those damned nobles are going back on their word!” The hunter shouted hoarsely, “Run --”
A sharp whistling sound came from the forest. As a hunter, Yaruta knew this drawn-out sound very well. The arrows pierced through the air and shot through the hunter’s throat.
His voice stopped abruptly. The sharp tip of the arrow broke through skin and flesh until it stuck out from under his chin. Blood spilled out in a line. The short feathered fletchings stayed on the other side of the guy’s neck, still quivering.
The man looked at him, opening and closing his mouth. His expression was a mixture of fear and disbelief. He struggled to claw at his throat with his hands, but his hands only made it past his chest before he toppled down onto the ground.
Yaruta swallowed his own spit.
He had seen hunters shoot an arrow straight through their prey’s neck. He had even done so himself. But when the targets of humans became humans, he realized how horrifying such a scene could be.
A person who had just been jumping around before turned into a cold body in just a second.
His heart thumped as if just realizing what had happened. He had never experienced such a thing. He had never thought that nobles would dare to do this -- Yaruta could only feel his hands and legs going numb, but his first thought was for his sister, his only family left.
The longbowmen loosened their arrows in unison from the edge of the forest. The arrows into the campground like raindrops and Yaruta felt a pain on his shin before he lost his balance and fell, his knees hitting the ground. He collapsed close to a fur-lined tent and watched everything happening around him helpless.
Familiar people, even the most experienced of hunters from the town, collapsed in their own pools of blood one by one, like a pile of logs falling down. Finally, some of them started resisting. He struggled to stare at the leader of the hunters from the town stayed behind a horse cart and shot two of the noble militia.
Though he despised that guy, he couldn’t help but cheer him on. But just as the leader drew his bow for the third time, a figure descended from the skies. Yuruta watched with his own eyes as the long sword swiped across the hunter’s neck. Flesh and skin separated, the head fell onto the ground, and a column of blood spewed out towards the sky.
That memorable face smashed and rolled onto the ground, then became covered in ashes and snow. In a second, it turned unrecognizable.
The noble knights also rushed into the campground.
In the campground, sounds of cursing and cries of pain melted into one. Yaruta’s head became dizzy. He shook as he crawled backwards, but horse hoofs thundered past him and then he felt a pain on his back, as if his entire body was hammered into the ground.
He couldn’t hold back his cry of pain.
Shrieks of laughter came from behind him. He knew that came from the noblemen’s militia. The knights took out their lances and Yaruta felt all the strength in his body leave him, turning his body as light as air.
He took big gulps of air and, with the last of his strength, he glanced towards the noblemen’s camp -- he saw their faces twisted in laughter, in disdain, in cruelty, or even in hilarity at their suffering. The screams of pain came from the campground in the distance.
His vision seemed to be blurring. Through the shadowy figures, he saw a hint of blue turning around and leaving from afar.
… This was their fifth day in the Anserra Forest.
Brendel stood on top of the hill and looked around the forest that had turned gray. In the distance, the Nugan River wove in and out of the forest like a slender thread of light. The area was known in the game as the “Zone of Death” because no animal or monsters lived in the forest. You could say that aside from the snow-covered pines, there were no other living creatures in the forest.
For the most part, this was because of the Frost Stained Forest Labyrinth. Due to a special reason, demons were not allowed outside the forest labyrinth and living creatures refused to get near this bizarre land. Naturally, the outer perimeter of the Frost Stained Forest Labyrinth turned into a dead zone.
Brendel stared at the other side of the Nugan River. The side quest area for the Frost Stained Forest Labyrinth was just past that not-so-wide woodlands by the riverbank.
Past that forest should be Milos’ Dying Breath, he thought.
In the forest, the four side quests - “Milos’ dying breath”, “The place where gods fell”, “Forest of Tears”, and “Wolfblood Grounds” - surrounded the labyrinth. Only by crossing any of them could you reach the ring of glaciers, which was actually a nickname from the players. Its name in the Amber Sword was River of Milos’ Despair; legend says that the shock of magic scattering when the titan god Milos fell to the ground created the strange geography in the area. In the game, the young dragon that circled around Falling Needle Hills rested in that area.
He shook his head and thought he might be thinking too far ahead. Entering the forest from the direction of the Castle Vallendaren, they would first have to pass the challenge of the Forest of Tears. But that was the hardest of the four side quests. In theory, going through the Wolfblood Grounds from the north would be the easiest, but he didn’t have the time to take a detour. Therefore, Milos’ Final Breath, as the second easiest after Wolfblood Grounds, became his top choice.
Besides, it seemed Arreck had also chosen this route.
Despite it being one of the easier side quests, it still wasn’t a piece of cake. It would probably be hard to keep up the leisurely pace they had in the Anserra Forests. Brendel thought as he looked at the caravan making its way down the mountain.
“Brendel, come and look at this!”
Freya suddenly called out from the foot of the mountain.
“What did you find?” Brendel paused for a second and then followed the path the guards cleared downwards. Scarlett, as usual, kept pace beside him. The two of them walked unhurriedly down the hill only to see a crowd gathered where the caravan was. He even saw Laurenna and Filas among the crowd. Brendel immediately realized what had happened.
He parted the crowds and frowned when he saw what he expected.