The sun was at its apex when the troupe set off; now it was setting, and the light falling on the dark forest ahead of them gave off unsettling vibes.
"Halt! We will stay the night here. SET UP CAMP!"
At the Duke's cry, everyone stopped in their tracks without question—except one.
"D-duke, you're sure we're going to camp here tonight? In a place like this?" Viscount Vig made a bewildered expression. Ever since they'd departed, Viscount Vig hadn't been able to hide his regret. Though the Locke estate was a barren land, he'd squeezed out a luxurious life on the backs of the hard-working locals. He couldn't bear the thought of living like a vagrant out where monsters could attack at any moment.
"...The report so far had one striking similarity."
"What do you mean…?" Vig tilted his head, drawing a deep sigh from Roben. Even before Duke Agnus had brought up camping, Roben knew what made the Duke uncomfortable. It wasn't just him—all of the knights and soldiers of the Locke estate would understand the meaning of those words. They'd dedicated their lives to stopping the monsters here, after all.
But his lord clearly had no awareness of it at all, despite the duties of his position.
No… he's just not interested at all. Roben smiled bitterly. I've served him for nearly a decade, but Viscount Vig hasn't shown an inkling of care for anything other than his own desires.
Whether he understood Roben's thoughts or not, Duke Agnus continued with no change in expression.
"At night, monsters run rampant into the village as if they were possessed… especially during a blood moon. However, the issue is that they attack even on days when the blood moon doesn't rise." Duke Agnus faced the Black Forest with a grim expression. "Even when the sun rises, it's still dark as night over here… That's why it's called the 'Black Monster Forest'.
"I don't know if the monsters crawl out of there of their own accord, but there's no reason for us to go in there when we can't maintain visibility and their attacks are intensified."
"Aha! That's why you're the Duke!" The Viscount clapped his hands and encouraged everyone else to do the same. "I hadn't thought of that. Once again, I am amazed by the Duke's insight and ingenuity. Hahahahahahaha."
Vig's loud laughter made the knights shift uncomfortably.
"Begin preparing the camp!" Chiffon shouted through the stiff atmosphere. "Locke soldiers, assist the knights!"
One person had been quietly observing and staying out of sight.
This is my chance. Joshua edged away from the rest of the group.
The group was occupied with setting camp or gathering water and firewood, so no one was paying attention to Joshua.
Lugia is preventing the changes to some degree, but I know it's only a temporary measure… In my current state, the origin stone is absolutely vital for me. In particular—if my memory serves me right—the origin stone can do even more than controlling the rogue energy in my body.
I need to go to the deepest place in the Black Forest. It should take an hour to get there.
With that decided, Joshua slipped away from the campsite—but there was, in fact, one person who'd kept their eyes on Joshua without him realizing.
One pair of eyes gleamed in the light of the setting sun.
It's really dark. Joshua looked around and frowned.
It had been an hour since he entered the Black Forest. A trickle of light had leaked through initially, but the deeper he went the darker it got.
Joshua felt his heart shake. Something cried out in front of him—the first monster he'd seen since entering the Black Forest.
Black Ogre…! The apex predator of the Black Forest—it had to be twice as big as a typical ogre!
Unlike regular ogres, who have very little resistance to magic, a Black Ogre can neutralize all forms of low-level magic. Not only that, its grip is so strong it can tear the toughest troll's skin…
Joshua scowled. For now, it was best to avoid the Black Ogre.
But the origin stone lies directly in the heart of the forest—and the Black Ogre is blocking the only path there.
If it's alone, I can try to take it down all at once!
Joshua's eyes lit up with anticipation. Only a B-Class Knight or higher could fight a Black Ogre one-on-one. The Joshua of a few days ago would never have even tried—but the clash with the Imperial Knight during his mana test gave Joshua confidence. Just like back then, if Lugia could contain that energy on its own, he would be able to kill the Ogre in an instant.
Joshua took a sharp breath and slowly approached the Black Ogre.
If I approach within ten meters, there's a high chance it will notice and attack me.
A moment's mistake could lead to his immediate death. If he didn't finish it in one blow, he might not get a second chance. He raised his five senses to their absolute limits, and his legs tautened to launch him forward at any moment.
A little more… A cold sweat trickled down Joshua's back.
The Ogre stood still and stared into the dark sky. Odd, but, for Joshua, a prime opportunity.
Just as he was about to push off, the Black Ogre loosed a wild roar, and its red eyes shone with a vicious light as it lowered its head.
Damn this. Joshua started to back away. How can I face that Black Ogre head-on in my condition? It would be a horrible death.
Even as he withdrew into the shrubbery, more problems arose.
"This is crazy—!" Joshua involuntarily spat a swear.
Behind the Black Ogre, dark silhouettes emerged. Dozens—no… there were hundreds of them!
Goblins, kobolds, orcs, even trolls… All the monstrous inhabitants of the Black Forest crept out, even the famously solitary trolls. He'd been so focused on the Black Ogre that he hadn't looked behind it.
If they decide to run over here…
The Black Ogre roared, whipping the rest of the monsters into a screaming cacophony. They all moved in the same direction, making the ground tremble under their advance.
"Blood moon!" Joshua looked up and groaned.
My predictions came true. Joshua pushed himself deeper into the bushes. I don't know about the other monsters, but the kobolds' sense of smell could be dangerous if they get close.
Joshua jumped onto a tree and slowly gathered his mana. Instead of pushing his mana into a particular part of the body, this technique would coat his entire body like a cloak. He'd learned this technique from a friend in his past life; it had been a while since he'd tried it, so he wasn't sure if it would work.
Halt your breathing and forget your surroundings… Imagine you're one with the environment…
The raging monsters ran right past him.
As the monsters flocked to the outskirts of the Black Forest with the Black Ogre in the lead, Joshua only held his breath tighter.
If I'm found now, everything is over.
Joshua didn't breathe until the monsters had—
One of the kobolds in the rear screamed and flicked its head around, bringing the whole mob to a halt.
Did I lose my concentration?!
Joshua locked eyes with the kobold.
Damn it! Joshua cussed like never before. The kobolds, or rather the black kobolds, screamed even louder.
Ah, I can't help it. Joshua unwrapped the mana cloak with a resigned expression.
About thirty monsters had trailed behind: mostly black kobolds, with a scattering of orcs mixed in.
If that's the case, then… Joshua's eyes glittered in the dark. I have a better idea.
This was an excellent opportunity for him to test the second stage of the Spear Arts, which he'd achieved a few days ago.
The monsters were already rushing towards him even as he descended from the tree. He slowly drew Lugia and set his stance.
Type J… A gust of wind rages with a single swing.
If the first technique was designed for one-on-one combat, the second technique was effective against multiple enemies.
Joshua spun Lugia with both hands like a windmill. When the mana gathering in Lugia reached its peak, Joshua let its name slip from his lips.
The razor-sharp wind swept through the monsters.
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