A tree was burnt to the core and transformed into charcoal. Unable to withstand its own weight, it collapsed into a pile of ashes. ‘Novice Scout’s’ fire arrows had started a fully fledged forest fire; The wind carried embers of the inferno and began to spread across the whole of ‘Ahenna’s forest’.
But not a single creature could be seen running away from the flames; Sungjin pulled his katana out from the chest of the last wolf in the forest.
Sungjin finally let out a long sigh. Behind him were mountains of corpses. Among the corpses was the ‘Queen of the Forest’ Ahenna herself.
Sungjin had fought in a frenzy. He had fought so wildly that he did not even recognize himself. The effects of Zealot was powerful, but it made it impossible to maintain a sound mind during the fight.
Sungjin ripped the ‘Yanhurat’ off of his neck.
‘Kill them! Rip them to pieces!’
The necklace’s insane shouting seemed to continue to echo in his ears. He was unhurt during the fight, but he still felt a rush of exhaustion wash over him.
“Operator, my HP”
His HP had dropped exactly to a third of what it was. The item activation period was exactly 30 seconds. It was fine to fight mindlessly for 30 seconds, but the problem occurred when the period ended.
Disoriented, exhausted and with only a third of the total HP remaining, finding yourself surrounded by enemies… the same enemies you did not manage to defeat with three times the strength and speed. This was the reason why so many people who entrusted their lives to Zealot mode had succumbed to death.
Sungjin realized that in a truly life-threatening situation unless he had the absolute certainty that all hostile forces could be eliminated during the active time, it was better not to use it.
Against Ahenna, he could have easily completed the chapter without using it. But he was short on time.
“Operator, remaining time?”
[13 Minutes and 49 Seconds remaining.]
Not even a minute had passed since he had previously asked. ‘Yanhurat’s’ mind corrupting voice had saved him lots of time.
“Operator, take out two small Recovery potions from the inventory”
The cube summoned two small potions upon command. Sungjin drank them both. The effect of the small Recovery Potion was “fill 1/3 of the total HP”
Drinking the two potions recovered his whole HP. Sungjin now wanted to leave to search for clues about the hidden boss when
He heard something step on a branch, breaking it.
‘Was one left alive?’
Sungjin looked towards the origin of the sound. Whatever caused the sound, it was trying to hide itself. Sungjin approached the tree, Katana at the ready. As he grew closer towards the source, he could hear the sound of breathing growing louder. When Sungjin walked around the large tree
A large axe came swinging at him. But it was swung at an ordinary speed. It was in slow motion compared to Ahenna’s claws. Sungjin swung his sword faster than the axe to intercept it.
The Katana cut off the axe head, and the axe blade flew off into the distance, landing somewhere in the forest with a ‘thud’.
Disarming his attacker, Sungjin inspected the assailant. It was the white-haired ‘Lumberjack’ old man, who stood stiffly holding the headless axe like a sword.
He saw Sungjin’s face and collapsed backward in fear. Sungjin stared for a moment at the old man.
‘…Oh yeah, I forgot about him.’
Aside from Sungjin, the old man was the only person who had been acting independently from the ‘Hooligan’ group.
He must have been put off by the ‘Hooligan’s’ arrogant behavior from the camp.
It was not a bad decision. In the end, it was what kept him alive. The Lumberjack swung his headless axe towards Sungjin and shouted
He had no reason to approach the old man. Sungjin sheathed his katana. But the ‘Lumberjack’ added one more word.
Sungjin looked into the old man’s eyes again. The old man must have seen Sungjin fight under the effects of ‘Yanhurat’. If that was so, his reaction made sense. Sungjin decided to give him an advice.
“Hey, Grandpa. Go back to the campfire where we started the raid and sit there. If you do so, you will be able to avoid death.”
With that, Sungjin ran deeper into the forest.
Sungjin ran through the forest with his katana in hand, searching for clues. But no enemies could be seen. Sungjin then realized something and asked the operator.
“Operator, Raid progress?”
[Raid is 95% complete.]
Sungjin immediately sheathed his katana.
‘I guess that was all of them back there’
Ahenna’s cries must have summoned every remaining beast in the forest to the fight. And every single one of them, without exception, was eliminated by his hands. It was rather nice to know that there were no loose ends.
It was just him and the ‘hidden boss’. After roaming the forest for a while, he saw rows of trees turning black.
‘This must be…the boundary line.
The raid was always conducted within a systematically enclosed area. Just because it was a forest did not mean it continued on forever. If a Hunter attempts to leave past the boundary, a terrifying warning was given.
[Please return to the hunting grounds. This area is off limits to hunters.]
[If you remain in the restricted area after 10 seconds,]
[You will die. 10, 9,..]
‘If this is the boundary…’
Sungjin withdrew his hands from the boundary line. Then turning around, he ran straight back perpendicularly from the boundary line.
No matter how much he searched his surroundings, he didn’t see anything out of place. Soon, he returned to where ‘Ahenna’ and her beasts lay strewn about the forest floor.
‘…Where the hell is the hidden boss?’
Sungjin decided to return to the starting location. At the campfire, the old man ‘Lumberjack’ and the ‘Wandering Merchant’ Aindell were sitting by the fire.
“Oh, you were able to defeat Ahenna. Congratulations, Mister Hunter.”
Sungjin scanned the campsite briefly.
“Do you wish to purchase some supplies?”
The Lumberjack begged him to leave, and the Merchant bid him to stay. Of the two, he decided to listen to the Lumberjack. He didn’t have time to waste on those two anyways.
As time passed, the forest fire continued to spread. Ahenna’s Forest was now lit as bright as day. But he didn’t spot anything particularly out of place.
[8 minutes and 39 seconds remaining.]
He had been searching fruitlessly for 5 minutes. He had been probing like a mad man, combing the forest. But the only thing he could find was the ‘Boundary’.
‘Where is it hidden?’
Sungjin was starting to become annoyed when
Short but unmistakable sounds of an owl could be heard from above. Sungjin looked up into the night sky. If it were still dark, it would have been hard to spot it. But thanks to the forest fire, it was easier to see.
On top of a tree, an owl was nested. The owl did not appear to be a hidden boss, but it was still suspicious. Sungjin unhesitatingly jumped up the tree, climbing it.
Sungjin’s Dexterity had long surpassed human limitations. Climbing the tree posed no difficulty for him. Once he got closer, the Owl flew away.
Only the nest remained. He decided to check the nest. Within the nest was not an egg, but a round white crystal.
Sungjin reached out and lifted up the crystal. The Cube began an announcement.
[Congratulations! You have obtained the Hidden Piece]
Sungjin inspected the ‘Perfect Moonstone’. The Operator opened up a hologram for the item.
Perfect Moonstone – Crystal of the moon.
Crystal hidden inside an owl’s nest.
It is said that it contains the powers of a full moon.
There are no special effects associated with this item. In most cases, this kind of item could be sold off to the Black Market for Black Coins.
“Operator, how much can this be sold off for in the Black Market?”
[100 Black Coins]
Sungjin placed the item in his pocket for now. He left to search for the ‘hidden boss’.
Compared to the items Hidden bosses can drop, 100 Black Coins were nothing. Then, he stopped. He recalled something he heard long ago in the past.
From the earlier days of the hunts, he once heard from his teammate
“I heard that a party was able to find and kill the hidden boss in the ‘Ahenna’s Forest’”
Sungjin paused for a moment to try and recollect his memory.
“None of the original party members survived until now… but from what I’ve been told, the hidden piece found in the second forest… it’s not supposed to be sold.”
‘…Not for sale?’
Sungjin reached into his pocket and took out the moonstone one more time. As the name implied, it was perfectly round, and the crystal was a perfect replica of the full moon. Sungjin looked up into the sky.
Above the burning treetops and the smoke, he could see the third quarter moon. He looked back and forth between the moon and the stone.
‘Half moon… and round moonstone… that is to say, a full moon’
Sungjin, while looking back and forth between the crystal and the moon, he recalled the Operator’s explanation about the forest.
[It is a place filled with insidious and cunning predators of the night.]
The answer was on the tip of his tongue. All the pieces were there.
‘Then… just who is….’
Sungjin put together the final piece. He quickly moved his feet.