Translator and editor: SaltyTank
Having a bed to herself was not enough for Jade to have a night of good sleep. On their way out of the base, her mind was already drained of energy.
She gave her thanks and said her goodbyes to Prommel and Geraldine, who gifted her some daily necessities. The two kids even sneaked in a few pieces of snacks that they had been hiding into her luggage; it was rather heartwarming. Still, when the time came for them to part, Jade felt that she had been insincere to everyone in the base, almost like she was simply acting close with them.
She could feel the distance between herself and the group. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar bedsheets, perhaps it was the foreign smell of Hilde’s room, but deep down she knew it was due to the emotional turmoil she was experiencing thanks to something Hilde had said the previous night.
‘There are times when you feel lonely as a human.’
What does it feel like to be lonely? Was it the distress of parting with her loved ones and her fellow villagers, or was it the feeling of wanting to rely on someone? The sensation of not fitting in with the group she had felt back then; maybe that was what loneliness felt like.
Residing in a place where she did not belong to, she was greeted with great sincerity and care. Yet, she had to leave so soon after being under their care. She was unable to bond with them, and it was highly probably they would never meet again—they belonged to different worlds after all.
She was down in the dumps for sure. It even made her doubt if she could live and fit in well in the new underground village when she was so weak, so fragile.
On the other hand, Hilde and Andre looked completely normal, completely unaffected by whatever might have happened in the past few days. Putting herself in their shoes, she realised it was likely a regular part of their lifestyle. The only one who was making a big deal out of it was none other than herself.
The beliefs and ideologies of the previous era were somewhat outdated in this world which might collapse any moment. For the group that had been defending the frontlines for mankind, they might have long discarded all the old-fashioned teachings. As Hilde had said a few days ago, no one knew what might happen tomorrow—might as well enjoy today while you still could.
‘Ha…’ She sighed, disrupting the smog in front.
Although it had been almost a day, the smog outside was still rather thick. Thanks to their new cloaks, keeping their heads down was enough to keep most of the filthy particles out.
‘It’s been so long since I’ve been here!’ Hilde looked exhilarated, pulling down her cloak to look around with those large round eyes of hers while running around without any signs of calming down.
‘Jade! That place has never been attacked for over ten years, it’s really safe. You can live at ease there!’
‘Is that true?’
‘Of course!’ Hilde puffed out her chest in confidence, only to be rebuked by Andre.
‘Stop talking nonsense, no one can keep the monsters from going anywhere.’
‘They must have forgotten about that place! There’s no signs of them attacking either!’
Andre shook his head without replying. However, what Hilde just said piqued Jade’s interest.
‘Um? You can tell when and where they are going to attack? A few days ago… Did you come over because of the signs?’
‘Yup! We can know beforehand!’
‘Why? Why didn’t you… notify those places?’
‘Because,’ Andre said coldly. ‘No one believes us.’
‘That’s not possible…’
‘A few days ago, would you have believed a message brought by an unknown carrier pigeon telling you to evacuate the village?’ Andre’s tone was a bit harsh. This topic seemed to have brought up unpleasant memories.
‘Hmph, he’s right. We studied sooo long to discover the patterns, yet no one believes us!’
Jade nodded. On further thought, they were probably right. Basically everyone who had seen gods were dead, and those who claimed to be able to predict and avoid gods were mostly just money-grabbing fraudsters. If she had not seen Andre and Hilde slay the gods with her own eyes, she would not have trusted them either.
Hilde slowly approached Jade and whispered into her ears, ‘Jade, I’ll tell you this because we’re friends! Actually, when the sky collapses, the villages nearby will be attacked.’
‘The sky… collapsing?’
Hilde nodded. ‘Large rocks would fall from the sky, sometimes with weird artworks stuck in them. Usually comes with an earthquake too. Did your village experience something similar a while back?’
‘A while back, is it.’ Jade tried to recall the incidents before the fall of her village.
She had helped the village council harvest crops, had taken care of a few kids, had helped replacing lightstones twice, and had also patched wounds for a kid. The night before that, items in her room fell to the floor for seemingly no reason; so there really were earthquakes. She also remembered the kid she had patched up saying something odd.
‘A kid told me he was hit by a rock that fell from the sky. He said it was a fist-sized rock.’
‘Right, the first collapse is especially dangerous. The following ones are usually just shards of rocks, though I’ve seen villages flattened by the collapse itself as well.’
‘So those were alarms…’
‘Don’t blame yourself, alright?’ Hilde wrapped her arms across Jade’s shoulders. ‘You didn’t know about it back then.’
The sky collapsing reminded her of something else—the dark shadows in the sky she saw back when they were camping in the wild. It bothered her despite not knowing if the two events were related.
While she was deep in thought, Andre came to an abrupt stop and stopped her with his arms.
‘Jade, hide somewhere.’ Andre sounded dead serious. ‘Hilde, magic, now!’
Both Andre and Hilde were shrouded in azure particles in no time. Without sparing any time to take care of Jade, they had left her alone and dashed off.
Jade panicked. Having been left all alone out of the blue, she wandered back and forth, not knowing what to do next.
Noticing several peculiar silhouettes of light, she looked up into the distant skies. She could scarcely spot a few blue shadows descending from high above from within the dense smog.
Gods. Or in Andre’s terms, monsters.
Didn’t Hilde just say this place was very safe and the sky had never collapsed here?
The two fighters had already faded into the distance, slowly disappearing from her sight.
Though they left Jade behind for her safety, being alone in the smog-filled forest only served to strike fear in her heart. Her legs could not help but tremble.
Remembering Andre’s instructions, she quickly hid behind a big tree and pulled down her cloak to conceal herself. She curled into a tight ball and shut her eyes tight.
‘Andre! What the hell’s going on! The sky never collapsed in the North-west region right?’
Hilde, who had blended herself into the smog with magic, shouted at Andre. He could not see her, but he could tell the general direction of where she was, to which he replied by yelling, ‘Don’t ask me! I don’t know either!’
Hilde’s ability allowed her to modify forms and structures in space; it was even possible to shatter a structure and blend it into the smog. In her shattered form, not only could Hilde move around as swiftly as the magically enhanced Andre, she could also squeeze through tight paths and traverse through rough terrain, granting her extraordinary mobility.
It did not take long for them to arrive at the underground village’s entrance. One of the gods had already entered the village while three others had just landed. They immediately spotted Andre’s presence.
‘You head down! I’ll stall them here.’ Andre unsheathed his blood-stained sword and charged in.
‘It’s impossible, there’s three of them! We have to give up the underground!’
‘Just go down!’ Andre roared in rage.
He further boosted the magic covering his body and stepped sideways in a smooth arc. Unable to react to his sudden increase in speed, his first strike landed on its target to push the god back a few steps.
‘Please take care.’ Hilde sounded angry, but in the end she still followed his orders and entered the tunnel.
Even the gods could not see through her ability; the gods were focused only on Andre right from the start.
Hilde’s illusory shadow quickly reached the end of the tunnel, and the scene abruptly changed from the narrow tunnel to a spacious underground plaza. Groups of structures were built here and there in the massive cave, though they were now decorated with traces of fresh blood.
Hilde, following one of the bloody trails, saw a sudden burst of blood nearby. She rushed over to the scene right away. In front of the god, three villagers were hugging each other tightly as they backed into a corner. The villagers covered in blood cowered in the corner with their eyes shut.
Hilde temporarily disabled her magic and did a forward roll to kill the momentum on her fast-moving body. Simultaneously, she snapped her right wrist to activate the mechanism installed on her gauntlet. It opened up enough to reveal a crossbow which popped out on the top. She skillfully put her thumb through the lasso connected to the crossbow and pulled it together with her index finger. A blood-soaked crossbow bolt shot out just as she positioned herself after rolling.
She blended herself into thin air once again and moved at full speed.
The bolt struck the god’s lower back, causing it to stop its claws that were about to slash the villagers. The confused god turned around to scan the area but could not find the assailant.
The next moment, a shadow appeared behind it and stabbed a blood-coated shortsword into its waist. Given that Hilde’s strength was inferior to Andre’s, the sword was stuck halfway through.
Without turning around, the god swung its claws backwards in an unfathomable manner. Hilde could not turn into mist in time, thus she hurriedly let go of her weapon and rolled away.
The nearby structure, hit by the god’s claws, exploded into smithereen and smashed the wall behind. The three villagers cuddling in the corner seemed to have been buried by the rubble, but Hilde could not spare them any attention right now.
Sure enough, her enemy did not give her any time for a breather. The second slash arrived just when she regained her stance.
She had already equipped metal claws on her left hand a while ago. Sidestepping and leaning back, Hilde barely dodged the incoming attack and quickly went on the counterattack. She slid across the ground and attacked the god with her very own slash, ripping a wound on its flank.
The god once again swung its arm in an inhuman arc to strike Hilde. Having anticipated the attack, Hilde leapt forward to avoid it. Her cloak, however, was not so fortunate and a section of it got sliced off.
If not for her years of combat experience, the one sliced would be Hilde herself, not her cloak. The cloak was a consumable anyways; she paid it no heed at all.
Planting her legs on the wall, she positioned herself and charged by kicking the wall—after putting some distance between them, Hilde unsheathed a longsword from her back with her left hand and activated the mechanism on her right gauntlet. Two bolts dashed out, this time evaded easily by the god.
Still, she had achieved her goal.
With the experience she had gained through countless battles, she had a grasp on how the gods reacted to different things to a certain extent. Their actions were simply too standardised; by luring them into performing certain actions, the basis to victory could be established.
To avoid the bolts, it had stepped sideways and planted one of its legs into a gutter covered by rocks, losing its balance and dropping to one knee as a result.
Hilde turned into mist and accelerated. She materialised just before the god and sliced her longsword upwards with a double-handed grip. With her immense speed and daring attack style, she severed the enemy into two parts at waist level. It was the most powerful attack she could achieve with her petite body.
However, the battle was not over just yet—the god’s upper body was still functional. Because the brain core was still connected to its upper torso, it was still fit for combat until Hilde dug the core out.
The god switched to walking with its arms and attacking with its tattered wings. It turned its wings into scythes and slashed at Hilde like a mad man, void of any technique.
Hilde dodged and parried the strikes as she lured the enemy away from where they were because she had to retrieve her shortsword.
Despite being called a shortsword, it was just half an arm’s length shorter than her longsword. Its higher agility and toughness also made it her favourite weapon.
Dual-wielding swords did not mean her combat prowess would suddenly double, but being able to parry and defend herself while putting on the pressure with a flurry of attacks was Hilde’s signature fighting style.
Taking advantage of a slight break in the god’s barrage, she swiftly retrieved her shortsword from its lower body and parried its attack. She stepped forward and spun to gain momentum, then slashed her longsword at its chest. The god swept it aside with one of its wings, so she took another step and stabbed its throat with the shortsword in her right hand.
Ride the momentum and press on—that was her rationale. Hilde twisted her body and swung her longsword with all her might, finally managing to cut off one of its wings. It was not all good news for her either, for her enemy also grazed her thigh.
Blood bursted out of her wound. Not only did she not scream in pain, she even took the chance to reapply blood onto her shortsword and pierced the god’s chest with it. In response, the god thrusted its weaponised wing at her chest.
She let go of the shortsword embedded in her enemy and took a step back to dampen the impact. Her chestplate also did its job faithfully by repelling the attack.
Not taking a moment’s break, she kicked the hilt of her shortsword and launched herself away from the god, also pushing the blade further into its chest.
The fight resumed in no time. They fought without reserve, trading blow after blow, with the only goal of knocking down the enemy in mind.
It was evident that Hilde had the upper hand in this duel. After several exchanges, she suddenly turned into mist to disrupt the flow of battle. The god was clearly startled, which gave Hilde the chance to dive in with her all out attack. She charged in with her most powerful attack once again, sending one of its arms and its remaining wing flying into the distance.
The god was completely tattered at this point and could no longer put up a fight. Hilde walked over and beheaded it with a powerful strike.
Hilde pressed her palm against her chest to adjust her breathing, only to be overwhelmed by thirst in her dry mouth and the painful sensation of her body craving for brain cores. She knelt down to dig out the brain core from the god’s corpse and immediately popped it into her mouth.
Only until she rested enough for her body to not feel so much pain did she stand up and went over to the rubble where the three villagers were hiding. It took her some effort to pull out all three of them from the debris. Thankfully, two of them had injured limbs and had not sustained any life-threatening injuries, though they were currently unconscious. The other, however, was not so fortunate. His skull had been crushed into a mush and was beyond saving; even using brain cores would not save him.
Hilde shook her head and took her leave by turning into mist. Andre was up there waiting for her to help him out. She backtracked at full speed, rushing out of the underground village in a single charge.
The scene before her was something she had not anticipated.
Andre’s left arm was almost completely torn; the gash ran all the way from his shoulder to his wrist. He was half-kneeling on the ground while holding tightly onto his sword with his right hand.
In front of him, though, was Jade with a shield in hand, blocking the incoming attack for him.