Translator and editor: SaltyTank
Trampling over the bodies of their neighbours, they ran like mad men until their feet were blistered and bleeding. Everyone was dead, all but him and Marie. He barely managed to drag her with him during the chaos.
The memories were dyed crimson, everything was dark. Tragic scenes in his mind were slowly sealed away by the smog, turning his mind hazy white.
When the night turned dark and everything went silent, those tints of red and black, those dreadful wails, those shattered bodies, everything would seep from gaps in the smog and give the young Andre countless terrifying nightmares.
Back then, Hilde would always embrace him when that happened; he had not always been so strong in the mind.
‘I’m here for you.’
Just like what happened with Jade, he had been saved by the optimistic Hilde. Although her cheerful attitude did not have much effects on Marie, it was enough to help them move on from the devastated city.
The three teens followed Hilde’s father as they travelled around the place for a few years. Even the timid Marie tried learning the sword, giving Andre the thought that perhaps they could escape the grasp of the gods forever.
Things did not go the way he had hoped for.
As they were spending the night in a cave, Hilde’s father died. Even the man who could wield the sword with unfathomable elegance and power eventually fell. Brutally defeated, killed, and dismembered, right in front of their eyes.
They never knew that a single person’s blood was enough to dye a whole cave red.
The figure of invincibility, shattered ever so easily.
Every vision and hope they had—the future, the world, life, and even their will to live, everything were shattered.
It turned out that humans had to die regardless, and it was merely a matter of where and how.
For some reason, the blood dyed god stopped moving. Looking at the inanimate god standing beside chunks of meat, the three who had given up on everything lost their minds and attacked the enemy. They sought no victory, for death was the only thing they knew. They slashed, struck, sliced, and pierced the enemy, letting out all their emotions.
It was only a few years later that they understood that blood could weaken and dissolve the gods’ tissues.
Despite managing to kill the god by chance, Hilde had completely broken down. She kept trying to scoop up something from the blood and shredded meat on the ground, but they just kept slipping through her fingers.
Having experienced such a dreadful ordeal the second time, Andre did nothing but stand there blankly. Marie who had only recently started smiling again lost her emotions once more.
The three stayed in the cave for a long while. They neither hunted for food, nor did they leave the cave at all. The blood staining the walls had already dried up, but tears still kept emerging from their eyes.
Hilde became very fragile. All of the emotions she had for her father, she projected them onto Andre. She sought warmth and comfort, desperate for hugs and physical contact, and it eventually developed into something more.
Mistaken feelings added with lost minds slowly eroded their ability to reason. They lived purely by instinct, submerging themselves in illusory physical pleasure in an attempt to overcome their emotional distress.
Marie saw everything. She simply watched on, unmoved; she did not find it strange either.
After all, she had experienced hell twice. Her body and soul had long lost their connection, and she was completely apathetic about everything. She even started acting like the other two, trying to achieve a sense of existence.
Turned into mere beasts, they had no concept of time. That was until one day, the naked Andre was bitten right in his thigh by a wolf.
Searing pain awakened the remnants of rationality within him. He rolled over and fought the beast with his bare fists. In no time, Andre was wounded all over. Fists were inferior to claws, nor was he agile enough to keep up with the wolf. It was like he was getting toyed like a child by a mere animal.
Andre could no longer hold in his fury as he roared. Strength came from seemingly nowhere within him, and he body-slammed into the wolf. A sword came into sight.
He finally remembered it—he was no beast, he was a human.
Andre picked up the weapon and focused his mind. An unknown source of power surged through his body, allowing him to easily slice the wolf into two halves. He had no idea what had happened as he looked at the blue mist steaming from himself.
Beside him lay bits and pieces of the god’s corpse. The wounds were not cuts dealt by weapons, but instead looked more like bite marks. Looking at his two companions trembling in the corner, he could see small chunks of god ‘meat’ scattered next to them.
Nausea engulfed him, and he threw up.
What… what have we been doing?
From that day, fresh blood started flowing in the cave. Small animals that were skinned alive and eaten were all over the cave.
After who knew how long, the three ‘humans’ were no different from dead travellers who had died in the wilderness. Even worse, the two girls were starting to get unfamiliar with the human language.
Andre dragged the two to a river and attentively cleansed their bodies, removing every last bit of dirt on them. He then used a dagger to cut and tidy their hair before putting on clothes for them. At the very least, they were now more like humans, albeit just in appearance.
‘This damned world,’ Andre swore while looking at the soulless girls and cried.
He wiped away the tears and carried their luggage, finally making up his mind that he would become ‘a man who could protect them’ just like Hilde’s father.
Andre held their hands and walked out of the cave; this time, he would be the one to lead them forward. Even if he had to force them to fight, even if he had to make them suffer together with him, he wanted the two to regain their purpose in life until his very last breath.
He swore that day that he would dedicate his entire life to fighting the ‘gods’.
Andre opened his eyes and looked around to confirm where he was. For years, he had been haunted by the fear of waking up in the cave of his memories, living such an outrageous lifestyle.
Sighing, he crawled up from the floor.
‘This place… isn’t a lot better.’
No longer in the mood to train thanks to his conversation with Jade and the unwanted memories, he left the training room and headed back to the common area.
Marie was still sitting there, focused on controlling her magic. Normally, she didn’t have to consciously manage it if it was just for detecting collapses from the sky. To focus on a particular location, though, took a lot of mental energy and magic power.
At the round table, Prommel was quickly writing something and only briefly waved to greet Andre. He was about to sit down when a carrier pigeon flapped its wings down the tunnel and entered the base.
It had been so long since they had received any mails, so it was a bit surprising to suddenly have one sent to them. After all, there weren’t a lot of people who would communicate with them, nor did they actively communicate with one another—which was why whenever a letter came, it usually brought no good news.
Prommel slowly unveiled the letter and saw the scribblish writing on the sheet of paper. After reading through it, things were not far from what he had expected: the gods were attacking more frequently, and nearby villages were getting attacked without any precursors such as collapses in the sky. At last, the person wrote down the time and locations of the attacks and said that they were going to move their entire village somewhere else, which was why he wrote to inform the group.
Prommel handed the letter over to Andre. He couldn’t help but sigh after reading its contents. The changes did not only occur here, and the scale was probably a lot larger than they had initially thought.
Back then, because people started moving underground and they figured out the gods’ attack patterns, they had once thought that mankind would not perish too soon. However, things were getting more difficult now; if the gods continued with their unpredictable attacks, mankind would face their greatest challenge since they had migrated underground.
No one knew if they could overcome it either.
Prommel sat back down, feeling a bit down in the dumps and physically drained of energy. Still, he continued to compile the information in the letter and marked the attacked locations on the map lying on the table.
Andre glanced at a sheet of paper Prommel had been scribbling on, and he could see a lot of seemingly illogical and unrelated words on it. He probably wrote it for brainstorming and tidying up his thoughts.
Among them, a few phrases were underlined with thick lines and were especially noticeable: ‘thicker smog’, ‘stronger monsters’, ‘change in activity patterns’, ‘invasion?’. Those were things that they had already known, and Prommel had yet to come up with any conclusions yet.
Out of the blue, something unexpected happened. The quiet Marie shot straight up from her chair.
Before Prommel and Andre could get to know what happened, the base started shaking. It was just a light tremble, probably a tremor caused by a distant explosion.
‘What’s wrong? What happened?’ Andre said loudly at Marie, but she only showed a terrified look and did not reply. He walked over and held her hand. ‘Don’t fret, calm down first. Did something happen to Hilde? Did the explosion come from that direction?
Marie’s hands kept on trembling. It had been a long while since he had last seen Marie act like this.
‘Hi… Hilde, attacked. I, I can’t find her.’
Andre and Prommel stole glances at one another.
It was bad news, really bad. There were only two situations where Marie could not detect Hilde’s presence. The first would be Hilde assimilating into the smog, and the second one… would be trying to detect someone who no longer existed—Hilde might have been devoured by the explosion.
By then, Geraldine and Jade came rushing from the workshop.
‘Geraldine, we’ve lost contact with Hilde.’
‘What?!’ Jade yelped in surprise.
‘Even Marie can’t find her? This isn’t good.’
‘We can’t say for sure, she might be hiding.’ Andre tugged Marie into an embrace and looked at her. ‘Try observing that place again and see what those monsters are up to.’
Marie looked up at Andre and nodded, gathering her powers once again. She locked her brows and seemed to be in a bit of pain. Everyone was nervous as they could do nothing but watch on.
Her eyes snapped open.
‘What’s moving? The gods? Where? How many?’
Andre brought Marie over to the table and pulled the map closer. Marie slowly pointed out her finger and drew three arcs south-east of the Land of Divine Wrath.
‘These, one each.’
‘Looks like they’re chasing after someone… There’s still a chance!’ Andre couldn’t hide his excitement as he spoke. ‘Marie, follow me, we’ll go save her now!’
Hearing Andre’s words, hope reignited within everyone.
The two quickly donned their equipment and left the base. Despite the smog being thicker, Andre’s head was the best navigator there was when it came to his hometown. Taking the quickest and most direct route, they decided to approach the nearest god.
‘Careful, ahead.’ Marie lightly tapped the shoulder of Andre, who was running in front of her, and together they hid nearby.
To make sure she could spot Hilde’s location anytime, Marie used her magic continuously, which also helped them spot enemies that were close to them. Given that their current mission was to rescue Hilde, it was best if they could just let them pass without fighting.
When the gods finally passed by in front of them, Andre felt lucky that he hadn’t attacked them; they wore armour and held weapons. It was completely out of his expectations. Only after the gods were gone did they finally leave their hiding spot.
‘What’s up with them… Why are those monsters wearing armour?’
‘That’s why, move sluggishly.’
‘Hilde didn’t fight these monsters right…’
‘No battle, Hil, sneak attacked.’
The two pressed forward but saw no signs of Hilde. They passed by groups of gods several times on the way, only avoiding barely confrontation thanks to Marie’s magic.
It was not time to give up just yet—they never would. Hilde was not a mere partner and brother in arms, but also their closest family. Together, they had spent those days in the cave, and together they had overcome their mental traumas.
It was why Andre and Marie would never moan about feeling tired in this mission. Even if they could only find Hilde’s corpse, they were determined to bring her back to the base.
After searching almost the whole forest, Andre saw drops of blood on the ground—gods didn’t bleed.
‘Marie, narrow down!’
Further narrowing down her search range, the sensitivity of her magic rose.
Every breeze, every waving grass, tons of unorganised information started flooding into Marie’s brain. She struggled to differentiate the useless information from the torrent in an attempt to find useful ones that could be related to Hilde. Andre stopped moving and kept his breath as shallow as possible, afraid that he would affect Marie’s search.
Suddenly, Marie opened her eyes and said, ‘The wind, wrong direction.’
She then started running, followed by Andre. They bypassed a few trees and stopped in front of a particular one.
An eerie invisible silhouette was flickering in the air, and Andre could see a drop of blood fall to the ground from the mist.
The lump of mist did not respond, instead it started fleeing away. Andre ran over and opened his arms to block her path.
She couldn’t sustain her magic and could no longer blend into the mist. As she flickered in and out of existence, it created a small disturbance in air flow, which was how Marie managed to locate her.
Marie went closer to the mist and hugged it. Lights of magic slowly flickered out of existence, revealing Hilde who was covered in blood.
The cloak used for defending against magic was burnt all over, and her skin below was full of burns and injuries. There were only small patches that remained unscathed.
‘Hil…’ Marie had not felt such strong emotions in years; tears trickled down her cheeks.
Andre knew naturally that the reason why she could survive such injuries was due to brain cores. How ironic it was, for she was forced to eat brain cores in order to fight the monsters, but instead ended up being saved by it, having turned partially into one of them.
Hilde’s consciousness was very hazy. The moment she entered Marie’s embrace, she no longer moved or responded no matter how much they tried talking to her.
‘Let’s hurry back.’
Andre received Hilde from Marie and carried her. Looking at her injured body brought tears to his brim; it felt painful to watch, but he was also thankful that she survived.
By the time the two carried her back, it was already midnight. Andre placed Hilde down and Prommel took over with a grave expression. Even so, he calmly said, ‘Leave it to me.’
It was enough to set everyone’s mind at rest.
Too much had happened during the day, and Andre was feeling exhausted. It was the same for Marie who had been pushing her limits by using her magic for far too much and too long. There wasn’t too much meaning to observing other regions anyways, so Andre told her to narrow the range down to just near the base and sent her back to her room.
Andre and Jade followed Hilde all the way to the treatment room until Prommel closed the door. The two sighed together and their eyes met briefly. Right away, Jade turned to leave.
Andre’s voice light resounded within the tunnel.