Chapter 1. Kill the Empress
Sponsored by Vina 💖 (¾)
‘The smell of animals is everywhere.’
Tamon looked around the area with serious eyes.
Even if it was a forest, Amor’s forest and Tanatos’ forest were very different.
The trees, the terrain, the wind, the humidity, the smells, and the insects and worms that filled the forest invisibly.
Nothing was the same.
The more places where there was nothing to eat, the more violent it would become. Be it humans, beasts, or insects.
Even before the Knights’ pleas, Tamon was already trying to settle down early for the day.
If he had marched a little further, they would have had to make camp somewhere in this wild forest.
He thought of Tanatos’ map.
He had to cross this forest for two days starting tomorrow.
In the meantime, there was the infamous Black Canyon, the “Monster’s Habitat”.
This huge forest was an area that even people of Tanatos avoided.
It was true that it was the fastest way to the capital, but no matter how urgent it was, crossing this forest was dangerous enough to give up one’s life.
“If we use monster’s bone powder, most beasts will avoid us. The place to be most careful about is the Black Canyon, which is quite calm when the sun rises.…. Although it is said to be dangerous, the imperial palace sent subjugation about once a year. I remember the points we should avoid, so we’ll just avoid them.” (Asha)
Asha, who was adorable and smart.
That was the reply Asha gave when the word came out that they had to cross this forest.
She knew it was dangerous to some extent, but she trusted Tamon and his knights and had decided to use this path that she knew enough from her knowledge.
So, he had to live up to Asha’s expectations.
Tamon breathed deeply as if pressing down his boiling blood.
It was time to hunt.
* * *
“No, I’ll take this one alone…….!”
“It’s a monster!”
“Oh, it’s tomorrow morning. ….”
Loud voices woke her from her sleep.
”When did I fall asleep?”
Asha opened her eyes sluggishly and looked around with bewildered eyes.
The sparks in the small brazier looked like they were about to go out, and the cold stew in a small bowl was placed next to it.
She collected her thoughts about this and that as she stared blankly at the sparks in the brazier, but she didn’t remember anything after that.
She couldn’t wait to eat and seemed to have fallen asleep.
At that moment, an unfamiliar word pierced her ears as it was suddenly popping out.
The noisy sound seemed to be coming from outside the barracks.
‘…… Why? There are snakes nearby?’
Speaking of snakes, there was one person who naturally came to her mind.
Asha finally realized that there was someone who should be in the barracks but wasn’t.
‘Where did Tamon go?’
It wasn’t a very big barracks, but she couldn’t feel his warmth.
Just the fact that his presence was not felt made the space feel colder.
It was as if she was too used to his huge presence.
She got up, and just before she stepped out of the bed, she heard the sound of footsteps.
She knew who these footsteps belonged to, as they stepped forcefully on the earthen floor.
Then, as if her prediction had come true, Tamon walked into the barracks, smelling of fresh blood.
Asha, who was watching the door, and Tamon, who had walked in, had their gazes tangled.
“You weren’t asleep yet?”
“I woke up….”
“You must wake up because of all the noise outside. Jorge makes a big fuss…….”
Tamon laughed tiredly and ruffled his hair.
As he approached, she could smell a variety of smells besides blood.
She could feel the dampness from his hair, which was wet as if he had just washed it, the smell of soil from his dusty clothes, and the smell of wind.
Observing him, Asha found small abrasions on Tamon’s knuckles and cheeks.
“Have you been out there fighting some kind of battle alone?”
“Fighting? No, I hunt.”
She asked curiously, to which Tamon replied casually, fumbling with the dying embers of the brazier.
“There were some animals wandering around nearby. I figured they would sneak in at dawn if I left them there, so I went and took care of them.l”
Asha looked at Tamon with more than a little surprise in her eyes.
She couldn’t believe he had the strength to go out hunting by himself after that forced march…
Anyway, in another way, a monster was a monster.
“You don’t need to look at me with such startled eyes. Originally, when you settle down near the wild, you have to go hunting at least once. And while we’re at it, we have some meat.”
Tamon took off his dirty, filthy clothes as if to throw them off and lay down on the fluffy wool bed.
He lay down with his head on his crossed hands and closed his eyes tiredly.
Asha was inwardly worried about him not eating, but she didn’t say anything.
“….. Don’t look at me like that, just go to sleep. Tomorrow we have to pass the Black Canyon, so we’ll have a more tense day ahead.”
Looking at Tamon’s eyelids, which were closed tightly as he slept, Asha sensed something different from the usual atmosphere.
It was the same as usual, but somehow not oddly similar.
‘Yeah, what is it ……?’
She was proud of being a witty person, but that was just the political side of things.
She hadn’t yet gained that much experience and background in reading the man’s mind, or the atmosphere between a man and a woman.
With a bad feeling, Asha looked at the sleeping Tamon.
But she was also exhausted, and the observation time didn’t last long.
‘Once I get a clear head tomorrow, I’ll be able to figure it out…….’
She will think about it then.
She was huddled like a baby beside Tamon and fell asleep.
When Asha’s breathing became better, Tamon opened his eyes.
He turned his body and watched Asha for a moment as she let out a calm breath.
Unlike Asha, who quickly fell asleep, his gaze continued for quite a long time until dawn deepened.
＊ ＊ ＊
“…..a wild boar?”
“Not only that, Asha! He also caught a snake bigger than Asha’s height, and a deer! And there was a snake, and a wolf!”
The next morning, Roselyn finally understood why Jorge had made such a fuss about Tamon’s hunt earlier yesterday.
It seemed that Tamon, alone in the forest, had caught two wild boars, a deer, a huge snake, and even a wolf.
“Is it possible for a human to catch all these beasts by himself?”
“No! Impossible, just one! Not if you’re a normal human!”
“….a normal human.”
Arsene, Hannah and Asrell made an exaggerated noise while taking care of Asha’s breakfast.
There was a lot of meat in the stew for the first time in a long time, perhaps from the ‘wild boar’ Tamon had caught yesterday.
“With this much, there should be enough food to last until we get to the capital.”
Asrell murmured with satisfaction.
The itinerary was strenuous, and the knights were always short of food, as they were basically very well-fed.
In the meantime, the other knights had made several attempts to hunt, but only a few rabbits could be caught.
Tamon, however, turned them over in a single day.
As Arsene said, he was not a “normal human being” anyway.
Different abilities or not.
Asha finished her meal early and looked at Tamon, who was looking at a topographical map with Jorge.
Normally he would have found her as soon as she turned to look at him, but lately it had become difficult to make eye contact.
‘He’s been like that ever since he left Orkins…..’
With a calmer mind, Asha traced her thoughts back to just before she fell asleep last night, and she recognized something that had changed in Tamon.
She felt a sense of distance from Tamon.
It was hard to shake the feeling that he was somehow wary of her.
Asha’s narrowed eyes kept watching Tamon as he fidgeted.
Suddenly, he distanced himself from her?
She didn’t know why, but it made her feel very angry.
But there was no time for her to clear up her finding, and the group was busy preparing to leave again.
Their next destination was the Black Canyon.
A place that required extreme caution, and she couldn’t relax for a moment.
Asha buried her trivial feelings deep inside and hurried to prepare for departure.
* * *
The Black Canyon.
It was a dangerous area with thick, black fog hanging over it all day long.
The location of the canyon was not large, but once they set foot in that place, few people ever made it out alive.
That black fog was no ordinary fog, but people wouldn’t know it at first, but the more they inhaled, the more their sense of pain would become numb.
There was almost no pain, but the longer they inhaled, the more their whole body became numb, which was never a good thing.
“You have to watch out for these hollows and the roads in the middle. That’s where they say the monsters come out of nowhere.”
“Well, not exactly the monsters that come out of the gap. It’s a kind of beast, a monstrous beast that only lives in the canyon. And some of them look like monsters. ….”
These were the strange animals that were caught at a time when the defeats took place.
“They were bears with horns on their heads, wolves with tails that split in two, and snakes with legs.”
At her words, Tamon stared strangely at the entrance to the black canyon in the distance.
They were going to avoid that entrance, but the black fog that came out of there spread vaguely to the surrounding forest.
Maybe that was why the smell of the beasts was lighter in the forest near the canyon than in other places.
“By the way…..how in the world did those strange beasts survive in there?”
“It seems that sometimes injured animals use the canyon fog to forget their pain. Even though they are beasts, they are clever. Animals that were hunted by humans gather in the most inhospitable places, and this forest seems to be a constant stream of such animals.”
“Anyway, animals are better than monstrous monsters. We should go around the forest rather than go near the canyon.”
“I think so too.”
“Let’s hurry then.”
The horses’ running speed quickened at Tamon’s urging.
However, no matter how much he urged them, the speed at which they ran through the forest without a path was restrictive.
In the end, they could not reach halfway to where they wanted to be and had to watch the incoming sun.
“I think we should look for an encampment before it gets much darker.”
Jorge voiced his opinion cautiously.
Jorge was right to set up a barracks before the sun was completely set and patrol the surrounding area.
The group found a vacant lot that they could use and made their beds.
As expected, it was made in less than half an hour by the skilled hands of the knights.
“While the meal is being prepared, the Knights and I will go and patrol the surroundings.”
It was just a patrol, and they were quite far from the vicinity of the Black Canyon, so they went on their way without any worries.
But when they returned an hour later, Asha could only be surprised by the sight of a small beast that was in Tamon’s arms.