Warm sunshine pierced through the spotty canopy, spilling onto Mok and making him feel a little relieved.
Some birds nesting in the trees nearby were startled and let out calls high above the canopy, breaking the peace of the woods.
Even though his head was bruised and the corners of his mouth were swollen from an entire night of running frantically and blindly through the dim woods filled with branches, vines, and bushes, ultimately he succeeded in escaping the nightmare that was in the woods.
Mok kept turning his head to look, even though nothing had been pursuing him, as if some invisible demon was following right behind him.
Suddenly, it was bright. The massive forest ended right before a green grass field below a gentle slope. Mok could see the sharp corners of a village's wooden houses and the chimney smoke from afar.
Mok felt relieved when he saw this.
Stumbling out of the woods, Mok ran towards the small mountain village without another look back.
That was the village of Colca!
As a small village on the edge of the Greenland Forest, it was not very prosperous. However, it was still a good place to replenish food and water stocks. Therefore many mercenaries and adventurers that made a living in the Greenland Forest enjoyed resting in Colca Village.
It was deadly silent in the small village.
Logically speaking, this was the time the village hunters were at their busiest, forming parties and venturing into the woods to check if their traps had caught anything. This was the time when the elderly of the village gathered to chat at one end of the village; while the women started drying animal leather that had just been tanned……
Mok looked in confusion at the empty village before him. He didn't even see any of the rowdy brats that were always playing in the village's clearing.
Was everyone in the village absent?
No, someone was in the village!
Mok was a mercenary after all. Even though he wasn't good at fighting or killing, his observation skills were well-honed. He could vaguely see the light reflecting off eyes behind each tightly shut wooden door. He could even hear several people breathing heavily.
"Hank! Thor! Dhaka! Are you here? It's me, Mok! Why are you all hiding? Do you not recognise me? I'm Mok of the Black Bear Mercenaries……"
Having heard Mok's shouts, the door of a wooden house in the village opened. The familiar silhouette of the hunter Hank appeared behind the door. Mok didn't know why, but Hank did not welcome him warmly as he had done in the past. Instead, he stood silently in the shadow of the door, slowly letting Mok inside.
The frightened Mok had spent an entire night running through the forest. He had long since been exhausted and hurriedly ran into the house.
"Hank, I don't care what you have, just get me something to eat and drink first. I still need to rush back to Blue Hillock City after I get a quick rest. Let me tell you something, Hank. You need to warn everyone in the village not to enter the mountains again for the time being. There……"
Mok had adjusted his eyes to the darkness inside and was shocked to find all twelve of the village’s hunters inside. They stood silently in the house, their faces hidden by the shadows that obscured their expressions.
"Are you having a meeting? Don't you know how to light a lamp?"
Mok's words were interrupted by the room turning completely dark. Hank had closed the door!
With the door shut tight, the inside of the wooden house became even dimmer and more ominous!
Mok shivered. For the first time, he realised the strangeness of the situation before him.
He had just taken a step backwards when someone grabbed him from behind. Another two men charged forward, gripping his arms and shoulders with their large, firm hands.
"What are you doing? It's me… it's me, Mok……"
Mok struggled with all his might. His right hand tried reaching for the dagger at the back of his waist, but the three people surrounding him were thoroughly restraining him. Mountain hunters naturally possessed great strength. And since there were three of them holding him, Mok was unable to fight back.
Mok, who was cursing and screaming, was approached by a hunched silhouette.
He had white hair, a white beard, and a face full of wrinkles. It was the elderly village head of Colca Village, Grampa Norham.
Before Mok could even say Norham's name, the old man with the compassionate face abruptly opened his mouth. And it didn't stop opening. The corners of Grampa Norham's mouth were torn from opening his mouth wider than it could go. It was torn all the way to the base of his ears.
But it wasn’t a mouth he opened. It was… it was a hideous mandible split into four parts! Small sharp teeth lined the edges of the mouth. It was horrifying to look at! Within the mandibles, a hideous and odd scorpion scurried out of the bloody red throat.
Grampa Norham slowly walked forward and used the mandibles to pry open Mok's mouth, spitting the hideous scorpion into his mouth.
Mok was deathly terrified at this point. He squirmed and struggled with all his strength, letting out muffled and sorrowful wails from his mouth.
Sadly, nothing he did mattered!
The horrifying scorpion successfully squeezed its way inside his throat. After a moment, the three men let go of his arms, but Mok was no longer struggling. The pained expression on his face had vanished, turning into a numb and vacant look.
He put down his arms. A dark red glint lit up deep within his pupils. Like the other hunters, he waited silently in the darkness for his master's orders.
At the same time, a nearly invisible wind critter was floating above the wooden house. It seemed to be silently waiting for something.
"Hpmh! Greem, you've overstepped your boundaries!" A mental flux that sounded like the screeching of insects suddenly rang within the consciousness core of the wind critter.
"This is not overstepping my boundaries! This is just tracking!" Greem's listless voice was also transmitted through this temporary mental link. "As you can see, I'm tracking my prey! Should I go to Keoghan and complain about you intercepting my prey while I'm hunting?"
"Hmph! You can go complain if you wish to! Keoghan gave me the order to seal off the mountains and woods here and not let anyone through. I’m merely following my orders. What about you, huh? A powerful flame adept, yet you let a mere mercenary walk through your territory untouched. Perhaps you should explain your incompetence to Keoghan!"
"There's no need… since you've intercepted the prey, I'll let the issue slide. I'm leaving!" Once Greem finished speaking, the wind critter slowly rose, as if it was about to leave.
"……” Acteon, who had been hiding in the darkness, immediately became vigilant.
For as long as Acteon had known him, Greem had never been such an easygoing person. He couldn't help but feel something was wrong with Greem giving way so easily this time.
Just as Acteon was racking his brains for an explanation, a mental flux was transmitted from the wind critter that was high in the skies now. "Oh right, Acteon. Do you always neglect to check your targets' bodies before turning them into bugmen?"
Having said that, the wind critter dashed to the woods without even looking back.
Just then, the temperature of Mok's body started rising rapidly. Almost instantly, his entire body was converted into a human bomb. When his blood and flesh heated up to the critical limit, he exploded with a bang.
Most of the "bugged" hunters were standing close together in the house, causing Mok's explosion to drag the other seven bugmen to their deaths. They melted in agony, riddled with holes by the bone fragments and boiling blood that went flying everywhere.
Acteon had placed a heart-devouring bug, that he bred personally, inside each of the bugmen. In that instant, eight heart-devouring bugs had died. It was easy to imagine the Spiritual pain Acteon felt at that moment.
The very next moment, Acteon's angered screams and curses filled the skies.
Sadly, the wind critter had already escaped!
When Greem brought his prisoners back to the adepts' base, the teenager followed beside him.
The teenager’s name was Edwin. His hometown was in a faraway place known as Clyde. There, they produced fragrant grape wine and were famous for having breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately… after he awakened that odd talent, he was forced to leave his hometown and lead a life of vagrancy and hiding.
Even if he hid in the depths of the Greenland Forests, he would still be tracked down and trapped by the witcher-knights, who were as crazed as mad dogs. Six of the seven people with whom he had lived together for half a year were now dead. He was the only survivor. The witcher-knights had only spared him because they wanted to publicly execute him in the city.
However, his life had completely turned around after last night. From now on, he was on a completely different path!
It had only been two or three days, but the base had undergone great change once again.
Standing tall was a stone tower three levels high. A dozen robotic beasts were levitating on the outside of the tower, carefully carving unique rune patterns on the walls of the tower.
This was not a true adept's tower yet, but after being strengthened with Runes of Toughness, Runes of Magic Resistance, and Runes of Divination-Obscuring, it sufficed as a temporary residence for the adepts. The crafting of higher quality magical items and potions required the use of alchemy labs and alchemy stands.
That was why the construction of an adept tower was of utmost importance!
Upon returning this time, Greem realised that the voodoo beasts in the outer rim of the base had doubled. Furthermore, Greem found traces of the beasts he had delivered previously on some of the stronger adept-level voodoo beasts.
These included the Bloodthirsty Man-eating Demons, the Wild Giant Apes and the Toxic Giants……
These powerful adept-level voodoo beasts were very crudely crafted. Their biological systems were unstable. Just one look, and Greem could tell that these were inferior products created on the spot. Although these beasts would not suffer any loss to their strength and would easily reach the level of adepts, their life force would only sustain them for one to two months before failing.
Just as Greem was passing the prisoners over to Keoghan, the teenager Edwin was looking over everything in the base with feelings of worship.
This was the holy land of spellcasters of his dreams! This was a place he was willing to defend with his life!