Chapter 16.1

In the place Serin led them to, a dozen grown men encircled a gnarled, ancient tree, their figures casting eerie shadows in the dim light. Something had been haphazardly strewn all over it, creating an unsettling tableau. Even in the shroud of night, the substantial amount of spilled blood was unmistakable.

At a cursory glance, the blood seemed randomly splattered, but upon closer inspection, it assumed a peculiar, almost enigmatic pattern, as though it were some abstract painting defying easy identification. Scattered around the base of the tree were heaps of extinguished candles, bear claws, and a solitary sliver of silver, an odd juxtaposition that deepened the mystery.

Kennard, perplexed and disturbed, voiced his confusion, “What is all this?”

“Well, I don’t know,” Serin replied, sharing the same bewilderment.

Casting his gaze around, Kennard spotted a deer’s mangled remains strewn nearby. The poor creature’s neck had been cruelly stretched and torn, its belly gaping open, innards spilling out. The snow beneath it had been transformed into a morose canvas, stained a vivid shade of red by the gushing blood. What once were formidable antlers on both sides now lay shattered, as if they had been snapped with force.

Kneeling beside the gruesome tableau, Kennard gingerly picked up a fractured piece of antler, resembling a broken branch in its jagged disarray.

At the very tip of the shattered antler fragment, fresh blood clung stubbornly, still tethered to the ancient tree. A macabre network of crimson veins appeared to have traversed the same path numerous times, branching out in eerie, cryptic patterns.

Serin’s voice sliced through the chilling air, his words heavy with unease, “It’s sorcery.” His eyes narrowed as he studied the sinister bloodstains, his thoughts echoing the dread that loomed in the forest. “If it’s blood magic…”

Kennard interrupted, his voice grim, “Dark magic, I suppose. Someone trying to curse someone.”

Before the first rays of dawn had a chance to creep across the horizon, a bluish twilight began to infiltrate the forest, bathing the scene in an otherworldly glow. In this half-light, the eerie figure etched in blood on the tree emerged with heightened clarity.

Kennard’s gaze remained fixed upon the sinister pattern. He turned slowly, his gaze piercing the shadowy depths of the surrounding woods. 

“What should we do?” Serin asked, inching closer, ever watchful of their surroundings.

“Summon the members,” Kennard muttered, still entranced by the waning forest. His determination remained unshaken. 

“Are you going to pursue them?” Serin inquired.

Kennard nodded with a resolute expression. They had combed through the Terra Demorte Forest on countless nights, but this was an unprecedented sign. It felt like someone had deliberately marked their territory with these ominous bloodstains.

“At your permission, I’ll give chase,” Serin declared. His words granted, he promptly shifted into his gray wolf form, his sleek, silver-gray fur shimmering in the moonlight. With a single purpose, he sprinted towards the nearby cliff, his powerful legs propelling him with an effortless grace before he launched onto a lofty rock.

“Ah-woo-woo. Ah-woo-woo.”

Serin’s howls reverberated through the once-muted forest, the mournful melody rousing the dormant creatures of the mountains and the slumbering birds into a discordant symphony of panic and curiosity.

“Ah-woo-woo. Ah-woo-woo.”

As the long, clear howls stretched on, Kennard too underwent his transformation, morphing into his formidable black wolf form, the obsidian coat blending seamlessly with the shadows.

It was still early, but within moments, the knights began to stir, alerted by Serin’s echoing howls that cut through the tranquil night.

“Ah-woo-woo. Ah-woo-woo.”

As if on cue, multiple responding howls emanated from the direction of the castle, a chorus of readiness and solidarity. Before long, Serin returned, his eyes gleaming.

“You remain here, and when the knights arrive, guide them to search in separate directions,” Kennard instructed, his voice carrying the weight of command.

Serin’s brow furrowed, concern etching his features. “You’re going alone?”

The knights’ approach was imminent, but Kennard had no inclination to wait idly. In a decisive move, he elongated his neck, raised his head high, and released a resonant howl that cleaved the still night air.

Unlike Serin’s melodious call, Kennard’s howl possessed an aura of sheer power and gravitas.

“Yes, I’ll go alone. Find them, no matter what it takes. If necessary, you can subdue them, but under no circumstances should you kill,” Kennard stated with unwavering authority.

Serin nodded, “Understood, Your Highness.”


Elena’s peaceful slumber was abruptly shattered, her eyes springing open as an eerie howl pierced the quiet of the night. At first, she hesitated, half-convinced it was a dream. But the silence that followed, as if the world held its breath, told her it was all too real.

Carefully, she sat up in bed, the covers slipping from her shoulders. Her senses strained, attuned to the fading echoes of the haunting cry from the distant forest. The sound, though originating deep within the woods, felt strangely vivid in her ears, like an ominous whisper just beyond her grasp.

Without a moment’s delay, she draped a robe over her nightdress, its soft fabric providing little comfort in the face of the unsettling sounds. Her nimble steps carried her to the window that opened onto the moonlit terrace. The room lay enveloped in darkness, save for the feeble glimmer of embers slowly dying out in the hearth. Although she couldn’t discern much in the obsidian shroud, familiarity with her surroundings allowed her to navigate the room deftly, avoiding tables and sofas as she reached the window.

Elena summoned the strength to yank the heavy curtains wide, unveiling a world shrouded in the muted hues of early dawn. Drawing closer to the window, her breath formed a delicate mist on the cold glass as she peered outside.

In the distance, the forest awoke, birds darting through the dim light, their movements resembling ghostly apparitions. It seemed as though the howling had startled the birds from their slumber, just as it had shaken her from her sleep.

A moment of contemplation passed before she made her decision. Elena pushed open the door to the terrace and ventured into the frigid morning air. The snow had been falling steadily since yesterday, leaving a pristine layer of white that the castle’s diligent servants had cleared from the terrace, though it still retained a slippery sheen.

Wrapped tightly in her robe, Elena hugged her shoulders, attempting to ward off the pervasive chill. Each exhalation was visible in the crisp air, her breath a ghostly plume that clung to the frigid atmosphere, as if her very nose might freeze and fall away.



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