We should get there in about an hour.
Cale put the now accurate map back in his pocket before looking at his group.
Drops of blood were dripping from On’s sharp claws.
A small monster that looked like a fox was twitching on the ground from being poisoned. The Black Dragon came over to report.
Close to twenty of these fox-like animals were dead.
‘They really are getting stronger with experience.’
On and Hong could not learn properly because they had to live in hiding as they had run away from their tribe. The Black Dragon naturally lacked experience after living in confinement his entire life. Cale was using the Forest of Darkness’s monsters to quickly fill those gaps in their training.
“Should I have fought as well?”
Where else would he get an opportunity to safely build experience? The Black Dragon and the kittens all abruptly turned their heads as Cale mumbled to himself.
“Seems like a useless idea!”
“Weak human, it is too much for you at this point. One day is enough.”
“Our youngest is right. You spit out blood from using the shield too much last time!”
Paseton let out a gasp.
However, Cale could see that Witira was just smiling brightly. He then saw her caress her whip with a determined gaze.
That was the look of someone who wanted to fight. She really was a scary person.
Cale quickly opened up his magic bag and gathered everyone around him.
“Everybody put this on before you go any farther.”
“Is it because of poison?”
Cale answered Paseton’s question before putting the mask on the Black Dragon, who stuck his head toward him.
“Human. There is a weird scent.”
The Black Dragon frequently said this to Cale since a few days ago.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. It is stronger here. It is something I am familiar with.”
“It is probably poison or the rotting smell from the nearby plants.”
Cale brushed it off and approached On. The Black Dragon that was ignored tilted his head while wearing the mask.
The Black Dragon started to mumble, but the mask prevented Cale from being able to hear what he was saying.
“...No. It is not such a trivial scent.”
However, the Black Dragon remained quiet because it was not a dangerous scent.
Cale then put the mask on On’s face.
‘Even Choi Han avoided this swamp.’
Choi Han had a pretty high resistance to poison. However, there was no reason to go through the swamp when there were many other paths in the Forest of Darkness while this path was messy and annoying.
Paseton approached Cale.
“It is really interesting that there are only two swamps in a forest this large.”
“Really? I don’t think so.”
Paseton could see Cale’s starting to smirk from underneath the mask. It was a pretty sly smirk.
“You’ll understand once you see it.”
Two swamps were enough. Cale verified that everyone had their masks on and checked their expressions. They had only been sleeping between 1 - 3 hours a night ever since they entered the Forest of Darkness.
“You all look so healthy.”
Nobody looked tired.
“All of you really are amazing.”
Paseton’s face scrunched up at Cale’s comment. He looked over to his sister and asked with his gaze.
‘Should he really be saying that?’
Witira shrugged her shoulders and avoided answering the question. Paseton turned back to look at Cale, who looked to be the healthiest of the group right now.
Paseton then looked toward the Black Dragon and the kittens. They rushed over to look after Cale whenever they thought Cale was tired. Of course, Cale was full of energy thanks to the Vitality of the Heart, but nobody else knew about that.
Witira continued to caress the whip on her arm as she asked Cale.
“Young master Cale, is it our turn now?”
Cale pointed with his foot instead of responding.
Right there was the boundary between the outer and inner regions.
A plethora of noises poured out toward Cale as soon as he stepped past the boundary. He then proceeded to speak to Witira, who took a step past the boundary as well.
A humanized Humpback Whale. This ruler of the sea was not the type to be careful.
“It’s your turn.”
Witira flicked her whip as soon as Cale finished speaking.
A large crater was created on the ground from the flick of the whip.
The noises disappeared.
Witira, someone whose strength fell between Choi Han and the Black Dragon, was itching for a fight. Her heart had been beating wildly while looking at the better-than-expected skills of the group.
“Shall we hurry on?”
She smiled and asked Cale as this mysterious young master responded back with a completely relaxed smile.
“Yes, as fast as possible. I want to go home and rest.”
Paseton let out a sigh after hearing what Cale had to say, before taking out his whirlpool sword.
The enemies slowly started to reveal themselves in the now quiet forest.
The boundary between the outer and inner regions was a location for monsters that were weaker than the monsters in the inner region, but the monsters in front of them were still much stronger than the so-called weak monsters outside.
Mutant ogres, mutant trolls, spider-like monsters from the Eastern Continent, and even high-level monsters appeared.
“The monsters here really are different. They still want to fight, even after seeing Dragon-nim.”
Paseton stepped forward and peeked back and forth between the Black Dragon and Cale. Cale nodded his head and gave an order.
“Hurry up and fight.”
Paseton jumped forward and the battle between the strong monsters and the Whale siblings began.
The monsters in the Forest of Darkness did not get scared, even in front of strong creatures like a dragon or members of the Whale tribe. In fact, it made them charge at them even harder. It was like they were fighting for their survival, thinking that they could not allow a strong person who could rule over them to appear within their Forest of Darkness.
Cale leisurely watched for a bit until he saw a shield being cast, whereupon he asked the Black Dragon.
“What about you?”
“Too annoying to deal with those weaklings.”
“Sure. Let’s go.”
Cale started to slowly walk forward with the shield.
An ogre’s body was split into two even pieces. Some of the blood spurted onto the shield.
The sound of the whip was followed by the explosion of a giant spider, and one of the legs flew over and hit the shield before falling to the ground.
“Watch and learn.”
Cale walked through the battlefield in a straight line as he leisurely spoke, while On, Hong, and the Black Dragon all pretended not to care but were seriously watching the battle.
The monsters that appeared in front of Cale who seemed to be on a stroll through the forest all disappeared thanks to Witira. Cale stopped once he could see the swamp in the distance before starting to speak.
“This is now the start of the swamp region.”
The mutant troll’s head fell to the ground before it was followed by its body. Witira flicked off the fluids on the whip as she responded.
“Let us keep moving.”
Paseton let out a sigh as he followed his sister to Cale’s side. The Whale siblings suddenly stopped walking and tightly pressed their masks. It was because poison and a rotting smell entered their nose.
At the same time, their eyes opened wide after seeing the swamp that was covered by large trees until now.
“What do you think? Isn’t it fitting for the Forest of Darkness?”
Cale turned away from the shocked Paseton and looked toward the swamp.
The swamp was as wide as a lake and pitch black.
He spoke to the rest.
“It is a pretty large lake. It is large enough for multiple huge ships to fit. It is also unique compared to other swamps because this swamp is black.”
It was the most fitting spot to explain the reason for the name of the Forest of Darkness.
This swamp was the only actual black spot in the forest.
“...I didn’t expect it to be so big.”
Witira let out her admiration. She then took a gulp after looking at the swamp area. Cale understood why she would have such a reaction.
All of the plants were either black or brown, yet they were not dying, and instead they were extremely vibrant.
“It must be poison.”
Cale nodded in response and tightened the mask on his face. He also tightened the laces on his shoes and put on some gloves.
The rest of the party followed suit.
They could hear Cale’s voice coming through the mask.
“The plants here have grown up with in the poison and have mutated to survive in the environment. Although it might not be a deadly poison, they all have some type of poison within them. Be careful and make sure the plants do not touch your skin.”
That made Paseton think about the mermaids’ poison and quickly, make sure he was completely covered. He then felt that something was odd.
The red kitten strolled past him. Hong looked toward Cale and dashed into the swamp region after seeing Cale nod. Witira tried to reach out and grab him, but it was too late.
Hong did not have a mask nor anything on him. Witira looked toward Cale with shock, but Cale did not seem to be fazed. Witira then heard Hong’s voice.
Hong was wagging his tail and chewing on a black plant. Cale stepped into the swamp region as well and approached Hong.
“How is it?”
“It’s just a paralyzing poison, but it is tangy!”
Cale sternly commented to the excited Hong.
“Slow down, you might choke. Eat slowly, but eat a lot.”
“Okay. I feel like I am getting stronger.”
Cale snarkily commented to the Whale siblings, who were still blankly standing outside the swamp region.
“Are you not coming?”
The Whale siblings slowly entered the swamp with chaotic expressions on their faces. Cale slowly led them closer to the swamp. Thankfully, the brown ground and black swamp were easy to differentiate from each other, so there was basically no danger of falling into the swamp lake.
That was why Cale was able to quickly inspect his surroundings.
Paseton was standing there with a stiff expression on his face, acting as if that blank expression from earlier had never existed. Cale pointed to a location nearby.
“Looks like someone was here recently, doesn’t it?”
There were some marks on the ground and lots of footprints. Since the monsters did not come to this area, there was only one explanation.
“I will investigate it.”
Paseton immediately went to investigate and Cale turned away from him.
The ingredient from the swamp that made the mermaids stronger. The evidence they left behind gave Cale a good idea of what it might be.
“...Looks like there is a good chance it was the swamp itself.”
There were many marks on the ground next to the swamp. They probably didn’t care about hiding their tracks, since they believed that nobody would come here.
Cale stopped looking at the swamp and looked down after feeling a tap on his leg.
Hong seemed to be really excited, as his mouth was covered in black and he was rubbing on Cale like he was trying to be cute.
“I want to try drinking the swamp too.”
Witira, who was next to them, flinched, but Cale did not care as he responded to Hong.
“Wait for now.”
Hong’s ears fell.
“...But I want to get even stronger.”
Hong peeked toward the Black Dragon and his sister, On. A large hand patted Hong’s head at that moment.
“Don’t think about useless things and take it slow. You’re already stronger than I am.”
“But everyone is stronger than you are.”
Cale lightly patted Hong’s head and told Hong to go over there and eat some other poisons.
Cale thought about how he would make On and Hong stronger in the future before turning away. However, that made him immediately start to frown.
‘What’s wrong with him?’
The Black Dragon seemed to be acting odd, as he continuously tilted his head to the left and right.
At that moment, Paseton approached.
“There are no signs of digging up any of the nearby plants recently. However, there are many signs that they are doing something to the swamp itself. Based on the marks, I would say they were here between two weeks to a month ago.”
Cale looked toward the wide swamp and responded.
“It looks like they gathered up some of the swamp.”
“That does seem to be the case.”
Cale was about to speak after seeing Paseton and Witira looking serious. However, the Black Dragon approached at that time and Cale started to frown.
“Why did you take the mask off?”
“It was not a familiar scent, but a familiar scent of mana.”
Cale started to get the chills. The Black Dragon pointed to the swamp with his short front paw.
“There is a familiar scent of mana here.”
Cale started to frown even more. The Black Dragon confidently added on.
“There is the scent of dragon mana in the swamp.”
Cale urgently looked toward the black swamp. This extremely vast swamp was massive, but Cale was thinking about the size of an adult or ancient dragon.
“Of course, there is no sign of life in the mana. It is just a very weak trace.”
These words were the final blow. The unbelievable thought in Cale’s head quickly became the reality. He then also felt like he knew how the mermaids got stronger.
There was a dragon corpse inside the swamp.