|Author: TypeAxiom||Original Source: ScribbleHub|
The door opened into a medium-sized cavern that split into three paths. Each path was unmarked.
“What is this place?” Carmen muttered, all of her pomp drained away by the sheer mundaneness of this whole thing.
Considering that this place was essentially in the middle of nowhere—though still close to a road—and barely detectable from the surface, secrecy must have been of utmost importance regarding whatever was happening here. Still, would it have killed the undead that made this to put in a bit more effort?
“Kagriss, what do you think?” Carmen asked as she expanded her senses out into each of the tunnels. She couldn’t sense any undead, but just because she didn’t sense any didn’t mean there weren’t any. Higher undead was always a possibility, especially in something as large scale as this. Undead mana filled the air thanks to the desecration zone and might further hide the presence of lurking enemies.
Kagriss shook her head. “I don’t know, Mistress. My apologies.”
“Anything at all would help. Which should we pick?”
Unfortunately, Kagriss continued to shake her head. “I don’t dare make such an important decision, Mistress.”
Okay, fine. They barely stepped into the cavern after all so there was no information to go off of. No wonder Kagriss didn’t want to choose. It looks like she was going to be the one to make the decision. “Come on, let’s head further inside.”
There was no reason to go left or right, but the center was straight ahead, so naturally, Carmen chose the middle tunnel. It was no big loss if she didn’t find anything since they could just check the other later.
With her sword at the ready, Carmen led the way into the middle tunnel.
As she walked, she couldn’t help but get the feeling that she had chosen the right tunnel…but it might have been better that she didn’t.
The atmosphere of the place didn’t help either. So deep underground, the air was dead and it tasted stale on Carmen’s tongue and nose. There was no light, since undead needed no light to see. Combined with so many undeads in the way as well as that anti-holy defensive formation, it would have been nigh impossible for any normal templar team to make it as far as she and Kagriss had.
The team that Barsig took into Amaranthine Point would make it past the undead, but they might not be able to crack the formations before the air rans out.
After a while of walking and not finding anything, Carmen was beginning to have second thoughts. Maybe the center was the wrong decision and they would have been better off with the other two? But her intuition told her that her decision had been right…
Whatever it was, Carmen preferred to hurry.
While they weren’t exactly under a time limit, Carmen still didn’t feel good about leaving two young girls alone camping. Even if undead weren’t a problem, there was also the possibility that some bandits might chance upon them. Of course, there was also the miniscule chance of a mana beast appearing, but Carmen didn’t think that last consideration was realistic.
Picking up the pace until she was running along at near Kagriss’s maximum speed, they finally cleared the tunnel, coming into a cavern with…another fork that tilted up and down. Worse still, there were more tunnel entrances behind her and to her side.
And as they passed through the boundary into the cavern chamber, a spell activated behind them, creating a defensive formation that closed off their exit.
“What?” Carmen punched the barrier, only for her fist to bounce off. It was powerful. “Kagriss…”
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Kagriss immediately investigated it. “It’s another simple but strong formation. It’s mainly dealing with physical and imbued physical impacts, but easy to dismantle. Should I?”
After thinking about it, Carmen shook her head. “It’s fine. Who knows what will happen if we mess around. Let’s keep going and dismantle it on our way out.”
The chamber was strange.
Since they came down here, it was the first time that Carmen felt wind blowing against this place. Either the whole network was interconnected or all of the tunnels here had an air opening.
Carmen doubted the latter, which meant she assumed the former. “Is this a maze?” she wondered out loud. “Why?”
“Perhaps it’s something really secretive that the masters of this camp was doing,” Kagriss suggested. “On my way here, I found a few more traps in the tunnels but I didn’t touch them.”
Carmen perked up. “Traps? Are you sure?” She hadn’t detected any of them.
“Yes. They were well hidden, but they were set to only attack living things, so I left them be. Should I have disabled them, Mistress?” Kagriss looked guilty. “Oh no, I probably should have warned you.”
“Don’t worry about it. Dismantling would have taken too long. Since they’re no threat to us, it doesn’t matter. However, to put so many traps in these tunnels…whoever made this place really wanted every invader dead.”
This place wasn’t just any undead camp. It was something way more important. And if this place had something to do with what Arvel was researching down south…then perhaps Fleur had been right about Arvel being in huge danger.
What exactly was that Orlog monster? What was that gem of control? What did Arvel get himself into?
There was so much information missing from Arvel’s letters in hindsight, but Carmen had no idea what.
Picking another tunnel at random, she entered with Kagriss, but not before scoring a line into the ground with her greatsword in front of the tunnel where they came from. She wasn’t stupid enough to just go in and get lost forever.
Just in case, Kagriss left a backup magical mark as well…something like a beacon like the one Carmen had made earlier. The beacon surprised Carmen. She hadn’t expected Kagriss to be able to make a duplicate of the spell after only studying it for a short while. Reverse engineering a spell structure of even a simple spell was difficult given ample time and resources, to say nothing about changing the attribute as well.
Once again, Kagriss’s talent with magic caught Carmen off guard.
As they went further in and turned a corner, the air flow began to grow stronger. At the same time, there was a sudden spike in undead mana. No matter what, that spike was abnormal, and what was abnormal was definitely something worth looking into down here.
“I think what we’re looking for is up ahead!” Breaking into a run, she charged against the wind with Kagriss close behind. Carmen had no idea what she’d find at the end of the tunnel, but she was dying to find out.
According to the analysis on the rotational formations, nothing should be here. Then why did they detect an undead ahead?
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The sound of their heels clacked against the stone floor, echoing up and down the tunnels. Whatever was at the end waiting for them probably heard them coming. The undead mana grew stronger and stronger until it rivalled a newborn knight-class zombie warrior in sheer quantity. However, the mana still lacked a quality unique to higher undead.
While the owner of the mana wasn’t necessarily higher undead, it didn’t mean that Carmen underestimated it. The amount of mana was beginning to become oppressive. It was rapidly approaching her level and she still saw no sign of an end in this winding tunnel. Then, after one of her many steps, the mana surpassed her in quantity and began to rapidly gain on Kagriss.
If Carmen had been human and somehow survived up to here, she’d be sweating all the moisture out of her body.
The thought of facing the thing at the end of the tunnel filled her with dread, yet she continued to run, getting closer and closer. The mana was like a siren’s song, drawing her towards it without allowing her to escape. It put her nerves on edge. “Kagriss…get ready to run if we can’t handle it,” she suddenly whispered.
“It’s no time to be stubborn! I’m faster than you, so don’t worry about me!” Carmen snapped. Kagriss fell quiet at the tone of her voice and Carmen didn’t say anything either.
After a few more steps, the mana increased beyond Kagriss’s current maximum which stabbed an ice-cold stake into Carmen’s heart.
The tunnel was a curse. In the open air or in a building with thin walls, Carmen could at least estimate her opponent’s strength. However, it was different here with the rock blocking off her senses and distorting what she could sense. The distortion, instead of allowing her to sense all of the mana at once, slowly ramped up instead. As a result, the mana from that mysterious undead at the end seemed to increase without end.
Carmen didn’t understand. How could something that wasn’t a knight-class have so much mana? When she had absorbed undead mana back then as a pseudo-knight class zombie but didn’t take enough to evolve, her body forced the excess out. It was either use it or lose it.
It was different for this entity up ahead, whose mana seemed stable.
Each second felt like an eternity. It had been no more than half a minute since Carmen first sensed that mana, but that half a minute felt like a day.
Finally, when the undead at the end had mana well beyond Kagriss’s maximum strength, Carmen and Kagriss turned one more bend and both stopped cold. They both saw the end of the tunnel where it opened up.
The owner of that terrifying mana was just a little further, hiding just out of sight yet clearly detectable. If it had working ears, then it would have heard them running. If it didn’t, then it might not have sensed Carmen and Kagriss thanks to both of them hiding their aura.
After exchanging one last glance with Kagriss, Carmen flexed her fingers to do some pointless stretching that was no more than something to help her nerves. Then she gripped her sword and walked toward the end of the tunnel where there seemed to be light.
Kagriss tentatively followed behind her.
A bit aways from the edge of the tunnel, Kagriss suddenly grabbed her shoulder, tapping her urgently. “Mistress, Mistress!” she whispered.
“What is it?” The grab nearly scared Carmen out of her skin and she glared behind her. Now was not the time to mess around. However, Kagriss’s expression was dead serious without a hint of humor and the anger melted off Carmen’s face. “What is it?” she repeated again, this time more gently.
Kagriss’s face seemed paler than normal, although Carmen wasn’t sure if it was because of the lack of light.
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“Mistress…there’s a disabled formation right there,” she said, pointing at the point where the tunnel opened into the seemingly empty cavern. “I recognize it. It’s a sealing formation, designed to suppress powerful undead as punishment in the fortress I used to live in.”
“So Amaranthine Point is responsible for this?” Carmen asked, interrupted the lich. She chewed lightly on her lips. So those undead hadn’t been keeping inside like the outpost had thought. Which made sense, since any knight-class and above could easily escape like she and Kagriss had.
Patrols didn’t actually do much except eliminate the lesser undead that appeared thanks to the proximity to the dark fortress.
But Kagriss shook her head. “I don’t know, but that’s not the important part.” She hesitated, but finally opened her mouth and spit out the words that she had been keeping to herself. “That sealing formation seems to be connected to the formations at the gate. As long as the gate formations remain unbroken, the sealing formation will continue being supplied with mana. But as soon as the gate formations breaks, then the sealing formation loses its effects as well.”
“A contingency plan in case someone breaks in?” Carmen said.
“Yes, Mistress…I believe that whatever is…was sealed here is this place’s last line of defense. The spikes were only to fool us. This thing here is the true threat.”
Carmen had never seen so much emotion from Kagriss before, but now, Kagriss was shivering. Suddenly, the girl jumped forward and pulled Carmen into a hug as tears spilled out of her eyes. “Mistress, let’s run. Let’s go before it’s too—”
Her words were cut short. Carmen felt the movement of mana behind her. When she looked behind her, she spotted a large black shape, with contours vaguely resembling a human, crouching on all fours at the end of the tunnel.
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