|Author: Ryuusen Hirotsugu||Original Source: Syosetu||Word Count: 3013 characters|
|Translator: Nomad||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1554 words|
「Shall I rely on you moving forward?」
「I don’t mind. The dungeon only starts further inside after all, so me and Henry should be enough. You and I should try to economize on mana too though, that way we will be able to jump into action as soon as it’s needed.」
「Exactly, just one of us is enough to handle things for now.」
They continued down the cave for half an hour more. From time to time a monster attempted to attack them, but Heinrich’s sword slew them in a single hit. Every time he swung his sword it left a shining after-image like a crescent moon, a cold wintry wind following after it.
Heinrich had boasted his skills were top class, and it was showing now. He had excellent hearing on top of that, so he reacted to the slightest noise and cut down whatever caused it, clearly showing he was a true warrior. Mira could only observe him in admiration.
The three eventually arrived at the end of the cave without any problems. That place was a large space, which made the darkness get heavier while the reach of their lights seemed to get shorter. It only reached a few paces in front of them anyway, but it was enough to outline clearly man made objects laid in front of them.
And those objects were the fragments of a destroyed gate. The gate seemed to be embedded into the bedrock, with one half still standing and in a closed position, the other lying flat on the ground. There were also those barrier crystals they were familiar with set in each corner of the gate.
「Well then, are you all ready?」
「I’m always ready.」
While the two replied, Heinrich pulled out their pass. While she gave her natural reply, Mira walked in front of the barrier and stood there. At the same time Gilbert gave a slight nod and Heinrich pressed the pass against a crystal.
Soon after the barrier shook like a soap membrane hit by the wind. After seeing that, Mira crossed the barrier with Gilbert and Heinrich following behind.
As soon as they had crossed the barrier, the air around them felt clearly different to that in the cave. The wind also felt different, as if it had started from a place far far away from there before arriving.
The Staircase to the Sky. That was the name given to the path hidden among the mountains that led to the Abandoned City in the Sky. It was a hazardous dungeon that spanned roughly ten floors of steep stairs.
There were flickering blue flames lit around the entrance, casting light on the evenly spaced stairs carved out of the rock that continued further inside. That scene did not look heavenly or not even related to the sky at all, but gave an eerie feeling like descending to hell.
(Ah, it was this kind of place now that I think about it…)
This place was always included in the normal route, but Mira let a deep sigh out, as if only the sight of the stairs had already exhausted her.
「Well then, the true deal starts here. From what I heard it’s a pretty long path, so if you get tired just say so. I’ll do the same. Supposedly the stairs are safe from monsters, but on the next floor they spawn in hordes, so tiring ourselves on the stairs would be our doom by the time we arrive at the next floor.」
「Hum, I shall keep that in mind.」
Heinrich had a lot of stamina, just like his appearance suggested. Even after all the monsters he fought in the cave, his breath was still perfectly composed. And even faced with the stairs, he was not moved in the slightest. On the other hand, Gilbert was grimacing seeing it was worse than he had imagined, while Mira felt completely defeated.
One hour after their climb began, the slow and heavy metallic thuds repeated time after time as they reverberated through the stairs.
「Phew… We’ve climbed a lot already. We should be arriving at the first floor any time now. It would be good if we took a break here.」
Gilbert gave the signal to rest and quickly sat on the ground. Heinrich also untied his sword from his waist and slowly sat down. The soft breeze was cold, but it felt like a blessing for Gilbert and Heinrich who were bathed in sweat.
And then, Mira said the following:
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「Hum, this is taking so long. What a troublesome place.」
As she calmly declared that, she jumped down from the shoulder of the Dark Knight standing by.
Mira had magnificently avoided having the physical stress climbing with her feet meant. If she rode on one of her summoned units, then she could just ride it up the stairs. Thinking that, she summoned a Dark Knight since they seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of stamina, and rode on its shoulder. Once she ordered it to begin walking, she had succeeded in creating a stair-climbing machine that could go on forever. She had much less stamina than her two companions, but now she was able to keep up with their pace.
When Mira asked if they wanted to ride as well, they turned to see her sitting on the shoulder of the Dark Knight and instantly shook their heads. While they knew a Dark Knight had a well built body, only Mira could ride on its shoulder as a girl with a petite body. They were adult men though, so apart from being carried, lifted or riding piggyback, there was not much more they could do. It might have been more efficient, yes, but they still wanted to keep a certain image.
「By the way, what interest do you hold in the Abandoned City in the Sky?」
Mira asked them while they rested, eating some of their rations and drinking water. Hearing her, Gilbert flushed away some of the bacon in his mouth with water and replied.
「I think I told you before, but I’m a scholar.」
And with that, he began explaining his goal.
「My speciality is botanics. So I wanted to study the large woods adjacent to the Abandoned City. And Henry is my companion for that, helping with many things.」
「Hum, I understand now.」
Just as Gilbert said, there was a vast forest surrounding the Abandoned City in the Sky which seemed to eat away at the mountains around. And since its ecosystem was isolated from the rest of the world, the plants and animals there had evolved independently giving the forest a wondrous appearance.
「Though if I had to be more precise, I want to investigate a weird phenomenon in that forest. And here’s where I want to ask something, do you fly on a pegasus on a daily basis? If you do, then was there ever a time when you saw a hole in the forest that looked like it was scooped out with a huge spoon?」
As he spoke, Gilbert put his hands together as a sort of shovel or spoon.
If there really was a hole like that in the forest, it would have been easy to spot from the sky. If anything, since she had been searching for the Aerial Castle, she saw nothing but clouds everywhere.
「Well, I guess daily is a good enough assessment… but an unnatural clearing… I don’t recall spotting anything resembling that. Is that related to the weird phenomenon you mentioned?」
「Yes, exactly. For now we call that phenomenon 『Earth Eater』. Though it’s a shame you never saw it, but let me explain.」
At first Gilbert looked exhausted and taken aback, but an instant later a sharp grin like that of a beast that just found new prey spread on his lips and he began talking with enthusiasm. Seeing that, Heinrich just muttered “My condolences” from besides him as he began his routine check of his equipment.
「It all started around twenty years ago. One of the large forest in northern Grimdart vanished overnight. The only thing left was a crater like the one I described earlier. The dimensions… well, the radius was roughly five hundred meters in every direction. And that region also happened to be a good place to grow high quality Honey Apples and other fruits.」
「At the time that caused a huge uproar. Some said the spirits were going insane, or that the gods were playing pranks on them, some even said there was an invasion from a different world.」
「But well, as it turns out, that wasn’t the only place affected by that phenomenon. It has almost become a frequent occurrence all throughout the continent. In the mountain woods of Ostein, the Sweet Berry prairies that spread in southern Arisphalius, the forest for praying children in the south of the continent, and many more forests and prairies disappeared overnight everywhere.」
「And now I want to uncover the mystery of that phenomenon.」
「Earth Eater, huh. What a mysterious phenomenon.」
「Yeah, doesn’t it get you excited? And just a few days ago I heard that in the forest near the Abandoned City the same thing just happened. And since I happened to be this close already, I just had no choice but to come here today.」
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