Chapter 68: Widow’s Crypt V
“Can I keep this?” I realize my palm is bleeding from grasping the shard of the horn too hard.
“Pft!” The elven woman, despite her condition, let out a hearty laugh after my question, catching me by surprise. Raising an eyebrow while tilting my head, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s going through her mind and admire her ability to still be able to laugh considering the situation she was facing.
“You’re probably looking at me as if I’ve gone insane, right?” Her face isn’t turned directly towards me but she seems to know where I am.
“…I wouldn’t exactly say insane.” That was the only thing I could mumble out after she seemingly read my mind.
“You’re a weird one too, asking a dying soldier if you can keep something like that. Keep it. It won’t hold any value to me anyway.” She lets out a sigh and suddenly, her face looks like it’s aged 20 years from the expression she puts on.
“I don’t even know your name, kid, but I’m going to die soon. There’s no need to try and be sensitive about that fact.” The elven warrior, putting on a serious face, faces me directly when she states this.
“My name is Arthur, and yes, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to save you. I’m sorry.” I put the black shard inside my dimension ring.
“Sigh… I guess it just wasn’t meant to be then. Since I don’t have a lot of time, I’ll tell you as much as I know.” My chest felt heavy when she so easily cast aside her hopes and accepted her fate.
“My name is Alea Triscan, as you figured out, I am one of the members of the 6 lances and those were my troops. Each Lance is in charge of a battalion composed of some of the top mages.” She lets out another heavy sigh, and for once, I’m glad she isn’t able to witness the gruesome slaughter scene that turned this once beautiful place into a grave of mangled corpses
“After the commencement of the 6 lances a few of months ago, we have been training to work as a team to clear dungeons and other unknown areas. The 6 Lances rarely go on missions together, unless we are to explore an S class dungeon or above.” She continues after catching her breath.
“From the direction of your footsteps earlier, it seems you came in from a different entrance. This place is actually connected to three dungeons. Which dungeon did you come from, Arthur?” Alea struggles to prop herself up more comfortably against the wall.
“I came, with my classmates and Professor, from the Widow’s Crypt. Everyone else was able to make it back out, but I guess I wasn’t so lucky.” I take a seat against the wall next to Alea as I study the carnage displayed before me. I’m able to vaguely imagine what happened by how the bodies are positioned and where they got injured.
“It’s probably really gruesome isn’t it? I’m not sure how old you are Arthur, but no one should have to see something like this.” Alea chimes in after a moment of silence.
“My age probably won’t correlate too well in regards to situations like this, but you are right. No one, regardless of age, should have to see something like this.” I can’t help but let out a sigh as well.
“My troops and I came from an A class dungeon named Hell’s Jaw. We were assigned to investigate the dungeon after getting reports of inconsistent sightings inside. The Adventurers that came back alive were ones who frequented the dungeon for training. The ones that made it back were barely alive and they all spoke about how the beasts residing within suddenly became stronger and fiercer. Was that the case for the dungeon you came from as well?” I notice Alea beginning to talk a bit slower.
“Yeah. Just on the first floor, an army of Minion Snarlers welcomed us. The minions weren’t bad but two Queen Snarlers showed up. One of the Queens, after eating the other Queen, turned black and its strength jumped a few fold. I suspected this was the cause.”
“What do you mean you suspected?! Are you saying you’ve seen that demon before?” Alea suddenly straightens up and looks towards my directions, surprise evident in her voice.
“I’m not sure if it’s the same one, but yes.” I respond frankly.
“The same one? You think there’s more than one?” Alea’s already pale face drains to an even whiter color as she asks me this.
“I don’t have definite proof, but I suspect that the one you saw, Vritra, is just one of the horned demons out there somewhere.” I reply as I can still recall that night where I got separated from Sylvia. The black demon with its horns curving downwards said something about causing them trouble. It was just a speculation, but I suspected that there were probably more of them.
My mind begins to spin as I think of all the different possibilities and reasons as to why they’re doing this. Is this all for Sylvie?
I remember when Sylvia gave the stone to me that I had to protect it all costs. That “stone” turned out to be an egg, and of a dragon no less. Was Sylvie such an important existence that the horned demons would go this far for?
“What… are you thinking of, Arthur?” Alea lets out a strained cough as some fresh blood escapes from the sealed wound where her mana core once was.
I always found it intriguing that, while beast cores were capable of being harvested and used as tools to enhance mana, human mana cores weren’t. When a mage dies, their mana core shatters and the mana accumulated inside disperses. Was it because we gathered mana from the atmosphere that this happens?
There seemed to be a deeper meaning when I think of how humans don’t need their mana cores in order to survive, while our mana cores are dependent on us being alive. This world seems to revolve around whether you are a mage or not, and if you are, how strong are you. I feel like the God of this world wants to tell us that life is more important than magic, which should be an obvious statement, but a statement which we seemed to have forgotten.
Before I lose myself deeper into the aspect of a higher being, Alea’s ragged breathing snaps me back to reality.
“Are you okay?” That was a dumb question. Of course she’s not okay.
“When my team reached the first floor of Hell’s Jaw, there was nothing off about it; the mana beasts were the same ones that were recorded. It was when we reached the final floor where the master of the dungeon made its den. The Hades Serpent, which was an AA class mana beast, should be something I can beat fairly easily myself.” There was no trace of boasting or overconfidence in her tone. It was just a fact for her.
“The Hades Serpent, which was known for the blue fire spouting along its spine, looked different. At first, we were confused because it didn’t look like it had any flames at all, but when we looked closer, the reason we couldn’t see the flames against the black walls of the cave was because the flames themselves were black.
It looked like thick smoke flickering wildly along the spine of the 30-meter serpent. That particular Hades Serpent, also had a black horn jutting out of its forehead while its scales, which were recorded as being a matte grey color, were sleek black…” Taking a deep breath, I notice Alea shivering.
“The fight was gruesome. I lost 5 of my men to that Hades Serpent. The fight took several hours but I was able to kill it. When we tried to retrieve the beast core though, it wasn’t there.” Breaking into another fit of coughs, I run towards the pond and soak what’s left of my uniform inside. After rinsing it, I allow the fabric to absorb as much water as it can before walking over to where Alea was.
“Open your mouth.” I instruct.
She hesitates for a moment but opens her mouth. As I gently squeeze my soaked uniform over her mouth, the water flows out and into her mouth.
“Ah.” She lets out a small yelp before fiercely swallowing water that probably isn’t the most sanitary. She whispers a small thank you before continuing on with her story.
“Although we were tempted to go back to the surface, we didn’t manage figure anything out thus far, so we started searching for clues inside. One of my men used a spell and found that there was a hidden tunnel underneath a thin layer of earth. After crossing the tunnel, we arrived here…” As Alea’s voice trembled at her last words, tears mixed with blood streamed down the closed eyelids where her eyes used to be.
“H-He was here…when we reached this cavern. I still remember the way he looked at us. Those scarlet eyes…” After letting out a trembling breath, she continues.
“My team and I… no one knew what that monster was so we did what our instincts told us to do. We raised our weapons…. that was our first mistake. I can still picture it so clearly. His pale gray skin. His face… it was beastly yet, it looked almost…human. He looked at us and smirked, exposing his sharp fangs. What threw us off was when he talked…” She whispers now, her voice getting weaker.
“Mm.” I respond, just so she knows I’m still there.
“He wasn’t even surprised to see us there. Vritra, he… that thing, just looked at us before…”
“Before?” I sit upright as her last statement catches my attention.
“…He gave us two options.” Tears and blood streamed down her once beautiful face again as she willed herself to finish what she was about to say.
“H-He looked straight at me, as if he knew instantly that I was the leader, and told me that he’d let me walk out unharmed if I…”
“…He laughed, telling me how he wanted to watch me dismember each of my teammates, one by one, in front of him.” Alea was shaking in anger as her only hand was clenched firmly into a fist.
That ridiculous proposition would’ve infuriated anyone but looking at the state Alea was in right now, I don’t have the confidence to say she made the right decision. Maybe her teammates would’ve wanted her to kill them quickly instead of being tortured the way they were.
“What was his other choice?” I ask as I gently wrap my hands over her clenched fist.
“He just… scoffed at us and said ‘…or you can try and fight’”. Her blood mixed tears stained the torn remains of her clothes as she continued to softly cry.
Unable to find the words to adequately comfort her, I just kept my hands wrapped tightly around her clenched fist.
Moments trickled by with only the sound of running water and Alea’s silent sobs breaking the deathly silence.
“We didn’t… stand a chance.”
“I hate to make you relive the scene, but I need as much of the details as possible, Alea.” I gently stroke her hand to try and calm her.
“He had *Hic* one horn in the middle of his forehead… that curved backwards sharply.” She tried her best to talk calmly.
“One horn?” So there really was more than one horned demon! Was it a clan? A race?
My heart starts beating uncontrollably from just imagining a whole race composed of horned demons; just one of them could wipe out one of the 6 Lances and her team.
“Y-yes. My strongest single point attack only managed to create a small chip in that horn.” Alea seemed like she wanted to ask me something but she continued on, her breath getting shorter.
“He… It … Vritra was able to use magic, magic that seemed to defy the common sense of any magic I’ve ever seen.” Alea’s lips begin to quiver.
“What kind of magic did he use?”
“Metal. Black metal. He was able to instantaneously conjure metal spikes, blades, any sort of weapons from the ground and himself. I don’t even know how to describe it properly. It was over too quickly. Half of my team was dead in the first wave of attacks that he unleashed with a simple flick of his wrist. When the ones that were still alive attacked him, he didn’t even bother to dodge… plates of black metal instantaneously materialized and blocked whatever attack that managed to get near him.”
I felt my face tense as I tried to visualize what Vritra’s, and possibly the powers his whole race possessed, might be like. It seemed to be conjuring but on a completely different level. The way she described it made seem more akin to manifestation or even creation of certain phenomena rather than affecting the mana particles already existing.
How is that even possible though? Are they capable of just skipping the steps of the fundamental laws of magic in this world, or were they simply more knowledgeable and able to do this through skill?
My head immediately turned towards Alea as blood spurted out of her mouth.
“Vritra… He left after leaving me like this. I’m not sure if he knew someone was going to come, but the last thing he said before going was his name… and that Dicathen was going to be a warzone…” As blood dribbled down the corner of her mouth, she turned her head towards me.
“This may sound preposterous but can you do me a favor?” Alea lets out a faint smile, revealing her teeth stained in blood.
“Sure, anything.” Did she have something to give to her loved one back home? Did she want to convey a message to her family?
“Can you hold me?” She mumbles.
“I always thought that I didn’t need anyone… as long as I was strong enough. I never had a family or lover… to depend on… but you know? I-I really don’t want to die alone right now…” Alea breaks down as she bites her lower lip to stop herself from wailing.
Without saying a word, I wrap my arms around Alea’s fragile neck and waist, bringing her chest to mine.
“…I’m scared, Arthur.”
“I don’t want to die…”
I stayed silent, gritting my teeth as, again, was unable to find the words to comfort her. Softly patting the back of Alea’s head, I felt her breathing become weaker and weaker and moments later; she passed away in my arms.