Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Apologies,” Torres said. “It sounded like a common twist to a story, so I wanted to say it. It is just as you said, the new moon had passed. So the passage is almost fully submerged the next three days.”
“What do we do next, then?” Zero asked, frowning. “Did you simply want to talk about your plan?”
“Of course not!” Torres waved his arm. “I said almost fully submerged, Milady. In other words, there’s some space left. If you take off in the middle of the night when the tide is low, you should be able to pass through with your head just barely touching the ceiling.”
The governor unfolded a map of Cleon and pointed to a straight line that led from Ideaverna to Akdios. It was similar to the supply route, but shorter. Since we could use the flow of the water without running into any obstacles, we could get to Akdios in half a day.
“However,” Torres’ expression hardened. “Low tide means that the water is flowing from the lake to the sea. You will have to go against the current.”
“So we have to row the boat.”
“That’s right. Moreover, the current in the cave is fast. If you lose focus, you’ll be swept away into the sea. I’m sure it wouldn’t be much of a problem for you. It’ll be a little exhausting, but that’s all. The most dangerous time is when the tide starts to rise, when the water flows from the sea and into the lake. The boat will be pushed by the current to Akdios at a high speed, but the water level will rise as well.”
If the tide was just low enough for a boat to barely pass through, then our ride would definitely sink if the tide rose. To make matters worse, there were giant carnivorous fish in the water called Fulgols.
“Sounds a little too dangerous,” I remarked.
“I wouldn’t have proposed the idea if you weren’t a Beastfallen. Normally you’d wait for the new moon before you could use the passage. But time is of the essence.” Torres turned to Zero. “Milady, you must stay with me in the castle until—”
“I am going with Mercenary,” Zero said flatly.
The governor couldn’t even laugh. “I can’t agree with that, Milady. I know you’re a witch who possesses unimaginable power, but it’s too dangerous.”
“But Mercenary is going to such a dangerous place. Then I must go and protect him.”
“It’s the other way around,” I said. “It’s my job to protect you.”
“I know. You are my precious bodyguard. I cannot have you die on me, so I will protect you.”
I was pretty sure she got it completely flipped, but the fact of the matter was, counting on her Magic would be our safest bet if we found ourselves in grave danger. It might delay my becoming human, but I did not mind. I can’t become human if I’m dead anyway.
“Well, she’s like a secret weapon,” I said.
The governor clearly wasn’t convinced. “Don’t be a fool, merc! You’re injured, aren’t you? You would have a hard time just protecting yourself!”
“Oh, I forgot.” I removed my bandage. “It’s already healed.” It hurt a little when the blood-dried fur was ripped off, but the wound had completely closed. It must have healed faster because the priest’s strings were really sharp.
“Y-You inhuman monster!”
“Mind your language now,” Zero said. “You should not say that. There are some things in this world you can not say, and that is one of them.” She repeated the words I told her at one point.
Good, good. She was starting to learn proper social manners. I hope she acts like a normal human being soon.
“Well, if you insist, then I won’t stop you. It is too dangerous for the mercenary to go alone. I have my own position to worry about, so I can’t offer any manpower.” The governor rose to his feet. “I will be at the castle until the low tide comes. I have to send a messenger pigeon back to Cal and inform him that you have arrived safely. You two rest well until then.”
“Do you know what underground canals are?” Torres asked as we walked through the long tunnel. “They’re like rivers that flow underground. They are created from rain that seeps into the ground and then overflows back to the surface again to form lakes, or flow into the sea. And sometimes the opposite happens: seawater flows inland through the underground canals to form salt lakes.”
Apparently, you couldn’t reach the secret waterway unless you followed the right path. The governor said that there was only a single path originally, but they deliberately dug up many tunnels, turning the cave into a labyrinth.
“History says that the city of Ideaverna was built after Akdios, right at the end of the passage. From the beginning, Akdios and Ideaverna were created as a pair. The first governor of Ideaverna, appointed by the king, created an underground labyrinth underneath the castle and built a secret harbor deep inside. Over here.”
Suddenly we came out to an open place. Torres circled the harbor, lighting up the torches on the wall with his lantern. The dark waterway suddenly came to light under the flames.
The ground had been paved for easy walking and the surrounding walls bore carvings all over, but stalactites hanging from the ceiling indicated that this cave was formed naturally.
Both ends of the river led to the depths of the dark cave. I couldn’t see them even with the lantern.
“Wonderful place, isn’t it? But information on it is highly confidential, so I was a little sad that no one else could see it. That changes today. I can finally say this: Welcome to the Canal of Return.”
“Now this is something,” I said, genuinely impressed. “You can go out to sea from here, right?”
“Of course. Though you can’t see the entrance to the cave from outside. It’s hidden behind rocks.”
Zero crouched by the side of the canal and tasted the water. “Salty,” she said, surprised. “It really is seawater.”
“And the other end is connected to the Holy City of Akdios. It’s pleasant around these parts because it’s man-made, but if you go further ahead, it’s a completely natural waterway. I’ve never been through it actually, so I don’t know what kind of dangers lurk ahead.”
The governor pointed to one side of the channel, towards the direction of Akdios. While the channel leading to the sea became wider and wider, the ceiling leading to Akdios came lower and lower, and far ahead, more than half of the passage was submerged in water.
“It’s even narrower than I imagined,” I said. “Can we really get through?”
“The tide is just beginning to recede. What you see right now is the ceiling of the cave. In five minutes, you’ll be able to get through. I’ve got a boat ready to go. Over there.”
A small boat was tied to the jetty.
“Is that a fishing boat?” I peered inside and saw a harpoon, a net, and oars lying on the bottom of the boat.
“Ideaverna’s fishing boats are famous for being sturdy and unsinkable. I’ve instructed people to throw some bait off our coast, so that should decrease the number of Fulgols.”
“Oh, that carnivorous fish.”
The Fulgol was, according to Theo, a species of fish that swarmed this part of the sea. Big and delicious, it was a famous product in Ideaverna. I never thought I’d worry about being devoured by a city’s specialty.
“We’ll be careful,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. Anything for Lady Zero.”
Torres winked at the witch. The fact that he did it so perfectly really pissed me off. For a while after, we waited for the tide to recede, then pushed the boat out into the open.
Shrouded in complete darkness, we let the lantern’s light guide our way. I was rowing the boat at an awkward position. If I straightened up, my head would hit the ceiling.
“This is really bad for my back,” I grumbled.
“You just found a fine way to strengthen your body,” Zero said.
“A new discovery, I suppose.”
“I should have thought of a spell that would make the ship go forward on its own. I know a spell that controls water.”
“Don’t. Oarsmen will lose their jobs.”
“Really? I think convenience is a good thing. Society sure is complicated.”
Our trivial conversation distracted me from the feeling of entrapment. It was terribly quiet. There was only the sound of my oars and the splashing of water echoing throughout the cave. Torres said we could get through the passage in half a day, but having to keep on rowing until morning was too daunting.
I was truly glad I brought Zero with me. At least, until she started getting bored and decided to doze off. Though if I had been alone, I would have given up on this endeavor already.
The current was slower than I thought it would be. The boat glided swiftly with every paddle. I wondered if we were really moving in the darkness, but I could tell by the ebb and flow of the tide that time was passing.
It was almost low tide. If we wanted to ride the rising tide and move forward the rest of the way, we needed to at least be halfway through the passage.
Can we really get through the cave before high tide? That is, before the cave is completely submerged? I glanced around anxiously. Then something rocked the boat hard.
Zero jerked awake and cried, “What is wrong?! What happened?!”
“No idea! I think we hit something.”
Another impact. Zero staggered and almost fell to the water. I quickly pulled her back. Grabbing the lantern, I peered into the water. The light reflected off of something at the bottom.
“Eeek!” I pulled myself back.
It was a fish. A giant one, with sharp, vicious teeth lining its jaws. I knew right away that it was a Fulgol. And there were a lot of them. Countless Fulgols were swimming wildly about underwater. As the tide receded, they began bumping into the boat. The oar bounced off a Fulgol and almost fell into the water, but I managed to grab it back in time.
“There’s too many of them! What’s going on here?!”
“Food,” Zero said.
“They are carnivores, no? Akdios has an abundance of food for them.”
Corpses dumped into the lake.