Translator: Kell | Editor: Weasalopes
The Magic Circle’s Seal
With the arbitration going on, the underground laboratory was locked, but guards were still stationed near the cave. The passage would be unlocked whenever it was time for them to change shifts.
With his Stealth on, Hikaru tagged along with the other guards down to the cave. Just like before, the magic circle cast light on the surroundings. The guards kept watch warily. Clearly, there was something down there.
I really wanted to ask Selica about the magic circle first, though, Hikaru thought.
He still hadn’t heard from the Four Stars of the East who were invited by the king of Einbeast to the palace. Perhaps they were on their way there.
Then again, even if I asked, there’s a high chance she doesn’t know anything. Drake’s reaction might be more useful.
Drake wrapped himself around Hikaru’s neck. The drakon had been complaining about the stench incessantly on their way underground. Hikaru didn’t really smell anything off, only that the air was a bit damp and musty.
『I don’t wanna go…』
「All you have to do is tell me what’s in there and you’re good.」
『I sense something awful. Is that enough?』
「We’ll go check out whatever it is you’re sensing.」
『That’s not funny…』
They slipped past the magic circle and went down the stairs that led further underground. Hikaru didn’t feel anything as they passed through the circle, but as they went deeper, he felt the air seem to coil around his skin.
『Ugh… It stinks…』
「Suck it up, you freeloader.」
『I’m sticking with you because of the no overtime, three-meals-included package.』
「Where’d you even learn that? Anyway, this is well within legal labor standards.」
Hikaru was surprised that the drakon somehow learned a bit about of human culture. Eventually, the surroundings turned darker. The light from the magic circle still reached them, although it was weaker now, as they were already about fifty meters deeper. Realizing the guards would not notice this further down, Hikaru lit up his magic lamp.
「Hmm… I see the end of the cave.」
The bottom of the cave was a flat, open space, just as wide as the upper section. The first thing Hikaru noticed was…
「What the hell is this?」
『Yuck! It stinks so bad! I can’t take it anymore!』
Drake leaped away from Hikaru’s neck and went up the stairs before turning around at a distance where he could still tolerate the stench. The drakon was out of Group Obfuscation’s range, but the guards above didn’t seem to notice anything.
Drake had been complaining nonstop all the way here. Hikaru understood how he felt. Even he could smell the stench now.
Up ahead, about five meters, was a black mass, like some sort of a puddle. Because the ground was ashen, Hikaru couldn’t tell if it was pure black or some other color. He didn’t dare consider touching it, either. It stunk, real bad. Like meat that was left out to rot for days.
A part of the gooey matter protruded about twenty centimeters high, and the rest simply looked like a water puddle about a meter wide.
「What is this even…」
Hikaru held up the lamp. Black puddles were all over the place.
「That thing’s bad news. It looked like a creature with four limbs, but it was simply a black figure. Darkness. Like the product of something evil.」
「Did you kill it?」
「I did. I got black sticky goo all over my body, though. I had so much trouble washing it off.」
Hikaru recalled Gilbert and Katina’s conversation. A black figure. Four limbs. The Blue Knight finished it off and left the corpse here. Carrying it would only be effort, so Gilbert probably wouldn’t even bother, especially with the horrible stench.
「But there’s a lot here…」
Hikaru could see more than ten corpses within the range of the light alone.
Something reflected the light from the lamp. It came from inside the black mass. Do I really have to do this? Hikaru thought as he drew his Dagger of Strength and stabbed it into the puddle. Black goo stuck to the blade, and he pulled out a rock.
「Wait, is this a spirit rock?」
Hikaru wiped the blade clean with a cloth. After cleaning the black goo off the ore, what greeted him was a rock the size of a ping-pong ball, shining in seven colors.
He’d picked up plenty of these rocks back in the dungeon in Ponsonia. Most of them, however, were only the size of Go stone pieces and went for only 500 gilans apiece. Its price increased with size, and something this big would fetch for at least 10,000.
Hikaru tossed the cloth aside and shoved the rock into his bag. There could be more in the other puddles, but the unbearable stench prevented him from searching for more.
「What is Gilbert playing at?」
「Anyway, Mr. Gabranth. Did this black figure drop anything?」
The knight clearly denied it.
「I see. I get it now.」
As a matter of fact, Hikaru already had an idea what kind of person Gilbert was based on the information he’d gathered. He didn’t really plan to do anything with it, though.
『Hikaru! Let’s go back! I wanna eat some food!』
「We’re not done here yet. In fact, we’re just getting started…」
Hikaru proceeded even deeper. Black puddle littered the place. It took much effort just trying to avoid them.
He was too focused on his feet. He only noticed what lay before him the moment he raised his head.
A huge double door, made of stone and about ten meters high, loomed before him. There was no crack in between, but black goo was stuck on it. Did the black goo come from here?
The design on the door caught Hikaru’s eyes. A carving of flames and a face. A face filled with agony, being kicked by a demon. The figure of a human impaled through the demon’s spear. A three-faced dog—Cerberus—breathing out fire. A giant swinging down its club. And a dragon devouring a drakon.
「Now this is quite something…」
Hikaru didn’t even want to imagine what lay in wait beyond these doors. No wonder Drake didn’t want to get closer.
「I see what Sir Gravey means…」
Something evil was clearly behind the doors.