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For a moment, everyone eyed the shelves with enthusiasm while Liza was filled with disbelief. However, they weren’t hasty and tested each shelf individually for traps. When they confirmed none of them were boobytrapped and all their contents were real, they were beyond themselves with happiness.

“Look at all those precious stones! I’ll be able to buy all the books I need!” laughed Ben.

“I can get my sword now, right? This will give us enough gold right? Can it be a super cool and big sword?”

“With this I’ll finally have enough. I’ll smack that lady’s smug face with a bag filled to the brim with eight hundred and ten gold coins! And then I’ll finally know his location. I look forward to punching you in the gut, father…” Liza muttered.

Fang Chu was the calmer of the bunch. Personally, she didn’t have that much wealth, but she’d seen the treasury of her sect on more than one occasion, so this collection wasn’t enough to stir her heart. She was also aware that the only way they could take all of this back was by relying on her storage ring. Although everyone seemed to trust her implicitly by now, this amount of treasure could lead to suspicion and troubles she didn’t want to deal with. Therefore, she was the first to voice her opinion.

“There’s simply too much stuff in here, I think it’s better we make an inventory first. I’ve enough parchment and ink on me. What do you guys think?”

“That’s for the best. It’ll help us when we go about selling it too,” said Liza who understood Fang Chu’s intention on the fly. She was liking the redhead more and more.

They spent the next couple hours compiling a long list of everything they’d acquired. For anything they weren’t sure of what it was, they would write down an accurate description of the item and have Ben sketch its likeness too. When they were done with the last shelf, Liza suggested that Fang Chu should store most of the items on her ring, if not all. There were no objections. Soon, the shelves that were filled to the brim before were emptied in no time at all.

“Okay, now that this matter is over and you guys are back to normal, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say. I can feel large amounts of mana emanating from that metal pillar.”

“Really? That’s strange. I’ve inspected it at length and didn’t find anything different about it other than the fact it’s made of metal.”

“Too bad we left the Dancing Sage outside, we could see if it would sway towards the pillar or not,” said Ben.

“Nothing we could do, it’s a plant. It needs sunlight. Also, can you imagine going through all of that while carrying it?” replied Liza.

“No need for the sapling, I’m sure. Maybe it’s better than me when detecting slight variations, but there’s no need for finesse when the quantity involved is this grand.”

“Why would a pillar have this much mana?” asked Ben.

“How would I know? I’m just telling you what I felt,” Fang Chu shrugged.

“Let’s examine it once more. You guys can help me this time too.”

They spent another twenty minutes knocking on the pillar, searching for a hidden crevice or button, and otherwise trying anything they could think of, but to no avail. Since no progress was being made at the moment and there were other rooms to explore, they decided to leave the mystery of the pillar behind for now.

Taking the lead once again, Liza stepped forward onto that open passage and into the next room where the ground was filled with grooves. Now that she was inside, her torch could illuminate a greater part of the room, giving her a clearer picture than earlier. It was a large, empty chamber with a door on the other side. She grabbed the spear and began testing the floor methodically.

*Tok* *Tok* *Tok*

The sound of the wood striking the stone tiles on the floor resounded in the room. Liza had cleared an area of two meters around the entrance when she heard a surprised exclamation coming from above.

Hum?”

She felt like her blood had frozen over as a sense of deadly crisis assaulted her. Without stopping for even a second to ponder, she let go of her spear and the torch, retreating at full speed to the previous room where her companions were waiting. Liza felt a harsh gust of wind pass by her back just as she crossed the room’s threshold. A huge arm slammed against an invisible barrier, followed by the voice of someone cursing.

Ah, fucking hell! Not in a million years I thought someone would show up here, so I was paying attention elsewhere! I can’t believe this!”

The voice was hoarse, and its owner seemed exasperated. Now that she’d averted a disaster, Liza calmed down a little and could register the expression on her companions’ faces. Ben’s complexion was pale and he was frightened out of his mind. Fang Chu had one of her rare seen serious countenance and Eliot and Boro’s eyes were shining with curiosity. Liza took a deep breath and turned around.

The vast and dark room she’d just escaped from was now completely illuminated by a white light that emanated from the grooves on the floor. Those grooves formed a shining pentagram that spanned the entire room. Near the entrance of the chamber was standing the creature that had just attacked Liza. It was three meters tall, with goat like legs, a human torso and an insect like head. The monster’s arms were so long that they dragged against the floor, its skin was fiery red and it had a set of wings coming out of its back.

“A demon!” shouted Liza.

“Hey, don’t offend me! Demons are bunch of dumb anarchists! They just do whatever they want with no thoughts to the consequences and long-term sustainability. I am a devil. D-E-V-I-L. Know the difference!”

The creature’s response left everyone flabbergasted. He seemed to take a real offense to be confused by a demon. Yet his human like speech and indignation didn’t match well with his hoarse voice and the pincers that opened and closed near his mouth.

“Then which are stronger, devils or demons?”

“Devi… depends. Which devil or demon we’re talking about? It’s not like all humans have the same strength, right?” the devil replied while nonchalantly sitting on the ground.

Hum, true,” conceded Eliot.

“Wait, Eli-Eliot. Don’t talk with the devil,” said Ben after much effort.

“Come on, my friend, don’t be prejudiced. We’re just having a friendly conversation here.”

“Friendly? You just tried to capture me!”

“Well, duh. If I could’ve captured you, I’d have guaranteed company and entertainment for a while. Do you know how boring it is to wait here till the end of the contract?”

“Company? Don’t make me laugh, you’d have killed me!”

“No, no, no! We would have talked for days, played some games and THEN I would have killed you,” the devil smiled.

At least, they thought he was smiling. His pincers were pinching against each other making tik, tik, tik, noises nonstop. Maybe it was a laugh? Nevertheless, his candidness with his intentions caught everyone by surprise. Wasn’t this going against his purpose of having a friendly conversation with them?

“Anyway, I’m called Sogdrith. What about you folks?”

“I’m El–”

“Don’t say your names!” shouted Liza.

“How much suspicion,” scoffed the devil. “I already know you’re Eliot, little buddy, and I can see you have a young’un from that clan following you around. How quaint,” he said while eying Boro. “I guess the others will be rude and not identify themselves.”

Hearing this, Liza gave Ben a side-eye. He could only respond with an apologetic look, there was nothing to be done at this point. It was not like he was thinking straight at that moment under his shock and fear.

“I have to congratulate you,” the devil applauded. “You’re the first to have come this far, yet I’m afraid you’ll be done in just like everyone else. It’s sad really. That guy was such a bastard, making all those traps and contraptions…”

“Which guy? How do you know we won’t be able to make it out?” asked Fang Chu.

Hohoho, now you’re interested in talking? Nothing is that easy. What’s in it for me?”

They stared at each other for a while. Finally, Liza broke of the eye contact and dragged everyone further back into the previous room, away from the devil. They entered the curved corridor and moved just enough to break line of sight with the creature before sitting down on the ground.

“What now? The way forward is blocked. That devil is protecting the next room. I don’t think we can deal with him,” said Liza sombrely.

Eliot looked down. It was the first time he didn’t jump at an opportunity to fight. When sizing up that devil he could sense an immense pressure emanating from him. It was the first time in many years since he felt something like this. Felt like he could die.

“He said something about a contract and about being here for ages. That devil was a rather chatty fellow, maybe we can get some information out of him. Since we know he can’t leave that room, there’s not much danger in just talking to him,” said Fang Chu.

“Yeah, but you heard him. It won’t just spill things for free, that devil isn’t dumb. It would want something in return,” added Ben.

“I’m not comfortable making a deal with the devil. I heard enough stories and legends to know how those things usually turn out,” said Liza.

They talked it over, a depressive mood hanging around them. As of now, they’d no idea on how to proceed.

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Norlum

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