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Ben took a deep breath. They’d discussed before about what questions to ask and made a list by degree of importance. There was a consensus that they’d be able to get at least two answers from Sogdrith. In that scenario, there was little room for manoeuvring and they would just have to trust the general knowledge that devils didn’t lie in their deals. Now that he could ask six though, Ben could sacrifice a question to figure out the devil’s style.

“How can we get out of here?”

“You need to exit the mausoleum, break through the barrier outside and leave.”

Fang Chu and Ben eyed each other. That answer went in line with what they were expecting and heard about devils. Sogdrith would tell them the truth (probably), but that didn’t mean he was going to help them in any way. One might see this as a waste of a question, but it helped create a baseline that they could use to orient their future inquiries.

“How is the barrier outside being maintained for this long?”

“It relies on the power of a magic formation.”

“Where is the core of this formation?”

“Inside that metal pillar behind you.”

Ben and Fang Chu exchanged glances once again. That explained why the redhead was feeling such vast amounts of mana emanating from the pillar. Turns out it wasn’t the pillar itself, but something inside of it.

“Can we get access to the formation core through a mechanism or do we need to break down the pillar?”

The devil’s eyes narrowed at this question. It was a clever way of phrasing it, getting two doubts erased at once. It could even be called a form of cheating. Ben did this because he was afraid that asking the simple question How can we get access to it? would make the devil reply with the most difficult method.

Ben was afraid his question would be denied or at least cost for two, but the truth was that Sogdrith didn’t care. That was the question he was hoping they would ask the most. It was the information they needed to see a ray of hope for the future, only to find out in the end that it was useless and then wallow in despair. The only way to access the formation core was to destroy the protective pillar. It was made of adamantine and was, technically, breakable. Thus, he wouldn’t be lying.

“There are no mechanisms to reach the formation core. The only way to get to it is by destroying the protective pillar.”

Fang Chu and Ben let out a long breath, feeling relieved. The most crucial information they needed was finally secured. If they could get past this last hurdle, they would be home free. The pillar looked sturdy, but considering Eliot’s and Fang Chu’s strength, it seemed only a matter of time till they got out. It was as if a heavy boulder was lifted from their stomachs. Since they got what they wanted, they could use the last two questions to satiate some of their curiosity regarding this place.

“What’s beyond this room and that door you’re guarding?” asked Fang Chu.

“That’s the inner sanctum, the last resting place of the owner of this tomb.”

“From what we could gather, the person that build this place wanted nothing more than to protect his belongings. How come you’re guarding only his inner sanctum?”

Ha! Do you think he could’ve afforded it? If he could, I would be standing on the very first room, in place of that stupid golem. His offerings were insufficient, so I’m just protecting his body and a few of his most precious belongings for a period of time.”

The duo was surprised by this answer. Did that mean that all the things they got from the other room were not the real treasure of this place? How much wealth did this guy have? Who was he? There were many questions they wanted to ask, but their deal was now over. Food was offered and they got six questions answered in return. If they wanted to know more, a new deal would’ve to be made.

“That was excellent cuisine. It appears that for the time I was locked in here, humans have progressed tremendously in their culinary ability. You can have your cutlery back. For now, I’m going to have a nice nap,” said the devil as he slid the tray onto the floor until it reached the entrance of the room.

Ben waited for Sogdrith to lay down on the ground before retrieving the tray with haste. He and Fang Chu returned to the others, their steps much lighter than when they’d first arrived. Liza and Eliot were still resting with their heads against each other, with Boro laying on top of Liza’s lap. The half-elf jerked to attention when she saw them returning.

“How was it? What did you guys find out?”

They retold how things went, making sure to not leave any detail behind. Liza’s expression changed quite a few times during the story, and she let out a huge breath when they were finished.

“That explains why we couldn’t find anything strange regarding that pillar. It’s just a protective housing for whatever is inside.”

“Yes. Once we break through it, we just need to disturb or deactivate it and we’ll be home free,” Ben added as he sat down.

“Let’s go break it then! I want my new sword!” exclaimed Eliot.

“We could…” said Liza. “But don’t you want to taste that meal Ben made to that bastard?”

“I do! I do!” said Eliot. He’d just got up and grabbed his sword, but he instantly let it go and sat down again. Eating something delicious was a thousand times better than swinging his broken sword against an immobile target.

Ah, I’ve just finished cooking for him…” complained Ben.

In the end, he couldn’t resist the pleading gazes of everyone. Grabbing all the necessary apparatus, he spent the next few hours cooking a batch of KFC for each one of them. Everyone was delighted by the crispness and flavour of the chicken. They ate and talked heartily. Now that they’d a way out, no one was feeling under pressure anymore.

They rested for a bit longer to recover from their bloated bellies before gathering around the metal pillar. Sogdrith was lying down on the floor in his room, resting his head against his hand. He watched them through the corner of his eye, feigning uninterest. This would be a good show for him.

Grabbing his sword with his good arm, Eliot aligned the strike before having a go at it. CLANG! The sound of the sword hitting the pillar reverberated underground. The recoil from the hit was harsh, making Eliot almost lose the grip on his weapon. The devil’s eyes opened slightly. He was surprised by the strength of the blow, but he soon calmed down.

Once the sound subsided and Eliot recovered, they got close to see the results of the blow. There wasn’t even the faintest of marks where the sword had struck the pillar. It was in pristine condition, like it was never attacked before.

“This…” Liza gasped.

“It’s really sturdy. What kind of metal is this?” asked Ben.

“No matter what kind it is, it should give up eventually,” replied Fang Chu.

The redhead conjured a large maul from her ring. That was her primary weapon and it was magic enchanted to boot. The dissonance between that curvy and gracious woman carrying such bulky and brutish weapon was rather startling. She took a heavy breath as squiggly blue veins marred her skin. Everyone backed off right away as Fang Chu rotated her body and slammed the maul on the same spot Eliot had hit before. A loud noise like a gong reverberated in the chamber. Unable to stop the recoil completely, Fang Chu backed up a few steps while looking pale. She rested her back against one of the shelves and let herself slid to the ground.

This attack surprised the devil once more. He was no longer lying down on the ground lazily but sitting down while crossing his arms. [That was surprising, but so what? It doesn’t matter you have people with some strength. That’s adamantine! It will take them too long to break it open like this. Soon they will be running low on food and feeling exhausted. Their only option then will be to make a deal with me!]

“Are you all right, Fang Chu?” asked Ben with concern.

“Yeah, just let me rest for a bit,” she replied while trying to adjust her now messy hair with her fingers. “More importantly, how was it? Did this open a crack?”

They inspected the pillar again and were once more disheartened. There was no damage whatsoever that they could spot on the metal. Not even a dent. If two full powered blows from Eliot and Fang Chu weren’t able to damage the metal pillar, how could they get out?

“Don’t tell me we’re stuck in here…” muttered Liza.

“Don’t despair just yet. Are you familiar with the concept of material fatigue?” asked Ben.

“I’m not, but I guess I’m about to be...”

“It’s simple. If you put a material through a repetitive strain it will eventually weaken and break. Like when you bend a thin wire repeatedly until it snaps.”

“So, we just need to keep striking it?” asked Eliot.

“That’s right. It might take long, but it will eventually break.”

“Even when it looks like it’s not making any difference at all?” asked Liza.

“Yup. We probably did some damage, but it’s on a microscopic level so we can’t see it. It just goes to show that it will take us a while.”

That’s how he replied, but internally Ben was praying that this metal, whatever it was, didn’t have too high of an endurance limit. If it’s endurance limit was higher than the output of their strikes, they wouldn’t be able to break it even after a thousand of years.

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Norlum

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