A cool breeze flowed rustled through the tree tops. Despite the fact that it was currently still summer, red and orange leaves littered the forest floor. The ambient sunlight that rained down from the sky only added to the forest’s crimson hue.
Ophelia. The Forest of Eternal Fall.
It was a surprisingly beautiful place, especially for a former Opal ore mining site.
Fel had all the time in the world to gawk at the scenery as he slowly made his way deeper and deeper into its depths.
Currently, a group of one hundred knights solemnly marched across the forest floor. The heavy pressure they exuded drove away any potential monsters, so their journey had been relatively smooth up until now.
In fact, they had yet to run into a single cultist, which only served to put Fel further on edge.
The young hero kept his eyes wide open. He remained vigilant, his hand constantly resting on the hilt of the short sword strapped to his waist.
They’ve spent approximately two hours trekking through the woods. In that time, one thing stood out to him the most; there was not a single creature in sight. No monsters, no animals, not even a single bug could be seen.
From the beginning, Ophelia did not possess a very diverse ecology. Still, that did not justify the current emptiness. The forest was mainly dominated by a large population of Arboars. Arboars were pig-like creatures with antlers on their heads. It was sort of like a mix between a deer and a boar. Its meat did not taste very good, so they were unpopular with hunters.
As a result, their population sky-rocketed to almost ridiculous proportions.
At the very least, there should be one or two of these damn things running around. Why was it so empty? Where the hell were they?
Fel was not the only to notice this change. Rivel discreetly glanced around the forest. Eventually, he spoke up.
“There’s nothing here. Are you sure we got the right place?”
At the front of the group, Reedlim’s lips twisted into a barely noticeable frown. Doris also donned on a contemplating expression.
“It truly is strange.” She stated in a gentle voice. “I wonder what they’re planning?”
Reedlim scoffed in response. “Do not underestimate them. The Seven cults possess frightening hidden strength. A single mistake will lead to death.”
Fel remained silent. Walking beside him, Melo’s ears slightly twitched. She creased her brow in worry, but otherwise did not say anything.
“Seven, huh?” Rivel suddenly muttered. “I wonder if that number is important?”
“Important how?” Surprisingly, it was the usually callous Reedlim who responded. His words were laced in a frigid layer of frost.
“You know, like a motif. Sort of like the seven sins.”
“Seven sins?” This time, Doris tilted her head in interest.
“You don’t know the seven sins?” Rivel paused for a moment. “Well, I guess it’s only natural. This world doesn’t seem to have a concept of the seven sins.”
He suddenly turned to Fel. “You get what I’m talking about, right?”
Fel nodded his head.
If he remembered correctly, the seven sins were a concept that originated from the bible. The seven traits of man, the seven cardinal sins, the seven deadly sins. Each sin represented a facet of humanity’s underbelly. They were all the ugly and bad things that people kept hidden away from public view.
It was a rather popular concept, but he did not know whether it applied to this world’s sensibilities.
Either way, it did not matter. The group finally arrived at their destination.
After more than two hours of traveling, they found themselves standing in front of an empty cavern.
“Nobody’s here either.” Doris mildly commented.
“…” Reedlim remained silent. He briefly inspected the surroundings before he signaled his troops to march forward.
The cavern was fairly narrow. If standing shoulder-to-shoulder, then only five people at a time could squeeze through. Their formation was rather simple. Reedlim and Doris acted as the vanguards while Fel, Melo, and Rivel followed right behind them. After that was the army of one hundred First Guard knights.
As the group delved deeper into the tunnel, Doris’s expression finally changed. “I understand now.”
“What is it?” Reedlim’s ears perked up.
“This is a trap.” She suddenly said. “Although I’m sure you already understand that.
In response, he nodded his head.
“The reason why nobody stood guard outside was because they were already expecting us.” She suddenly looked out into the darkness of the tunnel. “They also prepared a welcome gift.”
As if on cue, a faint flicker of red flashed in the darkness. The red rapidly expanded in size. At the same time, the heat within the cavern expanded. Once the red had gotten close enough, it was quickly revealed to be a barrage of fireballs all hurtling towards them!
Fel’s face paled. In front of such an attack, the current him was completely powerless.
Standing beside him, Rivel let out a scoff. “They lure us inside, so that they can hit us all with this sort of concentrated attack. Due to the narrowness of the cavern, it’s impossible to dodge.”
As he spoke, he suddenly took a solemn step forward. Rivel looked up at Doris. “Old lady, I’ll need help with this.”
She amicably laughed in response. “What do you need, child?”
Instead of responding, she simply laughed once more. Doris placed a withered hand on the boy’s shoulder.
Almost immediately, a giant glowing magic circle materialized directly in front of them.
“Forsaken arts of the long departed, I call upon thee from the depths of hell. Come heed my order and provide me with salvation.” Such solemn words leaked out from his lips.
As Rivel chanted his spells, Reedlim couldn’t help but raise a brow in surprise. “I have never heard of this particular incantation.”
Doris smiled. “This boy has a rather unique process. He likes to come up with his own spells. Most people would find this action blasphemous, but this boy… he’s a genius.”
“Hmm…” A contemplating frown formed on the Instructor’s face.
Nobody quite noticed, but at that time, Fel’s expression blanched. Rivel, that guy… to spout out such embarrassing words… he truly lacked shame.
Unaware of their wandering thoughts, Rivel finished his spell. It had barely taken him less than five seconds to do so.
Almost on cue, a large, semi-transparent construct suddenly formed in front of them. It was blue in color and resembled the appearance of an ancient Greek round shield.
The moment the fireballs hit the shield, the flames immediately burst into ashes. The blue construct momentarily trembled, but it held firm.
Rivel was not done yet. He began another incantation. “A sinner’s past never goes unpunished. Forsaken God’s anger, let their fury transform into my strength! Go, Thousand Dagger Enchanting Petal Dance, no— Symphony!”
The Shield crumbled and broke into several thousands of pieces. Those pieces slowly coalesced, forming exactly one thousand petal-shaped blades. With a wave of his hand, the blades rushed forward.
After a few seconds of silence, Fel heard it. The distant sound of penetrating flesh.
Fel inwardly clicked his tongue. Despite also being a hero, he couldn’t help but admit, Rivel was a monster. There was no doubt about it. This guy’s blessing was related to magic. Otherwise, how else could he become so broken in such a short period of time?
In the first exchange with the pagans, Rivel showed his ferocity and expertise as a genius Magus. Right now, he was standing at the forefront of the otherworlders.
Surprisingly, the guy in question did not seem satisfied.
A deep frown creased his expression.
My expenditure is too much… He inwardly thought to himself. He glanced back over towards Doris. Without her, I won’t be able to keep this up.
He could only bitterly shake his head. Although he did not think of himself lightly, when he compared himself to that guy, he couldn’t help but feel somewhat inadequate.
The number one hero, Lewin Stehle.
Fuck, what can I do? That guy has such a broken ability. The balance in this world is seriously fucked up.
Rivel unceasingly complained within his heart. Still, the expression on his face remained impassive.
The group continued forward. After a few minutes, they finally encountered the bodies.
At a glance, more than forty corpses. All of them wore dark green robes. Their faces remained lock in a permanent distortion of pain and suffering.
“Magus.” Doris suddenly said. The lingering mana on their bodies gave them away. “Fourth and fifth circles. It’s a shame they all died.”
The wizards of the Tower had a special way of ranking magic wizards. They called it circles, but in truth, they were simply basing an individual’s ranking by the size of their mana pool. It was a fairly simple system.
Reedlim suddenly shook his head. He pointed towards six receding footsteps. In particular, these footsteps were dyed in red. “Not all of them died.”
Rivel’s expression slightly chilled. After a moment of hesitation, she looked up at Doris. “Old Lady, stick close to me. I need your mana for later.”
Doris cracked a smile. “My, how sweet of you, child.” Her bony fingers moved in to pinch his cheeks but Rivel swiftly avoided.
“Don’t touch me!” He barked out. “You’re only my battery pack. Don’t be so presumptuous!”
She laughed in response. Without another word, she silently continued further into the tunnel. Rivel scoffed and followed after her.
“…” For some reason, a particularly weird expression flashed across Reedlim’s face. He paused for a second before he looked over at Fel. “Be more like him in the future. Don’t be so lazy.”
With those cold and callous words, Reedlim promptly turned back around, leaving Fel in a state of wordless shock.
A certain cat-eared girl suddenly placed her hand on his shoulders. “Don’t mind it too much, Master.” Melo consoled. “No matter how capable that gloomy magician is, I still like you the best.”
Fel still remained silent. Right now, he felt an innate desire to shake his head.
Don’t compare to such a zealous guy like him!
From the very start, Fel was not very enthusiastic. He did not have the passion for being a hero like Rivel did. Fel was simply a man who went with the flow. Naturally, you’d never find him at the forefront of anything.
This was precisely why he did not need sympathy from Melo nor ‘encouragement’ from Reedlim! He was completely content with his current progress. In fact, with a guy like Rivel around, he felt even less desire to train.
“Enough about that, let’s keep going.” Fel shook off her shoulder and continued further down the tunnel.
With the last hero already on the move, the one hundred knights behind him also continued their march into the mine.
Like that, today’s Cult-hunting mission continued.