84. Doing Bad Things
Daniel and I made our way back through the narrow path between the tall, hanging cliffs, walking alongside the thin stream of water that poured its way towards the Brilsum Ruins; the massive crater in the center of the canyon fell into a steep decline, drawing all water sources straight to it.
It was night now. My Human companion had gotten his fill of sleep. And we were going to attempt to sneak into the Platinum Rank Dungeon, hopefully to find any traces of Fairies or Fairy temples without alerting the Mindreapers and their hordes.
We crested to the top of the same pile of rubble as before, taking a moment to assess if anything had changed in the broken city. We spotted no difference. The meandering, lumbering monster horde seemed to have not grown in size. No new monsters or creatures had been added to their numbers.
Nodding at Daniel, the two of us went prone on the ground. He took the nonverbal cue without any questions, since we had already discussed what to do beforehand. After our observations yesterday, we had formed a plan to hopefully make our way through the Brilsum Ruins undetected. What we decided to do was simple: we wait.
The Mindreapers did not seem to need any sleep. Being magical creatures made of mana, it was possible that they were able to go without sleep, making them more akin to Demons and Spirits than most creatures in the Mortal Realm— at least, in that aspect.
And it was not even all Spirits and Demons. I remembered Druma— how the [Yaksha] needed sleep despite being a Lesser Spirit. I had asked Mistshard why that was the case, and she simply explained that all Subspecies— and even Species— of creatures were different.
Unfortunately, that made my respect for the friendly four-armed Spirit go down slightly. Just a tiny bit. He is very nice!
Regardless, we were not going to wait for the Mindreapers to take a nap, especially since it was likely they didn’t need it. Instead, we were going to continue making our observations and only attempt to enter the ruined city if the opportunity arose. The opportunity being—
All of a sudden, one of the Mindreapers close to the eastern side of the city rose up in the air. It left its horde of monsters sleeping on the ground before speeding off and hovering just above one of the tall plateaus further in the distance. I exchanged a glance with Daniel and hee nodded.
“Alright, it’s time.”
“Just have to wait a little longer…”
I kept one eye on the Mindreaper hovering in the distance and the other on the Mindreapers closest to us. The moment the patrolling groups turned and went off in another direction, Daniel and I got up and began climbing down to the bottom of the crater. Their absence gave us the freedom to reach the side of the Brilsum Ruins where the distant Mindreaper had abandoned. Hurriedly pulling Daniel along, I dashed forward till we reached the periphery of the broken city.
Once we arrived at the broken and crumbled outer walls, the two of us hunched over and kept low, almost crawling our way along the edge towards the eastern wall. I made sure to keep an eye out on the Mindreaper, still busy pulling in whatever poor monster or animal that decided to sleep close enough to the Platinum Rank Dungeon to fall for the Mindreapers magic.
This is why sleep is bad, I remarked to myself.
Reaching the eastern side of the city, Daniel and I began scaling a collapsed part of the wall to fully enter the Brilsum Ruins. I brought a foot over a large rock and halted mid step. I nudged Daniel who was a step behind me and placed a finger on my mouth.
The Human man blinked and glanced over at what I was gesturing at. Lying before me was a collapsed Ground Craver. The small, Level 23 monster lay unmoving on the brick street, its body gently raising and falling with each of its peaceful breath.
I swept my gaze around the rest of the street and spotted more sleeping monsters. Drakes, Gatho Mammoths, and other monsters— both big and small. This had been where the Mindreaper had been before it flew off to gather more monsters for its horde. I gave Daniel a look, once again non verbally trying to communicate with him, and he rolled his eyes.
“You know we don’t have to be quiet, right? We can’t wake them up.”
“Huh. I forgot about that.”
Daniel stepped past me, drawing his sword as he entered the street ahead, making his way past all the sleeping monsters without fear of waking any of them. Following behind him, I cast my gaze around the sky, looking out for any other Mindreaper that could possibly be close.
“Seems like we’re in an emptier part of the city.”
“Or we just got lucky and the other Mindreaper patrols aren’t here right now.”
We made our way around a large, sleeping Saeve, and carefully stepped over a smaller one that looked like its baby. I raised a brow as I identified it.
“Level 12. And it’s barely a child. You Humans sure level slow.”
“Most of us prefer to live in peace. Unlike monsters that are constantly fighting each other in the wilderness.”
“Not all monsters are hostile, you saw that with the [Ezrabs]!”
“Yeah, but they still have to fight to survive from hostile monsters. Humans do too, however we have cities and settlements to keep most of us safe. So, most people barring soldiers, adventurers, or guards have no reason to reach such high levels.”
“I guess that’s true…”
I trailed off, looking around at the ruined city. At the broken homes, buildings, and what were possibly towers that had been collapsed either from the destruction of Brilsum by the Oracle of Light, or eroded and destroyed by time. Or the monsters here accidentally bumped into it. There were plenty of explanations as to why so much of the city had been damaged or destroyed. But not all of it was completely lost.
Daniel and I came to a stop right before what was possibly once a grand building. Perhaps it had a gilded entrance, with a garden path leading to its front door. The insides would have been luxuriously decorated, with red carpets leading down every hallway and expensive paintings hanging around the walls. But now, it was just a plain, gray building. One of the few ones that remained standing.
“Think this could have been a Fairy temple?”
“I’m not sure. But I don’t think checking it is a good idea. We’re too close to where we started— not only will we be screwed if that Mindreaper does come back while we’re in here, but I don’t think a Fairy temple would be this… intact.”
I nodded and turned back, just making sure the speck floating in the air was still a speck. Daniel and I continued on, making our way through the haphazard streets, and keeping our eyes on the skies so we wouldn’t run into the path of the Mindreapers within the city. We passed through more broken buildings— some of them half standing, and others nothing more than piles of rubble— while keeping ourselves always close to the sides of the roads.
One time, neither of us spotted a Mindreaper who had been floating too close to the ground. We were only made aware of its presence when we felt the light rumbling caused by the mass of monsters following it. Daniel and I quickly threw ourselves into the nearest house. Its front door collapsed and the way was blocked, but there was a gaping hole in the side of the building which let us enter.
Pulling ourselves into a room away from the street, we waited, holding our breaths, for the monsters to pass. Daniel and I had considered the possibility of Mindreapers being able to sense our presence through magic alone. Perhaps they had a sphere of mana surrounding them, letting them see anything within it. We weren’t really sure how their mind magic worked, but we couldn’t be too cautious.
However, it turned out that our worries were for naught. The Mindreapers saw with their eyes just like most of the monsters in their hordes. So the procession of Gold Rank threats passed through the street without ever being aware that we were there. Once they were gone, Daniel sighed in relief.
“Honestly, why are they even doing this? The more I watch them, the less I think they’re avoiding the inner city and the more I think they’re guarding something within.”
I wrinkled my nose, bothered slightly by a strange smell. Standing back up, I faced Daniel.
“Maybe. Or they could just be building an army like you said. We don’t know what they want, and I don’t think you’d like my suggestion of just asking them about it.”
“No, they’ll kill us.”
“See? I knew you wouldn’t like it.”
I folded my arms in a triumphant way, shooting him a grin as I leaned back against a wall. Daniel’s eyes grew wide and he put a hand out.
Without warning, the wall behind me crumbled to dust. It collapsed to the ground into a pile of gray rocks, revealing another room within it. I blinked a few times and Daniel glanced warily out into the street.
For a moment, he held his breath, waiting for a rush of angry— but sleeping— monsters to come at us. However, the noise caused from the collapse was too sudden. Too soft. It wasn’t heard by anybody.
Daniel took a deep breath, placing a hand on his chest.
“Fuckign hell, I thought we were screwed.”
I cocked my head, not sure why he was speaking in English. I ignored that fact and peered down at the dust lying at my feet.
“Why’d that happen?”
“It’s because the buildings around here are old. They’re very fragile and most of their foundations are weak. You can't just touch anything, Salvos!”
“I had no idea…”
Trailing off, I looked at Daniel, eyes wide. He stared at me for a moment then his face softened.
“I didn’t mean to snap—”
“Wait, what’s that?”
I ignored him and walked into the room behind the now-collapsed wall. The Human man watched me go for a moment before mumbling something to himself.
Something had caught my eye in this room. In fact, it was the same scent I had sniffed from before, but it was stronger now. I saw something poking out from the corner of the dimly lit room— a brown object that almost blended in with the gray in the darkness.
But my eyesight was good, so I didn’t miss it. I activated [Ignition] and focused the flames to a clawed finger. I waved it in the air before me and narrowed my eyes.
I started and Daniel came to a halt behind me.
What I had seen was a leather boot. But it wasn’t just a boot attached to nothing. It was a brown boot that was still worn by a person. More specifically, a Human person.
The Human, whoever they were, was lying against a sturdier looking wall. They sat in a slanted position, dressed in ragged and tattered black clothing. In fact, if I hadn’t known any better and wasn’t able to sense trace amounts of mana from magical artifacts, I would have assumed they were wearing something similar to my torn Cloak of Shadows that now hung around my neck.
Normally, I would have prodded them or tried to speak to the Human, unless they were asleep. And if it was Daniel doing the sleeping, I might have done so anyway. But while whoever this was wasn’t Daniel, they also weren’t sleeping. They were lying against the wall not out of rest or any reason in particular.
They were just dead.
“Huh. So, Humans have been here recently.”
I spoke simply. Daniel took a step forward and immediately crouched over the body. He patted his arms around the corpse, his face furrowed.
“It’s cold but fresh. Obviously from an adventurer who tried to challenge this Dungeon. But the way he’s dressed…”
The Human man began fumbling through the body, trying to find something from it. I gave him a weird look.
“What are you doing?”
“Searching for something, anything. Maybe a diary.”
“You mean like your one?”
“Isn’t that supposed to be private?”
Daniel grimaced as he pulled out a bloodstained book from the inner clothes of the corpse. He turned to me and sighed.
“Usually, yes. But this man, or woman, is dead. I don’t think they care about anyone looking through their stuff anymore. And while it’s not unusual for people to die in a Dungeon, this is a Platinum Rank Dungeon.”
He said it as if I was supposed to understand what that meant. I didn’t. However, I tried to wager a guess.
“So only powerful Humans go here.”
“Or adventurers seeking glory. And those would announce to every Adventurers Guild they pass through that they’re going to challenge this Dungeon. But when I spoke to Edithe before we left, she said no one has ventured to this Dungeon in a whole year.”
I tapped a finger on my chin, understanding.
“You think this isn’t an adventurer then?”
“No. I think he might be one of your… friends from before.”
Daniel opened the book and spoke a word.
The page turned to a drawing. A large drawing that took up two whole pages of the book. It was of a circle filled with intricate drawings on its inside— a kind of glyph that seemed so familiar to me. A summoning circle.
I stared at Daniel with newfound respect.
“And you knew this person was a [Cultist] just from his clothes?”
The Human man rubbed his nose all too gleefully.
“Well, I do have a knack at spotting bad guys.”
“Is that a [Hero] Skill?!”
“Uh, no. He was just dressed like one.”
I blinked and glanced down at the dead [Cultist], remembering how I thought I was dressed like them. I pointed a finger at myself.
“Am I a bad guy?”
“As long as you don’t do bad things, you’re not one—”
The Human man was suddenly cut off. A loud crash resounded behind us. Dust blew up in the air as the ceiling of the previous room fell, without anything to support its weight. Daniel and I stared as the front half of the building fell into itself, rubbing and debris piling up with a violent clatter.
Instantly, I heard the sound of angry monsters bounding towards us in the distance. The heavy, rushed footfalls echoed in the other previously quiet street, filling the ruined city with a riotous clamor. Pointing at the collapsed half of the building, I faced Daniel.
“Is that a bad thing?”
“...yes. Yes it is.”