87.1. Cultist Scheme
Trepidation coursed through my body— a tingling sense of nervousness hung around my neck. I had tried to reassure Daniel that everything would be fine, but I found myself doubting my own words now too.
This was supposed to be a Lair of Minotaurs. A place full of monsters that were like Haec if he were much higher leveled. They had killed many Platinum Rank adventurers who had stalked through these halls before. The dark, stone corridor was lit by nothing— only the creeping moonlight that seeped through the cracks in the rubble and the walls let us see in this eerie place.
And what we saw was this: nothing.
There was nothing here. The Minotaurs never came. The notification never came. I was not intuitively told that we were now in a Lair— that feeling of confirmation never settled in. So, I felt afraid. Afraid of what had happened.
“Daniel, where exactly did you say the Lair was supposed to be located at?”
I finally asked the question after we exited the dark hallway, finding ourselves standing in an open area. The ground here was covered in dust, but there was evidently dirt below that gray layer. Was this a garden? If it had been a garden, it would have been a well-kept one.
There was a marble fence crawling with vines— those thick green worms covering the entire surface of the broken mansion that was connected to the plot of land. Maybe there had been flowers instead of broken bits of stone protruding from a vibrant grassy earth. But now there was nothing but the destruction left behind by the Oracle of Light, Melissa, and the erosion of time itself.
After a moment of silence, as our gaze swept through the inner city hidden behind the tall walls circling our every direction, Daniel responded.
“I...I’m not sure. The information I was given told me that it was just deep inside the city. I had assumed it meant the inner city of the Brilsum Ruins, but… maybe it’s even further in?”
“Where else could their Lair be?”
Looking at him with a confused look, I tried scanning the area once more. My eyes glazed over the landscape as if it was smeared in oil. The oleaginous portrait was bleak and gloomy, the craters strewn about like porous holes on a face— it not something I wanted to look at for long. Especially since it almost seemed no different, or even worse off, than the city beyond the banclite walls.
However, my gaze finally settled onto a large structure in the center right of the inner city. It was a like castle, according to Daniel. And it rose from the ground like a steep cliff, its towers still partially standing although some lay fallen to the side, spilling out like the innards spread from a deadly wound.
But perhaps it had a high [Vitality], so the castle remained standing. Even despite the damage it had sustained from whatever magic was wrought to this earth. I raised a clawed finger and pointed at the structure.
“Do you think that’s where the Lair could be located?”
The Human man nodded slowly, his eyes flickering around as if he was searching for something.
“But that’s not our goal, right?”
“Right. We’re searching for the Fairy temple.”
Tapping a finger on my chin, I found my eyes breaking away from the broken castle and towards the rest of the area. I was taking a cursory look at the inner city, but I had almost already come to my conclusion.
“I don’t see anything that looks like a temple.”
“Yeah. It’s entirely possible that it had been completely disintegrated by Melissa when she came here. However, amongst crater 1 and crater 100, I’m not sure where we should start our search.”
I shrugged and took a step forward.
“It’s not like we’re in any rush.”
“Yeah, our biggest concern should be keeping quiet and staying alive.”
Agreeing with him, I led the way out of the ruined garden and into the damaged streets of the inner city. The cracked, cobbled streets brought us through the haphazardly placed city blocks; it was unlike the outer city’s regular layout of city blocks, with frequent intersections that cut perpendicularly into one another.
The discontinuous roads here would end at any given moment, bringing us face to face with a tall stone wall, or simply the side of a large house that was once luxurious in the past. Navigating through these overlapping rows of houses exacerbated by the uneven ground that held them made our task far more difficult than it had been in the outer city.
The outer city was nothing more than a ruined a mess, like the spilled remains of a wild Demon after a bloody battle, and it even had dangerous hordes of monsters led by powerful Mindreapers. I found that our search then had been far easier than now.
The looming feeling that something bad could happen at any time— whether it be more Mindreapers appearing out of nowhere, [Cultists] doing some kind of ritual, or Minotaurs— sat in the back of my head as I peered through the windows of a still-standing home. It was large, but it wasn’t designed anything like either the Sanctum of Elements or Sanctuary of Fauna had been.
So, we passed by it without even searching the interior of the building. Daniel and I crept through the inner city until day came, and the sun rose with it. The blue sky hung over us now, informing us that we didn’t have much time left.
Daniel and I stood at the edge of a crater, neither of us saying much since we began our search. Finally, I turned to him and addressed the biggest obstacle in our path— and the one that had been plaguing me ever since I met the man.
“So… you’re going to need to sleep soon.”
“And if you go to sleep, you’ll probably be controlled by those Mindreapers again.”
“That means we’ll have to leave. Going back through the outer city before we can come back and resume our search.”
I tapped a finger on my chin, in thought. Then I gave him a hesitant glance.
“Do you… do you think we should just try checking that building there before we leave?”
Daniel frowned and faced the tall, towering structure in the distance. The thing he had called a castle, although he wasn’t really sure if it was one. He was tired, so there was no witty comment or any outrageous reaction.
“The place where we think the Lair of powerful Platinum Rank monsters is at?”
I spoke simply, eliciting a sigh from him. He folded his arms and sat on the ground.
“We don’t have to leave yet, Salvos. Honestly, I can probably go another day or two without sleep if I really try. And I’d rather we return as soon as possible. But this just sounds reckless.”
“It is, maybe.”
Casting my gaze throughout the inner city illuminated by the light of day, it was a lot clearer now what each building were and would have been. And none of them seemed like they would be a temple.
“I just think that that’s the likeliest place we’ll find the Fairies. It’s like you said, right? If we want to be as efficient as possible, we have to start our search with places where we think they’re at. And while I’m not sure if that building is the Fairy temple, it has to have something.”
“…and something is better than nothing, right?”
I nodded eagerly, glad that he understood my point. My Human companion sighed once more, ruminating on what to do. After a moment of silence, he made his decision.
I brightened and stared at him with twinkling eyes.
“You mean it?”
“Yes. It’s not like there’s anything else we can do but wander around aimlessly. And why are you so excited, anyways?! We might die from whatever is in there.”
I spun around toward the castle.
“We can find some friendly Minotaurs and they’ll become our companions!”
“I’m sure that’s going to happen.”