Vol 1 Ch 10: The Acolytes of Darkness

VIKTOR SURVEYED THE CULTISTS. He could tell that they were well-built for combat by their physique. These people were most likely the fighting forces of the cult. But why would they need that? They can summon Thirios.

“You over there, why are you carrying a Sporos on your back?” the girl asked Viktor. She tilted her head to the side as if to appear innocent and adorable. “Aw, no answer? Are you perhaps an alchemist?”

Second Lieutenant Hanafin continued to point her rifle at the man as she talked to them silently. “Cataron is no good either. We need to reach the fourth level and regroup with General Callahan at Groden.”

Viktor met the girl’s red eyes who was still grinning at him. Something about her bothered him. His gut told him never to put his guard down around her. It would make sense since her lackeys currently surrounded them. But he was sure that was not the reason. A foreboding feeling about her kept poking him, making his entire body react negatively toward her. Viktor was responding to danger.

Hanafin nodded to one of her subordinates, gesturing for them to get ready at her signal. She caught Viktor and Dimitry’s side glances to confirm if they were prepared as well.

A loud bang resonated behind Viktor after the second lieutenant started shooting at the cultist in front of her. Seconds later, the ear-splitting sounds of gunshots almost shattered his eardrums. They retreated to the empty elevator shaft, leading to a deep and dark pit that should be the fourth level of the mines. Two levels down from the floor they were in.

“We won’t survive that fall.” Unpleasant memories flashed back inside his head. He never liked pitch-black pits ever since he fell into one several weeks ago.

“I will but...” Dimitry fearlessly stepped at the edge of the ground. “You have a plan, second lieutenant?”

“No time to explain. Just follow me.” Hanafin let herself fall backward and disappeared into the shaft.

Wait. She’s serious? She obviously wasn’t scared when she jumped. Her lack of hesitation meant she was certain and confident with what she was doing. Was that really enough to trust her?

“It’s the pit or those cultists, Viktor.” The dwarf shrugged before following the second lieutenant nonchalantly.

“Hey! Wai—” He sighed, wondering how they could blindly follow her without an explanation. There might not be a lot of time for one but this was definitely insane — even for him. “Dammit.”

Breathing in, Viktor braced himself as he stepped towards the elevator shaft. He could hear the thundering beats of his own heart and feel the shivers on the back of his neck. To think I would be frightened by the darkness. For someone of his caliber to have such childish fears, it was nothing but shameful. This is ridiculous.

And so, he leaped downwards. Eyes closed, he was prepared to hit the ground or whatever was left of the fallen elevator. He did not know the dimensions of each floor, but he was certain it would be high enough to cause him lethal injuries or worse, death.

“You can open your eyes now, Sir Unfrid.” Hanafin’s smirking face greeted him. Her right hand was enveloped by a dim white light that seemed to flow towards the invisible force that caught him in midair.

He was floating, or rather propelled upwards, several inches above the rubbles of the previous elevator. His hair fluttered with the upward motion of the wind. It was only then that it dawned on him that Second Lieutenant Hanafin was an Arcane. “You’re a—”

“An Arcane? Yes. I suppose you don’t see a lot of us in your former country, no?”

Because I used to purge them. Viktor answered inwardly. He still couldn’t get used to the presence of Arcanas. Some part of him had the natural urge to be repulsed by it. Although, he wasn’t quite sure whether it really was repulsion or, perhaps, guilt.

Soon, the other soldiers appeared behind Viktor after he got off the empty shaft. Most of them were wounded but not too lethal to endanger their lives.

“Yes, General, I have lost contact with the Captain... Sir Unfrid is safe... yes...” The second lieutenant held her right ear as she talked. A purple light glowed between the gaps of her fingers. “We are on our way to Groden.”

“What is she doing?”

“I guess those are the recent military-issued earpiece. They use it for long-distance communication during missions.” The dwarf answered as if it was also the first time he had seen it.

“That’s correct. The royal engineers recently developed those a few months ago. Genius, right?” One of the soldiers started to explain how the earpieces work. Viktor, on the other hand, was not familiar with the words he was saying but understood that it worked like the telephone. “There were even rumors that the idea originally came from Princess Kristen. I guess that wouldn’t be far from the truth after that incident with Lady Henbur-”

A hand tapped the soldier’s back as Hanafin emerged behind him. “Stop spreading baseless rumors, Roland. There’s enough bad blood between the Alchemist and our General as it is already.”

“Incident with Lady Henbur?”

The second lieutenant shook the question off. “Ignore it. You should rather focus on getting out of here alive. Let’s go.”

Viktor treaded after her, stepping on a squishy object. He backed away before realizing that it was the decapitated corpse of Hanafin’s subordinate. He walked over it without taking another glance as they moved towards the adjacent tunnel.

The second lieutenant, however, took one last look at her fallen subordinate — the slightest hint of remorse in her eyes as she turned onwards.

* * * * *

Black particles were mixed in the air, blurring their visions. The soldiers held their rifles, prepared for whatever might pounce ahead of them. So far, they haven’t encountered any of the fully-formed Thirios yet.

Viktor couldn’t quite grasp the odd feeling which was bothering him ever since they’d entered this particular tunnel. Something invisible was prickling the back of his neck as if it was suggesting to be more cautious. He tightly gripped his gladius in response.

“How far are we from Groden?” Dimitry spoke to the second lieutenant.

“We just need to reach the sixth floor and ride the minecarts to the East. The elevator should be a few meters away past the intersection.”

A large cavern welcomed them at the end of the tunnel. Viktor still couldn’t shake off the eerie feeling he was sensing earlier. If anything, it seemed to worsen as they entered the seemingly empty chamber. And just as he was pondering about it, swarms of huge centipede Thirios crawled from behind the cave’s pillars and blocked their path ahead.

“Shit,” Hanafin cursed as she gestured for them to retreat. “We’ll have to find another route. Fall back!”

Suddenly, a shrill laughter reverberated through the walls. Viktor immediately knew where it was coming from. He turned at the soldier behind them as he muttered Hanafin’s name and rank. The tip of a blade protruded from his chest, twisting itself before his body fell forward.

“Sir Br-”

A black blur hastily charged at Roland, Hanafin’s youngest soldier. Her curved sword would have slashed his throat if Viktor wasn’t fast enough to parry it. It was the same black-haired girl from earlier. She hopped a few meters away from them with an intrigued and eager expression plastered on her face. “You’re quick.”

“Get your rifle and help the lieutenant. I’ll keep her busy.” Viktor handed the leather bag, where the Sporos is stored, to the young soldier. “Take care of that.”

“But Sir Unfrid, we’re supposed to keep you safe.”

“Don’t worry, kid. I’ll watch his back.” Dimitry rose his warhammer over his right shoulder, prepared to strike whenever he needs to.

Viktor kept his eyes on the little girl. He knew nothing about her and yet he could tell how dangerous she was. It wasn’t like him to put a defensive stance against an opponent. He was the one who usually strikes first. The one who draws first blood.

Here she comes.

The girl swiftly yet gracefully swung her swords, sending him a series of blows in less than a minute. Amusement was evident in her crimson-colored eyes as she watched Viktor parry and evade her attacks.

Dimitry jumped in and interrupted her next attempt just in time. “What’s a kid doing at a place like this?”

“Tch. What a nuisance.” She backed away once more — this time with one of her scimitars pointed at the dwarf. “Devour him.”

As they were told, some of the Thirios, which were focused on Hanafin’s group, shifted their attention to Dimitry and started to attack him.

“What the—”

“I don’t think she’s just a kid. I don’t quite understand it but she’s somehow similar to them.” Viktor was able to figure out what was bothering him. Every time he fought against the Thirios, his senses sharpen and his instincts somehow always kicked in. It was the same with this girl. That could explain why she was able to control them.

“Not everyone can immediately react to my movements. Or are you just lucky?” She twirled her blades in both hands as she casually circled Viktor while observing him. “Not that it matters, anyway. Your skull will be mine soon!”

Viktor barely dodged her next attack, allowing her to make a deep cut on his arm. He could read each of her movements and yet, even for him, she was simply too fast. However, it was very clear where she was trying to hit him — chest, abdomen, neck. He managed to dodge some of her attacks and barely got away with minor wounds.

How much longer? He knew he wouldn’t be able to just dodge and parry for the next couple of minutes. He’ll soon run out of stamina if he kept being on the receiving end. Drawing the hunting knife from his pocket, Viktor breathed out as he flipped the short sword in his dominant hand.

The girl was certainly faster than him even if he had the lighter weapon. He would need to get closer in order to attack. Luckily, Viktor slowly adapted to his unique instinct in predicting her movements. She only had speed as her advantage but he had several years of experience in warfare.

The battle continued, but Viktor regained his composure and was slowly gaining the upper hand. He managed to knock one of her swords over. Her amusement immediately changed to frustration, obviously confused as to how he was able to keep up with her.

“Who are you? No human should be able to remain standing before me! What did you do?!”

What did you do? Viktor remained silent, not wanting to waste the energy he had left. Her question did not make any sense and he did not wish to exhaust himself any further to answer it.

“Answer me!”

A bullet passed a few inches away from his head out of the blue — clearly meant for the little girl whose cheek was merely grazed by it.

“Viktor, quick!” Dimitry called him while he was holding off the few remaining Thirios with the soldiers.

“Don’t you dare escape!” The girl screamed as she chased after him before Hanafin’s subordinates fired their rifles toward her.

The second lieutenant was using her wind arcana to keep the monsters from blocking their way during their escape. After reaching the tunnel, she tossed a grenade behind them and completely blocked their enemy’s path with fallen debris.

Once they were sure of their safety, Hanafin checked on everyone making sure they were alright. “Sir Unfrid, are you sure you don’t need to rest? You’re covered with wounds.”

“I’ll live. We just need to get back to Lady Henbur as soon as possible.” Viktor’s arms had several cuts here and there. It does ache a little but the bleeding had already stopped a while ago. He had suffered worse injuries than these before.

He was more bothered about the girl earlier. Her combat ability and immunity from the hazardous gas were rather unusual, rather, it was inhuman. The fact that he was able to defend himself from her attacks was unbelievable itself. I’m not quite confident that the me a few months ago will be able to survive a battle with her.

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