After what seemed like hours of falling while being knocked between various rocks that fell along with me from the explosion, I spread my arms and legs, desperately trying to find anything to grab to stop myself from becoming a splatter mark on the ground. The speed at which I was dropping kept me from stabilizing myself on my own, but fortunately, my right hand was able to latch onto a jutted tree root. Unfortunately, that was also the arm that had been dislocated not too long ago so the sudden jolt sent a sharp pain up my arm that made me wish I’d just fallen flat on the ground instead.
Dangling helplessly by my right arm that felt as if it were going to rip off at any moment, I desperately sent Sylvie a mental transmission.
Sylv. Are you there? I fell quite a bit aways but I’m still okay. Do you sense where I am?
I waited for a minute but there was no response—I couldn’t even sense my bond. I immediately began worrying that something had happened to her, but with the queen snarler dead and the rest trapped inside the dungeon, it was unlikely. It was more reasonable to conclude that I was either too far down, or that this area was warded off and sealed from the outside, or more accurately, the surface.
By the extent of my drop, I doubted I was on any of the immediate floors below it, causing me to wonder if the explosion had unveiled a hidden passage to some room somewhere inside the dungeon.
Thinking back on the explosion caused by the mutated queen snarler, I couldn’t help but think how odd it had been. The blast was large, but I got the feeling that the explosion wasn’t meant to kill whoever was near it. If that were the case, my body, along with Professor Glory’s, would be in a much worse state than it was now.
“Ugh,” I groaned as I continued hanging off my limp arm, feeling myself lose grip. I let out a couple quick breaths to ready myself before I used the remaining strength in my right arm to pull myself up just enough for my left arm to take its place.
Through gritted teeth, I resisted the temptation to just let go and leave it up to God or the gods or any gods, whatever they worshiped in this world, if any.
After a quick assessment of my body’s condition, which was in fairly good shape besides my right shoulder, I tried to survey my surroundings, except all I could see was darkness. It wasn’t as simple as it simply being dark; it was pitch black. That feeling of when you shut your eyes so hard that it seems like different lights were oozing around in your vision or that feeling where no matter how hard you squinted, your eyes couldn’t adjust—that was what I was feeling right now.
As I activated my mana rotation, I dispersed the mana I had covering my body to only my left arm. I had to use this “break time” to gather as much mana I could. Augmenting what little mana I had into my eyes in hopes to see something, I was rewarded with only darkness.
I’m not blind… am I? I couldn’t help but think to myself as I augmented my eyes again.
Just to comfort my needless worry, I break one of the most basic rules in situations like this. I produced a small fire on the tip of my right index finger.
Looking at the warm red and orange flicker of fire on my fingertip, I breathed in relief before extinguishing the flame.
While vision was an important thing, the last thing I wanted to do in a dark place like this was draw attention to myself. Now that the enemies here, if any, knew of my location, I needed to move.
Since I couldn’t see, I used wind to sense the type of space I was in right now. I had no idea how narrow or wide this hole that I was in was, but I assumed it wasn’t too wide since I hit quite a few objects along the way while falling.
Sending out short, soft bursts of wind, equidistant, around me, I figure out that this ditch, for a lack of better words, had a diameter of about 10 meters. The scary part, however, was that I couldn’t even sense how far down I was and how much further I had to go down until I had a floor to walk on.
What I had to decide now was whether to try and climb back up or make my way down. By how much I fell and all of the other debris that fell down along with me, chances were that the opening at the top would already be covered. With Sylvie not answering from outside, I had no way of knowing if she could open up an exit for me.
That only leaves me with going down.
No matter how rational and level headed I was, I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious in this situation. More so than the immediate dangers in front of me, a situation like this, where I couldn’t see anything or even sense any life forms, made me more edgy. In the case where the army of snarlers was in front of us, I knew what I had to do and I could think of how to deal with it. Right now, I could neither imagine nor predict what might happen in the next couple of seconds, making me all the more tense.
Augmenting both my hands with earth attribute mana, I’m able to bury my hand into the side of the giant abyss-like hole, creating a handhold for myself. I positioned myself flat against the side with both my hands dug into the wall to keep myself from falling.
In a steady motion, I pulled my augmented hands out of the side of the wall and allow myself to fall before I clawed my hands into the wall again to stop. The amount of stress it put on my arms made me cringe every time but this would be the fastest way to make my way down.
Gripping, letting go, gripping, letting go, gripping, letting go. I had to keep my body flat so I don’t start falling away from the wall. I also couldn’t wait too long before I had to grip the wall again because it would be a lot more dangerous to try and slow down after picking up too much speed.
I let out pulses of wind every now and then to try and see how much farther I had to go down. Even after around 3 hours of gripping and letting go, according to my internal clock, I had yet to sense a floor anywhere close beneath me.
How deep is this fucking hole? Without even the luxury to vent my frustration aloud, I was left to rant inside my head using words even the most vulgar of adults would find inappropriate.
I knew that everyone warned adventurers about the dangers and unpredictability of dungeons but both the Dire Tombs and even this supposedly low-level dungeon had proven to cause me more trouble than the times I adventured with Jasmine without the use of magic.
I mean, what were the chances that the one time I go to a D class dungeon supposedly filled with E class monsters, a freaking army decides to welcome us on the first floor?
The minion snarlers hadn’t even been that bad, to be honest. We were stupid for using so much fire magic when we had no ventilation but I had handled most of them without even using mana.
That mutated queen had been the problem. How the hell did she get so strong? Was it because she ate the other queen? Was it even possible to just get instant power-ups like that?
As I continued debriefing to myself the events that occurred earlier, I kept gripping and letting go of the stone wall, falling down further into who knows where I was now.
I let go of the wall and fell down, timing myself before burying my augmented hands into the wall again. However, unlike before, my hand wouldn’t go inside.
I desperately tried clawing at the wall but even with the augmentation in my hand, I wasn’t able to make even a scratch into the wall.
The surface of the wall was different now. It was smooth—too smooth to be natural.
I was picking up speed as I persistently tried to bury my fingers into the wall, hopelessly.
This isn’t working.
Careful to make as little noise as possible while I continued falling, I rhythmically let out pulses of wind around me, as a sort of makeshift echolocation. Through sending out faint pulses and measuring how long it took before it hit a surface, I could locate, in my head, potential footholds and handholds to make my way down.
Easier said than done. The theory worked great in my head but trying it without practice proved harder than I imagined. There were few handholds I could try and hang myself from but my makeshift echolocation technique wasn’t as accurate as I wished it would be.
I ended up narrowly missing a lot of the potential supports and it just became harder as I picked up speed.
Fortunately, I still didn’t sense the floor anywhere close to me so I had time, but if I fell down any faster, even if I could grab onto a support, I wasn’t sure if my arms would be able to take the stress from the abrupt stop.
As I continue fumbling my arms against the wall to search for anything that may slow down or stop my fall, I was finally able to sense the ground.
Damn it… This isn’t good.
I had about 200 meters before my body became a puddle on the ground. That left me with about… six seconds?
Damn it all.
Turning around so that the wall was to my back, I gathered all the mana I saved up ’til now. It would take about 4 seconds to focus enough mana into the spell.
Wind Bullet. Stretching my arms out in front of me, I unleash a barrage of fist-sized bullets of compressed air to the other side of this giant hole I was in.
If I could create enough force to push myself back against the wall, I would be able to slow down enough to survive the fall. I no longer cared about keeping noise to a minimum.
The air bullets boomed as they collided into the wall about 10 meters away from me, My body pressed harder and harder against the wall behind me from the recoil of the spell, and I couldn’t do anything besides grit my teeth as I felt the back of my uniform and my skin burning off due to the friction.
I could feel myself approaching the backlash stage but I just desperately let out all of the mana I could muster up while using mana rotation. As the air bullets continued colliding against the other side, pushing me back harder and harder into the smooth wall, I approached the ground.
I see a faint light!
“AAHH!!” I felt myself slowing down as the burning pain coursing through my back became numb.
Two meters before I reached the ground. I let out one last, large pulse of compressed air straight below me.
My eyes bulged and the only sound I could make was a painful cough as I met the ground, a jolt shooting straight up my body.
I rolled forward as soon as I could, trying to spread out the pressure as much as possible, but it wasn’t enough.
Head spinning, I struggled to stay conscious as my vision blurred.
As I lifted my head up from the ground, faint lights illuminated the area, allowing my blurring vision to get a sense of where I was. I seemed to be in a passageway of some sort, with small lights along the sides. Further down the hall came a brighter source of light.
“Wh-Who’s there?” a female voice echoed.
When I open my mouth, only coughs came out.
I tried answering the frightened voice but again, my voice failed me.
“Please… I need help,” she murmured.
Again, nothing came out as my vision continued to fade in and out. I tried getting up but utterly failed.
“…Hold….on.” My voice came out raspy and weak but she heard me.
I heard harsh, forced breaths from her before she replied with a weak, “Okay.”
Sylvia’s dragon will was working wonders as I felt my body healing itself. My back was scorching from sliding down the wall and my legs felt like they’d been torn apart and taped back together, but I was able to stand up within thirty minutes.
Looking around to where I landed, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the complete darkness that loomed above me from where I came from. Around me were shattered stones and, I think, a limb of the queen snarler that exploded. Near the limb though, my eyes noticed a reflection coming from under a pile of rubble.
Making my way there slowly, a smile crept up on my face as I realized what it was. My sword! Good old Dawn’s Ballad was soon retrieved and safely back inside my dimension ring after digging it up and pulling it out of the shallow pile of rocks on top of it. I put the torn limb of the mutated queen snarler inside my dimension ring as well, hoping to study it if I ever made it back up.
Thinking optimistically, I realized I wasn’t in too bad of a shape. I managed to slow myself down enough so I didn’t have any broken bones. The shock went through the spine and rattled my brain, making me almost lose consciousness but considering the circumstances, I felt like it could’ve been a lot worse. My mana was now beginning to recover and with my legs functioning, I made my way to the voice that seemed to have gone silent.
“Hello?” I walked through the passageway, using the wall as support.
“I’m… here.” The voice seemed even weaker than it had been half an hour ago.
Making my way towards the growing light at the end of the hall, I called out to her again.
As I reached the end of the tunnel, my vision took a few seconds to adjust from the change in brightness after being accustomed to utter darkness for so long.
“This… cough… way.”
Before I could respond, I almost fell back as I stumbled in horror from what I witnessed.
The warzone created by the hundreds of snarler bodies scattered and piled on top of each other seemed like it was from a children’s picture book compared to the scene that I couldn’t seem to peel my eyes away from.
Corpses. Corpses of humans, elves, and dwarves lay dead and some in pieces around the cavern that would’ve been considered beautiful otherwise.
The once green grass-like moss spread over the ground was dyed red while the stream crossing through the cavern had floating bodies with blood spreading around them.
There were around forty-fifty corpses spread out in the cavern with their weapons next to them. The damage done to their bodies revealed torture as some had their limbs torn apart and others had cuts all over their beheaded bodies.
I heard her cough again. “Are you… still there?” The weak voice came from my left.
“I can’t see… oh…” My heart dropped and I couldn’t even finish.
The woman that was lying against the wall of the cavern was probably in a worse state than the carcasses spread around, split apart.
The woman, an elf, it seemed, had most of her limbs torn off. Where her right arm and both legs should’ve been were holes, cruelly sealed by burning the wounds. Her eyes were gone as dried blood that streamed down from where her eyes were stained her cheeks. In the woman’s abdomen, right where her mana core was, a sleek black spike was impaled through her and once again, sealed.
“You… How?” I dropped to my knees in front of her as I inspected her. Looking at her carefully, I felt like I’d seen her somewhere. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I recognized her face. Where did I…
The Six Lances… The Six Lances! She was one of the six strongest mages in all of Dicathen, chosen to represent the Continent.
“You’re one of the six lances!” I couldn’t help but sputter out.
“Indeed I am…” She let out a ragged sigh.
“As for how… If you’re asking me how I’m still alive in this state, it’s because he left me alive.” Her eyebrows furrowed and the dried blood crusted in between her eyelids crumbled, letting out a faint stream of fresh blood from where her eyes once were.
“He?” I felt like I was asking stupid questions but I was so lost.
“Yes, he. He called himself Vritra.” With her left hand, the only limb she had left, she slowly reached for something behind her and pulled it out.
Inside her hand was a sleek black stone fragment of some sort. As I squinted my eyes and analyzed it, I was suddenly reminded of my time with Sylvia.
As the memory clicked and the pieces were put together in my head, my hand squeezed tightly around the black shard as my whole body shook from anger.
I remembered why this black stone looked so familiar.
It was part of the horn of one of the black-horned demons that Sylvia first disguised herself as, and also the very species that killed her.