Chapter 77: Battle at the depths
Ruti and I returned to Lit and the others.
We were able to quickly reunite with the four people who were trying to catch up to us from behind. After telling them about our encounter and parting with Ares, Lit was overjoyed, Tise showed a slightly surprised expression while Godwin seemed like he couldn’t really catch what was happening.
“It is natural that Ares would summon a Spirit Dragon.”
Tise nodded to Ruti’s words.
I too recognize that Ares was humanity’s strongest spell-user but …
“I’m curious about Ares but I’m also worried about the person who was with Ares.”
The person apparently left Ares behind and advanced further underground. Their subsequent movements were unknown to us.
Tise mentioned that there was another person who was better than Ares in their ability to eliminate their presence.
We would have gotten an answer easily if we could ask Ares but I gave up on that idea since it was impossible to do so while he was in such a condition.
“What is the possibility that it is Theodora?”
Lit made the natural guess.
“Normally that would be the case but it is baffling that they would act separately. Theodora would never act alone in a dangerous area such as an Ancient-Elf ruin. Since she is the type to prioritize reason over her own feelings.”
“Ah~ that’s true, she does give off that feeling.”
The other person’s action does not tally with the thought process of Theodora that I was familiar with. Furthermore, I had never heard anything about Theodora having any knowledge regarding golems such as Iron Snakes.
Although operating golems did not require any skills, it requires a high degree of knowledge and fine magic control. In theory, all spell-users should be able to operate them but in reality, not many are actually able to operate them.
The reason why despite their high cost, the handy golems, which do not suffer fatigue and are able to be mass-produced, can’t replace the labor force was due to the difficulty in operating them.
“In that case, is it a new companion that Ares found after Ruti left the party?”
“That might be the case.”
We had returned to the room where Godwin placed his alchemic tools as we talked.
I started a fire and made herb tea inside a pot. Both Ruti and I needed some time to calm down. We remained silent for just a few minutes.
“Hey, until when will I be confined in this ruin? I can compound medicine in another town if that is all you need me to do.”
Godwin complained softly into the herb tea that was emitting white steam.
However, when Ruti turned over to look at him, he hurriedly corrected himself with “N-no, not even a month has passed since we came here so it is all right.”. I guess he was afraid of Ruti after all.
“I’ll think about it.”
Ruti concluded with that and meant that she felt sorry for Godwin’s condition but those feelings were not conveyed to Godwin at all.
Godwin became increasingly anxious thinking that she misunderstood and apologized profusely.
Tise and I watched his actions warmly when,
“Then … this is not related to Shisandan?”
Lit whispered to herself.
His presence totally skipped my mind from the shock of reuniting with Ares.
“But Ares-sama possess the Divine Protection of the Sage. He would notice a demon with no Divine Protection.”
“No, Ares will not ‘Appraise’ a person he met before. In Logavia too, he did not notice that Shisandan infiltrated as Gaius midway through.”
“Currently Shisandan is taking on Danan’s appearance right?”
If that was the case, it might not be strange if he was deceived.
“Then that would mean Shisandan prepared the Iron Snakes. For what purpose?”
I initially thought that he was looking for Ruti. It was easy to assume that the Demon Lord army was aiming for the Hero.
But Shisandan continued deeper into the ruin despite acquiring the knowledge that we were here through the Iron Snakes.
If he was planning a surprise attack using Danan’s appearance, instead of using Iron Snakes, it would have been better if he looked for us together with Ares.
“In that case, he has a separate goal. Rather than us, the Iron Snake was meant to investigate something inside this ruin.”
I nodded and agreed as well.
“That’s right, the squads led by one of the Four Heavenly Kings, Dreadna of the Fire, has been collecting weapons and treasures from ruins across the lands. Robbing ruins can be considered one of the Demon Lord Army’s strategy. There is a possibility that Shisandan came here for that sake.”
However, Dreadna’s squad only conducted their raids within the region controlled by the Demon Lord Army. Even though Zoltan does not have a large defense force, there has not been any precedence of the Demon Lord Army raiding ruins so far out from the front lines.
The mystery still remained.
“What’s wrong, Tise?”
“I sensed Ares-sama’s presence move. I faintly sensed another person’s presence as well.”
“What? Did they return from the deeper parts of the ruin?”
Lit stood up.
“If there is a possibility that it might be Shisandan, I can’t let it slip.”
“Yeah, it upsets me to have to meet Ares again but we’ll have to let him know if he is being deceived.”
Even if we have parted ways, we can’t leave it be if he is being deceived by an Asura Demon.
We set off in search for Ares.
However, we could no longer find Ares on that floor.
Ares was shocked by the sight in front of him and was at a loss for words.
It was a sight that did not match the Ancient-Elf ruin constructed with an unknown rigid substance.
The devices that were originally in the room have all been destroyed while stone coffins made from granite lined the room side-by-side.
Desiccated mummified bodies of Wood-Elves laid fully clad in armor and held to their chest Elf swords that still did not have a speck of rust after over a decade.
“Wood-Elves emphasize on the importance of circulating back to nature. Their custom is to place their dead in the forest after the ceremony to allow animals to eat them but I see, there is something ahead which they wish to protect even at the cost of leaving the circle of life and be forever bound.”
A grin appeared on the mouth of the tanned youth.
“We are near the Hero’s relic.”
Vague anxiety filled Ares’ chest.
Why are the Wood-Elves hiding the previous generation Hero’s relic? The 『Hero』’s relic should be a symbol of hope. What was the meaning behind strictly concealing its existence such that not even a single word remained about it?
The two of them advanced deeper into the ruin.
The Wood-Elves glared at the two of them with hollow eyes but Shisandan sneered at their actions while humming to himself.
The room was filled with hostility that coiled around them. It was so intense that Ares instinctively felt the chill.
However, they were not undead. Just corpses. In the first place, for the Undead that does not possess Divine Protection, they would not be able to harm the two of them no matter how much their physical ability was strengthened.
It happened just as they were about to step past the exit of the room.
The two of them were suddenly struck by a fierce wave of hostility. Shisandan reflectively drew his sword.
The next instant, an Elf sword came flying toward Shisandan. Shisandan held the sword he drew with two hands to receive the blow.
It was a sharp blow. Numbness remained in Shisandan’s fingers which held the sword.
“Who is it?”
One of the Wood-Elves sat up loudly.
And then proceeded to collapse to the ground.
Ares cried out. The man hiding inside the coffin grinned fearlessly.
“Shisandan, I was able to arrive before you because you took your own sweet time.”
Ares was confused. Danan came with him to this ruin so it was not strange that he would be here.
However, this Danan had many significant differences compared to the Danan which Ares met.
In particular, the lack of his right hand was a huge difference.
Moreover, he was confident that this was the real Danan because of the strong presence which he was exuding.
Ares finally understood.
The Danan that Ares though he reunited with was actually an imposter, it was this Asura Demon.
“Danan huh? So you’re actually still alive. You have as much life force as a cockroach.”
“Hahaha. That was perhaps meant to be sarcastic but I am proud of my cockroach or rat-like life force. That strength is also one of the strengths of living beings.”
Danan thrust his left arm out and slowly stepped into range.
“Oi, Ares. This guy is my prey. Don’t interfere.”
Shisandan’s expression did not show any complacency as Danan approached while enhancing his entire body for battle.
(The numbness in my fingers isn’t going away. Was it a martial art?)
Shisandan realized that the first surprise attack was meant for him to block it. He could not put strength into his trembling fingers and could only perform clumsy movements like a beginner who had just held a sword.
(He got me. It’s bad that both my arms are damaged now. Even after returning to my Asura Demon form, all six of my arms will still not be able to move.)
The Asura Demon is originally a demon with six arms but the damage they receive while in disguise will still remain.
If one of his arms was cut off in this state, it would be the same as cutting off three of his arms.
(But, you have lost your right arm too. I wonder if you can still fight properly.)
The moment Danan stepped into Shisandan’s attack range, the single-armed Martial Artist and the Asura Demon kicked off the ground and charged at each other at the same time.
Danan deflected with his left hand the sword which Shisandan swung down as he charged over.
The next instant, while still in the parrying position, like a whip, Danan’s left arm switched direction and caught Shisandan’s face.
Shisandan stumbled backward.
He immediately tried to raise his sword but Shisandan lost strength and fell to one knee.
Danan said as he looked down at Shisandan.
“I don’t intend to forgive you and will kill you here but I have to thank you.”
“Thank you for making me notice how lazy I’ve been with my left hand. I never would have known that my left hand could move like this if I didn’t try. Thanks to that, I am now stronger than you.”
Ares could tell from Danan’s combat style during their journey that he was not bluffing.
Even though it was absurd, this Martial Artist maniac actually became stronger after losing his right arm.