As we moved through the forest, the only sounds were our intermittent banter and the rustling of foliage against our bodies.
Koujiro’s charm worked like… well, a charm. After feeling the rage overtake my senses temporarily, I had just enough will to hold myself back as Saki approached. Seeing her before me cooled my tantrum despite the darkness incessantly gnawing within me.
Having tasted the attacks from Saki in that state, I couldn’t succumb to it myself. Who knew how it would impact my already nasty strikes that took advantage of an enemy’s weakness? The deep cuts that gouged into Willingham’s body not long ago hinted at the ominous possibilities.
Bringing Koujiro, despite his various annoyances, had saved my bacon. The divine charm that he handed to me created a cooling effect around my neck as I put it on, which slowly spread to the rest of my body like the vapors of a popular chest rub. Although lacking a scent, the cool sensation nonetheless felt like it wafted everywhere until I was virtually standing in a cloud of it.
“Are you sure that you are completely fine?” Saki shot me a glance filled with worry as we continued our trek forward.
“Surprisingly, yes. Though… I should probably hold myself back and let you guys do the fighting next time.”
By now, enough time had passed that I had divulged the reason for my previous state of aggression. Saki nodded in understanding for she had felt a similar bloodlust against those who purposefully inflicted harm in her previous world. Just another thing that we secretly had in common with each other.
“I think… I should be able to keep myself together next time. Already took my rage out on them and all…”
Certainly, I was shocked by the sudden appearance of the same golems that had destroyed my home. What possible reason would they have for being here? Was it just some fluke?
My concentration broke as Koujiro yelled out to us.
“What? Another wave of ‘em coming straight for us! That’s sudden!”
Saki and I got into our fighting stances as we scanned around for them to appear. About ten seconds later, the first of them trampled through the forest ahead, gliding low with their wings.
This time, we moved in our pre-planned formation. Koujiro charged forward with his holy sword, attracting the faceless white beings towards it. With a swift bash to deflect them in another direction, their limber bodies and ethereal wings spun around right into the path of either Saki or me.
According to Koujiro, these beings focused on one target at a time, whoever drew their attention with a strong presence. The gaudy warrior essentially lit up like a homing beacon to attract golems like moths to a candle flame.
Once they were batted away, their attention remained focused on him while the other two of us moved in for a deadly strike. With the decisiveness of our blows, there was no time for the golems to register a new target before their bodies were demolished. The other golems seemed to ignore the crushed and severed parts that flew about, telling us that they moved autonomously.
Koujiro could focus on defense while the ground around him was littered with golem bodies struck by one-hit KOs.
“There we go! Much easier with a capable team! Even the strongest hero has difficulty going solo at times. Perhaps, the world decreed this island as insurmountable without a raid party of Electi.”
From his banter on the ship, Koujiro had faced this island with his wives. But even then, they simply couldn’t do enough damage before they were swarmed. The Gods of this world must have been hiding something pretty serious if it required several Electi to band together to advance. The gamer side of me couldn’t help but anticipate something grand awaiting…
‘Though… I could do without a raid boss.’ Saki didn’t seem particularly eager to linger much more than was needed here. Her face held a slight scowl of annoyance with every enemy smashed apart. When we returned, a proper thank-you gift was due for helping out. Of course, with this being a direct favor for the Queen, the sky was the limit.
After several minutes, our game of ‘bounce and whack-a-golem’ finally concluded. It was amusing that such dangerous enemies essentially became a game by the end of it. Advancing forward once again, it wasn’t long before the lush nature of the forest cleared, and the mountainous center of the island greeted us.
Though we saw it from afar, it loomed menacingly high from where we stood. Fortunately, we were going into it rather than scaling it.
“Dungeon time, my good fellows.” Koujiro’s sword pointed straight towards a cavern that blatantly looked like where we should be going to harvest ores.
“Hopefully, we don’t get swarmed there. Can’t be much room for error.” I eyed the entrance with caution. The island had already sent two waves of defenders against us, almost as if we triggered its defenses at periodic intervals. No other golems were seen in between.
“On that point… I have no clue!” Koujiro gave us a dramatic shrug. “Never got this far before. But I have a feeling – everything will be ‘daijoubu’, of course!” A falsetto voice imitating a magical girl gave extra emphasis on the ‘daijoubu’ and included a victorious fist pump. With that, he stepped fearlessly into the dark tunnel, the walls now illuminated by the glow of his sword.
I felt like bludgeoning the guy as I could picture him saying the same thing as the world around him burned. Just by adding a ‘This is fine!’ sign, it would be complete. I held myself back and simply followed him in.
My mind kept wandering to pointless thoughts as we traversed the empty passageway.
What would lie in waiting beyond the next corner? When would there be another monster ready to attack?
After playing so many video games, my expectation of random encounters within unexplored territory betrayed me. Frankly, there had never been an excess of wild creatures waiting to claim the lives of adventurers. Unlike enemies that scaled up as one progressed through a game, the strongest of them rarely hit tens of levels. Truly powerful monsters were few and far in between, with humans at the top of the food chain. More or less, monsters stayed away from civilization except for rare occasions.
For that reason, it was strange to see so many powerful golems that could give any one of us a run for their money in such a place. If any monsters had existed, they were probably driven to extinction by the vastly superior golems.
Still, it wasn’t like they needed nourishment. Those that we defeated seemed to be powered by some kind of core imbued with magic. Like the giant one that tried to cross from the Northern Empire, it reeked of a man-made creation. But then, who had made such a thing and for what purpose?
“Hey, would you look at that?” Koujiro’s voice bounced through the tunnels.
Looking around, I noticed that the cavern walls started widening. Before long, the tunnel fully opened up into an enormous room.
“An entire city could fit here, couldn’t it?” Saki, who had been mostly quiet during the journey, finally commented.
The ceilings reached so high that it seemed impossible that we were inside of a mountain. With a single beam of light falling upon the center, only a portion of the cavern was illuminated. Yet, the walls were recessed so far away from the light that it made the area seem even bigger.
As Koujiro walked forward, the area around him suddenly gave off the same light that was coming from his sword. Spots of blue dotted all around him like they had lit up to grace his arrival.
“These are… Resonance Stones? Looks like we’re in the right place!” His voice grew excited at this realization. A treasure trove of the stones we needed were lying about, just waiting to be harvested.
‘But would we find one large enough to power a transport gate?’ That was what I wondered as I scanned the surroundings. The stones around us were too small to suit the job. Understanding that, Koujiro scampered around the area as we followed the dots of divine energy that lit up wherever he went.
“Here… maybe here? No, here!” The Macali King zigzagged from place to place looking for a glow that was larger than most. Finally, he stumbled upon some of suitable size, just before entering the beam of light falling upon the center.
Bending down to jostle it from the earth, he found it impossible to move. After grinning at his futile struggle at being a miner, I patted Saki on the back.
“Show him how it’s done.”
Saki walked over and casually swung her mallet against the side of one Resonance Stone jutting out of the ground. With a sharp crack, the stone separated and rolled a few times before settling. I reached down and lifted one side up, finding it to be quite heavy. A stone slightly larger than what Katalina wanted felt like a hundred pounds.
Luckily, that was what the Item Box was for. I opened the entryway for the nifty space saver, and together, Saki and I rolled the stone in. Strangely, a stone that heavy barely changed the weight of the actual box holding everything in pocket space. Science had a hard time explaining the distortions caused by magic at times, so I learned to shrug it off.
And in such a manner, we collected a few more in case Katalina had other uses for them later.
“Well, mission complete, right? Better get off the island before more of them show….” My voice trailed off as Koujiro’s sword hovered toward the direction of the light.
“There’s a powerful signature over there. I wanna check it out.”
‘Uh oh. Why did a flag get raised just now?’
Not satisfied with his adventure just yet, Koujiro stumbled onward with his sword being pulled forward like a dowsing rod. Since we couldn’t have done this without his help, I decided to humor him despite the strong grip on my shoulder and disapproving look that Saki gave me.
“I’ll set up a portal near the end of the cavern for insurance,” I reassured her, pulling out the portal gun and setting up a quick escape path. Even if something decided to jump out at us, all we needed to do was to dive into the portal and make a break for it.
Catching up to Koujiro after the preparations, we noticed that he stopped right in the middle of the light column where the ground was white as snow. His eyes were drawn downwards as he slowly paced around in a circle.
Before we bothered to ask him what he found, traces of markings on the ground caught our eyes. As we walked up to them, I could feel a distinct difference in the atmosphere. A sensation, similar to the charm I was wearing, emitted from the ground. It was so thick that even those who weren’t attuned to this sensation would notice the difference.
“Something is here…,” Koujiro muttered.
“Well, duh, Captain Obvious. But the question is what?”
I couldn’t tell what the markings meant. It was in a language that I had never seen before. If only I had bothered to borrow a Light Box, I could have taken some pictures or something. The most I could do was to take out my notebook and crudely copy some of the lines down. Though I didn’t really know where the text started or ended, a few scribbles was enough to search out someone that might know what was inscribed here.
Koujiro watched silently as we studied the markings, letting his sword droop to the ground. The tip clinked lightly against it, echoing across the caverns. Like it had been a signal that called forth what had been sleeping here, the atmosphere of divinity suddenly turned sick. A sudden wave of miasma flooded the surroundings and purged the gentle feeling from before.
“Everyone, get to the por-“
My words halted as miasma wrapped around the portal and blocked the mana supporting it. In an instant, the portals went ‘poof’, having been cut off from my mana. ‘Well, there goes the escape plan.’
Saki gave me a dirty look like, ‘I told you so,’ before we turned back to see something emerging from the middle of nowhere.
A white head stuck out from a crack in the space where there should have been nothing but air. Giving a shrill cry, its arms clawed its way through before the rest of the body popped out. Unlike the previous golems, this one was adorned with impressively strong features, rather than lanky limbs like the others. With an armored body and a much grander set of wings, it drew what appeared to be a sword filled with darkness that countered the divine sword that Koujiro possessed.
The source of miasma that suddenly wrapped around us came from it. This miasma spread to the Resonance Stones scattered around the area and seemed to weave a mesh of darkness around us. Tapping one portion of it with my knife, I confirmed that it had created a cage to lock us three from escaping. Slicing it didn’t help as the opening was sealed up almost instantly.
Unless we beat this thing, none of us would live.