The interior of the Door of the Dead was almost the same as the outside; both mazes. Exactly like the Prison of the Dead, its hallways were 15 meters tall and 15 meters wide. In short, both of them felt the same to me.
At least it was so if you ignored the slight chilliness in here…and also the darker walls on the side.
Truthfully, the atmosphere within the Door felt oppressive to me though it might just be due to the overwhelming shade of black of around me. Upon entering the Door of the Dead, there was only one path laid open to us so we naturally took it.
For the next ten minutes or so, we didn’t encounter any enemies along the way as if this wasn’t the right way at all. Even so, we pushed onwards despite some lingering doubts. It was only at 30 minutes mark that something finally changed —we came upon a fork in the road.
On the wall in front of the fork, I noticed a wall of strange text that would have looked like ghost scrawlings had it not been for the fact that I recognized the some of the languages. In actuality, the wall consisted of all the languages used by the various races in the Prison of the Dead.
Because of the sheer amount of races, there was truly a wide variety of letters written in blood on the wall and just looking at them made my eyes swim. There was even a bunch of letters that looked like tiny crow’s feet mixed into the wall of text. Apparently, these letters belonged to the Abbadon Hellcats. However, because they were a rather uncommon race, I didn’t manage to encounter them at all.
Of all the languages scrawled on the wall, the devil letters were the easiest to spot because they were placed in the most conspicuous location.
Scrawled on the wall were the words [Solo] and [Team] for each of the paths. Both paths were different from each other in a number of ways but the most notable was that the [Solo] path was filled with an ominous black fog.
In a sense, the appearance of these two methods of advancement made sense. After all, there were two known ways of leaving the Door of the Dead, one was leaving by yourself when you reached four-stars and the other was barging into the Door of the Dead with a team.
Just to be thorough however, I had a three-star Abaddon Rodent proceed down the [Solo] path to test what would happen. Naturally, the poor rat that was chosen wasn’t the least bit enthusiastic about this idea. Paws shaking, it warily stepped onto the [Solo] path and to its delight…it was repelled. That’s right, that black fog actually blocked the rat from entering.
‘Did that mean that only the four-stars were able to proceed down that path? Either way, I can’t think of any other reason it would be rejected.’
“Hey, what are you all doing! Get back here!”
Just as I was mulling over the conditions for entry, Weslin yelled from behind me. Turning around to face the solo path, I found that three of the four-star rodents were actually trying to run into the solo path without my permission.
In the first place, they were positioned rather close to the solo path so the moment they sprinted for the path, no one was able to catch them in time. Most likely they felt that this was the one chance they had at freedom so they decided to ignore Weslin’s yelling and continue sprinting forward.
Right as those words left her mouth, the first four-star rodent caught up with that three-star lab rat and forcefully knocked it aside as it selfishly rushed into the path. The moment it stepped into the black fog however, it instantly vanished.
“Ah…” Almost at the same time it vanished, the sound of its panicked screams echoed down the bony hallways as if something had happened to it right at that instant. And yet, merely half a second later, that screaming stopped.
Next came the second ratman lieutenant. Just like the rodent before it, it rushed into the black fog after which we all heard a scream echo from within that only lasted for half a second. It was as if something had forcefully sealed its throat.
Just as the third lieutenant was about to step into the black fog as well, Weslin finally caught up to the deserter and with a vicious smack, sent the ratman who still had a delighted look on its face flying.
“Damned rats, can’t you all be more obedient like the dogmen!?” Still annoyed, Weslin violently kicked the giant rodent who was just about to climb to its feet and knocked it down once more. Another punch and kick later, she still had that pissed off look on her face.
Turning towards Habona, she seemed to have a slightly wronged look on her face. Knowing her, she probably wanted to perform well in front of Habona but things ended up backfiring instead. Because she let her guard down for one moment, we ended up allowing two four-star rodents to escape.
However, Habona didn’t seem to pay any heed to her at all and merely stood quietly by my side with a cold expressionless look on her face.
Those two rodents who rushed into the black fog just now, did they scream because they discovered something shocking? Also, the fact that their screams only lasted half a second was suspicious as well.
Somehow, it felt like neither of those rodents bumped into each other and furthermore, the fact that both of them were cut off like that was extremely suspicious as well. Was there some formidable enemy lurking about in the black fog? Were they killed right as they entered the black fog? Yet as I turned my gaze to the ground, I wasn’t able to find any trace of blood on the floor.
‘Well, whatever, the solo path isn’t something we should be researching right now. Rather than waste more on this, it’s probably time for us to enter the team path instead. As for the matter of those deserters…I should have those rodents be my scouts, fodders and main fighting force, hopefully they’ll be able to last a few minutes.’
Seeing the displeased look on Weslin’s face that screamed of a blood feud, I said: “Don’t think too much about that matter, just treat them as dead. It’s time for us to move on.”
Fearing that her lingering resentment might affect her ability to command, I reminded her once more, “Just remember to keep a closer watch on the remaining slaves, if those two want to desert then just let them be, it’s a good excuse to have the other rodents be our vanguard anyway.”
Having said that, I paid her no more attention and nodded to Habona. Seeing that, she started to herd the remaining rodents into the team path.
The path ahead of us was a flat one, at the very least I couldn’t see anything resembling a trap waiting for us ahead. However, just to be safe, I had the rodents continue leading the way. Either way, this was a one way road so no matter how dim witted those rats were, there was no way they would get lost.
As they continued their scouting, Weslin continued her unhappy sulk. Initially, I had her assigned to Westley’s side but because she wanted to prove herself and attract Habona’s eyes, she asked if she could join Evilin in managing the rodents. Thus, I had 4000 rodents placed under her command. Who would’ve expected that such a mishap would happen so soon after she was given command…for two four-stars to escape like that…
Truly, that mistake made her seem so inept that I couldn’t blame her for feeling frustrated right now. All this while, her eyes had never once strayed away from Habona and that was how two four-star rats managed to pull a fast one over her…regarding this incident, I had only one thing to say: ‘lesbians…’
With that change of formation decided upon, the four thousand rodent slaves were placed at the forefront of our army. At that position, it didn’t matter what kind of plans they had when there was only one direction they could take, forward. Given that we had the way back sealed up, there was no way they could escape in the first place.
As facts would have it, my decision to have the rats scout out ahead was right. Not long after we entered the team path, the rodents suffered a major loss.
Initially, our scouting proceeded rather warily but after 10 minutes of nothing happening, the rodents, for some inexplicable reason, decided to let their guard down.
It was at that moment that a strange bone pillar appeared in the middle of our path and nearly blocked it off completely. The pillar itself was roughly 10 meters wide and was completely made out of countless skeletons that connected the ground to the ceiling.
And yet those giant rats didn’t seem the least bit worried about this strange pillar and merely circled around it while excitedly chittered about it. In fact, some of the more daring rodents actually tried to touch the pillar and then…tragedy struck, naturally.
The moment one of them approached the pillar, countless bony hands sprang to life and promptly grabbed that rodent, bones clattering in an eerie fashion. From a distance, it almost looked like a bunch of tree branches were whipping out at the rodent, at least that would be the case if that tree was made out of bones and wasn’t a plant.
Receiving such an unexpected attack, it was only to be expected that these timid rodents would immediately panic and start running amok. A portion of them started running ahead while some of them tried to retreat. However, because there wasn’t much leftover space for them maneuver, knocking into each was unavoidable and a number of them ended up getting trampled to death.
“What’s going on?” From my position at the back, I still had no way of finding out what happened at the front. Thankfully, I had some devils and harpies dispatched beforehand to monitor the rodents and they functioned as my eyes in the front.
“Master, there’s an odd bone pillar at the front. Initially, it wasn’t active but the moment the rodents tried to approach, the bones suddenly attacked them…”
‘Bone pillar? Sounds like a strange construct indeed, up till now, I still haven’t heard of such a thing appearing in the Prison of the Dead. However, since it was attacking us, that meant it was an enemy.’
I anxiously rushed to the frontlines to check out this bone pillar for myself and found that despite all its attacks against the rodents, it had never taken a step away from that position. Thus, one could conclude that the bone pillar wasn’t able to move at all. Plus, its attack range was limited so long range attacks should be able to destroy it easily.
“Have the rodents settle down for a moment and retreat.” As I said that, I turned to the jittery lizardwoman who was still eager to prove herself. “Weslin, be patient for now, let me have a try first.”
“Alright.” She obediently went off to pass on the message. “All you braindead morons better get back here right away. That bone pillar can’t even move at all so what are you all afraid of?! Truly, how stupid can you potatoes be, the amount of comrades who died to your trampling is so much more than the amount who died to those undead hands!”
Hearing that, her stern attitude seemed to take effect as the Abaddon Rodents finally started to calm down after panicking for so long and started to retreat in an orderly fashion.
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