The Black Blood Queen Ant wasn’t all that interested in things of beauty. It cared not for the intricate carvings on the wall, nor did it care about the radiant torches which seemed like they could go on burning till the end of time. Having stepped through the gate not too long ago, it stopped; there laid three branching paths of which the middle one probably led to the main hall. The left path had no marking whatsoever so there was no way to tell where it led to. The last path was decorated with a bunch of withered flower pots.
By looking at those flower pots, I roughly knew where I now had to go.
“This way.” I pointed out the direction for the queen ant who simply followed my instruction emotionlessly. At this point, she had basically accepted her fate and was probably just hoping that we would let her go after all this.
In that sense, she was only partially correct. From the very beginning, we weren’t planning to do anything to her once all this was over. In fact, it was basically a done deal that we would let her go after this, though whether or not she could even make it back to her own hive now was something we didn’t know nor care about.
The insides of this castle city was basically the same as the outside, devoid of any life. In all likelihood, the pristine condition of this building was probably because of some magical array freezing the effects of time. However, while it could prevent the building from crumbling, it couldn’t stop the plants from withering in their pots. Without anyone to care for them and without the soil to nourish them, the plants ultimately died off…which was a shame really. One had to know how rare plants were in Purgatory, especially ones like these that couldn’t absorb the fire elements in the air.
Even though there were multiple roads branching off into the distance, there was only one path that was decorated with pots. It was this path that we took and walked down for nearly 30 minutes before reaching a garden.
At the very beginning, I was worried that Nola wouldn’t be able to fit inside the paths, given how massive she was. However, I soon found out that even the internal hallways of this castle were so huge that they could fit two Nolas walking side by side.
Yet the surprises didin’t stop there. When I was expecting an ordinary courtyard garden, I was instead met with a scene that…well, didn’t feel like I was stepping into a garden at all but rather into a primeval jungle. Had it not been for the lack of towering monsters and strange beasts…I would’ve honestly thought that I had transmigrated once more.
Throughout this path through the garden, there would be intermittent braziers lighting the way ahead at set intervals. In spite of that however, walking down this path was a harrowing experience because the braziers themselves weren’t that radiant to begin with. It was as if we were walking through some dark tunnel into the abyss, truly a surreal experience.
Having walked to the edge of this garden, I witnessed a sight that shouldn’t have been possible in Purgatory at all. By now, we were already on the outer edges of the mountaintop, in other words, the garden was definitely outdoors. Yet what entered my eyesight was a dense mish mash of ancient plant life that entwined together to form a dome that blocked out the sky.
Once more, it had to be said that it felt more like we had entered another world than the garden of a Devil King. Never had I ever seen such colossal plants that could even cover the sky. Cutting through the black igneous ground were tiny streams of lava that, instead of harming the plants, seemed to feed them like normal water would. At that point, I had No.3 test out the warmth of the streams —they were the same as those outside albeit a little higher.
‘Really, how do these plants even survive like this?
Sweeping my eyes across the scenery, I was immediately struck by how many thorned roses there were. Roses formed the majority of the plant life here and came in a variety of colors from the more common red, pink and white, to the more unusual, light yellow, deep purple and black. Not only that, there were numerous vine like plants that were mostly as thick as an adult’s thumb, all just as thorny as those roses. The moment the Black Blood Queen, who was still at the forefront, approached the vines, they actually struck out at her…
Fortunately, these vines weren’t all that strong so their attacks merely bounced off her outer shell harmlessly. However, the same couldn’t be said for her abdomen where her protective shell wasn’t as thick. To make matters worse, the vines coiling around her back section had steadily grown to the point where they were now able to lift her into the air. If I had to describe the scene now, she was a like young girl who had been shoved into pile of writhing tentac–ahem, either way it’s a strange sight that nearly traumatized me.
Unable to fight back, the Black Blood Queen Ant was dragged nearly two meters off the ground. By now, only a tiny section of her body and head were visible amidst the coiling vines. That, however, didn’t stop the queen ant from pointlessly struggling while calling out to us for help.
This strange garden wasn’t as simple as it looked; that much was made abundantly clear to me. Thus, in order to have her be our vanguard for a few more times at least, I immediately had No.3 and Big 4 rescue that queen ant while I myself swiftly grabbed Nola and Cinderel, that adorable little black puppy, and ducked behind Nola’s front claw. Should anything happen, Nola was definitely the best shield against danger we had. It was then that Sinmosa and Sasani rushed over as well to protect us.
Wings flapping furiously hard, the two devils rushed to the side of the queen ant and surrounded her, one on the left and one on the right, before breathing a stream of flames at the vines. While the vines themselves fed on lava, the flames of a Infant Flame Devil weren’t as lukewarm as some old lava stream.
Unable to resist the flames No.3 and Big 4 created, the vines writhed about violently for a few seconds before they finally had to let go of their bounty. The queen ant promptly crashed into the ground belly first, having lost the support of those coiling vines.
She cried out in pain and there, where her body came into contact with ground, I could see a number of cracks spreading out from the point of impact. Moreover, from where those thorn vines coiled around her lower half, black insect blood started flowing out. Thankfully, those thorns weren’t poisoned so the bleeding mostly stopped after we let her rest on the ground for a while.
During the time she let her rest, I carefully inspected our surroundings. I discovered that this garden wasn’t as devoid of life as I had first assumed. There was a certain species of bee-like insects, roughly the size of a pinkie, crawling about the plants. My guess was that they fed on pollen since I once saw them enter a flower and crawl out with a powdery substance on their person.
Naturally, not every insect was so lucky. There were those bees whom I saw enter a flower but never leave as the moment it did so, the flower petals actually closed up and swallowed…
At that point, I bent down to inspect the carnivorous flower and found that there were basically no distinctions between the ordinary flowers and those that ate insects… ‘A disguise? Was that how it lured those bees into its mouth? In that case, were those vines one that coiled the queen ants one of its methods as well?’
Once more, I was shown how fantastical the life forms in Purgatory were, even the plants.
‘A flower that disguise itself and vines that can attack creatures…I wonder what else is waiting for us in here? Dang it, is it so hard to find a Fallen Angel statue?’
‘Speaking of statues, I think I found one…right over there, not too far away from where we are …though it’s currently wrapped up in countless vines and only the tip of its wing can be seen. If I hadn’t taken the time to look around, I honestly would have missed it. Assuming that’s the only statue in here, then I think that’s the statue I’ve been looking for!’
“Mama, Mo Na found something strange.” By now, it wasn’t just me who had noticed that statue. Mo Na, who had been riding on my neck all this while, had spotted it as well and was pointing at it with her finger. “Mama, is that the statue you’re looking for?”
“Mhm…I think that’s actually it…” Realizing that it really might be the goal I was seeking all this while, a rush of blood clouded my mind. Unable to resist the excitement anymore, I unknowingly started walking forward, disregarding any potential danger whatsoever.
“Master…” Afraid that I would get into trouble, No.3 and Big 4 promptly abandoned the queen ant to rush to my side. Sinmosa and Sasani exchanged a glance with each other before having to follow in my footsteps with little Cinderel in tow. As for Nola, she had already acted long before those two.
As I drew ever closer to my goal, I was beset by a stream of complex emotions.
Often, in crucial moments like this, a boss would suddenly pop out and block your way. At that point, we would have to combine our strengths to defeat the boss, gain some experience, loot some equipment and…something else or rather. Either way, we weren’t in a RPG right now so nothing popped up to hinder me though those blasted bee insects managed to scare me a couple of times…
It was only when I was near the statue that it dawned on me how massive this statue actually was. It had to at least be 20 meters tall by my estimation. Because there were simply too many plants blocking my view, I couldn’t make out its exact details except that it was made out of igneous rocks and should be a Fallen Angel with its wings spread out and legs closed up. Because of the plants, I wasn’t able to make out where its arms should be.
‘It’s here, right…the place I’ve been seeking even in my dreams…it has to be here…’