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The Prison of the Dead was a gargantuan maze that stretched on endlessly. While she said that the dogmen were nearby, it still quite a bit of travelling to reach them.
One of the most troublesome aspect of a maze was that one could easily get lost within its convoluted passages. Thankfully, the hellhounds had an inborn gift for navigation making them a whole lot more useful than my directionally challenged self.
During our travels, we were waylaid from time to time by wandering undead. These undead attacked us in groups of ten to over a hundred. Each of them were at the very least one-star while very few of them actually reached two-star. As for three-star, we hadn’t encountered any…yet.
Thanks to the hellhounds, we always had the initiative during these fights. Their sensory abilities warned us well in advance of any potential encounters and so we had ample time to prepare for the battle.
As of now, our losses hadn’t even crossed the ten mark thanks to our good fortune and the warnings of the hellhounds.
What struck me as strange was that since we met with Violet Snow, we had only encountered one undead party and it was a small sized encounter. But, ever since we left that ratmen nest, we had been ambushed by over ten parties of wandering undead and this was all within a day of travelling!
Isn’t the sudden spike a little much!
Exactly what is going on here?
Due to the lack of a day night cycle, we scheduled our rest time based on our fatigue level. If we were tired, we merely rested at a nearby corner of the maze. The normal devils and the hellhounds would sleep on the outer edges of our campsite while a rotating roster of hellhounds and devils went on patrol duty.
With our relatively large numbers and patrols, our campsite almost looked like a small base. Only the lack of actual tents marred this otherwise satisfying scene.
“The undead are too densely packed, can’t we find a way to circle around and avoid them?”
I quietly pondered as I leaned against the bone walls of the maze. The recent deaths of my subordinates had frustrated me. In my mind, the hellhounds should’ve been able to lead us around the ambush in order to reduce our casualties.
Our main goal was to recruit the dogmen, without sufficient military force, the plan might just fail before it even started. And so, I decided to discuss this matter with Violet Snow.
“Circle around? Putting aside the fact that this maze is extremely complicated and taking a detour might never lead us back to our desired path, if we avoid the undead, exactly what are we going to feed on?”
Being on the receiving end of my griping, displeased her greatly. As she roused herself from her nap, she glared at me and said: “Besides, fleeing is for cowards.”
“I never said that we were fleeing, this isn’t called fleeing, it’s called a change of tactics.” As the word “coward” left her mouth, it mercilessly stabbed me in the heart, I sub consciously raised my voice.
“Tactics, it’s called tactics, you get it?”
“I don’t know any so-called tactics, all I know is that if we don’t fight, we will starve.”
“…” Alright, you win. I have nothing to counter that argument.
The loss of my subordinates had blinded me to the issue of food. This was an error on my part.
“What’s with those wandering undead? Aren’t their numbers a little too much?”
“This is their territory. To them, anyone that is alive is an outsider.” She then proceeded to explain some of the basic knowledge of this world.
“As you know, this vast maze was at the very beginning an undead territory. The undead we’ve been fight are basically patrols tasked with the mission of cleaning this entire maze.”
“So those undead we met at the ratmen nest was…don’t tell me…those undead were actually on their way to attack the ratmen?” I blurted out my thought.
“You can see it as that.” She nodded. “To be exact, those patrols are more like janitors. Their true goal was to clean up the bones stacked at the entrance of the ratmen nest. As for attacking the ratmen, it’s more of a “why not?” matter to them.”
“Cleaning? Haha, such a good cleaning…” I was actually attacked by this “cleaning”.
“If you return to that nest, you will find that that area has already been cleaned by a different group of undead.”
I’m still a newbie when it comes to the ecology of this place but there was one thing I’m sure of: if those were just janitors, then that means that there were other undead in charge of fighting. The janitors themselves were already one-star, what about the actual warriors? Two-star? Maybe even three. Gives me the chills just thinking about it…
“Then how far are we from those dogmen? We need to pick up the pace.”
“I know you’re worried about the safety of your subordinates but in this Prison of the Dead, a lot of things can’t be avoided.” In an uncharacteristic move of concern, she continued trying to console me.
“Don’t think too much about this, believe me, once we find those dogmen, you will have more subordinates.”
Making that dagger for her must’ve softened her slightly.
“What I’m really concerned about isn’t my subordinates.” For some reason, I wanted to make sure that she didn’t misunderstand me.
“Then what are you worried about?”
“Leaving this place.”
“Leave this place?” She paused for a second, her expression immediately switching from nonchalance to shock. “Did I hear that correctly? Did you just say that you wish to leave this place? Leave the maze? Leave the Prison of the Dead?”
“You heard me right.” As those words left my mouth, my gaze changed, gone was the indecisiveness within them, what remained was only a steely resolve.
“I must leave this place. There’s somewhere I must go to no matter what.”
“Somewhere you must go to?”
“The western human realms.”
“…That’s a really faraway place. I heard my mother mention that that’s the territory of the humans.”
As she mentioned the human realms, her eyes lit up like a child picturing the wondrous scenes within her fairy tales.
“You wish to go there as well?” I was slightly surprised that she actually knew of the human realms.
“Mhm. You can say that.”
“Then…that mother you were talking about…”
As those words left my mouth, her face immediately became solemn. She lowered her head and laid back on the ground once more, her chin resting on her tiny paws and her eyes closed. She laid there silently as if avoiding the topic or perhaps she was just crying silently.
“I’m sorry…” Even a thick headed buffoon like me knew that I had just stepped on a landmine, for all I know, that skull might just be her mother’s.
From that moment on, we maintained that awkward silence between us.
After another day of travelling we made camp once more but this time, we were attacked by a bunch of strange creatures.
We had just made camp after a tiring day of fighting during which we encountered over ten groups of undead. Outside of these undead, we didn’t encounter another race.
Even after these two days of travelling, we still hadn’t left the hunting grounds of the ratmen which was to be expected. This was the territory of large clan that had over 1500 members after all; a large hunting ground is definitely required to support them.
These two days of fighting nothing but the undead made me relax my guard. To me, all we had to deal with were the wandering undead. It had never occurred to me that we might meet another race while in this hunting ground.
The strange creatures numbered over a hundred and had a humanoid form to them. These humanoid monsters wore a primitive set of hide clothing and wielded bone clubs. Before they even closed in on us, their revolting stench had already assaulted my nostrils. The source of this stench was their grayish black body that had a coarse look to it.
Paired with their off putting appearance was a dishevelled head of hair that was littered with numerous specks of black and dark gray matter. As for the other parts of their body , they were mostly fur-free.
They had a large mouth that revealed a jagged set of teeth within them that painted a picture which would make any dentist cringe in disgust.
They had a muscular build and were around 1.8 to 2.0 meters tall. If you didn’t count their skin color, they looked very similar to orcs described in fantasy novels and games.
“Woo Woo Woooo Woo Wo~~~”
A weird cry left their monstrous mouth, signalling the start of their attack. As they waved their primitive bone clubs, they charged at us.
Thankfully, we were warned by the hellhounds prior to their appearance. That horrid stench must’ve been terrible for their sensitive noses.
As they closed in on us, I swiftly prepared a spell to attack the foremost orc. A split second later, a bone spear hurtled through the air, heading straight at that orc. His eyes narrowed as he focused on the incoming spear and with a quick swing of his club, knocked down the incoming spear.
In order to buy my army more time to ready themselves, I immediately followed that bone spear up with five bone walls raised right in the path of their advance.
“Defense! Hurry up and get into positions!”
Thanks to the hellhounds and my bone walls, they had plenty of time to prepare for the charge.
These orcs were surprisingly quick. It had only been slightly over 10 seconds since we had received the warning from the hellhounds.
Prior to that, most of the devils were still resting. Having fought for an entire day, they definitely didn’t get much rest before they were reluctantly dragged back into formation. They weren’t professional soldiers after all, the lack of discipline made their response sluggish and left our formation full of weaknesses.
If it hadn’t been for the bone walls, the enemy would’ve reached us before our formation was even ready.
A vexed One-eye shouted and kicked at the devils who still hadn’t taken up positions yet. This bit of violence of his part seemed to have worked as the 30 shieldbearers finally formed up our defensive line.
The orcs rammed into the heavy bone shields like a bunch of enraged bulls. In this initial charge, five of their stronger members actually managed to knock away one of the shieldbearers with their combined might. However, this success was in the minority as the majority of the orcs were merely deflected by the sturdy shield wall.
Of course, the shieldbearers who deflected them weren’t in a great shape either. Some of the weaker shieldbearers fell to the ground immediately after deflecting their powerful charge.
With so many of the shieldbearers caving in, the shield wall collapsed, exposing the Mo sabre wielders to the orcs.
Even though the shield wall was compromised, a vast majority of the orcs had been deflected. The sabre wielders made use of this opportunity to stab at the humanoid monsters.
Having just traded blows with the shieldbearers, these orcs were naturally in no position to react to the deadly sabre thrusts and ended up getting skewered. Only those five who managed to knock away the shieldbearer, were able to charge at the sabre wielders.
What awaited these unfortunate sabre wielders were a tragic fate.
Due to their limited close range abilities, they were defenseless against the giant bone clubs of the orcs. As the primitive clubs swung down, one of the imps was struck squarely on his temples and died instantly, his eyes opened wide in pain.
Thankfully, the other sabre wielders were merely knocked unconscious.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.