The Alchemy Tower.’
The prince said this name to himself. Thales was in an absent-minded state as he stared at the old and mysterious building in front of himat the symbol of the eye on the stone pillar which was incomplete and dilapidated but vaguely discernibleand felt the omnipresent chill.
It was as if he was back to six years ago, on that snowy night when the neurotic doctor with the large nose drew three unfamiliar patterns beside the campfire in the Archduke of Black Sand Region’s menacing military camp.
‘The Three Great Magic Towers.’
Thales stared absentmindedly at the symbol that signified the Alchemy Tower and sighed softly. The memories of the past slowly surged into his mind.
Ever since the night of Dragon’s Blood six years ago, when the former back-alley doctor of the Brotherhood, Ramon, died tragically at the hands of the Blood Mystic (When he thought of this, Thales could not help but remember Kurtz Ramon’s casual expression as she talked about her father, who had been missing for a long time), Thales had lost an important channel of information where he could learn about the magic and wizards spoken in legends. Asda was perhaps another source of information, but the fact that his whereabouts were always uncertain and the fact that he always held back information when he was teaching Thales could not satisfy the prince who thirsted for knowledge.
For six years, Thales could only spend as much time as possible in Raikaru’s library searching for the long-lost taboo within books with Saroma’s help. At the same time, he had to make every possible effort to avoid getting into trouble with Nicholas, Lisban, and the prying eyes of everyone else.
If what Ramon said when he was alive was true; if both magic and calamities were taboos that this world tried so hard to forget over the past few hundred years, then it would be better if reports like ‘the Prince of Constellation is hellbent on a mysterious knowledge’, and ‘Prince Thales is addicted to the legend of calamities’, did not appear on the tables of the various intelligence agencies.
“The Alchemy Tower?”
Just when Thales was lost in his own memories, Lasalle could not help but say while he stood on the other side of the room, “Alchemy? What is this? Does it have anything to do with Alchemy Balls?”
No one paid him any attention. Of course, it may be because no one knew the answer.
Samel kicked a pile of rubble beside his feet and scowled. “Are you saying that this place is the legendary Alchemy Tower? The source of Alchemy Balls, anti-mystic equipment, and all kinds of the Secret Intelligence Department’s playthings?”
Ricky shook his head.
“Of course, it’s not the headquarters.” Ricky raised his torch and looked around the desolate floor. He seemed rather sentimental. “According to legend, the headquarters of the Alchemy Tower itself was almost the size of about a hundred Magic Towers. It took up a huge space and was extremely majestic. How can this shabby underground building compare to that?”
‘About a hundred towers’ Thales looked around and seemed to be deep in thought.
“Shabby?” Samel snorted softly, then he illuminated the stone staircase behind them with a torch, and gazed at the bottomless road onwards below. “You call this ‘shabby’?”
Ricky let out a strange chuckle and did not answer. He turned and walked towards the spiral staircase that led downwards. “Let’s go to the next floor.”
The mercenaries snapped out of their shock.
“It’s real.” As he went past Stake, Thales noticed that it was hard for the assassin from Shadow Shield to hide his astonishment as he studied his surroundings. He softly caressed the dust-covered stone pillar and mumbled to himself, “Wizards and magic, those legends and stories…”
Stake lowered his head and looked at Ricky. “…They’re actually real.”
A thought came to Stake. “We might be able to find more valuable things. Alchemy balls, anti-mystic equipment, and even”
“Stop with the wishful thinking,” Samel interrupted as he walked past him. “We don’t know when it happened, but Constellation turned this place into the ‘Black Prison’ of the Prison of Bones a long time ago, and used it specifically to lock up their felons.”
The former flag bearer of the Royal Guards of Constellation said coldly, “Do you think that the Secret Intelligence Department will leave anything valuable for people like you while they were renovating or demolishing certain structures of the building?”
Stake went silent. The group continued to walk downwards. As they faced the unknown, whispers echoed quietly in the dark.
“I remember it now.” Lasalle’s voice rose at the end of the narrow passage. “Wizards were mentioned a little in some fictional books, but I have always thought that”
“Thought that they were just baseless stories?” Stake answered with a chuckle.
Lasalle did not say anything else. Thales listened to their conversation, but his mind was occupied with other things.
Even though he was a hostage, the prince did not come out of his ordeal empty-handed during his six years of searching through books in Eckstedt. However, ‘magic’ and ‘wizards’ only left Thales with more and more questions.
It was obvious that all books that existed before the Battle of Eradication had more or less mentioned magic and wizards. For example
“The Tale of Lee Joseph the Knight” from the era of multiple kings mentioned that the sagacious wizard, Levin, blocked the way of six knights to prevent their foolish behavior of pillaging the execution grounds. He then gave them advice inside a barn.
It was also recorded in “The Martyr of Northland” that, in face of their grim situation, wizard advisers suggested a retreat, but King Anzac sternly refused to take their suggestions. He was determined to lead his forces and stay in the Sixth Sentry Ground, utilizing the topography to halt the main forces of the Humerus Clan.
“The Alliance of the Feudal Kings” wrote that the representatives of the wizards, the guards of the Holy Temple, and the priests of the Bright God Church tried their best to act as mediators so that the irritable King Nalgi and the arrogant King Phalen sat furthest away from each othersince their families held a grudge against each other for generations. This facilitated the meeting that was to be held.
In the long bardic poem “Telega”, it was mentioned that the royal wizards were also at a loss for what to do in the face of the princess’ illness.
Truthfully, in the biography of heroes and historical bardic poems from the era of multiple kings, when it came to fighting against foreign species whether they were orcs or elves, the wizards often appeared as sages. Many of them were even important advisors at the nobles’ side.
But when the Age of the Empire came, records about wizards and magic began to decrease, and their image became increasingly mysterious, evil and frightening. Instead, many books related to religion mentioned some ‘men of no faith’, and descriptions about them were usually negative.
Meanwhile, it was mentioned in ‘The Travels of Losona the Disciple’ from the era of the Ancient Empire that Losona the Disciple was treated horribly in the land of the wizards. He became blind, and it was hard for him to walk because his limbs trembled. Even though these men without faith abandoned the Bright God’s teachings and mocked his beliefs, the steadfast Losona stood his ground and remained pious.
“The Destruction of Bandits in Northland Province” mentioned an illegal expedition. Duke Arunde wrote to the people behind this team of explorerswho were wizardsand sternly reprimanded them, saying that the act of trespassing the forbidden land was a violation of the treaty, and that it would bring harm to the humans.
As one of the classic literatures in the Temple of Knights, the “Complete Chronicles of the Temple of Knights” talked about the knights who fought against the disciples of an evil god. One of the knights once lamented that their enemies were more bizarre than wizards, and were more evil as well. The historical passage about this event mentioned that the northern temple was forced to humility and had to ask the Empire for help to put a stop to the wizards’ endless greed.
“Records of the Plague in Sword Lake City” even mentioned that terrifying witches warned the mayor that he would pay the price for looking down on magic, but the powerful mayor dismissed their warnings with a laugh. On that night itself, the mayor’s daughter suffered from high fever.
Records of wizards in more recent times, especially in the books during the Final Empire’s days after the Ancient Empire was destroyed, were even rarer.
There were the fruits of Thales’ efforts. His information about wizards and their magic were just brief mentions in texts. Logically speaking, these brief mentions should have told him that wizards were people who existed in a group, but even if the noble King Raikaru of Eckstedt gathered the forces of the entire country to search for a great number of books regarding wizards after the Battle of Eradication to make the Queen of the Sky smile for him, Thales still could not find in his books any records that focused directly on magic and wizards.
‘From changes in the description and depiction of wizards, to the gradual reduction in mentions of them, to their complete disappearance without a trace This feeling is similar to’
Thales sighed. He stroked the dust-covered wall gently and followed the people in front down the stone staircase step by step.
‘It’s just like how you can see the traces a person left behind everywhere in your life. You see the things they used before, the records they wrote, the messages they saved, and the photographs they’re in. But one day, when you really turn to find this person, all the people beside you will tell you that there was never such a person and he never existed. Even in group pictures, there would only be a human-shaped void. This is what wizards are.’
Thales could not help but feel that there was something strange and eerie about this. Even when he sat idly in the library, he could not suppress the chill that suddenly traveled down his spine.
The prince could not help but raise his head and look past the shoulders of all the people in front of him until he saw Ricky’s back.
Today, he had truly stepped into the legendary Alchemy Tower, even though it was just a branch. And from what he heard, it might even be the birthplace of the anti-mystic equipment.
At this moment, Stake spoke again and interrupted Thales’ thoughts.
“How did you find that key, Crassus? I do not think that the Constellatiates would keep a lock that can be opened by two keys, and even use it to lock felons.”
This question attracted Thales’ interest. As he walked ahead, Ricky halted in his steps.
“The Constellatiates thought that they controlled this place, just like how they thought they concealed history and sent magic and wizards to the grave.” Ricky’s laughter echoed slowly. “A grave which only the gravedigger knows.
“The problem was that they weren’t the only gravediggers; the Tower of Eradication have a similar number of records as theirs.”
Stake suddenly raised his voice in the darkness. “So… you once belonged to the Tower of Eradication?”
Ricky said nothing, as if he suddenly realized that he had made a slip of the tongue. Meanwhile, Thales perked up.
“Hm, that explains it…” Stake’s laughter traveled to his ears, and Thales could imagine how he looked like at that momentwith the corners of his lips curled up in the darkness. “…Why, a while back, all of you were able to attack the Tower of Eradication without difficulty.”
Time kept on ticking by, and it was getting harder and harder to endure the coldness around them. Illuminated by the torches, there was still nothing but stone steps in their line of vision.
Then, Thales stepped onto flat ground again. They had reached the next floor.
Ricky kicked away a piece of wood that blocked their path, and raised his torch.
They were still greeted by a stone pillar with the Alchemy Tower’s symbol at the center of the floor, a familiar building structure, and nine prison cells with only pitiful skeletons left.
‘Wait, nine?’ Thales noticed that this room was a little bigger than the one on the previous floor.
“There’s still no one.” Ricky lowered the torch and shook his head in disappointment. “Let’s keep going.”
Thales stopped looking around curiously and suppressed his desire to carefully study this place when Marina shoved him from behind.
There was still no one on the third floor. Only skeletons were left. The fourth floor, the fifth floor, the sixth floor
Every time they descended a floor, there were more and more prison cellsthe number of cells would increase by one with each level they descendedand the rooms were bigger and bigger.
Thales said to himself, ‘Black Prison is like a cone buried under the ground.’
As they failed to find their target, they were disappointed again and again, and had to face the same dark scenery over and over, Thales felt as though he was walking in the desert again. He also noticed that the people in the group were also gradually getting affected.
In the boundless darkness, the people talked lesser and lesser. Only the sound of footsteps echoed in their ears, and the atmosphere grew more and more depressing.
They reached another floor of prison cells.
“This is already the tenth floor.” Klein exhaled. There was impatience on his face. “Ricky, if we still can’t find what we’re looking for, then we might need to think about our route of retreat.”
The moment he said that, the Disaster Swords’ faces darkened in unison.
“Hmm…” Lasalle looked at Stake who stood next to him. “Makes sense.”
Stake did not answer him. Instead, he shot a glance at Ricky.
Ricky furrowed his eyebrows a little. He held his torch to illuminate the area around him. When he realized with disappointment that there were still only skeletons, he turned and said to Samel, “Perhaps we have to go further down, perhaps Are you sure that he’s still alive?”
Samel went to the front of the prison cells. Holding his torch, he bent down, and carefully studied the skeletons before his eyes.
His voice was a little stiff.
“I believe wholeheartedly that he’s definitely alive.”
‘He?’ Thales saw that Klein shrugged and gave Josef a disapproving look.
Josef understood what he meant. “You might believe that he’s still alive but do all of you know how much damage imprisonment can do to a person?”
Josef crossed his arms, his voice ringing in everyone’s ears. “Especially in Black Prison. You can only spend your days in loneliness, live your days aimlessly, and die in misery. From the day you are locked up to the day you die, all your contact with the outside world will be cut off, and no one would be able to hear your wails and cries. Believe me, I’ve been imprisoned quite a few times very few people can persevere for that long.”
Samel froze for a moment and stood up. After a few seconds, he only shook his head resolutely. “If it’s him, he can definitely hold on, no matter what kind of harm is inflicted upon him.”
Thales’ heart skipped a beat. ‘Him?’
Josef smiled. “Do you know what the most frightening punishment for a human being is? It’s not death, not pain, and not torture.” Josef sighed softly, seemingly sentimental. “It’s isolation.”
Samel stood still on the ground and did not move. Thales could only see from behind that he was trembling slightly.
Josef walked slowly. “When you lose all channels of communication with the outside world, and are totally sealed off and isolated in an eternal darkness with no one to listen to you, talk to you, react to you, wait for your reaction, interact with you You won’t be able to see anything new, hear new voices, and experience new things. Everything around you, including yourself, will be the same. You will repeat every single day the same way forever”
In the darkness, Josef raised his voice. There was a hint of hatred and a dispirited tone in his voice, making the others feel rather uncomfortable.
Thales saw that Samel had slowly clenched his fists.
“On the first day, it’ll still be alright, you can still deal with it.
“On the third day, you will feel bad all over and become extremely agitated. You will jump around, hit the wall, and punch the floor.
“On the fifth day, you’ll start thinking constantly about memories from the past. Good ones, bad ones, painful ones, pleasing ones The images will be there, flashing back and forth, whether you want it or not.
“One week later, you will start talking to yourself. You will constantly look lifeless. You will do things your own way, like how a maniac would. But those memories, the past they’ll start to fade away. You’ll feel them slip from your fingers, as if they’re no longer yours.”
As he talked, Josef seemed to become more absent-minded.
“In two weeks, the eventual despair and madness will come knocking, and you’ll do everything you wouldn’t have even thought of since you left your mother’s womb, because you’ll be at a point where you can’t differentiate between the present and the past, between yourself and the you who exists in your memories.”
Josef chuckled, and his gaze was distant, as if he remembered something.
“And when one month has passed, most people will become incoherent, and their minds will become confused. They’ll often lack emotions, degrade intellectually, and their entire being will degenerate into a beast. It’ll be useless even if you let them out now.”
Josef’s tone was downcast, as if he was narrating a story with a bad ending.
“They’re forever lost in a lonely hollow, and will never be able to return. This is the effect imprisonment can have on a person, especially solitary confinement. No matter who you are, and no matter how powerful you are, once you are imprisoned for more than a certain period of time, you won’t be able to come back.”
Josef’s voice slowly faded away. The people grew incredibly depressed.
Samel was silent for a very long time. Ricky did not urge him to speak. Instead, he gazed at him quietly. A few seconds later, Samel inhaled deeply.
“No. He’s definitely still of sound mind.” Samel turned abruptly. “He is the most valiant fighter, the most honorable knight, and the most noble model for me to follow. He taught me how to fight, persevere, and He can definitely make it through.”
Cracking sounds came out from Samel’s knuckles, and his eyes were fiery.
“Moreover, he is the only one who knows what that is. Only him.”
Ricky nodded slowly and said nothing. Josef shrugged at Klein with an expression that said that he could do nothing else to this situation.
The prince furrowed his eyebrows. ‘Who’s the person they’re looking for? What does he know?’
He was not the only one who had those questions.
“Who in the world are you looking for?” Lasalle heard their conversation and asked, displeased, “You should know that we are pressed for time.”
“Is that so?” Samel pointed at the staircase and said with a cold snort. “No one will stop you if you want to go first ”
For a moment, Lasalle was speechless.
Ricky looked at everyone and sighed. “Let’s go on.”
So, they began anew the cycle of advancing downwards.
‘Darkness. Silence. Underground. The past. Mysteriousness.’
The words flashed through Thales’ mind one after another, then repeated.
Step by step, floor by floor…
Finally, after passing by an unknown number of empty prison cells, they reached a room with more than ten prison cells. No, this room was so big that it can be called a hall.
Ricky stood still in the hall.
“What’s wrong?” Klein walked forward in disgust, and raised his torch to illuminate his surroundings. It was the same as the other floorsthere were many prison cells and skeletons
“It’s still the same. Nothing other than dead people.”
However, Thales noticed something different. Among the ten or so prison cells separated by metal railings, one prison cell was especially strange.
It was all black. No bars, skeletons, or anything could be seen in it. It was all darkness. Like there was a dark curtain was draped outside the cell.
Soon, the others also noticed this. Ricky narrowed his eyes.
“The other prison cells only have bars.” He slowly walked forwardstepping on the rubbleand steadily went near the room with the ‘curtain’ cover while he raised his torch. “But this”
“Be careful.” Samel approached from the other side and said with a frown, “You don’t know how many things the Constellatiates inherited from the Alchemy Tower ”
Ricky nodded. He raised his torch and carefully tapped the thick ‘curtain’ while he stood in front of that strange prison cell.
A dull and sonorous voice echoed in the small and narrow Black Prison. Everyone subconsciously placed their hands on their weapons, guarded against any possible danger.
However, a few second passed and nothing happened. It was still quiet in that prison cell.
This was when everyone let out a sigh of relief.
“It’s made of iron, it either came from above or below the gap in the floor beyond the bars.” Ricky crouched and carefully observed the point of contact between that iron curtain and the ground. “It’s at least some kind of metal. I reckon that this thing separates this prison cell from the hall outside it.”
He raised his head and asked Samel, “Is this the one?”
Samel stood beside the iron curtain, and looking at a sign made of unknown material.
“No.” Samel carefully studied the text on it and said in a steady voice, “It’s written on this sign that a lone thief who ran rampant in the southern part of the kingdom around twenty years ago is locked here.”
Lasalle narrowed his eyes. “Thief?”
But the iron curtain suddenly shook!
*Thud! Thud! Thud!*
Everyone was startled and took a step back in unison.
In the extremely oppressing darkness, the frightening and dull sound rose suddenly.
*Thud! Thud! Thud!*
“Calm down.” Ricky immediately drew out his sword and vigilantly watched the iron curtain which shook unceasingly along with the dull sound.
Klein’s face went pale. “This is”
The fearful group stared at each other, at a loss for what to do.
At this moment…
A faint and miserable cry rang from a spot dozens of meters away from them. It echoed in the darkness.