Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Syndicate frowned as it controlled Lisa’s body and looked around the underground karst brightened by the luminous fungi. As electromagnetism adjusted muscles and gathered lifeforce, the girl’s pupils contracted and shifted at inhuman speed—instantly, Lisa’s eyes became supernatural organs that could compare against powerful binoculars thanks to ‘Actuate Bolt’, observing everything from nearby to afar.
As a matter of fact, Actuate Bolt was not a suitable name for it—having trained in the technique bestowed by Joshua to its very limit and creating a brand-new power after even more training in Winter Fort Academy, that power greatly increases any human attribute, whether it was hearing, vision, smell or even grip. One’s smell could even be honed so sensitively that it picks up all scents within hundreds of meters.
However, the duo did not inform Joshua about the fact or name that power, and at present, with the strengthened version of Actuate Bolt, Syndicate could see as far as five kilometers in the dim underground reaches. However, the balrog was left shocked that it could not make out the edge of the underground cavity.
“That large?! Looks like this isn’t a normal underground cavity, but very likely part of the ‘Subterranean realm’ His Lordship had mentioned!”
The rather unusual voice of a girl echoed. One could see that pebbles and stone were still falling incessantly from high above the subterranean realm, causing the luminous fungi in the immediate vicinity to dim as well. Seeing nothing from the spot where they dropped after excessive digging, Syndicate could only withdraw its gaze. “Fungus, insects and the supersonic cries of bats… there is life here. This isn’t some mere dead cave.”
Just as Syndicate pondered in observation, Zero-One rose as well with clanging, sharp metallic scraping sounds. Its lower silver metallic body had turned into a tunneling shield to excavate a passageway, but was now wriggling as if alive, and forming an armor-like body of a giant.
With the sound as if something was unlocked, a ray akin to a blade promptly shone in the subterranean realm, stretching toward the distant darkness. Like a searchlight brightening its surrounding subterranean realm, a blinding white light was emanating from Zero-One’s large, singular eye. It was sweeping its gaze around to determine their current situation, but it was the same as Syndicate thought: a colossal subterranean realm with an unobservable edge with some life.
On and above the stone walls, the luminous fungi dimmed with Zero-One’s light, whereas countless invertebrates shaped like cockroaches and centipedes slipped into cracks behind the fungal. A huge swarm of bats could almost be seen in the distance, panicking as they tried to flee the light’s touch. Syndicate noticed that these bats were smaller than its cousins that lived in typical caverns, their skin a dry ash-gray instead of black. Some had luminous fungal dabbed on their skin, flickering in different faint lights.
And nearby was a surging underground river. Syndicate could sense the urgency of its gush, and directed its eyes to observe the river itself. “Poorer water quality, many floating particles and rather turbid. There are also distinct metallic particles… is there a mineral vein nearby?”
Syndicate even discovered many underground fishes in the river as well as a certain bizarre aquatic creature. It judged that the river was not independent, but a part of a larger underground water cycle.
“The bats hunt the insects, the insects feed on the fungus, the fungus is fertilized by the corpses of both bats and insects… And along with the nearby river, it’s a basic cycle.”
Even as the thought struck, the red glint in Lisa’s eyes was gradually fading, and Syndicate hence reached out and pressed a hand on its forehead.
“You’re up, then,” it said a little helplessly.
In the next instant, as Lisa’s movements froze, the red glint in her eyes vanished completely, and that weird Basic accent of hers now turned into one fluent grumble.
“Ah-ah-ah… My head’s spinning… I think I’m going to throw up!”
“Keep it together. Your composition is not that weak.”
Syndicate’s voice echoed inside Lisa’s body, and the balrog now began to communicate with Zero-One through a spiritual link. “You can start to explore now. Be careful, there might be intelligent beings.”
Though there it was a subterranean frontier with only fungi, insects, and bats, the weak food chain should not sustain the presence of the rumored powerful underground beasts. But there would be not many restraints when it came to the gray dwarves and the dark elves—through abilities gained from specially cultivated fungi and herbs, they could live anywhere beneath the ground.
“Alright, I’ll keep it together…”
“Bzzt, bzzt-bzzt.” (Yes, Mister Syndicate.)
Zero-One spoke very respectfully toward the balrog mainly because it could sense an iota of Steel Strength that belonged to Joshua within the balrog’s true form. Furthermore, the balrog had lived longer and was definitely more experience than it was, which was why Zero-One did not find it troubling. To a certain point of view, human relationships had nothing to with it as a Steel Elemental, and as long as there was something worth learning, it would naturally show respect.
Zero-One’s stride did not tremble earth much, having learned after walking around dwarven settlements for years. Carrying Lisa and Syndicate and moving around slowly, the three did not venture too far from the cavity where they fell, instead forming a semi-circular perimeter.
Even so, what they discovered in such a short distant stunned the trio.
“Aren’t those the extinct ‘Jillian Sea Lavenders’ blooming beside the luminous mushrooms?”
Throwing herself down from Zero-One’s head, past its craggy body like moving down a slide, Lisa paid no attention as she trampled over the clusters of luminous fungi that burst like bubbles beneath her feet and splashing viscous all around. She moved at once to a spot where unordinary mana was spreading, her eyes widening at those pale-yellow luminous grasses with crystalline textures, surrounded fungi as if they were escorting a queen. “It’s the main ingredient for the ancient ‘Divine Blessing Elixir’, ‘Dragonblood Potion’ and ‘Dragonslaying Bane!’” She exclaimed. “Never thought that there’d be some here!”
Divine Blessing Elixir and Dragonblood Potion could turn a human body temporarily invincible and give any individual temporary explosive power respectively, both being rare potions that had no side effects at all. As for Dragonslaying bane—like its name would suggest, was a poison that could kill dragons. One thing these potions shared were that all three are incredibly difficult to brew and hence a great market value given their rare chief ingredients, which Lisa never imagined would be here.
” Almost extinct.”
Syndicate reminded her inside the girl’s own body. “Winter Fort Academy’s greenhouse for rare plants still had a small patch of ground were some of those were grown since their surviving conditions for light and mana concentrations are too demanding… Never thought that the luminous fungi could naturally produce growing space for them, it’s truly an academy point-gaining discovery.”
Even as it spoke, Syndicate was scanning their surroundings psionically, probing for similar mana signatures around them and was abruptly shocked again. “Thirty, forty, sixty, ninety… More than a hundred?! This is basically a natural nurturing ground for Jillian Sea Lavenders!”
“Bzzt-bzzt, bzzt-bzzt!” (Wait, I detected unique ores!)
Beside them, Zero-One had stopped, careful not to trample over the rare magical plants while exclaiming in surprise through its electromagnetic signals. “Bzzt, bzzt-bzzt-bzzt-bzzt, bzzt-bzzt-bzzt bzzt!” (Ah, there’s pyroxene and silver… And Moonlight Crystals!)
The two words pyroxene and silver did not quite catch Lisa and Syndicate’s attention. They had already plucked one Jillian Crystal Plant and kept it in a culture bottle, and would gain at least 750 points if they brought it back to the Academy… Along with the discovery, they might be awarded a Special Contribution!
Nonetheless, when she caught the mention of Moonlight Crystals, the young girl quickly looked up and turned to Zero-One, exclaiming simultaneously with the balrog, “Really!?”
Zero-One did not respond, instead lifting its hand to point at a nearby spot. With a wave of surging magical energy and its innate ability to manipulate earth and metals, Zero-One removed all soil and stone in that zone, leaving a mineral vein deep beneath.
It was a crystalline body glittering in silver-blue radiance, socketed amidst stone and silver.
The pair’s reaction was not surprising. In truth, the North had considerable storage of pyroxene and silver—though the latter was actually rare and a raw material to forge coins, its greatest value to Moldavia was its great magical energy conductivity since the region itself was not poor with resources. There is even less worth to mention pyroxene, the world’s cheapest enchanted ingredient. It was simply a stone that emits light, and only the purest of pyroxene crystals could be used as the focusing core for large enchanted cannons.
On the other hand, it was a different story for Moonlight Crystals. Those crystal deposits that had been depleted on the Mycroft’s surface, with few traces of them in the underground mines of the dwarves alongside pyroxene deposits. These crystals did not have much usage but every single use it does have was vital—they are the minority substances that could simultaneously store lifeforce, holy light, and mana at an extremely high capacity. It could be used as the core body for large magical machinery and was the chief material for runic cores in advanced magical puppets, and magical factories of slightly larger scale require either Moonlight Crystals or high-purity pyroxene crystals as the central control core for its energy circulation system.
“Since every Imperial region had been learning from Moldavia’s example to popularize magical industrialization, the original reserves for Moonlight Crystals were quickly declared to be used up. The Empire even had to import it from several merchant guilds of the West Mountains, but they put a high price on it!”
Being Joshua’s student, Lisa often stayed in the touch with Joshua through the Information Terminal as the First Party did, and learn about that information during a typical daily conversation with the warrior. It was great news for the entire Empire now that deposits of Moonlight Crystals were found in the subterranean reaches of the North!
“By the way, is there a relationship between Sea Lavenders and Moonlight Crystals?”
An idea was beginning to form in Lisa’s mind as she noticed that there were many Jillian Sea Lavenders growing around the Moonlight Crystal deposits. However, being no experts, both Zero-One and Syndicate could only indicate the possibility.
“If it’s true, it would be another great discovery. Compared to the common Moonlight Crystals, Jillian Sea Lavenders bear genuine worth albeit having no actual market.”
However, it was at that moment that Lisa, Syndicate, and Zero-Three calmed down instead.
“Are we going to keep exploring?”
Syndicate said somberly through the spiritual link. “We have such great findings after investigating such a small patch of land: the Jillian Sea Lavender and Moonlight Crystal deposits are going to make us a lot of money, thousands of academy points and Special Contributions… We could follow the river and move downstream if we are to keep going.”
The balrog neither dictated to continue exploring nor to return immediately. After all, there might be more discoveries in the distance, but the first wave of gains would not be theirs when they finally returned to report it to the Academy. It was dangerous for them to keep exploring as well, though there was little chance for that from the current state of things.
Therefore, the balrog intended to let Zero-One and Lisa choose.
“Bzzt-bzzt… bzzt-bzzt-bzzt-bzzt-bzz, bzzt bzzt-bzzt.”
(I don’t know… the voice in my head is getting stronger, and it’s still calling for me.)
Crouching slightly and looking down at the Drakonid girl, the light emanating from Zero-One’s single eye focused on Lisa like a spotlight, although she was not uncomfortable with that.
“Bzzt-bzzt. Bzzt-bzzt, bzzt.”
(I want to keep looking.) Zero-One said a little hesitantly. (What about you, sister Lisa?)
“Do you even have to ask?”
Unlike Zero-One who appeared a little lost, the Drakonid girl looked up, her eyes bulging as she stared directly into the glaring light from the steel giant’s eye. “Of course we are going back earlier,” she said with certainty, “and inform Master Radcliffe about all this!”
Uttering words that caught the other rather unaware with unparalleled confidence, Lisa spoke with a seriousness that did not fit her age. “Novels that tell stories about people unexpectedly coming across a mysterious zone with many treasures, but continuing further and deeper due to curiosity and greed before finally turning mad and thereby falling into danger… Miss Ying had recommended three of those books to me this week alone!”
“What’s more, it’s common knowledge of exploration to not simply stroll around places where we are separated from contact with others!”
—What novel could it be that wrote about such crazy exploits? In thought, Syndicate wanted to retort, having slumbered whenever it found things to be a bore and hence did not read the books together with the girl.
“Humans lived on the little island amidst the dark oceans called unknown. The ocean is boundless and contained infinite secrets, but we can’t navigate too far or dive too deep—unless you’re powerful enough!”
There was a tinge of emotion in Lisa’s voice now, as she recited the contents of the novel. “Since coming to the world of Mycroft and reading so many exploration novels and horror tales, I, Lisa, became aware of the truth—never try anything when your ability is sub-par!”
—Stop imitating adults! Sensing a familiar tone in the girl’s words, Syndicate kept throwing retorts in its mind.
“The mysterious voice in Zero-One’s head, something that could block Mister Syndicate’s spiritual scanning, a subterranean realm that is extraordinary, rich and yet having no edge and filled with unknown… with a little common sense, anyone would find it unusual. I’m not that foolish to explore such a dangerous place alone!”
Lisa’s expression was serious, but there was a visible flash of slyness in her eyes, even as she spoke as if it was logical. “What’s more, these ingredients are all found beneath the soil of Moldavia—in other words, everything is Master Radcliffe’s property. We shouldn’t think about making a profit in the first place!”
“…His Lordship would be delighted.” Syndicate, rather speechless, shook its head and laughed bitterly. “Ah, I actually don’t recommend that we keep exploring, but I never thought that you could come up with such a reason…”
(Though a little too much conviction, Lisa is cute like this as well.)
Running to Zero-One’s feet, Lisa stood on tip-toes and patted the flanks beside the steel giant’s shoes. “Zero-One, digging holes alone could still count as entertainment,” she said earnestly. “However, now isn’t time to play. Beware of danger, and don’t bank on luck.”
“And it’s also time to speak to Master about that sound in your head.”
“Bzzt-bzzt-bzzt… bzzt-bzzt-bzzt, bzzt-bzzt-bzzt-bzzt.” (It’s a shame… but I agree. I’ll discuss the matter with His Lordship when I return.)
The steel giant hesitated for a moment in response to the Drakonid girl’s voice, and slowly nodded. He then reached out, took her into its palm and placed her above its head, before rising, turning, and head toward the hole where they fell through.
‘Boom-boom-boom…’ With a resounding echo, Zero-One turned into a tunneling shield again and returned, carrying Lisa and Syndicate by tracing the own path they came from.
In the silent subterranean realm, the luminous fungi flickered with their typical dim radiances once more. The bats that had fled to the distance slowly returned to their familiar lairs as well, suspiciously searching for the whereabouts of that colossal interloper through supersonic waves.
An unusual sound resounded from the underground river.
A black shadow suddenly appeared over the surface of the surging turbid river. Those shadows were huge and profound, as if it naturally absorbs all light around it. The fishes near it quickly fled, but many were still devoured by that shadow, spreading pale-blue blood over the river’s surface.
Whoosh. With the slapping sounds of water flow, the shadow floated above the river. Its true form was then illuminated by the surrounding pyroxenes and luminous fungi—
They were massive ‘pythons’, their bodies covered entirely in black scales, their eyes bearing a soft-gold glint. The leading ‘pythons’ gulped down an unlucky fish in its mouth, light-blue blood dripping down to the river as its serrated teeth scraped.
Slapping against the water, the pythons looked around as if searching for something. After swallowing the fish into its stomach, the one at the fore slithered to the riverbank and lifted its body, its large golden serpentine gaze focused and looking at the anomalies around it. Due to their vision, they did notice the jagged stone walls at the edge of the subterranean realm— before the three interlopers returned, they sealed the hole they fell from unwittingly, removing any traces all around.
Hence, after a silent exchange, the pythons returned to the water and swam, along with the flow to the distance.
None were aware that the pythons were present, just as none were aware that the trio had come by.
On the other side of the world, Joshua suddenly received a message when he took Ying and Ling to a tavern for a Fairy Cards session.
“What is it?”
Lowering his presence and contracting his Despair Halo down to one centimeter around himself, Joshua was having a pleasant game with the human drunkards and dwarves who did not know him. As he reminisced about playing the game with his friends in the preexistence amidst that rare moment of sheer entertainment, Ying tugged at his sleeves, telling them that something had happened.
“Let me see…”
Leaving the crowd to a corner of the tavern, Joshua grasped the silver-haired girl’s hand and connected to the distant Mana Net through the Information Terminal in her body, understanding at once why the Academy was in such a rush to look for him.
“A subterranean realm, huh… Never heard of such a thing in the North in my past life. Zero-One, what have you come across?”
Joshua muttered to himself, turning silent for a while before continuing. “Tell them that the underground exploration mission continues, but do not go into that subterranean realm. Seal that passage, I’ll take a look at it when I get back.”
“If anyone else stumbles upon another passage connected to that subterranean realm, get them to return after looking around for a bit like Lisa did.”
A subterranean realm that blocks spiritual and magical sensory?
Joshua narrowed his eyes and said softly, “Interesting.”
Ying, who was standing before the warrior saw a very familiar expression on her master’s face and what that meant.
The warrior was starting to be ‘curious’.