The Master of the Brave - Chapter 102
Chapter 102 – The one who knows the mines
Fortunately, the ants had not yet noticed them.
“They say that bad predictions often come true…”
There were large rocks lying in the square, which probably fell after the landslide, so they hid behind them to watch.
“We have to go through this square to meet up with Lino and the others, right?”
“Yes. Apparently, if we can get through this room, there will be another path ahead…” Leticia, poking her head out beside Wynn, said quietly.
“There’s a lot of them.”
“It’s going to be hard to get through that head-on.”
If they could use magic, they would be able to make their way through this space, no matter how many ants were in it, since it had a high ceiling and was quite large, but since they couldn’t count on it in this situation, they would have a hard time if they had to face the ants in their current state.
If it were just Letty and me, we could probably make it….
“Hey, Wynn. This is bad… over there in that spot behind the tree. I see a really big ant.” Locke, who hadn’t joined Wynn and Leticia’s conversation and was watching from another angle behind another rock, pointed and showed.
“Really… it sure is huge.”
It was hidden by the huge sapling of the World Tree, so they couldn’t see it completely, but they could see an ant as big as a house, very different from the others, which were usually about 50 centimeters.
“Could it be the Queen Ant?” said Leticia in a voice low enough for only Wynn to hear.
“I suppose so, if they are ant monsters, their social structure will be the same.”
“I wonder if they’ll have eggs or larvae.”
“Who knows, but they probably do.”
There were none in sight, but they were probably using one of the many paths to store them. Some of the ants had to be just larvae.
“If they catch us, will they turn us into meatballs to feed the larvae?”
Locke turned pale, as if he had imagined it.
“Letty. From here, can you tell which tunnel is the right one?”
“Wait a minute… um, I think it’s that one over there.”
The path Leticia was pointing to was on the far right, not exactly on the opposite side from Wynn and the others.
“That’s a considerable distance… we’re not going to be able to just walk across it.”
“Indeed. But no matter how long we stay here, things aren’t going to get any better.”
With that, Wynn asked Locke to keep watch, and keeping as low as possible, he headed back to the road where Cornelia and Wedge were waiting. They were in a spot a little further back on the road, probably to avoid detection in case there was something going on in the square. Cornelia seemed to wonder if Locke was the only one who hadn’t returned, but when she saw Wynn and Leticia’s expressions, her face suddenly changed. Probably because Leticia had explained to them beforehand that the source of the demons’ spread might be this place, she seemed to have noticed that there was indeed a type of demon. So, when Wynn told her that the square in front of her was a nest of ants, she nodded calmly.
“So, what should we do now?”
Wynn scratched the floor of the path with a stone to draw a simple map of the square, then drew a line around it to the right.
“We’re going to go moving along the right wall, like this.”
“Along the wall… but wouldn’t we run into the ants?”
“I don’t think it’s possible to go unnoticed by all of them.”
The number of ants in the square was enormous. But fortunately for Wynn and the others, there was one ant in the square that seemed to be the queen. Most of the ants were swarming around the Queen Ant, and there weren’t many of them hanging around the edges of the square.
“There’s a lot of rocks lying around the landslide, and there are plenty of places to hide, so I think we might be able to get through if we sneak around.”
Cornelia still had a worried expression on her face.
“It’ll be hard to hide from all the ants running around, but Letty and I can take care of them if it’s just one or two. Besides…” Wynn spread his hands and shrugged. “In any case, we can’t stay here forever. I’m worried about Lino, Oort-san and the others.”
“Wedge, are your injuries okay?”
“No problem. It’s hard to wield a weapon, but thanks to Cornelia-sama’s healing magic, it’s no problem to run… Ah.” It was then that Wedge cut off his words and lightly tapped his head. “I’m sorry if my height causes us trouble.”
He meant that he wouldn’t be able to hide his body behind a rock. The three of them smiled softly as they realized that the serious and quiet Wedge was making a joke to lighten the mood.
“Onii-chan, I’ll go ahead. You follow me.”
“Yes. I’m counting on you, Letty.”
“Leave it to me!”
In the center of the square, next to the ants writhing around the withered sapling of World Tree, Leticia darted down the road with her posture low. The square was as silent as before, and she could hear the occasional unsettling squeak.
The spots she could lean on were in very bad shape due to the rock fall. There were large and small rocks lying around that were so fragile they looked like they would break if you touched them, and although the light was shining from above, it was dim near the walls and you couldn’t see your feet very well. Leticia could have been seriously injured if she had made a misstep and fallen, but she continued on as if it was nothing. From time to time, she stopped in the shadow of a large rock and looked for the presences around her.
Locke, Cornelia, Wedge and Wynn were at the tail end of the group, running a short distance behind Leticia. They were hurrying as fast as they could while trying to eliminate any sign of their presence so they would not be noticed.
Leticia, who was in the lead, suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. From Wynn’s position, he could see a single ant approaching a little ahead of the rock where Leticia was hiding, waving its antennae. He could barely hear the ant’s footsteps, and from Leticia’s position she couldn’t see it because of the rocks in the way, so she must have detected it just by its presence.
With her hand on the sword at her hip, Leticia swung it just as the ants tried to circumvent the rock behind which she was hiding. The ant’s head rolled easily across the ground. Leticia moved on, unconcerned about the ant she had killed. When Wynn followed her back to where the battle had taken place, the ant’s head was still gaping. It was a terrifying strength.
It no longer had its head, but we had to be careful not to get grazed by its jaws. He made a mental note of this as a point to pay attention to.
So far, things were going better than expected and they had only had to fight once, but if they kept going, they would inevitably have to fight the ants to some extent.
Again, Leticia stopped in her tracks. At that point, 20 meters to the left to the path they were to go. There were nine ants wandering around and a battle seemed inevitable. When they all reached the shadow of the rock where Leticia was hiding, the ants noticed them. Their bodies trembled slightly and they made low “vu-vu-vu” sounds as a warning as they approached.
“Ha!” Exhaling a short, sharp breath, he turned around and showed his sword.
Wynn’s sword landed on a tenth ant that had crawled up behind him. Because it was not a well-aimed blow, his sword struck the top of the ant’s head directly with its blade.
It was a hard outer carapace that even repelled the sword enhanced with Lino’s magic. However, with a swift, sharp blow, Wynn’s sword cut the ant’s head in two, protected by its hard armor. With Wynn’s blow as a signal, the five rushed toward the ants.
As he passed Cornelia and Wedge, Wynn swung his sword as he stood next to Leticia and Locke. Two ants approached Wynn from the front and two more from each side.
They had a strong jaw that could easily amputate all the bone if they decided to bite off a limb. Legs like saws. And formic acid shooting out of their abdomen. He dodged them, deflecting their attack and struck the belly of one with his sword. He dodged by a nose the formic acid that came flying close to his face and landed a lunge at the chest of the ant that was trying to bite his foot. The ballasted tip pierced the ant’s chest with a sound like it was breaking a hard object.
“Letty, Locke! Prioritize the ants in the direction of the path we must go!” shouted Wynn as an ant standing on its two hind legs attacked him and he used his sword to dispatch it. Wynn slashed the junction between the ant’s chest and body, which had been swept aside to create a gap.
Now there are two left!
In the immediate vicinity, Locke was facing two ants, and Leticia, who was in the front line, had already cut off the heads of two ants and was facing the remaining one… no, two more ants nearby were approaching her at breakneck speed. They must have been wandering around the perimeter of the square.
They keep coming, Wynn felt impatient.
Although they hadn’t noticed them, there were still ants near where they were fighting. Some of the ants must have been lurking behind the rocks, like Wynn and the others, so at this rate, he didn’t know how many ants they would have to deal with before they reached the road. The more ants there were nearby, the more likely it was that the ants swarming in the center would notice them. If that happened, there was no doubt that they would be overwhelmed by ants that would rush in like a black tsunami.
Behind him, Locke was also swinging his sword, but he seemed to have his hands full trying to fend off the attacks. If Locke were a novice knight, his skill with a sword would be understandable, but now he really seemed to be on the level of a novice knight. Now that they could not use magic to reinforce the edge of his sword, he seemed to have trouble with the hard outer armor of the ants, which could repel the attack of an unreinforced sword. However, Locke himself seemed to be well aware of this fact, and did not attempt to attack recklessly, but focused on defense and control.
Wynn stood next to Leticia and they both tried to break through, but there were five more. Gradually, more and more ants noticed them and seemed to gather. Little by little, they were getting closer towards the right tunnel, but it was getting harder and harder to move forward. Four more came closer.
We can’t go on like this.
It was then that thought crossed everyone’s mind.
“Hey, be careful, it’s going to get a little bumpy!”
A thick voice came from the path where Wynn and the others were heading, and in a moment, flames erupted, followed by a piercing crash that echoed across the square. The explosion swept the ants away, and the heat and blast brushed against Wynn and the others. They felt a ringing in their ears.
“If you’re alive, get here while you can!”
So said the voice to them before the explosion. On the other side of the dust, they saw a small, stocky figure. In any case, now that the ants had stopped attacking them it was a good opportunity. Wynn and the others jumped onto the road, slipping through the ants.
“We-we’re saved…” Locke said as he stepped out onto the path, but it was too early to claim victory.
Leticia watched the end of the path with keen eyes as she kept an eye out for ants coming from the square. The explosion had also affected this tunnel, and finally the dust clouds had dissipated and they could see more clearly.
“The girl on the other side exudes a terrifying presence. No wonder, we are not your enemies, could you please lower your weapons?”
As he said this, a group of people in their thirties to sixties, wearing metal armor, appeared from the bottom of the path. All of them had reddish bronze-colored skin, and their lean, well-trained muscles could be seen between the armor and clothing. And the most remarkable feature of them all was that they had pointed ears like elves, but they were shorter in stature, less than one hundred and forty centimeters tall: dwarves.
“Huh? But they’re still human children.”
“The humans sent children like that to defeat the ants?”
“You’re wrong, you’re wrong. They’re probably adventurers. It seems some humans like to go to dangerous places with a small group of people.”
“I was hoping they would have taken care of it first, but I guess it will be up to us in the end.”
There were about twenty of them. Apparently, they were not hostile. Although wary of the ants behind him, Wynn stepped forward and bowed his head as he holstered his weapon.
“Thanks for the help. Um, so you all are…”
“We live near here.” It was the old dwarf at the head of the line who had called them first that answered Wynn’s question. His hair and beard were pure white and his face was deeply wrinkled, suggesting that he was quite old. He was also the only one not wearing armor, dressed in light linen and holding a halberd larger than his height. He told his friends behind him to burn some incense to keep the bugs away, then turned to Wynn and the others. “Even if they’re demons, they’re just bugs. If you burn a bunch of this stuff, it’ll work. So, what are you guys doing here, killing ants like the rest of us?”
“We were just about to leave this abandoned mine road and head for Lyon.”
“Oh… the Kingdom of Lyon?” The old dwarf shot a cold glance at Wynn, who replied on behalf of the group. “That you’re using this back road instead of the main road seems suspicious to me… but no, I’m not going to intrude. Either way, it’s probably best if you turn around.”
“You probably got here by looking at a map from the time when this tunnel was still active, right? But from here, the road to Lyon has been submerged by groundwater, making it impassable.”
At the old dwarf’s words, Wynn looked at Locke. They had finally made it safely through the swarm of ants, but they couldn’t go on. They felt exhausted when such disappointment hit them.
“Erm, the fact that you people are here means you came from a different path, right?” It was Cornelia who spoke to the dwarves on Wynn’s behalf. She stood in front of him and the others and gave them a deep bow. “I apologize for the delay in thanking you for your help. My name is Cornelia. Please forgive me, but I cannot reveal more of my identity due to certain circumstances.”
“Ho… this one is polite. You can call me Mito.” The old dwarf’s expression softened at the sight of Cornelia, who politely thanked him, and introduced himself as Mito. “I see. So, the young woman with the black hair is your master. It is true that the road from here to Lyon is submerged, but it leads to our village. We are familiar with the tunnels of the Majil.”
“We’re sorry we had to make you help us, and though it’s cheeky, we need another favor. Could you show us the path that leads to Lyon?”
“Hmm… judging by your manner, you are a noble human, aren’t you? You seem to have your reasons. If it weren’t for our situation, I’d be more than happy to show you the way, but unfortunately, we don’t have time for that right now.”
“Is it because of… the ants?”
Mito looked out into the square with a disgruntled expression.
“Just a week ago ants appeared in our village. They killed two children. We should have sent a team to kill them at the time, but the weather wasn’t right.”
On a bad rainy day, the water seeping into the tunnel often turned into a flash flood and washed away everything in the tunnel. They waited until the days were clear at last and plunged into the mine, but the ants that had become demons were even stronger than they had imagined, and swarmed in great numbers. The dwarves used the gunpowder they used in the mines to kill the ants, and so they reached the square where they believed the nest to be in order to defeat the Queen Ant to prevent further reproduction…
“I was going to use this explosive ball to cause panic in the ants. You see, you remember when you were kids, don’t you? When you peed on an ant hill and said, ‘Flood!’ That’s what I want. Let them panic like that.”
“Oh, I see.”
Wynn, Locke and Wedge nodded in perfect understanding. Leticia and Cornelia had a look of distaste on their faces, as if to say, “what an indecent thing to do”.
Anyway, they had planned to finish off the Queen Ant while the ants panicked from the explosive ball blast, but on the way here, they encountered more ants than they had imagined and used most of the explosive balls.
“Have you seen the Queen Ant?”
“Yes, we saw her. It was hiding behind the tree, so we couldn’t see the whole thing, but… maybe it was that big ant.”
Wynn said, and Wedge nodded.
“In this square there was a sapling of the World Tree and a dragon was supposed to live there to protect it. However, the dragon is nowhere to be found, and the sapling of the World Tree is dying. And there is a giant Queen Ant with unusual fertility.”
“A dragon…” Those words made Wynn lean forward, despite the situation.
One of the staples of heroic stories was the presence of dragons. The strongest of all living things. With scales harder than steel, of whom it is said their roar crushes the souls of the weak, and the fire they exhale scorches the souls of the gods.
“There was a dragon here…”
Mito nodded with a smile on his face. He must have noticed the longing Wynn had for the dragon because of his tone. However, it quickly changed to a sterner expression. Wynn also saw the expression on Mito’s face and shook his head slightly, shifting his focus. The dragon had disappeared, and in its place were the giant ant demons. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Sorry, but we’ve used up most of our explosive balls. We still have enough left to stop the ants, but not enough to kill the Queen Ant. That’s why we were going to go back to the village, but…”
“Hey, Mito-san. Of all the dwarves here, I think you’re probably the strongest, but if two more people as skilled as you were to join you, do you think you could defeat the Queen Ant?” Leticia, who had a meaningful smile on her face, interrupted Mito mid-sentence.
“Huh? You’re a girl with interesting questions. You’re the one who emitted that great presence earlier, aren’t you, who are you, noble lady?”
“My name is Leticia.”
“I see, Leticia…” Hearing Leticia’s name, Mito nodded deeply several times, and his mouth relaxed into a small smile. “I take it you and this boy are as good as me?” Mito looked at Wynn with interest.
“Letty, what are you doing?”
“If we can make the ants around us panic with explosive balls, I think Onii-chan, Mito-san and I can defeat that Queen Ant. So, in exchange for our help in defeating the ants, they will show us the way out to Lyon.”
Mito nodded at Leticia’s suggestion.
“I guess you have already realized that this place is now a place where no magic of any kind can be used.”
Everyone nodded at Mito’s words.
“I thought humans couldn’t even fight without using magic to strengthen their bodies, but I see, Leticia-san and that boy seem to be doing quite well.”
Before throwing the explosive ball into the air to save them, he had watched Wynn and Leticia who not only fought the swarm of ants without taking damage, but turned to attack and slaughter them one by one.
Well, I was sold when I heard her name. But it’s a shame… no, wait, what? Then…
“If we can defeat the Queen Ant here, none of us will have any objection. We would be more than grateful. If we have to go back, the ants will multiply again, and if that happens, we can’t be sure they won’t attack our people’s villages in all the Majil.”
“We have a deal. Do you agree, Onii-chan?”
“Yes. No problem.” Wynn nodded.
Mito looked at Wynn with an appraising look.
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