Chapter 57.1 : Lizardman
◆Dark Knight Kuroki
「Incarnation of the Great Thunder Dragon. Hear our pleas. We, your loyal followers, will faithfully abide by your request..」
The Lizardmen chanted in unison while displaying their bellies in a show of submission and vulnerability. Their position, with their arms and their legs splayed out like starfish, seemed to resemble the [大] kanji. That was the sight that greeted me as I entered the labyrinth, just after dawn. I was anxious to convince the lizardmen, it would most definitely be a difficult task and I would not be even a tad bit surprised if it took all day. There were eight lizardmen, all victims of the arena. Their scaly skin had scars that spanned the length of their body, proof of the trauma they had undergone at the hands of the humans. Such callousness and cruelty, all for what? Simply for entertainment? It disgusted me.
Naturally, I didn’t mean descending into the depths of the labyrinth but rather I visited the portion that was situated above ground. That former would just be foolhardy! I had to tread with caution until a direct line of communication was established and the lizardmen and I were having a peaceful conversation. Even then, it was better to prepare for the worst situation that could arise, despite being the Dark Knight and not an ally of the humans.
I surveyed my surroundings curiously, swiveling my head around slowly, like an alert snake. Once upon a time, very long ago, this place used to be the capital and home of the Minotaurs. However, after Modes had single handedly obliterated and utterly destroyed their capital, all of the Minotaurs had no choice but to escape underground, into the very depths of the labyrinth. Thus, what little of the capital was left above ground became abandoned ruins. Even today, aside from my presence and that of the eight lizardmen, the part of the labyrinth that lay above ground was deserted. To be quite honest, it was a bit of a shame that it had been destroyed since even from the ruins it was clearly apparent that it must have been quite beautiful.
The splendour of the demolished capital was still visible in small details. It had been constructed by the God Heibos and as such stood through the test of time. Though this capital had been abandoned for thousands and thousands of years, the majority of the ruin still displayed its outline and resplendent architecture. In the middle of the capital, on top of a hill, lay a weathered but glorious temple. The stone building’s decoration was beautiful- intricate engraved etched with precision and fluidity into the unforgiving medium of stone. The etchings and beautiful inlay work on the temple really conveyed the skill of the craftsmanship employed to create it. Even on the high ceilings of the domes, it was colorfully painted with depictions of the Gods. Despite the decrease of its vivacity with age, it was a testament to the prosperity present in the era of the Minotaurs’ rule over this place. Alas, that time had passed long ago, now it was nothing more than a relic, an unappreciated piece of history.
Taking in my last glimpse of the expanse of ruins from above, I deactivated my flight magic. Slowly descending down through the air, like a lone flower petal drifting on a breeze, I went down by myself, to the very center of the ruined capital. I had shaken off Shirone and her company, who now thankfully, were not coming with me. Though she had continuously insisted to accompany me, I was able to put our situation in perspective. It would be bad if our united front was revealed to Labrys by doing something so careless as entering the labyrinth together. It might be better if we used this to our advantage, the less people that knew about me, a Dark Knight working together with Shirone. That too to save Reiji, of all people. No, it would definitely be a better course of action to keep the reality of the situation discreet. Moreover, Shirone was an ally of humanity, one of its protectors. There was absolutely no way I could ask Shirone, the Hero of Light’s comrade, to help me especially when my goal was to save these Lizardmen.
This was something that I had to do by myself. .
Thus, I came this place in my Dark Knight’s form.
Regena had also wanted to come along but fortunately, she was stopped by Shirone. There had been a huge commotion last night, their raised voices travelling down until the end of the hall, punctuated by a fierce slam of a door. She had initiated a huge quarrel with Shirone when Regena had attempted to spend the night in my room along with me. They had exchanged sharp barbs that were meant to hurt, like weapons the hurtful remarks were flung at each other in the moment of anger. It was a battle of wills after all, and whoever backed down first was admitting defeat. It seemed as if Shirone got her way in the end since I hadn’t seen Regena for the remainder of the night or today morning. I heard that as a result of their argument, Regena ended up rooming with Kaya. Kaya was also sharing a room with her master, Kyouka. Although the rooms weren’t small by any means, it must have been crowded sharing with two other people, the lack of privacy frustrating. Nevertheless, I was glad to have had my own, which let me plan my approach to this meeting in peace and focus.
. I arrived in this place in my Dark Knight form. There was a logic behind my actions of course, not only was I stronger in this form, it was a precaution against any unexpected situations that might arise. It would also show my allegiance to Demon King Modes and hopefully, help the Lizardmen trust me.
When I actually encountered them though, I quickly realized that all my worries were baseless and futile. The Lizardmen were extremely pliant and open to my suggestions- they readily agreed to do what I said. It seemed as if they could sense the Dragon’s Power present within my body. Thus, the negotiations went smoothly, without any trace of a hitch because, like the Lizardmen present in Nargol, they too revered the Dragons.
After one of the lizardman pledge his allegiance, he went and gathered the other lizardmans in the vicinity.
Thus, all of those lizardman was showing their belly to me.
「My apologies, I know it’s an inconvenience but…I have to ask all of you to move from this place for a little while, just until I finish fighting the evil God residing within the depths of this labyrinth.」
I uttered these words to them as they slowly arose from their “belly up” positions.
「The Great Dragon Incarnate is GoinG to ChallENGE The OWNer of THis labyRINTH?」
.One of the lizardmen asked me incredulously, voice gradually raising due to his astonishment.
「That’s right. That is why I need all of you to leave this place during that period of time.」
Lizardmans exchanged glances between themselves when I told them so.
「In That CAse, I thiNK We Might Be ABle to HElp yOU.」
Of all the ways this meeting could have turned out, I was not at all anticipating this reaction. I was pleasantly surprised, my curiosity piqued.
「What exactly do you mean?」
「It SEEMS, tHE LABYrinth is CONNECted to the RIVEr. WE can GO INSIDE frOM the RIver. Is THAT INFORmation USeful ENouGH FOr YOur MAJEsty?」
My mind drifted away on that train of thought after I heard the information that the Lizardman revealed to me. All of a sudden, I recalled the blueprint that I had received from the God Heibos. Labrys had used a lake to imprison Reiji and his company. If my memory serves right, that lake should be located on the fifth floor. Could it be that the water that supplied the lake came from the river? The blueprint had no depiction of the structure constructed outside of the labyrinth itself. Heibos also told me that the blueprint might not be completely accurate as some changes might have been made after it was drawn and complete due to the change in terrain.
There was a very plausible likelihood that the God Heibos might draw water from the river to tend to the luscious inner garden.
As expected, there was nothing strange around this region of the labyrinth, since it had been hundreds of years ever since the labyrinth had created. During all that time, it was odd that there was no change in the terrain in this area at all. After quizzically observing this fact, I felt the need to check the blueprint again. I looked up from my in depth study of the blueprint to serve the Lizardmen with yet another query.
「By the way, is there any method we can use to enter the labyrinth from the river?」
The Lizardman shook his head when I asked that question.
「ThEre’s An InVisiBLe baRRiER WHIch onLY ALLowS THE WAter to ENTer but NOT US.」
I accepted the scenario presented to me by the lizardmen and concluded that there must be some sort of a barrier that was placed on that area. It controlled what could go in and what could leave. The idea slowly emerged in my mind like a figure descending from the depths of a white, dense fog. Perhaps the fifth floor of the labyrinth was actually a prison? As I continued to ponder over that possibility, the idea seemed to take root, seeming more likely every passing second. But if it wasn’t originally a prison, I was almost sure that there was a path we could use to sneak in.
Perhaps it was a matter that I should discuss with Shirone and the rest of the party upon my return. Just as I was in the midst of pondering this matter in detail, I suddenly felt a slight vibration in the air.
「What was…that feeling just now?」
「O Great Dragon Incarnate, that’s the siGN oF INTRUders.」
One of the lizardmen piped up from the group helpfully. Apparently, the surface of the labyrinth was shielded by a powerful barrier that upon being breached acted almost like an alarm for the Lizardmen, intruders were incoming. When the outsiders entered the labyrinth, the air from the outside world would also enter alongside them. Thus, small vibrations were caused whenever a small group of intruders came into the labyrinth.
Lizardmen were blessed with an especially keen sense of perception. It was leagues more sensitive than the senses that humans possessed so they could perceive the slight variations and vibrations in the air. On top of that, they were also extremely gifted at camouflage- they could use mimicry to change the color of their scales to match their surroundings. They would lie in wait silently and patiently, blending into the background flawlessly. These were the skills that allowed the lizardmen to so easily ambush the unsuspecting invaders who entered the labyrinth.
After saying so, I looked toward the intruder’s location. I could see them with clairvoyance magic as long as they were already inside of the barrier. It was then I saw them.
The intruders were none other than the freedom fighters from yesterday, including Novis.
Upon a closer observation, it seemed as if the number of people in the party had increased in the gap between yesterday and now.
「What are even they doing in this place?」
The only possibility emerging in mind was that they came to accomplish their goal of exterminating the Lizardmen.
「O Great Dragon Incarnate. SHall We REpel THose INtruders and THEN LEAVE THis PLace?」
The Lizardman’s voice betrayed the fury bubbling under the calm exterior he desperately tried to maintain.
They were captured by the humans and made into slaves. Worst of all, they were forced to kill each other for entertainment.
According to my investigation, sometimes humans even forced them to fight their own kin.
Thus, I could sympathize with these lizardmen.
Yes. I understood where their anger came from…
However, I didn’t feel the same overwhelming fury that they experienced. There was no way I could help them if they wanted to get their revenge on the humans. I felt torn between the two sides, unable to make a decision with the sparse, limited choices that were available to me. It felt like my hands were tied either way, ultimately, I’d have to go against one side and wouldn’t end up satisfied.
There was no doubt in my mind, some would be enraged upon observing the indecisiveness that loomed over me like a thundercloud, going as far as to say that I had no sense of justice or raison d’etre. Their criticism would extend to scathing comments from either side. I would be branded as ‘a selfish human’ or ‘the Dark Knight who obeyed the Demon King only for my own gain’, or that my act of saving these lizardmen was just one of my ‘whims’, a ‘simple passing fancy’.
「No, I’ll go to greet them. I’ll kick them out of this labyrinth…」
I shook my head as if that would clear the tempest of thoughts that was swirling through my mind and replied to the Lizardman’s question.
「OOO!! Great Dragon Incarnate will go himself!!!」
The Lizardmen bowed their heads in gratitude after hearing my decision and proclaiming their approval. It was a sight that stirred up feelings of conflict within me. I mean, I came here with the intention of apologizing to them. So naturally, seeing that would make me feel discomfited
I walked in the direction of Novis and the rest of his company to greet them. Looking at that annoying pest again, a brilliant idea dawned upon me..why don’t’ I try the magic that I had learned just recently? At least that blight on human intelligence called Novis would serve some purpose, inwardly I smirked gleefully at the thought of using him as a guinea pig for the experimental test of that technique. Unconsciously, I couldn’t help but stalker towards the group faster, skin itching in anticipation. To be quite frank though, I had no idea why I was planning to do this or who I was trying to protect.
Honestly, I had no idea what would be the outcome of a fight between these two sides. On one hand, the men who came along with Novis seemed to be quite powerful individuals. Meanwhile, we also had the tenacious Lizardmen who had survived the hellish infernal place known to the general populace as the Arena. They would fight to the death, having nothing to lose.
Fortunately, harassing the heroes was one aspect of the Dark Knight’s job.In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it was actually a perk. For that very reason, saving the band of heroes went going against the Dark Knight’s work ethic. So I was firmly on the side of the Lizardmen for now. A smug smile settled on my face as I got ready to do my job.
◆Freedom Fighter Girl, Shizufae
Time ticked past slowly, the wait for everyone to gather together was excruciatingly long, like waiting for a canyon to form from the erosion caused by a river. It really felt like an eternity. It was especially difficult to wake Novis up from deep slumber caused due to his actions of drinking until late last night to celebrate the coming together of the four heroes, the new joint front that they would present against their enemies, annihilating everything in their path. As usual, he had ignored my prudent advice to slow the drinking down and sleep early to prepare for the skirmish today. I scoffed, these fools wouldn’t be annihilating anything. Our party, led by the four heroes, went towards the mouth of the labyrinth which was shadowed in a menacing manner.
Aside from those four idiot heroes, it was just our usual party consisting of me, big sis Keyna, Nora-san, and Leylia-san.
A new addition to the group however, was Justy who had also tagged along with us.
Although she wasn’t a freedom fighter, Justy was a competent fighter nonetheless.
She armed herself with a big morning star which was prepared especially for her by Godan, her elder brother.
That morning star was so heavy that none among our group with the exception of me could lift it. Even big sis Keyna, the strongest amongst us faced too much difficulty picking it up. It’s weight resembled a discus more than a morning star.
Justy, who could easily lift such a heavy duty weapon might actually be more suited to become a freedom fighter than me.
No matter from which angle one observed Justy, it wasn’t at all apparent that she used to serve as a priestess in one of Ishtar’s temples. Unless they knew beforehand, no one could believe their eyes. The combat priests who served under Ishtar-sama typically were masters of a skill called battle-dance. Their weapon of choice was known to usually be either a scimitar, a battle fan or a sash made from fibres of soft iron, adopting the same nature in a magnet’s presence. None of them had ever been seen using a morning star as their weapon of choice.
It made sense if you thought about it though. After all, there was no beauty or grace in seeing the priestesses dance while swinging a bulky morning star around in the air, to be very honest, the image actually seemed terrifying instead. It fit Justy completely- she was the polar opposite of Ishtar’s priestesses who seeked graceful movements and practiced deadly elegance. Naturally I wouldn’t tell her about this, she was a devout believer of Ishtar after all.
Upon breaking out of my reverie, I noticed that we had arrived in front of the entrance gate that led to the area of the labyrinth that was above ground.
「Don’t let your guard down guys.」
The Hero of Wind, Zefa looked at all of us gravely as he uttered his statement. On the basis of majority vote, we had elected him to become the leader of our party. We nodded at him, acknowledging his word and silently passed through the gates. Like the time we had entered the labyrinth before, the atmosphere changed in the blink of an eye as soon as we entered the labyrinth.