Chapter 16: TRANSFORMATION
At the deepest part of the dark clan hideout, a party of four was killing any members of the dark clan they encountered as they continued forward in search of the dark clan’s leader. As they turned a corner, they saw what looked like a suspiciously placed rock covering an opening in the wall.
Suddenly, the blonde among the four, Melisa, released a groan as she fell to her knees while clutching her chest. The blonde’s sudden movement immediately caught the attention of Ragna who wasted no time to approach her as he asked,
Melisa looked up to see her companions looking at her with worry. She turned to Ragna who was still hovering in front of her and fortunately covering her from the sight of the veteran duo. She signalled him with her eyes to divert his attention toward her hand which was still placed over her heart.
Ragna turned his attention downward and his eyes widened as he noticed what the blonde was trying to tell him: The spot covered by her hand was glowing. Instantly, the memory of the night where they fought the goblin pack flashed in his mind. Specifically, he remembered that the blonde’s chest around her heart area had been glowing as well to alert them of the goblins’ approach.
Alarmed, his eyes immediately met Melisa’s, asking for confirmation. The blonde nodded wordlessly, whatever was waiting behind that stone door… wasn’t human. Ragna turned his head back briefly as he looked at the 2 unknowing veterans who were still looking at them with concern before turning back to Melisa,
“I think we need to proceed anyway… Kara and Nordo are fighting with us, we’re not on our own this time…”
Melisa peeked behind her friend toward the two adventurers before turning back to him and nodded. Still, she had to add a word of caution,
“We still need to tell them… I don’t want to put them at risk.”
Ragna nodded as he reached out his hand to help her stand,
“I understand… leave it to me. Can you fight still?”
Melisa nodded as she let him pull her up. Fortunately, the glow on her chest had subsided and with it, the uncomfortable feeling that caused her to fall to begin with. Still, she couldn’t help but feel that something was different compared to when she had detected the goblins… the uncomfortable feeling was much stronger this time, she could only hope that it was simply her fatigue affecting it.
As the two rejoined the veterans, Nordo immediately asked them in concern,
“You okay back there, girl?”
Melisa nodded to answer the man before Ragna stepped in,
“About that… There’s something we need to tell you two….”
Kara who had been inspecting the rock turned toward them as she spoke,
“What is it? Stop stalling and just say it.”
Ragna nodded before continuing,
“It’s… related to why we’re heading to Rabona…. You see, Melisa here actually has some kind of ability to detect the presence of monsters.”
The veterans raised their eyebrows in unison before Nordo spoke again,
“Huh? I’ve never heard of that kind of ability before… is it related to why she fell just now?”
Ragna nodded as he continued,
“Yes. We’re not exactly sure why or how since she cannot control it but yes, it was her warning that there may be monsters nearby and…”
This time, Kara completed his sentence as she pointed toward the rock door with her thumb,
“… the monsters may be waiting for us behind this thing. That’s what you’re saying?”
Ragna once again nodded in answer before the woman asked again,
“So, can you tell what the monster is?”
Ragna turned toward Melisa who shook her head as she replied,
“No, I can’t. I just know that it’s nearby and have somewhat of a rough feeling of how strong it is… sorry….”
Kara released a sigh as she spoke,
“Well… guess that’d be too much to ask for… that’d be too convenient, huh…?”
Nordo turned at the woman as he spoke,
“Well, what were you expecting? At least we got an advanced warning about it, that’s better than nothing.”
Kara shrugged as she half-heartedly responded to the man,
“You’re right, I guess….”
Finally, Ragna spoke again toward the two veterans,
“What do you two think we should do then?”
Kara shrugged in response as she answered,
“We proceed, of course. We’ve gotten this far, no sense in retreating just because we don’t know what’s waiting behind this thing. If I was that kind of a coward, I wouldn’t have become an adventurer to begin with.”
Nordo nodded in agreement as he spoke,
“Exactly… besides, Unknown dangers are an everyday thing for adventurers to begin with. If anything, It’s EXACTLY because we go where no one else will that we’re called an ‘adventurer’.”
The four nodded in unison as they affirmed their unanimous decision. Melisa then turned toward the rock that was blocking their way before speaking,
“So, how do we deal with this rock? We can’t exactly have Mr. Nordo do that technique of his again, it may cause the cave to crumble with us and everyone else inside. That’s suicide.”
Suddenly, there was silence as the blonde noticed that the other 3 were looking at her funny. Looking at the blonde’s rather dumb-looking expression, Kara couldn’t help sighing as she turned to Ragna,
“… your friend here is rather slow on the uptake, isn’t she?”
This time, even Ragna was holding his forehead in exasperation as he nodded silently. The youth felt a weight on his shoulder and noticed that Nordo was patting his shoulder with pitying expression. Finally, Ragna spoke up to the blonde,
“Dude… do you even remember where are we right now?”
Melisa tilted her head as she answered,
“The… dark clan’s hideout…?”
Ragna nodded as he elaborated,
“That’s right, we’re in THEIR hideout… and we’ve just defeated at least some of their high ranking members. Don’t you get it? Would you believe me if I said that one of these guys must have the key to this thing?”
The youth gestured at the rock with his thumb, specifically toward the familiar shaped indentation in the middle of the rock. This time, even Melisa couldn’t hide her blush as her brain finally understood what her companion had been implying.
The other three shook their heads at the blonde before Kara stepped forward toward the rock. She took out a small peculiar shaped item that she had looted from one of her opponents before inserting it into the indentation on the rock. Once the key was perfectly fit into the hole, it released a brief glow before the rock suddenly slid to the side, revealing the opening behind it.
Once the rock moved, the four could see that it was actually hiding a room behind it. Through the opening, they could see a man with his back facing them, seemingly hunched as he was eating something. Suddenly, their eyes widened as they saw a pair of slender legs visible to his side, right in front of the man.
As all of them realized what exactly the man was eating, Ragna and Melisa quickly looked away as they covered their mouths to hold themselves from throwing up. Even Nordo and Kara with their extensive experience remained stunned with their eyes wide open as they looked at the scene before them.
As if finally sensing their presence, the man wiped his mouth with his arm before turning his head to look at them. The man raised to his feet to face them, allowing the group of four a clearer view of what looked to be the corpse of a woman with her stomach gouged out. This time, neither Ragna nor Melisa could hold their stomach as they threw up on the spot while Kara and Nordo visibly and considerably paled as they looked at the mutilated woman.
The man’s still bloody mouth area struck horror into the four as the man grinned as he spoke,
“Well, hello there. You know, you really had a terrible timing to show up… don’t you know it’s rude to interrupt someone’s meal?”
Contrary to the man’s easygoing attitude, the four instantly raised their guards as they instinctively sensed the man’s killing intent. In fact, the killing intent was so thick that all four of them seemed to imagine a red aura rolling off the man like malevolent waves. The younger two even felt lightheaded as they were uncontrollably shivering and perspiring at the same time.
Before they even realized what was happening, Ragna and Melisa felt their bodies being pulled aside as Kara suddenly shouted at them,
“Move, you two!!”
As they fell to the ground, the space where they had been at exploded. They turned toward the source and saw that the man had somehow appeared right in the middle of a small crater where they had been standing. The two paled considerably as they realized that if Kara and Nordo hadn’t pulled them aside, they would have been a bloody smear on that stone floor.
Kara’s shout once more attracted their attention as she shouted,
“Get your heads off the cloud! He’s not someone you can afford to be distracted against!”
Heeding her advice, the youths quickly scrambled on their feet as they somehow pulled themselves together. The man, still crouching in the middle of the crater raised himself almost carelessly as he turned toward the four with a vicious grin,
“Damn… that was a close one too…. Seems like at least one of you is decent….”
Melisa couldn’t help but shiver as she saw the man’s expression, despite his physical look; somehow he just didn’t feel human to her. The blonde couldn’t help asking,
“What… are you…?”
This time, the man raised his eyebrows as he rubbed his chin almost amusedly as he answered,
“Oh? That’s interesting… you asked me with ‘what’ and not ‘who’….”
Ragna narrowed his eyes as he caught the implication from the man’s answer,
“You’re not human then….”
The man clapped in amusement as he spoke once again,
“NO SHIT, smartass? Dude, ever consider being a comedian? You’d make a killing as the straight man.”
Nordo’s voice from the side caught everyone’s attention as he spoke,
“This feeling… I will never forget it… to think that a demon would appear this close to the capital already….”
The man’s grin widened as he pointed toward the ex-adventurer,
“Oh.My.God! Everyone, give the old man some applause! He.Got.It.RIGHT!”
Melisa’s eyes widened as she looked at the man in disbelief,
“You’re… a demon?”
The man’s grin grew even wider as he covered his face with one hand before he suddenly jabbed his fingers into his own eyes. The adventurers’ eyes widened in horror as they saw blood spraying out of the man’s eyes before they realized that the man’s features began to change.
His skin turned into a sickly purple and his body bulged under his clothes until he was at least twice his original size. When the man withdrew his fingers from his eyes, they saw that the man’s eyes had turned completely red. Finally, he opened his mouth, revealing rows of jagged sharp shark-like teeth as he spoke,
“Now then… which of you is the damned goddess’ chosen one…?”