75. Dark Arts
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‘What’s your thoughts about this whole affair?’ Rakna asked as he sat upside down on the ‘ceiling’ of the underground village, his claws spiked to the stone. His neck was bent as he looked down, or up from his perspective, at the ancient-looking house that Vina had told him about.

 

[I cannot say. The System is vast and not everything happening inside of it is under control or even monitored. Locals and Hosts have their personal endeavors and activities. This is usually what is at the origin of Quests in the first place.]

 

‘So, you’re saying this might be a Quest as well?’

 

[Affirmative. Once you resolve this situation, the System will evaluate it and hand over proper rewards for your efforts.]

 

‘I see. So there exist the kinds of Quests that I need to finish before getting them, huh?’

 

[Yes. Generally, Quests that require the initiative of a Host are called Hidden Quests. Just like what happened during your tutorial, Rakna.]

 

‘Noted,’ he replied shortly as his eagle eyes tracked the few dark elves roaming the street. He was waiting for an occasion to slip inside the chief’s house without being seen. He could just walk up to it with Stealth but actually getting inside might give him away. There also was a pair of guards in front of the entrance.

 

‘Why does he even have guards here? They’re inside the village… Is it because they reported me?’ He clicked his tongue internally.

 

‘Should I use my mist?’ He asked himself after waiting for nearly five minutes. He hummed and began to inspect the house he was targeting in more detail. Maybe there was some sort of opening that could allow him to enter, like an opened window among other things.

 

As he was doing that, an unfamiliar sound from the System echoed in his head. It was accompanied by a small prompt to the side of his vision with Allan’s name on top of it.

 

❮ ◈ ❯

<Allan River> Hey, Rak? Can you see this? Our AIs keep telling us that we can’t contact your HL because it’s out of range or something. Where are you?

❮ ◈ ❯

 

Rakna blinked in surprise. ‘Right, I added them as friends yesterday…’

 

❮ ◈ ❯

> I’m on the Fifth Plateau.

<Allan River> …I don’t even wanna ask.

> More importantly, how come you’re awake at this hour?

<Allan River> Rak… get your priorities straight, man. And it’s Nyx and teach’s fault, they woke me up early. Then we tried to do the same with you but apparently, you were not even on the same Plateau as us. Now, can you explain how the heck you’re on the Fifth Plateau?

> I woke up early and finished the Trials.

<Allan River> I feel like you skipped a lot of info there…

❮ ◈ ❯

 

Rakna snorted and took his eyes away from the text chat for a second. His eyes coincidentally fell on a small fissure on the house’s roof. His mind then clicked with an idea as he glanced at one of the closed windows of the house.

 

❮ ◈ ❯

> Something came up, talk to you later. Just do the Trials and tell Flavia and Nyx to be careful in the Race Trial if they’re going to fly. After you’re done, you’ll understand how I climbed to the Fifth Plateau.

<Allan River> Sure… gl for whatever you’re doing.

> Thx.

❮ ◈ ❯

 

Rakna closed the prompt and nudged Pronos. “Hey, little guy, do you see that crack over there?”

 

The little snake tilted his head before squinting his eyes. His far-sight wasn’t as good as his master but he could somewhat make it out after all the increases his attributes had gone through and he meekly nodded when he had a rough idea of what he was looking at.

 

“Do you think you can squeeze in and open a window for me without being caught?”

 

At this, Pronos nodded with much more confidence. His speed and dexterity were nothing to scoff at and he had already unlocked Stealth himself after observing Rakna do it. Along with his ability to camouflage and his small size, he was simply perfect for furtiveness.

 

“Then, I’ll have to rely on you. Can you jump down from here or do you need my help?”

 

Pronos shook his head and slithered out from under Sonata. He then nonchalantly hopped off and began to free fall as Rakna watched him curiously. He plunged through the air for a few seconds before breathing in and exhaling a thick white fog. His body was enveloped by it and the speed of his fall considerably decreased and he lightly landed on the house’s roof.

 

Rakna silently praised him for that. ‘He probably produced a volatile poison that was lighter than the atmosphere. A very witty application of his magic,’ he remarked as he saw him sneak inside the house.

 

Two minutes later, Rakna saw one of the windows shake before it was opened along with the shutter. Pronos came out and waved his tail at him. ‘Good job, little guy,’ he thought and his feeling was transmitted telepathically.

 

He then relaxed his entire body and began to run down the walls of the cave. Fortunately for him, although some light was beginning to brighten the village, his Stealth was still enough to keep any curious eyes away from his presence. He quickly touched the ground again and he was notified that the skill had reached the maximum level.

 

He quietly leaped to the ledge of the window Pronos had opened on the second floor and turned into a therian so he’d be able to fit through the frame, whilst passively noting that his wolf form had seemed to be bigger than it was at the very beginning.

 

When he landed inside, Pronos promptly jumped on his shoulder as he looked around. The room he was in seemed to be unused since it was covered in dust and barely furnished.

 

He carefully approached the door and slowly opened it. Thankfully, it didn’t make any noise. He ended up in an empty corridor and sharpened his senses as he stood immobile.

 

After a full minute, a frown marred his expression as he simply was unable to hear or even smell anything in this house. He couldn’t detect even the smallest trace of a living being. In fact, when he used Fabled Sight to take a near-microscopic look at the house, he noticed that the dust itself showed no signs of someone leaving their footprints.

 

It was as if this whole place hadn’t been used in years. He scowled and pulled out the dual daggers he got from the praying mantis. He clenched them tightly and headed toward the stairs leading to the first floor.

 

A few minutes later, he was sure of one thing; there was no one here. This entire house was empty with absolutely no village chief in view. Rakna even went back up to the second floor and searched every room to make sure.

 

“Why are they even guarding this place then?” He whispered as he returned to the living room. He glanced at the front door which was guarded by two dark elves and became even more confused.

 

“Does this chief even exist? What kind of farce would that be? This place is old and unkempt. Are you telling me they don’t even acknowledge that?”

 

[This might be the work of an illusion or at the very least, a powerful misdirection. This could also explain why Locals here do not seem to even be aware of the System’s existence,] Alexa gave her opinion.

 

Rakna hummed and then heard a small tapping sound. He looked at the source to see Pronos at full size knocking on the wall with his tail.

 

“What are you doing?” He asked as he walked toward him.

 

Pronos hissed and pointed at the wall repeatedly. Rakna tilted his head in confusion and took a look at the wall. “Is there something wrong with it?”

 

The Eion snake responded by tapping on it a few more times and once again pointing at it. Rakna quickly understood this time. “Do you… see something behind that with your echo vision?”

 

Pronos nodded and Rakna knocked on it himself. It didn’t feel hollow which meant this was a full wall. If there was truly something behind it, that detail was weird.

 

“Let’s see…” Rakna mused and summoned several spikes made out of cold energy. The spike-like constructs floated above his hand and with a wave, they all pierced the wall in a circle. He then snapped his fingers and they all imploded amazingly quietly.

 

“Step back for a second, little guy,” he told Pronos before extending his claws and pierced into the wall with his hands. He grunted and began to pull. The veins in his arms bulged and the wall began to form splinters that followed the path defined by the holes of the cold explosions.

 

With one last push, Rakna ripped out the wall composed of dark wood, some isolation, and what seemed to be a cement-like material. He sighed and put the slab in his hand on the floor. He and Pronos then looked at what was behind it with a dry expression.

 

“Again… that’s, what, the third I see in the span of two days?” Rakna muttered as the dust settled to reveal a staircase leading underground. “A lot more if we count the Dungeon’s floors,” he added and sniffed the air a bit.

 

“Same thing; no traces. There also didn’t seem to be a mechanism for this secret passage. It’s like the wall was built to clog the hole rather than hide it,” he said to himself while holding his chin in thought. After a while, he decided he simply didn’t have a choice and went down the relatively narrow underpass.

 

He grabbed his daggers again and carefully took each step with Pronos keeping a lookout from his shoulder. After a dozen of stairs, the passage devolved into a spiral going straight down. Rakna tried to look at the bottom with Fabled Sight and ultimately decided to directly jump when he saw it wasn’t too far.

 

He cushioned his fall with Artzpul and activated his aura at its minimum visibility. He inspected where he was and widened his eyes when he saw something on the ground. It was leaning against the wall and appeared to be completely immobile.

 

The scary thing though was that this ‘thing’ was a silhouette. Rakna tentatively crouched in front of it to look at the face that was hidden from him and raised an eyebrow at what he saw. Dark gray skin, crimson lines, and wide-open empty eye sockets.

 

Rakna recognized three things. Firstly, this person had obviously been affected by the curse before his death. Secondly, he was old; an age that matched what Vina had told him about the chief. Lastly, the clothes he wore were shredded and covered in dirt. Based on the lack of traces around it, one didn’t need to be a genius to tell that this person had been dead for a long time.

 

‘Years at the very least,’ Rakna estimated before casting Appraisal on the corpse if he could even call it that.

 

❮ ◈ ❯

The dead body of an elven village’s chief. It was abandoned for decades. It shows signs of being corrupted by dark arts. The body shows signs of having been drained of all its mana, soul, and life force before death.

❮ ◈ ❯

 

It wasn’t much to go by but it certainly gave him something to think about. ‘Drained…’ This word alone might explain the nature of the curse. More specifically, it made a bit more sense after seeing the negative values on Vina’s status.

 

Rakna sighed and stood up and looked at the dark tunnel that laid before him. Just in case, he took a potion to recover some of his mana pool and began to walk. ‘This feels like Seed Grotto all over again,’ he thought bitterly and ventured inward.

 

Then, as he got further away, even with his uncanny sensory skills, he wasn’t able to notice the small twitch that coursed through the corpse’s arm before it turned motionless again.

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