215 The Dark Serpent, the Lady of Darkness’ Noose


 Link returned to his seat and waited for King Leon to speak.

"Leave the hall," ordered King Leon to the attendants and courtiers.

Everyone promptly got up and left, while the last person to leave closed the great door behind them. King Leon then turned to Grinth who was still beside him.

"Master Grinth," he ordered, "let Master Link see the Magic Image."

Grinth nodded and took out a scroll. He used the Magician's Hand to push it towards Link, who then opened it up and studied it for a while. Link discovered that there were brownish red traces of blood on the scroll which showed a detailed image of a Dark Elf. The background of the image was a dark and gloomy forest, while the Dark Elf was covered all over with leather armor and was wearing a masked hood on his head. Only the Dark Elf's eyes were exposed, and he was in a lunging position which made the bloodthirst in those eyes even more pronounced.

At first glance, there didn't seem to be anything special about this Dark Elf. But as he studied it closely, Link found spotted some anomalies. The most obvious thing he noticed was the eyes, which were dark red like any other Dark Elf's. But, the more he examined it, the more clearly he could see the tiny magic runes on the pupils of those eyes. The Dark Elf's hands were strange as well-they weren't ordinary fingers but were claws instead, and the nails were as sharp as a beast's.

"That is a magic image sent back from MI3," Grinth said. "A Magician sacrificed his own life to get it."

Link was immediately stunned the moment he saw the image because he already knew what it was. Still, he maintained a calm expression.

"Is this Dark Elf powerful?" asked Link.

"Very powerful!" answered Grinth with a grave voice.

King Leon sat there on the throne with a deep frown on his face, saying absolutely nothing. This revelation came as no surprise to Link at all. In the game, the army of Norton Kingdom never won any battle where this type of Dark Elf Assassin appeared.

But Link must keep the pretense that he knew none of this.

"Please explain," he said to Grinth.

This time, it was King Leon who answered him.

"The information we got from the MI3 is that this type of Dark Elf is very fast, possesses robust and sturdy Battle Aura, and are wild and bloodthirsty in nature. Their individual strength is equivalent to a Level-6 Warrior, and they tend to act in groups. They almost seem tireless and could be active for days without rest. They specialize in assassinating our officers in the army or the Battle Mages. The MI3 had tried to set traps to capture them, but so far we'd lost more than a hundred elite members of MI3 without capturing any of them. This image is the only thing we've got for now."

Link nodded and looked down at the image again. Although the image was very clear, it still wasn't detailed enough for Link, so he cast the Eagle's Eye spell and continued to examine it even closer. While studying the image, Link raised his wand and started drawing with it in the air.

A white light appeared at the tip of Link's wand; it was as if the air was his drawing board. The wand moved in the air and left indelible light markings in its trail. About a minute or so later, Link stopped drawing with his wand, while in the air he left a circular magic seal that contained about a hundred magic runes.

Then, something strange happened.

The shadows in the darkest corner of the hall gradually expanded, and the magic lamps seemed to be shrouded in a layer of black fog, dimming the lights considerably. It now felt as if a black mist permeated through the whole hall.

King Leon was visibly disturbed by this change.

"These are...dark runes!" exclaimed Grinth in alarm. "Master Link, what's going on here?"

Link waved his hand at the magic seal to scatter the runes. He'd just used a virtual simulation technique he found in Vance's notebook. It wasn't a very powerful technique, but it did look impressive to those who'd never seen it.

Once the magic runes in the air disappeared, the black mist in the hall vanished, and everything returned to normal.

"These runes are on the pupils of the Dark Elf in this image," explained Link. "I don't know its specific roles, but judging from the bizarre effects it produced just now, we can assume that the Dark Elf's body has been transformed by dark magic in some way."

Grinth gasped.

"Do you mean to say that the Dark Elf was transformed by the occult?" he asked.

Grinth's tones had changed now when he addressed Link. He used to think that Link was just too young to have a deep understanding of the magic theories. But from what he'd seen so far, he was forced to acknowledge him as a true Master Magician and regard him as an equal.

"Yes, the occult," replied Link, "but not just the ordinary kind of occultic magic. You see, there were no concrete connections between the magic runes I've just drawn earlier. That's completely inconsistent with the universal rule in normal magic runes. It's as if their mere existence was enough to influence the dark elements in the environment, which means that they are incredibly powerful."

Grinth's face turned as white as a sheet. He could already guess the meaning of Link's explanation but was too afraid to be sure about it.

"You mean they're..."

"They're not just normal dark runes," said Link. "They're divine dark runes!" The former came from the powers of mere mortals, but the latter came from the gods of darkness, and the difference of power levels between the two was as vast as the sky!

"But if they truly are divine dark runes," said Grinth, "then only a priest can create them. How can a mortal Priest create such a powerful divine spell?"

The divine spell was powerful enough to turn a group of fighters into Level-6 Assassins. This frightening level of power was unheard of in the Realm of Light!

"That is true," continued Link, "an ordinary divine spell would require a priest as the mediator to take effect. Because priests are mere mortals, the power of divine spells would be greatly reduced. To create a Level-6 Dark Elf Assassin would require an enormous amount of power and energy that it would simply be impractical. Therefore, my guess is that they've somehow got their hands on a dark god-level device."

Link's tone was very plain as if he was simply stating dry facts from a textbook. But he'd constructed a theory with almost irrefutable logic and finally came to an earth-shattering conclusion-a dark god-level device!

If these words leaked out of this hall, they would have enough power to set off a storm of chaos in the whole Norton Kingdom or even the whole Realm of Light. In Firuman history, whenever a god-level device appeared, it would surely mean that the entire world was about to usher in a huge change that could possibly change the world forever.

So far, no one had discovered any god-level devices in the Realm of Light. The most powerful device would be the holy-level device called the Holy Grail which was preserved in a Church of Light in the holy city of Sarana.

Even though Grinth already knew that Link was right, he still wanted to cling to the last thread of hope and refused to believe it.

"But who would be willing to sacrifice so much just to bring the god-level device to this world?"

While the existence of god-level devices was undeniable, because of their unworldly power, it was against all the rules of the Firuman kingdoms to bring it to this world. Thus, maintaining the existence of such a device would require unimaginable resources and energy. Once this energy was exhausted, the god-level device would be immediately squeezed out of this plane of reality.

Thus, in the mortal world, a holy-level device was the most powerful device that could stably exist.

Link sighed. He knew who was responsible for bringing the god-level device into this world, and he knew the consequences as well.

In the game, this dark god-level device was called the "Dark Serpent, the Lady of Darkness' Noose," and it was the Spider Queen Lolth's weapon. The only reason why it could be brought to the mortal world was because the Dark Elves had sacrificed 10,000 souls when they attacked Gladstone.

But the Change of the Bloody Moon didn't happen in this world, yet the Dark Elves still managed to bring about this god-level device. There could only be one explanation for this, that is that they've found another race of people to sacrifice!

"I think," Link whispered, "the Dark Elves must've used the sacrificial method to bring this device to the mortal world."

"Sacrificial method? To summon a god-level device?" asked Grinth, still incredulous. "But that would need at least 10,000 souls!"

Link only replied with one word.

"Gladstone."

The word sent a chill down Grinth's spine. Kin Leon refused to understand it at first, but after a while, all the blood was drained from his face, and his face looked pallid.

Yes, a year ago the Dark Elves had plotted a sneak attack on the town of Gladstone. It was an atrocious plan, but even though some people were sent to investigate the Dark Elves' true motives behind such an act, no convincing conclusions had ever been reached.

But now, Link had made step-by-step deductions through the existence of the dark runes in the Dark Elf's eyes and concluded that there must be a dark god-level device in the mortal world. Thus, he'd now found the horrifying reason behind the attack in Gladstone.

The Dark Elves had attempted to massacre the innocent souls in Gladstone and sacrifice them to summon the dark god-level device then use it to launch an all-out war on the Realm of Light.

If the Dark Elves' plan had been successful, then the Norton Kingdom would be suffering the most brutal blow by now. Any possibility of a counterattack or minor victories would merely be a joke then.

There was still one last shred of doubt in King Leon's mind.

"Master Link," he asked, "are these all just your guesses?"

Link nodded. He couldn't deny that he had absolutely no proof to back up his claims no matter how sure he was of the truth in them.

"But, Your Majesty," Link said, "there is a simple way to confirm my theory. We only need to investigate whether there were any other massacres in the North. They can't hide such a thing completely. Maybe the MI3 could find some traces of..."

Before Link could finish his sentence, King Leon slumped hopelessly into the throne. Cold beads of sweat saturated his forehead, and his eyes turned as dark and bleak as a storm. Link's words must have been a great blow to him, even though Link wasn't exactly sure why.

Link turned to Grinth for the explanation but soon found that even the Master Magician wasn't in the best condition himself. His face was ashen gray, and both of his hands were gripping his wand. It seemed as if all his senses took leave of his body and all he wished for was death.

"What's going on?" asked Link.

Grinth chuckled cynically for a long time before answering Link. His laugh sounded more like a grievous cry when Link listened to it.

"Actually," said Grinth in a hoarse and bleak voice, "we've received some reports from the North. Have you heard of the Icefield Barbarians?"

"Yes," answered Link. "They are a race of people who lived for generations on the Icefield Island and they hunt whales for a living." He'd read about them in books, but these people were primitive and did not participate much in the affairs between kingdoms, so no one paid much attention to them.

"Well," continued Grinth, "three months earlier, our army received pleas for help from these people. They said that the demons had descended upon their island and massacred most of its inhabitants. They were hoping that we'd be able to help them. No one took it seriously at the time because they were just barbarians. Besides, our army was already engaged in a plan to wage war against the Dark Elves...But who would've thought...Who would've thought that things would turn out this way!"

In other words, the Icefield Barbarians had been massacred instead of the citizens of Norton Kingdom. As a result, the dark god-level device was here, and the Norton Kingdom had to suffer the apocalyptic consequences that were to come.

What a sign of karma at work!

King Leon rubbed the corners of his eyes with his fingers, wiping away the tears that he'd quietly shed. He then turned to Link and spoke to him almost with a tone of humility.

"Master Link," he began, almost as a plea, "do you think we have any chance to win this war?"

The young Magician had displayed incredible wisdom and insight in front of his eyes. He'd managed to guess the Dark Elves' terrible plots with the minimal number of clues and infer the existence of a dark god-level device while staying calm and collected through it all.

The existence of such a figure made King Leon slightly hopeful. Perhaps there was some truth to the rumors that he was the God of Light's Chosen One. Perhaps this young man could one day save the Realm of Light.

Link didn't say whether they could win or not.

"Your Majesty," said Link, waving the blood-stained scroll that contained the image of the Dark Elf in his hand, "the future cannot be predicted. Whether we win or lose depends on our present efforts. We haven't yet reached the lowest point, so, first of all, we must capture the Occult Dark Elf Assassin and study its weakest points. Then we'll be able to handle the dark god-level device. Do you agree with me, Your Majesty?"

"But these Dark Elves are too strong," said King Leon, "and their combat skills are at an unimaginable level. They work in groups, and they move incredibly fast. Even the Dawn Swordsman Karnose couldn't capture any of them."

The Dawn Swordsman Karnose, a Level-8 Warrior, was the strongest Warrior in the Norton Kingdom and perhaps in the entire human realm. He'd always been stationed in the palace, but judging from the king's words, he must've been sent to the battlefield in the North too. This just proved how dire the situation had become for the Norton Kingdom!

Link interlaced his fingers in front of his chest and fell into silent contemplation for a few seconds.

"I will go north myself," said Link finally.

"Huh?" King Leon and Grinth looked at each other in shock. Ever since defeating the Level-8 demon Tarviss, Link was recognized by the whole Realm of Light as the most powerful Battle Mage. What a formidable team they would make if he could work together with the Dawn Swordsman!

It could be said that if these two couldn't succeed after working together, then no one else in the whole realm could either!

"When can you make the journey, Master Link?" asked Grinth.

"I would need a week to get my affairs in order before leaving," Link answered.

"Of course! Of course!" said the king, he'd stood up in excitement by now. "Please let me know what I can do for you, Master Link. I'll do my best to satisfy you!"

"Then please make sure no one knows of my movements and whereabouts, Your Majesty," said Link.

Link was hesitant to go north himself, but it seemed that Norton Kingdom's army was about to collapse in defeat in front of his eyes. Link could no longer stay out of the action and do nothing at this point.