74 Trapped in a Labyrinth?


 In the midst of the narrow passages of the cove, the group advanced 20 more yards before they encountered another sneak attack.

This time, two dark arrows were shot at them: one from the left and one from the right. Jacker raised his shield and managed to block the arrow from the left. On Link's right, Lucy was madly swinging her sword and the blade glinted in the dim light as she thrust her sword forward. Then, out from the tip of the blade came a strong gust of wind that sent the arrow flying in the opposite direction.

Anderson and Jacques were both staring dumbfounded at Lucy, stunned by the power of her sword. She then calmly sheathed her sword after the arrow had been deflected, paying no attention to the two men. Although the men were full of wonder and curiosity, they dared not say anything to her because of her intimidating cool attitude. Nonetheless, the extraordinary sword had left a great impression on them.

Link noticed Gildern was going to rush towards the enemies, so he said, "Gildern, leave one alive, don't kill them all!"

After hearing Link's instruction, Gildern killed one of the thieves with an arrow, then held back and carefully shot another arrow in order to not kill the target. Soon after, there were two cries of pain and a shadowy figure fell from the cliff and landed with a hard thud. The other one fell too, but he was still conscious. He waved his hands and feet mid-air to grasp at the rocky cliff face to slow down the speed of his fall. When he finally hit the ground, the thief wailed in pain but was still alive.

"Go, interrogate him." Link walked up to the falling figure, and the rest followed him.

Just as they were approaching the thieves, the corpse of the dead thief reanimated, just like the others before it, and climbed back up through the narrow passages of the cove back into the darkness. This time, a corpse had come back to life before of everyone's eyes, so they could plainly see the shocking disfigurements of the zombie.

The zombie's body was bent out of form. What was even more chilling was the expression on the walking corpse's face-its empty eyes were wide open and blood and other bodily fluids uncontrollably oozed out of its mouth. Whenever it moved, its body would make cracking sounds due to its broken bones - it was simply a bone-chilling sight.

"By the Lord of Light, what a terrifying organization the Syndicate is!" muttered Anderson under his breath.

If he was lucky enough to survive this, he thought it pre-emptive to report whatever he'd seen today to the church. Such a sacrilegious organization must be cleansed and eliminated from its roots!

The zombie had walked into the darkness out of their sight, so Link walked towards the other thief and pointed his wand at him. The tip of the Fire Crystal staff lit up in a red aura, and under Link's precise control he shrouded the dying thief with the red light.

The light did no harm to the thief at all, but it was a good ploy to scare someone with no experience in magic. It worked very well, evidently, by the look of horror on the thief's face.

"Now, you have two options: one, answer my questions, or two, keep silent, and I will burn your soul!" threatened Link coldly with a mirthless laugh.

Before he could finish the sentence, the thief was scared witless.

"I'll answer your questions, please don't kill me!" he pleaded.

"Very good, you've made a clever choice."

Link's countenance softened slightly. He then asked, "What's going on in the cove? Why is it so dark?"

"Because a Magician had put a magic seal around the cove. The leader, Andy, said it would scare away the enemies of the Syndicate," answered the thief in a panicked voice.

"Magic seal? Where?" asked Link.

"In the main hall inside the cave, about 30 yards from here, one more turn along this path and you'll find it."

"One more question, why did the dead thieves rise up again? And where are they going?" asked Link.

He had encountered nothing like this at the Syndicate's lair in the game so Link couldn't expect what was to come after this, neither could he figure out what exactly was going on.

Link's confidence in his own strength was unshaken, though, as he now had his Matchstick wand and his Mana was almost full. Moreover, by his side there were two Level-4 Warriors and three Level-3 professional mercenaries. He even brought along a big pile of magic scrolls. He was confident that all this was enough to help him face whatever the Syndicate was to throw at them.

"No, I can't tell you anything, otherwise the master will punish me. Please... Please don't force me!" answered the thief.

Link was taken aback by the response. His eyebrows furrowed, and the aura of the Fire Crystal shone even brighter now.

"Do you want to know how painful it is to have the Fire Crystal's flame burn your soul?" asked Link.

"No, I can't tell you... I can't tell you... Ahhhh!" Then, something unfathomable happened to the thief. His voice gradually became fainter and his pupils dilated until finally, he died.

Jacker walked up and checked the thief's body, then turned around and said to Link, "My lord, it seemed he was shocked to death."

Shocked to death? I don't think so, Link thought in disbelief.

Link used Aura Detection to scan the corpse and saw a black haze receding from the skull of the thief. This haze was much denser and even moved more quickly than the one that filled the atmosphere of the cove.

"No, he wasn't shocked to death. It's a curse. These thieves were cursed so as to not reveal anything about the zombies, otherwise, they would die," said Link.

Everyone was stunned by Link's explanation. This was the kind of demonic plot that would've made anyone's blood run cold!

Link noticed how everyone around him was petrified, so he added, "Don't worry, this curse involves a complicated process. It would require someone to swear an oath that would bind them to the curse, so rest assured that we won't find ourselves cursed without our knowing it."

This was common knowledge in magic. Since Link had read so many textbooks, he could easily see the tricks involved in the magic curse.

Everyone was instantly put at ease after hearing Link's explanation.

"Mr. Link, what should we do now?" the leader of the militia Jacques asked.

Among everyone present, he was the least experienced and the most spineless. He thought the shrewdest thing they should do right now was to retreat and escape from this dreadful place as soon as possible.

Before Link could answer, the dead thief started to move again. Link took a step back and waited until the corpse stood up and walked for about ten feet. Then he waved his hand and said, "Let's follow him. We'll see where they're going and find out once and for all what this is all about."

By now, everyone around Link was a bundle of nerves. Even the proud knight Anderson broke out in a cold sweat. Nonetheless, they all followed behind Link.

And so, a zombie teetered and tottered down the narrow winding path in the thick darkness of the cove while the young Magician followed behind as steady as a rock. The rest of the group who were all gulping in fear, followed closely behind him.

It turned out that the thief hadn't been lying about the cave. After following the zombie for about 60 feet, a corner appeared, just as described. There was another sneak attack, but the group was on high alert. The ambushers consisted of only two Level-2 thieves, and so they were easily killed off before they could even make a move. Shortly after being killed, the thieves stood up again and headed into a cave not far away from where they fell.

There was a bright torch hanging beside the cave entrance and its flickering flame cast long quivering shadows that looked like ghostly figures on the wall.

Soon, they almost lost sight of the three zombies as they were swallowed up by the pitch-black darkness of the cave.

"Illumination!"

With a wave of his wand, Link cast the spell to throw some light into the darkness. A bright and stable orb of light then appeared at the end of the wand. Not only did it light up the dark cave, it had also lifted the spirits of the whole group.

"Follow them," ordered Link to the group of Warriors behind him. Then he turned to Jacker who was walking in front with his shield raised.

"Jacker, be careful and stay alert."

"Yes, my lord," answered Jacker. He gripped his shield tightly and raised it higher. He felt his courage emboldened as the aura emanating from it spreads to his body.

And thus, the group furtively walked further into the depth of the cave in single file.

It was obvious that the cave was previously inhabited, as its walls were polished and dry. There were also torches posted every few yards. They even passed some rooms with tables and chairs inside them along the way too. From the signs of cups and food left on the tables in some of these rooms, it was apparent that some thieves had been resting in these rooms not too long ago.

Even so, Link and the rest of the group had not encountered anyone since entering the cave, except for the zombies in front of them who were shrouded in a thick black haze as they staggered into the dark underbelly of the cave.

They had walked along that serpentine cave passage for about 100 feet when they suddenly came upon a dimly lit, big round hall. There on the floor in the middle of the hall was a magic seal shrouded in a purple aura!

Link examined the runes on the magic seal, but he discovered that he didn't recognize any of the magic runes. He also noticed a thick black haze that seemed to spew out from the seal which made him think of what the thief had told him before - the magic seal must be the source of the curse.

He memorized the magic runes on the seal, then waved his hand and said, "Everyone step back into the passageway, I'm going to destroy this seal!"

Dismantling a magic seal was a simple procedure-all one had to do was destroy the runes on it. The only problem was that when the runes were destroyed, the harmony of the seal would be disrupted as well, and the energy that it contained would be imbalanced. This would then trigger an explosion - which was why Link had ordered everyone to step out of the hall.

So Link followed the rest as they stepped back into the cave passageway, and they retreated as far back as they could around a corner. Then Link unleashed three glass orbs and directed it towards the magic seal, carefully and precisely controlling the path of the orbs' trajectory.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Three explosions rang out through the cave. Soon after, there was another loud boom and then a burst of black haze gushed out from the hall like a strong current of water.

Even though the black haze was not a type of spell, it was still a harmful force that could do some serious damage to the body.

But Link was prepared for this. Immediately after the orbs exploded, he unleashed his magic scrolls which had the spell Level-1 spell, Guarding Barrier fixed on them.

There was a burst of white light and the spell in each scroll was released one by one. In total, there were six magic scrolls shielding everyone from the black haze. Just as the spells were cast, the black vapor surged through them, clashing with the spell. It protected them and the collision caused the white aura from the Guarding Barrier to shine even brighter. After three seconds, the black haze finally disappeared.

Something strange happened right after the black haze dissipated. Although the cave remained just as dark as before, somehow the oppressive dark atmosphere had vanished too, and the strange noises they heard in their heads were gone too.

It was a sign that the curse had been lifted.

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, there was a respite. They had almost been stretched to their limits by the stifling air in the cove and the nightmarish thoughts it produced in their minds.

"My lord, what should we do now?" asked Jacker.

Link considered it for a while and said, "The curse has been lifted. We should get out of this cave now, then rally more militiamen together and come back later to search the cave."

Link was sure that it would be the safest course of action to retreat now and fight with more men later. There were more than a hundred militiamen in River Cove town and with the curse lifted, there was nothing stopping them from destroying the Syndicate's lair.

Everyone agreed, and they proceeded to retrace their steps through the winding cave passage back to the cave opening.

But then, something happened that made them stop dead in their tracks.

"Where did the cave opening go? I'm sure this is where we entered the cave!" shouted Jacker, visibly shaken. Everyone else almost jumped out of their skin too when they realized what was going on.

There hadn't been any forked passages, so it was impossible for them to have taken a wrong turn. They had retraced their steps precisely back to where they entered the cave. But instead of the cave opening, all they could see was an unending passage that stretched far into the darkness.

A slight crease appeared between Link's eyebrows. Then, he unleashed a glass orb at the cave wall in front. The orb exploded, causing the rocks of the cave wall to crumble and crack. This proved that the sight in front of them was not an illusion.

How did the cave turn into a labyrinth, then? It was something Link had never encountered in the game, so he was just as baffled as everyone else by the bizarre turn of events.

"Don't panic, just keep on walking!" said Link, suppressing even the slightest signs of fear and panic. He knew that he was the key member of this group that was holding them all together, so it was vital for him to keep calm and clear-headed.