76 Blasphemers?

 Despite encountering hair-raising situations along the way, Link and the rest of the group had no other choice but to soldier on.

"We must have provoked the ire of the demons! We're all going to die!" muttered Jacques. Recent events had obviously scared the daylight out of him.

"Stop your bleating, you coward!" snapped Jacker, gradually becoming impatient with the leader of the militia.

Jacques would not have tolerated such brazen insults in normal circumstances without countering with a curt retort. But this time, he merely responded by massaging his temple with his fingers.

"I shouldn't have come to this damned place," murmured Jacques under his breath.

Anderson heard it though, and that was the last straw. He felt it was his duty as a royal knight and the official commander of this mission to teach Jacques a lesson, so he gave him a hard slap across the face.

"Silence! Have you forgotten your duty to obey your orders?" barked Anderson.

It wasn't that Anderson was unperturbed by the things they'd encountered himself, but he knew that panicking would only serve to exacerbate the problem. The most important thing to do in dire situations like the one they were in now was to stay as calm as possible.

Anderson also knew that Jacques's cowardice had been lowering everyone's morale. If they were at war now, he would not hesitate to eliminate this soldier with a stab to the heart.

The slap was violent enough to make one of Jacques's tooth fall out of his mouth, filling his mouth with blood. He glared at Anderson but dared not utter a sound.

This may have seemed like a tiny spat within the team, but it was in no small part caused by the underlying tension they all felt at the time coming to a head.

Link knew this, and he was sure that if they did not find a way out of here quickly, the internal strife might devolve into mutiny soon. He could not let that happen.

Just then, they encountered another room. As it was with the other rooms, no one was inside. There was something slightly different with this room, though. Instead of just the tables and chairs, there was a small bookshelf in the corner and a pile of scrolls on the table. Link examined the scrolls and discovered that these weren't regular documents, but were all scrolls filled with magic runes.

Link had a strong premonition that the room belonged to that Dark Elf Magician.

He examined each scroll more thoroughly and found out that they were mostly theories of how to improve inefficient spells. All in all, the scrolls contained nothing special, only basic theories of magic.

Then as he flipped through the scrolls, a letter that was slipped between the scrolls fell out. Link picked it up and opened it, then saw that it was written in Dark Elven characters.

To the average person, Dark Elf writing was nothing but illegible scribbling with no apparent rhyme or rules to them, where each character looked like funny little tadpoles. Link was no different from the average person in this regard, so the letter's contents were completely beyond his comprehension.

Then, an extraordinary thing happened. As he picked up the letter, a notification popped up on the interface. It showed the contents of the letter.

My dear friend, Felidia...

Link was jolted by the mention of the name Felidia. He never thought that the black-robed Magician was, in fact, such a prominent figure in the game.

Felidia, the gifted Dark Elf Magician, was a member of the Silver Moon Mage Council. Link recalled from his memory of the game that five years after the bloodshed in Gladstone, Felidia fought Eliard, who was by then a Level-7 Magician and the most gifted Magician among humans, in a famous battle at the Mirror Lake.

Their battle was a tie, and the aftershock of the battle had even caused the area of the lake to increase twofold.

Felidia was a young Magician himself. He should only be 23 years old now. And because Dark Elves usually lived up to 100 years old, Felidia could be considered about the same age as Link and Eliard. But unlike Link and Eliard, Felidia was now already a Level-4 Magician!

I can't believe the black-robed Magician was him! Link was stunned, but now he understood why this Magician could be so bold as to create havoc in a place so near to the capital city. What did a genius Magician with strong magical skills have to fear?

Link continued to read the rest of the letter. The first half consisted of trivial talks between two close friends, but he spotted key information in the middle of the letter - a place called Howling Wind Cliff.

It was the place where Felidia's friend stayed, and from the descriptions in the letter, Link could work out that the place was within the Norton kingdom. In other words, this friend of Felidia was his accomplice in this kingdom.

Felidia was hurt in the last battle, and he's not in the cave, so he must've gone into hiding at his friend's place to recover. I must find this friend of his. Even if he wasn't with him, there must be something we could find out from him about Felidia's plans! Link thought.

Just as Link was coming up with this plan, a notification popped up on the interface.

Mission Completed: Search for Clues.

Player rewarded with 20 Omni Points.

New Mission Activated: Escape.

Mission Details: Escape from the Syndicate's lair and find the Howling Wind Cliff.

Mission Rewards: 50 Omni Points.

Fifty Omni points? It was a surprisingly generous reward. Although, when Link thought about it, whether it was to escape from the Syndicate's lair or to locate the Howling Wind Cliff - both parts of the mission were exceedingly difficult.

But before thinking about escaping from the lair, Link first had to figure out the situation they were in right now. He was baffled by the presence of the high-level spells in the cave and was wary of what the darkness of the cave could be hiding or what could emerge from it to attack them.

As for the Howling Wind Cliff, Link himself had never even heard of the place before. The Firuman continent was vast. Even the Norton kingdom alone was about a thousand miles at its radius. If he was to look for this place alone without any help, it would probably take forever to find it. But Link was not without friends, so there was hope.

Right now, though, he had to focus on getting out of this cave.

He put the letter and the scrolls back down on the table, then walked over to the bookshelf. He flipped through some of the books and discovered that the books weren't about magic at all.

Link decided that they weren't worth his time, so he turned to the group and said, "Let's go, we have to keep looking for a way out."

The crowd continued forward. They passed a few more rooms and encountered 30 more Syndicate thieves. Link killed and burned half of them, but some came back to life before Link could burn them, and they all headed deep into the cave.

The group was unnerved by how determined the undead was to walk towards the depth of the cave.

"It's like they're puppets and someone is pulling strings in the dark controlling their movement," said Lucy.

"Could it be that there's an undead Magician in there? But why wouldn't the Magician come for us face-to-face?" said Anderson.

"There's no use guessing," said Link, shaking his head, "We must follow them and find out once and for all. But no matter who the opponent was, I don't think he's all that strong, otherwise, he wouldn't be using the undead or trap us in this labyrinthine cave, all the while not lifting a finger to attack us directly."

"My lord, I agree. It seems that the opponent is wary our power!" said Lucy. What Link said made a lot of sense to everyone, and all nodded except Jacques.

Jacques made no sound, not because he disagreed, but because he feared Anderson's harsh lessons.

As they headed into the depths of the cave for another 100 yard, the group finally reached the innermost chamber of the cave.

Eerily enough, they found themselves in a large hall of about fifty yards wide. And in the middle of the hall, there was a jet-black statue wearing a large cloak, veiled in a dark hazy shadow. Around it was a ring of candles with flickering flames, and surrounding the candles were a horde of silent undead.

There were quite a number of undead there, probably about fifty of them, all of which were the Syndicate thieves killed by Link and the team. Once they entered the hall, the undead all simultaneously turned towards them with their dead eyes, staring vacantly at them.

The dark subterranean hall, the black statue with a row of white candles around it, and the silent pilgrimage of the undead - all of it combined to produce a blood-curdling scene from hell.

Everyone was scared stiff at this point. But suddenly, the eyes of the statue glowed in a dim red light. Then, a sinister androgynous voice rang out through the hall, saying, "Do you mortals know how blasphemers pay for their unpardonable sin? That's right, you'll have to pay with your souls! Oh, what delicious souls you have here!"