༺ Cultish Nymph and Pluto’s Underground Labyrinth (1) ༻
Honestly, I wasn’t very fond of books or even studying.
My grades were always on the average side— starting from my school up to my university days.
It was not like I had never attempted to improve my scores, but strangely, whenever I opened a book, I would become drowsy and would eventually fall asleep in the midst of my studies.
So, when I learned that I had to take over my father’s health center, I focused more on my practical training than the theoretical aspects.
In fact, practical training seemed to suit me better than reading books and studying.
Anyway, the reason I suddenly brought this topic up was…
It had really been a long time since I had even gazed upon a book, much less read it. The small font of the characters densely written on the pages of the book did not spark even a bit of an interest in me, and I couldn’t understand what they were trying to convey, nor could I retain the information that was being delivered to my mind through my eyes.
As I was dozing off after trying to read the complex book for about two hours, the librarian, Eremantos, approached me from a distance and started speaking to me casually.
“It’s surprising to see that you’ve diligently gone through the entire library for some books to read. Are you planning on changing your career path during this golden opportunity since the guild building has been destroyed by the cultists?”
His sharp voice woke me up slightly from my drowsy state. I wiped away the drool that had unknowingly leaked out from the corner of my mouth and returned my focus to the book before me.
“It seems like there’s something you don’t understand in there. I haven’t heard the sound of pages being turned for quite a while now.”
Eremantos, the skinny librarian, approached me from the sides.
Actually, I didn’t like my personal space suddenly being invaded like this, but I didn’t say anything pertaining to that because I felt like I might be kicked out of the library if I even tried to.
The librarian glanced over the page of the book I was reading and leaked out a short snort.
“I was wondering what you were reading so seriously… It turns out you were looking at something utterly useless. Discussing Chaos is a meaningless act. That’s why it’s Chaos, and it’s natural not to understand even a lick of it.”
“Is that so?”
“However, I don’t dislike those who seek to learn more. Take this book.”
Erementos fumbled around inside his ash-colored robe and handed me something wide and flat. It was another book. What was this again? Was he recommending another good book to me?
So I sneakily opened it to see what was written inside, but the old book, made of worn-out material, was full of blank pages. Damn it! I, Hassan, got fooled once again.
“What is this?”
“It’s an empty book. The chaos of the beginning of times. Chaos is exactly like this book— blank and desolate. Take it… You’re free to fill it up with whatever you like.”
The strict-looking librarian had actually given me a notebook as a gift! In this world where papers and books were considered luxury items, a notebook was a pretty precious thing in itself.
It also seemed to have dozens of pages. This book’s worth would easily exceed one silver coin. Why the heck did he give this to me for free? What was he planning here?
“What do you want me to do?”
As someone who knew full well that there was no such thing as a free favor in this barbaric world, I couldn’t help but be suspicious of his sudden goodwill.
“I have nothing I want from you at the moment. However, it won’t hurt to make a connection with the famous Samaritan of this city in advance. Samaritans are excellent mercenaries, after all.”
“Anyway, don’t go too deep in your studies of Chaos. Those who look into the abyss and receive the blessing of chaos are known to go insane over time. That’s exactly what the cultists of Pluto are like, so you must be vigilant to not end up like them.”
After saying those words, Erementos began to organize the library shelves with his slave, Aesop. Do not delve too deeply into knowledge about Chaos, huh?
Was it like forbidden knowledge? For example, blasphemous texts or something along those lines that have received the condemnation of the world.
Anyway, it was great that I received a notebook since I had been planning to study these days.
I had been considering buying one anyways, but, if I had to be honest, I was leaning toward not buying it, thinking that it was a little too wasteful to buy one just for studies in this world of superstitions.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As I stepped out onto the streets, I could see that it was still sunny and bright outside. I had felt like I was stuck inside the library all day, but time seemed to have passed much slower than I thought it had.
I had told Luna I would be studying until evening, but finishing my studies so early made me feel rather bad. I didn’t want to seem like I hadn’t studied at all and was goofing around instead.
However, I had filled my head with some knowledge, so I still felt like I had spent the day quite productively.
But… what should I do now? Should I go to a PC room or an Internet cafe or something like that?
Luna had asked me to not return before evening as she had an important secret potion to make so I was not able to return to the hut.
However, I doubted that there was such a convenient spot as an Internet cafe in this world. So, I started wondering absent-mindedly to see if there was anything I could do to kill time. With that thought in mind, I just headed to the guild building.
I wanted to see how much the ruined temple of Mars had been restored by now.
“Hey, you bastard! Hurry up and move!”
“What the hell is up with this bastard!?”
On the guild site, tough-looking dwarfs who had removed their tops were busy building the pillars after removing the debris from the demolished site.
As I was absentmindedly watching them mix water, pebbles, sand, and cement and spread it evenly on the flat ground, I heard someone call me from behind—
“Oh, it’s you, Mr. Hassan!”
Someone spoke to me in a fairly bright voice. There were not many people who would pretend to know me around this area of the guild building.
“Is it you, Miss Daphne?”
“Yes, it’s me. I was just thinking about seeing you, Mr. Hassan. I’m glad I ran into you here.”
As I turned my head, I saw Daphne wearing a work outfit that looked somewhat dirty with a piece of cloth wrapped around her head.
She seemed to be helping out with the restoration work as I could see her holding a basket full of rocks around her waist.
What kind of business did she have with me even? Could it be that she wanted me to participate in this boring and tedious construction work? It made me nervous for some reason.
At that moment, I hesitated whether to run away quickly, wondering what this woman was trying to say to me or if there was something she needed to show me or something along those lines when…
“The nymph in the underground prison asked to see you, Mr. Hassan.”
Upon hearing the words ‘Nymph in the underground,’ I relaxed a bit and felt puzzled at the same time.
Nymph in the underground?
What did she mean by that?
My brain was overloaded with information right now since I had used it for the first time in a long while, so I was struggling to think clearly for a moment.
Then, I remembered Paranoy, the crimson-red-haired cultist, who was imprisoned in the Mars Guild’s underground prison.
According to Hippolyte, they had already transported the captured cultists to the prison city. Why was Paranoy still here in the underground prison then?
“Why did she ask for me?”
“I don’t know either. She won’t talk to us and she also won’t even eat the food we provided her. Even if she is a small Nymph, it must be hard for her to starve for more than a few days like that.”
Daphne clicked her tongue as if she had thought up an extremely stubborn and spiteful woman. After giving her a brief farewell, I made my way to the underground prison.
I expected it to be cold down there, but, to my surprise, it wasn’t.
Due to the scorching sunlight beating down from outside, the temperature inside the prison cell had risen considerably, making it feel uncomfortable and stuffy. It was almost as if the prison had turned into an animal’s den with an unpleasant beastly smell lingering about.
The sound of my footsteps echoed through the dark interior of the prison and soon, I stood before the only prisoner locked up in this underground cell— a cultist Nymph named Paranoy.
“You called for me?”
The Nymph, Paranoy, who was shackled, gagged, and restrained, seemed to sense my presence and reacted as if a machine that had been inactive for a long time had finally roared back to life. How many days had it been since she was confined like this?
Using the key to her cell that was hung outside, I opened the door and entered the cell.
I knew from experience that this punk wouldn’t be able to harm me even if I entered this cell, so I had no qualms about entering inside.
As I entered the prison and removed the gag from her mouth, Paranoy drooled out a long stream of saliva and began to breathe heavily in the air.
“Ahh, hah, finally, some relief. C-Comrade, you have finally come! Have you been busy?”
This woman still thought I was her comrade, huh? It was probably because of the Eyes of Pluto— the necklace I was wearing.
But I thought that after the fight with Somnia and Schizo, all the misunderstandings the cultists had about me would have been cleared up by now. As the first one trapped in the underground prison, it seemed like she still didn’t know about my true identity.
“Yes, I was just really busy.”
“The plan, what about the plan? We were supposed to take advantage of the fog and destroy the Minerva Guild! We declared war…! The date has long passed. What happened to the temple of Minerva? Did the towering statue of the goddess break?”
Paranoy asked me in a quiet voice. I recalled the Minerva Guild’s guild building that Luna and I had visited recently. The statue of the goddess there was still standing tall with impressive valor.
“The mission failed.”
“Geez, indeed, it’s because I was caught… They didn’t have enough magic power to create the fog. Somnia and Anxious are like dried anchovies when it comes to magic power and quantity. S-So, what happened to the other comrades?”
At the mention of other comrades, I thought of the cultists who were gathered inside the underground hideout that day.
“They were all caught. Somnia and Schizo are even said to have been taken to the prison city.”
“What, what? That can’t be! Those two were caught? B-By who?”
Paranoy yelled in disbelief at the fact that Somnia and Schizo were caught. Did she trust their abilities that much?
Well, they were certainly strong enough to not be caught by the average adventurers or guards of the city so her reaction was somewhat understandable.
“Well, it is what it is. Anyway, if there’s nothing else you want to say to me, then I’m leaving.”
“P-Please, don’t go, comrade—! There’s still something I need to ask you…”
“Ask me what?”
A cultist was trying to make a request to me. I couldn’t help but feel suspicious about what she was planning to ask.
I became tense, wondering if she would ask me to set her free or if it would be something urgent and weird like last time.
“What kind of request is it? Is it something urgent like last time?”
“N-No. Even if it’s like that, I won’t make such shameless requests anymore. I didn’t even eat the food that the Mars’ dogs purposely gave me.”
At Paranoy’s words, I quickly glanced around the underground prison. Looking around, I finally saw the sight of flies flying above the simple meal provided for her to eat.
That was probably the cause of the unpleasant smell that was permeating the underground prison. Did she refuse to eat it because she thought it was what the enemy had given to her? For a foolish cultist, she still did have some sense of dignity.
“Well, what’s the request then?”
“Um, just stay with me for a little bit. It’s too dark and quiet here—”
Was Paranoy the type of person who was prone to feeling lonely? Well, anyone could end up like that if they were locked up alone in such a gloomy prison.
Come to think of it. The word ‘Loneliness’ might have been in Paranoy’s status section the last time I checked.
So, I reached out my finger to her wrist, thinking I could earn some task points while resolving the loneliness she was feeling.
“What, what is it?”
“No, it’s just there’s a bug.”
“A-A bug?! It’s not a spider, right?!”
Paranoy overreacted after mentioning the spiders herself. Come to think of it… She seemed to be someone who really disliked spiders, didn’t she?
“S-Spider, spider, I hate spiders! SPIDER!”
But even though there wasn’t a spider, seeing her get so worked up all by herself was rather pathetic. What was I even doing down here because of this cowardly punk?
So, just to mess with her a little, I gave her inner thighs a little pinch.
“Eek! T-The spider bit me!”
It seemed like Paranoy thought that a spider had bitten her.
“A-A spider! The spider bit me! T-There’s, there’s venom! Holy fucccc…! A venomous spider has bitten me! I-I can’t breathe! I am dying!!”
However, Paranoy’s reaction was way too extreme. Since her eyes were covered, she probably couldn’t overcome the fear she had created in her own mind.
Watching Paranoy thrash around like that, as if she really had been bitten by a venomous spider, made me scared and anxious too.
I mean, it didn’t really matter to me whether she stayed locked up down here or not, but if she keeled over and died right in front of me, I think it would give rise to bad luck for me.
“Hey, it’s okay. It’s not a spider. It’s not a spider. It’s—”
“A-A venomous spider has bitten me! The venom is spreading throughout my body!”
However, Paranoy’s mind was consumed by madness, as if nothing else remained in her mind except the fact that a venomous spider had bitten her. Since she hadn’t eaten well these days, seeing her thin body writhe inside the prison was quite a pitiful sight.
“C-Comrade! S-Suck the venom out! Q-Quickly! I-I don’t want to d-die!”
“H-Hurry! My t-thigh! I hate sp-spiders…”
After struggling for a while, Paranoy suddenly collapsed as if her strength had given out.
“I-I can see the River Styx— Is that C-Charon’s boat over there? I-I don’t have a single copper on me. I-I don’t want to d-die…”
I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she seemed to be experiencing hallucinations beyond the blindfold that was covering her eyes. It was only natural for her to experience these symptoms after not eating for a long time.
Feeling helpless, I pushed my face between Paranoy’s thigh and then sucked the flesh on the part that I had pinched earlier.
Then, I felt Paranoy’s flesh inside my mouth. Of course, there was no venom there and the only thing I could taste was the prickly sweat that was all over her skin.
Damn it! What the hell am I doing here?
I spewed out the saliva and her sweat to the ground and spoke in a casual voice.
“It’s done. I’ve sucked up all the poison, so you’ll be all right now.”
“Yes, you won’t die now.”
“C-Comrade, you are my lifesaver!”
Damn it! Whenever I talked to her, I strangely felt like my brain was gradually degenerating into a chimpanzee’s.
Also, when I was slightly hesitating between a pang of strange guilt and sadism that was making me want to pinch her again…
Paranoy slipped open her ankles, fixed to the floor, to both sides. As a result, her groin, which was hidden behind the old ragged cloth, was slightly revealed to my eyes.
“W-What are you doing?”
“T-This is all I can give you now in return…”
What the hell!?
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