༺ Cultist Nymph and Pluto’s Underground Labyrinth (6) ༻
Thud— Thump— Clunk—
We rode a carriage, with a reasonably spacious interior, across the vast fields. However, since the road was not well-maintained, it was only natural for our buttocks to be jolted every now and then due to the bumpy path.
The carriage we took to journey during this task offered quite a comfortable ride. It was a luxury carriage that cost exactly 10 silvers just to travel to the vicinity of the swamps of Acheron.
It had windows like those carriages that you would only see the nobles riding in, and the seats were plush with cushions tucked beneath the leather covers, making it quite comfortable to sit on. It was also way less nauseating than the wagons I was used to.
The price of ten silvers was not that high for the service we received. Even if we split the amount among five people, each person would only have to pay two silvers.
However, the cultist, oh no, the proselyte, Paranoy was a penniless beggar, so I had to shoulder her share of the ride as the party leader.
Before we even arrived at the labyrinth, I had lost four silvers, not to mention that I also definitely had to pay for Luna’s part too. Then the total amount I needed to spend totaled about six silvers.
Six fucking silvers!
Fuck this shit! Wasn’t six silvers equivalent to about 600,000 won?
The thought of losing that much money from the very start just for transportation expenses was truly a painful experience. If it were just a moderately equipped carriage, we could have split the cost among five people for a few coppers each.
Of course, our buttocks would be sore, and our bodies would ache here and there, but it was only natural for low-level adventurers to live frugally like that.
However, it seemed that the mage, Velmina, who had tasted the lifestyle of a student of the Institution of Magic— the Ivory Tower, didn’t think that way.
Unless it was a carriage with a hanging roof and a plush sofa, she wouldn’t take a single step out of the city, was what she declared.
Hearing that, we, the commoners, had no choice but to agree with the mage’s opinion!
As I mentioned before, mages were an extremely valuable force.
Their fascinating magical capabilities were of great help inside Pluto’s labyrinth, so mages were like noble players who everyone wanted to recruit into their parties.
Their popularity was enough to exceed one’s greatest imagination, especially if they could use elemental attacks like water, fire, lightning, or ice. They were in higher demand than the so-called goddess of the Engineering department, a major that was known to be infested with male students!
That was why mages tended to be very arrogant and had a strong sense of pride etched directly into their very bones.
The lack of criticism, coupled with getting pampered wherever they went, had boosted their self-esteem and increased their narcissistic tendencies, but still… since they were mages, their behavior would always be forgiven by the others.
Honestly, magic was really a powerful and fascinating phenomenon.
I wish I could learn magic too.
However, to get into the Institution of Magic in Corinthe, you needed a recommendation letter and had to pay a hefty tuition fee of several gold coins every semester.
I couldn’t afford to pay something like that.
Then, what about the treatment of warriors like me, poor ol’ Hassan, who couldn’t learn magic due to poverty and had to make ends meet by doing physical labor…?
“Mr. Didier, could you please help me with my luggage when we get off the carriage?”
“Hmph, even if you know some magic, who do you think I am, a porter?”
“Are you refusing to help me then?”
“I mean, truthfully, I find carrying the luggage a most joyous activity! I can carry as much as you want me to.”
Yeah… We received treatment like laborers who had to do all sorts of tasks that could be done by engaging our bodies…
But I heard that… those truly exceptional warriors who could manifest aura or something like that also received treatment comparable to battle mages.
But to me, an outlander, the idea of unleashing sword auras or using magic to throw fireballs from one’s hands was just absurd and nonsensical, to say the least.
This world was truly full of fascinating and strange things, I thought in my mind. But when I really thought things through, the blessing I received from the gods was also quite a rare power among others.
Magic, aura, and god’s blessing.
Having just one of these three would make it so that they never had to starve to death. If not that, a strange talent like the pink-haired shaman, Lunas, could also help in maintaining a steady lifestyle.
“Just stay still.”
Luna was collecting sweat droplets from Paranoy’s forehead, who was sitting next to her, and putting them into her leather water bottle.
I made eye contact with Paranoy – who was in a state of fear, causing her to tremble incessantly – so I couldn’t help but turn toward Luna and ask.
“Luna, what are you doing?”
“Collecting the nymph’s sweat—!”
“I can see that, but I’m asking what you’re going to do with it…”
“Anything coming from Nymphs is not a waste—! With the bodily fluids of a nymph, I can make a potion that enhances mana sensitivity.”
“Oh, I see.”
I couldn’t quite grasp what a potion that enhances mana sensitivity was like, so my reaction was a lackluster, “Oh, I see.”
They said that I am a descendant of the great god Jupiter, a hunter from the dark wilderness, and so on, such a long nickname, but terms like karma and mana still felt extremely unfamiliar to me. I wondered if I could ever get used to them in my life.
While I was thinking about such things, Velmina, the Witch of Frost – who was sitting in the corner of the carriage while staring out the window with a prim expression – opened her mouth with interest in her voice.
“A potion that enhances mana sensitivity?”
“Yeah, well, more precisely, it’s an elixir rather than a potion. Various parts of the Nymphs’ bodies are good ingredients for making elixirs.”
“I’ve heard stories that the wands made from the bones of a nymph’s hands are sold at high prices.”
Immediately after, Velmina, the ice mage, quickly examined Paranoy’s palm with a chilling stare. Her faint blue eyes shone, resembling Luna’s eyes when she looked at medicinal herbs.
Talk about looking at Nymphs as if they were ingredients…
I had a vague feeling that I somehow knew why the nymphs, as a species of this continent, were dwindling like an endangered species.
I thought they had disappeared due to being outcompeted in the survival of the fittest by invasive species like the Elves. It turned out that they had just vanished because of the rumors that their bodies were beneficial ingredients for a lot of things.
As the son of a health center, I couldn’t help but feel strange about nymphs, who have various materialistic uses. It was because health centers were usually the first place that would actively react to such rumors.
However, Velmina, who had been examining Paranoy’s hands, soon lost interest and returned to gazing at the changing scenery outside the window.
“But it’s just a rumor. Gaining mana sensitivity is not something that can be easily obtained. Only one out of ten people can feel mana. And among those who can feel mana, only one out of ten can manipulate it freely…”
“And among them, only one out of ten can use it effectively for useful magic, right? I, Didier, have heard about that as well.”
Didier, who was sitting next to me, chimed into the conversation as if he knew something about it. He must have felt a bit left out as he had been sitting there quietly for some time already.
It would take at least a day to reach the swamps of Acheron, where the labyrinth is said to be located.
Of course, as the party leader, it was better to have some conversation between us rather than just avoiding eye contact with each other.
“I had the impression that you were a simple-minded dwarf who only knew about wood and sawdust, Mr. Didier.1Velmina is insinuating here that since Didier was a dwarf then he should be an ignorant fool who only knew how to work with wood and do carpentry. This is due to the established fact that the dwarven race of the Pseudo world is proficient in woodwork. This is why Velmina is surprised that he is so knowledgeable. It’s an arrogant and haughty remark to undermine Didier. You surprisingly know a lot about us mages. In that case, you must also know… that I am someone fortunate enough to have achieved that one-tenth probability three times in a row…”
In the end, was it all just the self-boasting coming from a narcissistic mage? While I was thinking like that, Velmina, who had been looking outside, spoke a few more words that immediately caught my attention.
“But it wasn’t just luck. Mana sensitivity is like a muscle of the body. It doesn’t develop without effort.”
“Hmm, like a muscle, huh?”
Velmina’s words made me imagine the scene of a woman with sky-blue hair exerting effort to master the ways of magic.
But the magic I knew of was limited to Hogwarts and Gryffindor. I still wasn’t able to get over the shock that the damn headmaster of the School of Wizards was actually engaging in relationships between the same sex.
So, although the image of practicing magic didn’t come to mind easily for me, I vaguely understood that the great and almighty mages also achieved their status through relentless effort rather than simply enjoying the perks of their talents.
Perhaps the renowned narcissistic pride of the mages in this world stemmed from the self-confidence that their efforts were not in vain?
Indeed, nothing in this world came easily for one…
Just as it seemed like the conversation was about to come to an end, Luna, who had collected all the sweat drops from Paranoy’s forehead, closed the lid of the leather bottle and threw out a remark.
“But if there are mana elixirs, mana sensitivity would be much easier to obtain and improve!”
“There can’t be such a thing…”
“N-No, it’s true. In Ideope, everyone enhances their sensitivity with mana elixirs—”
Luna, who spoke confidently without being overshadowed by the powerful ice mage, surprised everyone by a great deal. Had she gained confidence from her recent level advancements and active participation in the guild quests?
“Eek— This is too intense—”
However, only Paranoy, sitting among the girls, trembled without saying a word, looking quite a bit pitiful. While I was contemplating if I should intervene soon—
Velmina turned her gaze from the window to Luna’s eyes and spoke in a chilling cold tone.
“Ah, Ideope… I’ve heard stories of the superstitious islands of Ideope even in the Ivory Tower’s research books. Do you guys still carry snake oil as a panacea? That’s what the book recounted…”
“…Snake oil is effective!”
“Unfortunately, it has been proven scientifically in Ivory Tower that snake oil has no magical properties. Ideope’s mana research seems to be about two hundred years behind the Ivory Tower…”
“T-Two hundred years?”
“Well, it’s a collection of isolated islands, after all. So it’s understandable that information exchange is delayed. But we need to establish the facts here. Magic is not superstition but a real academic discipline.”
Magic is not superstition but a real academic discipline… Hearing that, it honestly sounded a bit amusing from my perspective.
If I had said such things back on Earth, I would have been treated like a lunatic. But, since a real mage was saying those words, it was undoubtedly different and had more emphasis.
Despite her fierce struggle, unfortunately, this battle ended in Luna’s defeat.
Luna looked like she had so much to say to Velmina, but she couldn’t organize her thoughts, causing her face to redden as if she was boiling from the inside out.
With tense eyes, I watched on to see how Luna would respond to that retort. How would Luna retaliate in this scenario? However, surprisingly, Luna just swallowed her words and took out a needle and a handkerchief from her pocket.
Ssk— Ssk— Rustle—
Looking at her, I thought that she might be doing embroidery or something to calm her restless mind.
However, Luna was actually using the drops of blood from pricking her finger with the needle to write Velmina’s name on her handkerchief! Writing the name in red… Wasn’t that the casting process of a curse?
After she completed casting the curse, Luna put the handkerchief back inside her pocket.
While she wore a triumphant expression on her face, Velmina could only look at her with utter bewilderment. And with that, the debating session between them about mana came to an end.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Amidst the silence permeating the interior of the carriage, I began to feel a sense of looming awkwardness in the air.
“Party leader bro, look there. Ah, the meadows and flowers are truly beautiful, aren’t they?”
Didier, the axe-wielding warrior dwarf who, like me, had been observing the women’s reactions, made a sudden comment as he gazed out of his window to the left. He was seemingly lost in admiration of the scenery that he was witnessing outside.
I couldn’t believe that the hairy dwarf, who looked like someone that would drink beer straight from the keg and chew on grass roots raw rather than admiring flowers, knew how to appreciate the beautiful scenery of nature.
I felt like my preconceived notions about dwarves had slightly altered due to Didier.
However, as the dwarven warrior had pointed out, outside the carriage window, a vast meadow of yellow and white flowers bloomed vibrantly out in the open.
“They’re truly beautiful. We could pick those flower petals, dry them, and make herbal tea. Or we could lay them on top of a pudding made with milk and eggs to enhance its aesthetics. It would look really good!”
After that, Didier rambled on about his dessert-making techniques, but honestly, none of it actually registered in my ears.
My eyes were fixated solely on the fluttering flower petals swaying with the wind on the outside fields.
A few weeks ago, when I came to this place, it was a dreadful scenery filled with swamps, fog, crocodiles, and goblins wreaking havoc everywhere.
But within just a few weeks, the desolate land had turned into such a beautiful field of flowers. How was it possible for such a transformation to occur in such a short period of time? It seemed impossible without the application of real magic.
“In any case, the name ‘Swamps of Acheron’ is now a thing of the past. They say that before receiving the curse from the goddess of crops and seasons, this land used to be adorned with blooming flowers like these.”
At the end of Didier’s explanation—
“H-Here is Kore’s playground.”
Paranoy, who had been huddled between Luna and the ice mage Velmina, spoke up.
I felt curious when the cultist, who I thought would be far from being cooperative, showed interest and initiated a conversation like this.
“Kore, the daughter of Ceres. T-This place used to be the meadow where the spring maiden Kore played around. But one day, it turned into a swamp after being cursed by Ceres.”
“The curse of the goddess. The long winter that happened 30 years ago. It’s a story that can easily be found in the research books.”
Surprisingly, it was none other than the ice mage Velmina who reacted to Paranoy’s words. I became tense, wondering how this ice mage would further cool down the atmosphere with her statements.
“During the prolonged winter that lasted for several years, research on ice magic became even more active. The consensus of the academic society was that the snow would eventually melt, but the land would become soggy and flowers would never bloom here again—”
Within Velmina’s translucent sky-blue eyes, various vibrant colors were reflected. Among those vibrant colors, a certain sense of strange emotion flickered.
“It is said that this eternal swamp dried up entirely due to the prayers of someone who received the sun god’s blessing. Honestly, I didn’t believe it. But now that I’ve seen it with my own eyes, I understand. The powers of a transcendent being, the force that goes beyond logic and cognition—”
A prayer of someone who received the blessing of the sun god. While I might not know about magic or mana, those words did remind me of something that had slipped my mind till now.
On that day when I set up a ridiculous makeshift altar and shouted, ‘Long live the sun,’ didn’t an arrow from the sky pierce through the clouds and the fog and then dry up this entire area?
I never thought that even flowers would end up growing in these lands like this.
The dwarven warrior, who was smiling while looking out the window at that time, added a few more words to the conversation.
“Sun god? I only heard about the great warrior of Lady Ceres. While the god of light might be able to dry up the soggy land, making such beautiful flowers bloom is definitely only possible by Lady Ceres’ powers.”
“Indeed, perhaps, it could be a great warrior blessed by both gods of light and fertility. Pfft, of course, such a thing would never happen. Receiving the blessings of two gods in one person? This kind of situation would not be easy to occur to someone even if they were a hero of the gold tier.”
I couldn’t help but speak up in response to the conversation.
“If such a person exists, what would happen?”
“Well, who knows? I would like to meet such a great warrior who is so loved by the silent gods. Or perhaps they could be a holy warrior or slave of the gods who has received their hatred and curse. Speaking of which, barbarian… Have you also received any blessings—?”
Just as Velmina was about to ask me something, a sharp arrow, coming from who knows where, narrowly struck right next to her head.
The two horses made a surprised noise as they neighed and thrashed about.
The coachman, who was driving the horses in the front seat, shouted in an urgent tone.
“Damn, b-bandits! My lords and ladies, bandits have appeared!”
Of all things, it just had to be bandits.
Of course, riding in such an expensive carriage would make us the target of bandits for sure. Fucking damn it all!!
“Shit! It seems we, the warriors, have some work to do. Everyone, prepare your weapons!”
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- 1Velmina is insinuating here that since Didier was a dwarf then he should be an ignorant fool who only knew how to work with wood and do carpentry. This is due to the established fact that the dwarven race of the Pseudo world is proficient in woodwork. This is why Velmina is surprised that he is so knowledgeable. It’s an arrogant and haughty remark to undermine Didier.