Chapter 398 Plaguewood
Gargamel wasn't able to be as laid back as he had been during the first half of the trip, now that he was subordinate to Greem.
He used his skills as a potions master to drive away small magical creatures. The smell emanating from the herb pouch dangling from his staff acted as a repellant. It saved the exploration party from plenty of unnecessary fights!
However, Gargamel's concoction was only effective against magical creatures. It had zero effect on the ordinary woodland beasts. That was when the mercenaries shined.
Love, Rhodes, Fila, and the amateur hunter Neil were more than enough to deal with these ordinary beasts. If a horde of such animals attacked them, the full destructive power of Sabrina the mechanical girl was brought to bear. It didn't matter how ferocious or terrifying these non-magical beasts were. They were still no more than pieces of flesh that Sabrina slaughtered and disassembled at will.
If they hadn't been concerned about drawing the attention of the more powerful magical creatures, Sabrina could have single-handedly exterminated an entire pack of two hundred wolves without taking a single scratch.
Her magical defenses made her an impressive, god-like existence in the eyes of the adventurers. However, her power was next to nothing to the adepts. She didn't even dare breathe loudly when walking behind them, and obediently obeyed their every order. Even the frail and skinny Gargamel confidently ordered Sabrina about, despite how much it seemed like he could be blown away by a strong gust of wind.
The party advanced at a much faster speed with Gargamel's help. Just three days later, they approached their destination.
It was the first time here for most of the party. They acted cautiously and chose to set up camp near a cliff before further exploration.
Love the Swordsman brought Greem and Gargamel up a small hill. They surveyed this mysterious land through the gaps in the trees.
That was the local's name for this twenty-five kilometer stretch of the Black Forest.
The only reason why it was known as such was due to the strange state of the trees here. It was almost as if every single one of them had contracted an unknown disease. Their leaves had withered and yellowed, much like trees that were at the end of their lives.
Honestly, Plaguewood was no more than a small hill. Its highest point was only two hundred meters above the ground. The hill's slopes were gentle with no dangerous cliffs. Odd bony trees stood all over the mountain. What leaves they still had were a somewhat sickly color somewhere between yellow and green. It was an unusual sight to behold.
The trees were not very tall, and large clumps of metal existed underneath the earth. They gleamed and shone slightly beneath the sunlight. The ancient tree roots had a difficult time growing between the massive boulders in the ground, so many of the roots stuck out above the earth.
There was a trace of yellow in the brown dirt of the hill, almost as if it had the color burned away from it. It was like there was a surge of heat continuously roasting the place from underneath. The trees on the hill were like half-molten cheese in a boiling pan. If it weren't for the intermittent nature of the heat providing them with a slim chance at survival, there would be nothing left on the hill!
Greem and Gargamel looked at each other and nodded.
It was evident that there was a heat source beneath Plaguewood. However, they would have to risk their lives and go into the hill to discover the exact reason for the heat.
"There are caves there, there, and there. The caves are very narrow and tiny; an adult male would have to bend their backs to get in. There's a slightly bigger cave in that direction, but there are a lot of terrifying bats in there. It's virtually impossible to get inside without alerting them." As expected of an adventurer that lived by the Black Forest, Love even had a basic understanding of a dangerous place like the Plaguewood.
However, it was apparent that his understanding was limited to the surface of Plaguewood. The world hidden underneath the hill was not an area he could ever hope to access!
It was fortunate that Greem had found out about the manticores from the forest spirit. Otherwise, he would have had to find out on his own. Even Greem, with all his confidence, would have been sent scrambling awkwardly away from the cave if he dove headfirst into a pack of manticores that he hadn't known existed. He might not die, but he would have to pay a hefty price to get away!
The adventurers had fulfilled Greem's request now that they had reached this place. Going underground on a further discovery mission was not a task that ordinary adventurers could take on. It didn't matter how great of a reward Greem was willing to promise. Love wasn't foolish enough to lead his teammates right into a den of magical creatures.
Magical crystals were sweet rewards, but being alive to spend them was even better!
Greem didn't force them on any further missions either. He only asked the adventurers to stay at the surface camp. The team that would go exploring into the hill would be Greem, Gargamel, and Sabrina.
The skies once again darkened when evening fell. Everyone gathered around the camp could hear a strange noise coming from the direction of the hill.
A flood of bats rushed out of the massive cave at the foot of the hill. Their numbers were so large that they even blotted out the sky. The entire colony of bats circled in the air and waited for more and more of their brethren to join their hunt. Once their numbers were enough, they turned into a buzzing cloud and swarmed towards the nearby forest.
These nocturnal critters finally moved out!
A massive gale blew out of the silent cave not long after the departure of the bats.
Strange roars filled the air as several frightening creatures flew out of the cave. They were wicked-looking manticores as big as rhinoceroses. They glided in a circle in the sky before finally stopping on a tall stone pillar near the entrance of the cave.
They had the magnificent body and head of lions, with brown hair all over. A pair of crimson bat wings grew from their backs, and a terrifying scorpion's tail was where their tail should have been. The stinger was raised upright. The tip of the tail gleamed with a strange blue light. One look and you could tell that it was no ordinary venom.
The manticores' wings almost appeared to be too slim and thin compared to their massive size. The size of their wings meant that they couldn't fly too high or too fast, but this was no problem for the manticores.
After all, they were rare magical creatures that spent most of their days underground and in caves. Excessively large wings were only a hindrance in places with such narrow geography. They just needed their wings for short distance gliding. It was enough for them to lunge at prey from above.
One, two, three, four…nine.
The adepts hid in a crack between several large rocks. They had used magic powder to eliminate their smell and were observing these manticores close up.
There were a total of nine manticores, a mix of adolescents and cubs. However, even the manticore cubs were almost fully mature. Every single one of these beasts was capable of hunting of its own. That meant that there were still two manticore cubs within their den in the cave.
After a short moment of growling at each other, the nine manticores split into three groups and went off in separate directions. They might live underground, but the food was far too lacking down there. Every so often, they had to come to the surface and conduct a great hunt to satiate the appetites of the newborn manticores of the pack!
"Let's go! I can't wait to meet those baby manticores!" Once the manticores had vanished into the night, Greem waved his hand and led the other two people into the massive cave.
It wasn't until they started moving that one could see the large sack on Sabrina's back. The bag was pulsing and wriggling. It seemed like there was some sort of creature in the sack.
A pungent odor pressed against their faces the moment they entered the cave.
Tens of thousands of bats lived in this place, causing the air to stink tremendously. A thick layer of batshit had completely covered the ground and the stone pillars. There was no place to set foot cleanly.
Greem stood at the entrance. His eyes slowly swept across the dark cave and quickly locked onto a particular area.
The damp, cold air was blowing out from that place. There was sure to be a hidden passage behind those stalagmites that led downwards.
The darkness in the cave quickly faded away as Greem employed his elementium sight. His Spiritual senses were supported by infrared and night vision to give him near perfect visibility. The jagged stalagmites, the stone pillars that reached all the way to the top of the cave, and the hidden cracks in the walls were slowly displayed in his mind.
Multi-dimensional scene construction!
It was an enhanced means of visual sensory input that Greem had obtained as his powers increased.
Greem had only been able to see things in a straight line with his vision. Things that were obscured and hidden behind other objects weren't visible. However, the improvement of his abilities and the increasing strength of his Spiritual senses now allowed him to 'see' anything he wanted, even if they were obscured by something else.
Of course, this was only possible if there was no energy interference or walls that were too thick for his Spirit to penetrate!
The existence of this new ability meant that he no longer had blind spots in battle. It didn't matter where the enemy struck from. Any angle, any direction. Greem would always be able to react to it with the most appropriate action. Either with a counter-attack, a guard, or simply dodging the attack.
"Come closer; I'll bring you inside!"
Greem whispered to his subordinates. Once Gargamel and Sabrina came close enough, he grabbed their shoulders, and all three of them vanished in a sudden explosion of fire.
The next second, a pillar of fire blasted into the air of a dark corner where the bats didn't dare go. Greem and his subordinates reappeared in the darkness.
Gargamel was fine. With his potent Spirit, he had been able to endure nausea caused by the sudden spatial shift. Meanwhile, this was the first time Sabrina had experienced a spell as strange as Fire Teleportation. She was only a pseudo-adept, after all. Sabrina felt her throat run dry and the scene in front of her eyes blur. She stumbled and had to lean against a pillar to rest for a moment.
"Come on. Two cute little babies are waiting for us up ahead!"
Greem chuckled and took the lead in entering the pitch-black tunnel.