Chapter 342: The Firefly Hill
All of the 99th squad’s members, with the exception of Miki, had been waiting for about fifteen minutes by the time their final member returned from mending the relationship the squad had intentionally fractured . She walked up to the team and reported her success .
“It’s done . Those two have already made up . ”
Sila was relieved to know that their prank didn’t cause any irreversible consequences while the others were content that they would probably get more jobs in the future, earning some money and eventually clearing the debt .
“Today’s work is done!” Alpha spread his arms . “Ah . . . By the way, we came here to work, but what about you, Leader? Why did you come?”
“Finding some chicks?” Miki quickly guessed .
“Or are you here to peep on them?” Isaac tried .
Alpha frowned . “That would be you, Isaac . You don’t even blink whenever you stare at that lady from the 9th squad . Be brave, little bro . Don’t just stare . There are many men eyeing her . Some guy will steal her heart before you do if you don’t take action . ”
Isaac’s face reddened . “I-I don’t have weird feelings for her!”
“Heh . I think it would be pointless even if you did . In fact, I heard Miss Risa already has a boyfriend . She has been refusing every guy coming her way . ”
“Eh?! I have never seen her boyfriend though! Who is he?”
“Dunno . Maybe he just doesn’t play Monster Soul . ” Alpha smirked . “Ahem . Didn’t you just say you don’t have any feelings for her? You look desperate now that it’s possible she might be taken though . ”
Meanwhile, Sila noticed a disturbance of power around one of his members .
‘Hm? Midnight’s magic power lost its calm edge a bit when they said her name . Could it be that this guy likes her too? Wow . . . even a quiet guy like him likes her, so I guess she must be quite pretty . ’
Midnight was a quiet person, so no one aside from Sila noticed how he became even more silent than usual .
“Hey, hey . So, why exactly did you come to this place, Leader? If it’s interesting, we’ll help . If you want to impress a girl, we can send Isaac or Alpha to play delinquent, courting the girl, and then let you rescue her . How about it?” Miki urged Sila to answer .
Sila waved his hand . “No, I’m not here for that . I just heard that the area around the north gate has something strange going on, so I’m here to check . There’s no real purpose . ”
Alpha nodded . “Mn . I understand you . People flocked here to investigate back then . Most of them have left though . Only couples remain . ” He pointed at a certain hill . “That spot is called the Firefly Hill . The grass there is especially soft and the area is wide, very suitable for taking in the scenery at night . Despite its name, however, fireflies don’t come out from there . They are just flying around throughout the area . ”
This information was new to Sila since the document he received from Bluebird didn’t mention it . Apparently, what Alpha said just now was the intel members of the Shadow Army exchanged after they had conquered the city and done a thorough investigation .
“Is that so? Where do they come from, then?”
“You have to go north two hundred meters further ahead . It’s not that far . A lot more fireflies are flocking around there . However, the terrain is full of sharp rocks, large and small, so it’s not romantic . ”
It was also wartime . The spot was further from the city’s wall . If something urgent were to happen, they would be at risk .
“Can I go and have a look?” asked Sila .
“You don’t need permission from anyone, Leader,” replied Alpha . “Come on, I will guide you there . ”
Sila couldn’t find any excuse to reject Alpha’s good will, so the whole 99th squad traveled together . There was nothing notable that happened along their journey .
Once they arrived at their destination, Sila discovered that the spot really wasn’t romantic for couples . The rocks were sharp and the road was bumpy . If they weren’t careful when they walked, they would get injured . In addition, there were so many fireflies that they became annoying instead of beautiful .
“There is nothing . ” Isaac threw some rocks in a bored manner .
“I told you . Many people already investigated and found nothing . ” Alpha shrugged .
Sila, too, didn’t notice anything out of place . On the other hand, Midnight bent over and inspected a couple of rocks, then approached a bigger one .
“Midnight, did you find something interesting?” Miki approached Midnight and snuggled up to the rock he was inspecting .
“Maybe there is something . . . below,” Midnight spoke up to no one in particular .
Alpha and Isaac attached their ears to the rock . They tried knocking it and heard a thudding sound, though they failed to notice how it was different from the other rocks .
Midnight handed one of the small rocks to Sila . “They’re pumices . They can normally be found several hundred meters underground . The fact that they are here means someone dug up the ground around there . The soil must have been washed away by rain, leaving only these rocks behind . ”
Alpha tapped Midnight’s shoulder . “Wow . You sure are knowledgeable . Could it be that you’re actually an amazing person in disguise?”
“No, I’m not . I used to do some volunteer work while I studied at university . The Geology Department was moving their room back then, so I got to help them arrange various kinds of rocks . I remember some of the names and details . ”
“So, you think there is something beneath us?” asked Sila .
“Maybe not exactly here, but it shouldn’t be too far away,” replied Midnight .
Alpha nodded in agreement . “I suppose so . They wouldn’t have bothered to move these rocks too far away from where they were digging . ”
Sila swept his eyes all over the area . “There are only rocks . If the rain really washed away all the soil, it must mean the digging happened a long time ago . ”
“It didn’t have to be done by a player though,” Isaac guessed .
Everyone turned their heads to Isaac . Alpha exclaimed, “Right, it wasn’t necessarily done by a player! Maybe it has been this way since the game launched . It’s some kind of clue for players to discover . ”
Miki argued, “These fireflies showed up just recently, however . ”
Midnight expressed his opinion, “Well, it’s still possible that something underground has always been there . There is a chance that some conditions have been met or someone completed some quests, leading the fireflies to come out and act as an additional clue . Something like a chained quest . ”
“But if we can’t do anything about it, that would mean we are like all the others, stumbling upon a dead end . We’ve only gotten a little bit further than them . ” Alpha sighed .
Isaac smiled . “It’s enjoyable so far though . I feel like I’ve become an adventurer . ”
“You idiot . There is no such thing as feeling like an adventurer . Either you start an adventure or do nothing . We’ve come this far . Let’s put more effort in before giving up,” Miki declared . She walked around, inspecting other rocks and searching for clues .
“How about we split up and search?” Isaac proposed .
“Better not . It’s dangerous . At the very least, we should come back during the day . It would be safer . ”
Since he didn’t want to waste time, Sila threw his body down, putting his ear on the ground . He secretly circulated qi to enhance his sense of hearing . It was a method that the magic-types couldn’t imitate unless they had specific skills for searching . While magic-types can discern abnormalities through reading the surrounding ambient mana, qi-types are superior at more basic investigations, such as if one simply wants to inspect a structure or use their senses to scan the area .
Of course, it doesn’t mean every qi-type can do this . They have to train to acquire a sufficient level of mastery and at least possess God’s Cathedral qi technique as a foundation . Sila fit both criteria, so he could easily do it .
Sila lightly knocked on the ground . Sound travels fastest through solids . He only obtained a vague idea about the layout of the ground below him since he couldn’t determine the entire structure using only sound like the user of Goddess’ Resonance . He had to knock on the ground in four different spots to discover that a certain boulder was blocking some kind of hole .
“That boulder is suspicious . Let’s take a look . ” Sila pointed at the boulder, which was slightly larger than most of the boulders around there . It was fifty meters away, but could be seen easily even at night thanks to the fireflies .
“Leader, are you actually quite skilled?” Alpha, Miki, and Isaac imitated Sila’s actions by putting their ears on the ground and knocking . After a few tries, Isaac groaned .
“I only heard a thud-thud sound . ”
The same was true for Alpha . He got up and swept dirt from his clothing . “Well, let’s take a look for now . ”
With excitement, Miki rushed to the rock, prompting the others to quickly follow her . The distance was short, but the terrain was sharp and steep . Isaac accidentally stepped on the sharp edge of a rock, causing him to yelp in pain . Despite a bit of a struggle, they eventually arrived at the destination .
“How about we try lifting it up?” Sila suggested .
Alpha, Miki, and Isaac frowned . Since Midnight was wearing a mask, Sila couldn’t tell whether the man was frowning as well or not .
“It’s too big for us . Since we’re gentlemen, we’ll let Miki handle it alone . ” Alpha stepped back . “Ladies first . ”
“Again? I’m but a fragile girl . ”
“If someone like Miss Miki is considered fragile, the bull around Zhongsuyuan City would look like one too— Arff!” Isaac could only say so much before he became speechless, clasping his stomach which had received Miki’s “fragile” left hook .
Alpha completely ignored the man . He turned to Midnight . “Midnight, let’s do the same thing we did when we moved into the base . ”
Midnight apathetically nodded and took his cross-shaped spear out .
Actually, lifting the boulder up was an easy task for Sila, but he wanted to see what they would do .
Magic power of the dark element poured out from Midnight’s body . Sila studied the ambient mana and noticed that it didn’t respond to Midnight’s magic power, meaning the man had yet to attain the essence of magic .
The cross-shaped spear functioned like a mage staff, or maybe it was actually a mage staff with a sharp tip . Sila couldn’t tell for sure . Meanwhile, Midnight mumbled something to himself .
“Confinement of Darkness . ”
A black shadow wrapped around Miki . However, once it came into contact with Miki’s white magic power, it strengthened her instead of weakening its target . Miki hugged the boulder and tried to lift it up, but it only budged . Her strength wasn’t enough to move it .
Observing Miki’s stance, Sila couldn’t help but be reminded of his old knowledge . He was an assistant teacher in real life and also had a degree in physical education, so he gave Miki some pointers .
“Miki, when lifting something up, you ought to use your leg strength as well, not just arm strength . Try to straighten your back . Lifting weights will require less strength if you do it right . Also, pull your left leg back . You may fall easily, sticking your legs together like that . ”
Miki followed the instructions . She pulled her left leg back and put forth her strength from her lower body . The boulder finally escaped from its former spot .
“How about it? Is there a secret passage?” she asked .
“Regretfully . . . take a look at it yourself,” replied Alpha .
Miki placed the boulder next to her and took a look . There was nothing there, only one more ordinary rock . However, Sila saw that the rock was quite blurry . He was confident that it was an illusion . He extended his hand, which flew through the rock as if nothing was there .
“Whoa! There is really a secret passage! Awesome!” Isaac exclaimed .
Sila lit a magical flame on his palm and was the first to enter, followed by Alpha, Miki, Isaac, and Midnight respectively . The entrance was narrow, but the layout inside was a bit wider . Though it wasn’t to the point where two people could walk side-by-side, it was wide enough for them to walk through one at a time with reasonable space between their shoulders and the walls . The ventilation was also decent .
This secret tunnel didn’t have stairs despite leading underground . Instead, the trail was gradually steep and there was no light . It was quite difficult just to travel .
After walking for a while, Isaac asked amidst the darkness, “Are we near the destination yet?”
“How should we know? We’re clueless about where we are going and how long it will take to arrive there . Maybe we still haven’t reached halfway yet,” replied Alpha .
“Should we go back and make some preparations first? We can return later . ”
“Don’t chicken out, Isaac . We have been walking for half an hour already . We don’t feel tired because we’re descending . Going back right now means you have to climb up . I’d say we better risk it and go further . ”
“Midnight has been so silent . . . Please don’t tell me he has been swallowed up by some dark creature like in a horror movie . ” Isaac slowly turned around and was relieved to see that Midnight was still following him .
Sila was concentrating on his perception, studying the echolocation of their footsteps . Eventually, he sensed a wide room up ahead . From the shape, he suspected that it would either be some sort of resting spot along the trail or their final destination .
“We’re almost there . Be careful,” Sila warned everyone and slowed down .
Finally, they arrived at the room that was as spacious as two soccer fields . It appeared that they had come out from one of many holes scattered around the room . The place was dark . While Sila could see everything easily, the same couldn’t be said for everyone else .
While they were contemplating what to do next, the room suddenly brightened . Their eyes immediately squinted as they couldn’t adjust to the abrupt change in lighting . It took a while before they noticed that they were in a giant arena ring . There were several more rings located throughout the room .
White fog manifested and took the shape of a human body in the center of the ring where they were standing . Looking around, they found that a similar phenomenon was happening all over the place . An overwhelming number of white clouds, albeit smaller ones, were forming . The reason why the system didn’t inform them about these clouds implied that they were either taking their human form or were capable psychic-types that could hide their presence .
Sila took a stance, ready for battle . The largest silhouette pointed its fingers at his team and a list of numbers soon appeared above their heads . The silhouette then read them in order of how they stood, going Sila, Alpha, Miki, Isaac, then Midnight .
“41 points . 16 points . 8 points . 5 points . 35 points . All of you suck . Well, it’s better than having no visitors at all, I guess . ”