Under the Oak Tree-Chapter 297 - : Chapter 58

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Chapter 297: Chapter 58

The Temple Knight slid down the steep slope behind the boulder. Maxi vacantly watched his nimble descent before clambering after him on her hands and knees. After what seemed like forever, she finally reached the bottom.

A breath of relief slipped out as she glanced around the ravine. Vast walls of gray rock towered over them on either side. Up ahead, smooth stones were piled in a makeshift staircase that led further down. Even at a glance, it was clear that the steps were not a product of nature.

Ever the vigilant guard, Elliot warily scanned their surroundings. “Is this where you felt the dissonance, my lady?”

Placing her hands on one of the rock faces, Maxi released her mana into it. She nodded. ‘Y-Yes. I’m getting the same feeling again.”

Ruth was bent over, trying to catch his breath. He touched the wall when he saw Maxi, followed by the subtle arching of an eyebrow.

’11t appears the magic negation that’s circulating this area is interfering with our magic. That’s why my tracing spell was unable to detect anything. Of course, an earth spirit would be more sensitive to this sort of disruption in the mana flow. ”

Maxi’s face darkened. Why had the dark mages set up such a place? The site may well be a testing ground for dangerous spells — or a hiding place for something. While she pondered, Kuahel carefully observed the stairs.

“1 sense no other presence,” he said. ‘Let us go down and check.”

He climbed down the stone steps, and the others followed one by one. Maxi made every effort to tread lightly, careful not to make a sound. Despite

Kuahel’s reassurance, she could not shake the fear that something may be lurking. She held her breath as her eyes restlessly darted over the large rocks and shadowy corners.

Just then, Kuahel turned and motioned with his hand for them to stick to the walls. Maxi promptly obeyed as Kuahel descended the twisting ravine first. After making sure the path was clear, he signaled for them to join him.

Maxi sucked in a deep breath and moved along the winding ravine. The cramped passage, which barely had room for one person, suddenly widened into a spacious area overlaid with round pebbles. She glanced around the mystifying space with a mixture of wariness and curiosity. A hazy mist swirled above the ground, and the air was thick with humidity. The faint smell of sulfur wafted over from somewhere.

Kuahel marched through the mist without fear. Stopping to point at the towering rock face, he said, ‘There is an opening here.” Ruth went up to him first and peered inside the dark cave.

‘ID-Do you see anything?” Maxi asked.

Ruth shook his head. “It looks quite deep. Perhaps you could use your tracing spell?”

Maxi walked across the field of pebbles and stopped in front of the cave. When she placed her hand on one of the walls and started the spell, she could not sense a thing. It was as if a black curtain veiled her vision.

“1 can’t do it. My magic isn’t working.”

‘That means we’ll have to explore inside,” said Kuahel.

He sighed before stepping into the cave. Maxi looked up at him, startled. How could he enter without the slightest inkling of what could be lurking inside? She grabbed his cloak out of instinct.

‘Il-It might be dangerous!”

Kuahel furrowed his brow.

“Which is why we must check,” he said, cocking his head in bafflement. “To prepare for future battles, we must find out what’s inside this cave.”

‘But there are only five of us. We might find ourselves outnumbered,” Elliot replied.

Kuahel’s cold gaze landed on him. ‘Did you not prepare for such a possibility before we set out on this investigation? We are not here to enjoy a pleasant excursion, and there will always be risks.”

The Temple Knight appeared unafraid of the consequences of things going wrong. While Maxi was appalled by his indifference, Ruth surprisingly agreed with him.

‘Sir Kuahel has a point.’

Maxi turned to look at the sorcerer in shock.

Ruth carefully scanned the cave’s interior and added, “I’m sure you all remember the Battle of Eth Lene Castle. If we are to prevent a similar catastrophe, we must find out where this path leads. One monster ambush through a secret passageway while we’re laying siege would mean quite the predicament for our forces.”

Maxi’s face paled in fear, and a cold sweat prickled her back as she recalled the horrors of that day. It was a reminder of the importance of this whole endeavor. The information they gathered could determine the outcome of the

She nodded, her face set in determination. “Very well. Let us go in.”

Elliot’s lips parted and closed as if he were about to dissuade her, but he soon conceded with a resigned nod.

The group passed through the dark, narrow passageway in single file. The blue flames summoned by the Temple Knights lit the cave walls in a dim light, casting long shadows across the ground. The eeriness of it all made Maxi hunch her shoulders. The stench of sulfur grew increasingly pungent, making the cave feel more and more stifling.

‘The walls are hot,” Ruth mumbled out of the blue.

Maxi turned to look at him quizzically. “D-Do you think it’s magic?

‘No, I don’t believe it is,” he replied, furrowing his brow. “There appears to be geothermal—”

Something crunched beneath Maxi’s feet, and she leaped back. Ruth abruptly stopped talking. When Kuahel raised his flame to illuminate the ground, she retreated behind him and looked down at the spot she had stepped. On the cave floor were shattered shards of black glass.

‘What on earth...?”

While she was staring down, perplexed, Kuahel bent over and picked up a dark shard. Maxi saw his face harden a little.

“It’s an eggshell.”

Unable to grasp his words right away, Maxi blinked vacantly. Tossing the shard on the ground, Kuahel straightened and raised the flame. The light spilled over piles of what looked like broken bowls in the corner of the passageway.

A chill ran down Maxi’s spine. They were eggs — or rather, the eggshells of some unknown creature. Her instincts told her they needed to get out of this place at once, but the Temple Knight did the exact opposite and maintained his march down the passageway. Frozen in fear, Maxi had to summon all her courage to follow him.

A spacious hall emerged at the end of the long path. The horrifying sight left Maxi speechless. The high walls of the cavern looked like the combs of a beehive, each one dotted with hexagonal alcoves. Hunched inside each alcove were large birds nearly five kevettes (approximately 150 centimeters) in size.

No, not birds. They were monsters with the wings of a bird but the body of a reptile. Their scales glinted red even in the blue firelight.

‘Basilisks,” Elliot muttered grimly. “This must be where they breed them.’

‘How interesting,” Kuahel remarked with both anger and disdain. Maxi swept her eyes across the cavern in horror. At least thirty basilisks were sleeping inside their niches.

Did this mean that the dark mages had even tamed high-grade monsters like the basilisk? As far as she knew, it took forty or more seasoned knights to hunt a fully-grown basilisk. She could not imagine the horror of what such dangerous monsters could unleash if used in battle.

Ruth paused after running his fingers along the iron bars confining the monsters to their enclosures. ‘They were forcefully put to sleep. I think the runes to suppress magic were intended to stop them from growing past a certain size.”

‘Does that mean... the monster army has no control over these creatures either?” Elliot asked.

Ruth shrugged lightly. “They wouldn’t have created such complicated cages if they did. More likely, they are breeding the creatures for their magic stones.”

Maxi’s shoulders sagged with relief. “Th-Then... that means we don’t have to worry about basilisks being used in battle.”

‘Are you absolutely certain? Because I have seen a lizardman riding a drake,” Kuahel said frostily as he peered inside an enclosure.

Ruth snorted. ‘Only a few drakes were brought to battle. If the enemy could bend the dragon subspecies to their will, nothing would have stopped them from sending out a wyvern, worm, basilisk, or any other high-grade species. The fact that they did not means there are limitations to the sorts of monsters they can control.’

Kuahel searched Ruth’s face before turning his gaze back to the sleeping basilisks. His eyes glinted in the dark, scouring every inch of the cavern. An eerie feeling came over Maxi. He seemed to be searching for something.

“1 suggest we get out of here first. This place might be run by a monster. Linger too long, and we might—n

Elliot’s anxious warning was cut short, and the Temple Knights drew their swords in nearly the same heartbeat. Maxi suppressed a scream.

A shadowed figure charged toward them. The glint of steel flashed in the dark, and a blade flared blue as it cleaved the monster in half.

Before anyone could identify the attacker, Kuahel’s voice rang through the cave. “There’s one more! Don’t let it get away!’

Another figure darted toward the passageway they had come down. Out of pure instinct, Maxi grabbed the monster as it tried to dash past her.

She felt coarse, brittle fur. Despite her repulsion, she latched onto the creature. This fiend would alert the monster army if it got away, which would start a hunt for the intruders. That would put Riftan in danger. These were the thoughts that flashed through her mind as she tightened her grip.

‘My lady!”

The monster proved strong and agile. It dragged her to the passageway, where it finally managed to fling her aside. All of this happened in the blink of an eye.

Only a few steps behind them, Elliot drove his sword into the monster. Unfortunately, it proved not to be a fatal blow, perhaps because of his concern for her. A spine-chilling shriek filled the cavern, followed by a loud rumble. Maxi looked over her shoulder in terror.

Behind her was a new opening in the wall, and standing in it were two goblins carrying torches. When she saw them pull at the snake head sculpture on the wall, she instinctively threw herself at the entrance and managed to land on the other side before it slid shut.

She cast a shield to block the goblins’ attacks and yanked the snake’s head. The trigger refused to budge. Her face blanching in dismay, she looked behind her.

A cold voice rang out with a hint of incredulity, “I can’t quite decide whether you’re faint-hearted or brave.”

Maxi’s eyes widened. She was not the only person who had leaped into the secret passageway. To her surprise, the two goblins lay in a crimson puddle. Kuahel Leon towered over them, wiping the blood off his sword..