Shortly after, we found a path with Dasbalites.
[We’ll sleep here.] Garfin commanded.
Apparently, during that time, it was already night. Excluding me, they decided to take turns in twos for the night watch. They reasoned that they were more accustomed to the nature of the caves than I did, which is why it was best for me to take a rest, so I could adapt to the new environment I was in.
“Thank you,” In gratitude, I said.
After taking our fill, we huddled in a corner of the passage in order to maintain our heat, but despite that, I still felt myself shivering from the cold to the point that we wanted to build a fire, but our air is limited so we refrained from doing so. Fortunately, the Dwarfs was kind enough to place me in the center of the group, making it more bearable than I thought. Not long before, I fell asleep in comfort.
By the next day, I was shaken awake by Garfin. [It’s time to eat.] He said.
Rubbing my eyes, “Unn...” I yawned while I stretched my body and limbs.
Not long after that, we took our meal, eating the same jerky and water we had.
“By the way, Garfin,” I asked after resuming our travel through the caves. “Why did Grandfather place the stash here in Alabaster? He could’ve just placed it somewhere I can easily find it, right?”
[Probably a test?] Garfin answered, leading the group with a torch in hand. [He came down here several times with us, so he might have thought that you’d need to go through what he did before you are entitled to receive what he left. He even contracted an earth spirit to seal it.]
Confused, I said. “But aren’t humans not supposed to see or feel spirits?”
[That’s what I want to know. How did Randolf get into a contract with a spirit?] He replied. [And it’s a high ranking spirit at that.]
Grandfather sure has a lot of mysteries...
[We should pick up the pace a bit.] Garfin said. [I’m worried about the others, those Faeries might have done something.]
“I agree,” I replied. “But Garfin, can you tell me more about the Faeries? Like, how strong they are?”
[Physically, they’re weak. One swing of our hammer and they could die immediately.]
“In terms of magic?”
[In that regard, I haven’t seen them use magic.] He answered.
[I have seen them,] A dwarf interrupted. [Their magic is on the level of a low to intermediate spirit.]
“Err… How do I make of that?” I asked. “The only power of a spirit I knew of is the blessing of the water spirit during the ritual, and I don’t think that’s a good reference...”
[The one from the ritual is a high spirit of water.] Garfin answered.
“Hmm...” I muttered, tilting my head. “If that’s the case, then I guess they’re around the lowest to the highest of intermediate magic? Or possibly till advanced?”
[Probably till advanced.] The previous Dwarf replied.
“Thanks for the answer.” I smiled.
About 3 hours or so, we found a marking on the side of a passage. It was a marking in a ‘Y’ shape indicating the fork in the path before us.
Tracing the marking, Garfin said. [This is marking is recent, we are near.] Then he took out a knife and drew a line underneath the arrowhead that indicated the direction we should go. [There, that should do it.]
“You're indicating that someone saw the marking they left and followed it, right?” I asked.
[Yes,] Garfin replied. [It’s a standard for us Dwarfs.]
“How about the other side? The mark indicated small circles clustered together.”
[That indicates a nest. We should avoid that if we don’t want any trouble.]
Following the indicated path, we traveled for about an hour before we reached the end of the passage. It led to a huge chamber filled with naturally formed pillars that reached to the ceiling. It was large enough to fit a 20-storey building and acres of land, dotted with waterfalls, protruding uneven boulders, Dasbalites of unimaginable sizes, springs, and lakes both frozen and running, unique luminescent plants, and a ceiling fitted with crystals.
“It’s like a whole new world...” I muttered in pure awe.
[Beautiful isn’t it?] Garfin chuckled a grin. [It’s called the Endless Chasm.]
“Endless Chasm?” I repeated, trying to look for the end of the slanted chasm leading further down. “Then I’m guessing you haven’t found the end yet?”
[We haven’t.] He answered with a wry smile. [There are too many dangerous beasts the further you go, lava also starts appearing, changing the environment drastically. Anyway, let’s talk while moving.]
As ordered, we started moving.
“Garfin, those crystals above us,” Shifting my sight towards the countless crystals hanging above, “those are Crystalline Manatite, right?”
[There are Crystalline Manatite mixed in there, but there are various crystals included.]
“I see,” I muttered. “Then, how did they ended up there?”
[They formed due to the water and lava mixing together, producing a vapor that made its way up and formed the crystals. Or possibly this place was submerged in lava once, which naturally formed those crystals as the ground eroded.]
Again, I shifted my sight towards the towering Dasbalites that illuminated the surroundings.“This is just a guess, but does the mana content in the air increases the further we go down?”
[You guessed right.]
[We don’t know.] He shook his head in response. [Maybe ask a God or a divine being?]
“… I guess.” I muttered. Maybe I’ll ask Celes next week.
Once again, I observed the surroundings and thought quietly.
Some pillars are stretching from both the top and the bottom, probably centuries old stalactites and stalagmites that eventually formed a pillar? But some have discolored marks, so I’m guessing those are eroded ones…
There are also waterfalls here and there, so does it mean all that water we encountered is destined to arrive here? And that frozen slide. I guess it’ll defrost once the water level rose and eventually reached that passage?
Continuously, I thought of possibilities to explain the scenery before me. As I imagined them, “Tell me,” I muttered in disbelief. “Is this a dream?”
[Ahahaha!] Garfin laughed heartily. [To think you’d ask the first question that Randolf asked upon reaching this place!]
“Ahaha. Well, I have Grandfather’s blood after all.” I laughed wryly. “… Anyway, does this place have some lore or something?”
[We don’t have that kind of lore for this place,] Garfin answered. [But we believe that all the water running down Alabaster led to this place. Because of that, it slowly eroded the rocks that formed this chasm. We’re theorizing that this further leads under the ocean southeast of Randia or maybe an underwater volcano judging from the lava present further down.]
“Then all of this is the marvel of Alabaster?” I asked. “To think that it’s hiding something like this...”
There are countless things here that I have seen for the first time. To think it was just beside the kingdom of Laurel. We had no idea...
[Yes, it is.] Garfin grinned. [The outside of Alabaster is an outright plain mountain range, but the inside is on a different scale, and I doubt that this is the only hidden gem underneath Alabaster.]
“You mean there’s more?”
[At least I think so, Alabaster is wide that we haven’t explored all of it yet.]
“Then those beasts? The humanoid Rikeas and Gidras, did they came from here?”
[Yes, they did.] Garfin answered. [The Rikeas use their talons to scale the pillars and numerous passages on the sides. They also use those to cling on the walls and act like ordinary Dasbalites, camouflaging themselves from their predators. Unlike the previous ones, this place has plenty of space for them to stand upright, allowing them to use their talons to hunt smaller beasts.]
Then another Dwarf continued. [The Gidras hunts the Rikeas in this place, so wherever the Rikeas are, the Gidras are sure to follow.]
“But I guess we can call ourselves lucky that most of them are gone,” I muttered, checking the immediate surrounding for beasts. Those small unnatural looking ones are probably Rikeas camouflaging themselves.
[Luck, huh. It’s probably because of a divine beast that has visited nearby. We were blessed.] Garfin answered.
“Eh? Blessed? By which divine beast?”
[I don’t know,] He shook his head. [Although weak, I felt its presence for a short moment.]
“When was it?”
[During the slide.]
“Oh… I didn’t feel anything.” I answered.
[That’s natural.] He replied.
Could it be… my horn? I thought. But whenever I call out to Celes, none asked nor did anyone spoke about a presence… During my time with Erina too. Kanna never mentioned anything, so I guess it really wasn’t me?
Shaking my thoughts away, I asked. “Garfin, where are we headed now?”
[I’m sorry about this, but we’ll head to a post we made in this area. We’ll head to the sealed area once we find the other Dwarfs.]
“No, it’s fine,” I answered. “Right now, the lives of the Dwarfs is more important. I could always come down here to get the stash just in case.”
[Thank you, Amelia.] He thanked.
Then the other Dwarfs followed. [[Thank you.]]
“No problem,” I replied with a smile.
Peacefully, we reached the Dwarf post after about 2 hours of travel, a result of the mass migration of the beasts.
[Garfin!] A Dwarf ran to our direction upon seeing our group.
Then another followed. [Garfin?!]
[Arkand! Dresbon!] Garfin ran up to them wearing a bright smile. He then brought out his fist and bumped it against the other two. [It’s nice to see you well!]
[You finally came!] Arkand laughed.
They both bore a brown hair that covered their face, an ordinary appearance among the Dwarfs.
[Finally, there’s a chance that we can go back!] Dresbon cheered.
But Arkand unhappily slapped Dresbon at the back of his head! [You fool! We just need food to kill that beast!] He reprimanded. [It’s not something we should fear!]
[You’re the fool!] Dresbon refuted. [You haven’t seen one of those things yet!]
[I have! I smashed them to oblivion!]
[Those were newborns! The ones that reached past its maturity are absurd!]
[Have some pride! We are Dwarfs! Our weapons can take care of that!]
[I have pride! But that thing is different!]
Quietly, we listened to their banter, gleaning information that they threw at each other until Garfin stopped both of them before they reached for their weapons.
[Enough,] Garfin said, placing himself in-between them. [You're disgracing yourselves in front of our new chief.]
As they looked my way, I smiled and waved my hand. “Hello,” I said in a childish tone.
As expected, [Cough! You’re right, we shouldn’t disgrace ourselves.] Dresbon said as he reached out his hand. [The name’s Dresbon.]
Reaching to his hand for a shake, I said. “Pleased to meet you, I’m Amelia.”
Similarly, Arkand did the same. [Name’s Arkand.]
After we gave our greetings, we proceeded to have a meeting regarding our next move. Apparently, the well-known exits were blocked by beasts, and they were hesitant in eliminating them due to their number and the consequences it will cause. They also found traces of the Fairies moving around the caves just like we did, but unexpectedly, they only found three. On the other hand, it seemed that they too encountered Devy, a Devourer as confirmed by Dresbon.
According to Dresbon, that Devy is too powerful for us to handle. They saw it preying on two Gidras at the same time. And based on his estimation, it’s powerful enough to be on the level of a mid to a high dragon.
Contrary to that, Arkand believed that they can take care of it if we relied on the crystals embedded with incomplete magic circles while wielding their prided weapons.
In the end, we decided not to meddle with the Fairies, and work our way up while forcing the beasts to return to their natural habitat.
[Hey,] Dresbon said, pointing at a passage from a distance. [Isn’t those Gidras returning?]
Covered in rock-like scales, two horns pointed backward, and a form similar to a horse, they shot out from the passage as if running away from something.
[I think it’s coming…] Garfin muttered.
[Chiefs!] A Dwarf shouted. [The beasts! They’re returning!]
[Gather your weapons and your sacks!] Arkand shouted an order.
[Dwarfs!] Dresbon bellowed. [Move to the sides of the passages then form a barricade of shields!]
[Prepare your torches! we’re leaving once the beasts finished rushing back!] Garfin added.
Immediately, the Dwarfs moved to the side of the passage beside the post. Subsequently, the Dwarfs with shields moved to the front, while another line of Dwarfs at their back placed another shield above theirs, effectively making a wall of shields. At their backs, the Dwarfs split in half, ones gathered the sacks and served as carriers, while the others picked up weapons for battle.
Soon, the area was rocked by a continuous shake of the ground, followed by a mass of Rikeas passing through the passage that continuously emitted a squeaking sound. The Rikeas, drowned in fear, created a stampede among themselves, crushing their fellow Rikeas that fell down.
During the stampede, numerous Rikeas kept on hitting the shields in a blind panic. Fortunately, the Dwarfs were able to withstand it until all there was no Rikeas left.
[Move!] Garfin ordered.
[Those with weapons at the front!] Arkand shouted. [Kill anything on the way!]
[Carriers at the center! Shields at the back!] Dresbon added.
For some reason, the beasts kept running.
It’s not done yet… I thought.
Meeting my expectation, a low-trill echoed throughout the chasm. Then the hideous beast, Devy, emerged from the ground, swallowing a number of Rikeas.
At the moment I saw it, I thought. It’s no use. We can’t outrun that thing…
The Fairy trio giggled.