I coughed, waving away the dust in my face as the rumbling sound started to diminish. It was still some time before it stopped. I could feel rocks and dust on me, but nothing too heavy. I brushed the stuff aside and stood up. I was in complete darkness, without a single light around me. However, I felt like I had the ability to see to a certain extent. At the very least, I could make out the walls and basic shapes.
I had a feeling that had I been human, this would have been pitch black. However, as a devil, I could probably navigate in the dark. In fact, with some time, I might even get used to the lack of light. This was truly a domain for devils. Looking around, I saw another form on the ground. When I went to touch them, they jerked and I heard coughing sounds.
I couldn’t make out their features, but I could feel from their shoulders they were female. On top of that, a tail lashed out and hit my ankle as I helped them up. Of course, I knew who was next to me when the cave came crashing down, so it wasn’t difficult to ascertain that it was Olivia here. As she continued to cough, I helped her to her feet. Unlike me, her eyes didn’t adjust to complete darkness, and she was glancing around wildly, unable to make out the slightest thing.
“It’s okay…” I tried to soothe her.
“You!’ She suddenly took a slice at me with the claws on her fingertips, just a bit sharper than a typical human.
I was able to dodge with relative ease, but I had to let go of her. Without the support, she teetered and then fell back down on the ground with a thud.
“Bastard… what did you do to me, Nya?” She demanded.
“What did I do to you?” I responded scornfully, “It was your magic that caused this whole place to crumble down. We’re trapped in the cave.”
She blinked a few times and then remained silent for a bit. Even she should be able to realize when she made a mistake like this. Her memories of what just happened were probably only now returning to her after some brief confusion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the expression on her face, which ruined some of the satisfaction I felt.
“David!” I heard a muffled cry on the other side of the rocks, causing me to let out a breath of relief.
“Bala, I’m here!” I yelled back. “Don’t bother trying to dig. There are several tons of rock in our way. Baba said there were entrances all around. I’ll go look for another.”
“Is the princess with you?” Another voice shouted out.
“Yeah… Princess Olivia… she’s shaken, but alive.”
Hearing her name yelled seemed to shake Olivia out of her daze as she finally stood back up and looked around. Her eyes must have adjusted some. They seemed to glow in the darkness and were easier for me to see than any other part of her, giving her the appearance of a cat shadow with just a pair of glowing eyes.
“Olivia?” The man yelling didn’t seem content to just hear it from me.
“Taryth! Just try to gather all the men you can and regroup topside!” Olivia gave the order, although her voice sounded a bit hoarse.
With that, the sound on the other side died out. I glanced over at Olivia, but she had already turned away and was starting to trudge ahead.
“What are you doing?” I asked, seeing her take off like she was in a hurry.
“Hmph, I can get out of this on my own!” Olivia’s voice held disdain, “If you’re frightened, just follow me.”
“We need to make a plan,” I stated. “Whoever set that cave troll on your people may still be down here. There may also be traps.”
“Set the cave troll? What are you saying?” Olivia stopped in her tracks for a second.
“Did you think a cave troll being here was pure coincidence?” I said, shaking my head. “This was a calculated move. Our opponent is already several steps ahead of us. If we don’t catch up and overtake them, we’ll be ground to dust.”
“More of your pseudo-intellectual garbage?” She sniffed. “Nya! The faster we move, the sooner I can be away from you! Nyaaa!”
Just as she said that she stepped on a rock wrong and fell back. I reached out and caught her as she plummeted to the ground. She ended up in my arms, looking up at me, her eyes wide for a moment.
“Olivia… I don’t know what I did in the past to cause you to hate me so much.” I said shortly. “But now is not the time for petty grudges. If you care about your own survival, the peace of the elvish nation, or the human realm, you should be helping me, not making things harder.”
Her mouth was open like she had planned to say something, but then she shut it and looked away. I helped her get back up on her feet. Since she didn’t say anything else, I decided to continue and push my luck.
“First things first, we need some light,” I said. “Even if we can see a little better, I can guarantee you that whatever is down here with us can see better than that. The light, if anything, will blind and confuse them, and give us an edge. I have a few torches, but I don’t like the idea of a fire. It will use up our oxygen and possibly ignite pockets of underground gas.”
Olivia glanced at me silently for a moment before finally speaking, “I don’t know what that means, nya, but I have a solution.”
She pulled out her hand deliberately and then started chanting. About fifteen seconds later, a light sprouted in her hand. I covered my eyes, making sure not to look directly at it. She seemed to get the idea, and she somehow reduced the brightness so it was only a dim glow. With my eyes already partially adjusted to the blackness, in comparison this glow made the entire hallways look bright.
“Better.” I nodded to myself. “If you find an enemy, simply turn up the brightness to max. Eh, a warning would be nice first.”
Her mouth twisted for a second, but I couldn’t tell if it was a smile or a sneer. She then turned away and started back down the path she was coming from.
“You act just like big sister.” She spoke after a moment.
“You’re all my big sisters, which one is that?” I asked.
I didn’t know any of the sisters other than what I had read in palace reports and saw in drawings, most extrapolated or outdated by a decade. If Olivia was going to offer any kind of information about one of the sisters, I would gladly take it.
She froze for a second at my words, but then sighed, “Lucilla… she used to boss everyone around. She always told the rest of us to not harm you. Well, she was nearly grown when you were born, so she already knew mom before she… left.”
Lucilla was the girl with rounded ears. She was also the oldest. When I was born, she was already fifteen years of age. By the time she was sent away, she was already an adult with strong ties to the human realm. For that reason, she was one of the last girls I planned on visiting. She also appeared to be the one who hated me the least. Naturally, I had no memory of her in the slightest. As for what realm she ended up in, she went to the faery realm to be with mother. Of all the girls, she could be considered the luckiest.
“You should give up your claim to the throne.” Olivia stopped and looked at me.
I glanced back with a look of surprise. “Huh? Give up?”
“If you conceded to Lucilla, I know myself and at least two other sisters would similarly concede to her.”
“The human realm has always been a patriarchy,” I spoke slowly. “Isn’t giving it to her the same as giving it to the faery realm? Whoever her husband happens to be, they will be the one in charge. Likely, it will be a faery.”
She turned away. “Mother was a faery. What’s wrong with the fairies ruling humans. Other than the celestials, they are the purest of the species.”
“I don’t believe in such a thing as purity,” I responded disdainfully, causing her to give me a sidelong look. “Do you think yourself less pure than your mother, just because you’re a beastkin.”
“…” She looked like she didn’t know how to answer.
“Well, despite popular opinion, I don’t believe myself irredeemable because of my face. I am the man I choose myself to be, not the man I’m told I am. As for your so-called pure races, they are the ones who put humanity in its current state. They are the ones who pressured father to the point he has grown ill. They made him lose everything, just because they didn’t like one of his kids. Is that pure? Is that fair?”
Olivia opened her mouth again but then ended it by biting her lip.
“If a faery sits on the throne, the balance of this world will be thrown off. He could have all of the good intentions in the world, but he would never understand humanity. In the end, he’d either use them or suppress them.
“And a devil-like you would understand humanity?” She finally spoke up, a bitter expression on her face.
“My parents were a human and a faery. I was raised in a human castle, surrounded by human subjects. I may not be a human, but I understand humans. That was why, of everyone he traded away, he never tossed me away. He could have hidden me. He could have sent me to some monastery to remain out of public eyes. He could have pretended I didn’t exist. Do you know why he didn’t?”
“Why is that, Nya?”
“Because I’m the one who needed humanity the most,” I responded simply.
Even now, I couldn’t tell if Father’s actions were those of a hopeful fool or a secret genius. Well, either way, even I wondered if the cost of raising me was worth all of this aggravation. If I was him, I would have simply had another male heir and done something to invalidate the devilkin. Father hedged all of his bets on me, a son he didn’t even know could succeed. I’m not sure I could do the same. Then again, isn’t that what all Father’s do? They procreate and raise a child, hoping that child will continue their legacy without ever knowing?
Olivia was also lost in thought, as the two of us walked down the long winding corridor in complete silence. The only sounds that could be heard were vague echoes and the sound of water dripping. We eventually came to an intersection that broke off into two directions. Olivia stopped and then glanced back at me.
“W-which direction do we go?”
I was surprised by her sudden question. Given her stubbornness, I’d have expected her to just pick one and enter it without questioning. If things didn’t go her way, she’d find some way to blame me for not warning her about it preemptively. At least, that was the impression I got from this girl I called my sister.
Rather than tease her about it, I took a step forward, licked my finger, and held it up. I was feeling for the air currents. If the air was moving from one particular direction, then it would be indicative of a way out. Regrettably, I felt nothing to indicate which way lead to our freedom.
“The right,” I said.
I had no clue, her guess was as good as mine. However, I wasn’t going to pretend that I didn’t feel anything and lose this chance to seem in charge. A decisive decision that was based on nothing was still better than no decision at all. Olivia glanced at her finger in wonder and then nodded, following me as I started heading right. I just hoped my guess was the right one. That was, until, a few hundred meters later, we ran into an intersection with three paths moving off.
I repeated the act, but this time I mostly looked at the ground. The pathway that seemed to be slanted up was the pathway I chose. Regrettably, that upward slope was a lie, and we had only moved a hundred meters before the slope started heading down. Olivia was following me now and was sticking close. If I suddenly told her to head back so we could try a different one, I would definitely lose the respect and support I had gained with her.
In the end, I could only keep going. There was no indication the other two directions were any better than this one. As we walked, the air started to feel warmer. Although Olivia’s ears twitched excitedly, I wore a deep frown on my face. The underground was usually a pretty stable temperature. There is no reason it should get warmer unless we were heading to the surface. The problem was, the ground was still sloping downward, meaning we were getting deeper.
Unless there was a hidden volcano very close to the surface, in which case, we had other things to worry about. I started to see a light in the distance, and shadows reflecting off the light. The echoey noises became more distinct until I was positive we were coming up on a group in the distance. However, no matter how much I listened, their voices never seemed to form into words. We slowed as we drew nearer, hoping to listen in and determine if they were friendly or not, but I quickly began to realize that the language isn’t one that I understood.
This was the first time since I had come to this world that I ran into a language that I didn’t understand. Actually, it seemed like all the realms spoke the same language. Whether that language came from my world, that was more difficult to say. The written language differed from English but I could read it with ease. As far as spoken word, my brain was unable to distinguish between English and what we were speaking. I reckoned that was something added by the god when he sent me here. Either that or that piece of David’s knowledge was left behind for me to use.
Either way, I had spoken naturally since the moment I had gotten to this world, and this was the first time the words I was hearing felt unnatural. Rather, they were harsh and guttural. I glanced over at Olivia, but I wasn’t too surprised when she shook her head. It seemed like she had lived a life nearly as sheltered as Prince Davids. It was no wonder that she didn’t really have too much knowledge about these kinds of things.
The important thing to take away from the voices is that they weren’t elves or humans. That meant, they were an enemy to us. I pulled my sword from my scabbard and brought it out, trying to use it as a mirror to spy around the corner. It took a few moments, but I finally got an image in the reflection. There was a small creature with pointy ears, a large bumpy face, and skin that was a mixture of grey and green.
“Goblins.” I mouthed the words to Olivia.
She gestured to her light, which was now so dim as to be barely brighter than a night light. She was asking if she should flash the goblins with her light spell and blind them. I raised my hand, signaling her to hold off. Something about the way the goblins were acting suggested that they weren’t laying an ambush or anything like that. I actually knew very little about monsters from this world, and this was my first-time encountering goblins.
In most stories, goblins were some of the lowest level and most easily defeated monsters. They didn’t pose the slightest threat to anyone, and were quick leveling experience. However, this was no a video game. There were no levels. A spear would kill you coming from a goblin just as easily as a well-trained knight. I was a will-user, so I didn’t doubt in my abilities. I was certain I could kill them, but perhaps they were stronger or in greater number than my expectations suggested.
On top of that, the goblins were suited for caves, so they had terrain advantage. For all I knew, they could be like bees. Once killing a monster, they may start to swarm us. I still didn’t know the way out, so it’d be nice if we weren’t harrowed by an endless stream of goblins the entire distance. Simply put, I didn’t have all the variables yet and risking a confrontation just because I thought I could win was a quick path towards death.
All of those thoughts went through my head in only the span of a few seconds. I pulled back my sword and sheathed it, and then turned to Oliva, gesturing for her to head back. The best option would for the pair of us to take a different route. I had picked this one purely by chance, so there was no reason we couldn’t go somewhere else, even if it made my decision-making suspect, it was better safe than sorry. However, upon turning to Olivia, I froze instead.
“Nya… we’re going back? My magic can defeat them! I definitely won’t cause another cave in!” Olivia insisted.
I sighed and raised my hands above my head. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Eh…. Nya!” She made a noise as a spear poked her in the butt.
She glanced behind her to see a few dozen goblins behind us with their spears at the ready. I didn’t see a path that would have allowed them to get behind us, but the caves were their domain after all. A few had bows drawn. Even if I attacked, in such cramped corridors, they had the advantage, and I couldn’t guarantee Olivia’s safety, let alone my own. It looked like we were captured.