Chapter 196

They felt a considerable number of presences inside the building. However, they weren’t certain if the presences they sensed were the captives. They needed to check it with their own eyes to make sure.

‘It seems like there’s a high possibility though.’

The group went to the door of the first floor where most people were gathered. The people inside were cautious about the sudden intruder and scattered all over the house to conduct a search. However, Zich was more concerned about the unmoving presences on the second floor of the building.

‘There are three of them in each room.’

Among the three, two of them were close together while one was a slight distance away. Sensing that, Zich thought, ‘Looks like two of them are guarding one imprisoned person.’

It appeared that they had imprisoned one captive in each room. Usually, it was better to distribute the captives in entirely separate buildings, but it seemed like they had gathered them inside one building for logistics reasons. Zich felt three presences in each group and a total of eight groups.

‘Five elf tribes. One of them is the Iron Tribe, so the total number of tribes with missing captives is four. Since they are a pair of kings and queens, eight is the right number.’

Yet, Zich wasn’t satisfied.

‘What about the shaman?’

The shaman was the mother of the Lake Tribe’s king and Leona’s grandmother. She was also the reason why Zich had come to the Great Adrowon Forest. According to Dronian, the Lake Tribe was the only tribe where even the shaman was captured. Only kings and queens were kidnapped from other clans; but in the first place, a shaman who carried the Lake’s Tear only existed in the Lake Tribe.

‘Then, there should be nine groups.’ Zich had to make sure. ‘I have to know whether one is missing or if they are not the captives.’

Zich carefully clung to the window. Then, he activated the new artifact that Lyla had made for him this time.

‘She really is a genius.’ Zich rolled his tongue at his body that was slowly becoming transparent. Others wouldn’t be able to find him or sense his presence even if he breathed deeply. Like the artifact that Lyla had made for him before, the item possessed abilities to make him transparent and erase his presence. However, its quality and abilities were superior to the artifacts that Lyla had quickly made before.

‘How did she just make something like this in the middle of traveling without a magic workshop or a research center?’

She had also given him the artifact incredulously. Zich recalled her words: ‘I just made it while thinking about what happened before. Use it well.’ Then, she threw the bracelet, which was the artifact, to Zich and even stunned the latter for a moment.

‘If I were a normal guy, I would have fallen in love with her at that moment.’ Zich chuckled and stared out of the window. Then, seeing that there were thick bars stuck on the window, he thought, ‘I guess I can’t trespass through the window.’

Zich tried touching the bars. The cold metal shocked his fingers, and he tried pulling it.

‘It doesn’t seem like normal metal either.’ It was probably mixed with rare minerals to increase its durability.

‘They wouldn’t utilize so much of their expenses to stop a simple thief.’ –Especially in a normal-looking building like this one.

‘This increases the likelihood of captives being held here.’

Zich jumped. He hung from the second floor’s window frames and stuck close to the wall. Then, he stood there quietly for a while.

‘…Is there anyone approaching nearby?’

No matter how quietly he tried to move, he couldn’t help but make some noise as he hung from the window frame. Furthermore, his opponents were elves who had annoyingly great hearing. Fortunately, none of the elves seemed to notice him, perhaps because of the commotion outside or the battle taking place in the distance.

Zich placed more strength in his arms and lifted his body. Then, he searched inside the room through the window.

‘…It seems like I’ve found them.’

Inside the room, an elf was sitting on a bed with his eyes tightly shut. He wasn’t the Lake Tribe king, queen, or shaman. Since Dronian had shown pictures of them before Zich arrived at Mentis, he could clearly distinguish them. Regardless, Zich could tell the elf was a captive by his gaunt and scrawny appearance and especially by the clothes he was wearing.

‘I think he is the Mountain Tribe’s king.’

It seemed certain since a magnificent mountain was threaded onto the chest area of the clothes he was wearing. Like a monkey, Zich went across the windows and checked all the rooms on the second floor. There was a window attached to every room, so he was able to check all of them. It was around the fifth window when he thought—

‘I found him!’ Zich saw a man who looked exactly like the portrait that Dornian had shown him.

‘Is he the Lake Tribe’s king?’

That meant he was also Leona’s father. The king looked a bit haggard, but it didn’t seem like there were any problems with his health. His complexion looked fine while there was still a strong glint in his eyes. Then, Zich checked the rest of the rooms.

‘It seems like all the kings and queens are here.’

But there was one person missing; he couldn’t find the Lake Tribe’s shaman anywhere.

‘Should I look somewhere else or try asking?’

The captives might know where the shaman was, but, he would have to reveal his identity.

‘I don’t think they would hand me over to the Iron Tribe, but they might not be able to hide the fact that they met me.’

Of course, since they were kings and queens of a county, they probably were more skilled at concealing their feelings than most beings, but Zich couldn’t erase the tiny possibility of having his identity revealed if he talked to them. Moreover, Zich didn’t intend to save the captives right away.

‘Their lives don’t seem to be threatened right now, so if I’m going to save them, I should save the shaman too while I am at it.’ While thinking that, Zich decided to back away for today. 

‘Other captives might have no idea where the shaman is too.’ Then, Zich stared at the castle in the middle of the island.

*      *     *

When Zich arrived at the castle, the commotion had died down. All in all, the conflict wasn’t something that would last a long time; their first priority was to conceal the fact that most of their troops were made from soulless, shell-like armor pieces rather than inflicting casualties on the Iron Tribe.

‘We lasted pretty long.’

Zich lightly complimented Snoc and Hans inside his mind for fulfilling the mission better than he expected. It was not hard to realize that their plan was a resounding success.

-Aghhhhhhh!

A loud, furious cry resounded from a distance. Zich smirked.

‘It’s that guy.’

Zich guessed that the individual who just made the cry was the commanding general of the Iron Tribe. He was sure that it was the same elf who led the army of elves yesterday.

‘The way his expression changed was an amazing sight to see in battle.’

Zich felt regretful that he couldn’t see the elf general’s face in front of him, but he soon dropped this thought.

‘Well, this is not the only chance.’

Even though Zich had finished his business in this building, he didn’t immediately withdraw. Since the elf soldiers were probably going to run around frantically to find the missing armored soldiers, he still had some time.

‘Moreover, I don’t want to use those for too long.’

No matter how well they acted, it was hard to keep hiding the fact that the armored figures were actually empty. Before getting caught, they had to use the armor as much as they could. Zich quietly landed near the castle. He considered how long he had until the invisibility and presence-covering magic disappeared.

‘I have enough time.’ 

Zich slowly infiltrated the castle. The neatly cut stones of the castle reflected the bright moonlight and gave the whole castle a cold image. 

‘It really doesn’t look like a place that elves normally live in.’ Zich thought as he looked around the castle. However, this wasn’t the time for him to contemplate and ponder about why the castle’s design was not like other elf dwellings. 

‘If the shaman was captured, where would they have put her here?’

He could immediately think of two possibilities: a tall spire or a dungeon. 

‘And why did they put only the shaman in a different place?’

It wasn’t as if there were no more rooms in the building with the other hostages. Zich thought there must be a specific reason, significant or not, as to why they specifically separated one individual from the rest.

‘They might need her for a specific plan.’

However, Zich was going to think more about this after finding the shaman first. In order to sense presences around him, he increased the range of his sensing abilities.

‘…What?’ Zich dumbly murmured to himself. He closed his eyes and increased his concentration, but the result was the same.

‘What the heck?’

He had a hard time sensing any presence. It was as if someone was interfering with his senses. Zich recalled a time when he felt this stuffy feeling, as if someone was putting a blindfold on his eyes—it was in  Violuwin’s ruin.

‘Perhaps, this cas…’ Zich widened his eyes and looked at the top of the castle. Zich strained to move his neck far back to see the top of the castle, and the darkness from the top seemed to peer down at him.

‘Is it a remnant from an ancient ruin?’

Then everything made sense. Now, he could understand why the buildings and structures in Mentis didn’t follow normal elf architectural designs.

‘It didn’t belong to the elves in the first place.’

Without realizing it, Zich patted Windur in his arms. As if Windur judged that this mission was a significant event, Windur morphed into a small dagger and peacefully slept in Zich’s arms. Zich smiled. He wanted to immediately burst out laughing as he never imagined that he would be able to find more remnants of the ancient empire like this. It had really been a good decision for him to follow Leona. However, Zich quickly repressed this thought and emotion. 

‘No, I have to calm down. Nothing is certain yet.’

The castle could just coincidentally have the same powers as the ruins of the ancient empire. Moreover, elves from the past could have preferred to live in stone buildings rather than in trees like modern elves. However, it was also true that there was now a strong possibility that Mentis had a connection to the ancient empire. 

‘I have to make sure the elves become really indebted to me.’

He wanted them to be indebted to the point where the elves would be understanding if he investigated every inch of Mentis. Zich began moving again, but more cautiously than before. 

‘If this place really has the same powers as the other ruins of the ancient empire, I might not be able to easily escape.’

The ancient ruin was a place where Lyla’s teleportation magic and Snoc’s ability to control the earth were cut off. If he was captured here, Zich would only have the strength to make his escape. But he had no plans to move out just because he thought the situation was dangerous.

‘Should I check the basement first?’

When thinking about imprisoning someone, the first image that came to Zich’s mind was a prison; and normally, prisons were in the basement.

‘A princess would be in a tall spire, but this time, I’m looking for a shaman.’

Zich chuckled at his own joke and looked for stairs to go down to the basement. It was not difficult to find the stairs. In a hole that looked as if several stones had been pulled out of the floor, there was a staircase leading down to the lower floors. However, the security around that place was extremely tight. There were eight armed elves guarding the staircase. 

It was clear that they were guarding something very important. Zich carefully approached the staircase. Thanks to Lyla’s artifact, the guards weren’t able to see Zich. Moreover, the artifact hid Zich’s presence, and Zich was also extremely skilled at hiding his presence too. However, Zich still took great care to remain hidden, because the invisibility effect wasn’t perfect and elves had superior senses and instincts compared to normal humans. 

Zich continued to carefully move towards the staircase, and fortunately, he was able to reach the staircase without much trouble. He went down the basement, and torches were blazing underground, which was a common sight. Since the basement barely received any light, there were usually torches to help people see. However, the torches piqued Zich’s interest. 

‘There’s too many of them?’

The basement wasn’t an area that was used often. It was mostly used as a storage place. For that reason, there usually weren't many torches in the basement—especially if it was being used as a prison. However, this basement was very bright from all the torches lighting up the whole area.

‘There’s definitely something down here.’

Zich continued to go down. Buildings usually had an underground floor just below the ground floor, but this basement floor continued to go down without an end in sight. After a while, Zich finally reached the end of the stairs and arrived at a large space. In that space, Zich found the shaman. 

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