Chapter 41:

Volcano VI

Sword Quest

“That’s right… I… I killed someone.”

His hands shook as he fixated on the bloodied sword. The two shades of red seemed to shine a light into the pit of his stomach. The blood’s scarlet tint bore a sharp reminder of the inescapable reality of war and death, while the ruby red glow evoked the anger and will within him to fight.

“That’s right… I did that to survive… to fight this reality.”

He brushed sweat away from his forehead, staggering forward.

“I did it to fight for my home, for my place as a Teuton.”

He felt his posture straighten, his shoulders rise.

“That’s all I have, and I’m fighting to protect it.”

He took a solid step forward.

“That’s right… to do that, I have to get something, here…”

He instinctively gripped the sword, which gave him a strange sense of comfort and worked to clear his vision. The tunnel was just meters away.

“The cyclops… that’s right, it’s after me.”

Forgetting about the bandit, he focused on the tunnel ahead. As he neared its entrance, the heat slightly subsided.

Finally reaching the inside of the tunnel, he let himself collapse onto the stone floor. The temperature was still high, but it was a steep difference, which allowed him some relief.

The sound of dragging feet drew closer as he began to clear his head. Rubbing his eyes with his index finger and thumb, he slowly rose to his feet and turned to face the approaching bandit.

“Oy, don’t raise your sword like that, I’m serious about working together, yeesh,” the man panted, a pathetic look on his face.

“Just why the hell should I pass up the chance to kill you right now?” Cedric demanded, recalling his anger.

“Because, buddy, that behemoth is on the way to us right now. Even if I can’t use my ropes in this state, you’ll still need my combat ability to fight that thing.” There was no trace of his usual tone, his composure clearly broken.

“Plus, I’ve got water,” he added, taking a gulp out of a flask before offering it to him with a trembling hand.

Sensing that there was no time to doubt him at this point, Cedric stepped to the side. “Fine then, but you go ahead of me. I’m not showing you my back again.” He took the flask and dumped its remaining water down his throat in one go before ushering the worn-down bandit on.

The two trekked up another winding tunnel, exchanging no words, before reaching another open chamber with four branching tunnels.

“Hmm, what say we split up and check the two innermost paths?” The bandit asked, his tone slightly livelier than before.

“Works for me,” Cedric replied curtly, making for the path on his right. After a short walk, he came to a dead end, adorned with nothing but a small wooden chest. He bent down and slowly unlatched the chest.

Nothing was inside, but as it opened, something rustled frantically behind it. Cedric held out the red sword, which only provided a faint, red glow, to see several ball-shaped rodents scurrying into a crack in the wall.

Furrowing his brow, he lightly kicked the chest aside, revealing a small pile of golden coins, with several cloth bags mixed among them. His jaw fell at the sight, even if it was a small pile. Without thinking, he scooped up two bags full of coins and stuffed them in his pockets before turning back.

“Oy, in here!” The bandit’s voice rang from down the path he’d taken. Having returned to the main chamber, Cedric hurried after the bandit, his face alight with excitement as a new feeling of adventure came over him.

“This is definitely that beast’s lair, alright,” the bandit declared as Cedric rounded the corner into a heavily torchlit room. The ceiling of the tunnels was quite high, but Cedric regarded this one with wide eyes, thinking the beast he’d seen earlier could stretch its arms without issue in here. The temperature was also much lower, allowing the two a much-needed reprieve.

“Is that its… bed?” Cedric asked, looking upon a pile of rocks nestled in a corner under some sort of large makeshift cloth blanket.

“I guess even a cyclops in a volcano needs a blanket to sleep with,” the bandit remarked with a grin. “Looks like this guy is a big softie.” His tone had loosened significantly. Though not back to what he sounded like before, Cedric took this increase in energy as a warning sign and kept a watchful eye on the man while surveying the rest of the room.

A long, rusty pitchfork lay on the ground nearby. The room’s only other goods were several chests lining the walls.

“So, you’re here for something, right? Whatcha think it is, eh?” the bandit asked, turning toward him with a smirk.

“No idea, but I doubt it’s this thing,” Cedric answered, looking at the pitchfork with a brow raised.

“Well, I’d say we have at least some time to look in these chests,” the bandit replied as he approached the nearest chest. “I did leave some bait to slow the big guy down some, after all, hehe.”

Cedric ignored him and continued studying the room. Suddenly, he noticed flickers of movement on the blade of the sword, and quickly looked.

T-h-r-e-e a-r-e t-h-e k-e-y

Careful not to let the bandit notice, Cedric stifled any reaction and turned the blade toward himself to hide the scorched words.

He searched the room carefully for something that could apply to the message on the blade, pondering what three things could be key.

Or is it…

An actual key?

But, to what…


On the wall opposite from the bandit, who was now rummaging through a chest, were three small holes just large enough to fit a finger inside. Cedric looked at it intently but hesitated to inspect it further with the bandit in the room.

Even if we’re cooperating right now...

Whatever is in there could change things…

But… if that’s the three, then what does that make the key…


He knelt down and looked back upon the pitchfork. Indeed, its three prongs were exactly the right size, it seemed.

“Oy, what are you so deep in thought about, over there?” the bandit asked, turning to face him. “You know, if you found something, it’s pointless to—what the…”

“Huh?” Cedric inquired as the bandit shot a concerned look beyond the entrance of the room.

“Oy, get out the way, kid!”