The mercenaries retreated to the rear of the barrier and pulled out something from their waist. Then they loaded it with stones piled up nearby and started to spin it. The item was a sling, a ranged weapon which used centrifugal force to launch rocks like they were arrows.
Slings were easier to carry than bows, and unlike arrows, rocks could be found everywhere. Such advantages were attractive to mercenaries who couldn't afford expensive equipment.
"Fire!" Instead of Randolph, the vice commander Hank shouted, and the stones flew.
Pak! Pakak! Pak! Puhak!
The small undead like kobolds and goblins were broken in one hit by the stones. The orcs didn't fall instantly, but it was the same result after being hit three or four times. In a flash, the remnants of the undead fell to the ground.
However, that damage was nothing when there were thousands of corpses gathered.
"They are like a swarm of ants."
Theo, Sylvia, and Randolph observed the bodies from their position on a barrier. Looking at the crowd of rotten undead approaching was enough to make a person nauseous. One undead wasn't much, but the story was different if there were thousands. It was a disaster similar to grasshoppers devastating a field of crops.
Randolph's mouth dropped open as he stared at the scene.
According to the plan set up by his employer, Theodore, the three of them had to go to the rear of the wave of undead. However, it was impossible to open a path among such numbers, even with the firepower of a magician. If they used 4th and 5th Circle spells, there was a chance, but then they would lose the capacity to fight by the time they reached the warlock's base.
So, Theo thought of a way to get through without fighting.
"Weight Reduction." Theo's magic was completed a step ahead of Sylvia's and wrapped around the two of them.
It was a lightweight magic frequently applied to objects but not humans. With that, Theo and Sylvia's body weight was reduced by half. The magic which Sylvia had been preparing was also completed now.
"Hidden Mana Force." Magic power emerged from her staff and wrapped around all three people this time.
It was a magic which hid the mana pouring from their bodies. It wasn't a good magic to use against an opponent with all five senses, but there was nothing better against undead which only pursued mana.
With this, the basic setup was done. Theo confirmed that the spells were working properly and nodded.
"It's done. We can start at any time."
"…Right then, both of you come over here."
After hearing their answers, Randolph clicked his tongue and tied his sword more firmly to his waist. Then his large hands grabbed the boy and girl, and he hoisted them over his shoulders. As Randolph's great strength was now combined with the lightweight magic, he couldn't feel the weight of the two people at all. Their appearance was indecent, but that couldn't be helped.
In next moment, Randolph jumped fearlessly toward the wave of undead while carrying the two people!
"Don't open your mouth, Employer! You might bite your tongue off!"
As a first rate swordsman, Randolph's power was already beyond the domain of an ordinary human.
He jumped 10 meters high in a single step, and the distance he leaped covered 50 meters. It was a leap which defied the existence of gravity. However, he didn't have wings, so he would eventually have to fall down, even if he jumped high.
Soon enough, Randolph began to fall at a terrifying speed.
'Kuk, opening a path this way…' He chuckled as he gathered aura in the soles of his feet.
When he thought the it, he realised it wasn't that difficult. Even if the undead were rotten, it was a lot easier to trample on their heads and move that way! Randolph's foot landed on the head of an orc zombie.
The impact of the fall and the resistance from Randolph's aura caused the zombie to explode. As soon as the orc zombie's head exploded, Randolph jumped again.
It wasn't just that. The heads of a goblin and hobgoblin further away soon burst open as well. Randolph used them as stepping stones as he crossed the group of undead. This was method called 'flying on grass' in the east, but Randolph used aura to replicate the trick. (TL: Meaning to run so fast that it is like you are flying on grass)
As a result, the three people were able to get through the wave of corpses, like a fish swimming up a waterfall.
'Amazing…! Is this movement due to aura? To think a human can move like this without magic…'
In the meantime, Theodore was busy observing Randolph's movements. He understood the concept of aura when studying at the academy, but he had never experienced it at the level of someone like Randolph.
Unlike magic which refined mana in the body, aura was a way of strengthening the human body. It was one of the tricks for those without magic power, and this was also the national power of the arch rival of Meltor Kingdom, the Andras Empire.
It was different from magic which utilized mana in various ways. Aura was the crystallization of pure power, a method developed from studying fighting from beginning to end. An extremely skilled aura user could compete with an ogre, which was an advanced monster, or be reborn as a monster who could split apart a wall with a single sword.
"This… last one!"
Puhak! Randolph crushed the head of a troll zombie and jumped forward. From now on, he could use the tree branches instead of stepping on the undead.
Randolph looked at his right shoulder and said to Theo, "From here on, I will follow the instructions of my employer. Guide me to the fastest path, even if the terrain is a little steep."
"I understand," Theo acknowledged.
This was a place where he'd played frequently during his childhood. The vegetation was a bit different, but he was able to find the location of the cave written in the report. Without considering the arduous terrain, a map with the straightest line to the cave appeared in Theo's head.
"40 degrees to the left until you see a small cliff!"
Following Theodore's instructions, Randolph shot off again like an arrow. The undead passing below them never noticed the presence of the party. Even if they did, there was nothing they could do to the three people in the trees.
The trio's counterattack began in the darkness.
The leader of the Wandering Wolves, Randolph, was indisputably worth 300 gold. He stepped on the undead and tree branches, and even climbed up small cliffs and waterfalls. Thanks to that, the trip was reduced from one hour to 20 minutes. However, Theodore's expression was stiff.
Starting from where they'd entered the forest to their present location, Theo estimated that the number of undead was close to 10,000.
'That number is ridiculous… What did the warlock do to invoke such a large number of undead? Does this grimoire specialize in summoning undead?'
In particular, the warlock had summoned wyverns and ogres which didn't exist in this area. It was more likely that he'd called the bodies from somewhere else instead of making them personally. Or maybe he released the undead from the 'Negative Dimension' available only for outstanding necromancers. There would nothing unusual about that if he possessed a grimoire.
Just like how Theo unlocked Gluttony's seals, maybe the warlock had released a seal which gave him access to the Negative Dimension.
"Hey, Employer." At that moment, Randolph stopped and pointed somewhere. "We've arrived at the target area. What are your next instructions?"
"…Put me down first."
"Whoops, I forgot since you are so light." In less than five seconds, Randolph's grin broke his serious expression.
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Theodore and Sylvia had been lightened by magic, but Randolph showed no signs of hard breathing even despite all the running. Rather, it was Sylvia who wobbled when she was put down, like she had motion sickness.
Theo walked calmly before the cave.
"View Mana Force." Blue magic power flashed in his eyes.
The 2nd Circle magic allowed him to visualize mana in the air, so he would be able to tell if the warlock was in the cave. Indeed, the result of the magic was quite good.
"Ack…?!" Theo's vision was suddenly covered in darkness.
The dark mana spread like a poisonous gas and entered his eyes. He suffered no injuries, but the sudden loss of sight could be called terrible. The density of the dark mana, which he countered for the first time, was at a level which Theo couldn't have guessed.
He turned off View Mana Force and wiped the sweat off his forehead. "I'm certain. That guy is in there. The mana spread around the cave is filled with darkness. It can truly be called hell."
If the warlock had left this cave, then Theo's group would be like a dog chasing after chickens. The counterattack plan would fail, and they would have to immediately return to the Miller Barony to prepare for the evacuation.
The 200 gold received as collateral for the swords would also have to be returned to Randolph.
"Sylvia, how's your condition?"
"Yes, it is okay. I was just dizzy for a moment."
"Randolph, are your legs okay?"
"Of course. I can't be a mercenary if I am already tired."
After verifying their conditions, Theo fell deep into thought. It had been successful thus far, but he couldn't be sure what would happen next. The dark cave was the warlock's base, and he didn't know what was being done in there.
At the crossroad of victory or defeat, he took a step forward.
"Let's go in."
It had taken them a long time to reach this location. If the warlock became aware of the trio's strike, he could escape and bring back the undead. They couldn't afford to stop due to tension or fear.
"Randolph will be in the lead, I'll be in the middle, and Sylvia will be at the rear. Keep this formation as much as possible. If you encounter the warlock, then you can move freely."
Theo hadn't known it, but the memories he obtained from Alfred awakened his abilities as a commander. The two people naturally accepted his direction as they lined up around Theo, and Randolph entered the cave first.
There was no need for them to carry separate tools like torches.
"Light." Simultaneously, two balls of light appeared in the darkness. The shadows in the cave were pushed away, and its appearance was revealed.
Indeed, not all the undead had been sent to fight. The three of them prepared for battle.
It was at this moment that…
[Rats…! You dare to… invade my residence…!] An ugly and distorted voice echoed through the cave!
It seemed like a voice from the depths of hell instead of a human voice. The negative mana responded, and Theodore's party was covered with a cold chill.
[You may have found my dwelling place, but…! You will never be able to go back alive…!] Anger filled the terrible voice as the undead started moving.
A burned orc warrior picked up an axe, and a direwolf zombie revealed its fangs. A moderate number of undead had been left here as protection.
[Kill…! And, die…] This sentence of death was spoken by the grimoire!
However, Theodore just laughed at the sentence. "I guess we made it in time."
"Yes. Shall we make that fool shit himself while begging?" Randolph noticed and also spoke in a ridiculing manner.
A lion didn't bark; a person convinced of their victory would have no need to threaten their opponent. If they ran away from this threat, they would miss their prey. Only those who sensed defeat would bark like this while asking the opponent not to approach.
"Let's go." With renewed confidence, a crimson flame ignited in the palm of Theodore's hand.