954 Strange Ancient Castle
Fors's gaze met Xio's in midair as both parties remained silent.
After a while, Fors chuckled dryly.
"Haha, you haven't fallen asleep?"
Xio frowned and said, "What happened to you?"
"Nothing. Didn't I tell you before? Whenever the full moon happens, I won't be in a good state. It's even worse during the Blood Moon," Fors replied as though everything was normal.
Xio sized her up and pulled her blanket.
"I remember that you brought sleeping pills?"
"There's no need for that. I've fine now." Seeing that Xio wasn't pressing further, Fors secretly heaved a sigh of relief. "Go back to sleep. We still have to head into the forest early tomorrow morning."
Xio didn't say another word as she turned around, gripped the blanket, and closed her eyes.
Before long, her breathing turned heavier and became more drawn out and uniform.
Fors stared blankly at the ceiling as her thoughts ran wild. At some point in time, she fell asleep as well.
The next day at noon. In the core region of Delaire Forest, in front of a collapsed, ancient castle covered in green vines.
Fors wiped the perspiration on her forehead and exhaled.
"We're finally here…"
Xio shot her a glance and said, "The boss at the hotel told me that we only need two hours to get here."
They had set off before six in the morning, but they had spent nearly seven hours to arrive.
The corners of Fors's lips twitched as she said, "Ideal conditions and reality are different. There weren't any trails for us to take towards the end. We needed to explore and forge a new path ourselves!"
Xio took out her triangular blade, nodded, and said, "You should've foreseen this from the beginning, but you refused to have a guide as suggested by the hotel's boss."
"As an Astrologer, I don't believe such trivialities will cause any trouble. Look, aren't we there now? Besides, the time is perfect. The wraiths and ghosts are definitely in their weakest state." Having forced a smile, Fors held Leymano's Travels in one hand as she pointed with the other. "I didn't notice it before, but the more I think about it, the more puzzled I become."
"About what?" Xio also cast her gaze to the ancient abandoned castle that was covered by vines.
Fors casually found an excuse.
"Tell me, who would build a castle in the middle of a forest? Furthermore, they didn't open up a trail to it…"
Before she finished her sentence, she really found the matter a little odd.
Xio thought and said, "Perhaps there was a trail, but after the castle was abandoned, whatever traces of it had been wiped out with time."
Fors stroked the hair by her ear and shook her head.
"Then why would they abandon it?
"If they had considered safety back when building it, it would be more dangerous building it far from the town in an uninhabited castle. If it's just for vacations, with the way nobles do things, they wouldn't abandon it even if the maintenance and repairs are difficult."
Xio blurted out, "Could it be because it's haunted?"
Fors thought for a few seconds.
"Won't someone who can build such a huge castle hire Beyonders to deal with the ghosts?
"I suspect that the three Churches and the kingdom's government don't know of this ancient castle. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense that they will leave the Beyonder ingredients inside…"
Upon saying that, she raised a possibility:
"An ancient castle of the Sanguine?"
Such extraordinary creatures enjoyed living in places with few people. Furthermore, they were usually connected to dark forests and ancient castles.
In addition, information about this ancient castle came from the Sanguine to begin with.
"It's possible," Xio first agreed before disagreeing. "Will the Sanguine be afraid of ghosts? They definitely have the means to deal with the ancient wraiths inside."
Makes sense… Don't tell me those Sanguine don't like money and don't care about the search for Beyonder ingredients? Fors recalled Mr. Moon's behavior and denied her hypothesis. In deliberation, she said, "Unless there's some problem that's not easy to resolve. That's what made the bigwigs choose to skirt around it."
In that case, her operation would become more dangerous than she had anticipated.
Xio tersely agreed.
"Let's do some preliminary investigations while the sun is still strong."
"Alright." Fors held Leymano's Travels and approached the half-collapsed ancient castle one step at a time.
The two soon arrived at the entrance which was two-thirds blocked by rocks. They discovered that, beneath the green vines, the stone walls were mottled and heavily weathered as though it had been in existence for a very, very long period of time.
Xio wasn't in a rush to enter. Calling out to Fors, they circled around the castle slowly.
When they returned to the entrance, she said in puzzlement, "This castle's style is purely defensive. It doesn't seem to consider the problems needed for living in it. Besides, many of the peculiarities of the building are ones I haven't heard of before. It has probably existed in the late Fourth Epoch or even earlier."
"What's there to defend again? Beastmen? Treants? They've all gone extinct after the Cataclysm. Haha, don't tell me that it's a building from the Second or Third Epoch?" Fors casually replied.
She observed the terrain and left the entrance with Xio before arriving at a relatively complete wall. She reached out her palm and pressed on it.
Although she lacked combat experience, she was rather skilled when it came to the various aspects before a battle.
An illusory light appeared in front of her, allowing Fors and Xio to instantly enter the abandoned castle.
The first thing that they saw was a collapsed staircase and layers of remnant concrete from above. There were rays of pure sunlight shining in from above, as well as masonry and rotten wood. There weren't any animal or bird feces or any green weeds on the ground.
With a whoosh, the wind seeped into their bones, chilling them despite it being noon.
Fors activated her Spirit Body and surveyed the area, but she failed to see any Spirit Bodies.
However, she noticed that on the right of a remnant collapsed wall, there was a rather intact stone staircase.
The staircase was mottled and scuffed as it extended downwards to an unknown location.
"Shall we head over there to take a look?" Fors shot a glance at Xio and made a suggestion.
From her point of view, everything else in the castle could either be taken in at a glance or collapsed and stacked together. If they wished to do thorough investigations, it was certain that it would take a rather long amount of time. Therefore, it was better to gain a general understanding of the overall picture to assure themselves.
Xio glanced around and nodded gently.
"The cold wind is gathering underground… I suspect that all the wraiths and ghosts are hidden in the area where the staircase leads to."
"Yeah." Fors cautiously walked towards the mottled stone staircase and followed the steps, which were covered in gravel, down.
The staircase was rather narrow, allowing only one person to pass at a time. Furthermore, they spiraled down, leaving Fors shaken.
Tap. Tap. Tap. As their footsteps echoed into the distance, the light that shone inside the staircase darkened.
Xio lit the lantern in her hand as Fors opened Leymano's Travels, swiping a page with great familiarity.
A bright and warm light burst out, illuminating the mottled stairs ahead of them. Tensed, Fors and Xio walked down one level at a time.
On the way, cold wind blew past them, making them overreact and nearly cause them to launch attacks at nonexistent enemies.
Tap. Tap. Tap. In the narrow and silent environment, Fors finally walked down the steps and stepped onto rather flat and solid ground.
She had originally wanted to say "being in a place like this for too long will really make one go mad," but due to the silent and heavy atmosphere around her, she didn't make a sound. She was afraid that breaking the silence would result in extremely terrible developments.
Using the blob of light that was floating above her, Fors cast her gaze forward in an attempt to see what was at the end of the staircase.
It was a huge hall that was nearly ten meters tall. There were black tiles laid on the ground with water droplets seeping out. There were signs of damage everywhere.
Dozens of meters away, where the light nearly failed to illuminate the other end of the hall, there was a pair of double bronze doors sitting there silently.
It went from the bottom to the top, and the rocks on the walls to its side had peeled off. The statues were in shambles, revealing the dark brown mud underneath.
The surface of the door was engraved with dense symbols and strange patterns. They had a very mysterious and heavy feel, as though they were sealing something or blocking out something.
Fors finally couldn't help but say with a hushed tone, "Have you seen such large doors before?"
Beside her, Xio shook her head.
Fors immediately drew a gasp.
"Say, what could be behind that door? Where does it lead to?
"C-could it be the reason for building this castle in the first place? To prevent the creatures behind the door from coming out?"
Xio circled the area but didn't find any murals that could provide any information. All she found was that the closer she was to the bronze door, the more water seeped out from the ground. There were also more and more abandoned silver-black swords on the ground.
"During the Fourth and Fifth Epoch, murals were very common in all castles and buildings. And before the Cataclysm, it can be seen from various elvish ruins that supernatural creatures similarly like to use murals to praise their deities and to record their daily lives…" Xio said slowly, using her experience and knowledge from being a bounty hunter.
Fors nodded slightly and said, "That's indeed the case.
"This ancient castle is more magical than I imagined."
At this moment, she felt hesitant. She even had thoughts of leaving and seeking Mr. World's help.
Having heard Little Sun describe so many horror stories when exploring abandoned ruins at the Tarot Gatherings, her mind couldn't help but wander when placed in a similar situation. She was scaring herself.
"Perhaps we can gather more clues by going closer." Xio boldly took a few steps forward and approached the heavy sealed door that seemed to lead somewhere.
Fors gripped Leymano's Travels tightly and hurriedly chased after her.
As she walked, she suddenly saw bright redness appear before her.
What seeped out from the cracks of the black tiles was no longer water but staggering blood!
This… Fors immediately flipped open the notebook with a bronze-green cover and cast her sight on Xio through the corner of her eye.
It was unknown when Xio had turned pale. Her eyes were dark-green, and her lips were red. The area around her was dark and gloomy as her expression looked extremely distorted.