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Volume 4: Chapter 69

We were all out of breath when we reached the foot of the hill. My whole body was drenched with sweat, almost getting into my eyes.

My eyes, however, were glued to the small building at the top of the hill.

The structure was too neat to call it a hut, but it was too small to call it a shrine.

It must have been here for a very long time. The surface of the building was covered with ivy, blocking half of the entrance.

I saw only darkness through the gaps in the ivy, but also a flickering light.

I have seen that light. It is the light emitted when a skill orb pops out of the First Altar in the “Front World”.

The First Altar of this world is unmistakably housed within that hut.

「O-Oi… are those… skill orbs?」

The Hundredman Chief’s voice was trembling.

It was a small hill covered with grass, but there were glittering skill orbs everywhere. The sight was similar to chestnuts falling from trees and covering the forest floor in autumn.

(So… there is a passage here that connects to the “Front World”?)

I tried to find the passage as confirmed in【World Alliance】, but now that I have removed that skill orb, I have no choice but to search slowly. It’s too dangerous to take out【World Ruler】right now.

「Let’s go to the hut first.」I said, and walked into the thicket.

The Hundredman Chief, however, started picking up an armful of skill orbs.

「Leave those things there.」Knock-san said to him.

「But…」

「We will come back here again with everyone else.」I said.

「I see……」

The Hundredman Chief seemed convinced and dropped the skill orbs on the ground and followed after us.

(【Grip Strength Enhancement ★】,【Leather Processing ★★],【Instantaneous Strength Enhancement ★】,【Impromptu Performance ★】……)

Most of the skill orbs I saw were only one or two stars. Occasionally, bright light can be seen at a distance, which might be a 3-star.

Skill orbs were present not only on the surface of the hill, but also buried underground. If so, just how many skill orbs are slumbering on this hill?

As there was nothing I could do about it, I climbed the hill while stepping on and kicking away skill orbs. It slightly pained my heart to kick such valuable skill orbs. I used to be a miner who excavated skill orbs for a living, after all.

「There’s something inside the hut.」I called out.

I heard soft noises coming from inside the hut. Right then, a 1-star skill orb flew out of the half-opened entrance of the hut and fell about 5 meters away from me. It was a rare skill orb called【Voice Volume Enhancement ★】.

『Ju?』

『Gee, Gee!』

『Chichichi!』

Looking inside, the hut was overflowing with skill orbs, and several rats were playing with them, as if they were toys. Despite calling them rats, it was an animal which had four eyes and over 30 cm in length, looking like a rat.

When they noticed us approaching, they ran away into the back of the hut at full speed. Judging from the sounds, they exited the hut through a secret passage on the other side and were now running down the hill.

「Oh, it’s just rats.」

The Hundredman Chief, who had pulled out his shamshir, exhaled in relief.

「For the time being, let’s get rid of all the skill orbs inside.」I said.

When the Hundredman Chief cut the ivy that seemed to be supporting the overflowing skill orbs within, the skill orbs gushed out of the hut like an avalanche. I saw a 4-star flowing out, but it was quickly swallowed by a stream of 1-stars and 2-stars and disappeared.

I don’t have the time to look for it.

Inside the hut which now looked like a ball pool, there was an old altar.

It was a gray rectangular altar with a smooth surface.

Clouds and trees, animals and insects, flowers and man were engraved on the sides of the altar, but I couldn’t see it clearly as it was blocked by skill orbs. So, we started throwing the skill orbs outside.

「Ah, shit, why is there like a sea of them!? If I knew such a place existed, I would have come here earlier!」the Hundredman Chief said.

「What a coincidence, I was thinking the same thing.」Knock-san said.

「And what, we will clash and go to war with each other? I don’t want that to happen.」

「Hmm, skill orbs may be the seed of conflict.」

「Ah…」

Listening to the conversation between Hundredman Chief and Knock-san, I started wondering if that might really be the case.

(The 6-star skill orb that Lark found. The skill orbs that the dragon came to destroy. An 8-star skill orb was also used when Prince Kluvshrat was supposed to be sacrificed. The nobles who channeled skill orbs produced from the First Altar to the black market were found and executed by Earl Sillys.)

Skill orb is indeed the seed of conflict.

(However, you can only carry on living in such a harsh world because of skill orbs. However, because of the high performance of the skill orbs, it becomes a source of conflict.)

It becomes a question of did the chicken or the egg come first?

I threw the skill orbs out while thinking about that. Soon, the floor became visible. The floor, seen through the gaps between the dust-covered skill orbs, was gray, like cobblestones. But it had a handle attached to it.

When I pulled it up with all my strength, a thick stream of dust shot up. A pitch-black dark passage was revealed.

「…Stairs!」

A spiral staircase that went down inside the hill.

A musty, moist air rose up.

Is this it? Is this the entrance to the passage that connects the worlds?

「Reiji-dono! It’s the Mediator!!」Knock-san shouted.

「!!」

I didn’t notice because we were inside the hut. Something approached us at a tremendous speed, with loud footsteps.

(This is not the time to doubt things.)

「Please enter here! Hurry up!!」I shouted

The Hundredman Chief, who was comparing two 3-star skill orbs in his hands, tossed them away and jumped down the stairs in a hurry.

「What is down here!?」he asked.

「I don’t know!」

「Huh!?」

「Just go down!」

Knock-san exclaimed, jumping on top of the Hundredman chief. I heard the Hundredman chief screaming and tumbling down the stairs.

I was the last one to enter.

『Wait!!』

The mediator’s voice—I ignored it and jumped into the hole.

Immediately after, the outer wall of the hut was blown off.

The mediator appeared over the flying pieces of ivy and broken stone fragments.

–Bye bye.

I mouthed silently and closed the stone lid.

Judging from the mediator’s reaction, there is no doubt that this is the passage that connects the world.