The number of ants around gradually increased. Ireia stopped her march. Neither her brute strength nor her bulk held any meaning against them. They just made her a large bait.
The number of ants rapidly increased. They looked like a hungry, ferocious black wave. One end of the looming wave touched Ireia’s feet.
At that instant, Ireia invoked her Magic Right.
The black wave’s movements grew dull as if it was weighted down. Their six legs, their restless mandibles, and their antennae exploring the floor all grew equally slow.
Those were the kind of movements sometimes shown by pantomimes. They would perform by intentionally slowing down or stopping their normal movements. It was a bizarre phenomenon that turned every single ant on the floor to a pantomime.
Ireia’s feet stomped the sea of ants. Her body also moved slowly as if she climbed stairs.
This was Ireia’s ability – time manipulation. It allowed her to freely manage the flow of time of anything in her line of sight. She made the time flow at one-fifth its normal operation for the ants in front of her.
The ants became slow and were crushed underneath Ireia’s feet.
I can’t use this like when I was young. Long ago I could even slow it down to a tenth. Thinking this, Ireia kept crushing the biting ants.
She had no time to stay put. If she would not move immediately, she will get eaten to death.
Once again, Mokkania turned around. Ireia didn’t stop. Judging from the positions of the ants she was killing, she will probably catch up to him in about fifteen minutes.
“Is someone coming from behind?”
Mokkania nodded, hesitating. He had to admit he was looking down on her. Although she was on the verge of retiring, Ireia was a first-class Armed Librarian. He should have made a move earlier.
Then, his mother atop his back spoke sadly.
“Sorry, Mokkania. It seems your mother is a burden for you.”
Mokkania was surprised.
“What are you saying, mom?”
“If I wasn’t here, you could have run away faster.”
“Don’t say that, mom.”
She didn’t reply.
“Mokkania, go on. Don’t worry about me. I don’t want to think I was the one to cause you to die.”
As if to deny his objection, Mokkania’s mother hit his head.
“…This might be a bit unfair of me to say this, but please listen to what your mother says.”
Mokkania worried. His mother was helpless. He had to protect her. However, he also had to admit that he wouldn’t be able to fully protect her.
His mother’s voice was sorrowful. Mokkania made a decision – he would protect his mother and trust his own ants.
He lowered his mother from his back.
“Mom, stay here. Don’t move no matter what. Don’t go anywhere.”
His mother nodded.
“Okay. Don’t worry, Mokkania. I won’t go anywhere.”
Mokkania hugged his mother once, and then went away.
Hamyuts was made aware of this with her Sensory Threads. At the moment Mokkania and his mother separated, she believed the success rate of the strategy went up to 80%.
Her fingers operated the telegraph.
“The rest depends on the old lady’s guts.”
Mokkania sent some winged ants flying. He couldn’t afford to come in front of Ireia’s line of sight. If he did, the progression of his time would be slowed down. Ireia held supreme dominance over everything in her sight.
He produced more ant forces. They weren’t the kind of soldier ants who could only receive rough orders. If compared to humans, they could be called Special Forces under his direct control.
Ireia also didn’t have it easy. “Time” was one of the most fundamental principles under the Creator’s control. Reaching for that domain put no small drain on her. Low endurance was Ireia’s biggest weakness. And as she aged, that weakness became more pronounced.
Ants were flying.
Winged ants came flying from behind the soldier ants. They numbered several hundreds. They poured down on Ireia like rain.
Slowing down time would be of no use. Ireia took a silken net out of her breast pocket. She spread it in air and stopped time. It was weak silk that would break if pulled at, but at that moment it became an invincible barrier. No matter what force would be applied against an object whose time was stopped, it would not break.
Slipping underneath the net, Ireia ran ahead. She also evaded the rain of ants and arrived in front of a floor full of them. They weren’t far off from covering the entire floor. The ants piled on top of each other, and then had even more ants on top of them.
Even if she stopped time for one section, other ants would climb over it and advance.
Swarms of ants were stacked in many layers. They were already at the height of Ireia’s thighs. The ants underneath should have been crushed to death.
Ireia instinctively jumped high. She kicked the frozen silk thread, and swung it by raising her finger above. From there, the airborne forces of the winged ants attacked her. The ants clung to Ireia’s body and began gnawing at her clothes and flesh.
Ireia screamed and activated her Magic Right at full power. The sound of something cracking came from inside her head. The ants clinging to her body suddenly lost their power and fell off.
Their cause of death was starvation. She accelerated their metabolism ahead of their movements.
Ireia became intensely exhausted. She could, without doubt, use this only three more times. Using the last bits of her energy, Ireia kicked at the ceiling.
Mokkania dodged the obscured Ireia by estimating the direction of her movement. He must avoid entering her line of sight at all costs.
He regretted being too impatient during this battle. However, it was already too late. Mokkania could sense it – the indescribable feeling that his time was stopped.
He mustered the last vestiges of his consciousness to command his ants – eliminate everything except for his mother.
Even if his time was stopped, his orders should keep going. He would beat Ireia that way.
However, mom will…
He couldn’t continue that thought. Mokkania’s time was suspended.
Ireia succeeded at stopping Mokkania’s time. But she could only stop it for less than a minute at best.
That was enough. The strategy was successful. Hamyuts should be watching this fight. And then she will take the proper course of action.
Ireia’s body fell into the sea of ants.
At that moment, she stopped her own time.
Hoping that the battle would end in their victory when time will be resumed for her, Ireia’s thinking had ceased.
Hamyuts watched the end of Mokkania and Ireia’s battle. The battle ended in a draw, but she should still give praise to her efforts.
“Old lady, that was beyond perfect.”
Hamyuts muttered. Her hands were already resting on the telegraph. She sent a telegraph informing Mirepoc of the strategy’s conclusion about a minute ago.
A minute before Ireia stopped time, Mirepoc shouted from within the control room.
“A telegram from the director! The target is at point 251 of route 51! We have an extension of about four minutes!”
“As expected from the Director!”
Feekiee threw off his jacket. He has already shed off his shoes, pants and shirt. He was dressed in one-piece underclothes, and only held a knife in his mouth. He jumped in air and made a somersault. Just when it seemed he would crash headfirst unto the floor, it received Feekiee’s body inside as if it was made of liquid.
This was his ability. Even amongst the Armed Librarian who had a variety of powers, he could be said to possess one of the more eccentric ones.
It was named Steel Diving. It allowed him to dive either inside steel like its name or in any sort of ground, treating them as a sea.
He was an expert at infiltration, while at the same time being an expert at searching within the Labyrinth. Despite his battle prowess being on the low side among Armed Librarians, he had mastery of the Labyrinth. Feekiee began advancing in a straight line towards the mother standing in the Labyrinth’s midst.
After a minute of silence, Mokkania’s time resumed.
Ireia was a decoy. Mokkania felt ashamed. He should have realized they would send other people when Ireia came alone to him.
Mokkania started running. His goal was his mother. Who’s coming? Hamyuts? No, Feekiee.
“You’re a coward, Hamyuts! Aim for me!”
He shouted. Hamyuts should be hearing his voice with her Sensory Threads. And she was probably gloating. Mokkania kept running with anger that threatened to pop a vein.
Feekiee kept swimming in his shortcut of the complex Labyrinth. In order to focus on speed, his only equipment was a single knife.
Traversing the Labyrinth on foot would normally take half a day, but with his speed, he could reach the target specified by Hamyuts in less than five minutes.
He surfaced once to take a breath. In the instant Feekiee exhaled, the dreadful ants flocked his face.
They ripped his lips to shreds. He immediately dove inside the stone again.
‘Mirepoc! What’s the situation of the target?’
Feekiee asked Mirepoc as their thoughts were connected. Mirepoc, who was in the control room, told him of the situation.
‘Contact from the Director… incoming! The target made no moves!’
‘What about the time?’
‘The grace period is extended! Three more minutes!’
‘This will be an easy victory, Mirepoc.’
Feekiee sent his thoughts from within the sea of ground.
While swimming, he suddenly thought of Enlike Bishile.
He had great fighting capabilities, but was useless as an information provider. It wasn’t what the Armed Librarians had wanted. What they needed were people who knew the truth about the Cult.
He next thought of the person who controlled Mokkania – his fake mother. She should probably know about the Cult. She wasn’t just an underling like Enlike. She deceived Mokkania and manipulated him to fight – making her a central figure of this incident.
It makes no sense to kill her.
She should be captured. She could be used as a hostage against Mokkania. Afterwards, she will give them information. If she were to be captured, the fight with the Cult would come to a conclusion.
He didn’t tell Mirepoc, Mattalast or the rest about this idea. Since they were too careful, they would obviously oppose him.
Just a little bit more. Feekiee brought his face out of the ceiling. He found the woman while she was guarded by ants around her. She was undoubtedly the impostor mother.
Feekiee started talking to her. He first had to check that she couldn’t fight.
Mokkania’s mother raised an alarmed voice. Since her eyes were impaired, she couldn’t tell who was talking to her.
“Who… are you? Where are you talking from?”
The fake mother spoke in confusion. Feekiee became convinced – she was weak. He will capture her.
He will find an opening, make her lose consciousness and dive together with her. It would be a bit heavy to swim with someone in his arms, but he should be able to reach the Labyrinth’s entrance.
Feekiee started speaking to affirm the situation.
“I am Armed Librarian Feekiee Quinn. Do not resist. I ask you to provide me information.”
The fake mother answered Feekiee’s words.
Her reply was unthinkable.
Feekiee’s thoughts were transmitted to Mirepoc. He should have already arrived at his target.
‘Feekiee-san! What are you doing?!’
Their strategy was for him to return immediately after killing her. However, Feekiee took no action even after arriving. He seemed to be talking. What was he trying to do?
‘Mirepoc, there’s something strange about her.’
Feekiee sent his thoughts. Just as she thought of replying, feelings of pain resounded in her head.
He was attacked. Mirepoc screamed.
Hamyuts muttered while monitoring Feekiee with her Sensory Threads.
“Feekiee’s such an idiot.”
He wouldn’t be able to hear her voice. She heard his death throes through her Sensory Threads.
Breathing roughly, Mokkania looked down on Feekiee’s corpse. He sent his ants to his neck, targeting his carotid artery in one bite. He was distracted by something, and thus Mokkania was able to deal a fatal wound with a single blow.
Mokkania clung to his mother.
“So you’re safe.”
He embraced his mother’s body. He hugged her so tight that it seemed she was about to break.
“…Mokkania, you’re hurting me.”
His mother groaned in his arms. However, he couldn’t separate from her. Mokkania’s tears wet his mother’s ears.
“I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have left you. I’m sorry, mom. I won’t do it ever again.”
“I thought that everything would be over when I’m back. I thought you will be gone. I thought that everything would become a dream once I come back.
I won’t ever leave you again.”
Mokkania relaxed his hold and raised her on his back again.
“Let’s go. We only have a little bit left, so hang on, mom.”
“Wait a second, Mokkania. That person right now…”
“Forget about him, mom.”
Saying this, Mokkania began walking.
Hamyuts, upon realizing the strategy had failed, left the telegraph room. She moved through the Labyrinth by using the walls and ceiling. Since the strategy failed, it would become a stalemate if she stayed inside there.
And then she thought back upon the conversation between Feekiee and Mokkania’s mother.
It was hard to believe and understand even for Hamyuts who actually heard it.
“What the heck is going on?”
Hamyuts started thinking while she ran. But she couldn’t understand it. Just who is that mother? And why did Mokkania revolt?
She couldn’t see through the Indulging God Cult’s scheme at all.
During that time, a small incident occurred in a corner of the Labyrinth.
Neither Winkeny, Hamyuts nor Mokkania knew of it. It was too trivial of an incident.
At the middle of route 51, ants were carrying a Book fragment. Faithful to their master’s orders, they kept bravely carrying it ahead. They wanted to take that Book fragment out of the Labyrinth.
No-one inside the Labyrinth took any heed of them. Neither the other ants, Guardian Beasts, Ireia nor Hamyuts knew of them. Without anyone noticing them, they passed by Ireia during her advance. Ireia’s time manipulation affected them as well.
Because of her power, they proceeded slowly. They became so slow they nearly stopped while carrying that fragment.