Road to Mastery: A LitRPG Apocalypse

Chapter 400: Hole of Certain Death
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Chapter 400: Hole of Certain Death

The B-Grades slowly approached the cubes. There were three of them—two small ones the size of bathtubs, and a larger one that reached Jack’s shoulders. Their size alone wasn’t too impressive, and they were made of the same stone as the surrounding cavern.

Some things were different, though. For one, they were carved into perfect cubes. They were also unharmed by the massive battle that occurred around them. The most important thing, however, was that they were covered in hundreds of intersecting lines.

As soon as Jack saw cubes covered in lines, he instantly thought of his own death cube. But they were different. The death cube seemed naturally formed, while these ones were clearly carved by someone—Jack could see imperfections on their lines as if drawn by a masterful yet imperfect sculptor. Moreover, some of these lines had an end and a beginning, not looping back into themselves—on the death cube, every line formed a perfect loop.

In other words, these cubes were both similar and different than the death cube. Jack would be damned if there wasn’t a connection.

Of course, he didn’t say anything silly. He let the B-Grades inspect them as they liked.

Nine B-Grades approached the cubes and scanned them with their perception. Some walked around, while others used various arcane skills to try and peek through their walls.

“There are treasures inside,” Uruselam said slowly. “I can sense a faint aura wafting through. The smaller cubes should contain identical things, two of a pair. The largest cube…has something else.”

“The question is, how do we get through?” Spacewind added, rubbing his chin.

This wasn’t a place meant for early B-Grades. They had only managed to enter the temple because the barrier had been weakened by endless years, and half of them had to self-detonate their inner worlds to best the guardian of this place. The treasures in those cubes would no doubt be priceless, but let alone getting to them, these B-Grades weren’t even able to identify them.

“Breaking through is impossible,” Uruselam said. Unless he and Spacewind detonated their inner worlds at the same time, it was impossible to achieve greater power than during the cataclysmic battle before. “We have to solve the cubes.”

“Do you think that’s possible?” Spacewind asked.

“Who builds containers that cannot open?”

Jack had to admit this made sense. He had approached as well, accompanied by Min Ling and Brock, and all three of them were inspecting the cubes alongside everyone.

Jack had already suspected these cubes were similar to his death cube. As he examined them, he was slowly trying to draw connections between the two sets of lines and see if he could find something useful. Unfortunately, the two sets were too dissimilar; he was progressing too slowly.

His focus must have stood out. Spacewind turned to him and raised a brow. “What are you looking at?” he asked. “Do you think you can find something that we cannot?”

“I can try,” Jack replied, not willing to back down. When he had seen Spacewind throw his fellow cultivators into the fire to save himself, his opinion of the man had already dropped to rock bottom.

Spacewind was about to say something, but it was Uruselam who spoke first. “There is no harm in letting the C-Grades look. Even monkeys can solve riddles with enough luck.”

Jack raised a brow. Uruselam seemed like a kind monk, but he was actually the master of passive-aggressiveness. Hearing his words, Spacewind snorted and didn’t bother further, turning his full attention to the cubes. Jack also stopped speaking.

Time was a loose concept for people as long-lived as cultivators. They stood before the cubes for many hours, staring at the lines and trying to make out their meaning. Some people scanned the cubes extensively with their perception, while others resorted to simpler means and patted down the cubes in their entirety.

A man even tested the floor around the cubes, finding it as hard as the cubes themselves. Using force to break through was impossible. They had to find a certain way to open them—but how?

Twelve hours later, nobody had any idea.

“It’s not a problem,” Spacewind said. “We’ve fought hard for these treasures. Even if we have to spend months and years meditating on the lines, we’ll figure it out.”

Everyone nodded. To these B-Grades, who could live for a hundred thousand years, spending two or three of those to get a treasure was not a problem. However, Jack’s entire cultivation journey so far had lasted only three years. He was unwilling to spend another three staring at walls.

More importantly…he felt he shouldn’t need that long. Like everyone, he had walked around the cubes a few times, and he’d finally discovered a few lines that were very similar to the death cube’s. By contrasting the two sets, he had the feeling he would arrive at a solution within a much shorter timeframe than years.

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The problem was that, even if he did manage to solve the cubes, Spacewind would just take everything. Jack would get a tiny corner of the treasures at best. That wasn’t enough. Between sharing treasures with these cold-blooded killers or taking them for himself and his friends, the choice was obvious.

If he could solve the cubes first, how would he get the treasures under everyone’s nose?

He had no answer to that.

Besides the cubes and the dragon corpse, the cavern was not completely empty. It had two exits. One was the towering double doors leading to the already-emptied medicine garden. The other was a large hole on the floor in the far side of the cavern. Just like the cube, this hole was completely unaffected by the previous battle.

Now that there was no dragon to draw everyone’s attention, Jack could make out carvings on the wall behind the hole. It was a few simple words:

No treasure lies here.

To those who enter deeper… Death!

Carving words into these hard walls was already an impressive feat. Moreover, these simple words carried a heavy killing intent, making all those who saw them avert their eyes. If a mortal so much as looked at the words, their heart would seize on the spot and they would die.

Could it be the creator of this hidden realm? Jack wondered. But why would he write such a thing? Did he expect people to wander in here after his death?

In any case, these were just the words of a long-dead cultivator. Even if he had been the master of this place, that didn’t mean people would do as he said.

Everyone slowly gathered over. Besides the threatening words, the hole had few special features—it was just a tunnel dug vertically into the ground. Nobody could tell where it led or how deep it was. Thick darkness gathered just a mile into it, dispersing all Dao perception. Moreover, an astonishing force of gravity covered the hole. Anyone who took even a step inside would not be able to fly out, and they would instead be sucked deep into its depths.

And, beyond all those, the hole was suffused with an extremely potent aura. It wasn’t powerful per se—even Jack and Brock could easily withstand it. However, this aura’s most terrifying aspect was not its quantity, but its quality. It carried a concept of endless years, a bottomless, all-encompassing Dao. It was like staring at the mouth of a god.

Before such profoundness, even the Daos of all B-Grades present were like the drawings of children: extremely crude.

Uruselam inspected the hole with his perception for a minute, then shook his head. “Alas,” he said regretfully. “That is the pressure of an A-Grade existence. It is likely the temple has a second level…but we are too weak. Even this guardian nearly took our lives. Going any deeper is suicide—we should be content with the treasures of the three boxes, then return to our factions and have them send some peak B-Grades to explore the rest of this place.”

Nobody believed the words on the stone. How could there not be priceless treasures inside that hole? Nobody was willing to stop after coming this far, but unfortunately, there was nothing they could do. Entering the hole would be throwing their lives away. They had no choice but to let stronger people take this opportunity.

Everyone turned away and left. There was no point in torturing themselves. Just staring at the hole made their hearts ache with desire.

As they walked away, Jack was the last. He spared the hole a final glance—in that extremely profound life energy, he felt a hint of a familiar aura. Whatever exuded this aura resonated faintly with his Life Drop. Perhaps it was another Life Artifact related to Enas, or maybe a guardian of similar origin to the turtle.

Unfortunately, even Jack could only shake his head and walk away. Being courageous was one thing, but being reckless was another. Just the faint resonance of the Life Drop was in no way a guarantee of success. If he entered that hole, chances were he would perish just like everyone else.

It was regretful, but some opportunities had to be let go.

Everyone abandoned the hole leading deeper and returned to the cubes. This was the opportunity they could grasp—and they would give it their all. Even if nobody could make sense of those mysterious lines, they would keep trying until they succeeded.

“Listen up, everyone.” Spacewind and Uruselam gathered everyone together after speaking privately for a while. Spacewind was the one speaking. “We have come to an agreement. Until we resolve these cubes, we will stay in this place for as long as necessary. All treasures will be split fairly once we find them. However, until then, we have to ask that everyone remains inside this cavern. We cannot risk one of you notifying the factions of this place’s real potential, or these treasures will no longer be ours. Anyone who goes even one step beyond the doors will be considered a traitor and jointly pursued by me and Uruselam.”

As if to emphasize his point, Spacewind waved his sleeve, causing a strong wind to blow the double doors shut. The cavern was sunk in darkness. His meaning was clear—until they solved the cubes, those doors would not open, no matter how long it took.

Many people were disgruntled. Even if they did open the boxes, who told them that the treasures could be split nine-ways? Perhaps it was a single item in each box. If that was the case, most of them would get nothing. The only ones who were guaranteed to earn a reward were Spacewind and Uruselam.

Unfortunately, they were also the strongest people present, so they had the power to lock everyone inside. As for everyone else joining forces to demand they leave, that was just a joke. Spacewind and Uruselam were stronger than the other seven B-Grades combined, and they would not hesitate to kill them all if it meant getting the treasures.

The only reason they hadn’t done so already was that even they wouldn’t recklessly kill people of their own faction. Otherwise, nobody would have followed them here.

Therefore, everyone was dissatisfied, but they could only comply. A couple years was nothing to them, anyway. But those years mattered to Jack and Brock. Let alone the fact that they would be presumed dead and their families on Earth would miss them, their total cultivation time so far had been a mere three years. They weren’t willing to spend another three on a treasure that wouldn’t even become theirs.

And, Min Ling was in the same boat. She was also in the prime of her youth. Wasting her years here was just too bad.

And the worst thing for Jack was that he soon might discover the solution to the cubes. Would he be forced to share it, knowing he wouldn’t see even a corner of the treasures, or would he need to wait several years until everyone else got too bored to continue?

Was there really no other way?

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