One week after he had arrived at the World Crater, Drake stood before the large grey protuberance that formed its center. Although he had initially assumed the thing was a giant boulder, it clearly wasn’t; in fact, the thing looked more like a strange geometric approximation of a dome. It was a little much to think that this was a naturally formed bit of terrain, especially considering there was a large square opening at the base of the thing leading into the interior.
As it had been a little over a week since he had arrived in the harbor, his ride had long since departed by now. But Drake couldn’t find it in himself to care. Despite his high Level and extensive preparations for this Danger Zone, Drake found himself exhausted. And it was more than physical, he was mentally empty, simply grinding his way forward and ponderously pulping the bodies of any of the Frogipedes that he encountered.
At this point, there wasn’t much left to him. When he neared the strange geometric boulder, Drake realized with a start that the water level was slowly sinking. A part of him rejoiced; no longer would water up to his waist make the travel a living hell.
The weight of his armor and the constant attacks by Level 55 monsters were two of the reasons that Drake took his sweet time, but there was a third reason. As Drake departed from the water, he looked down at his bone greaves and grimaced. It was a good thing that he had equipped himself with the armor the entire time then. His legs were crisscrossed with scratches and chipped bone. Although the defense was strong enough that he hadn’t felt it, multiple things had made attempts on him.
Sighing, Drake dismissed the armor and lay down on the grass and reeds once he walked up onto solid land. Ryx, his porcupine elemental, had been sitting on his helmet of bone and squeaked in protest as its carriage disappeared. Wind whispered past, sounding suspiciously like laughter as it danced through the reeds. The grey protuberance was about 100 meters away, but Drake would get to it when he had time.
On his journey here he had been lucky to only encounter the smaller enemies. If he had truly run into a monster nearing Level 60, it would have been difficult to pull through. But those monsters seemed incredibly rare here, and the Level 55s he general encountered came alone. Fights against them were long, exhausting affairs, but they weren’t truly dangerous to Drake.
The Frogipede was an enemy that was about the size of deer, if its body was stretched to almost 15 meters long, and about every 5 meters there was an overly large pair of frog legs sticking out of the body. The distance between the legs made it appear almost comical as it was dragging its hanging body forward, but after several battles, this turned out to be an advantage. The creature seemed able to bend its body freely, and that space without legs made it very simple for it to compress its body into a smaller shape.
This aided it both in stealth and instantaneous power because it could straight its body with an overwhelming strength. A strength that could blow Drake off of his feet. Truly, the greatest power of the Frogipede was its Strength.
However, it was a bad match to Frogipede. Theoretically, it had enough Strength to break his bone armor if it coiled its body up fully and exploded directly into it. In addition, it was quick and unnatural in its movements, making it difficult to damage with a sword.
But Drake wasn’t fool enough to stand still so the Frogipede could launch an attack, and without the wind up there was basically nothing the Frogipede could do to break Drake’s armor. So it became a matter of lashing out at the thing until his huge sword finally found purchase, and then ripping the elongated body to shreds. It had done wonders for his Skill Level but tried his patience immensely.
At least they were good experience, Drake mused while looking up at the sky. Ryx curled up into a satisfied ball on his chest and began to snore. They were both exhausted.
Drake pressed his lips together. It was time to face it. The third reason that he was exhausted… was that he was suddenly, profoundly unhappy. This whole Zone had shaken away some of the glitter that had accumulated in Drake’s vision, leaving him disillusioned.
He was a military man, so he was accustomed to following orders. Perhaps that was the entire problem. For almost ten years, he had dutifully followed the orders of those in a higher position than him. It seemed natural, when the System hit, to continue doing that.
In the immediate aftermath, people were scared and confused. Drake was no exception. Orders gave the world… well, order. The strange System messages were too strange, too foreign.
But the fiery-eyed young woman who saved him by shooting a bolt of Mana…
“Ah! Ace, we have survivors. And capable ones. Good. Sir, if you want a job, I’m hiring,” She had said, as bold as brass, as the body of the orc cooled. Drake had looked at her for a long time. What he had seen was not a hint of fear. So he accepted and followed her to join with Roy’s crew. Within a week, he had become her right hand.
With a sigh, Drake pressed his eyes together. The wind blew, and he wrinkled his nose as the smells of the accursed swamp he had been struggling through drifted over to him. Rot and snake shit, but he was never going to return to this place, after he…
After he what? After he killed Roy, the Undying Hero? The man who had been dead for several months, and returned by dint of Coppernicus, someone that Drake worked very closely with. He wondered what had motivated Sydney to request it of Copper, and why the inhuman man had accepted.
Currently, it definitely seemed like it had been a mistake.
You are my sword.
The feeling of certainty he usually had was drifting away. His mind grasped at it like fingers through morning mist. Drake slowly stood, feeling annoyed. A sword he might have been, but… he wanted more now. Truly, he was likely the only person in Sydney’s employ that was strong enough to stand a chance against the Undying Hero. But why had he been ordered to travel so far for it?
Drake raised his sword, no definitely irritated. He couldn’t tell it was due to the fact he suspected he was just grouchy at this mission repeatedly fucking him, or the Frogipede that was wriggling its way towards him. The Frogipedes didn’t generally take a very direct route towards their target but instead allowed parts of their long body and legs to carry forward, and then the front or back would flip forward, abruptly crossing a lot of distance.
But Drake’s annoyance faded away as he studied the Frogipede in front of him, which was about ⅓ a size bigger than usual, and was a pale blue color. Its body was the size of the trunk of a small tree and was slick with slime. Its two yellow eyes fixed on him as the body flopped back on top of itself, almost heedless of its approaching.
Grimacing, Drake looked up at the grey geometric shape, and then around in the surrounding area. The immediate surrounding area of the boulder was a flat grassland, and this creature had sauntered out of the large square opening in the side of the boulder. What was interesting was that Drake could see that there were other openings around the outside of the boulder, a fixed distance to either side.
But then the Frogipede flopped forward and straightened itself, throwing the front part of its body and its forelegs towards Drake with remarkable speed. Even though this was a pattern he had seen before, he was taken aback by how physically superior this version was to the others he had faced.
He sidestepped cleanly, producing his huge sword and swinging it like a baseball bat to meet the Frogipede’s advance. The thing twisted and killed its momentum. Then the front two pairs of arms punched into the ground and cracked the surface. With the leverage, its muscles heaved and the back half of its body swung around like a whip
That as new.
But it was also too slow. By the time it had stuck its legs in the ground, Drake had condensed his armor of bone. Ryx leaped upwards and settled onto his back, rapidly transforming into a wide shield of spiked bone, making Drake look like a twisted cross between a turtle and a porcupine.
The sharp shards of bone twisted ungracefully upwards into sharp points and Drake simply turned sideways rather than dodging.
The force of the whipped body knocking him off of his feet and slammed him several meters to the side. It was even far enough that when Drake crashed to the ground, it was in ankle deep water. This pissed Drake off, almost irrationally.
“Why…” Drake growled, cursing the flying, the swimming, the smells, the wetness, the vague fucking orders, his stubborn inability to ask for more clarification, “Why the fuck am I here?!?!”
The Frogipede began to scream, attempting to drag its body back away from the jagged burr that was Drake. But that simply dragged the soft, rubbery flesh deeper into the spikes, ripping its body further. The nearby legs twisted and began to smash against his armor. Small cracks began to spread, but it couldn’t get any more force than its muscles, because its body was stuck to Drake’s back.
But he wouldn’t give the Frogipede the time to break through. He raised his left hand and poured all of his burning dissatisfaction into his condensed fate. His hand burned slightly, and then a huge hand of bone exploded upwards, swelling until it was the size of a car.
With gleaming eyes, Drake glared at the squirming Frogipede. Although it was Level 57, Drake was going to turn it into mush.