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After almost two days, the battle finally came to an end.

Ellis watched as Wight perfectly slew the Calamity-Class monster. Even through the Looking Glass, he could practically feel the tension and danger contained within those last few seconds.

A small smile formed on his lips. She’s gotten stronger…

Off to the side, Ena suddenly raised her head. After a short pause, she narrowed her eyes and let out a scoff. “I could have done that too”— was what her obstinate expression seemed to say.

Naturally, Ellis did not bother to argue with this uppity little fox.

“She actually did it…” Grisella mumbled out in a daze. The solitary witch stood next to him; her eyes intently locked onto the mirror’s surface. Her shoulders slightly trembled, while her face had turned several shades paler. Suffice to say, she was thoroughly shocked.

It isn’t just Ellis who’s broken, but rather… every single individual within this group are existences that can’t be measured by normal standards.

Grisella knew that the wolves were strong, but never to this extent. No, it was even more than that… In less than a week, she had just witnessed two separate individuals kill two separate Calamity-Class monsters. An encounter with one was already rare, not to mention actually slaying it.

To many, such an event was considered both grand and mythical. If this had been back within the kingdoms of man, then it would certainly warrant great celebration, enough where they might even grant ridiculous things such as peerage or land.

Although I doubt any sane king would grant peerage to a homunculus, much less a wolf…

It took her a few minutes to regain her calm. Grisella exasperatedly shook her head. She couldn’t help but reiterate, “they actually managed to kill the Spore Goblin.”

“Of course, they did,” Ellis proudly stated. “After all, they are my family.”

Despite his words, truth be told, the situation had worried him for a moment there. After Umbra went under and the rest of the pack followed shortly after, he felt inclined to cut their training short and join in on the battle.

Unexpectedly, Ena stopped him.

Ellis had hesitated for a moment, but he ultimately decided to trust her. Compared to him, Ena was a lot more familiar with the wolves’ combat ability, so she probably had a much better idea of where their limits lay. It was better to take her advice, rather than go with his own shoddy judgment. Knowing when to delegate was also the mark of a good leader.

Besides, Ellis trusted her. After all, despite everything, Ena was not someone who would send her family straight into the jaws of death.

Fortunately, Ellis’s gamble paid off. The pack managed to regain their footing and turn the dire situation around for the better. What’s more, Wight even went ahead and pulled off that ridiculous feat. The little wolf used her superior speed and practically glided along the sea of mushroom caps. She jumped from one head to another almost as if she was in a videogame.

It all eventually cumulated into one big miraculous spectacle; Wight slew the big boss all by herself.

The smile on his face widened.

“…”

Grisella glanced over at him but otherwise remained.

Ellis did not mind her silence. After a few seconds, he stretched his limbs and turned towards the distant tree line. “Then, let’s go check out the battlefield.”

He started walking but stopped after a few seconds. Ellis glanced back. “You’re also coming too.”

In response, a certain little fox let out a short whine.

Ellis ignored her protests. He picked Ena up by the scruff of her neck before he continued walking. Grisella packed up her magical artifact and quickly ran after him.

With that, the trio descended the hill and reunited with the rest of the group.

****

The moment the Spore Goblin died, all of its creations vanished. They melted like ice sculptures on a hot summer day. The only evidence of their existence was the goopy brown sludge that they had left behind.

Ellis slowly walked through the battlefield. He took the same route that the wolves had taken. Evidence of their battle lay scattered throughout the forest.

The ground had been thoroughly trampled on. The might of an army was enough to change the very terrain that they marched on. There were also small craters, claw marks, and the occasional puddle of blood scattered throughout the forest floor.

When he arrived at the end of the path, he quickly noticed the wolf pack. They crowded around a certain spot near the ground.

Staring up at their injured bodies, he couldn’t help but breathe out a sigh.

The wolves had grown stronger, but some of them were clearly stronger than others.

Umbra and Plush were good examples of this. Aside from looking a bit under the weather, Umbra was perfectly fine. He might have a couple of scratches here and there, but he looked good enough to fight for another day or two.

Plush was similar. While his fur was a little matted, due to his large size and thick hide, most of his injuries were superficial.

Compare this to the rest of the wolves, and the gap was evident. Cobalt, Cinder, Tangerine, these three wolf brothers looked as if they had just crawled out of an industrial shredder. Their bodies were covered in blood, while more than a few ribs stuck out from their chests.

Cocoa, the only other female wolf within the pack, probably suffered the most. Half of her lower jaw was missing, while most of her limbs had bent at odd angles. The sole fact that she was still conscious was already a miracle.

Naturally, Wight was the strongest wolf. She was the one that had deviated the furthest from the generic template of ‘burrow wolf’.

Her growth was skewed and as a result, a clear gap had formed between Wight and the other wolves.

Wight killed the Goblin almost entirely by herself. That was a feat that the other wolves probably could not accomplish together, much less alone. What’s more, she even used the same tactic that Ellis would have used himself; ignore everything else and go for the boss.

A small tinge of pride welled up in his chest.

… Still, the power gap was something that he felt he needed to address. It was already enough that Ena was so far ahead of everyone else. What if because of this, the weaker wolves start to feel inadequate or left out?

Ellis once again felt the worries of a parent.

Well, it should be alright. After some thought, he shrugged his shoulders. If Wight gets stronger, then the others can just catch up to her. Ellis nodded to himself. No matter what, growing strong is something worth celebrating.

After he momentarily pushed aside his troubles, Ellis approached the circle of wolves.

Almost instantly, he noticed Wight. She lay in the middle of the circle, still and unmoving. The only indication of life came from the slight rise and fall of her chest. She was asleep. From the looks of it, she had lost consciousness immediately after the battle ended. In fact, her jaws were still clamped onto the Goblin’s neck. He had to pry open her jaw just to separate her from the corpse.

Ellis gently placed her down on the ground. He inspected her mangled body. Wight had suffered countless injuries. Aside from the normal gouge marks and purple bruises, the most eye-catching injury were the ones on her heels. It looked as if the very skin on her paws had peeled off.

It definitely wasn’t something for the faint of heart to see.

While Ellis broodingly stared, Ena casted her strongest healing magic on the group of wolves. Almost immediately, their injuries began to heal. In no time at all, their physical conditions returned to normal. Even the half-crippled Cocoa looked just as lively as when he last saw her.

Wight’s injuries also closed, but she did not regain consciousness.

“She over drafted her body.” Upon seeing Ellis’s furrowed brows, Grisella quickly explained. “She’ll need to rest and recover. Wight will probably be in a coma for a while.”

He subconsciously frowned. “Is there any way to wake her up?”

“Well, yes, but…” she hesitated for a moment. Grisella had plenty of ways to rouse someone from a catatonic state, but in this particular situation, she did not really recommend it. “In Wight’s case, I can feel something changing within her. Mana is constantly gathering inside her body. It's throbbing like a beating heart, absorbing, dispelling, then absorbing again.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Ellis titled his head in confusion.

“A good thing, probably.” Grisella suddenly looked up at him. Ellis stared back. For some reason, her gaze felt a bit weird. “I think she may be undergoing a permutation.”

“A permutation? Is it something similar to what Umbra has?” That kid’s poison ability certainly did set him apart from everyone else.

She nodded. “That’s right. Um, to quote your words, ‘she broke past her limiter and unlocked a new ability’. Or at least, that’s what probably happened.”

“I see…” Ellis felt somewhat embarrassed. He had lifted that line straight from a popular piece of fiction from his old world. It was a bit shameful for him to claim it as his own.

He shook his head and cleared his thoughts. Ellis turned back over to Wight. “Then, do we just leave her alone until her body finishes the… um, the transformation?”

“That’s right. It’s probably not a good idea to move her around when she’s in such a state. Even I’m not sure what could happen.”

“Well, alright then.” For the sake of Wight’s wellbeing, Ellis meekly went along with Grisella’s plan.

As such, the group took an indefinite break.

****

Five days passed before Wight finally woke up.

She had successfully completed her permutation, but truth be told, nothing really seemed to change. She was still as small as ever and her outer appearance looked virtually untouched. Even the white discoloration on her left ear remained the same.

Still, Wight was in high spirits.

She assured him that she had indeed grown stronger. As a demonstration, Wight even wanted to challenge Ena to a fight. Unfortunately, Ena refused. The little fox once again cited tiredness. At this point, Ellis was beginning to think that Ena might be going through a similar advancement.

While she did not fall into a coma-like Wight, quite a few noticeable changes had occurred. For one there was her sudden lack of drive. Ena spent most of her days sleeping. She only woke up to either eat or pee. She somewhat reminded him of a lazy house cat.

It was almost as if Ena was going through some sort of hibernation period. The fact that her current behavior only started after the battle with the slime only further validated his theory.

“Well, either way, it’s fine.”

Both Wight and Ena were steadily growing stronger. At this rate, it would not take all that long before they reached Calamity-class.

Ellis was hopeful for the future.

Aside from that, there was also another matter that Ellis had yet to take care of.

“…”

The corpse of the Spore Goblin. Practically half of its already thin throat was missing. Its dead fish eyes stared limply at the canopy above. Staring down on it like this, it was difficult to believe that this thing was actually a monster capable of single-handedly destroying an entire nation.

For the past five days, they left the thing virtually untouched. Ellis expected it to rot, but much to his surprise, flowers suddenly started sprouting. They grew not only on the corpse itself but also on the ground around it.

“Spore Goblins are extreme Goblin variants born with an almost exaggerated amount of nature essence,” Grisella explained to him.

Nature essence? Is that different from mana? Or maybe it’s like a different type of mana, a specialized version of it…

Various thoughts and ideas floated through his head.

Grisella briefly glanced up at him. After a moment’s pause, she added, “fun fact, Spore Goblins are a female only sub-species.”

“Female?” Ellis furrowed his brow. “This thing is a female?”

To be honest, it looked way to ugly to be female. What’s more, it had no discernable genitalia either… then again, its entire lower half was covered by a shaggy layer of hair, so it might have something down there, but Ellis did not dare to check. Either way, it was disgusting.

In response to his incredulity, she merely shrugged her shoulders.

“Do we just leave it here?” he asked, “Should we take it with us?”

“It has a fairly strong body, but compared to other Calamity-Class monsters, it’s not really impressive.” Much to his surprise, the normally greedy Grisella looked hesitant. “Its main trait was its ability to create. Without it, it's only similar to most ordinary disaster-level monsters. Nothing really worth taking.” She paused for a second, “The nature essence in its body might have been useful, but now that it died, most of the essence has dispersed.”

She pointed towards the ground. “It’s why there are so many flowers around.”

“So, basically, you’re saying this corpse is useless?” Ellis succinctly summarized.

She nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”

“I see…” Despite her thorough explanation, Ellis still looked hesitant. After a while, he said, “well, let’s just take it, just in case. After all, it is still a Calamity-Class corpse.”

Grisella shrugged her shoulders. “Suit yourself. I don’t see the point in it, but I won’t stop you.”

Compared to her quick dismissal, Ellis had a myriad of possibilities racing through his head.

For instance, what if he can somehow learn necromancy? Having an undead servant like this thing would definitely be overpowered!

Of course, necromancy was just a passing thought. Ellis did not really think that such a thing was destined for him. He was more of a brute strength type of guy. While he wasn’t really all that satisfied with his particular build, there was nothing he could really do about it. After all, it was the role that God (Alma) had given him.

The most he could do was hope for the possibility of learning magic in the future.

No, I can’t think like that. This is a fantasy world, who knows what could happen!

Ellis tried to stay positive, despite the adversity ahead.

Ena quietly pocketed the corpse. Throughout the entire process, she kept looking at him with a weird glint in her eyes.

His face immediately darkened. Even without her saying anything, he knew exactly what those eyes of hers were implying.

Damn it, I don’t want to eat the damn thing! Unlike you, my mind has other thoughts aside from food!

He inwardly screamed, but unfortunately, there was nobody to hear it.

This glutton of a fox completely misunderstood his intentions. Of course, Ellis chose to wisely remain silent. He feared that if he were to defend himself now, it would only further escalate the situation.

Like that, the group continued on their journey.

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About the author

BlankDott

  • United States
  • Dead on Arrival

Bio: Primarily a writer, secondarily an artist. I can't promise that I'm any good at either one though.

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