Fifteen minutes passed without any movement before Jake dared to take out a healing potion and consume it. His Mark made him aware the Hive King had returned to somewhere deep underground again before the Mark expired, so he felt relatively safe.
His entire body was aching as he drank the life-saving liquid and just laid back on the ground. He was missing an arm; his one leg had been torn apart down the center, leaving two flappy slices of flesh, and his entire midsection was a fucking mess.
The initial attack had ripped through his entire ribcage, one lung, several other organs and only narrowly missed his heart. The stab with the leg after that had torn out his entire stomach, too, making it all just a bloody mess.
Finally, his face was filled with blood and some gross gooey substance that had once been his own eyes. Even while waiting, his body had begun healing, but these wounds would not be fixed immediately, especially not while he was still experiencing the period of weakness after Arcane Awakening.
Jake would not say he had been lucky… because he had only survived due to his reactions. The only reason his heart had not been torn in two was that he had narrowly swayed. He had avoided getting his head torn off on more than one occasion in the exchange that had not even taken half a minute, and in the end, he had escaped by using dark mana, hiding, and quick thinking. His equipment had also helped immensely, even if it didn’t look like it. Chances are he would have been ripped in two without his chest armor right off the bat.
Fuck, it was strong, Jake thought to himself as he shivered a bit when he recalled how the Hive King had moved. Strong, fast, durable… it was a living killing machine designed to do only that. If the Queen was the caretaker of the hive, the King was the defender.
Like humans and everyone else, different people and creatures had different specializations. The Queen had invested all her evolution points in being better at laying and hatching eggs as well as nurturing them with barriers and healing and such. It was all to protect them.
Meanwhile, the Hive King had all points focused on killing anything that tried to destroy the hive. Jake also had a feeling the Hive King was probably around level 215 or 220, but he couldn’t be sure… it all depended on how good the stat growth and natural power of Isoptera Hive Kings were. However, he had a feeling it was not weak for its level. Far from someone like Jake or the King of the Forest, but perhaps about as strong as someone like a party member of Neil if they fought at equal levels? Either way, it was no scrub.
Jake wanted to punch himself in embarrassment the more he thought about it. How the hell would a C-grade Hive Queen make sense if all she had was far weaker defenders? Any other C-grade would be able to kill her just by tiring her out like Jake did, putting the entire hive at risk.
He knew insect monsters like these that formed colonies were incredibly dangerous in the multiverse, to the point of dominating entire regions of space the same as enlightened empires. They even had other lifeforms live with them.
Ectognamorph Queens at high enough grades could spawn entire armies of powerful soldiers. However, it was rare for them to have a King, even if they did have protectors. This was also when Jake recalled his only other time encountering a similar structure to this hive: the ratmen in the Forgotten Sewers.
The Nest Watcher was more or less the Hive King in this scenario, defending the mothers of the next generation. That case had been even more lopsided with the Incubators back then not even able to defend themselves, being little more than breeding machines.
Jake shelved the thoughts as he just focused on healing himself, but also to stay hidden. He felt the movements of termites not even ten minutes later through his sphere. He knew he had killed far from all of them, and it seemed that with Jake gone, the Hive Queen had ordered them to get back to work and repair the damage inflicted by the pesky human that had ravaged their hive.
Needless to say, this was bad news for Jake. Termites began running both above and below him as he saw them through his sphere. Thankfully he was hidden well in the makeshift tunnel dug by the Hive King, with none of the workers walking his way quite yet.
Focusing as much as he could, Jake very carefully mobilized a tiny bit of mana to try and hide better. A small barrier covered the outside of his cloak as Jake mixed a bit of dark mana and his stable arcane mana. Nothing was visible as far as Jake could tell, as he saw if he could somehow make his barrier invisible and meld himself completely with the background.
The camouflage of the cloak already did this, but it was not perfect, and if something came close, he would be discovered. Hence he tried to create a shell around him that was solid to not only make him look like a part of the tunnel but also feel like one to the touch.
He was pressured as soon a few termites noticed the hole he was in but only briefly inspected it before moving on. Jake held his breath as he hoped none would make its way down into it. He would no doubt be discovered if one did as he blocked a good part of it with his body, and the workers were about as large as the Hive King, meaning they would one hundred percent bump into him.
A few workers began gathering in the vicinity as they luckily chose the tunnel only five meters to his side – the one made by the Hive King when it returned to the biodome. They began patching it up and filling it again with earth magic and physical labor, several running through it as they worked.
One of the termites running through the other tunnel suddenly stopped halfway through… right next to where Jake was, with only a five-meter wall of soil and rock separating them. It began touching the walls, and he faintly felt a pulse of mana go through it as the termite scanned the ground.
Jake focused everything he had as the wave of mana reached him and the stable shell of arcane mana mixed with dark mana. It hit the barrier and was absorbed as the termite on the other side looked confused. Another wave came as Jake realized he had made an error. In a moment of clarity, he chose to instead absorb a little of the environmental mana into the barrier, fully dispelling the black mana there.
He had created a barrier a bit like a window with two layers and air in between, except the air had been dark mana. This had made him “invisible” to the termite’s scan, but that in itself was suspicious. A black spot on a map was suspicious in its own right, so trying to hide by making it look there was nothing at all was stupid.
At Jake’s behest, the environmental mana gathered between the barriers, and just in time as the second scan of the termite worker hit him. It just ran across the barrier like he was a big stone and continued through the rest of the tunnel unaffected.
On the other side of the wall of soil, the termite made some weird movements as it scurried off. Jake breathed out a sigh of relief as a bit of tension left his body after it disappeared. He had been so tense he hadn’t even noticed that he had gotten a notification halfway through his hiding attempt.
[Expert Stealth (Uncommon)] - The deadliest blow is the one not seen coming. You have proven yourself an expert in the arts of stealth, as you have learned to become a shadow that is only seen when you wish to be so. You find it easier than ever to blend into the environment, making your presence, mana, and nearly all traces of your existence hidden as you wait for your prey to be vulnerable. Adds a small bonus to the effect of Agility and Perception while successfully remaining undetected.
[Arcane Stealth (Rare)] – An upgraded version of the Expert Stealth skill, retaining all benefits while infusing in additional abilities related to your arcane affinity. You find it easier than ever to blend into the environment, making your presence, mana, and nearly all traces of your existence hidden as you wait for your prey to be vulnerable. You have enhanced your stealth capabilities through magic, allowing you to mask your physical shape to become one with the environment, even to the sense of touch and most magical scans. Adds a small bonus to the effect of Agility, Perception, Willpower, and Intelligence while successfully remaining undetected.
I feel like the system helped me out a bit there, he thought. It had been easier than expected to absorb the mana to make him blend in. Probably because the system had believed it high time for him to upgrade the skill, and when he was on the right track to improving it, the upgrade came, thus making it easier as he now had a skill and did not use freeform magic.
It was lucky, too, because Jake doubted he could even beat a few workers in his current state, much less if the Hive Queen was made aware of his continued presence and decided to send a few Guards.
Well… at least Jake had gotten something out of this shitty situation as he entered meditation again while keeping himself hidden. Soon enough, the termites began running through the tunnel he was in, stepping on the barrier, and one of them even decided to move it slightly to the side, likely just seeing it as a stone.
He did not respond as he was buried in soil and stone deep within the hive, just continuing his recovery.
Miranda found herself with an unlikely group as she experienced her first-ever dungeon dive.
Roman, Felicia, Sultan, Miranda, and Lillian stood within the dark Undergrowth as the nearly faceless monsters kept coming at them. The Deepdwellers threw their spears as the Fungalmancers cast their magic. At least they tried to as a vortex of frost and flames enveloped one of them.
A second Fungalmancer attempted to intervene as Felicia suddenly appeared behind it and stabbed it through the face. Miranda herself threw out bolts of Verdant energy as a shield protected her from attacks, a constant ritual in place making green wisps of light land on the Deepdwellers, making a moss-like substance grow on them.
The many Deepdwellers kept charging them as the group of humans had come to raid their small village but were simply too weak as they kept getting killed. Out of all of them, Sultan was the most frightening as he made the Deepwellers kill each other, and when one of the Fungalmancers began mutating, he took out his black book and spoke a chant as the monstrosity just began punching and tearing at the air and ground until its energy expired and it died by itself.
Lillian was the final member of their group and the weakest by a fair margin as she had only recently evolved her class. Yet she did do well as she shot out small beams of light from what was essentially a laser pistol – made by Arnold, of course.
After the Auction, Jake had given Miranda the Lucenti Mage Akashic Tome, and they had decided to give it to Lillian, who had what Jake had called a “dogshit” class. She had graciously accepted it and began power-leveling it. She had chosen to forfeit the Perfect Evolution and evolved to D-grade a little over a week ago as her profession was already way higher level than her class.
Miranda knew her assistant had likely out-leveled her due to Miranda going for the Perfect Evolution if one solely discussed profession, and now she was beginning to catch up in class levels too. They had discussed a lot if Lillian could even evolve her race and keep leveling after the incident with Phillip and many others who appeared to have simply stopped getting levels, but Lillian had just breezed forward.
The Lucenti Mage class was… odd. Miranda did not quite get it herself yet, and while Lillian had been relatively open about what she could do, she also kept some cards close. She had always been reserved and private, and Miranda respected that.
Lillian could do a variety of light magic, but it wasn’t only light. There was the Lucenti concept mixed into everything, giving her magic a mystical feel. It even allowed her to do some healing magic despite not actually being a healer at all, which was quite odd.
As for why she used a gun? Because Miranda had come to learn that Lillian was damn good with one for some reason. She still had no idea about her assistant’s history before the system, how she ended up with Abby and Donald, or anything really about her background. What she did know was that Lillian had only shown loyalty and gratitude so far towards both Miranda and Jake, and that was good enough. The fact she had signed a contract also helped.
Miranda and the party continued through the Undergrowth that Jake had cleared long ago as they followed the vague guidance given by Jake when he recounted his experience doing it. They cleared the villages, got a few Golden Mushrooms when safe, and applied safe strategies where possible.
They overpowered many of the early villages, but they began to get pressured as they got further in. Sultan had to step it up more, and when several Fungalmancers and a Warlord appeared at the same time, Sultan had to pull out his ship and use that.
Without a tank, they did face some difficulties, but luckily Felicia was fast and good at grabbing attention in melee range, while Roman had some serious area of effect magic as well as incredibly potent elemental blasts that mixed frost and fire magic.
Finally, they employed a tactic Jake had insisted on as they went towards the place where Jake had said there was a Cave Troll.
[Undergrowth Cave Troll – lvl 149]
As they got there, they waited a bit before intercepting a fight and helping the troll by healing it, and Roman even went and made friends with the kid trolls.
It slowly began being more friendly, and ultimately Sultan told them he would stay there for a while to complete a task given by Jake. Miranda wondered what it was about, but did as he said. However, only upon him swearing he was telling the truth. She did probably need to get back to Haven again soon, so she headed back out of the dungeon together with the four others, leaving Sultan behind with the troll.
Sultan stood before the troll that kept scratching its back with its own weapon while making cooing sounds at the small trolls. He began communicating with the beast but found it difficult for it to understand. At least Lord Thayne had been correct in it not displaying too much hostility towards humans and how if they saved it, the troll would not attack.
Sultan sighed as he prepared several catalysts to enact the binding ritual. It was millions of Credits worth… but oh well.
A good while ago, when Lord Thayne had become aware of Sultan’s abilities, he had given him a job. It was an odd job Sultan did not quite see the purpose of, but one he would do anyway: to get the Undergrowth Cave Troll out of the dungeon by first binding it to his own soul as a slave and then releasing it outside. He was even ordered to get the small trolls out with it.
This was an oddly sentimental request from the Chosen of the Malefic Viper, especially considering these were not the same trolls Lord Thayne had encountered when he did the dungeon. They were a different version of the same troll, but when it got outside, it would have no memories of anyone but Sultan’s party.
To make it worse, this would even weaken the dungeon a tiny bit by removing a monster. Then again, perhaps it would help a bit as the Cave Troll tended to kill quite a few Deepdwellers, but it would for sure remove a scenario within the dungeon.
A part of Sultan could not help but question if there was something special about the troll from how Lord Thayne had emphasized getting it out. Perhaps it had some hidden skill? Unique powers? It was hard to say, and ultimately, Sultan did not dare disobey as he began the ritual – the troll willingly agreeing, partly through ignorance.
This is going to hurt, Sultan groaned as he already felt the strain on his soul from binding a creature higher level than himself, and he knew instantly he would be in a rush to get outside the dungeon and release it.
“What one doesn’t do for their bosses.”