Sylver cracked his knuckles and found it extremely uncomfortable to do while having two right hands.
By the time he had finished stretching, he found himself standing in near-perfect darkness.
“Near” perfect, mostly because of the faint moving lights he could see in the distance.
“I should have mentioned this earlier, but it would be extremely bad form to forfeit now. Unless you’re literally a breath away from death, you shouldn’t even consider forfeiting,” a hushed voice said from right above Sylver.
With his [Advanced Night Vision] Sylver could see his surroundings as if it were the middle of the day.
He looked up and waved towards the multiple drones silently floating in the air.
“So I just need to make it to the center and kill everyone else?” Sylver asked as he started to walk towards the tallest structure he could see off in the distance.
Other than the faint lights moving around in the distance, it was the only other source of light. It looked like an enlarged crystal formation, except it was made entirely out of black glass, and something inside of it was glowing with a faint green light.
“Well, not kill, seriously harm and convince them to forfeit would be better. But as I explained earlier, they knew the risks. So if you want to shoot someone in the head without saying a word, that’s allowed, but not very entertaining,” Rouge answered, as she and her ever-growing number of drones followed behind Sylver.
“There are 19 climbers remaining,” Rouge said after a few seconds of silence.
“I thought you said there were 52?” Sylver asked, without bothering to look up at the drone from which Rouge’s voice was coming from.
“There was, a minute ago. Now that they’ve been informed that the difficulty has been increased to 100, 33 of them have made the right choice and forfeited. The highest level left is 199, the lowest is 108,” Rouge said, and Sylver nodded along.
“Given the way you seem to half stumble your way into things, I take it Pecan hasn’t told you that climbers level 200 and higher are considered too valuable to be allowed to die? Because these aren’t called “trials” for the fun of it, there are genuine trials you’ll have to overcome to get to the center,” Rouge continued.
Sylver heard the sound of papers being shuffled. And then was left in complete and total silence as Rouge had to turn her attention away from him. The drones continued following after him, but Sylver did his best to ignore them.
Sylver had a decision to make.
Try to win this thing while relying only on [Necrotic Mutilation] and [Mirage], or make things easier for himself and use [Fog Form] when necessary.
Using shades and [Bound Bones] was obviously out, but [Advanced Earth Manipulation], [Advanced Water Manipulation] and [Deadly Darkness] would make winning just short of trivial.
Sylver was a little too old to underestimate anyone or anything, and if this place is as dangerous as Rouge made it seem, it would be moronic to walk around holding a bunch of trump cards and not using them.
On the other hand, if there came a point where Sylver was fighting against the Garden, it would be best to keep his abilities as hidden and unknown as possible. It wouldn’t provide a massive advantage, but Sylver wasn’t in a position to let even the small advantages slip out of his hands.
On the other hand, it wasn’t like he needed to follow all of Poppy’s advice. As long as he found the book, and destroyed it, he would get what he wanted. Fulfilling the dark elves’ prophecy wasn’t a requirement for finding Edmund.
With that in mind, Sylver’s best course of action would be to show off as much as possible, to get the attention of lady Demor. Winning this thing would almost certainly achieve that, and achieving that would mean Kass would tell Sylver where the book was, and then Sylver would go home and find Edmund.
But for some reason, Sylver didn’t get the feeling Kass was going to tell him the book is available for sale, and Sylver would be able to just buy it. If he had to steal it from someone, let’s say a Flower, he would need all the advantages that he could get.
Like a cloud that made it extremely difficult for mages that use positive energy to cast magic…
And without positive magic getting in his way, the only thing Sylver had to be wary of was lead…
Which this realm had an overabundance of…
And given that most of what Sylver did and used was magic-related, it didn’t particularly matter if they knew about it or not, given that their solution would be shooting him anyway.
And on the less rational side of things…
Sylver was just a little bit tired of being jerked around, humiliated, looked down on, fucking manhandled, and then spoken to as if he were a clueless child. The fact that he couldn’t even get a clear answer out of the dark elves wearing black fire armor, would have made a lesser man lose his mind at the disrespect.
Thankfully, Sylver knew not to take things personally. Under the right circumstances, he might even completely forgive and forget Poppy for the way in which she spoke to him. Once he got Edmund back, Sylver would very likely not even care about the woman in white, or Rose, as Poppy called her.
But at this very specific moment in time, Sylver wanted to throw caution to the wind and go nuts.
Poppy did say that he should go with his gut. She probably only meant it when it came to picking the level of difficulty, but Sylver chose to believe she meant it in a general sense.
The number one priority was Edmund.
Therefore, the number one priority was finding and destroying the book.
Therefore, the number one priority was becoming well known enough that lady Demor would invite Sylver into her house.
Sylver wasn’t certain this was the best course of action.
But his gut was telling him this was a good idea.
Which, to be perfectly frank, was all the reason Sylver needed.
[Bound Bones], the shades, and the infinite explosives would be kept as trump cards.
Everything other than that was on the table.
If Sylver couldn’t get out of a predicament using a small army of shades and as much explosive force as he desired, he doubted being able to manipulate water would be enough to help.
It could be, but Sylver wasn’t a clairvoyant to say that with any degree of certainty.
Sylver could spend the next several hours trying to puzzle out the perfect amount of skills and abilities that he should use to achieve maximum fame and impressiveness while revealing a minimal amount of information, or he could just go with his gut.
Sylver looked up at the drones, and winked at them, as his body became a barely visible wisp of see-through vapor and quickly spread out through the grass and moved towards the glowing light at an incredibly fast speed.
Sylver was surprised to find that the drones had little trouble following after him.
They weren’t at all encumbered by the environment, and in fact, simply passed through whatever got in their way.
Right now Sylver was in an extremely dense forest. Trying to maneuver through it on foot would have been a nightmare, and jumping from branch to branch would have exhausted him before he was even halfway to his destination.
Turning into a gas and sort of lazily flowing through the briar patches, thick roots, sharp rocks, eye-poking twigs, and a bunch of other nonsense was almost relaxing.
Unlike with [Shadow’s Soma] Sylver no longer felt bound to the world’s whims of making him constantly move towards the ground. He wasn’t exactly weightless, but this was the closest thing since he had woken up inside of a needle.
But what really made this perk worth it was the “instantly materialize” part. Sylver could teleport, in a certain sense of the word, but more importantly, he didn’t need to think too hard about how his physical body was spaced out. He could generate fog and force it to go in the direction he wanted, and then simply appear inside of the furthest tendril of vapor.
The creature Sylver was “hunting” was roughly 10 meters in height, had an abnormally large head, stood on two enormous clawed legs, and had a tail that looked powerful enough to cleave an armored person into two.
[Tyrant Lizard (Warrior+Warrior+Warrior+Warrrior) – 157]
Sylver wasn’t after its legs or tail though, he was after its jaw.
Because his goal wasn’t to kill anyone, what he wanted to do was scare the living shit out of everyone.
And it didn’t matter how powerful you were, a giant tooth-filled mouth coming after you was terrifying.
The tiny clawed arms sort of threw off the fear-inducing esthetic, but Sylver was going to chop them off anyway, he couldn’t imagine what it could possibly use them for.
The monster looked up from its meal, some sort of reptile that had been torn apart to the point Sylver couldn’t figure out what it looked like before, and almost instantly turned to face the spot where Sylver was hiding.
Its beady little eyes stayed completely motionless within its head, but the two large nostrils sticking out of its nose flared with every breath it took.
Sylver materialized up in the treetops and looked down at the cautious monster. It stared right at him and then disappeared.
Sylver didn’t even attempt to block its tail, as it spun in midair and tore through the thick tree trunk directly behind Sylver as if it was made out of brittle glass.
The monster landed on the ground and spent half a second checking its tail, but when it didn’t find any blood or bone fragments, it turned around and stared at Sylver standing a short distance away from it on the ground.
Again, the muscles in its giant legs coiled, and the creature was flung towards Sylver, with its tail spinning at such an insane speed that it was causing a sonic boom to occur at the very tip. It once again smashed a giant tree trunk into sawdust, but once again, Sylver was standing a short distance away, completely unharmed.
Sylver flicked his right hand, and a dark green ball exploded out of his hand, and landed in the monster’s right nostril. It tried to blow it out and even attempted to reach it with one of its tiny hands, but it decided to leave it for now, and would instead deal with the threat at hand.
Sylver made an opening gesture with his hand, and the goopy liquid in the monster’s nostril suddenly became a small ball of spikes, blades, and incredibly painful hooked tendrils. A couple even reached its eye, but at that point, it seemed to be oblivious to it and was focused solely on the small man that had caused it so much pain.
The legs flexed, it disappeared, and the tail whipped a poor tree into splinters, while Sylver became a cloud of vapor, connected to the thin veil of fog spread out all over the trodden grass floor, and reappeared a short distance away completely unharmed.
“You’re hurt, call your friends!” Sylver shouted as the irritated creature turned to face him, but he was already standing directly behind it. It kept turning, and Sylver kept teleporting around it, all while the [Necrotic Mutilation] on its face slashed and ripped its nose open, and was now reaching low enough to start working on its lips and teeth.
Sylver had a satisfied smile on his face as the monster suddenly looked up, which quickly turned into a surprised frown, as it took an extremely deep breath, and began to glow a pale red color from inside its chest. Sylver kept teleporting all over the place as the oversized lizard slammed its oversized mouth shut, and then nodded its head down to the ground, and released a torrent of fire between its feet.
The flames exploded in every direction and destroyed Sylver’s fog in the process. Even as deep as he was underground right now, he could still feel the heat seep through the moist dirt. The monster waddled over to exactly where Sylver was, and closed its mouth slightly, to better concentrate the flames on his hiding spot.
Sylver didn’t bother trying to dig lower, and instead fully materialized, and stuck his hands into the moist dirt.
As the monster continued to melt the ground above Sylver, the dirt all around it gathered in the form of two large pillars that formed a half-circle at the very top of them. Sylver brought his hands together, and the two pillars of rock-solid earth bent, and the two half circles connected over the monster’s neck and tightened like a collar.
It seemed completely undisturbed by this, as the monster continued to spew liquid fire at Sylver, and showed no signs of stopping.
As he tried to get it to move using [Advanced Earth Manipulation] Sylver found that it was pretty fucking strong. He couldn’t get it to budge, and when Sylver inevitably had to dig his way to the side, the monster effortlessly broke out from its earthly confines and continued to melt the ground above Sylver.
Any attempt at a spike just shattered against its scaly hide, and sure enough, Sylver felt the [Necrotic Mutilation] sitting inside its nose heat up, and then turn into useless ash.
Some sort of dragon-like monster, just my luck.
Sylver somewhat regretted his decision to play around with it, and pissed it off enough that it would call for help, as the ground above him turned liquid and dribbled down onto his robe. Between the digging and the heat dissipation, Sylver was down to half his MP, by the time he came up with a plan.
It wasn’t a good plan, but it was good enough.
Sylver gathered every drop of water he could find within his surroundings and pooled it around him, like liquid armor. He dug as far as he could to the side and then started to dig upwards before the monster had had time to finish following after him.
It was a trick Sylver learned from watching Edmund fuck up his breakfast one time. If you heated a piece of metal past a certain point and then poured water onto it, it wouldn’t boil. The reason for it was that the intense heat created a bubble of gas between the water and the hot metal, and acted as a heat insulator.
In Sylver’s case, he was doing the exact opposite.
He was keeping the water wrapped around him cold using his own magic, and luckily for him, the fire coming out of the monster’s mouth was hot enough to instantly vaporize the water and create an insulating layer.
With literal molten rock around him, Sylver couldn’t turn into fog to run away, so he did the next best thing.
As he got out from underneath the ground Sylver charged at the monster and felt the back portion of his robe turn to ash, as the water shield inevitably evaporated. Sylver felt like he heard a gasp in the background, as he ran through the pillar of fire, and got closer and closer to the source.
Sylver had been burned to death enough times that he knew the difference between magical fire and real fire by the way it scorched his skin.
And while the sheer amount of flames this creature produced was absurd, it certainly wasn’t magical.
Why it didn’t find it suspicious that someone would jump into its mouth, Sylver couldn’t say.
What he could say was that it very much didn’t like it when he slipped past the spark-producing glands in its throat and slid down through its gullet. Sylver could feel the extremely dense gas pass over him, and held back his inclination to ignite it.
First of all, he wasn’t entirely sure if he would survive the explosion.
Second of all, Sylver needed this monster whole, and not in scattered bits and pieces.
Sylver felt the powerful muscles in its throat contract around him and attempted to force him lower towards its stomach, but the [Necrotic Mutilation] spikes sticking out from every inch of Sylver’s body, like a sea urchin, made that quite difficult.
Sylver crawled upward in the creature’s throat until he was in the spot just before the dense gas met the sparks coming from the two hanging glands, and made an educated guess as to where the creature’s brain was.
Sylver’s first [Necrotic Mutilation] spike/guess was wrong.
As was his second.
And his third.
By the fifth, it became a matter of principle that Sylver pierced its tiny brain.
[Tyrant Lizard (Warrior+Warrior+Warrior+Warrrior) Defeated!]
[Due to defeating an enemy 40 levels above you, additional experience will be awarded!]
[Swamp Lord] has reached level 13!
[Necrotic Mutilation (II) Proficiency increased to 62%!]
[Physical Endurance (III) Proficiency increased to 57%!]
It took him 18 attempts, but no one was keeping track.
Sylver was very nearly covered in stomach acid as the monster toppled over, and Sylver very quickly turned into gas and escaped through its open mouth.
A great deal of blood and chunks of half-digested flesh leaked out of its mouth. Partially from Sylver’s [Necrotic Mutilation] tearing up the inside of its throat, partially from all the misses with his brain piercing spike, and mostly from its interrupted meal.
Sylver’s robe churned itself clean, until all the various bits and pieces had passed through it, and were now littered in a small circle around Sylver on the ashy ground.
As he looked around, Sylver had expected to see bright fire everywhere, but instead, there was only smoke, half the trees weren’t even that badly burned.
“Fire is very heavily suppressed. Otherwise, everyone either burns to death, or runs out of air,” Rouge explained, and Sylver struggled to hear her over the sound of thunderous applause. The drones all floated down to look at the dead lizard, and Sylver tried to face the drone from where Rouge’s image and voice was coming from.
“Is this space airtight?” Sylver asked, as he walked over to the dead monster and used [Dead Dominion] to make it lift its head slightly, so he could get a better look at it.
“Why?” Rouge asked as Sylver lifted the head even higher upwards to check how much damage he had done to the throat.
Surprisingly enough, much less than he thought he had, this thing was tough.
Might even be bulletproof, Sylver thought as he rapped his knuckles on its scaly hide.
“When someone forfeits, how exactly does that work?” Sylver asked as he made the monster’s corpse rollover. He jumped up so he was standing on its chest, and looked at the little hooked claws.
“A hole appears underneath their feet, and they fall into the hands of healers,” Rouge answered, as Sylver decided the claws might as well stay.
They could come in handy, and Sylver could always make it hold a gun in them.
“I see, thank you,” Sylver said, as he walked over to the head.
Sharp teeth and powerful muscles aside, the skull was ridiculously thick. This thing could probably shatter solid stone into pieces just by ramming its head against it.
Sylver placed his hand over his stomach and closed his eyes for a couple of seconds while he concentrated.
“Why did you ask if this place is air-tight?” Rouge asked, as Sylver opened the monster’s mouth wide open, and moved the liquefied tongue out of the way.
A tiny wisp of bright yellow smoke escaped from Sylver’s mouth and was followed by more similarly glowing wisps of smoke that all spiraled into the creature’s mouth and disappeared down its throat.
Sylver covered his left hand with [Necrotic Mutilation] and created a single large claw. He found a good spot at the very back of the head and was able to carve a passable framework into just 4 scales.
Sylver used the same claw to slice his wrist open and allowed his blood to splatter over the framework. The blood glowed a bright yellow, as it disappeared into the markings, the drones that were previously floating all around Sylver backed away as the monster made a noise that sounded like air escaping.
Sylver walked around the slowly rising monster, and his blood floated out from his slashed open wrists and into the monster’s nose and mouth. It closed its mouth, and the single remaining left eye glowed a very weak yellow.
After a few seconds, it finally managed to get its feet under itself, and stood up to its full height.
It opened its enormous maw and made a horrible squelching noise that sounded very similar to the sound several chickens would make, if someone had sliced them up, but hadn’t actually killed them.
[Zombie (Greater) Raised!]
[Undead Mastery (I) Proficiency increased to 19%!]
“Not the most dignified battle cry, but good enough,” Sylver said, mostly to himself as the giant monster leaned its head down towards him, and Sylver jumped on.
It almost lost its balance and toppled over, but the tail acted as a counterweight, and the monster remained on its overly large feet.
“Alright… Win… Lo… Ty… Tyre… Typh…”
“Texas,” Ria whispered.
“Texas,” Sylver said.
[Zombie (Greater)] has received the name [Texas]]
[Requirements for evolution not met.]
“Onwards, Texas! To victory!” Sylver shouted, and pointed towards the center, as the giant fire-breathing lizard started to barrel through the trees and roots as if they weren’t even there.
Sylver sat down and got comfortable, as he watched more and more floating drones appear out of seemingly nowhere and follow after him.
“There are 12 climbers left,” Rouge said, from one of the drones.
“They’re dropping like flies, huh? Well if everyone had to face something like Texas over here, I can understand that,” Sylver said, as he gently patted the monster’s head that he was currently sitting on, while it sent chips and splinters of wood flying everywhere.
Sylver gave himself a few minutes to rest and recuperate before he started using [Morbid Mushroom] to figure out what he could do with the small piece of lichen he had found while fighting Texas.
Sylver wasn’t going to go straight for deadly airborne fungus, but if he could make something that would at least make it hard to breathe, it would be good enough for his current purposes, and abilities.
Actually, something that irritates the eyes would be better…