32. Monster Lair
“It’s a nest.”
“Don’t you mean it’s a Lair?”
“Same thing, different meanings.”
“And what’s the difference?”
I looked curiously at Edithe. The Human woman did not retort. She did not flinch when she faced me. Although she did hesitate a little.
“Nests are dangerous. Lairs aren’t necessarily so.”
“Then I guess we should fight everything inside!”
Daniel spoke up from behind me. I frowned, turning back to him.
“What does that mean?”
“You’re not as unpredictable as I initially thought.”
“And is that a bad thing?”
I peered at him with a raised brow; he smiled back at me. He replied in a cheerful tone, almost reminiscent of the way I spoke.
I nodded slowly, not sure what to think of that. I had been observing the two Humans and how they acted for a while, but now they were starting to… change. They were more at ease with me? Which seemed like a good thing at first, until I realized I wasn’t sure how to interpret their reactions or words any longer.
“Good. Now let’s take care of this nest.”
I opted for dealing with what was ahead of us.
Now Entering [Lair: Shade Swarmers Nest].
“That’s a lot of them. We draw them out, funnel them through the exit!”
Edithe stepped back as Mistshard began preparing dozens of small ice spikes with her magic. The [Summoner] turned to Druma as the [Yaksha] positioned himself by the entryway.
“[Boost Stat: Vitality]. Pull back if they overwhelm you— I see some evolved forms there!”
Sure enough, flying amongst the swirling red mass in the cavern hall ahead were some different colored bats. [Azure Bats]. I had only seen one in the time we had been in the Dungeon, and she had been Level 41.
I readied myself for the incoming swarm, activating [Flame Coat] on my cloak as well as slipping on the fully-charged Ring of Lesser Protection onto my finger. Daniel stood next to the Druma with his sword drawn as Edithe raised her staff.
The explosion blew apart the first wave, before the second was frozen solid by Mistshard. The third was met by the two men standing in front as I stood behind them, cutting down those that slipped through.
Supposedly, this nest would have been dangerous to nearby Human settlements if it was allowed to grow in size. As it was currently, it was quite small. And yet, there were over a hundred of them flying and zipping all around us in this cave.
[Fire Blasts] took down groups of weaker [Crimson Bats], but the [Azure Bats] proved to be the real difficulty with exterminating this nest. One of them came down at me, clawing at my face with a feral rage. I struck back, but she was quick. Faster than even I was.
However I was stronger than her. All I had to do was touch her once, and it was over. I grabbed her by the wing and flung her to the ground. I stamped a [Fire Strike]-powered foot onto her body before I tore her apart.
Then more Shade Swarmers came, more [Crimson Bats] died, and the last of the [Azure Bats] fell to their death.
Defeated [Crimson Bat - Lvl. 16]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels under you!
Defeated [Azure Bat - Lvl. 44]!
More experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels above you!
Cleared [Lair: Shade Swarmers Nest]!
Experience is awarded for clearing a Lair!
Subspecies [Zelus Imp] Level Up!
[Zelus Imp – Lvl. 32] -> [Zelus Imp – Lvl. 33]
Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!
Over a hundred monsters lay dead on the floor all around me, and yet I only gained a single level. Each [Crimson Bat] already gave me less experience due to our level difference, but that was exacerbated even more by my party’s help.
Only the [Azure Bats] and clearing the Lair truly helped me in reaching my next level, however there were only a few dozen of them. So I only leveled once.
I evaluated my Status and found both my [Vitality] and [Strength] to have finally reached a decent amount. An amount that I was satisfied with. So I decided to return to divvying my Stat Points evenly between [Wisdom] and [Endurance], sparing the last for [Agility].
I split my 3 Skill Points between [Basic Fire Creation], [Passive - General Tool Proficiency], and [Fire Blast]— the last of which I finally maxed out at Level 20. For the future, I was going to add 2 Skill Points to [Basic Fire Creation] and only 1 Skill Point for my passive Skill. It was thanks to that Skill I was able to use my fire bow, even if I could only hit still targets.
With that finished, I turned back to Edithe who I found entering the Lair which was no longer a ‘Lair’. The words that had hung in my head indicating it was one disappeared. Now it was just any other cave chamber connected to the Dungeon tunnel.
“What are you doing?”
I called out to her as she glanced about. She paused as she caught sight of a group of stalagmites in the corner. She rushed over to it as I followed behind her, before Daniel decided to join us. He was clearly confused too.
The Human woman made a sound.
“Aha! There is it.”
“Did you find something?”
“Is it more monsters?”
I added excitedly, standing on the tip of my toes as I tried to glance over her shoulder. Edithe shook her head as she gestured at the strange white objects lying next to a pile of worn out items.
“Eggs. A lot of them. And some loot too— they must’ve stolen it off the corpses that fell to the crevice.”
“Oh, I can store them in my, uh, Bag of Hol... but eggs?”
The Human man furrowed his brows. He frowned as he looked at the dozens of round shapes resting on the rocks.
“Bats don’t lay eggs.”
Edithe blinked, then shook her head.
“Well it doesn’t matter. These aren’t bats. They’re Shade Swarmers. And they lay eggs. I’ll burn them once we grab everything valuable here.”
I watched as the two Humans began grabbing for the pile; they tossed some of the items aside while putting others inside of Daniel’s bag. He held it close to himself as he did so, picking up a rusted hammer with a scowl. He was about to throw it aside when I stopped him.
“I want that.”
I pointed at it. He paused, staring at the hammer then at me.
“It’s just a regular hammer used for building. Why do you want it?”
“Because I want it!”
I snatched the hammer off his hands as he shrugged.
I scurried off to the side while the Humans did their thing— I waited for them as I inspected the hammer with keen interest. It was small. The wooden handle rested easily on the palm of my hand, and the head was not too heavy. It was… exactly what I needed!
I raised my other hand and activated [Basic Fire Creation] with a grin.
Edithe stared at the fire hammer I was holding up and blinked.
“You made that?”
“I did! Now I can use something other than a fire dagger to fight!”
The Human woman rubbed at her temples as Daniel glanced between the two of us.
“Why are you sighing, Edithe?”
“Come on, Daniel. Don’t you recognize that? It’s a creation Skill.”
I turned to her.
“What’s wrong with a creation Skill?”
“There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just… very rare. For a [Mage] without a creation Skill to learn any kind of creation magic, it would take years. Decades even. It’s no wonder you’re so strong, Salvos, even for a Demon.”
I perked up at the praise, twirling the hammer in my hand with my tool Skill as I giggled.
“Of course! I’m not just a Demon, after all! I’m Salvos!”
“Starting to warm up to her, are you Edithe? I didn’t expect you to compliment a Demon.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
The Human woman scoffed, turning away from me. Not that I noticed. I was busy smiling with my chin raised as I marched down the tunnel ahead.
“I was just pointing out how dangerous Salvos is. Nothing more.”
“So you haven’t changed your mind about her yet? Even after fighting alongside her. Even after she helped save your life against those bandits?”
“We’re only allies of circumstance, Daniel. That is all. Our enemy is Lucerna, and we will work together until he is dead. Then we’ll probably never see or speak to each other ever again.”
I stopped midstep, halting my alacrity as I had a thought. I heard Daniel sigh as I turned slowly. Then I looked at Edithe.
She had an uncomfortable look on her face. I cocked my head.
I paused, trying to figure out the question I had in my head; I never thought about it when I first met her, just like I had with Daniel. But now, for whatever reason, I was curious.
“Why do you want to kill Lucerna?”
The Human woman drew her lips to a thin line as her face twisted. She hesitated, then spoke simply.
“I told you, didn’t I? It’s for revenge.”
“Why what? Why do I want revenge?”
I nodded. Edithe took in an exasperated breath as she realized what I was asking her. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to know the answer to this. However, after observing her— as I had observed Daniel— I had to know.
“Why do you want anything, Salvos? Why do you want to level? Why do you want to go back to the Netherworld?”
I replied instantly.
“I want to level because with each level, I become more complete. I want to go back to the Netherworld because my companion is there, and I don’t want to lose him.”
She took a step back, not expecting me to answer so quickly. She was about to retort, but stopped herself. She stood there for a moment, not saying anything as I stared at her with a tilted head. Eventually, she spoke softly.
“That [Djinn]... Lucerna… killed my friends. My Spirits. My partners. And yet, I lived. Even though we faced him together, I survived.”
Edithe cast her gaze up to the ceiling, a morose look passing through her face.
“I couldn’t protect them. They protected me— Paul saved me. He loved me, and he died for me. Then I froze up. I couldn’t do anything. And Hana took me away as that Demon overwhelmed us. As it slaughtered the rest of them, then finally Hana herself.”
Each word she spoke was mixed with grief and regret; the bitter look on her face was only directed at herself, and no one else.
“It was my fault we lost. It was my fault they died. And yet, I am the only one still here. If I can’t avenge my friends— if I can’t stop that Demon’s rampage— then what reason did I have to live?”
I slowly took this in. I said nothing, remembering Daniel’s annoyance at my reaction to him. I simply listened.
“Why else did I have to live?”
Silence hung over our party as we walked down the tunnel, only the footsteps echoing against the rock walls made any sound. We quietly continued through the Dungeon, sadness on Edithe’s face, a longing look on Daniel’s, and a thoughtful expression written on mine as I parsed this information.
Humans were weird.