The collective of [Howres] erupted into a scream, sending their sound magic straight at me. I reeled back, clasping at my ears as a ripple went over my body. My Ring of Lesser Protection held out for a moment— just long enough for me to send a [Scorching Wave] at the [Queen Howre].
She halted her sound magic, letting me gather myself long enough to dash forward with a [Charge of Embers]. My attack knocked her off balance, but before I could follow up with [Fire Strike], the defenses from the ring dissipated— the sound magic from the [Howres] too overwhelming. I fell back to the ground and their queen dug back into the earth.
Why didn’t I go for them first? I thought, directing another wave of blue flames at them. My… [Passive - Deadly Instincts] made me go for her first. It must have recognized her as the bigger threat— perhaps if her sound magic had penetrated my ring’s magical aura, it would have hurt me. A lot.
The screeching of the [Howres] turned to cries as I easily took care of a dozen in a moment. But I felt the ground rumble once again before the [Queen Howre] popped back out of the earth. More Ground Cravers came with her— not just the sound magic variants, but a few sent bits of stone flying at me.
Another [Scorching Wave] swept over the monsters as the [Queen Howre] readied another scream. But as she opened her mouth, the world slowed. [Self Haste] activated, and I sped up towards the giant monster.
The sound magic blared and I found myself grimacing midstep, stumbling and ducking under a large clawed hand. Fire daggers appeared in both my hands and I tossed the first at her open mouth. The magic stopped coming and I leapt in the air, landing on her face and plunging the dagger as it shifted into a longsword into the side of her snout.
The [Queen Howre] screamed— this time in pain— and shook me off her. I landed lithely on the ground, leaving my weapon behind as she disappeared back underground. And in that brief reprieve, my body shifted.
A ripple ran through my body, arms growing longer and claws forming on my fingers. There was a crackle of pops as my back lengthened, then turned slightly crooked while horns sprouted from the side of my head. I heard a tear— although I ignored it, instead waiting for where the monster would come from next.
The ground ahead cracked, and in an instant I was looming over the [Queen Howre]. Her eyes widened as she saw me— her accompanying group of Ground Cravers screeching the moment they saw me— but I shrugged off the attack. Two [Fire Strikes] tore into her body, before she grabbed both my arms and held them to the side.
I pushed forward, trying to overpower her as wisps of flames flicked off my claws, but she was stronger than me. I felt myself giving ground, ears bleeding as the [Howres] continued their screaming. I scowled, taking a step back—
Then my back straightened and my mouth opened wide. Dozens of sharp teeth crunched down onto the face of the [Queen Howre]. She screeched, letting go of me before I sent her flying back with a fiery kick. I glanced down at the remaining [Howres] and incinerated them once and for all.
Then as the [Queen Howre] began to burrow back into the ground, the gray world around me blurred a bright blue. I reached the monster in an instant, tackling her with [Charge of Embers] and following her as she tried to escape.
Now Entering [Lair: Hole of Ground Cravers].
We both popped out over a narrow open space, not too far off from where I had been walking. So this is why you came, huh? I thought, jabbing a clawed hand into her open mouth before she could scream her sound magic again.
I pushed her off me and she fell to the ground with a hard crash. [Self Haste] had run out before I used [Charge of Embers], so everything was moving normally now. And yet, the [Queen Howre] picked herself up slowly— too slowly.
I landed on the ground just ahead of her, crouching with my hands pressed on the floor. I cocked my head as I saw the monster back up, covering something behind her.
“What are you doing?”
The [Queen Howre] didn’t respond. Instead, I heard a dozen tiny screams— no, cries. I stood up straight and tried to peer around her shoulder from where I stood. I saw tiny figures, squirming and wailing as the [Queen Howre] stood over them.
“Are those… your infants? Infant Ground Cravers?”
She just stared at me. Her eyes fixed to whatever little movement I made. I sighed.
“When I shouted, I wasn’t trying to attack your Lair. You were the one that came at me first.”
What would Edithe have done in this situation? Probably kill the [Queen Howre]. Humans don’t like monsters very much. But I wasn’t a Human— especially with the way I was currently. I like this form, but…
I glanced down at my white figure. My clothes had been ripped apart by the transformation. They weren’t completely gone— however I didn’t think Daniel or Edithe would have approved of it regardless.
“I really want the experience, you know? But I came here to test out my Skills more than anything. Levels— evolving— while nice, isn’t everything. So if you really want, I’ll just leave you and your infants alone, ok?”
The [Queen Howre] eyed me cautiously. She tilted her head as if she was considering what I saw. Then she opened her mouth—
And more sound magic blared. I reeled back for a moment before clicking my teeth.
I dashed forward on all four, dodging the sound magic as it came at me. I leapt to the side and pushed myself off the wall before landing on the [Queen Howre]. She screamed— then stopped as my claws dug into her throat.
The large monster struggled, trying to pry me off her, but I continued tearing into her. Until finally, she stopped moving.
Defeated [Howre - Lvl. 24]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 10 levels below you!
Defeated [Queen Howre - Lvl. 61]!
More experience is awarded for defeating an enemy at least 20 levels above you!
Cleared [Lair: Hole of Ground Cravers]!
Experience is awarded for clearing a Lair!
Subspecies [Midday Changeling] Level Up!
[Midday Changeling – Lvl. 41] -> [Midday Changeling – Lvl. 42]
Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!
Subspecies [Midday Changeling] Level Up!
[Midday Changeling – Lvl. 42] -> [Midday Changeling – Lvl. 43]
Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!
The infant Ground Cravers continued their wailing while I spent my Stat Points as I did before— 3 for [Agility] and 2 for [Endurance] with each level. I looked over my Skill Points, unsure of what to do. I still wanted to see what [Ignition] did, but [Charge of Embers] was useful.
The only thing I could think of replacing was [Flame Coat]. And that wasn’t because it wasn’t a good Skill per se, but something told me that [Ignition] was a similar Skill to it.
It was then I made a rash decision. I replaced [Flame Coat] with [Ignition], permanently losing the former Skill. I lifted a hand and spoke softly.
And an aura of flames engulfed me. The brilliant blue fire lit up the dark room, covering me entirely. It was like a [Flame Coat] except… I don’t need to anchor the flames on something.
My body was the anchor, and it did not burn me nor my clothes. I let the fire dissipate and tried concentrating it onto my dark cloak. Unfortunately, it did not work. So I can’t set other things on fire anymore, but I can set myself on fire. Considering that most of what I did with [Flame Coat] was just lighting my clothes on fire to protect myself, it seemed like a good trade off. Especially when I was not in my Mortal Form.
I glanced down at the tattered clothing— at my Demonic self. And I sighed.
“Now I’ve got to wait an hour to do anything else.”
Helen wasn’t sure why she found herself worrying about the silver haired girl from yesterday. According to both Jaakko and Zack, she was famous?
The [Archer] wasn’t really sure. She did not keep up with current events. However, she had seen what Salvos could do, and she could definitely hold her own in the Dungeon. So why was Helen worried?
Perhaps it was because Salvos was young. She might have been high leveled— she might have even had a rare Class. But that only made Helen more worried. That will only make her more reckless. And one mistake can cost any Gold Rank their life. A thought crossed her mind, but she shook it away.
So Helen had insisted to her team that they left for the Dungeon as soon as they woke up the next day. And much to Zack’s chagrin, they were back down in Silkfall’s Crevice as the sun was rising.
“I don’t get you, Helen. Salvos— uh, I mean Miss Salvos is a veteran adventurer. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing when she says she can take care of herself.”
“But you don’t know that, Zack. You saw how she acted yesterday— she’s kind of… naive? Innocent. I think she might have lived a sheltered life.”
“Are you saying she’s a noble?”
Jaakko spoke up, the first time during the entire argument on the way down the Dungeon.
“I am not too aware of your Human customs, but I have been taught by my people that your nobility tends to be… strict with their children.”
Helen chewed her lower lip.
“Maybe… look, I’m not saying anything. I don’t want to speculate on her background— we just met, after all.”
“What do you suggest we do then? We can’t babysit a runaway noble girl the entire time— especially one as capable as her. We’ve got to get to Elutra, remember? We signed a contract. I don’t even know why we stopped by this stupid Dungeon in the first place.”
The Cyclops frowned, looking at the haughty brown haired [Mage].
“You know as well as I do that we can’t leave until we confirm whether there is a Centinels Lair.”
Helen grimaced. If there really is a Centinels Lair like the rumor says… I just hope Salvos doesn’t stumble into one. The [Archer] sighed, finding herself twiddling with her blonde bangs falling down the side of her face. She clicked her tongue and caught herself. Stupid bad habits, she thought, readjusting the band keeping her hair tied together in a bun. Even after two decades of adventuring, you still do this.
The group of Gold Ranked adventurers continued their descent in silence… apart from Zack’s occasional complaints. Helen however, no longer indulged him. It was a few hours of walking and fighting off the small groups of Giant Spiders until they came across anything else.
“Do you hear that?”
Helen turned to her teammates. Both exchanged a look.
“We don’t have your [Enhanced Hearing] Skill, Helen. What do you hear?”
“It sounds like… fighting. Up ahead!”
Could it be Salvos? Helen wasn’t sure. But she found herself dashing forward, both relieved and worried for the silver haired girl.
Jaakko and Zack were a step behind her, and that might have been a good thing. Because when Helen turned the corner, she found herself staring. For a moment. Then her face turned red as she spun around back to the two men right behind her.
“Stop! Stop where you are!”
The Cyclops stopped in his tracks, but the dumb [Mage] walked a few more steps forward while blinking.
Before he could turn the corner, Helen whipped out her bow and nocked an arrow. She pointed it at him, glaring.
“I said stop!”
“Woah, alright! Calm down, Helen.”
He backed up, raising his hands placatingly. Helen herself had her back to what she saw, her cheeks still burning at the sight. She didn’t even turn around when the familiar voice called out.
“Helen? Is that you? And Jaakko and Zack too.”
“Salvos— yes, it’s us!”
“Oh, good. Uh… can I borrow some clothes?”
The blonde woman sighed, slowly turning around. Zack’s eyes widened and he backed up even more, face turning red as he realized what was just around the corner.
“Yes. I have a spare.”
Helen cast a sidelong glance back at Zack, muttering under her breath.
“And you wonder why I was worried…”
“I think I see your point now, yes.”