In a single motion, my companion— Daniel, the [Hero]— drew his long sword and sliced it in my direction. It was so sudden, I actually didn’t react in time. I tried to take a step back. But his swing connected— and an aura flickered around me.
My Ring of Lesser Protection absorbed the hit, yet I still stumbled away from the force from the attack. I glanced up at him, eyes wide for a moment. I opened my mouth.
Then I saw his stance change. His sword blurred as he activated one of his Skills. It was then I broke out of my stupor.
I flipped over my Human companion, landing lithely at his back. I swiped at his legs with a [Fire Strike], aiming not to kill him but to incapacitate him. The Human man took the brunt of the blow with a grunt— my claws dug in only slightly, drawing only some blood.
“You have a high [Vitality], huh?”
I remarked as his blade dragged on the ground before coming up at me. I leapt back, then bounded to the cliff face to my left, before pouncing on him with a [Charge of Embers].
This attack proved to be far more effective, throwing him in the air, covered with burns and cuts. He splashed into the running stream as I waited with bated breath. He was alive, right? I didn’t think it was enough to kill him, however it should have woken him up—
A glowing, curved blade shot out towards me. It cut split the water and cut the earth, just barely missing me. I growled.
“Are you serious—”
The [Hero] burst out of the water, both hands gripped on his blade. His eyes were still snapped shut. No amount of damage I had dealt to him enough to force him awake. He was under a spell! I knew he was. I hadn’t seen it before, however now I saw a slight ripple in the mana around him. Perhaps it was because now he wasn’t just being controlled to move, but to fight too.
And while I was angry that he could fall for such magic, I wasn’t going to kill him. He was my companion. Just as Haec had been.
I placed both my claws on the ground, preparing myself for his charge. The Human man sprinted at me, swinging wildly like a wild Demon would. I dodged his attacks, pivoting around him before punching him in the face. His head snapped back, but he once again came forward.
I clenched my fist, finding my sharp claws dig slightly into the palm of my hand.
“Why won’t you wake up?! I told you sleeping is stupid!”
I yelled and sent a [Scorching Wave] at him. He could have split the magical attack in half. I knew he was capable of that. But instead, he slid under the flames and swept for my legs. Just as he went under the blue fire, the world sped up. [Self Haste] ended and he tripped me. I watched the world turn before a fist collided with my chest.
I flew back and crashed onto the side of the canyon’s wall. Once again, there was a flicker around me— then a flash. The Ring of Lesser Protection no longer worked.
“Stupid ring. You used to be so good. Now you suck!”
It was probably due to the fact that I was higher leveled now. Still, I wanted to complain because I was frustrated.
I dug a claw onto the rock wall as I picked myself up. I glared at him.
“Fine. If you want to fight for real.”
I let out a light growl. Right now, he was coming at me with the Skill and skills he normally would have. But if I can get him to act wildly for a moment…
Chains appeared on my left hand, and a sickle on my right. The fire kusarigama— my most recent creation— rested there. I would have to tie Daniel up. He was strong, so I knew he could break the fire metal. This was, however, the bet plan I could think of at the moment.
My growl turned to a shriek as I activated [Zealous Call]. It was almost like the roar of a Drake.
The Title Skill shook the canyon as I prepared for his advance. He took another step forward— and his eyes snapped open.
Daniel faced me with a wild gaze. Mad and full of anger. Then he rushed me and I spread the chains wide. I threw it at his blade, catching it at the hilt as he raised the long sword. I tried to pull it down, fulcrum on my side, but he was still strong.
He stood his ground and pulled it back as I grit my teeth—
Then the Skill ended. [Zealous Call] was over. He now could revert back to his skilled [Hero] self. He relaxed his grip of the blade as I tried to use that as my chance to pull it away from him. And he blinked.
“Salvos— what… what are you doing? Where am I?”
He looked around, at a loss. I stared at him as he rubbed at his eyes.
“Are we… fighting?”
I said nothing. I only walked up to him slowly, letting go of the chains of the kusarigama. The heavy fire links dropped to the ground with a thud as his eyes wandered around in a state of confusion. He looked at the weapon and frowned.
“You finally made a kusarigama— but wait…”
I got closed to him and raised a hand. His eyes grew wide as I reached for him. He reflexively flinched.
And I pulled him into a hug.
“I’m so glad.”
I sighed, feeling my shoulders sag. My companion’s mouth opened and closed slowly. He worked his jaw.
“I-I’ll have to admit, I don’t know what’s going on. But being hugged by you while in this form isn’t as frightening as I thought it would be.”
Slowly, I let go of him. I beamed at him as he gave me an uneasy smile back. I placed both my hands on his shoulder, sighing once again. He hesitated.
“That was nice…?”
I nodded eagerly.
“I thought I was going to have to kill you.”
“...and I just wandered off? In my sleep?”
The Human man took a deep breath and sat down against the side of the canyon; I sat next to him— not reverting back to my Mortal Form since I had no reason to pretend to be Human now— and slumped my shoulders.
“I wasn’t sure what to do. There was some kind of magic taking hold of you. I didn’t notice it— it was very well hidden. Only when we began to fight could it no longer hide itself.”
As upset as Daniel had been knowing that I was prepared to kill him if the worst came to the worst, I was probably even less happy about it than him. He’s my companion, I can’t just do that! But he was strong too. And if it were between him and I living or dying? I would choose to save myself.
My stomach twisted at the thought, despite knowing it was what I would do. It did not instill any joy in me knowing that I had been close to killing Daniel— even if I hadn’t yet given up on incapacitating him. Still, I had to know what caused this.
“What kind of magic do you think could have done this?”
“If I had to guess?”
He rubbed a cloth dipped in healing potion on his back— where I had cut him earlier— and winced.
“It’s probably mind magic.”
“That’s a thing?!”
I stared at him, aghast. He nodded grimly.
“It’s a terrible kind of magic. Banned from being taught by most magical academies. But it’s not illegal to use. Not like necromancy or Demon summoning magicks.”
“And what does it do— can it… take over your mind?”
A terrible feeling crept up my shoulder. The fear of losing myself to someone else struck deep into my very bones. If I even had bones like Humans did. I was pretty sure my bones were black and sturdier than theirs were.
Daniel, however, reassured me that wasn’t possible.
“No. Nothing that drastic. Even the greatest Elf mind mages in history can’t outright rid you of your free will. In fact, mind magic is a lot better used for offensive attacks since it can’t be blocked by most forms of protections.”
“But you were not waking up and fighting me in your sleep.”
I pointed out. He nodded.
“That I was. And if I had to guess, that means there was more than just mind magic at play. I believe the mind magic was what kept me asleep. Something else moved my body.”
Daniel furrowed his brows. He placed a hand on his chin as he thought long and hard, trying to remember something.
“I had… been dreaming. It was a nightmare. Where I was fighting some kind of feral beast.”
“...was that feral beast me?”
I pointed a finger at myself. He exhaled.
“I didn’t want to call you that, but yes. I think that it was you who showed up in my dream.”
“It’s better than being a weak Human. At least I’ll have the potential to evolve better!”
My companion ignored the comment, choosing instead to mull over the possibilities on how he had been taken over.
“I don’t think there is a kind of dream magic. Maybe… some kind of curse magic? Or illusion magic.”
“It’s a combination then. Mind magic to keep you asleep and some kind of magic that controls your dreams to direct your actions.”
“Right. And it had to be two powerful entities working together to achieve that.”
I stood up and paced before the small fire I had set down— another fire ball— to keep us warm. The night was ending, and the sun was beginning to peak over the horizon. I paused and faced Daniel.
“Do you think it’s some kind of monster from the Dungeon? Or some kind of Fairy magic?”
“I’m not sure. The Dungeon is simply listed as a Platinum Rank Dungeon due to the Minotaurs that had taken over the center part of the ruined city. The rest of the city is said to be crawling with other high Gold or low Platinum monsters. But nothing else too specific. And Fairies are… elusive.”
“That is concerning.”
I tapped a clawed finger on my chin. The Human man agreed.
“So, we don’t know if this is a monster that’s stalking us doing this, and we don’t know where it’s trying to lead us to. And this means I can’t sleep until we get to the Dungeon.”
“Or you can’t sleep even when we get to the Dungeon, because if whatever is doing this to you is from the Dungeon…”
I trailed off, letting the implication hang. He understood it immediately and leaned back against the rock wall.
“Are you saying I can’t get sleep?”
“You shouldn’t need sleep in the first place!”
I shot him a smirk. But I glanced about the bright, orange gorge around us— I had compared it to the Netherworld before, but after getting a good look of it the night before, that thought was only further entrenched into me.
“I think we should find this monster, or these monsters, first. It’s not like we even know where the Dungeon is.”
“Hey, I know where it is! It’s in the center of this canyon!”
“And do you even know where the center of this canyon is? Because when I was up above last night, I couldn’t even tell where we came from.”
Daniel got up slowly, still tired and injured from the fight last night. Even with both healing potions and [Rest] combined, he was still slightly hurt. They weren’t close to cure-alls. Not without enough healing potion or enough time with [Rest], at least.
“So what do you suggest we do?”
Daniel glanced over at me, picking up his sword. I smiled innocently. Although my bared teeth did betray my intentions.
“It’s not that difficult. They do want us to find them, after all.”
“Oh, I’m going to be a bait.”
It was difficult, trying to keep Daniel awake for the rest of the day. He was a lazy Human who kept almost dozing off. But I had no idea if this magic would only take control of people sleeping at night, or those sleeping in the afternoon too. So, it was better to keep him awake.
I did everything I could. From splashing water at him to poking him with a flaming finger thanks to [Ignition]. He did not appreciate all these methods I worked through to help him, but eventually night fell and I could use [Zealous Call] again. All I had to do then was snap him out from his sleep when we were close to whatever monster it was.
The Title Skill seemed to override that magic, after all. Titles are good!
My companion dozed off, but he did not get up immediately. Instead, he stayed there, snoring, for what felt like two hours, before he suddenly got up and groggily made his way through the canyon.
I nodded to myself, please, and began to follow him.
He mindlessly navigated through this rock maze far better than he did when he was awake, making sharp turns and crossing through the river to get to his destination. The gaps between the cliffs grew narrower as the rock walls grew steeper. I could not scale them as easily as I had before, now.
Keeping a slight distance from Daniel, I stalked him through the misty night, following him as he walked through the haze, unimpeded. Finally, he reached an end to his path. What lay before him was a collapsed part of the canyon. Broken and fallen rocks barred his path— and atop it stood a creature.
A shadowed figure that waited for him to arrive. The monster that called him to his domained. I narrowed my eyes, trying to identify whatever it was from this distance, before I realized that the broken rocks weren’t rocks. In fact, they weren’t even from this canyon.
The translucent white obscured it at first, but I realized now the pale color of the rocks. Marble or limestone. Whatever it was, I recognized that it was a collapsed part of a building. I frowned as I followed closer, while Daniel climbed up to meet whoever it was that was leading him to it.
And finally, the words appeared in my head. The place we had been looking for. The destination I had been trying to reach.
Now entering [Dungeon: Brilsum Ruins].