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83. Observations

“Are we ready?”

I asked Daniel the question as he glanced back one last time to the camp we had set up just outside of the rocky canyons in the Motharis Mountain Range. Slinging his bag over his shoulder, he turned back to me.

“I think so.”

He had his long sword sheathed on his waist, with a hand resting on its hilt. I nodded back at him.

“Then let’s go.”

We started making our way back in the direction of the Brilsum Ruins; the Platinum Rank Dungeon was not too far away, however, if we took our time getting there, it would still take a few hours to arrive. So, we made haste.

Daniel and I navigated through the deep gorges of the canyon, making sharp turns as we quickly headed back to the entrance to the Dungeon. It only took us an hour— with Daniel’s slower pace— to get there.

If we had sprinted full speed, we would have arrived far sooner. But we were also being wary— cautious of any Mindreapers that might have been scouring the canyon for any monsters to attack in their sleep. I didn’t think that was how they operated, but without any observations, I could not come to any proper conclusion.

Climbing up to the top of the stark, white rubble in this orange, barren landscape, Daniel and I found ourselves staring down at the Brilsum Ruins once again. The sight was familiar— a broken city, hundreds of Gold Rank monsters and hundreds more of weaker monsters, and Mindreapers leading them.

They marched up and down the streets, lumbering like the mindless, sleeping creatures they were. I went prone on the ground next to Daniel and faced him.

“Anything stands out to you?”

“Not really. Looks exactly the same as yesterday.”

“Mindreapers do need to sleep, right?”

“...maybe?”

If they didn’t need sleep— I would both be glad and be disappointed. Disappointed because it would probably make it that much more difficult for us to sneak through the Brilsum Ruins undetected. But glad because at least something in the Mortal Realm was capable of fending off the mighty bodily needs that dominated monsters, animals, and sapient creatures alike!

We both lay there, trying to stay out of view, and observed the movements of the Mindreapers and those under their control. The throngs of monsters generally did nothing but follow after the Mindreapers. And that meant keeping to the periphery of the Brilsum Ruins.

At first, I thought it was a coincidence— that the Mindreapers stayed away from what looked like the inner part of the city. They kept to the edge— close to where the crater started to incline up to the rest of the canyon. Where broken walls lay fallen and crumbled, having been broken by a great [Hero], then eroded over time.

The streets they filled were limited to beyond the second set of broken walls— the ones forming a circle around the center of the city. These walls had not been fully collapsed: part of it had been felled, taken by nature or by magic, but some of it remained standing. They white sheen they had were familiar, although they were now dusted over to a dirty gray color.

Banclite.

The very same kinds of minerals that made up the walls protecting Viechester. I pointed it out to Daniel who had been focusing on a group led by a Mindreaper flying particularly close to us, but had already gone off to patrol somewhere else.

“Banclite. It says here in Edithe’s notes that that’s where the Minotaurs are supposed to be.”

“So the Mindreapers are scared of the Minotaurs then.”

“Possibly.”

“Maybe they want to take the rest of the Dungeon for themselves? That’s why they’re building a monster army.”

Furrowing his brows, Daniel got up and began to climb back down from our elevated position. I followed after him with a raised brow.

“Where are you going?”

“Not comfortable with talking so close to them. But that is a possibility. I find it unlikely though.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because Mindreapers are supposed to be solitary monsters. Why would so many of them be working together?”

“I dunno.”

I raised my shoulders in a shrug.

“How are they able to control monsters with their mind magic?”

“I’m not sure. But I think something else is aiding them. To enhance their magic and use their own magic to achieve this.”

“Then maybe that other thing is also making them work together.”

I helpfully suggested. Daniel’s face twisted and he glanced back up where we came from. He was staring at the white rubble, but I knew he was actually looking at the city— imagining its layout.

“And that’s what I’m worried about. Come on, let’s get back up there. I can stay awake until noon comes… I think.”

—--

Daniel and I continued observing the movements of the Mindreapers, even as dawn came, opening the curtain of night, and bringing with it the light of the sun. A warm glow once again settled over the orange canyons. The high cliffs and tall plateaus behind us were a beautiful and unique sight. To see something so empty of life while not in the Netherworld… I was amazed by it.

However, my focus stayed on the Brilsum Ruins; my eyes were locked on the Mindreapers. And sure enough, even throughout the morning, the powerful mind mages kept to the outer part of the city. Despite the inner city’s walls being broken and damaged— where they could have easily crossed through it— they remained moving in haphazard directions away from it.

It was almost noon, and Daniel was yawning now, starting to get tired. I was going to suggest that we go back, having gathered what I thought was enough for us to attempt our first sneak through the city tomorrow. Until something strange happened.

A Mindreaper to the western part of the city suddenly stopped moving. The monsters following it halted in their tracks too, turning their heads in the same direction that the Mindreaper was looking. Then they all collapsed to the ground. Every Gatho Mammoth, Ground Craver, and Rancors were now just lying there where they once stood.

Narrowing my eyes, I nudged Daniel to draw his attention to it.

“What are they doing?”

“I don’t know. But I think they’re still alive.”

“How do you know?”

I shrugged and turned back to the Mindreaper. It was slowly floating higher and higher up until it was at an even altitude with Daniel and I. The two of us immediately shrunk back, obscuring ourselves slightly behind the rubble.

“What is it—”

The Mindreaper shot forward. It flew as fast as the Mindreaper attacking us had been, far faster than the other slow floating Mindreapers who were still aimlessly traversing the city.

Becoming nothing more than a speck in the distance, I watched as the Mindreaper suddenly came to a halt, the dot in the sky no longer getting any further. I frowned as Daniel opened his mouth. Before he could ask his question, I gave an answer.

“It’s doing what that Mindreaper controlling you had been doing.”

The Human man gave me a blank look, until slowly, his eyes grew wide. Realization sunk in and he spoke for me.

“It’s going to find more monsters to bring back.”

“Yep.”

I eyed the Mindreaper, so far away, and yet its presence felt so close; if it spotted us from there, we would have to flee the collective attack of the monster army down in the Brilsum Ruins below. But we couldn’t just leave or sink back into the crevices and cracks, hiding away from sight. We wouldn’t be able to see them either. And we had to make sure it was doing what I thought it was. It was risky, and I was willing to take the risk.

Daniel held still, waiting with bated breath for the Mindreaper to make its return. Sure enough, it did. Following it was a flock of [Vurats]. The low leveled flying creatures that feasted on the corpses of the dead, refusing to fight without provocation. Then its horde of monsters rose, still asleep and moving against their will.

I thought that was it. My suspicions had been confirmed. I was willing to take that information for now and return to our little camp. But just as I pulled away to leave, the [Vurats] plunged themselves straight down at the Gold Rank threats. They charged straight at the gargantuan monsters and small monsters alike. I stared as this happened.

For a moment, I thought they managed to break free from the Mindreaper’s sleep spell. But I realized soon after that it was a command by the Mindreaper. It watched callously as the weak winged creatures were torn apart, dozens of them all killed by the monsters in its horde.

“Why’s it doing that?”

Daniel frowned, watching the massacre go on. He turned to me, speaking angrily.

“It could have grown its horde, but it sent them to die.”

“It wants its stronger monsters to level. We saw that yesterday, didn’t we?”

“But that wasn’t planned! This was methodical. It just went straight to a bunch of lower leveled monsters and killed them.”

Glancing back at Daniel, I gave him a puzzled look. I quizzically arched a brow.

“Isn’t that what you adventurers do? You exterminate monsters in their Lairs, in their Dungeons, in their homes. This doesn’t seem any different.”

“But we do it because they’re a threat!”

I raised a clawed finger, covering his mouth.

“You’re talking too loud. And only some of you do it because they’re a threat. Other adventurers aren’t as kind. Or do you think Stephen is the kind of Platinum Rank who goes about fighting monsters for the sole purpose of helping people?”

“I…”

He hesitated. I eyed the last of the [Vurats] as they were killed, then watched the Mindreaper resume its patrolling of the outer city. I hopped down from the rubble, gesturing for Daniel to follow.

“I think that’s all we needed to see today. It seems like they don’t sleep. So we’re going to have to test how far their reach goes now.”

Daniel slowly followed after me, a scowl stickered onto his face. Patting him on the shoulder, I smiled reassuringly at him.

“That means you can sleep!”

—--

We found a small alcove about halfway between our camp and the Brilsum Ruins which I thought would be a good place for Daniel to try to rest in. The Human man closed his eyes and lay there. I expected him to instantly pass out, tired and exhausted from staying up for so long. However instead, he began tossing and turning, flipping his bedroll around and even resting his head on his own arm then both his arms.

“What are you doing?”

I finally snapped at him. He creaked one eye open.

“Trying to sleep.”

“Why can’t you just sleep already?”

“It’s not that easy!”

He harrumphed and flipped around, facing away from me. Crossing my arms, I plopped myself to the ground with a huff.

“He keeps talking about sleep but when he gets to sleep he can’t even do it…”

Eventually, Daniel did fall into slumber. The Human man’s breathing slowed as he lay there in his bedroom, unmoving. Getting up, I glanced around the outside of the alcove to see if any Mindreaper was nearby. None so far.

Waiting patiently for an hour, I finally decided that the test was a success and that at this distance, no Mindreaper was going to control him. I was wrong.

Two hours later, as I was in the middle of identifying a strange, multicolored rock, Daniel stood up with his eyes closed and began marching down the canyon, towards the Brilsum Ruins. Sighing, I activated [Zealous Call] and drew an angry [Hero] towards me. As I began backing up, dodging his crazed swings, a notification popped up in my head.

General Skill [Title Skill: Zealous Call] Level Up!

[Title Skill: Zealous Call - Lvl. 1] -> [Title Skill: Zealous Call - Lvl. 2]!

Experience is awarded for the leveling of a General Skill!

I blinked.

Huh, I wonder what that does.

Apparently, it meant that it aggroed its target for a longer period of time— doubling it to 20 seconds. Which made me have to dodge an angry [Hero’s Slash] from Daniel before the Title Skill’s effects wore off. But it also felt like I could control its targets better; not entirely choosing who it affected, but so that it wasn’t just all encompassing like before.

Then when my companion returned to his senses, he took a moment to assess his surroundings. His gaze swept over the canyon, stopping only at the large blade-shaped hole on the side of the rock wall.

“Uh…”

“Yeah, you can’t use your super [Hero] Skill.”

“Oh.”

He gave me a hesitant look.

“Does this mean we have to go to the Dungeon now?”

Rubbing at my temples like Edithe, I gestured for him to follow me. I picked up his bedroll and his fake Bag of Holding, and headed in the opposite direction the thin stream of water was running towards.

“Come on, let’s go back. Get you your full rest. Then we’ll try and sneak into the Brilsum’s Ruins tomorrow.”

The Human man sighed in relief. He spoke in English.

“Thank god.”

 

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