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Chapter 49 - The Corruptor’s Realm III

Claire started creeping along the side of the tunnel as soon as the borrok-watcher turned its eye away from the entrance. Unlike the previous tunnel, which had been about four or five shoulders wide, the leveled path could fit over fifty. Staying out of sight would be easy as long as the bridge’s guard didn’t look directly at her.

Aiding her in the stealthy endeavour was a snowball. It started rather small, but soon grew to an impressive size as she pushed it through the corridor. She knew that it would only serve to expose her if she got too close. But from afar, its colour allowed it to blend into the background. The snowy globe wasn’t exactly necessary, but the less-than-cold environment made it so she didn’t want to wear her outermost layer and her thinner cloak was as brown as an autumn leaf.

That wasn’t to say that the halfbreed hated the heat. She much preferred it to the cold and even thought it rather comfortable. The sweat that accompanied it, however, was not. Her clothes were moist and sticky enough already; she didn’t want them to get any worse.

To both her fortune and annoyance, the guard rarely looked up. He spent most of his time fiddling with the large rock he had sitting on his knees. His scythe-tipped arms chipped away at it, bit by bit, as he slowly but surely turned the oval into a sculpture. The distinct metallic tapping seemed to give the impression that his body was hard as steel, but Claire wasn’t concerned. His massive eye was a weakness either way. And if sneaking around worked as well as planned, she would be able to use the oculus to enter the creature’s mind.

Once about halfway through the tunnel, Claire abandoned her snowball and switched to crawling along the ground. It took covering another half the remaining distance for the blueblood to finally enter the outer edges of her striking range.

Should I get closer?

Claire frowned as she set the watcher leg down. The weapon was too bulky, a surefire way to draw attention at best. A bone dagger was drawn in its place, but keeping it in hand was about as close as she got to actually attacking. The rogue wasn’t confident that she could land a hit from where she was, but neither did she think it safe to advance. She doubted that her hair and scales would suffice as camouflage.

What if I threw some snow into the lava? The rogue narrowed her eyes and focused on the area around the fiery river. No, that wouldn’t work. I don’t think it’d melt.

“Why is it so hot in here? My paws are sweating like no tomorrow.”

A voice came from one of the tunnels behind the halfbreed, accompanied by a corresponding pair of footsteps. The unexpected noises caught her off guard. Her whole body froze; she was only inches away from jumping out of her skin. After taking a moment to steady her nerves, she spun around, plastered herself against the snow, and pulled her cloak overhead. A tiny sliver was left between the garment and ground so she could look in the speaker’s direction, but nothing more. Her safety was already compromised enough.

Seeing the cause of her concern turn the corner nearly led the halfbreed to bash her face against the floor. He had a small frame that stood at about half her height and a bushy red tail as easily recognizable as her disproportionately well-endowed ears. It was the squirrel, the one she had kicked into the ether.

“Is that lava up ahead? No, no, it can’t be. No one’s ever said anything about Borrok Peak being a volcano.”

The rodent was murmuring under his breath as usual, a hand on his chin as he waddled through the tunnel on his hind legs. His posture seemed unnatural given the shape of his body, but the tree-dweller in question was acting as if it was the norm. His tail was the only thing keeping him balanced, swaying from left to right with every step he took.

Why is he here? I thought I got rid of him.

Though Claire found the rat’s muttering as clear as day, the one-eyed bug at the end of the tunnel had yet to notice him. It was still chipping away at its rock, completely engrossed in the mundane task. Seeing them one after the other, the halfbreed found herself arriving at the conclusion that they were somewhat similar; neither was aware of anything but themselves. And Claire, for one, hoped that it would stay that way. The veaber was an obnoxious imbecile whose company she was already more than sick of, and approaching the watcher seemed like a terrible idea from the get go. At the very least, she wanted to determine how he would react to individuals without any insectoid escorts before she interacted with him. In that regard, she was almost grateful for the self-centered nut-stasher’s advent. He was the perfect guinea pig.

The plan was perfect. The squirrel was on the opposite side of the pathway and his mind was clearly elsewhere. There was no way he would notice her, especially with her breath held.

Or so she thought.

All went downhill right as the rodent passed her position. He suddenly perked up and dashed over to her cloak, waving and shouting as he approached.

“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!” he said.

Claire didn’t respond, in part because she was surprised he noticed her, and in part because she had immediately come to the conclusion that ignoring him was for the best. To the watcher, whose attention the squirrel had already grabbed, it looked as if the loopy veaber was talking to a wall. And so long as she stayed perfectly still, that was unlikely to change.

But she was wrong. She had once again failed to account for the stupid rodent that was rapidly becoming the bane of her existance.

“Strange, she’s not saying anything. I wonder if she’s asleep.”

He grabbed ahold of her outermost cloak and pulled it right off, revealing her to the world and completely ridding her of any semblance of stealth.

“Oh, you are awake! You should’ve said something.”

The lunatic was completely unapologetic. He placed his hands on his hips and glowered at her, as if to imply that she was the one in the wrong.

Still unwilling to interact, Claire decided to tap into her serpentine instincts and play dead. She stayed perfectly still with her eyes kept half open and her arms and legs stiffened at her sides. Even her ears, which were notorious for moving around on their own, fell limp.

“Hello? You in there?” The veaber waved a paw in front of her face, only to scratch the back of his head after failing to elicit a response. “That’s weird. Maybe she’s lost in thought. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to wait.”

To Claire’s dismay, he plopped himself down right in front of her. His eyes settled on her face, clearly curious. The bottom half of her visage was obscured by the snow, but even so, there was more of her visible than there was during their first encounter. That, in and of itself, was not an issue. As a lady, she was used to being looked upon by those with the worst intentions. But somehow, the squirrel man’s leer disturbed her. Creepy old men had undressed her with their eyes for as long as she could remember, and yet, it took somehow every last drop of the halfbreed’s willpower for her to stop herself from shuddering beneath the veaber’s gaze.

The awkward staring contest lasted for ten whole minutes, ending only as the borrok-watcher departed his post and wandered to the hallway’s newest fittings.

“No stay.” It grunted as it glanced between the corpse and the squirrel. And after taking a moment to stare at Claire’s weaponised leg, it decided to address the latter. “Pay, go. Or leave.”

“I’d love to, but I have some business with her.”

“That?” The borrok prodded her with its foot. “That dead. No business.”

“She’s not dead. I can sense her heartbeat.”

“No! That dead. Leave now. Or pay go. Decide!”

“I’ll need a second to think it through.”

The squirrel put a hand on his chin, closed his eyes, and started mumbling something about probability. Claire took the opportunity to slowly shift her gaze to the goliath. It had looked like a watcher from afar, and now that it was right next to her, she found the impression growing ever stronger. Even the quality of its fur was the same, with the only key difference being that it was filthy and unkempt.

To the bluescale’s surprise, the cyclops proved relatively patient. He waited a whole minute or so before he started tapping his foot against the ground. Only after another passed did he give up and start screaming. “No more! Answer now!”

He turned his back to Claire and stepped towards the veaber with his scythes raised above his head and the legs on his back stretched outwards. The perfect opportunity. Both to fight, and to run. And it went without saying that the rogue chose the former.

She grabbed her bladed leg spear, coated it with rocket fuel as she kicked off the ground, and cleaved at the back of the beast’s neck.

The strike was true. Its power bolstered by Assassinate, the sharp crystalline blade ate through the monster’s flesh, ripped apart its spine, and tore its head straight off its body. A fountain of blood erupted from the stump, two separate streams of red and yellow that mixed and mingled as they spilled.

But it wasn’t dead.

A dark brown spear of flesh and chitin shot by Claire’s face, missing it by less than half an inch. Her ear would have been torn to bits like the piece of cloth covering it had she not instinctively raised it above her head. Five identical strikes followed, but they were further off target. They landed on the massive weapon that she was holding in front of her. Though reinforced by ice, the lance was unable to fully bear the weight of the bug-watcher’s attacks. The ice covering it shattered as its still frozen flesh was twisted apart.

Letting go of the makeshift shield, Claire leapt backwards and observed the undying behemoth. Its severed head was still moving. Its eye was swiveling and twitching around in its socket. After a brief delay and a hair-raising squelch, the pupil twisted towards the halfbreed. Six legs, much like the ones growing out of the monster’s back, sprouted from the bottom of its mutilated neck and granted the disjointed head the ability to move on its own. The freak’s body went through a similar process, with a large limb quickly sprouting from the supposedly fatal injury. There was no telling what was driving the mechanism, but one thing was clear. Killing the borrok-watcher was going to prove a lot more difficult than she first thought.

“What are you doing!?”

A confused shout came from behind the beast, but Claire ignored it. She focused instead on readying her blades for the clash to come. A sword was held in one hand, while the other sported her dagger in a reverse grip. She wanted to use her club, but the smaller weapons seemed like a necessity. She needed all the speed she could get if she was going to mount any semblance of a defense against all of its limbs.

The headless body was the first to move. It dashed at her with its scythes crossed in front of it in a defensive formation. The appendages growing out of its neck and back were reared, poised to strike. And strike they did. All seven of them shot at her as soon as it closed the distance. They launched a series of wild stabs, one after another without pause.

But they were countered.

Claire double-stabbed each limb as it approached. The carapace was much softer than she had imagined. Her makeshift boney blades pierced right through their shells and decimated their flesh. The phantom strikes that followed mutilated the creature even further, fueling her assault by refilling her mana with its health.

Unlike the hunter she had felled, the guard was highly vulnerable. Its motions weren’t nearly as refined and its reactions nowhere as fast. So clunky was the watcher that she almost got the impression that it wasn’t fully in control of its body.

The beast had to call off its assault and retreat as soon as the initial clash came to an end. Of the ten attacks it had launched, five resulted in a loss of limb. It didn’t particularly mind, as all its missing body parts soon regenerated, but it should have. Because its opponent was not one to miss such an obvious opening.

The monster’s knee was weakened by a heavy blow from a boney mace. It tried to retaliate again, by attacking with its scythes, but Claire danced right around them. Another blow to its injured leg joint caused it to fall over, and a third pulverized the bone altogether.

“Wait! Stop! Any more and you’re going to kill him!”

Yeah, doofus. That’s the point.

The squirrel started shouting frantically, but Claire continued to feign ignorance. She spun around and raised a hand at the creature’s head—which had leapt at her from what would have been a deafer halfbreed’s blind spot—and pushed it with her magic. It went flying, but not far enough. She wasn’t satisfied until she flung her mace at it and sent it tumbling towards the bridge.

Her aim wasn’t perfect, but that only served to add to the attack’s efficacy. The severed skull fell straight into the lava, bursting into flame the moment it made contact. Knowing the beast’s vitality, however, she didn’t relent. She picked up her weaponised leg and thrust it into the creature’s chest, right where its heart should have been. Over and over she stabbed, until the goddess finally spoke the words she had been awaiting.

Log Entry 905
You have slain a level 40 Corrupted Llystletein Watcher.

This feat has earned you the following bonuses:
- 2 points of strength
- 1 point of dexterity

Level 40? It was a lot weaker than the other one.

Log Entry 906
You have leveled up. Your health and mana have been restored and all harmful status effects have been cleansed.

Your racial class, Halfbreed, has reached level 29.

Your secondary class, Llystletein Force Mage, has reached level 11.

You have gained 10 ability points.

Log Entry 907
Cloak and Dagger has reached level 7.

Log Entry 908
Throwing has reached level 5.

Picking up all her things, Claire headed straight for the chest by the bridge and flipped it open. It was surprisingly full. One corner was taken up by a small brown bag containing a number of coins, while the rest was filled with rectangular blocks made of stone. She wasn’t quite sure of the rocks’ purpose, but she decided to take a few of them with her nonetheless. At the very least, they seemed serviceable as projectiles. The bag was obviously retrieved as well. She didn’t know much about the watchers or their corrupted counterparts, but she doubted that there was any harm in having a bit of the local currency on hand.

“I can’t believe it. She really just killed him and took his stuff. I guess I really did misunderstand the first time. No wonder she treated me like that. What if...”

The squirrel seemed to be lost in thought again, which in the halfbreed’s book, was no issue at all. The more he spoke to himself, the less he would try to speak to her.

And maybe he’ll take long enough for me to get away this time.

With that hope in mind, Claire crossed the bridge and set out to explore the settlement ahead.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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