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Chapter 54 - The Corruptor’s Realm VIII

Claire kneaded the bridge of her nose as her consciousness returned from the brink. She was still groggy, only barely awake with her unfocused gaze still settled on the non-existent person that had spent the night standing before her. The previous evening was one of the worst she had ever experienced, and he was undoubtedly one of the key reasons. Pain was another factor, but unlike the man and his ghost, her agony had failed to persist through the night. Of the five times she had awoken, four were trauma-free. Her wounds had closed by the second time she escaped her dreams; her bloodied, tattered clothes served as the only remaining evidence of her suffering.

Adding to her irritation was the ambient temperature. She had spent the past ten-odd hours drenched in sweat. A whole stomach’s worth of water was required to rehydrate her every time she opened her eyes. Staving off her thirst that accompanied the unfriendly biome was tiresome, but still far better than the lucid nightmares that plagued her subconscious. The unkempt ghost that haunted her dreams had decided to forgo his previous efforts—whatever they were—in favour of watching himself eat. Together, they had spent the better part of twelve hours staring at his body as it gorged itself on lobsters, boars, and bulls. Everything he ate, he devoured deliciously. Vegetables, grains, and meats were all thoroughly enjoyed.

His joy came hand in hand with the halfbreed’s displeasure. It had been over a week since she had eaten anything decent. The soarspore fruit was the only morsel she had come even remotely close to enjoying, and it had been delivered alongside five whole minutes of irritation.

Though Claire didn’t think of herself as a picky eater, let alone a gourmet, she wasn’t used to being deprived of food that tasted at least as good as it looked. The closest thing she had experienced to her current dilemma was the month-long trip that she had taken to Tal’ihir. But even that was more forgiving. While the local cuisine hadn’t suited her tastes, she was at least able to discern that, unlike the flavourless unappetizing garbage Llystletein Authority produced, it was crafted with all the care that a refined palette like hers deserved.

“Maybe I was just unlucky. There could be something really tasty that I just haven’t chosen yet.”

She didn’t believe the claim, but she said it out loud to reinforce her fading hope as she opened the skill and read through the list.

Llystletein Authority
Actions
- Establish Safe Zone (Cooldown: 7 days)
- Expunge Waste As Mana (200MP)

Spawnable Drinks
- Borroqua Velva (100MP)
- Cosmogoblitan (50MP)
- Mimicosa☆ (500MP)
- Raven Rocket Fuel (100MP)
- Stale Water (25MP)
- White Wolf Wine (150MP)

Spawnable Food
- Bat Bagel Sandwich (150MP)
- Bearchst (400MP)
- Borrok Brain Sashimi (250MP)
- Fried Frog Wings (300MP)
- Grilled Veaber Tail☆(2000MP)
- Hellhog Bolognese (500MP)
- Pulled Orc (150MP)
- Spicy Shaman Sundae☆(3500MP)
- Stale Bread (25MP)
- Toadem Tiramisu☆(2500MP)
- Watcha Burger☆(3250MP)

She took a moment to glance between her status and her options before settling on the upgraded Grilled Veaber Tail. It cost nearly all of her mana, but her curiosity outweighed both her caution and her concern; she was still in her safe zone and it would only take a little over an hour for the resource to replenish.

With the dish selected and her mana gradually taking shape in her hand, the halfbreed looked back to her ability scores with a frown. Spirit and wisdom were growing like weeds even without her input. Llystletein Force Mage was providing an absurd number of points from level ups alone, so she refrained from investing in either despite the suspicion that wisdom was nearing another threshold.

“Such a shame. We would have known if you paid more attention during your lessons,” said Shoulderhorse, who had appeared on her right.

“Why didn’t you do it then?” asked Claire.

“Oh, you silly little thing. You know that’s impossible. I had my hands full just eating and sleeping. Even as beautiful and wise as I am, I couldn’t have possibly paid Allegra any attention.”

Claire rolled her eyes and turned to her other shoulder, where she found a serpent awkwardly averting its gaze.

“Don’t look at me,” said Shouldersnake. “I’m deaf.”

“I’m sure you are. Now go away. I’m not going to feel bad about putting more points into strength,” muttered the halfbreed, “even if you are staring at me.”

The snake hissed. “I’m innocent. I just want to kill things.”

“And I am only present because I would like to eat the veaber tail. I would also not mind living vicariously by watching as you eat it in my stead,” whickered the horse.

Ignoring both suspects, Claire looked back towards her points and heaved a bit of a sigh. She had no idea where she was supposed to put them. The more she thought about each attribute, the more important it seemed. She wouldn’t have struggled as much with the two-tailed borrok’s speed if she had more agility, and an increase in her dexterity would have provided her an easier time against its technique. Likewise, investing in brute force was always an option. She wouldn’t have needed as many hits with more strength, and she was well aware that particularly powerful blows were capable of crippling her foes.

“I might as well put a few points in each.”

“Anything but that,” said Shouldersnake with a groan. “We need to specialise.”

“I thought you said you just wanted to kill things.”

“Yes, but it’ll be easier to kill things if you don’t mess up your stats.”

“Do be a dear and listen to her, Claire. She’s quite right,” agreed Shoulderhorse.

The halfbreed spent a few moments looking between her shoulders. “Fine,” she sighed. “What do you want me to do?”

“Put it all in agility and dexterity,” said Shouldersnake.

“Or spirit,” said Shoulderhorse.

“Can it pony, you’re the only one that gets anything from spirit. Claire and I both scale off my suggestions.”

“Why not strength?” asked Claire. “It’ll help me stab things in the face.”

“So will more speed and finesse. Why settle for stabbing something once when you can stab it five times fast?”

“That does seem better.”

Claire paused for a moment to think before dumping just over a hundred points in agility and splitting the rest between dexterity and vitality. Boosts to her alacrity were much less common than bonuses to the deftness of her hands; rogue classes were known for providing the latter and the Llystletein variant was no different. But that, of course, was not the only reason she had skewed her investment so heavily.

Far more important than the attribute’s ease of access was the relative efficacy of each point she spent. With the sheer volume she had at her disposal, there was no reason not to push agility over its next threshold, and Claire had done just that; the stat now sat at an even 250 points.

Surely enough, the results were immediately apparent. Lightly jabbing at the air with her free hand, the halfbreed confirmed that she was several times faster than she was just the previous night. The speed came alongside a minor loss of control, but she hardly cared. Her hands only felt clumsier when she moved them around at their new top speed.

“There, happy?”

“Very.” The snake hissed as it bobbed its head up and down.

“Let’s stop thinking about stats and start thinking about food,” said Shoulderhorse. “The dish is almost ready.”

Claire followed the horse’s gaze, only to freeze in place with her eyes wide. The earthenware plate had taken on an eyebrow-raising shape. It was roughly the same width as it was before, but its length was over a dozen times that. It was so long that it spanned the width of the path she was on and then some. Both ends were suspended over the lava.

She didn’t blink until the dish suddenly marked itself complete by quintupling in height and falling into her hands. Her reaction was a bit delayed, but she was quick enough to prevent it from capsizing. The only thing that spilled was a bit of the garlicky sauce.

Presentation was one of the upgrade’s main differentiators. Unlike its predecessor, which had borne an aesthetic emphasizing luxury and quality, the star-marked dish placed quantity first. It had veaber tails stacked as high as they would go, with the peak standing at over ten tails tall. Much to the rogue’s annoyance, the improved version was no more delicious than the cheaper single instance. The flesh contained in the rocky lobster-like shells was just as bland and tough as she recalled. Not even the sauce was any better. It was basically oil; tasteless, odorless lard.

“Ughhh,” groaned the halfbreed. “Did I really just spend 2000 mana on this?”

“Your tastebuds must be broken. Please, allow me. Such good food does not deserve to be put to waste.”

Shoulderhorse stepped forward with its head held high and its dark brown eyes glimmering with excitement. Loud wheezes left its throat as it proved itself a brain-damaged mouth breather with no hope of recovery.

Claire glanced at her mana before offering a response. “You know what? Fine.”

One spell later, the imaginary mutant was made real. Like its ophidian counterpart, the equine spirit came alongside both a thorough understanding of its abilities and the burden that was its creed. Its actualisation inspired in her equal parts lethargy, gluttony, and vanity. She felt like it was her god-given right to stand above others, to show off her beautiful ears as she indulged the pleasures that came with food, inaction, and catgirls. The foreign desires were so powerful that she almost found herself tempted to consume another veaber tail. Not that she would have been able to, with Shoulderhorse beating her to the punch.

The gourmand made a beeline for the plate the moment it phased into existence. It dashed to one of the elongated dishes’ far ends, running across the air as if it were nothing but more solid ground, before opening its mouth wide and putting its lungs to work. The food was inhaled; the horse sucked up the entire plate in a single breath. All the vegetables and veaber tails vanished into the pony’s gullet in what almost seemed to be the blink of an eye. Not even the dinnerware was spared; the ceramic dish was absorbed alongside its contents.

Without magic, it would have been an unbelievable sight. Unlike the almost two meter long snake, Shoulderhorse was tiny enough to comfortably sit in the palm of Claire’s hand. It did have a rather strange set of proportions, but the size of the phantom equine’s mouth suggested that it shouldn’t have been possible for it to ingest even a single veaber tail without breaking the hearty morsel up into a dozen smaller meals.

“Delicious, absolutely delectable,” sang the tiny black hole. “All these years, I’ve had to do nothing but watch as you ate your fill. But now… now, I can finally taste for myself!”

“It was disgusting,” groaned Claire. She was struggling to fight back the urge to spit. She had tasted everything the horse had ingested, the flavours and textures mingled together into an overwhelmingly bland concoction with a vomit-like mouth feel. Not even the horse’s influence had allowed her to derive any enjoyment from the meal.

“You, my dear, are just too picky.”

“Whatever you say, horsey.”

Claire rolled her eyes as she dismissed the overeater—who had started consuming the inordinately unsanitary magma for reasons she failed to understand—got to her feet, and doused herself in water. She didn’t have much mana remaining. The equine spirit guardian had drained her of every last drop she had regenerated, and it had taken less than a minute to finish its meal. That, however, didn’t stop the halfbreed from getting a move on. There were no monsters in sight and her most dependable spell, Apply Force, was so cheap that she didn’t have to care too much about the resource’s depletion. She was sure to have enough for a fight by the time she got into one.

“Which way do I go?”

She reached into her pouch and tried to retrieve her candle, only to find that it had become a glob of grease. The mitten sitting in the waist bag was equally as unusable; the whole thing had been thoroughly doused in a layer of liquid wax.

“Stupid heat.”

The bluescale groaned as she scanned the environment for clues. It didn’t quite seem to matter which way she looked. There were nothing but magmatic honeycombs for as far as the eye could see. The only time that changed was when she turned her gaze upwards and focused on the icy tunnels overhead. She knew she was going to have to get back up eventually. It was only a question of where and when.

Of the two unknowns, ‘when’ was the one that was more easily answered. She needed to get back to the city as quickly as she could. Her quest timer had ticked down to 83 hours and she had yet to locate either of her targets. ‘Where,’ on the other hand, was a tad more difficult to explain. Each of the countless ladders was a workable way out, with the hole she had dropped down from the only exception. If their general is anything like my father, they’ll have stationed some guards outside it.

Triggering the alarm was far from the wisest choice. The boost to Claire’s speed armed her with the confidence that she would be able to take down the warriors with ease, but she still had no idea how she was supposed to deal with the mages. She suspected that she would be able to make an escape if the squad she had encountered was the city’s only mage corps, but the halfbreed was not so naive as to assume that to be the case. There were sure to be more of them. And if too many mages showed up at once, she would be doomed, even with her speed at twice its previous value.

“I’ll just look for another hole,” she muttered, as she walked off in a random direction, “maybe one that isn’t as filthy.”

Her eyes turned back to her status as she wandered about, settling almost immediately on her two newest skills.

Basic Fire Resistance - Level 2
Congratulations. You have learned that fire is hot. This skill will aid you in avoiding harm should you continue to light yourself on fire. Please be aware that while the defenses provided by this skill are formidable, grasping literal balls of lava with your bare hands remains injudicious under any circumstances. The pursuit of common sense is advised.

Effects
- The damage that you take from fire-based damage is reduced by 12% (10% + 1% per level)

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Common Sense skill, Box.

Catgirl Detector V. 0.17 - Level 1
Despite your inexplicable preference for catgirls, you do not always find yourself capable of identifying them at a glance. This skill will aid you in your misguided endeavours in exchange for further distorting your already disturbing view of the heavenly realm.

Effects
- Amplifies the effect of the Catgirl Enthusiast achievement
- You are capable of discerning the precise extent to which anything is or is not a catgirl
- This skill will activate automatically in the presence of any individual that is systematically related to or associated with catgirls

Requirements
- Any two level 25 or higher Llystletein classes
- Acquired the Catgirl Enthusiast achievement

Why? Why does this exist?

With a tired sad sigh, the halfbreed closed all her boxes and continued on her way.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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