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Chapter 99 - Dreams and Delusions II

“Okay, there it is!” Sylvia whispered a shout as she pointed a paw at the only dry husk in an otherwise plentiful grove. “Good luck! I’ll bail you out if things start looking rough.”

“Don’t.”

“Well too bad.” The fox got up onto her hind legs, crossed her arms, and huffed. “I didn’t save you from the frog just so you could get yourself killed by some stupid mirewulf!”

“I won’t.”

“Uh huh. I totally believe you.” With one last pout and an accompanying skeptical glare, the orange furball walked into a nearby bush and disappeared.

Claire raised her ears, but trying to track Sylvia proved pointless. There weren’t any sounds to be heard, no rustling, no footsteps, nothing. Her canine companion was already long gone, her paw prints the only evidence that she had even existed to begin with. Following the fox’s departure was the immediate arrival of an even more annoying pair of replacements. Shouldersnake and Shoulderhorse appeared on her left and her right respectively. Both prodded her with their snouts and hooves, but neither said a word, keeping perfectly silent as she closed in on the clearing and took a second look at her prey.

The darkness of the night did little to impede her perception. She couldn’t see anything that even resembled a moon, but the starry sky kept the forest perfectly alight. Keeping low to the ground, Claire furrowed her brows and focused her gaze on the monster’s key features.

Standing at roughly four meters tall, its skeletal canine frame was made of twisted branches. The rafflesia bud on its head aside, the bizarre plant creature was severely lacking in colour. Its whole body was covered in shades of brown, no doubt in part due to the bits of dirt hanging off of its various pieces. Not even its eyes were any different. The empty sockets almost seemed like they were only present to aid in emulating a wolf’s form. Just like its barren ribcage.

Despite looking like an undead wolf, the plant-beast was no carnivore. The specimen that stood in the clearing downwind was eating the bark off a tree, as would a deer in the midst of winter.

How am I supposed to kill it?

Claire frowned, unsheathed her club, and turned it into an icy axe. Having already suffered from enough backlash for one day, she decided against leveraging her divinity and made it out of plain old untrue ice. Her other hand was kept free. Forging a second weapon would provide more range and versatility, but she wanted to initiate with a heavy sneak attack; a two-handed strike suited her purposes better than a two-weapon approach. A part of her had wanted to shout at the monster and challenge it to a head-on duel, but she didn’t want to take any risks with something Sylvia had talked up and put on a pedestal. If it really was as strong as the fox touted, then every last bit of damage was sure to count.

Climbing a nearby tree, the halfbreed applied a thin glaze of quicksilver to her icy weapon and emitted a blast of cold air to freeze it solid. A second layer of poison, a thick glaze of rocket fuel, was applied atop the metallic coat, just to give it an extra punch. Walking across a branch, she crept towards it with her breath held and her axe raised. Despite the wood’s creaking, the creature remained unalerted to her presence. Its focus remained fixed on its meal, even as she got into the perfect position.

After taking one last moment to look over its frame, she took aim, steadied her hand, and dropped. Her target was the thinnest part of its skeleton-like frame, the piece of spine connecting its rear end to its ribcage. All her skills flared to life as her axe flew through the air and landed a direct hit on its back.

Unable to bear the force of the blow, her blade shattered as it made contact.

Just like the mirewulf’s spine.

Its back split into two distinct pieces, both of which came untangled, crumbled into a mess of slackened vines. Knowing that all Llystletein monsters were ridiculously virile, she immediately fired a freezing ray from her chest, imbued with as much mana as the spell could handle.

But it was completely and utterly unnecessary. Because a notification had played in her mind before the beam so much as began to take shape

Log Entry 2712
You have slain a level 142 Llystletein Mirewulf.

This feat has earned you the following bonus rewards:
- 5 points of agility
- 14 points of dexterity
- 18 points of strength
- 3 points of wisdom

It’s dead? Already?

Log Entry 2713
You have leveled up. Your health and mana have been restored and all harmful status effects have been cleansed.

Your racial class, Frostblight Lyrkress, has reached level 74.

Your primary class, Llystletein Bloodthief, has reached level 75.

Your secondary class, Llystletein Vector Mage, has reached level 71.

You have gained 27 ability points.

The flower on the monster’s head shriveled up and shrank as she stared blankly. I thought these things were supposed to be strong.

“Woah! What the heck? That was quick!” Sylvia popped out of a bush with a fish’s tail hanging out of the corner of her mouth. “I only looked away for a second!”

Log Entry 2714
You have unlocked a new spawnable drink item.

“I snuck up on it.”

“I know, but how did you know its weakness?”

Log Entry 2715
Assassinate has reached level 16.

“I just did.” The half-snake’s gaze shot to her own fragile waist for a brief moment before returning to the corpse. “What part counts as its flesh?”

“I’m not really sure, but probably the whole thing?”

“Then what part tastes the best?”

Log Entry 2716
Axe Mastery has reached level 9.

“Ummm… Claire? You do know that mirewulves aren't food, right?”

“My quest says I have to eat ten of them.”

Sylvia scrunched up her face. “That’s… gross.”

Log Entry 2717
Envenom has reached level 18.

With a shrug, Claire popped one of the petals in her mouth and gave it a chew. For something that looked completely dried out, it was surprisingly juicy, but its flavour left much to be desired. Keeping her expression neutral was difficult, and swallowing was a struggle. The bitter, salty fluid that leaked from within the floral leaf was oddly lukewarm, and something about the taste made her want to retch. Still, she was eventually able to choke it down without letting her displeasure seep through her mask.

Log Entry 2718
Frostblight Lyrkrian Martial Arts has reached level 18.

“Still better than the burnt fish.”

“Really?”

Log Entry 2719
True Ice Manipulation has reached level 6.

“Yes. Barely.” Claire summoned a stream of stale water and took a long sip, holding the liquid in her mouth for several seconds before swallowing. “Where’s the next one?”

“It’ll be here soon.” Sylvia walked through a nearby tree. “I’m gonna vanish again. Scream if you need me!”

“I won’t.”

Watching her go, Claire crossed her arms and lowered her gaze. Catching the tree-dog off guard seemed like the best use of her time, but she was hesitant to rely exclusively on the strategy. I doubt the lord will go down in one hit. I should try facing one head on. At least once.

The force mage raised her ears, but caught no signs of her next target. After a moment of consideration, she decided to focus on her axe. On its own, the haphazard repair process was something she could do in a heartbeat. Refining the weapon’s appearance, on the other hand, was a whole time sink and a half. Evidently, Sylvia was not a fan of the bardiche-like rounded blade, so she sharpened out its edges and gave it a more rectangular form. Staring at it for a while, she concluded that a single one-sided blade was too vanilla, so she slapped a few spikes on top and attached a hook to the other side. She even layered the ice, adding extra bits to its base to make the blade seem heftier and more impressive. The redesign process lasted for a solid few minutes, ending only as her ears finally picked up on the unnatural rustling of leaves.

Looking up, she saw the mirewulf making its way through the forest. The strange creature was travelling in a straight line, its body deforming when necessary to squeeze past the trees. Its feet were quiet, making only faint noises as they touched the ground, but its attempt at stealth was completely ruined by its otherwise thoughtless approach. Every branch it passed would shake and immediately alert everything around it.

There was a brief moment of inaction as their eyes met, with the wooden dog the first to break contact. It tore its hollow sockets away from her piercing slits and cast its gaze towards the corpse.

It was a momentary lapse in attention.

And that was precisely why Claire attacked. Propelled by a burst of magic, she launched herself like an arrow and swung her axe at its skull. A freshly summoned Shouldersnake joined the assault, lunging off her arm with its fangs bared. It was an incredibly quick pair of attacks, backed by all the power her legs could muster.

But she missed her mark.

Even half distracted, the tree-dog had no trouble reacting. It twisted its neck to evade Shouldersnake and dodged the icy blade with an unhurried sidestep.

Claire leapt back to avoid the retaliatory pawswipe that followed, but the roots that made up its claws extended midswing and caught her before she could retreat. Though blunt, the soft wood sliced through her leather armour and gouged her flesh; five crimson gashes ran diagonally across her chest, with only one cut short by the shard of true ice.

Bloodied but not discouraged, the halfbreed grit her teeth and pushed forward. She launched another attack, a swing aimed for the monster’s neck. But again, the plant stepped out of the way. As far as speed went, she was completely outclassed—a fact the mirewulf also seemed to recognise.

Leveraging its clear advantage, the misshapen treant went on the offensive and swiped its claw again. The second attack was just as quick as the first, but Claire blocked it with her axe. Even with all its layers, the weapon was unable to hold beneath the force of the blow; the second vine left a crack, the fourth broke a piece off the blade, and the fifth shattered it altogether.

So she threw it away.

The axe-mace had been her last weapon, the only one not inadvertently sacrificed to the eldritch frog. But Claire casually discarded it all the same. Melee combat had already proven futile; there was no point in insisting. Because at the end of the day, a battlemage was still a mage.

Leaning into the mystic arts, she cast a trio of spells. With her left hand, she magically pulled on a branch and obscured the mirewulf’s line of sight. With her right, she applied a vector to the creature’s tail and threw it off balance. And with her shard, she fired a beam of magic, a point-blank freezing ray that not even its speedy target was able to avoid.

The spell landed dead center and encased one of the tree-dog’s front legs in ice. It tried to put its weight on the limb nonetheless, only to have it shatter like the brittle blade it had broken just a few moments prior.

Shouldersnake attacked as the monster stumbled. The serpent wrapped itself around the false canine’s remaining front leg and locked it in place. A bite followed soon after, with all sorts of venom flowing straight into the plant’s veins. Claire tried to approach the ligneous hound as it fell to its knees, but she was driven away. It lashed out every time she got too close, ensuring that she was kept at bay as the flower on its head began to shift.

Light gathered around the rafflesia as it opened up and blossomed. A countless number of pollen-like particles almost seemed to stream out into the environment. Thinking that the cloud was likely either toxic or a sort of magical attack, Claire backed off immediately and hid behind a tree. She didn’t even look around the corner; Shouldersnake’s eyes were the only ones she used.

And that was precisely why she had failed to correctly discern its motive.

The spirit serpent’s head was directed up towards the creature’s face. The dog’s injuries were completely outside its view; it failed to catch the light that flooded and restored the monster’s damaged legs. The only thing it managed to perceive was a change in colour—it informed her that the wolf turned green for a few seconds before getting back up with its body fully intact.

Realising that something was wrong, Claire poked her head out of cover. But it was already too late. The wounds she had inflicted had been undone. Cursing the useless snake internally, she aimed at its flower and fired another beam, but the spell was evaded with a simple twist of the neck. The decrease in agility accompanying its wounds was gone. It was already back in peak condition.

So she opted for a full burst.

Raising every magical outlet at her disposal, she took a deep breath and unleashed a hail of blades. Her tail, her hands, her mouth, her catalyst, her hooves, and her flippers each fired a distinct stream of projectiles. Rather than focusing them on a single point, she opted to criss cross. The sweeping barrage covered a large area, but the not-wolf was too agile. It hopped from tree to tree, evading every last missile that flew in its direction.

Until she raised the bar.

Nine streams were reduced to seven.

But the total number of projectiles was more than doubled.

Because Claire was not just, or even primarily, an ice mage

Shouldersnake was the first part of the equation. The seemingly useless trump card tightened its grip right as the mirewulf was about to land. The serpent’s muscles tore straight through the wood and snapped the limb in two.

She extended all ten of her fingers as the beast collapsed onto its broken crutch. And with each locked on to a different piece of ice, she clenched her fists and pulled. Spreading her control so thin limited it greatly. She lost all semblance of precision, casting it to the winds in favour of raw power—not that it mattered. With a four meter tall target, precision was never a consideration.

All ten bolts struck true. They pierced the swamp hound’s rear, tearing its wooden hindquarters to bits. The pseudo canine’s flower opened again, but she ignored it and focused on offense. Nine beams hammered the plant, with each slowly turning its flesh to ice.

Checkmate seemed imminent.

Until the mirewulf shrank.

Shrugging off the encroaching ice, the vines and roots retreated into the ground, leaving only its flower above the surface. She moved her spells to target it, but they were countered with rays of light. The heat melted her magic, turning it from frost to vapour with a series of steamy explosions.

Again, it started to glow with its few remaining brown pieces turning a brilliant emerald. Its surroundings, on the other hand, dimmed. They grew darker and darker with each passing moment. The stars almost seemed to vanish as the trees and shrubs were taken under the night’s cowl. Even the shard’s aura was stolen, its perpetual blue glow growing soft and dull.

Something was happening, and Claire had no idea what it was.

But she charged the monster nonetheless.

The closer she got, the more her skin tingled and the higher her scales stood. Only upon firing a series of ice bolts did she finally realise that the mirewulf was sapping more than just the light; the frosty projectiles burst into a thousand particles and vanished into thin air before being sucked into the bud. The ice’s glow revealed that the surroundings were dead. The vegetation around the wolf had perished as its flower blossomed to life, with those in its immediate vicinity suffering the most damage. Her own mana was also ticking down. The rate of consumption grew as she drew closer. Just as how the temperature fell. Notably enough for even the lyrkress to feel a chill.

Several blasts of light flew from the rafflesia’s vines and threatened to roast her alive. But she didn’t falter or even bother with evasion. Because light magic was based in heat. And the mirewulf’s spells were no more threatening than a wall made of molten rock.

A few seconds was all she needed to reach it. Rearing her legs, she brought them down with a heavy stomp, backed by all the weight her body could muster. A pair of jaws appeared from within the bud and caught the limbs in the middle of their descent. The wooden fangs tore through the flesh, severing one hoof and leaving the other mangled.

But they were soon restored.

And not by a level up.

When applied through phantom blade, bloodthief was just a weak enhancement, an extra that provided a small benefit without stealing the show. But in the hands of a Llystletein Bloodthief, everything changed. The skill was the class’ namesake for a reason.

Its secondary feature was difficult to use on an enemy capable of escaping her grasp or retaliating at close range. But the mirewulf was neither—not anymore.

At level 17, the skill could drain and restore nearly a tenth of her maximum health per second. So long as she didn’t break contact.

Even with all the energy it stole from its surroundings, the mirewulf couldn’t keep up. It couldn’t heal itself as quickly as she drained it.

But neither could it break free.

It let go of her hooves and prodded them away with its tongue, but she forced them back down its throat.

It pulled its roots out of the ground and cut off its own regeneration so it could lash at her with its whips, but Shouldersnake warded off its blows.

And with the last dregs of its energy, it fired a final beam, a particularly powerful ray of light that burned through her resistance skill and left a mark on her flesh, but the scorched scales were quickly restored with stolen vitality.

Left with no viable options, the monster was slowly robbed of every last drop of its health and reduced to a sad withered husk.

Log Entry 2720
You have slain a level 138 Mirewulf.

Log Entry 2721
You have leveled up. Your health and mana have been restored and all harmful status effects have been cleansed.

Your racial class, Frostblight Lyrkress, has reached level 75.

Your primary class, Llystletein Bloodthief, has reached level 76.

Your secondary class, Llystletein Vector Mage, has reached level 73.

You have gained 36 ability points.

Log Entry 2722
Bloodthief has reached level 18.

Log Entry 2723
Frostblight Lyrkrian Martial Arts has reached level 19.

Log Entry 2724
Spirit Sorcery has reached level 25.

Log Entry 2725
Thermodynamic Regulation has reached level 8.

Log Entry 2726
True Ice Manipulation has reached level 7.

Log Entry 2727
Vector Manipulation has reached level 28.

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Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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