Xera had spent a good half hour climbing up the narrow passage inside the Hylt tree’s root. Thankfully it got a bit wider as she got higher up, though not wide enough to let her fly up it on her wings. Eventually it stopped going upwards and evened out a bit, allowing her to crawl rather than climb. She really had no idea what her position relative to the ground was, as her entire world consisted of nothing but the chewed up walls of a lumber tunnel.
A few minutes later, the tight passage opened up into the side of a large, hollowed out chamber that was vaguely cylindrical in shape. It was mind-bogglingly tall, as it went so far straight up that she couldn’t even see the top. As for the shape itself, it was irregular to say the least. The termites had eaten away at the insides of the mighty tree with reckless abandon, leaving the walls of this tall cavern riddled with numerous ridges, cliffs and caves. In fact, the passage that Xera was currently poking her head out of was only one of what appeared to be hundreds of tunnels that lined the walls of this space.
Looking down from her tiny perch, she saw the uneven bottom of the hollowed-out tree trunk some 40 or 50 meters below her. Well, she assumed the bottom was down there, but she couldn’t actually see it. What must have been hundreds of large insects crawled all over it, completely hiding the ‘ground floor’ from view. The walls surrounding the succubus were also thick with the creatures, easily putting their numbers in the four digit range, possibly beyond that.
The seasoned succubus cast her gaze further upwards and noted that, thankfully, the writhing mass of termites did not extend all the way up to the top of this place. The extra-large-sized colony appeared to have been steadily eating their way downwards over the course of a long time, so the vast majority of the swarm was concentrated here. And while the succubus wasn’t sure what her current altitude was, she had a sneaking suspicion these guys had started at the very top of the tree.
“Master, I think I’ve found the nest,” she reported with a hint of sarcasm.
“Can you take care of it out yourself?”
“Probably, but… are you sure? I mean, using fire in a cave made out of wood is a little…”
“It’ll be fine. That timber is resistant to magic so it won’t catch fire. The elves do this sort of thing all the time.”
“Understood. What about the enemy? There’s quite a lot of them you know.”
“So… wouldn’t they be good fodder for your Job Levels?”
“Those termites are barely Level 3 or 4. I’d just be wasting my time on them.”
If there was a huge gap between Levels, then practically no XP would be given. There was nothing to be learned from stomping on a few defenseless ants, which was exactly what would happen if Boxxy did things personally. Okay, maybe this particular hive counted as more than ‘a few,’ but that was besides the point.
“What about your Ranger Job?”
That one was a different story altogether though. Since the Mimic’s newly acquired Ranger Job was still relatively low Level, it was bound to go up significantly with this much prey.
“Can’t let it grow too quickly, otherwise that Faehorn guy will realize something’s up.”
As expected of a seasoned elf Ranger, he had sharp intuition and easily spotted things that were out of place. Boxxy had to hold back immensely whenever that guy was around, and performing down to those other apprentices’ Level was surprisingly difficult. However, the monster learned quite a bit by doing so.
It was ironic, in a way. Faehorn’s teachings about being able to control one’s power to the utmost were intended as a way to maximize a Ranger’s effectiveness when fighting monsters. Yet a monster in his care was applying that approach in order to minimize its power in an attempt to blend in completely with a group of Rangers. And it seemed to be working out beautifully.
That wasn’t why it enlisted as a Ranger in the first place, but it was a welcome boon. It wanted to be one because those nimble hunters were unmatched when it came to stalking, tracking, pursuing and cornering down their target. Not only that, but it was a Job that benefited greatly from the monster’s already high Dexterity (DEX) and Agility (AGI) Attributes.
The bow was also a very useful and versatile weapon. Even if it lacked the destructive power of Spells and required expendable ammunition, it was perfectly silent and had a far greater range. There also existed the possibility of using special arrowheads in order to produce a variety of effects, and it had several plans in that regard that involved its slowly growing Artificer Job.
“So I should take them on by myself?” asked Xera for confirmation.
If the summoned familiar were to take them out, then there would still be some improvement regarding Boxxy’s Warlock Job. That particular occupation could grow as much as it wanted since Spell-related Attributes and Skills had no way of interfering with a thoroughly non-magical bow and arrow. It also had no intention of revealing its identity as a Warlock to others. At least, none of the people that knew its identity as a Ranger. It still didn’t have to go down there personally, though. A termite’s weakness was fire, and its favorite Snack, who had currently grown to a Level 39 Succubus and Level 28 Pyromancer, was more than suited to the task at hand.
“Wipe them out,” it ordered.
“Yes, Master!” she replied with an oddly enthusiastic voice.
The succubus did not particularly enjoy violence like a certain four-armed sex friend of hers, but she did have an intense desire to set the world on fire. And while making the literal world go up in flame was beyond her means, turning these blissfully unaware insects’ reality to ashes was the next best thing. Her pyromaniac side hadn’t been given a chance to shine in a long while, so being able to incinerate so many squishy things at once practically made her giddy.
To begin with, she crawled out of the small tunnel she was in and spread her wings, allowing her to take flight. She then snapped her fingers, causing her fake staff to appear out of nowhere and float idly next to her for a moment before she grabbed it out of the air. This wasn’t really a magic item, but more of an empty shell she held onto out of habit. Gesturing with it while casting her Pyroclasm Spells just felt… right. It was only natural to hold onto her long and hard thing while spraying a hot load all over-
Xera cleared her throat in order to help reign in her errant thoughts and focused on the task at hand. The termites were bound to notice her presence soon, so she had to take advantage of the element of surprise. She floated down to the bottom and pointed her imitation staff towards the writhing mass of insects beneath her and activated one of her Pyromancer Skills.
“Summon Molten Guardian!”
An intense red glow flashed for an instant within the crawling abyss, followed by an explosion of molten rock and flames. Numerous termites were sent flying everywhere as the Molten Guardian quite literally erupted from beneath them with a deep roar. It was a fearsome creature in the vague shape of a 1 meter tall lizard. Its thick torso and short, pudgy legs were made up of black, smouldering rocks with red-hot molten lava dripping slightly from the gaps between them, giving off the bizarre appearance of blood vessels filled with liquid fire. Its long, thick tail and short, flat face on the other hand were pure fire given form. It had a row of white-hot stone spikes running along its back, right where its spine would be if it had one of those.
“Get ‘em Smokey!’ commanded the succubus who had inherited her Master’s naming sense.
The Molten Guardian obeyed with a roar as it leapt into the swarm that had noticed too late there was an intruder in their nest. However, their instincts were torn between repelling the intruder and not getting roasted alive, so the termites had fallen into disarray. ‘Smokey’ wasn’t going to give them a choice in the matter, though. Its fiery jaws and tail, burning claws and incinerating breath washed over the defenseless creatures with the heat of a miniature volcano. Smoke, steam and disgusting juices flew everywhere as the pests quite literally popped open en masse from the intense heat.
A cone-shaped torrent of flames erupted from Xera’s staff at her call, bathing the chamber’s wall in an almost literal sea of fire. There was an ear wrenching squeaking and intense hissing as dozens of termites were burned to a crisp in a matter of seconds. Their flaming bodies fell down to the ground, causing Xera’s Devouring Flames to spread even further.
Noticing the airborne threat, the insects attempted to leap off the walls and latch onto the succubus. At least this was a target they could sink their mandibles on. Or so they thought.
A pulse of intense heat erupted from the winged demon, sending the termites who were about to envelop her flying in every direction while also setting them ablaze. She turned her attention to another section of the wall and doused it in a Flamethrower Spell, followed by another Blast Wave. She then threw her trademark Inferno Spell towards the ground, right on top of the rampaging Molten Guardian.
Rather than being harmed by the roaring tornado of flames, the lava lizard actually absorbed them into itself, causing it to grow slightly in size. It gave off a gut-wrenching roar before flying into yet another bug stomping spree, only this time with much more speed and ferocity than it had displayed until then.
A Molten Guardian was an elemental, a mindless golem-like construct conjured out of raw mana and imbued with a composite magic that was attuned to both earth and fire. Much like other summoning-type Skills, it was a manifestation of the caster’s magical power. It fed off magical flames in order to momentarily grow stronger and was impervious to physical attacks, but the downside was that its summoner had to constantly supply it with MP in order to sustain it. Even Xera’s impressive capacity of nearly 4,000 MP would only allow it to exist for about 6, maybe 7 minutes before she ran dry.
Which actually raised a troubling question. The succubus looked at her surroundings carefully, gauging how much of the pests she and Smokey had managed to clear out over the past minute or so.
“Slow. Too slow!” she complained to nobody in particular.
No matter how many termites were squashed or burned, more of them just kept pouring in from the tunnels that lined the walls. They just kept coming, seemingly without end. Even if they were pathetically weak, there were just too many of them. If things carried on like this, she’d run out of MP before she could deal with all of those critters. The staggering amount of work it would take to fully clean up this place made her wish this blasted tree would just explode already.
“... Yeah, that’s a thing I could try,” she mumbled.
An idea had formed in her mind while she stared upward. It was a stupid idea, but one that might just work, given the size of the place. Well, she was sure to enjoy the outcome, even if it was a failure, so she decided it was worth a try. She lowered her altitude and touched down on the charcoal-like ground. She gave the order for Smokey to keep those things away from her and started chanting. It was a long incantation, one that went on for a good 6 or 7 seconds before she finished it.
Xera braced herself for the backlash that would follow in case she messed up the Spell. However, it would appear that wasn’t the case, as the top of the impossibly tall cavern suddenly lit up with a bright yellow light. As illogical as it was, a huge ball of molten rock that was at least 6 meters in diameter was currently falling through the air, directly towards the succubus and her summoned pet.
“Wow. That worked, huh?”
She honestly surprised herself with this. Although incredibly powerful, the Meteor Spell had quite a few problems with usability. The MP cost was high, both the incantation and the delay before it hit were long and it required a lot of headroom in order to pull off successfully. Trying to use it indoors would normally result in the Spell failing and the errant mana lashing out and ripping the caster’s body apart due to the magical backlash.
But even if she succeeded in casting the Spell due to the chamber’s absurd proportions, it still wouldn’t do much in the grand scheme of things. Sure, it would completely annihilate 30, 40, maybe even 50 of the termites, but that was a huge waste of magical power. A Flamethrower or Inferno Spell would be far more efficient in that regard.
However, calling down this miniature sun was merely the first part.
Xera pointed her staff directly at the rapidly approaching ball of death, and activated yet another Skill. One that let her detonate any of her Pyroclasm Spells while they were in mid-flight in order to massively increase their area of effect.
In the next instant, the mass of molten rock and flames exploded violently. Bright red-and-yellow debris spread in every direction, bathing the insides of the colossal Hylt tree in flaming plumes of liquid lava. Hissing and popping noises could be heard from all over as the wriggling walls were coated in Xera’s flames. Highly potent, magical flames created by a Pyromancer with an INT Attribute of over 750. The kind of flames that clung incessantly to everything and anything they touched.
What Boxxy had said earlier was the truth, as Hylt trees were quite resistant not only to physical trauma, but magic in general. That was why gear made of their Ironbark was considered highly reliable, despite being made of wood. This trait also allowed the elves to purge termite nests they found with flames, as it would take a significant effort to actually set this lumber ablaze.
And yet the insides of this Hylt tree had wonderfully caught fire. Not just the insects, but the magically-infused timber itself was burning up. If left alone, the unquenchable flames would surely spread and consume the entire tree in a matter of minutes.
“Kuhihihihihi… Huhuhuhuhuhuhu. HAHAHAHAHA! AAAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!!”
The perpetrator herself didn’t seem to actually care, though. Her manic laughter echoed through the chamber that was set ablaze, accompanied by the crackle and pop of hundreds of termites losing their lives each second. She didn’t even notice that she herself was being burned by her own magic, nor would she care even if she did. Her entire mind was engrossed by the wondrous sight of being surrounded by flames, smoke and ashes on all sides. It was as if reality itself was set ablaze, and she was loving every single moment of it.
“Snack! What did you do?!”
Boxxy’s sudden communication broke the succubus out of her reverie. Her Master sounded less than pleased, to say the least. And now that she had partly regained her composure, Xera realized that it had good reason to do so.
“I, um, went a bit overboard…”
“A bit?! I can see the smoke from out here! Put it out right away!”
“Even if you tell me that… Oh! Right! Smokey!”
The Molten Guardian that was busy mopping up the few surviving bugs on the ground stopped what it was doing and ran back to her side. It stood at attention, ready to receive new orders.
“Eat all of the fire in here!” commanded the succubus.
The flat-faced lava lizard turned its head to stare up at the roaring tower of fire. It then looked back at its summoner, then back up, then back to Xera once more. Almost as if it were trying to say ‘Are you kidding me with this shit?’ Even if one could theoretically order a minion to drink up the entire ocean or leap up into the stars, impossible things were impossible. And one such thing was expecting a single Molten Guardian to consume with a mountain of flames seemingly hundreds of times larger than itself. Something the succubus realized moments later.
“Don’t question me just fucking do it!” she demanded.
The wholly un-sentient and completely mindless Molten Guardian seemed to roll the bright red flames of its eyes as it ran towards the edge of the chamber and started climbing up the burning wall. It sucked in all the flames in a small area around it as it made its way upwards, but the charred embers it left behind in its wake reignited mere seconds after it had passed over them. The succubus would have more luck trying to put this raging inferno out by squirting her pussy juices all over it.
And Xera was just desperate enough to try that ludicrous idea, because it’s all she had. The last thing she wanted was to let down her beloved Master. It was hardly the first time she’d messed up, and Boxxy had gotten angry with her many times in the past, but things had always more or less worked out. But this? This would probably the first time her Master would be disappointed in her, and that thought was… difficult to stomach. If asked to put that strange feeling into words, the succubus would probably reply that it was ‘not tasty.’
The succubus passed out moments later. Well, as close to ‘passing out’ as she could get considering her high MNT Attribute. She still clung to consciousness and could perceive the burning inferno around her, but her body no longer listened to her. Even if it was born of magic, her flesh was still a living being that needed to breathe, and the air had become so thick and heavy with smoke that she could no longer endure it and simply collapsed. Yet there was a faint smile on her lips. Even under these circumstances, the relentlessly rotten part of her looked forward to the sweet agony of her skin being consumed by the flames.
Just then, she heard a noise. A thunderous, roaring sound coming from the smoke-obscured air above her and seemed to bear down on her at a frightening speed. It was so loud that it effortlessly drowned out the crackling of the flames. The mystery didn’t last long though, as a literal waterfall came crashing down on her. The sudden deluge of foamy water completely and entirely quenched the flames, putting them out in an instant. The Molten Guardian that was still trying its best got swept up in it, and fizzled out like a match that had been submerged in a pond.
The barely conscious succubus was flabbergasted. Well, the good news was that the tree her Master wanted to use wouldn’t burn down due to her ineptitude, plus she was no longer choking. The bad news was that she was now drowning instead. Her limp body got tossed back and forth as the turbulent current settled itself. She no longer knew which way was up or down, nor did she have a method of finding out. And yet, despite taking in so much water, her body outright refused to die.
You are suffocating. HP -364.
You have bathed in the Waters of Life. HP +500.
You are suffocating. HP -364.
You have bathed in the Waters of Life. HP +500.
You are suffocating. HP -364.
You have bathed in the Waters of Life. HP +500.
It would appear this strange liquid was also magical in nature, and was as potent as the highest grade healing potion, yet had none of the toxicity that could lead to potion poisoning. Or at least, that’s what it looked like considering Xera was both being killed and healed by the stuff for a good 3 or 4 minutes before the green-tinted liquid eventually started draining away.
“Koff koff! Hack! Koff!”
The succubus soon found herself sputtering up water while standing on all fours atop a small outcropping of timber. She looked around her to find that, much to her surprise, the wooden insides of the tree were not charred or burned in the slightest. In fact, they actually seemed to be healthier than ever as the jagged, bug-eaten wooden surface had become covered in healthy, strong bark that even had white and yellow flowers blooming out of it here and there. It would appear that the mysterious flood of these so-called Waters of Life not only quenched the fire, but completely healed and reinvigorated the tree.
“Good morrow to you, madam,” said an eloquent voice from directly above Xera.
The succubus dumbly looked upwards to see a green-skinned woman with long, flowing vines for hair poking halfway out of the rejuvenated wooden ground directly in front of her. Her ears were pointed like an elf’s and she had a pair of long antlers poking out of the top of her head. Her breasts as bountiful as Xera’s, although they were wrapped in leaves and vines that kept her somewhat decent. Her beautiful face bore a green-lipped smile that exuded a sense of class and dignity.
“What?” stammered out the succubus. She had never even heard of a creature such as this.
“Grant thee mercy for chasing those insects hence.”
She also had difficulty understanding that odd way of speaking.
“I owe thee one,” clarified the dryad with a small bow before disappearing into the bark. She quite literally sank into it as if it were the surface of a pond, complete with tiny ripples that expanded outwards from it.
It would appear that this tree already had a resident.