The area guardian of the Eternal Library has been slain.
To the victor go the spoils.
The Eternal Library can now be accessed freely for the next 24 hours.
Yet another in a series of dungeon-wide notifications passed through Drea’s head, and the Stalker sighed dejectedly as a result. This meant that she would be the last one among Boxxy’s group to complete whatever challenge that annoying dungeon master had forced onto each of them. And that was assuming she would be able to survive this place at all.
Drea had been teleported to an area called the Howling Chasm, which was an extremely fitting name. It was some sort of narrow crevasse or canyon that had a harsh wind blowing through it non-stop. The frigid air current whistled ominously as it passed through the iced over passageway and wrapped around the protruding rock formations. It also carried with it a good amount of snowfall, resulting in what was essentially a localized blizzard.
The topography of the area was so rough that even mountain goats would find it ludicrous. Any invader who felt brave or stupid enough to try to scale the sheer cliffs surrounding them would have their work cut out for them, to say the least. Even if they were to somehow maintain their grip on the ice-covered rocks and make actual headway towards scaling the cliffs, they wouldn’t get far. A violent gust of air or a foothold suddenly giving way would make sure to send them tumbling down to the bottom, sometimes accompanied by a rockslide or avalanche.
These occurrences were not at all random, but rather the dungeon’s not-so-subtle way of forcing ‘guests’ to traverse the Howling Chasm by following it down its length. Which was a challenge in and of itself, as the terrain at the bottom was every bit as treacherous. Various obstacles such as glaciers, boulders and pitfalls would force invaders to clamber up and down constantly to the point where merely being able to take three steps on level ground was a luxury. This, when combined with the oncoming freezing winds, made it so that they’d rapidly run out of energy just by trying to move forward.
In short, the Howling Chasm was a place where the environment itself was the greatest enemy.
But, even if freezing to death was a very real threat even for the hardiest adventurers, it was by no means the only one. Ice elementals, aberrations of nature that only appeared in extreme environments such as this, could be seen skittering around. They looked like boulders of ice with jagged shards jutting out of them at random, a few of which had grown into needle-like legs that helped them move around in an insect-like manner.
Overall their appearances were rather similar, but by no means uniform. The shape and size of their main body varied wildly, as did the number of appendages. They also had limited shapeshifting ability, which they demonstrated by growing various bladed limbs when the need demanded it. They could attack at range as well, mostly by firing a barrage of deadly ice shards that could easily pierce through rock and stone. The complete and total lack of any sensory organs, on the other hand, implied that they relied on some sort of Mana Locator Gland to perceive their surroundings.
It was this last bit that made them truly troublesome opponents for someone like Drea who relied on sneak attacks to be effective. They would detect her presence without fail once she got within five or so meters of them, rendering her Assassination Skill completely useless. Being literal blocks of living ice also meant they had no weak points she could strike at, such as tendons, necks, or hearts. Binding them with her webbing was also quite useless, as the elementals could just sprout blades of ice from their bodies and rip it to shreds. They truly were an assassin’s nightmare, and Drea could see why the dungeon master would leave her in a place like this.
The Stalker demon was currently huddled up in a small outcropping of rocks that provided some measure of shelter from the frigid winds. Her mandibles chittered without end while her practically naked body shivered uncontrollably as it desperately tried and failed to warm itself up. Her limbs had gone completely numb by this point, and she frequently felt the need to check whether all of them were still attached. It wasn’t like they were going to freeze up and snap off in the wind, but they could still be hacked or ripped off in a scuffle, and she probably wouldn’t even feel it.
And those animate lumps of frozen water were quite the troublesome bunch indeed. The big ones that were tall enough to give Kora a run for her money were so tough that attacking them felt like digging a tunnel through a cliff with just a needle. Their attacks were slow, clumsy, and easy to avoid, but the sheer amount of time and effort it took to bring them down took its toll on her. There were also small ones that did not reach a height of even a meter, but those were arguably worse. Even if they were easily dispatched in one or two hits, they had a tendency to swarm her from all sides, resulting in seemingly trivial yet also unavoidable injuries.
But no matter how shallow the cuts were, each wound she sustained was permanent. Her body was suffering from the initial stages of hypothermia, which resulted in her automatic HP recovery being completely halted. But even if her cuts and bruises would not recover, it could have been much worse. She imagined she’d be actively losing HP right now if she wasn’t still under the effects of Boxxy’s cold resistance potion. Not to mention that, even if this place was able to deplete even a demon’s stamina, she was still able to rest up and recover some of it. That was why she was currently hiding away in this dark corner to begin with, as every fight she went through felt like running a marathon underwater.
One might argue that all she needed to do was avoid fighting the elementals altogether, but that was easier said than done. Even if a bunch of them could be seen wandering around aimlessly and could be easily sidestepped, there were many more of them hiding in her surroundings. Their natural camouflage was so good, that it was impossible for her to tell whether an object buried in the snow was a harmless rock or a dungeon monster taking a nap until she was right on top of it. Meaning that no matter what she did, she still ended up being ambushed and forced into a fight.
And yet she had been making relatively good progress in spite of all those obstacles. The demoness poked her head out of her hidey-hole, wincing a bit as her face was pelted with snow and her hair was whipped back by the vicious wind. Visibility was terrible, but she still managed to make out what seemed to be the canyon’s exit up ahead. The passage had gradually been growing wider and flatter for a while now, and seemed to open up completely about forty meters further ahead.
However, even though this seemed like the home stretch, she couldn’t help but worry about crossing it. She only had about half of her 5,153 HP remaining despite her best efforts, and the road ahead was filled to the brim with agitated ice elementals of all sizes. It wasn’t impossible to fight through them, but it would be extremely difficult to say the least. Not to mention that, even if she won, it would leave her in a much-too-injured state to properly deal with whatever guardian awaited her at the end. The upcoming boss battle was also why she was currently doing her best to recuperate, as it was sure to be yet another test of endurance.
Truthfully speaking she was already as well rested as she could be under the circumstances, yet she ducked her head back in and curled up on the cold ground. She clenched her eyes shut and gritted her teeth as she was thoroughly reminded of how miserable she was and how pathetically weak she felt. Surely her Level advantage meant that she should be blowing through this place with little to no difficulty, right? And yet here she was, struggling to even deal with the small fry properly. It was a feeling so frustrating that it made her bite her own lips until they began to bleed.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here?”
The dungeon master’s voice made the Stalker open her compound eyes and stare at the djinn’s Mistborn Projection. The shimmering apparition was being distorted by the howling winds, but it was still easy to tell she was smiling maliciously.
“It seems the poor little bug has hit a rough spot, has she?” she began gloating. “I was a bit worried since all of the other ones were absurd, cheat-like anomalies, but you’re not like them at all! You’re not some mysterious tree spirit, an incomprehensible Hero or an abnormally Ranked Up demon. You’re just a Stalker, an itsy bitsy cowardly little spider who’s completely helpless once she’s out of her comfort zone!”
Setre’s words felt like they stabbed through Drea’s chest. Those were the same worries and doubts that the spider-girl had been trying to ignore for the longest while, well before she even come here. They probably started rearing their ugly heads at around the time where she failed to take down that bald Psionic during the war, and were only amplified further following the Rank Ups of her co-contractors. The depressing feeling that maybe she wasn’t good enough to serve as Boxxy’s familiar after all was now rapidly boiling to the surface due to her sordid circumstances.
“Oh me, oh my! It seems like I hit a nerve, did I?” added the djinn.
Seeing that her venomous remarks were finally having some sort of effect on one of her guests made Setre’s smile even wider. The fact that she, a demon, was the custodian of the Palace of the Crystal Maiden meant that the basic ‘no teleportation’ restriction available to all dungeon cores had been upgraded to ‘no spatial travel.’ The difference between the two was that the latter was much broader in scope and was able to block both a Warlock’s Summon Familiar Skill, as well as the Transfamiliar Spell.
In other words, if this Stalker were to die here or be otherwise rendered unwilling to continue, then her shithead of a master would be weakened for the final confrontation.
“Can’t say I blame you. I’d feel useless too if I couldn’t even beat a bunch of literally brainless ice cubes!”
Which was why she decided to keep pouring it on, so that the seeds of doubt may take root inside the demon’s wavering spirit. She wasn’t sure how, why or when these familiars had grown attached to their summoner, but it was hardly an unprecedented state of affairs. The important thing to take away here was that this Stalker clearly had some sort of emotional attachment to her master. And Setre would not fail to use that connection to pressure her into submission.
“I bet he’d just discard you and replace your sorry ass with a much more capable demon. Face it, you’re only holding your master back.”
And it seemed to be working wonderfully if the way her mandibles’ chittering was increasing in frequency was any indication.
“I’d suggest you kill yourself to spare everyone the trouble of your pointless existence, but not even that would work on a demon like you, regardless of how pathetic a bug you are.”
However, Setre had pushed too far. Something in her words had suddenly lit a fire under Drea’s butt. Her eyes snapped wide open and her mouth stopped producing noises for the first time since she was deposited in this damnable chasm.
Why am I so afraid of death?! she exclaimed inwardly. Ah, right, it’s because I’ll fail if I die… but what am I going to fail, exactly? It’s not like I was told to survive at all costs or make sure I clear the zone!
Indeed, those goals were just things she had somehow decided for herself. Being cut off from her Master had made her unconsciously shift into total self-preservation mode, which was unnecessary. She could just be called back to Boxxy’s side should her physical shell be destroyed. In fact, that may actually be a good thing in and of itself, as she could relay important information back to her master. She might have thought differently if she knew the Summon Familiar Skill would not work in this dungeon, but that simply wasn’t the case.
That’s right, I just need to be ‘shiny’ in my own way!
Brimming with newfound determination, the Stalker stood up and crawled out of the small alcove, eliciting another snide comment from Setre.
“What now? Finally decided to go back to the Beyond where it’s nice and warm?”
Well, the Beyond wasn’t really ‘warm’ so much as it was ‘not bone-chillingly cold,’ but Drea did not wish to argue semantics with the djinn. She did not even want to see her face, so she idly sliced up the apparition as she walked by it, forcing the magic to disperse. She then lowered her stance to the extreme, allowing her bladed limbs to carry her weight while she tucked her hands and legs closer into her torso.
She then waded straight into the sea of monsters at full speed without even trying to sneak through them. Almost immediately she saw a wall of blades and spears strike out at her, which she avoided by leaping through a small gap in between them. She landed on the frozen uneven ground with an awkward cartwheel and resumed dashing ahead. The elementals ahead of her kept trying to intercept and block her advance while the ones she left behind gave chase while shooting frozen darts at her back.
This sort of scenario was why she couldn’t allow herself to just dash past the elementals she’d faced earlier. Once they had acquired a target, these elementals were relentless in chasing it down. She might have been able to lose them if she went out of the range of their MLG, but simply running away like that was much too risky. Not only would it leave her open to ranged attacks, but would also invite the monsters hiding in the ground to strike at her and make things even worse. That was why she had decided to slowly but surely clear a path through the Howling Chasm by engaging groups of two or three of them at a time whenever giving them a wide berth was not an option.
This very clearly wasn’t her goal this time around, though, as she just kept relentlessly moving her limbs. Her body was cut up by razor-sharp edges, but she just kept running. She had to leap over a giant club swing that clipped her dangling knees and made her fumble her landing, but she got up and resumed running. Jagged shards of ice flew at her from almost all directions, yet she did not allow herself to stop running. She ripped open whatever minor elementals she could with her hands, but only if she was sure her attacks would not interfere with her running.
And the more she ran, the more she heard the sounds of ice clashing against ice.
This area was so thick with elementals that they couldn’t even walk around without bumping into one another. It was only natural they’d end up hitting their own allies when they just mindlessly attacked the intruder in their midsts. They weren’t just getting in their own way, though, as the ‘brainless ice cubes’ would lash back at each other on reflex whenever they were hit. They were so simple that not even the dungeon core’s influence was able to reign them in before the whole thing devolved into a massive brawl.
Which was precisely the sort of chaos Drea had been aiming for. She already knew full well that these things were way too dumb to understand concepts such as ‘friendly fire’ or ‘teamwork,’ and that they moved more like machines than living beings. The large ones were especially useful to that end, as their huge swings and massive range meant they caused the most collateral damage. They also pulled double duty as improvised cover, as the Stalker was able to duck under or behind them to avoid being skewered by the constant barrage of icy projectiles.
However, even that small comfort came to an end when Drea cleared the unruly mob and found herself out in the open. She may have passed through the danger zone, but she wasn’t out of the woods quite yet as a good chunk of the horde of pissed off monsters were still on her tail. Not only would they have a clear shot at her retreating back, but there was also no telling what sort of nasty surprises awaited her ahead. But the time for hesitation was over, and the Stalker forged on ahead without even considering the consequences.
Except that, as it turned out, there were no more elementals or traps or anything of the sort beyond that point. Nothing popped out of the ground or leaped at her from the walls, no matter how much noise she made or ground she covered. Even the stampede behind her was growing quieter at a much more rapid pace than she thought possible. The Stalker hid behind a particularly big boulder and allowed herself to peek back at the path she’d covered. To her great relief, she saw that the lumps of living ice were shambling back to their original locations, where the free-for-all she’d started was already winding down.
“Yessss!” she shout-whispered to herself with a fist pump. “Also, owww!”
Now that the rush of her mad dash was wearing off, she was steadily being made aware of her aching body’s complaints. Well, at least it didn’t feel as numb as it did, so that was a start. She quickly looked herself over, only to find that she had barely 1,600 HP left and that the topmost pair of her back-mounted scythes had been chopped off in the confusion. Still, it was clearly a much better outcome than if she had actually tried to fight her way through that mess the hard way. It was obvious she lucked out hard to achieve such a favorable outcome, but she didn’t let that take away from her feeling of triumph.
The realization that she was now two limbs short had already squashed that sliver of joy anyway.
Once she confirmed her body’s condition, she proceeded cautiously down the path. Much like she had seen earlier, it opened up to a wide, completely flat space that was entirely unlike the damnable canyon. Even the wind had died down somewhat, but this only allowed her to realize that what she had perceived as an exit was actually an entrance to some sort of arena. It was a generally circular space that was about fifty or sixty meters wide and was surrounded on all sides by yet more of those blasted unscalable cliffs.
As the Stalker got closer to the center, she couldn’t help but feel more and more on edge. Even though she was initially glad to see this flat space, right now she couldn’t help but feel strangely exposed. The ground beneath her feet also felt weirdly solid, prompting her to shovel the snow around a bit with the sole of her foot. Once she removed the top - and indeed only - layer of fresh white powder, she found herself staring down at a corpse. One that had been encased in a layer of impossibly clear ice that had a vibrant blue hue to it.
It would appear the Stalker was standing on top of some sort of frozen body of water, like a lake or pond. It was impossible for her to tell how deep it actually went, as the ambient light wasn’t strong enough to penetrate more than a few meters beneath the surface. She wasn’t sure what the dead body was doing in there, but it was by no means the only one. Every time she brushed the fresh snow aside she was greeted with another person’s corpse. They were all overwhelmingly dwarven, but humans, elves and gnomes could also be seen here and there. She also couldn’t help but notice how remarkably well preserved they were. They looked so unblemished and untouched by time that she felt it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they suddenly sprang to life.
Or at least that’s what she thought, until one of them opened its eyes and stared into her own.
It then suddenly burst from the ice with a loud noise while hissing, eliciting a rather girlish scream from Drea as she leapt a few meters backwards. She watched in pure shock as the corpse climbed out of its icy prison while some sort of black mist began to seep out of its pale skin and drape over its body. When the dreadful miasma dissipated a second later, what was left was a creature very different from the human soldier that rose from the ice.
It still retained a humanoid shape, but the flesh had become extremely lean, gangly and decomposed. Overall, its appearance was closer to that of a malnourished doppelganger than a person, with only the minimal amount of meat covering its bones. It had blue skin and claws instead of fingers and toes - two on each foot and three on each hand, much like Drea. It had a head of shoulder-length black hair, a complete and total lack of anything resembling a nose, and eye sockets that glowed with an eerie white light.
Whatever clothes and armor were on the original body were now gone, transformed by the strange mist much like its flesh. The clearly undead thing wore a pair of weathered leather braces that covered its wrists and forearms and a matching pair of greaves rested on its shins and calves. Its shoulders, collar and the lower half of its face were all wrapped up in a rough brown fabric that was much too big to be called a scarf, and dangled over its protruding spine like a short cape.
A low voice like a thousand whispers washed over Drea from all sides.
“Maim… Kill… Destroy…”
The undead creature shambled around aimlessly in a drunken manner as it kept spewing threatening words. The way it acted made it seem like it had forgotten the Stalker was even there. The demoness didn’t miss this opportunity and immediately circled around its back and pounced at it. The Assassination Skill had went off without a hitch, allowing her to decapitate the vile thing while also ripping its body to pieces in the blink of an eye. It didn’t even let out a sound as it collapsed to the snow and dissolved into a weird black sludge that began seeping into the ice.
Once the last of its liquefied remains disappeared, however, the area was bathed in a high pitched scream that could only be described as ‘angry.’ There was a sudden eruption of ice and snow near Drea as another body already wreathed in a black smog leaped out of it. It charged straight towards her as the miasma fell off its flesh, revealing a creature identical to the one she had just executed. It leapt through the air directly at her, only to find its head, torso and shoulder impaled and then ripped apart by the claws and scythes on the Stalker’s left side.
A third corpse then popped out of the ice and rushed her in much the same manner, but was just as easily defeated. Then a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh followed suit one after the other, all of which took on the same appearance as the first one. And then, surprisingly enough, the eight one actually managed to avoid being skewered on the first hit. It still died immediately afterwards, but each subsequent attempt lasted that little bit longer against the Stalker. And then, on the fifteenth try, one of them actually managed to get a clean hit on her, ripping out a sizable chunk of her left thigh with its claws.
It was at this point that Drea’s suspicions were confirmed. Rather than multiple beings of the same species, what she was faced with was the same creature that came at her again and again, no matter how many times she defeated it. And the reason it had managed to injure her wasn’t because opponent had suddenly gotten faster or anything like that. Even if it was surprisingly spry for its bony build, it was still objectively slower than her.
The reason why it managed to land a hit her was because it was learning and adapting to her attack patterns, movement and all around fighting style. At a rather frightening pace, too. Once Drea realized this, she began to vary her attacks as much as possible. This approach kept her from sustaining any more injuries for a while, but it became apparent it couldn’t last. She wasn’t too worried, though. Her extra limbs still gave her a biological advantage that was impossible to overcome, no matter how skillful at dodging her opponent got.
It was a notion that was shattered somewhere around the 30th time that it emerged from the ice, as the undead being appeared sporting a new appendage. It was a slender limb poking out of its upper back that had two elbow joints and was tipped with a blade made out of bone. It was at this point that Drea realized this thing wasn’t just getting used to her movements, but was actively studying them and making them its own. That was probably also why it had claws and black hair strangely similar to hers, as it had somehow or another decided to copy those parts of her first. The Stalker had never seen or even heard of such a being, but the eerie features, body-snatching habit, shapeshifting ability and battle mimicry led her to a singular conclusion.
She was fighting some sort of undead doppelganger.
Or to be more precise, it was an Icebound variant of a Mirror Wraith. This type of malicious being was born of doppelgangers that either practiced necromancy or led what other members of their species would deem excessively violent lives. Boxxy actually had a high chance of coming back as one of these after its death if Mortimer didn’t personally show up to collect its stubborn soul. That was assuming, of course, that some shadowy government-run organization didn’t make the mistake of bringing it back to life in some misguided attempt to further their own agenda.
Unfortunately for Drea, she had no idea what this thing truly was, nor did she know of a method that would make it stay dead. This was hardly surprising, as Mirror Wraiths had become all but extinct after the Silent War very nearly wiped out the raw materials needed for their creation. This was a completely new opponent for her, and it was adapting to her faster than she was to it.
As the fights dragged on, Drea found it harder and harder to land a decisive blow on her opponent. That would’ve been bad enough in and of itself, but the prolonged duels also meant that the wraith was starting to land hits on her. Admittedly they were only at the level of scratches or gashes, but any wound received from an undead being carried with it a deadly consequence - the undead disease known as the Blight. The plague was gradually making her grow weaker and more lethargic, to the point where the wraith was actually starting to match her in terms of speed.
At around the 45th time it emerged from the ice, the Mirror Wraith and the Stalker were more or less on equal footing. The undead being had grown four scythes and a sturdy carapace of its own by this point, resulting in what was essentially a twisted reflection of Drea’s partially crippled form. It even had a pair of gigantic mandibles jutting out of the sides of its head as if it were trying to mock her nervous ticks.
The two of them then engaged in another exchange of blows that was more akin to dancing than fighting, with neither one landing any clean hits. Or at least not until Drea was able to seize an opportunity to rush in and decapitate her opponent for the upteempth time. However, what she perceived as an opening turned out be bait for a trap. The wraith had taken advantage of its pseudo-immortality and had willingly offered up one of its bodies to create an opening in the Stalker’s defenses. This allowed it to slice clean through her right arm at the same time that its own neck was severed.
Drea screamed in pain and surprise and reflexively leaped backwards. Her amputated limb rolled around on the ground while dripping with viscous blood for a few moments before rapidly evaporating into thin air. Another explosion of ice and snow later and her hated opponent was already back to full strength while she was left in a clearly disadvantageous position.
This made the Stalker very rapidly reconsider her approach. Initially she planned to fight this thing until it ran out of bodies. She was making good progress up until now, as by her estimation the stubborn zombie had already used up somewhere between half and two thirds of the available corpses. It had also more or less reached the limit of what it could copy from her, yet she was still more or less decisively overpowering it. Under the circumstances she couldn’t help but feel confident she could outlast it, so long as her stamina held out.
It was a plan that was proven to have been so optimistic it bordered on the naive.
Her opponent charged at her much like it had done until then, but it was painfully obvious that confronting it would not be a smart decision. With that in mind, Drea began running from and actively evading the wraith in an effort to buy herself some time to think. She was inwardly glad she decided against trying to use her webbing against it, as it would have probably found a way to copy those as well and use them to entrap her.
But the more she tried to rethink her approach, the more it became apparent her skillset was terribly ill-equipped to deal with this undead, completely unlike those she considered her allies.
For example, if Fizzy were here, she’d instantly purify this entire lake with her holy magic and rob the body-hopping specter of any suitable vessels, perhaps even destroy it outright. Xera would just burn away both ice and corpses with her flames, while Kora would be able to outlast it with sheer endurance and physical force. Drea wasn’t sure exactly what Ambrosia’s spriggan body was capable of, but it was a fair assumption that some uppity graverobber wouldn’t be much of an issue.
Boxxy, on the other hand, was so flexible that this wouldn’t even register as a challenge. That Mimic could produce a near-infinite number of attack variations through its world-class shapeshifting skills. The rotten wraith would never even get the chance to get used to so many methods of murder before it ran out of fuel. That was assuming the Mimic didn’t just annihilate it over and over from afar with its Warlock magic without giving it a chance to get close. Or that it didn’t simply blow the whole place to smithereens with its explosives.
But Drea could do none of those things. Sure, she was better at stealthy assassinations than anyone else in Boxxy’s inner circle, but this Howling Chasm was specifically designed to counter such a skillset. Perhaps… she had already done enough? Surely even her master would understand her predicament and not inflict some kind of punishment for her incompetence if she were to fall here and now. The only thing the Stalker could do at this point was return to her master’s side and relay the information she had gathered. After that, Boxxy could easily find its way to this place and gobble up that detestable wrath like it was nothing.
… Huh. I guess I could try that, couldn’t I?
The Stalker suddenly stopped giving her opponent the runabout and turned on her heel to face it. She wasn’t sure whether her new idea would work. Just the opposite, in fact. It was a notion so idiotic and reckless that it made that desperate dash through the field of elementals seem like a pleasant stroll through a garden. But at the same time, it was one more thing she could try, and she felt like she couldn’t face her master with her head held high unless she really did give it her all.
Well, she was far too shy to face her master at all unless she was ordered to, but that was besides the point.
The Mirror Wraith sensed that something was up and skid to a halt. It lowered its body and circled around the Stalker, its own set of mandibles chittering to mirror Drea’s own. The undead was ultimately the more aggressive of the two, so the staredown didn’t last long before it made a move. It approached her with a light footed zigzag pattern, completely unlike the blind charges it attempted during the initial series of duels.
Drea turned her left side forward in preparation to receive the incoming attack. She wasn’t sure whether she could pull this off one handed, but this thing was rather inept at dealing with things it saw for the first time, so her odds were definitely good. She also had only about 200 HP remaining after having her limb torn off, meaning this would likely be her last chance. She needed to make it count, which was why she was quietly proud of herself for holding her webbing back for so long.
She raised her good hand towards the incoming wraith and let loose a spray of sticky spider silk from her palm. As expected, the creature had no idea how to deal with it and was wrapped up in it in the blink of an eye, causing it to fall and skid across the ground. It tried to cut through its bindings with its imitation scythes and claws, but the Stalker quickly moved in and secured all of its limbs by tying them together. She then applied a liberal coat of webbing, wrapping her opponent up completely until it resembled the world’s most repulsive bagworm.
It struggled, hissed, screeched and writhed around, but Drea would not give it the opportunity to break free. She mercilessly stabbed it over and over through the white cocoon until it stopped moving and its body began melting into sludge yet again. The viscous liquid began to soak clean through the webbing as it attempted to return to the frozen lake underneath. The Stalker half expected something like this to happen, but it wasn’t a problem. Or rather, it was precisely what she hoped would happen.
Drea then screwed up her courage, picked up the sloshing lump of spider silk and, in an act that would surely make Boxxy recoil in horror, poured the black sludge into her own mouth. The scent hit her first, followed closely by the horrible taste. She now understood firsthand why her master had nicknamed the lich Valeria ‘Nasty’ back in the day.
When the stuff hit the back of her throat, however, her body immediately reacted. It was actively rejecting this bizarre stuff, which it displayed by convulsing violently against her will. Drea had to use every ounce of her remaining strength to swallow even a single mouthful, but that was her limit. She dropped the rest of it on the ground, and bent over while retching, gagging and dry-heaving from the horrific aftertaste.
Now freed from her grasp, what was left of the black sludge returned to the ice and sought out another host. The Mirror Wraith emerged from the ice once more a while later, but it became immediately apparent that Drea’s stupid idea had paid off. The decomposing humanoid still had the same arachnid shape as before, but it actively struggled to maintain its balance and stay on its feet. The manner in which it was stumbling around was much more severe than the first time the Stalker saw it, almost as if she were watching a newborn doe learning to walk.
Seeing this, the demon immediately attacked it, wrapping it up with her webbing much like she had done before. She guessed she could only get away with this technique a few more times before her adversary devised a counter of it, but that would be enough. Her first attempt at devouring her opponent may have failed since she had underestimated how vile this thing tasted, but she knew its flavor now.
By the Gods, she knew it so well that she doubted she would ever be able to forget it.
That was fine though. This amount of suffering was a small price to pay if it meant earning Boxxy’s approval. If she overcame a challenge specifically tailored to counter her way of fighting, then there was no way that endlessly pragmatic creature would fail to be impressed. And so, with such optimistic thoughts in mind and a silent prayer for her soon-to-be-dead tastebuds on her lips, Drea resumed her meal with only the slightest bit of hesitation.
The area guardian of the Howling Chasm has been slain.
To the victor go the spoils.
The Howling Chasm can now be accessed freely for the next 24 hours.
Several minutes later the only things left of the prolonged confrontation was a corpse-and-crater-filled frozen lake, a few piles of soppy webbing, a tightly shut golden treasure chest.
Well, that and one violently convulsing Stalker who could do nothing but writhe around on the ground in agony while stubbornly clinging to the last few digits of her HP.