Chapter 25: The Forty-Third Passageway


A thank you for this chapter and many more to my new patron Robert!


Chapter 25: The Forty-Third Passageway

If I didn’t know Eugene had come with me I would have forgotten his existence by now. When my eyes slipped away to look for a glowing firey fox it would take a couple moments to find him again.

Being in the dark didn’t help, but that wasn’t the issue. It was Eugene in his fighting stance using whatever essence art he trained in. I can see why hunts hyres alone.

I rolled my feet taking swift light strides at a speed I’m sure I would be considered a full sprint on earth. I was also making sure to keep the wind at my back with a little fine control. This much I could do now with minimal mana usage.

—Cling…cling…cling…

A constant ringing became louder and louder as we climbed up a rather large hill. Up the scorched rocky ground made of hard charcoal I could hear faint sounds of metal on metal clashing.

It was always best not to interfere with other adventurers, especially strangers. This time it might not be like Crimson Claw and a real fight could happen.

I signaled with my head to take a longer route around the hill instead. Eugene understood and changed course with me.

As we went the long way around the sounds became faster. Another sound appeared too, it was a deeper sound at a slower speed.

Those two… as we peaked up on a higher hill away from where we heard the sounds we spotted two familiar faces.

Off in the distance in the valley between two hills, I could make out Runter and Mei. Each of them fighting mobs of hyres alone.

Runter was fighting a giant pack of needle wolves and Mei a massive flying flock of steel crows.

I could see both were focused on their battles.

—Thud
A hyre fell to the ground with a heavy sound, Mei killed a steel crow.

“What is with that look?” Still in the middle of fighting Mei sent a smug glace over to Runter right after she killed the hyre.

Runter didn’t see it. He was still in the midst of his own battle.

With the battle picking up Mei turned her focus back to her fight. I continued to watch.

—Thud
“Pfft, the same look?” I laughed silently as Runter sent a smug look towards Mei when he killed a needle wolf, she didn’t notice it.

“What is wrong with those two?” I looked at Eugene. First the stare on the first day of class now this.

Eugene seemed pretty well connected and his family seemed influential.

“Since you’re an employee now I can tell you the open secret among our families.”

“Are you sure you can tell me?” I would prefer to not get into affairs like this until I’m strong enough to defend myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I never minded the drama on Earth, but in here was another story. I’m sure if I offended someone the same night I would probably be cursed and die in my bed without being strong enough to do anything to stop it.

“Yes its been a long feud anyways you could probably find out on your own. I don’t have to tell you if you don’t want.”

I clicked my tongue. It was too late I was curious “No, no its fine tell me.”

“Alright. Runter’s mother, Aubrey, was hired to party with and teach Mei’s older brother, Feng. He was a mage in training and felt he would obtain the final piece of his grimoire in a new dungeon. No one knows exactly what happened, but Runter’s mother ended up having her grimoire stolen and Feng obtained magic extremely similar to Aubrey’s. She had other grimoires, but apparently that one was her strongest. Ever since their families have been at the edge of war. ”

“I see…” Like corporate espionage on Earth, it was nice knowing, but there isn’t anything I could do with it anyways. Knowing that Eugene felt he could trust me with this information was nicer than being having it.


I wonder whose side Eugene was on…

Neither appeared to be in peril, so there was no point in running in and joining their fights. One, Eugene wasn’t suited for large combat. Two, more importantly for me, I would probably die. Maybe one or two would be manageable with Eugene, but a massive group like that was impossible for the current me. Instead, I was more focused on learning something from their intense battles.

How pretty… I watched Runter’s.

Runter’s emerald sword left a green streak as it swirled around him, blocking attempts from the giant wolves to attack from the sides. I think he used his ability to fly to make his jumps around the hyres pinpoint and effortless. With his emerald blade as his defense, Runter wielded his porcelain sword to fight a single needle wolf in front of him.

Although his fighting style with the sword in his hand appeared strong it seemed the single emerald sword was too weak to be used to attack.

Mastery over a weapon to the point where their own affliction aura can control it…

Hopefully, I can reach the point where I can wield another smaller weaker bow with only the use of my own aura. I want to increase the tempo of my natural fighting speed.

I dislike the tiny pauses where I can do nothing, in terms of attacking.

It was obvious the needle wolves were stronger than the mud snakes. Runter wasn’t able to kill the entire pack in a few exchanges. Instead focusing on killing one at a time when an opening appeared.

“Is that how you fought them Eugene?” I looked at him I was curious now.

Needle wolves seemed to travel in packs and fought as a team.

How did Eugene fight them?

“No, I stalk and I follow. I fell back when they moved as a group. When they send scouts I kill them quickly. It seems they send another out if one does not return. I used that to whittle them down until there are none left.” Eugene gave me a casual response as he too watched Runter and Mei.

Okay…how succinct very Eugene-esque.

None of that information was in his family’s database. Did he learn it, apply it, then kept it for himself?

[It seems Eugene is much stronger than he lets on, Lucid.]

I would seem so. If he can take out a whole pack doesn’t that equate him to Runter’s and Mei’s level? Obviously not in pure frontal combat.

I shivered thinking about the family of needle wolves. Poor things, one by one their numbers disappeared without a trace. At least here they got to fight for their life instead of getting ambushed.

If Eugene is as much as a planner as I feel he is now, I’m beginning to question how we came to meet…

Maybe, just maybe, he was the one who set the outside monitor at the gym to get into contact with me.

[Lucid, I thought we were trying to trust people more. The parameters have barely adjusted.]

I’m just wondering. Hypothetical.

Well, not that it matters how we met now, I do trust him. I’m sure he could have killed me or tortured to get anything he wanted by now.

Like Runter, Mei showing a high level of skill too. 

She was fighting back a flock of a couple dozen steel crows. All of the flying hyres in a swirling formation attacking her. However, unlike Runter, or unlike her spar with him, she didn’t wield any sword in her hand. Mei had a dozen thin double-edged swords flying around her. With her free hands it looked to me like she was guiding her own swarm of blades against the swarm of birds.

Each giant crow took turns flying up to dive down attempting to cut at her with their knife-like wings. They also attacked with their metallic talons and beaks to distract her while other crows dived.

Slowly I got a feel for her fighting style it was much more complex compared to Runter’s — it also meant it was much harder to use. I noticed she kept six of the longer swords as an outer defense while the six smaller ones stayed close to her shooting forward to stab at her target.

It is memorizing to see them use their abilities to the fullest. Like watching an ice skater perform a perfect routine.

I didn’t completely understand but the confident intentions where clearly visible.

I want to see Eugene fight too but in his own element instead of the brawl to live we had in the open with the undead.

I looked at him and thought back to his words.

Maybe… I don’t want to see it.

“Is something the matter?”

“No…” I continued to stare at him.

Although slightly entranced we never slowed our speed. Runter and Mei left out sight. The sounds of their battle stayed in the valley muffled between the two hills.

I was a little sad I didn’t get to see the magic I remember reading Runter had.

[Maybe it is too slow to use since he probably hasn’t completed a grimoire and is alone Lucid.]

I nodded my head.

I think your right Eurval.

***

Eugene and I continued our hike through the dark dungeon floor. I couldn’t see it too well but the dirt had coated my armor with a thick layer of black. Luckily it seemed the visor of my helmet was specially made to keep anything from sticking to it.

Thank you, Marella, it would be quite awkward to need a tiny squeegee in the middle of a fight.

I was successful in avoiding any needle wolves, steel crows, and even the massive tungsten tigers using the limited hunting knowledge I had from Earth. But it seemed the flame foxes where quite adept at hiding.

It didn’t help that Eugene wasn’t only following, I’m sure as an assassin-stalker-fighter essence art user he had plenty of experience to lead me through this.

[He probably wants you to develop your own intuition Lucid. You are much weaker and especially much less experienced.]

I know… Eurval didn’t pull back its punches, but it was good it helped me not stay complacent.

So when does the love part of though-love come?

[…]

Hearing nothing I continued to scan for any sign of flame foxes.

Hmm, being the weakest of the bunch here meant it was prey to both the other hyres and the adventurers running around. It was also probably why they stayed in hard to reach areas.

For just how long did Eugene stalk that pack to have ended up seeing flame foxes…

“We are coming up on the mountains now Lucid, before we hike up anymore I wanted to ask if you had a plan?” Eugene looked at me.

I thought for a moment, he really is trying to train me like a real employer.

[He is your real employer Lucid…]

“We’ll take a route with cover against anything looking down, when I see one by itself I’ll try and snipe it. If I can’t kill it in one blow or miss I’ll fall back with my movement spell and try again. If it seems like I can’t fight it or more appear I’ll count on you to help.”

Eugene nodded his head. While what I said seemed pretty obvious it was always better to confirm any plan. This was one of the places studying paid off.

We began and hiked for at least a couple of hours. The last party we saw was fighting a duo of tungsten tigers. It seemed they prowled around the base of the large mountain at the center of this floor.

The mountain was huge. So much bigger than I had thought having seen it from far. It wasn’t just one either it seemed it was a range of them.

“Do you think the next passageway is within this mountain range?” I looked over at Eugene.

“Possibly, the ones tasked to explore turned back after they fought and studied the flame foxes. Seeing no strong hyres this deep in they didn’t bother checking. But it probably is.”

I nodded my head. Suddenly something caught my eye.

“There!”

Right as Eugene finished speaking I saw a pair of flame foxes come up to a protruding rock a little higher up one of the mountains. I pulled Eugene back to hug the mountainside tighter.

[Target: ~102m]

The short glace was enough for Euval to gauge the distance.

Only 100 meters… I should be able to hit them accurately, especially now with all this trial by fire training in the dungeon I’ve had.

Luckily, they hadn’t seen us. I had chosen a path that blocked their view of us unless we poked our head out again. With Eurval in my hand, I produced a wind arrow.

Nocked and drawn I jumped out from cover and quickly aimed my bow.

Once one crossed my sight I released my arrow.

—Wooooo.
The arrow flew in a straight path towards the large glowing fox. Before it could react its head was pierced clean through.

With a body made of lava the hole I made quickly healed, however, the damage was already done. The hyre fell over.

[Lucid I think headshots against this specific hyre will be key to killing them. I believe anywhere else and they will not die so easily in one arrow. Flame foxes healing ability seems much stronger based off what we just witnessed.]

I agreed, but I was a little surprised. The more detailed report on flame foxes said nothing about their regeneration being this fast.

It should be much slower. It had said wounds would heal completely in half an hour making chasing them useless if they escaped, but this was a couple of seconds.

“Something is up.” I looked at Eugene he looked equally as perplexed.

The other flame fox that had been with it looked around for the attacker. The flames on its body rising as it prepared to fight.

The layer of charcoal-like substance seemed to make it hard to spot me. Paired with Eugene who was already hard to focus on the flame fox took awhile to pinpoint us.

However, once it did with a single leap the flame fox jumped down the mountain at an incredible speed leaving a trail of fire in its steps.

That is way too fast!

The flame fox was much larger than any fox from earth, its height at least a meter making the speed much more frightening to me.

As it came running it opened its mouth snarling while shooting tiny flaming bullets of molten metal.

I had cast Rainer’s movement magic before the start of the battle allowing me to easily move out of the way.

Clouds of black smoke shot up from the ground as its attack hit where we had been. Like in his spar with me Eugene had practically blinked to the side.

My bow was already drawn and with it much closer my aim would be better!

“Got you!” As the fox huffed readying another attack I shot my arrow.

The crystalline bolt pierced its head. The arrow continued for a bit before breaking apart from hitting the mountainside behind it.

The dust slowly settled allowing us to see the second dead hyre.

This one too…

The hole was completely healed.

“What was that…that was way more than the 1k rating right?” I gave a look at Eugene.

“I’m not sure also. Maybe the reports from the scout we sent are wrong?”

[For low ranked hyres they can be classified as weaker than they actually are due to being too weak for the person assessing their strength Lucid.]

From what I saw with Runter’s, Mei’s, and the party fighting the tungsten tigers it seemed those where properly rated. It must have been because they were much stronger than a single flame fox.

What if the error was a couple magnitudes greater and Eugene and I wouldn’t be enough?

I scratched my chin and sighed.

All the more reason why I should always be adding to my strength no matter how tiny.

I walked up to the hyre. Now that it was dead its temperature quickly fell. Slowly the flame fox hardened like the magma it consumed as food.

Eugene kept watch as I began to perform Holy Hunter’s Heart over the slain fox. After adding a dash of light element its mana orb began to be slowly extracted.

The process took a little over a minute. Once the circle disappeared a mostly dim orb with little white appeared in my hand.

Wait…

I looked closely at the orb in my hand it was dark on this floor, but inside the orb up close there were speckles of red and orange.

“Holy shit!”

The amount was tiny, but it was there!

“Fire essence!” Eugene’s head whipped back to see after I yelled out.

I’m sure he was as surprised as I am. For such a weak hyre to have any type of essence within its mana orb was exceptionally rare.

[How lucky Lucid.]

Very much so. They do say dungeons are the place to obtain strength and money~

I had been feeling rather down having my salary be taken away, but this improved my mood tremendously.

I stored the mana orb away. Eugene’s face was in thought for a moment but switched back to watch for any hyres.

Happy, I performed Demonic Hunter’s Heart. After a little dark mana and time, an essence orb appeared in my hand. With a little light from the fake starry sky I saw speckles of red within the essence orb too!

“Is this even possible!? Fire essence?” I couldn’t believe it. I never read anything about it.

Is this actually fire essence Eurval?

[Sorry Lucid I have nothing stored about elemental essence within essence orbs.]

“Can I see that Lucid?” Eugene looked at me and the orb in my hand as I crouched over the dead hyre.

“Sure, here.” I handed it over.

Eugene studied the essence orb carefully with the same blue eyes that had been scanning me thoroughly when I fought the two hyres. Of course, I kept my world and allowed him to penetra—… I mean I didn’t block his deeper scans.

“I cannot believe it, but you’re right. This does contain fire essence. Although, elemental essence inside an essence orb is unheard of for something this weak. ”

You say that, but your face hasn’t moved at all…

Eugene handed it back to me “did you use some kind of luck charm? Or spell? Are you perhaps a Blessed Child of Scale?”

“No…” I didn’t even know those things existed.

But Blessed Child of Scale?

[They are chosen by the Goddess of Scale to join the ranks of the Favorites, it is usually communicated to by the Pope. I did not store when the last Favorite was named so I do not know Lucid. I do know blessed children are usually kept secret until they are strong enough to be announced as a new member of the Favorites.]

I wish. Those things are saved for people like Runter or Mei.

“That is too bad. This luck and your odd internal bodies made me think about that just now. My sources had said this year there was an unprecedented amount of Blessed Children, we could not obtain the names, however. Mother would have been happy to know at least one to sponsor first. ”

Sponsor? As in monetarily? I should have said yes.

[Lucid…]

I’m just kidding. I’m happy enough that Eugene is fine with me paying my debt with my salary instead of garnishing anything I find.

Very motivated now I walked up the mountain towards the first hyre that I had killed. Unfortunately, neither the mana orb nor the essence orb had fire essence this time.

[You should be happy with having just one with elemental essence Lucid.]

True…

I looked at Eugene “I still have plenty of mana I think I can probably get maybe 20 or so more of these until I have only half my mana left.”

Much like my mindset when I was load training I didn’t want to ever half less than half my mana in a dangerous place.

Eugene nodded his head and followed me up and around to see more of the large mountain range.

Hoo~

Already I could see quite a few glowing dots in the distance.

“So this is where they all were.” I smiled.


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Flower pp

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