Big welcome to Briggs and Noah more keepers as the keeper appears ;P
Another welcome to RandomGift another Hyre friend
And a thank you for another month for Phillip! ❤
Chapter 36: Where The Soul Lies
“What’s going on!”
“Where are we?”
“Sarah! Are you okay?!”
Cries from the hundreds began to ring out now that the mass teleportation had concluded. Some landing on their feet or others like me landing face first eating a fist full of dirt.
Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!!
“Lucid are you okay?” Eugene’s voice clearly broke through the crowd —our near field communication channel working once more.
“Yes! I’m fine, well. No! Actually. I’m not fine. Be careful!”
My hands shook. My feet tapping the ground like an excited rabbit. Tapping because my body didn’t want to be here but my mind stopping my movements as this new place was too unknown to just casually move.
A terrible anxiety kept growing within me not allowing my heart to rest for a single beat. Just focusing long enough to respond was hard.
[Do not panic Lucid, but you have begun to fail some mental health checks. Good news, I do believe they are of external influences.]
If I were to take the vague feeling of danger that the soon-to-hatch eggs gave me and multiplied it a hundred-fold that would be close to what I felt standing here.
I jerked about, overreacting at any movements the people around me made. They, like me, were trying to analyze the area for our MAGI’s to build a map.
Time seemed to have stopped and the fear inside of me continued to increase.
I can’t ignore this feeling its too strong to just be some false alarm especially after the help it provided in obtaining contribution points.
No matter how hard I tried I could not calm myself. Quickly, I grabbed onto Eugene’s shoulder and dragged him with me. I was going to trust this gut feeling.
They say intuition is built off of experience.
“Lucid? Where are we going? Did you build a good enough map already?” Eugene asked. I couldn’t answer at the moment but I was happy he wasn’t resisting.
Luckily he trusted me enough to not fight back.
“We can’t be here. We just can’t. Trust me please!” I felt my heart was about to explode standing.
My head moved back and forth at the many of the tunnels before me. I picked the one closest walked down it.
“Are you sure we should go this way? It might be dangerous just doing it this way we should try and figure it out with everyone.”
Although he was saying these things Eugene still followed. The few glances I shot behind me I saw him in thought trying to figure out what I was doing.
“Where is Lucid going?” The ever observant Abigail was the first to notice that I was now a ways away from the entire adventurer task force.
“Lucid? Oh, you mean Last, who cares about him. We need to figure out where we are. Hey does anyone have any kind of divination magic?” Alan replied then turned to the crowd.
“Yeah, but he’s in a rush…like he knows something.”
The voices of the massive crowd of young adventurers faded away as I continued to pull Eugene with me.
Eugene followed my quick steps as I hastily made my way into a dark tunnel. With the daily essence training and combat, my eyesight at night had become really good, but I was sure Eugene’s was much better.
Sound of my metal armor stepping on the rocky ground filled the air as we moved. Not a single sound seemed to be leaking from Eugene’s movements.
The further I went deeper into this network of caves the more my anxiety seemed to go away.
While we were moving quickly I made sure not to run. This place was completely foreign to us, we were full of hesitant steps. Even if my greatest fear was now behind me I was still scared about stepping on a trap or encountering a powerful hyre.
I began to slow down finally feeling my heart rate be allowed to slow.
I let out a long sigh.
“Okay…here…is..good.” My breath was still getting caught up.
If I squinted I could faintly make white dots out of the lanterns and magical orbs of lights from the adventurers still standing where were we first appeared.
“Have you calmed down now? What’s happening to you? Does it have to do with premonitions you’ve felt with the hyres on the cave floor?” Eugene tilted his head at me.
As expected of Eugene his conclusion was extremely close.
With a final inhalation, my breathing normalized.
“Do you remember when I asked you about filtering out physical appearance altering traits?”
“Yes, I recall that.” Eugene looked even more interested now. His face switching to the spooky one that he would use to scan me.
His researcher face.
“Well, I never did that… for any of the essence orbs, I absorbed… For all of them I only removed the appearance altering traits.”
I offered Eugene a bashful smile.
For the first time in a while, I saw Eugene’s eyes widened slightly. My real answer must have been more unexpected than his own.
“Does this include the essence orbs you bought?”
I nodded my head.
I don’t like that.
“But your astral body is in perfect condition at every nightly check, as were your other internal bodies.”
Eugene looked at me seriously.
“Your sanity, your soul. You’ve retained most of yourself?”
“Well, at least I think so, other than these jolts of adrenaline and premonitions.”
I devious smile appeared on his face.
“I think I understa—”
A low growl followed by a clash of metal interrupted Eugene. The loud sound bouncing off the hard stone walls of the cave echoing until it disappeared.
It had come from where we just where.
Eugene and I threw your heads around to see what had happened.
“What is that…” I let out.
A massive fiery blade stood still in place, stopped. With the extra light from the blaze coming off it I could make out Mei, Runter, and Abigail stopping the sudden attack from progressing any further standing side by side.
Mei pushing the air all of her swords had come together at their hilts to make a round shield, Runter fighting it back with his white sword in hand and his emerald one floating by his side similarly trying to push back, and Abigail using all the strength in her legs to keep steady holding the blade back with the rod of her massive spear.
Wielding the gigantic blazing great-sword was a floating black and slightly translucent arm. An arm connected to no body.
Unable to endure any longer the three were thrown back slammed into the wall behind them.
With that, the blade and arm disappeared into thin air.
A silence followed by the sudden event.
“Abigail!” Alan was the first to run towards the wall the three had been thrown into.
“No one was injured?” Obviously excluding the three.
If I thought back the path the blade had taken to have ended up facing the three it would have to have passed through the crowd of adventurers. Yet, everything seemed okay.
I had spoken too soon.
One by one I saw magical lights twinkle out and floating lanterns no longer bound fall to the ground.
Eugene and I looked at each other knowing what it meant to the many who hadn’t been behind the three. Their bodies slamming into the ground none that fell had moved to save their fall.
With a single move, from who I now assumed was the dungeon keeper at least half of AT had fallen.
With the attack over the final tinge of fear still inside me was gone too.
“Hey… Ortula wake up…”
The cries of realization begun to come out. Wanting to figure out what had happened Eugene and I ran back.
“Can you figure out what happened to them?” I spoke to Eugene with our mental communication.
Eugene kneeled over and took brought out his two glowing blue hands waving them up and down a body. Many other among the crowds were doing the same especially the support and medical magic users.
I looked down at the adventurer’s still opened eyes. Outwardly the young guy looked completely fine, not a single injury, however, their lack of blinks told me another story.
A black liquid began spill from out of his mouth.
A cold sweat formed on my brow. This could have been me…
If I hadn’t been absorbing all the essence orbs I could get my hands on then I wouldn’t have been able to sense this in time. Even if I had been using them ‘wrong’.
Eugene’s hands stopped glowing and stood back up.
“It’s the same to the death curse we both experienced.”
I looked at him “The floor with the undead?”
“Yes, except here the rapid aging seems to be to have been delivered instantly. Their insides are… completely rotten. The ones who survived either had an astral body strong enough repel it or a body strong enough to withstand the attack.”
Eugene glanced around.
“The more likely answer is the ones who survived the attack lost a powerful defensive treasure.”
I looked over at the hundreds of laying bodies. All of them suffering the same fate as the one Eugene had just looked over.
A sword that delivers instant death in one swing to those weak enough. If someone does survive there is nothing stopping it from attacking with the weapon until they die too…
I could only shake my head at the terrible misfortune. I felt disappointed how normal the whole situation felt, living in this world had clearly begun to change my world view.
Besides, there is no time to offer a prayer or mourn I had to figure out a way to survive this damn dungeon.
[The only way to escape after engaging the keeper is to slay it Lucid.]
“Quickly! This spot is dangerous lets all move!” Runter had quickly recovered and took charge.
There was a bit of talk, but as one of the strongest here everyone ended up agreeing following Runter and the four down a large path of the cave.
However, I disagreed.
If just continue to run away I was sure our battle potential as a group would continue to fall. I was also sure many others understood it too.
We had to stay put and try to fight it all out together right now or risk dying slowly. Even if we don’t have full information about its attack and defenses.
This is different compared to the rock tortoise’s appearance, there we all had the possibility of running away.
Here? There was no exit.
I took in a breath.
“EVERYONE!” I yelled out. I was going to at least try and offer up the best option. Not only for their survival but more importantly mine and Eugene’s.
Everyone stopped in their tracks, turning around.
God, I hope this works.
“You’ve already all figured out that what just did this is a keeper! We can’t run away! We have to fight it together right here and now! Or risk all of us dying one by one!”
I looked at the crowd of faces. Some seemed to agree with what I had said, but others only glared. It was also bad for the fighting strength of a group to have a divided opinion.
“And who are you?”
“Don’t listen to him! He’s the one who leeched of that guy next to him to get contribution points!” Alan interrupted.
“No, you’ve all had the wrong idea! I have been the one helping Eugene gain points. I have a special talent for figuring out the ones that were going to be born. It also helped me here! I was able to predict when the keeper was going to attack!”
I turned to Eugene.
“Lucid is right he has been the one helping me. I have been following his guidance.”
“Even then, I know this guy he goes to Laurent with me and he is known as ‘Last’ at Laurent for a reason. He has less than a year experience hunting hyres. He only killed his first one a couple months ago! Among our rankings, he is quite literally last!” Alan continued to call out.
I had gained more approving nods with Eugene’s words but after that even the ones who initially agreed turned their heads.
I wanted to go off on him, but that would only help push the sentiment he was trying to create.
I turned to Abigail. As terrible as I think she is. I also think she is the most independent thinker among the group.
“Abigail, you saw me leave the area the moment after we appeared right? You understand that we do need to fight together.”
“I did se—”
“Then why didn’t you say anything to us when you predicted it? Huh? Why didn’t you stay silent?” Chibin barked out.
“Why didn’t say anything!” An adventurer girl shrieked at me catching me by surprise.
I’m guessing she had suffered a major loss.
“Yeah what the hell! Why should we trust that you won’t use your predictions to fuck us over so you live like you did here!”
More cries began to ring out from the crowd many even blaming me.
The sentiment was gone now, there is no recovering their approval anymore.
Seeing them turn against me Runter who had been listening and Abigail who I thought was undecided both didn’t give me a second glance as they walked away. Slowly the crowd followed after them.
Still, they found the time to vent their frustrations.
“Why don’t you use your predictions on your own then.” The girl who had shrieked walked off.
“Yeah, stay away from us who knows how you will use your ‘talent’.” A man in a blue robe with a white staff spoke out as he left holding a long lock of green hair in his hand.
“Don’t follow us or we’ll tie you up and leave you as bait.” A girl in green armor also told me off as she too followed the crowd.
With their final jeers, they all left.
Alan and Chibin didn’t forget to send me a smirk too.
They’re incredibly petty, but it’s not that I can’t see the merit in their reasoning…
Moments passed, the crowd was gone leaving me and Eugene standing in a deathly stillness surrounded by the many bodies.
Shit! I could’ve gained their support had I been anyone else.
Maybe I should have had Eugene speak and say he was the one with the gift.
Fuck! I should have done that…
[I believe the result would have been the same except the argument would have gone a little longer Lucid.]
I clicked my tongue.
Eurval was probably right. In the end they are just going to put their bets on survival with the five strongest.
I looked at Eugene. I wouldn’t be angry or blame him if he chose to leave me here. I had no choice, but he did.
“So, what do we do now?”
I felt tears forming at the corner of my eyes as I turned to Eugene. In a world were selfishness usually triumphs he is standing by me.
[That kind of selfishness is only praised for lone travelers. It doesn’t apply to parties or armies Lucid. However, I think you can consider Eugene a close party member and friend.]
So Eugene is the first person Eurval has approved of. The changes Eurval said it was making are finally starting to show. Eurval probably thinks the same changes are happening to me.
“I feel no danger. It’s going to happen here again…” As I dried my tears of friendship I looked over at the hundreds of dead.
[You’re not crying…]
Usually, it is customary to retrieve the essence and mana orbs, but it takes mana to cast. In our current situation, no one wanted to waste a single drop.
Especially so after using so much on the cave floor.
Good thing I was so miserly, I didn’t even use my spread shot a single time. If I had I could have probably been third-ranked among us.
I still needed a front line if we are going to try and even attempt to fight this keeper.
I glanced over the many adventurers. It’s not ideal, but it could work.
“I’m going to try and finish my familiar I’m going to need all the essence orbs I can get. Unless you have a familiar in a defensive position?”
Eugene shook his head “Mine is quite fragile for only one or two quick high powered attacks.”
If it’s as fragile as he said and can only attack once or twice it would have been of no use with the undead. Only be sent out to suffer.
Do you think it is because he is half, not hyridean, but actual hyre that he didn’t summon it? That situation was life and death.
[I would assume so Lucid.]
I nodded my head to begin.
I took in a breath.
“DEMONIC HUNTER’S HEART!” I yelled out.
The magic circle materialized centered at my feet then expanding to encompass the entire area.
Eugene’s chained daggers appeared in his hand taking a stance to stand guard.
“I’ll try and make your deaths not be in vain, but no promises,” I said under my breath.
With a grabbing motion swiping at the air essence from all the adventurers began to rise in streams from each body coalescing in front of me shaping into a black orb.
Little by little the essence orb began to solidify into a deep black. Not a single ray of light reflected off it, darker than the unlit passageways in this network of caves.
I felt my heart skip a beat suddenly.
Another cry rang out followed by the familiar sound of weapons clashing.
The keeper must have appeared again. However, there must have been fewer casualties as I heard only a few cries for help.
This time they were on guard.
Hearing that I couldn’t help but get anxious.
I stared at the essence orb still finishing. With so many separate streams I wasn’t sure how long it would take.
The sounds of battle continued echoing every so often. Each time coming from a new direction. Like a demented theme park, but instead of roller coaster yells we had shrieks of anguish.
Maybe it was better for Eugene and me to have separated from the group. They can’t say I didn’t tell them about being able to detect where it would and wouldn’t appear.
An hour quickly passed.
I was controlling each stream to be as fast in its pathing as possible. The tradeoff being I was using a little extra mana by forcefully moving the streams from the path of least resistance.
The final stream of black essence from an adventurer at the far end of this cavern flew towards me in a large arc.
With that, the spell under my feet disappeared. The orb was complete.
Unfortunately, I would not be using Holy Hunter’s Heart or looting the bodies. Binding the storage rings and new items would take mana that I had no intention of wasting at the moment.
I just hope this will be enough. By the matte-ness and how dark the orb was, I was sure it would be.
“Okay, I’m going to start absorbing the essence.”
Eugene nodded his head at me as I sat down.
A wave of fear slammed into me.
I jumped up as fast as I could.
“Let’s go! Quick!”
“Lucid is still here?” I heard Runter’s voice followed by a rumble of many footsteps coming in as we began to leave. I glanced behind to see the group led by the five.
They looked worse for wear.
“He’s leaving now, good. Keep that cheating fuck away from us.” Alan spoke, Chibin nodded.
“You didn’t believe Eugene’s words?” Abigail shot them a look.
The two didn’t reply.
“Do you really think Lucid has the talent he said?” Runter now questioned.
“In terms of pure written knowledge he should be ahead of us, maybe he studied something we didn’t,” Abigail replied.
Their voices trailed off once more as Eugene and I left. I had now committed myself into this other plan with Eugene and the rock tortoise.
I don’t have the energy, mana, or time to waste trying to make amends with them.
Not only that, if they made a loop then it meant this place really has no exit and a battle for survival was going to happen at some point.
I found it odd how the keeper was choosing to fight us, it was as if it was busy with something else and we were a second thought, but I made no complaints.
Better for us.
Obligatory shilling: If you like Lucid and want to make my day shine a little brighter show some extra support it and become a Patron!