Chapter 3-1

Chapter 3 – The Challenge

Unedited

We enter the fifth day in the chasm. The previous days we explored the different cave exits, while coming back to the red bear’s lair to rest. This underground complex is huge, so we needed a rather safe place to retreat to and being able to bath and collect some herbs and other plants doesn’t hurt either.

We killed a bunch of mobs and even I got a level up in the meantime. Momokawa gained five levels by that time. So we’re level 38 and 16 now. The monsters here are strong enough to be even troublesome for me, if I’m careless. No wonder that Momokawa’s level is rising quickly.

But even with bathing from a hot spring, our appearance definitely suffered. I need a shave and my hair became felted.

Momokawa’s hair is worse, since it’s longer than mine.

Our clothes were severally damaged, only the sewing kit we found keep it at place. We smoked the bear meat to keep it eatible for days.

Somehow we tough it out. Although we don’t have much choice but to go even deeper into the cave, unless we return to the surface. After a discussion, we decided that the underground way might be the more promising one.

So we left our camp after arming ourselves and getting everything with us, which could be useful. We don’t plan to return to the lair anymore. You did a great job.

The mother bear’s pelt is carried on my shoulders, I want to keep it. It’s soft but tough to penetrate. Maybe that will be useful.

The plan for now is to follow the underground river as much as possible. Even though we met some bat-gnomes on the way, this very territorial and aggressive race didn’t stand a chance against Momokawa’s and my combined powers. Or the ‘tank and heal afterwards’-battle-strategy.

There are some other mobs here, like giant ants and termites. And they’re quite strong, too. But I’m still much stronger. This wouldn’t normally be my grinding grounds, but under these circumstances it’s welcome.

Especially since we have to watch out our SP in this chasm.

Momokawa, on the other hand, could raise her level in the meantime and get more MP. These mobs would definitely too tough for her alone, but at least she won’t be killed by one or two minor attacks, finally.

That eases our minds. If Mookawa dies, I’m as good as dead as well. And she isn’t keen to be killed for obvious reasons.

The underground passage is moving further down, whenever we could we would follow the river. With my [Pitch]-skill I can press my ear at the wall to hear the water current. Momokawa’s [Torch]-spell gives us the needed light, even so my [Darkvision] is essential to navigate and detect enemies here.

But since these skills drains my SP, I have to recharge them by healing or with water of the hot spring, we carried around in the patched waterskin. Depending on the current circumstances, like Momokawa’s MP, my SP-consumption, etc.

“Katsuragi, I need some water.”

I have just finished a sip.

“Here.”

I hand the waterskin over.

“Thanks.”

She pressed her lips at the mouthpiece and draw a sip herself.

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

An unintentional indirect kiss is a symbol of closeness.

=======================================================================

And she looks, like the water has transformed into bile. I’m too tired to comment it. Momokawa on the other hand grows more erratic every time a message pops up.

“How many WP do we currently have?”

“Eight.”

“So eight times.”

We get them by spending time and doing stuff together. But since we have to work together to survive, we have to do some, like drinking from the same waterskin. It would be less annoying, if the pop-ups wouldn’t have these weird messages at the end.

Momokawa dismisses the topic and ask another question.

“What time is it?”

“Hard to tell. I would guess around 2 p.m.”

In the big cave we had the crack in the ceiling to determine the time by daylight. Here aren’t any pointers to that, so I guessed by how hungry I am.

“So about six hours, already.”

Since we don’t regain that effectively SP by resting due the hotness of this place, we use Momokawa’s MP to gauge when to rest. MP regenerates over time and a bit more when resting, but if we run into a hard encounter with insufficient MP, we’re doomed.

Momokawa’s MP are around 80%, so we don’t need rest now.

“Let’s have a break when we find an open part of the underground river.”

Then we can regain our SP with the water there and fill up the waterskin again.

We continue our journey down and after an approximate hour we got into another cave. It seems to be huge, somehow, even though it was tough to see. Since the cave was fogged.

The water of the underground river is boiling here. The heat was immense and our SP are drained four times the speed as before. There is a kind of illumination, but since we could only see fog, there was no way to determine, what the light-source is.

Only that it’s everywhere.

What is this place?

A bridge made out of rocks is laying in front of us, which is the only way through the sea of boiling water. Normally I would presume, that this would be the source of the hot spring, but this is the place the underground river flows into. So the reverse direction.

“Momokawa, I think we should retreat.”

The heat is nearly unbearable, the SP-drain is crazy. It’s so foggy, that even I can’t perceive the area. And I got the feeling, something strange is lurking here.

“…No.”

“Why?”

I don’t want to be here. As a solo-player you have to know your odds to be effective. And our odds at the moment are miserable.

“This might be the only way out. And I’m sick of this chasm!” Don’t be irrational, woman! “You already did some stupid actions. Now we do mine!”

Start to make sense!

“Anything could lie in wait for us.”

“Are we inside a volcano?”

“Hear me out, dammit!”

“Look, under the boiling water… is that lava?”

She is right. The light source here is glowing lava, which heats the water of the river and boils it. But there is still a layer of liquid there, which constantly boils.

Is something like that even possible? My understanding of physics couldn’t tell. But at least there seems to be no poisonous gases. I check my status screen to be sure. No poison condition.

“Never mind. We have to retreat!”

«But you just have arrived.»

This voice… I remember it, it was the same the large Ss’rak, the voice of Muaotef, spoke with. Only much louder, clearer and more majestic.

And I remember a detail, I totally missed. But can you blame me, I was pretty sidetracked back then. The words Muaotef spoke that day: ‘You will not be killed, yet. Bring them to Our chasm.’

This isn’t any chasm. It’s Muaotef’s. And we stumbled across his lair.

«So the heroes finally arrive. We were waiting for you.»

I couldn’t see anything beside fog and the voice was echoing across the cave. So loud even the rock vibrates.

«And now you’re powerless.»

Ah, I see. We got pretty much messed up over the days. We raised our level, but we are run down mentally. Was this intentional or only a side-effect?

Momokawa keeps her cool. “Are you a dragon?”

How could you as such a question so calmly!? We should run away!

«…How do you know?»

“I saw a western movie which kinda reminds me of this situation. Your voice in particular.”

«We see. Heroes indeed. Or more to say ‘outsiders’. Dragons are just fairy tales in this world.» The rock drones, heavy steps are made. «But We’re more real than anything else.»

Muaotef shade appears in the fog. He’s at least 30 meters tall. A short blast of fire from his nostrils dissipates the fog around him and a majestic creature with red and golden scales stands before us. His eyes are green and shiny as emeralds.

And even though he does nothing particular intimidating, I’m overwhelmed by fear. All thoughts stopped. Even though I want to run away, my legs aren’t moving an inch.

Momokawa is shivering, too. She was pale as a ghost and even though it’s unbearable hot in this cave, my blood is freezing.

We reach out to each other, holding our hands, to feel some human warmth.

Satisfied with this reaction, Muaotefs mouth maliciously widens and the fog obscures Muaotef back to just a shade.

My mental paralysis fades away, but the cold of fear is still present. And I question myself, how something like a dragon could do this to me. I’ve seen tons in games!

Maybe because you don’t realize there, how big a 30 meters tall creature really is. But even Momokawa who kept her cool until now is devastated.

«In the end you’re just humans.»

That self-satisfaction. As if he knew, what would happen.

Is this an ‘aura of fear’-skill? But even if it is, it doesn’t change how well it worked. My legs are still so soft, that running away is no option anymore. The only thing we’re running on is Muaotef’s palm.

«Which one brought you in this world? Tell Us, male.»

He must mean, which god.

“I don’t know.”

«Is it male or female?»

“I couldn’t tell. The voice was unisex.”

«What about you, female human?»

“I don’t know either.”

«What a pity. But as expected.»

Muaotef is losing interest. And I’m sure if he loses interest, we’re dead.

I need to keep him interested. Or get him into a conversation. To keep us alive. But I’m not good at this… But there is one thing, I’d like to ask him. Let’s go!

“Why did you bring us in the chasm in the first place? Couldn’t you ask us back there?”

«We can hear your heartbeat and smell your hormones. You can’t hide anything. You smell is full of fear and you don’t want to be killed, but We won’t waste Our time with useless questions anymore.»

We’re totally dead. Seriously. And I’m too shaken to do anything about it.

But then Momokawa speaks up.

“Great One, how can we please you? We’re nothing but ignorant children, but if we can do something to stay alive, we will definitely do it. You just have to ask.”

These are most likely the most honest words I ever heard of Momokawa, but somehow her plead sounds very persuasive. Maybe because she’s used to please others for her own advantage.

«We know, you’re just flattering Us, but We don’t mind.»

The luxury of the mighty.

«Cross this lair of Ours and you will find a staircase. Our servant Ss’raks are there. If you want to stay alive, you have to slay their patriarch. Entertain Us.»

This is like a sick TV-show.

So he’s ready to sacrifice his servants for his own amusement? And since we don’t have a chance to resist, he can enjoy us being forced to kill sentient beings? I killed mobs before, but Ss’raks are more human-like than anything I met before. Except humans maybe.

But we have to survive.

“Very well.”

Momokawa made up her mind, too. It’s time to be pawns of a dragon’s entertainment.

«You have three days.»

―○●○―

We finally escaped the chasm. After crossing Muaotef’s lair and climbing up the stairs, we found ourselves at a sanctum of a temple. A heavy stone door separates the entrance to the lair and the sanctum to kept the heat under control.

Since nobody was here, we rested first. This is the first time, we could use our natural SP-regeneration normally in days.

And probably the first time, we feel chilly at around 30°C  (86 Fahrenheit).

My legs are still trembling with fear and even though a priest of Muaotef might come in anytime, Momokawa and I need this rest to regain our composure.

But I’m still wondering about the quest we just took.

“Why did he give us three days to kill a one person? There has to be a catch.”

“It’s the patriarch. So he’s supposed to be heavily guarded, right?”

“Is he recreating an assassin game?”

“What’s this?”

“Became popular in recent years. You play as an assassin who better kill people quietly and without causing a stir. The challenge is the interesting part.”

“Or maybe he wants to see, what we’re capable of, if we have time to prepare.”

“To conclude what other heroes are capable of?”

“Maybe.”

“But we are all different.” We have different classes, different personalities and different strategies.

“Not for him, I guess.”

She may be right. Muaotef doesn’t think much of us. We’re just flies for him. At least that’s the feeling I got.

And I wouldn’t be surprise, if he breaks the agreements out of boredom. I hate it! I don’t have an idea what’s going on and go blindly into the next danger.

Somehow I get the feeling, that I have my inner fire back. I didn’t notice that my spiteful personality was dampened in the chasm. I guess constant SP-drain would have such an effect.

“Let’s get over with, Momokawa.”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?”

And even Momokawa’s obedience is disappearing.

A good time to take on some Ss’rak.

I open the bronze door leading out of the sanctum and activate [Sneak]. This corridor don’t have any windows and is going upstairs.

At the end is another bronze door. I press my ear on the wall and use [Pitch] and whisper the things heard to Momokawa.

“Three people standing right in front. No other sound in ten meters.”

Our weapons are the rusty knife, six stones and three rip bones of the crimson bear. We only have the unclosable backpack and the pockets of our clothes, so we couldn’t carry much.

Three Ss’rak…

I guess I can take them on, since I’m currently uncursed. But it might take too long and reinforcement could come. I don’t have any consumables, so I have to trust my basics.

I change my class to [Pikeman].

“Momokawa, I need a bone.”

She carries the backpack and the rip bones within. With one of them I can use [Spear]-skills, but they break after one or two usages.

“Here.”

“Thanks. Now go back a bit, I will take care of all of them.”

Inhale. Exhale.

“Phew.”

Bone in the left hand, knife in the right. And I push the door open. I thrust the knife in the throat of the first Ss’rak I could see, while he was flat-footed.

The second one is pierced by my [Speedthrust] directly into the heart. This skill is fast and strong, so even after the moment of shock I’m able to overwhelm the Ss’rak. The bone breaks, I draw the knife out of the first one and prepare for the attack of the third.

My plan succeeded, now it’s a one-on-one fight.

The Ss’rak don’t need a weapon, he has claws, teeth and a strong tail. With rending claw-slashes it tried to hit me, but I jumped back. In this fight I would use my SP to the fullest, so strong and fast attacks in succession and great evasion movements are possible.

If I don’t end it fast, I will be killed.

But a knife is not a good weapon against a Ss’rak. Scales and claws make it tough to go into the infighting and if you don’t watch out, you will get hit by the strong tail.

“Human defiels plaze of Great One. Dai!”

And suddenly all my vigor vanishes. It’s talking. This… is a sentient creature. It’s like killing people. My body starts to cramp.

Move it!

I already killed two of them, so a third one…

I… killed two already.

Even though I only need to kill the patriarch. I already killed innocent bystanders, because they’re in the way. These thoughts hurts much more than the tail, who flicked me to the ground. The Ss’rak’s eyes are full of hate.

Hate to a murderer.

Damn it! Move! I’m an a-hole, what do I care about, who I kill to survive!?

“Katsuragi!” Momokawa runs toward me and throws a bone in my direction. “[Speedthrust!], fast!”

I do as ordered. I catch the bone and use [Speedthrust], another broken bone, but this time my aim is off and only scraped the body of the enemy.

The Ss’rack clinches me and is about to rip my throat out. Maybe it will need several times, since I got some [Vitality], but the damage will be immense either way.

I try to shake him off, but my cramped body is too weak. And then the Ss’rak cries out. A heavy knife is stabbed into it’s kidney.

Momokawa.

She is holding another knife and one stab after another is performed. The Ss’rak cried of pain and then for help and finally for mercy. But without any kind of wavering, Momokawa continues. The Ss’rak let me off and is about to tear Momokawa apart with its claws.

I grab both of its arms and step on the tail. And close my eyes to blend out the picture of Momokawa killing this Ss’rak brutally.

=======================================================================

You gain 5 WP.

You just got your life saved by your wife.

=======================================================================

“We need to start moving. Take its knife.”

Ah, the knives she had are tools of the Ss’rak. She took them from the two I killed.

But yes, we have to move. My mind is blank. Don’t think about anything, just follow her.

Momokawa leads us to the right corridor, since we could already hear other Ss’raks coming from the left.

We keep moving, but we realized something. Ss’raks are very got climbers, so they don’t need stairs apparently. Instead there are big holes at the ceiling and a hoist in case large objects have to be moved.

They can simply climb the wall, but for a human, it’s impossible. And the hoist isn’t in use.

“They’re coming close…”

I try my best to stay focused, but the pictures of murder are on my mind. They could easily find us, if we run around, but will do definitely if we go into one of the rooms. There has to be a way…

“Wait. Momokawa, search for a room as contorted as possible.”

We both check the rooms around us and find one suitable. It was a storeroom, mostly full of junk and broken furniture. I change to [Scout].

I press myself to the wall at an inner corner and use [Camouflage]. My body and equipment changed color.

“Great, Katsuragi. Now they won’t find you.”

The sarcasm hurts.

“Shut up and come here immediately!”

Even if I move, my colors won’t change in any way, this is one of the disadvantages of [Camouflage]. It cost a lot of SP and I shouldn’t move while using it. But this time, it’s an advantage.

I take Momokawa into my arms and press her to the wall. Every inch of her body has to be covered with mine. Since the room is dark and contorted, it should be more difficult to figure out, that there is someone at the wall.

And I hope it’s the same case with two. Momokawa seems to say something, but her face was buried into my chest.

“Quiet. They come.”

She falls silent immediately and the door opened. The Ss’rak entered and take a fast look around.

“Not here. Lokk.”

They left. And we hear how they lock the room. Most likely to signal, that this one was already been searched.

“Phew.” At least some time bought. “Ugh!”

Momokawa punches me into the stomach. And again. I let her go.

“Ha… You almost suffocated me!”

Even though she is bitching around, at least she does so quietly. Is it me or is her face a bit green?

=======================================================================

You gain 1 WP.

Whenever you’re in grave danger, a passionate hug will always help.

=======================================================================

Read the mood, dammit!

“I will use [Pitch] on the door, so I can hear when someone’s coming.”

The Ss’rak are searching the rooms and locking them afterwards. Good thing we went into hiding fast enough.

“We’re safe for the time being.”

Today shocks come in plenty. First the fear I felt for Muaotef and now the dread of killing someone, who could talk to you. Murder instead of killing.

If mobs in games would cry for help while you slay them, that game would belong to the horror genre. Maybe the Ss’rak we killed had family.

“Don’t think about it.”

“What?”

“Don’t think about those Lizardmen.”

This is the logical solution. But not so easy. It sinks in.

“Dammit.”

How could Momokawa stay that calm about it? It’s like she murders every day! Or maybe she just have more backbone than me.

I feel pathetic. Almost got killed because I couldn’t suppress these thoughts for a minute. One minute!

I want to shout out, but we’re currently hiding. So I simply use [Pitch] and torment myself at the same time.

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