I was slightly confused by the strange turn of phrase, but figured she was simply trying to affirm her resolve beyond any possible doubt.
“Alright,” I nodded. “But I’ll go instead.”
I left before she could say anything. I was faster and stronger, I couldn’t have her roaming around the arena when she could somehow catch the Knight’s attention.
I cut straight through the clearing instead of running along the tree line, and got close enough to the fight to see the individual yellow eyes on the horse’s coat. The battle was raging on, the red knight holding its own against the hunters with surprisingly quick swipes of its glowing axe.
Unlike with the first knight, a single hit from that weapon was very likely to be fatal, and the brawlers couldn’t risk getting too close.
But it’s still much less versatile than the centaur’s tail, I thought to myself. Why are they struggling?
I aimed at the horse’s head and opened fire. The hole the bullet made through its skull closed itself instantly, and the “animal” didn’t even lose its balance. Shooting at other body parts or the rider herself brought out the same results, with a few screams from Vaunt, apparently scared of me shooting him by mistake.
They are able to brush off wounds… This might be a problem.
It basically made the Knight of Noon an unstoppable foe. The red-hot axe was still being swung as hard as when the fight had started, and our fighters had switched to a less offensive approach. It was turning into a battle of attrition and the hunters weren’t equipped for one.
I felt a familiar itch in my left hand, but once again repressed the urge. If possible, I wanted Lima and her team to feel like they deserved what they had done today, and me stealing the spotlight one more time would have the opposite effect.
What we needed was something the enemy wouldn’t be able to just ignore.
There won’t be a better time to use the mine, I realized. Summon: Minor Rooting mine.
It materialized itself in my hand in the same way Kirby would, except the amalgamation of black spots that turned into a smaller silver sphere that fit perfectly in my hand.
I tentatively threw the item on the ground and it started siphoning my mana, showing that it had been activated.
Now all we need is to bait the knight into getting close enough to trigger it.
I was weighing down our options when the lama interrupted my thoughts with a shout.
“I’ll create an opening!” he yelled as he raised his hammer and smashed it against the ground.
The surprise skill’s range was limited, but its effects were undeniable. As soon as his hammer came down, the earth shook and the ground around the warriors broke apart. It took the creature and most the hunters by surprise, except Lima. And that’s all that was needed.
Her glaive sliced the horse’s head off in a flash, and even if the beast immediately started regenerating a new one, it wasn’t fast enough.
Bardath swung his greatsword with all his strength, and while the knight managed to intercept the empowered slash that would have undoubtedly cut through its armor, the headless rider was unable to negate the recoil from the impact.
What is Kinua doing!
That would have been a perfect opportunity for one of her oversized arrows to finish the job, but thankfully the moment was seized by Vaunt, who knocked the knight off his horse with a spinning slash of his sword that made me raise an eyebrow.
Cairo and Timuk pinned the knight against the ground while the tigress, sitting on top of it, clobbered it with an unending barrage of punches.
“Someone, get the-” I started, but a hand fell on my shoulder as someone shot past me.
“On it, pretty boy!” Bali said with a wink as she went to tackle the powerful creature by herself. Even without its rider, the warhorse didn’t let itself be overpowered and dragged her away. But the horse was the least of our worries. All that mattered was that the knight had now lost its mount.
I once again raised my rifle, aimed at the floating head, and pulled the trigger. There was a now familiar detonation, and life left the woman’s tortured eyes right as the bullet tore through the space between them.
Nailed against the ground by our brawlers, the knight attempted one last swing of its enchanted axe, but Maru effortlessly parried it with her glowing sword and sent the weapon flying.
Cairo ripped the red breastplate off, and the steel gauntlets of the female brawler made a hole through the creature’s chest with a wet crunching sound.
The knight’s body went limp in the same moment the woman’s head reached the ground, and this time her wounds didn’t heal. We had won.
“We-We did it?” Cairo stuttered, eyes wide with disbelief. “We did it!”
We truly had. Now that the rider was dead, it was only a matter of time before its defenseless mount was killed.
I ignored the echoing shouts of victory, walked to the brawler whose fists were still dripping with blood, and offered my hand to help her stand. She didn’t seem bothered by the butchered corpse she was sitting on as the other hunters, looking forward to finally leaving the dungeon, started sprinting toward the horse who still hadn’t bowed to Bali.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
Probably still too pumped with adrenaline to realized how strange my question was, she ignored my hand and glanced at me with a smile, “Oh? Did this make you fall for me, Deadeye?”
“Not really,” I said with a grin. “But I have to admit that it was impressive.”
She laughed heartily.
“My name is-”
Thanks to her class, the arrow in Kinua’s hand was as steady as ever, despite the battle that was taking place in her mind.
Her target could have been dead plenty of times already. The steel of her arrow had been tracking him since he had dared to show her his back, and it was aimed at him even now that everybody was celebrating their victory over the beast.
She wanted to kill Deadeye. She really did. There was no denying that he occupied a special place in Lima’s heart, while he clearly was just a privileged noble taking advantage of her. He had to be stopped before he could do something irreversible to her. Damned be the consequences.
But Kinua had never killed a person before, and now that the arrow was nocked and all her boosting skills were activated… she was finding herself faltering.
She was not particularly worried about Spice and her lackey, as she trusted her packmates to help her deal with them. All the hunters would need to do was to use the Knight of Noon’s locket and leave the pair trapped inside the dungeon. They would never be able to navigate Yaga’s Garden in the pitch black night.
However, there was something Kinua was unable to cast out of her heart.
What if Lima came to hate her afterward? Would she even have enough time to explain herself after the death of the delver?
No… I’m doing this for her, she told herself, steeling her resolve and adjusting her grip. Even if she doesn’t talk to me ever again… at least I will know that I protected her.
And Kinua would keep protecting her from the shadows if she had to. Lima was simply too good of a person for any monster to be allowed to toy with her. Too perfect.
Kinua smiled and aimed for the heart.
“It has to be do-”
A cold hand closed itself around her throat and yanked her from the ground. The arrow escaped her fingers, but Kinua never saw whether it had reached its mark or not. The man was forcing her to look into his eyes as she kicked and struggled in vain to free herself from his grip.
“Do not worry, child,” he said with a tone that betrayed his familiarity with murder. “They will all join you soon. But it has to be done by our hands.”
I heard Spice say that they would leave us alone! Kinua thought. Oh… She only meant the three of them. In that instant in which her lungs were on fire and her vision was darkening, tears came to her eyes as she remembered once again how unfair Life was to the likes of her.
I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die…
“You can call me Viki,” the tigress told me with the first genuine smile I had seen on her face since the hunt had started.
But I had almost missed it, distracted by a low whistling tune I had heard plenty of times already in the dungeon. Except the sound had always been growing faint. Not stronger.
My reflexes kicked in, too late to avoid injury but just in time for me to avoid ending up crippled. A steel arrow flew past me, tearing through a good chunk of my left leg with it.
Before I could even register the pain, the empowered arrow pierced Viky’s chest. The projectile lifted her off the ground and her head rocked forward, the cheerfulness of the previous moment still lingering on her face. She landed with a mat sound on grass a dozen meters away from her initial position. I looked away.
One second she had been there, the next she was gone… and the day was as beautiful as ever. The sun was shining. The birds were still singing. The voices of the clueless hunters were still animating the clearing. They were so busy chatting as they headed to the knight’s mount that they hadn’t noticed a thing.
Gritting my teeth, I glanced back to Kinua’s position and was met with the confusing sight of five men standing with her under the shade of the tree line. My stomach fell when I recognized two of them.
One was Khat the senior hunter, beaten and bruised with his hands tied behind his back. The other was the burly black bull who had lifted our archer by the throat. A massive full blooded beastkin I had met in Bunker’s fight club and on our way to this very dungeon as he was leading a group of warriors back to the city.
One of Genoneva’s lieutnant. A massive black bull with branded fur. Balrosh.
He was staring right at me, causing me to experience a strange uneasiness similar to when I had met him this morning , only stronger than ever.
I heard footsteps, Maru appeared at my side and started inspecting my wound.
“These shameless bastards…” she hissed as she looked glanced a the girl whose death was still unnoticed by her friends. “It is pretty bad, but don’t worry, you will be able to dance again with your blade soon enough. The healers back home…”
I tuned her out as my brain went into overdrive. My eyes on the four immobile warriors who weren’t supposed to be there.
Khat was the only one who could have led them through the forest. His bloodied body made it clear that he had been tortured. Since we technically still hadn’t completed the fight against the Knight of Noon, the path had naturally led them here.
The whole point of my deal with the Red Cross was that the threat of mutual destruction would protect me from Genoneva… but some of her men had followed us in the dungeon.
“What the-!” I heard Bardath suddenly exclaim. “Aren’t these the guys who stopped us on our way here? Why- How are they here?”
Unless everybody was critically wrong about Genoneva’s sanity and willingness to avoid a clash with the elders of the Red Cross, she hadn’t ordered these men to come after me.
“Edward?” I heard Lima call with concern in her voice. “Edward, what are y- Viki!”
When we met Balrosh and his squad earlier today, they did what they were supposed to do and let us all go. He then left his squad of warriors behind and came here with only three of his men.
“Angels! She’s dead!” I heard Cairo scream. “The fuckers they-… Gods, they made Kinua kill Viki!”
I glanced back and saw him and Lima kneeling over the corpse of their friend, shock and tears on their faces. The surrounding grass was now bright red.
I forced my mind back to the threat.
We had to get the hunters out of here. They would kill everybody who wasn’t off-limits if they were given the chance, and I wasn’t sure whether there was something I could do about it or not.
They are all protecting themselves using aura, I thought as I examined the warriors. They saw me use the rifle. Now it’s useless.
“Maru, do not waste time and try to talk to them,” I said as she was completing a decent bandage around my leg. “We need to kill the horse and use the trinket to leave the dungeon. Fast. They came for blood.”
She barely paused for a second before scoffing as she stood up.
“Don’t worry, we will take care of this,” Maru said with a nonchalant tone. I grabbed her wrist and only then did she stop to look at me.
“Are you blind or insane?” I hissed. “Two people are dead! It’s going to be chaos in a few minutes, I need you to protect the others!”
“Did you not understand anything from what we explained?” she replied without missing a bit, clearly irritated. “To Balrosh, they were just hunters! They won’t do anything to me, you, or Bali, because if they do then everybody dies! This is just Genoneva thinking she can intimidate us… And we’ll show them that they can’t.”
Her eyes widened. “What are you-!”
In one swift motion, I activated Grasp of the Deep, forcefully pulled her toward me and pinned her against the ground with my knee and both her hands in the middle of her back. The ethereal black water rose around us and started absorbing the little stamina she had left after her extended battle with the knight.
As long as Maru and Bali were fine, the worst could be avoided for the shard. I would also need her close by so we could use the trinket as soon as possible.
“Get off! Wh-what are you doing! What is… Magic?!”
I ignored her and willed for the rifle to appear. I would kill the war horse myself, that way the loot would directly pop up in my inventory.
But my hand remained empty.
The rifle was a few meters away from me, where it had fallen when I almost got impaled by the arrow.
Iwin Town Quest update
You have freed 2 of the girls.
Horrified, I watched Bali walk away from the broken figure of the warhorse she had been battling until now, without even taking a minute to rest. She was heading straight toward the group of warriors. Balrosh finally took his eyes off me and let Kinua’s corpse fall like a puppet with severed strings.