Chapter 80

Did this thing really exist in the past?She wondered as she unsheathed her rapier. Or is it just the spawn of yet another demented host’s mind?

“There you are!” Yaga’s voice greeted her as if the witch had never been the main force after their lives. “Though not of human blood, your kind surely is better suited for grunt work. But I cannot help but wonder… wonder if you have the tools to undo human blasphemy.”

The moon-eye seemed hesitant, staring at her as if it was searching for something else. Had the presence of a human in the dungeon triggered some special event? Probably, but assuming that Maru was the only person to ever make it this far, there was no way to know how far from the “regular” route they had deviated.

Nor would anyone ever know, since if she did her job right, this dungeon would soon cease to exist.

“No matter,” the witch continued. “I have restrained the blight that girl left upon me, but cannot destroy it. It requires… something I have too much of. You shall do so in my stead.”

The irony that she was being threatened to defeat the last obstacle to the dungeon’s heart by one of its very own creatures was not lost on Maru.

Intertwined circles of light filled with runic symbols appeared in the center of the wooden platform, and three pairs of deformed hands, identical to those that had tried to capture them in the forest, came into existence one after another. Then, a female figure slowly emerged from the light with its arms outstretched.

Maru frowned. Some kind of summoning?

“It” looked like a woman but could never have been mistaken as one, even without taking into account how the yellow light of Yaga’s moon seemed unable to tarnish her otherworldly appearance.

Her long hair looked like liquid gold and her skin could have passed has porcelain. Though there was a piece of cloth covering her eyes, the rest of her face was visible and Maru could tell from the pink on her cheeks and lips that it was the kind to enrapture hearts with a mere glance. The apparition seemed to be speaking, but no words reached Maru’s ears.

She wore a seemingly simple white dress, but even Maru’s untrained eyes could sense the pulsating ether trapped into the exquisite material it was made of. It was not the kind of items that had survived the cataclysm.

The “woman” moved her arm in a gesture full of grace, and if all her perfections had not been enough indication that she could only have been fake, then her artificial joints would have. Her skin did not simply look like porcelain, it literally was, and stopped were her limbs connected to reveal the small pellets they pivoted against.

Some higher type of automaton,Maru guessed. No wonder she is designed to resemble a human.

However, whatever the machine had meant to do was not allowed to happen. One of the six putrefied hands floating over her made a sudden pulling motion, and the arm returned to its original outstretched position.

Doll of the Beautiful

Her title appeared in bright red letters as opposed to the common silver, and Maru assumed her stance.

“Now… face it! Kill it and earn the right to live!”

Trying to test the waters, Lima activated Fading Steps and Storm Lunge, granting some of her movements the support of the skills.

She crossed the space to the boss in an instant, and thrust her blade toward its chest. The doll was not impaled but was still revealed to be weaker than expected, as the attack sent it sprawling to the wooden floor with a crack where Maru had aimed.

What in the…

Maru skeptically watched the three pairs of floating hands force the machine back on its feet as they pulled on invisible threads. The doll once again tried to move by itself, but they subdued like the first time.

“Again!” yelled the yellow moon with palpable hunger.

Maru stared at the immobilized “boss” and, after a short moment of contemplation, sighed.

She assumed her fighting stance again and activated Razor Focus.

“Show me the path to victory,” she whispered, before coating her raised rapier with aura. The blade shone as brightly as ever.

Right as she was about to launch herself toward one of the witch’s hands, she heard a sound coming from the edge of the platform.

A glance revealed that the third warrior had finally reached her. The man was out of breath and his aura seemed like it would disappear with the lightest tap of Maru’s scabbard.

Under different circumstances, the correct following action would have been for the two of them to join forces in order to defeat the boss, and only then worry about who how to share the loot. After all, Maru didn’t know how Yaga would react to her planned “betrayal” and bosses were definitely not existences meant to be faced by a lone warrior. It was common for delvers from different creeds to put aside their differences for mutual benefits.

However, there was still dry blood on the man’s boots from when he had merrily crushed the head of a young hunter for absolutely no reason. Maru saw death a better option than allowing him to breathe the same air as her any longer.

Grace of Steel. Blue Dancer’s Balestra.

They ran toward each other, but with her now improved agility, Maru reached him before he could take three steps. He stepped back in surprise, which caused the tip of her coated blade to only lightly cut his neck.

But he was already on his back foot and Maru was not going to let him recover. She pressed on, cutting through his frail aura so fast that her opponent did not even have the luxury to think of retaliating.

To his credit, the warrior managed to avoid any lethal wound, dodging her shining blade as well as he could. But he was just like most opponents Maru had met outside of Nashran. Their fighting styles relied on being almost immune to wounds, and few were able to adjust to a thin blade piercing their aura. And this man was not one of them.

Ugly gashes soon appeared on his arms, his legs, his torso, his face… anywhere Maru’s rapier could sink its cold teeth in.

His wounds quickly multiplied as she unleashed a shower of steel on him, methodically pushing the warrior back to the edge of the Yaga’s stage.

She saw the confidence in his eyes being replaced with growing concern at first and then outright panic, and felt nothing.

Fear dulled his movements and Maru’s rapier finally pierced his abdomen as easily as if it had been butter, but there was no blood, to Maru’s great dissatisfaction.

Using aura to not bleed out… let’s see how much you can handle.

She thrust her sword at his heart, but the warrior’s aura suddenly flared, revealing that he had been sitting on a reserve of stamina all along. Maru’s rapier was repelled by the sudden increase in resistance, and one of the warrior’s hands shot forward as he tried to grab her wrist.

It would all be over if he simply caught her. Her sword immobilized, Maru was no better than a human. The weakness of her body was the price she had to pay for being able to cut through aura at such a young age, meaning that a single clean hit from him could kill her.

But unlike her opponent, Maru was familiar with her weaknesses. Even more so now than usual.

Fading Steps.

The warrior’s hand grasped at nothing as she gently spun and, with a swift upward slash of her rapier, severed it from the rest of his body.

“How does it feel,” she asked him, “to have wasted your life?”

Before he could say anything, she kicked him off the spinning stage and watched him fall to his death with cold satisfaction. But, even as he was being swallowed by the darkness below, she knew that it was far too little blood to wash away her pain.

She turned around to face Yaga’s puppet, animated by a new fire. She would not rest until Balrosh died an equally meaningless death at her sword, and then…

… And then I will make sense out of all this chaos.

***

The sound of breaking wood reached my ears and got closer as something kept hitting different trees as it fell. The figure finally came to a stop against one of the surrounding trees and wasted no time to get on its feet, revealing a heavily wounded beastkin.

The warrior who Maru had been racing to the top. He was a full rabbit beastkin.

It wasn’t hard to see that she had used him to vent some of her anger. He was missing his right hand and his whole body covered with deep laceration marks. This was someone who had just lost a fight.

However, Maru hadn’t needed to exhaust her opponents to deal damage, unlike us. The warrior was still covered with his aura. It was faint, but still there, and probably the only reason why he wasn’t bleeding to death.

Goddamit Maru, don’t send us more trouble when we just got a break.

My first instinct was to immediately shoot him down, but then I heard Lima whisper with a trembling voice.

“I… I don’t have enough energy to bring up my aura.”

It stopped my finger to pull the trigger.

“Can you move?” I asked without taking my eyes from the crouched Rabbit.

“I’m sorry… Y-you should run. Things will work out as long as you survive. It won’t… make any difference if I die.”

“It’s going to be fine,” I said, and she started weeping.

But those were empty words. The rabbit was the fastest and most agile of the three. If he managed to predict and dodge my shot, he would reach us before I could fire again.

And then what?

Ikun Omi,I called.

Now you come to me?She sounded displeased. Had you not decided to not rely on me anymore?

I groaned.

I did, and I am sorry,I told her.Is there any way you can help?

Even if there was, why would I? You cannot be defeated by those two.

I can’t just run away, Lima is here and I need to prote-, I frowned. What do you mean, “those two”?

I glanced down the bridge and saw the tiger walk out of the darkness. His expression was cold, but the aura around him violently undulated.

A wave of exhaustion wash over me.

You cannot avoid it any longer,I heard Ikun Omi whisper.Familiarize yourself with the power, lest it consumes you when it becomes too great.

Fucking hell.

The warriors took the moment I dismissed my rifle as a signal for charging at full speed.

I took off my eyepatch, and for the first time since my arrival in this forsaken world, opened my left eye in the presence of other living souls.

 

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