Rousing at the crack of dawn, we split into two teams of three before setting off to begin the hunt. Each group has a bag of bait, a quota of fifteen beetles and an entire day before we rendezvous at camp. While I was expecting Lili to end up on my team, it seems yesterday’s argument has convinced the party otherwise. Relieved by this decision, I team up with Hachirou and Minna before setting off with some peace of mind.
Arriving at the water hole, we inspect the traps we laid the previous day. The centrepiece of our plan is a large magical circle of my own design. It’s inscribed to ensnare a few beetles at a time while I suffocate them from outside. Of course, I left the trap incomplete to avoid catching something during the night.
“Honestly Enbos, this is such an insidious trap. Please tell me you don’t always hunt like this.”
“I would if I could. After all, it’s the best way to keep their bodies intact.”
“Sigh, I suppose it does leave any salvageable parts in their best condition. Are you done enchanting?”
“Almost. Nothing ruined the foundations I wrote yesterday so it shouldn’t take long. How about you?”
“The barricades are finished and the net is ready. Once Hachirou is done cooking the bait, everything will be on you.”
“Good. You know, now that everything is set, I don’t mind if you help the others instead.”
“I’m sure Sen will be fine. As haphazard he can be, he should be able to manage with Norf and Lili.”
“I wasn’t worried about Sen in particular, but I guess it’s only natural. After all, if Norf wasn’t there, he’d be alone with an inhumanly beautiful woman.”
“C-can you please not poke fun at me about that?”
“I’m not, Minna. He may be dense, but you’re way too passive. You should just confess while you have the chance.”
“I-I can’t just tell him out of the blue! T-th-that would be… Look, can we have this discussion some other time!?”
“Like when, tomorrow? Today’s the last day of our partnership and I can’t promise we’ll meet again.”
“Then forget about it! This has nothing to do with you.”
“True, but I know exactly what you’re going through. More than the fear of being rejected, you’re afraid of doing something irreversible. If your confession fails, you’re worried he may never look at you the same again.”
“How can you possibly know!? You sound as if you’re speaking from… Oh.”
“Not too hard to imagine, right? Believe me, it won’t be as bad as you think.”
“… Will it really work out like it did for you?”
“I don’t know. I just want to give you the push I never had.”
Waiting for us to finish, Hachirou arrives with a pot filled with a red, syrup-like substance. It’s the final product after boiling the contents of the bait in water. While I cannot smell its fragrance, it’s supposed to have an strong, sickly-sweet smell that will attract certain monsters.
“Good work Hachirou. Please dab a trail from the water hole to the trap. Let’s see how well the bait really works.”
As it turned out, the bait worked remarkably well. After the first few hours, we already met our quota of fifteen beetles. I was worried it wouldn’t be worth the investment, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the time it was noon, the count had increased by another ten. At this point, we decided to take a break before inviting the next batch of beetles to the slaughter.
“Seriously, this is such an easy quest! Is this set up too effective or is there something we’re overlooking?”
“I don’t know but- *Cough, cough*… Enbos, isn’t the smell getting to you?”
“No, why? Is it getting worse?”
“It’s not, but inhaling it makes my head feel a bit- Wait, is the bait poisonous!?”
“N-no, or at least, it shouldn’t be. The shopkeeper didn’t say anything of the kind.”
“I don’t think it’s lethal, but it would explain why these beetles are dying so quickly.”
“True. I was expecting a few of them to struggle, yet they died pretty sluggishly. Either the seller forgot to mention it or something happened during the prepar…”
Wait a minute, Hachirou was the one who prepared it. D-does his abnormal cooking ability have something to do with this? How could anybody go wrong boiling some powder!?
Looking at my “talented” friend, he’s busy dismantling the beetles without saying a word. Although his face is hidden, he appears to be in a sullen mood. Come to think of it, while Minna was watching for incoming beetles, Hachirou has been on standby in case the trap fails. However, everything went so smoothly that he was left sharpening his katana and dragging corpses the entire time.
“Are you bored with your current duties?”
“Ah, no, I’m not bored. I-it’s just… I was hoping I would have the chance to test my abilities.”
“Hachirou, there’s more to hunting monsters than swinging a blade. Everybody knows you’re capable and there will come a time when you can shine.”
“T-thank you, Minna. I’ll take your words to heart.”
“You’re such a good child, Hachirou.”
“Please, will you stop calling me a-“
For some reason, Hachirou stops mid-sentence and looks elsewhere. Curious, we follow his gaze and realise he’s looking in the general direction of Sen and the others. I try to ask what’s wrong, but the sound of a high pitch whistle draws my attention.
“T-that sound… It’s a signal arrow fired by Norf! Something wrong has happened!” exclaims Minna.
“Worse, I-I hear a lot of crashing and stomping. It sounds like they’re fighting something big!”
“B-by the spirits, we have to go, now!”
Picking up our weapons, we run towards Sen, Norf and Lili to provide immediate assistance. We soon reach the clearing where they were working, but…
“W-where *huff, huff*… Where is everybody!?”
“I-I don’t know, but look at those broken traps! Something much bigger than a Boulder Beetle was just here!”
“T-there’s a terrible stench in the air, and it seems to be coming from-”
Without wasting a step, we immediately rush towards the source. It seems Sen and the others ran through the trees to slow it down, but the trail of destruction is all too clear. Driven by desperation, Minna runs ahead of us without reserve.
“Minna, don’t run too far ahead!”
Damn it, she’s not thinking straight, but it’s not like I’m any calmer either. There are traces of magic and broken arrows littering our way, and ferocious snarls can be heard just ahead. I can make out a large blur of black and white in between the trees, and when we finally arrive at the scene, I quickly take stock of the situation.
Good news is everybody is alive and relatively unhurt. The bad news is Sen is engaged in melee with a monstrous creature while Lili and Norf are attacking from range. It looks like a bulky bear the size of a van with black fur and a whitish-grey back. However, its build seems to suggest it’s a quadrupedal creature, with a longer than expected tail and a head shaped like a-
Oh my god, that’s not a bear. It’s a giant honey badger.
“T-thank God, you’re finally here! Come on, we need to back up Sen!”
“What is that, Lili!?”
“It’s called a Mellivorath, and it’s a low-class A rank monster! Norf’s arrows and my magic couldn’t pierce its skin at all. Sen has been using <Last Stand> to fend it off but he can’t keep it up!”
No, he’s barely standing at all. Judging by his HP and spiritual energy, all he’s doing is bluffing to keep the badger at bay. I have a feeling Lili has been casting illusion magic as she has used a good deal of mana.
“I’ll take over! <Shadow Spear>! <Great Throw>!”
I conjure a spear of magic before moving into its flank to attack the back of its head. The spell explodes with resounding force, but from the dark haze an uninjured but incredibly angry badger is staring back at me.
<Scanning… 2%… 4%…>
Y-you’ve got to be kidding me. I heard Earth badgers were tough, but do Garea ones have to be magic resistant too!?
“<Equip Soul: Winged One>!”
<Synchronising with Winged One… 1%… 2%…>
While Minna runs forward to recover the tired Sen, I’m busy sidestepping the badger as it lunges to bite off my skull. I conjure a <Kinetic Barrier> as it swipes at me, but to my annoyance, I notice its already breaking. However, instead of retreating, I slip under its forearm as it shatters my barrier to attack its neck.
As long as I can draw blood, Bloodletter’s curse should do all the work. I don’t care if it’s an A rank monster. If it can bleed, it can…
I can’t pierce its skin!
Stuck between its arms and staring at its teeth, I quickly <Shadow Step> through its own shadow and emerge behind it. I throw a few <Fireballs> at its back, but it doesn’t even singed its fur.
“Get back, Enbos!”
I immediately comply to Lili’s warning as Norf prepares to fire an enchanted arrow. It seems they’re using the same combo that finished off the Treant.
Letting out a rare yell of force, Norf fires the arrow square between the Mellivorath’s eyes, resulting in a searing explosion of light. As the radiance fades, our eyes adjust to the light to find…
“T-this has to be a joke.”
… it looks completely fine. Checking its HP, only 1% has been shaved by that attack. Fortunately, the attack managed to slightly daze the creature, but it’s not going to last. I’m starting to think I’ve underestimated the monster rankings up until now. Can a single A rank adventurer really take one down, and if so, then how!?
“Enbos, look up!”
Hearing Sen’s sudden cry, I follow his raised finger to find-
“Hachirou, what are you doing up that tree!?”
“Please Enbos, slam dunk manoeuvre, now!”
“Damn it! <Gravity Field>!”
With no choice but to go along with Hachirou’s idea, I magnify gravity around the monster to keep it pinned and accelerate Hachirou’s descent. As expected, he drops directly above the giant badger with his katana poised to impale its neck.
With reckless force, Hachirou lands atop the Mellivorath and attempts to drive the blade into its flesh. The power of his landing forces the beast to its belly, and I can only imagine the recoil Hachirou must be suffering. I hope with all my heart that his attack has incapacitated the badger long enough for me to retrieve him.
I watch in horror as it attempts to bite Hachirou who’s still rattled from the fall. Holding on for dear life, Hachirou clings onto its fur and lays low as the badger snaps at thin air and begins to flail about. He can’t hold on!
“<Binding Swing>! <Giant’s Pull>!”
With pinpoint accuracy, Minna wraps her rope around Hachirou and pulls him to safety. As he is about to land, Norf dives in to save him from a violent fall.
“Are you okay, Hachirou?”
“T-thank you, Norf.”
“Huh? H-hachirou, is that a ta-”
Unexpectedly, the badger throws a large boulder at Norf and Hachirou. Fortunately, I destroy the projectile mid-flight, showering them in dust and small rubble. Wait a second, where did it pick up a rock that large?
“Oh hell! It has earth magic!”
As if confirming my realisation, it begins pounding the ground like a drum. A crater begins to form at its location, but before long the entire area depresses into a deep bowl. Trees fall and soil shifts as we’re forced into the Mellivorath’s makeshift arena. After a while the tremors disturbingly stop and the battlefield becomes unnaturally quiet.
“*Cough, cough* Is everyone okay!?”
“I’m fine, Sen!”
“So am I! Hachirou and Norf are with me! Enbos?”
“I’m good here!”
“Where did the Mellivorath go? There’s too much dust in the air.”
“Minna, can you clear the dust for us?”
“Okay! <Windmill Charge>!”
Minna begins swinging her weighted rope overhead with increasing speed. Most of the airborne dirt is blown away to reveal… the badger is gone. No wait!
“It’s below us!”
I can clearly sense the damn thing digging through the earth to ambush us, and it’s heading for…
“<Equip Soul: Forest Drake>!”
<Synchronisation with Winged One discontinued. Synchronising with Forest Drake… 1%… 2%…>
Propelling myself through the air, I tackle Lili away just as a pair of claws erupt from the ground and miss her. As timely as my rescue was, we’re still too close to be safe!
Summoning the last of his strength, Sen throws his spear directly at the badger’s eye. Not missing the chance, Minna releases all the built-up momentum from her skill to hit it squarely in the same eye. While it rampages on the spot, Lili and I immediately retreat to relative safety.
<… 98%… 100%… Scan complete.>
Max HP: 212
Max MP: 122
U-unbelievable, just look at its stats! Does it have any weak points? It outclasses us in almost every respect.
“Enbos, if I can cast <Incandescent Embrace> on its other eye, maybe we can blind it.”
“I don’t think we can. Remember when Norf used your enchanted arrow? It only dazed it for a moment. Besides, everyone else is too tired buy enough time.”
“Then what should we do!? Do you have an idea?”
“… Yeah, I do, but I’m going to need your illusion magic.”
Understandably, my sudden reveal leaves Lili in gaping shock, but now’s not the time!
“H-how do you-”
“We’ll talk later! Can you cast an illusion to change someone’s appearance!?”
“Y-yes, I can make it mistake one identity for another, but the spell will only last a while!”
“Good enough. Please listen carefully, Lili…”
I mustn’t hesitate. I didn’t come this far to watch everybody die. As reluctant as I am about this, it’s time they know what Enbos the Black can really do…
Today the Mellivorath was having a very bad day, although her morning seemed anything but. While roaming the forest for Boulder Beetles, she caught whiff of a most pleasant smell, an aroma that promised great sweetness. Eager to sate her hunger, the Mellivorath followed her nose to a clearing where a feast beset her eyes. Littered around the area were at least a dozen Boulder Beetles, all dead and ready to be eaten. The source of the delectable smell was coming from a small black rock holding the delicious red syrup.
The Mellivorath paid no mind to the strange monkeys wearing cotton and animal skins since they gave her ample space to enjoy her meal. However, as she entered the clearing to feast, she was assailed by hidden pikes, followed by a swinging log and a web made of thin roots. The trees have never attacked her before, and she knew the ones responsible were the unusual monkeys trying to escape.
Enraged, she chased after them into the trees and eventually forced the little ones to stand and fight. Although none of their attacks could hurt the Mellivorath, the little ones proved to be irritating prey. Worse still, three more little ones appeared and continued to annoy her to no end. Eager to end their struggling, she decided to shatter the ground before picking them off one at a time. Unfortunately, that idea resulted in an injury in the eye and now she is most mad.
While deciding which little one to kill, she is suddenly struck by a strange and very painful attack. It’s strange because her fur and skin are still fine, and yet she clearly felt otherwise.
“OVER HERE, YOU GIANT RODENT!”
The Mellivorath turns towards the loud voice to find a skinny, black monkey with a deer head holding a shiny stick. The deer-headed one swings his stick, and for some reason, she feels the same mysterious pain despite the little one being so far away.
Ah, so it’s that one’s fault, she thought. That black monkey is the only one who can hurt me. I will kill that little one before I kill the others.
Locking onto her first target, she pounces forward to bite the black one, but it creates a black cloud to hide himself. A while later, the deer-headed one suddenly leaves the cloud and runs up and over the pit she created. Leaping after him, the Mellivorath chases the little one as it weaves between the trees. Her prey is lively and quick, but she knows if she keeps chasing, she will eventually catch the little one.
However, as the hunt continues, she begins to wonder why the black monkey is running on four legs instead of two like the others. Also, the little one appears to be getting smaller as time goes on. After a while, the Mellivorath decides to stop and stare at the thing the deer-headed one had become. It was no longer a skinny monkey but a skinny rabbit with a completely different smell.
Confused by this sudden change, she decides to return to the other little ones. Unfortunately, the little ones were no longer there, but she could still track them by the faint sweet smell that lingered on their bodies. Eager to kill, the Mellivorath follows the scent, passing the clearing she encountered the monkeys and approaching the nearby water hole. However, before she can reach the pond, she is suddenly struck by a familiar shot of pain.
“I knew you wouldn’t quit. That’s why I brought a few extra friends.”
Recognising that voice, the Mellivorath turns to find the deer-headed monkey… along with two dozen Boulder Beetles at his beck and call.
It seems the first step of the plan was a success, and to my great relief, I can sense Mr Bonny is still in one piece. I’ve been carrying him in my bag all this time, making sure to hide his presence and to keep him in a suspended state. I was worried her spell would expire too soon, but she managed to buy enough time for me to prepare all this.
After pulling the rabbit out of the bag, I returned to Sen’s clearing and then the water hole to reanimate the Boulder Beetles and wait for the badger’s return. Now that I have this many undead under my thrall, it’s time to counterattack!
Activating <Command Undead>, I let loose a swarm of Boulder Beetles to cover the Mellivorath. Although each beetle is weak, their constant attacks from every direction start wearing this mighty foe down. The honey badger tears and crushes a number of my troops, but even in their half-destroyed forms, they continue to obey my will and scramble back onto the beast. Any fortress will fall before a ceaseless tide, especially if it has artillery support.
Since physical and magical skills don’t work, I’ll have to use spirit arts to inflict damage. <Phantom Edge> is a custom spirit art designed to project my life force as an offensive wave via my blade. It cleaves the soul and weakens the body, but of course, I can’t keep using such a convenient ability without spending my spiritual energy. In order to keep using this skill, I took advantage of my undead nature to stockpile energy from the dead beetles beforehand.
Tch, I levelled up. Well, it’s only expected after all the souls I absorbed. I mustn’t waste this energy!
“<Phantom Edge>! <Phantom Edge>! <Phantom Edge>!”
Restrained by my undead minions, I continue to chip away at its HP from a range. Unfortunately, it suddenly burrows underground and forces most of the beetles off its body.
“No use! <Phantom Blade>!”
My spiritual energy phases through the earth and hits it squarely in the head. In a fit of desperation and rage, it emerges directly below me but I easily avoid its attack and fire another two <Phantom Edges>. While it staggers from my blows, I rally the remainder of my beetles and assess my chances.
Damn it, my spiritual energy won’t last at this rate! <Reanimate Dead> can’t last much longer either! If this goes on, I may have to resort to using-
A golden arrow suddenly hits the badger straight in the face. Surprised, I turn to find the entire party has arrived to help me.
“Y-you guys… What are you doing walking around!? I told you I can handle this!”
“No point hiding your magic now. Come on everybody! Let’s surround blasted thing and kill it!”
Taking position around the Mellivorath, Sen, Minna, Norf and Hachirou attack at every opportunity to keep the creature occupied. Meanwhile, I continue controlling the beetles while Lili is busy distorting the badger’s senses. Although we’re dealing little to no damage, the situation has at least become manageable.
“Good job Minna! <True Strike>!”
“Get back Sen! You still can’t pierce its skin!”
“<Six Claw Strike>! I think it’s getting slower!”
“Keep putting more pressure. We can do this!”
“Look out everyone!”
Heeding Lili’s warning, everybody jumps back as the Mellivorath begins to dig once more. I ready my sword and prepare to fire another <Phantom Edge>, however…
“W-where is it? Is it still beneath us?”
“… No, it’s gone. The Mellivorath ran away. The battle is over.”
Upon hearing my words, everybody collapses from prolonged exhaustion. Contrary to Sen’s claims, with Lili’s low mana and my undead about to expire, there was never any guarantee we would win. From the beginning, driving it away was the best course of action, but now that the crisis is over…
While Sen and co are sprawled on the ground, I pick up Hachirou and gracefully attempt to make my exit.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“I-I see you’re getting more creative with your magic. Would it be too much to ask to, um, forget everything you’ve seen?”
“We’re grateful for everything you’ve done, Enbos, but I think it’s time you start answering some of our questions.”
“Like why do you have that creepy rabbit?”
“What’s the deal with all these beetles?”
“And why does Hachirou have a tail?”
“Eh, you revealed your tail?”
“I-I’m sorry. It slipped out during the fiasco.”
“The point is Enbos: just who are you two?”
I can always break out of this barrier by force and leave with Hachirou, but for some reason it doesn’t sit well with me. Every molecule in my skull is telling me to do so, and yet I feel I would destroy something important along with it. Is severing my ties with them really worth the security?
“… More than the fear of being rejected, you’re afraid of doing something irreversible. Those were your exact words to me, right?”
“… Yeah, they were Minna. I also said it won’t be as bad as you think.”
“So, what do you think, Enbos?”
“Sigh, well played, Minna. I guess we can tell you a bit about ourselves.”