I stood right outside of the cave entrance, and I knew what lay within it. Dried blood painted the walls, while broken limbs, chitinous chunks, and corpses were scattered across the floor. A fight had happened here recently, but something told me this was not the first time the Crawlers tried to take back their home.
I glanced to the side and saw the remains of Abominations. Humans, Monsters, and animals were strewn about— all deformed by the blue bulbous protrusions of those terrible creatures. These ones were dead, their sacs without their light, looking like deflated balloons sticking out of the dead bodies. Some were not connected to any bodies at all, hacked off, and lining the side of the cavern like a kind of cerulean moss.
I took a step into the cave, the sound of my footfall echoing throughout the natural antechamber. It was dark; the light of the sun only reached so far. I should have had a torch, but alas, my inexperience as a Hunter showed in my unpreparedness for this mission. I had to light a torch when I was in the forest— after realizing the shadow of the night would not hide me from any nocturnal Monsters— and now, I had no choice but to use magic.
I took a last look behind me, confirming that there was no one there, before I raised my hand. A spell circle momentarily flashed, and was replaced by a ball of light that illuminated the darkness of the hallway. I pressed on, further and further into the cave. Until all the brightness of day disappeared behind me, and all that shone was the Light spell above my head.
I continued down the naturally formed tunnel, stepping over the occasional body parts covered in the flesh-like blue bulbs, missing their signature yellow glow, having been severed or sprayed out into the floor. There were no corpses of unturned Monsters laying around here, only their trails of blood remained, as evidence that the once dead were dragged further into the cave. I clutched the hilt of my dagger, starting to get second thoughts about this mission.
I came here because I believed the Abominations would not attack me. And that might have been true in Bys, when that stranger in plate armor— one of the followers of that false god— watched over me. However, I knew not for certain if that would be the case now. Just as I started to reconsider my actions however, I turned the corner and came face to face with a group of Abominations.
Five shadows appeared at first, too far away for my light to reach them, yet their disembodied shapes could be clearly made out even so. I steeled myself, pulling out the short blade from my side, readying any number of spells to cast. The five Abominations got closer and closer, walking ever so slowly towards me, quite clearly approaching my direction.
I should have attacked them, but held off for a moment specifically because they were walking. I remembered the Abominations I had seen in Bys. They were no different than the ones I saw right now. And yet, those ran without showing any signs of exhaustion, with the intensity only a body that could not feel pain would allow. These on the other hand… lurched forwards.
So I did not attack. Not just yet.
They came closer and closer. I raised my dagger, bringing a shield up as they finally reached me—
And the Abominations continued past me. Ignoring me as if I were not there. I cocked my head to the side, as the five Abominations headed out of the cave, towards the sunlight.
…should I stop them?
I would stop them. Eventually. But I was curious about what they were doing. So I followed the Abominations, out to the mouth of the cave. And there, I saw the Abominations grab the dead Crawlers— not the ones I killed— and began dragging them back inside.
Once again, they walked past me. As if they were a group of laborers at a market, passing me by as they went about their work. I frowned as the Abominations continued walking, even as I walked amongst them, getting in their paths. This… was clearly unnatural. There was no doubt about it. But it was not unexpected.
I shrugged as I followed the Abominations further into the cave, past the point where I had first seen them. Let’s see where they’re going with this.
There was clearly some sort of nest or den for these Abominations further inside, and I was hoping they would lead me to it; I did not dare touching the Abominations just yet, out of fear that an attack would trigger a reaction, so I stayed out of their way although I followed close behind.
I was right to keep the Abominations alive, as the tunnel split into two paths, which would have forced me to choose one to follow; with the Abominations here to lead the way, I didn’t even have to make a decision. However, just as I began down the corridor the Abominations went down, the light from my spell flashed into the other hallway, shining into a group of Vyrbats hanging off the ceiling.
The Monstrous bats reacted as bats normally did when exposed to something bright, and tried to fly away from the light source while squeaking. This attracted the attention of the Abominations, which spun around in an instant. There was a screech as the Abominations heard the noise, then ran back to me from their tunnel, around me, and down towards the other tunnel, chasing after the Vyrbats as they tried to flee.
Can Abominations not see? I decided to test whether the Abominations ignored me just because they couldn’t hear me.
“Um, hey?” I called out, preparing for any one of them to turn around to attack me. But the Abominations continued chasing after the Vyrbats.
Apparently, the Abominations had to have been able to see as well, since I saw one of the bats perch behind a stalactite without making a noise, but an Abomination still leapt up at it regardless. The Abomination covered the distance without much issue, showing once again its inhuman strength—
And smashed on the jagged rock.
The corpse— the body of the Abomination— seemed unharmed, yet the blue bulbs with their faint yellow glow exploded out. Almost like a tomato getting smashed with a hammer, except the tomato was blue in color instead. The Abomination dropped to the ground, not dead, but it moved significantly slower than the others now, with half of its bulbs gone.
Interesting, so the fewer bulbs an Abomination has, the weaker it gets? I’ll probably have to report that to the guild.
I continued watching the Abominations chase after the Vyrbats, until they were nearly out of sight. Realizing that they were probably not going to let up any time soon, I decided to carry out my final experiment, before they got away.
I raised a finger, pointing it at the closest Abomination. A small blue bolt of energy shot out from it, impacting the Abomination at the side, and splattering the blue sinuous flesh onto the cavern wall. I waited…
And the Abomination whirled around, screaming. The other four Abominations followed after it, copying the noises the first made which almost sounded like chirps. They charged at me with the same ferocity they directed towards the Vyrbats.
These Abominations. Demented beings. The perversion of life itself. Their bodies shifted, morphing into the shapes of weapons. Swords. Blades. One brought out scythe-like arms, another had a tendril as a whip. These terrifying creatures charged at me. Echoing their screams. Chittering their warcry—
A single Wind Blade sliced three of the Abominations in half, and a second one finished off the other two a few seconds later.
I sheathed my dagger, sighing. They really are fragile, aren’t they? Another thing I would have to tell the guild. Although I was certain that everyone probably knew that by now, better to be as thorough as possible in my report.
And then I continued further into the cave.
I found another group of Abominations further down. It was a bigger group. A dozen large. They did not attack me, which meant that the Abominations must not have some sort of telepathic hivemind between all of them; it was a possibility for other types of Abominations— something the Hunters Guild told me to watch out for— but now I confirmed that it was not for the regular Abominations.
I did not attack them. Instead, I continued observing them with my Light spell still out. These ones also went outside to collect some bodies, and I followed them once again. They had just stepped out into the sunlight to grab the remaining dead giant spiders when I saw a small round object drop in between them. I heard a clink, as it rolled for a second.
“Wha—” I barely managed to get the words out.
Then the object exploded. Electricity burst out of the object. A chain of lightning connected the nearest five Abominations, all of which were standing at the entrance of the cave. The remaining seven turned and charged out of the cave. The Abominations however, ran straight into the still flashing electricity, shocking themselves and over fell one by one, like flies attracted to a bug zapper.
A figure stepped into the entrance of the cave. A round figure. Big bushy beard. Tanned skin.
It was Gennady.
The Dwarf glanced at me. At the Light spell floating by my side. Then he pointed.
“Hah, I knew you—”
He was cut off by the snare that bound his arms and legs. I sent the spell the instant my shock wore off, and he was now rolling on the ground cursing.
“What in the Hell, woman, why did you have to go and do that!”
“You—” I sputtered, pointing at him while grabbing my hood so it does not somehow fall off the side of my face, “You saw!” I raised my blade threateningly.
“Yes I saw!” the Dwarf yelled, struggling in his bindings. “And I also saw you kill those damned Crawlers out there with your magic!”
“But…” How? The question came out unsaid, as I merely mouthed the words. I made sure there was no one nearby; he could not have possibly seen it, unless he was hiding behind a rock. In which case, he had to have been trailing behind me the entire time. “When did you start following me? Why?” I asked, as he continued squirming on the floor.
“Follow you? I only just caught up!” Gennady exclaimed, rolling over to his stomach, trying to stand up as the magical chains wrapped around him from his legs to his chest. “I knew you were going to try and steal my job, like you did with the Chimera! I had the receptionist inform me if you came back and started asking questions about Abominations.”
“So you did stalk me!”
“What? No!” Gennady shouted. “Are ye daft, lassie? I barely even woke up a few hours ago!”
I felt my mind spin for a moment; I was processing what the Dwarf had said, trying to understand how this all made sense. It took me all night and all morning to even get here! How did he…
Then it clicked. A memory of the first time I saw Gennady resurfaced— he was driving some sort of bike. A bike that sent up plumes of white smoke…
I remembered the smoke from earlier; the small white plume rising up in the distance, that I dismissed because of its distance from me. I immediately cursed myself for how sloppy I had been throughout this entire mission. Revealing myself to Felix was fine because I was left with no other choice. But this? This should not have happened, and it was entirely my fault I was found out.
I took a step forward. “I’m sorry it had to come to this, Gennady,” I said the words dangerously.
A bead of sweat formed on the man’s forehead. “W-what are you talking about?”
“It was my fault, it really was. But I have to protect myself.”
“Are you even listening to me? What are ye on about?!”
The Dwarf cut me off.
“Sacred piss, can you stop yapping for a second and listen?” Gennady screamed, and I paused. He managed to roll over to his back, craning his neck up to face me as he sighed. “I’m not going to tell anyone about this. If I did, I would have immediately gone back after seeing you kill those Crawlers rather than come up here myself!”
“I…” I hesitated. “You won’t?” I asked, lowering my dagger but still not releasing my spell.
“Yes, I won’t!” Gennady nearly screamed his head off.
“And how can I know that you won’t?”
“Because I can do magic myself! It’ll be like turning myself in, you fool!”
Gennady could not raise his arms, per se, but he was able to move his fingers. A small spell circle formed on his fingertips, before a small ball of light winked into existence.
“See?” he said. “Now let me go!”
I stared at the circle filled with a simple pattern glowing faintly at his hand, and then felt the magic coming off from the weak light spell. I chewed my bottom lip, wrestling with my indecision, before finally releasing the magical bindings from him.
Gennady could have been a Dark Crusader, but he would not know who I was, which was what ultimately made me choose to free him; I was still wary of him, but I could at least ask questions while he was standing on his own two feet.
“Finally, took you long enough.” He stood up, rubbing at his arms and legs.
“Sorry about that. I was just being cautious,” I said.
“Well remind me not to get on your bad side if that’s you ‘just being cautious’. Goddess grace us, what were you even planning on doing to me?” the Dwarf asked.
“Oh, um…nothing?” I mumbled out a reply.
He looked at me blankly. “You were going to kill me, weren’t you?”
“…no,” I said, lying.
“What kind of a damned fool are you? Who murders someone just because they see you cast a bit of magic? You could’ve bribed me or threatened me, but you went straight to trying to kill me!” Gennady pointed accusingly at me.
“You could’ve told someone regardless!” I argued, trying to defend my actions. Or intentions. I scowled underneath my mask, folding my arms. “How am I supposed to believe anyone’s going to walk away after seeing this”— I gestured at my floating ball of light— “and keep quiet about it?”
“What are they going to do? Go to the Church and call for some Inquisitors?” Gennady snorted, shaking his head. He stopped when he saw my expression— or lack of expression— and frowned. “Wait, you actually think that’s going to happen?”
“Why wouldn’t it?” I asked, cocking my head.
“Sacred piss, lassie, are you mad? Why would the Holy Xan Empire send Inquisitors over every single claim of someone doing magic? That’d make it very easy to get anyone you don’t like killed. Just go to your local temple and say ‘hey, this guy does magic!’, and you’ll be rid of him forever. Of course not that’s not going to happen.”
The Dwarf waggled a finger in the air.
“The worst thing that could happen is the city guards believing the person accusing you, and they’ll try to toss you in a dungeon for a few years. Maybe get some Priests to visit you and cure you. Then they’ll let you go.”
“I don’t think I’d like that either,” I said simply.
“Well, unless you’re an idiot who wouldn’t leave once it seems like you’ll be arrested, that won’t happen. And this won’t happen in the first place unless the man who spotted you casting spells is some mad fanatic— which most people aren’t. They’ll just take the bribe and stay quiet. Avoid trouble, like normal people do,” Gennady said, matter-of-factly.
I held myself back from telling him that my situation was a little bit different from most, since that would reveal too much. Instead, I took a deep breath and apologized.
“Sorry, you’re right. I probably could’ve just ran away or something. I overreacted.”
“That’s underselling it, lass,” Gennady said, glaring at me for a moment. Then his eyes relaxed as he continued, “But I accept your apology, since I’m alive. I probably shocked you too, coming in like that, huh?”
“Just a little bit.”
“I just saw those Abominations and had to act. I didn’t even know you were here until I saw the last of them die, and got excited when I saw that Light spell hovering over your head and knew I wasn’t seeing things.”
“How did you even see me kill those Crawlers anyway?” I finally asked the question.
The Dwarf grinned, and just set down his pack. He rummaged through his equipment, pulling out a small cylindrical object which he pulled open to make it longer. It was a spyglass. “This,” he said, tapping the lens of it. “I carry one with me at all times, and I just so happened to be looking in the right direction when you began casting those spells. Although it was a blur, I could’ve sworn you were a Geomancer and not a Thaumaturge.”
I chose not to confirm or deny anything, and just gave him a curt nod. “I see.”
So it was poor timing and the fact that the Dwarf was actually searching for me that led to my supposed slip up; I could very easily breathe a sigh of relief and push the responsibility of my mistake to bad luck, but being unlucky was a state of being for me. I had to have known things would go wrong somewhere and prepared for it better.
There was no use in pointing fingers or wallowing in sorrow. I did that plenty in the past, and I had to focus on getting better for the future.
“So,” Gennady started, interrupting me from my thoughts, “this is where those Abominations have been coming from. How did you even find it?”
I lifted my shoulders in a shrug. “Luck, I guess. As you saw, a group of Crawlers were retreating after failing to take back their nest. I ran into them and they attacked me, which led me here.”
I was not sure how accurate it was to call being attacked by Monsters ‘luck’, but that was the best descriptor I had for it.
“Aha, and I caught you just in time from stealing all the credit for exterminating the Abominations. I think I took out a dozen, which means I should be getting at least ten percent of the reward,” he said, smiling greedily. “Although I would have liked to fight the tougher ones. These were barely even an E Rank threat!”
I decided against commenting on Gennady’s insistence of using his ranking system for Monsters, and addressed the other part of his statement.
“Ten percent of the reward?” I cocked an eyebrow beneath my mask.”Why?” I asked.
“What? Are you telling me that you fought more than a hundred Abominations before I arrived? That seems hard to believe. I don’t even see that many dead bodies lying around, and there can’t be that much more inside.”
“…you think I already killed them all?”
“Yeah… wait, you mean you haven’t?” Gennady frowned, his beard scrunching up in the process.
“Uh… no?” I said, “I’ve only just got here. I’m pretty sure there are a lot more inside.”
“Wait, so why were you just standing around and not fighting? I thought you were tired!”
“I… was observing them.” I inhaled deeply, deciding to explain now rather than having to come up with an excuse later on. “The Abominations are docile towards me. They don’t attack me unless I attack them first.”
“But that’s… not how it’s supposed to work. I’ve fought groups of them before, lass. And I’ve read all the reports. They attack almost all living beings the moment they see or hear them.”
I shrugged again. “Don’t ask me how it works. That’s just how it is for me.”
That was not a total lie; I truly did not know how it worked. I knew I was special to the Abominations because they had something to do with those three strangers and their god—sorry, I meant to say jerk god— but the exact details eluded me. So I was telling the truth, even if I was being incredibly vague.
Fortunately for me, Gennady did not ask me to elaborate.
“Hm, if the Abominations aren’t gone yet, then I guess that’s better for me. Maybe we could run into some Horrors or Amalgams. I need to see how strong they actually are,” the Dwarf said, grinning at the prospect. “Come on, Aria. We’re gonna wipe out this infestation.”
I jerked at hearing my mom’s name get called, before remembering that was my fake name now. “Right,” I said, hurrying after Gennady who was already marching further into the cave.
I stepped up beside him as my light spell illuminated the way; his spell dissipated soon after he cast it, having served its purpose in convincing me he would not report me to the local authorities.
“So, are you a Dark Crusader?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could.
“Nope. I’ve met a few Dark Crusaders before. But I’m not one of them,” he replied, still walking ahead of me. He slowed down just a little bit, and craned his neck to face me. “You?”
“Same thing for me,” I said, once again leaving out any details about my actual relationship with the organization. “I’m unaffiliated. Just a Hunter looking to make some money and survive.”
“One would think a spellcaster trying to survive would seek protection from the Dark Crusaders rather than trying to go about it by themselves.”
“I… disagree with some of the things they do.”
“A philosophical difference huh?” Gennady’s eyebrows rose. “That’s an interesting perspective coming from a Half Goblin.”
I remained silent.
“No reaction? At least I tried,” he chuckled, looking back to the front. “I do understand where you’re coming from though. The things the Dark Crusaders do— they’re almost no different than a gang, just spread throughout the continent. I understand they’ve gotta do what they’ve gotta do, but when they pretend to be better than their predecessors, it just comes off as hypocritical.”
“You think the Dark Crusaders are like the Shadow’s Evangelium?” I asked, scrutinizing the Dwarf’s expression.
“I wouldn’t go that far. They aren’t exactly the same,” he said, as we came to a fork in the tunnel.
“That way.” I pointed in the direction I had come from, and we continued. “What’s the difference?”
“For one thing, the Shadow’s Evangelium worked in both Vitae and Soli, while the Dark Crusaders are avoiding confrontation in the Holy Xan Empire’s lands unless necessary,” Gennady said, now following me. “As for the other, the Dark Crusaders aren’t trying to convert everyone into their way of life. Which is fine by me. Go and resolve your petty squabbles with the Church— just leave me out of it!”
“But aren’t you already a spellcaster? You just showed me you can do magic,” I pointed out the flaw in his reasoning.
“Nah, I’m not a real spellcaster, lass.” I narrowed my eyes as the Dwarf quickly began to explain. “I can do magic, but I’m not someone who does it regularly. I told you, didn’t I? I’m an inventor.
“I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong in casting magic. The Church claims that it is a violation of Holy Law, but that just seems like a load of crap to me. Magic, like everything else, is a part of how the world works. And from what I’ve read, manipulating magic is almost eerily similar to working a mana tool. There are distinct differences, like how you can’t just make the mana in a mana crystal do whatever without tinkering with it first, whereas magic has a lot more freedom but a lot more complex in what it can do. But at the end of the day, both are the manipulation of the mana to achieve a goal.”
I nodded along, since this was not anything new to me. “What does this have anything to do with being an inventor?” I asked.
Gennady let out a sharp breath, almost haughtily. “Because then it teaches me how mana works as an abstraction. Magic lets me innovate. It lets me create new, better mana tools.”
He stopped, putting down his large bag by the side of a wall while I waited behind him. He pulled out what looked like a mix between a miniature cannon and a bazooka, hefting it over his shoulders.
“Ever heard of a spell called ‘Annihilation’?” he asked.
I warily backed away from the clearly dangerous weapon. “Never heard of it,” I said.
“Well it’s this Tier 6 spell that’s purported to fire a deadly beam of energy which vaporizes everything in its path. This”— the Dwarf tapped the side of the weapon— “was made to copy it.”
I stood there for a moment, just staring at Gennady as he stood proud with his chin proudly held high.
“Impressed, aren’t you? Come on, quit gawking, tell me what you think?”
“I think,” I said, glancing away from the weapon and meeting his eyes, “that nobody uses Tiers in magic. I’m pretty sure it’s not a very popular system. So I don’t even know what a Tier 6 spell can do.”
“What?” he sputtered, saliva getting all over my mask. It took him a moment to gather himself, before he continued, “Bah, it just means it’s very powerful. It can take out most A Rank Monsters in a single blast!”
I raised a hand. “I don’t know what an A Ranked Monster can do either.”
“You—” Gennady deflated, putting the weapon down and back into his bag. “Whatever, it’s not like it works anyway. And before you say anything— it’s supposed to work in theory, but for some reason I can’t seem to fire the damned thing.”
The Dwarf picked up his oversized bag, as I had a thought.
“Want me to try—”
I was cut off by a sound further down the tunnel; it sounded almost like a bird— a baby bird that was gently calling out to its mother. Both Gennady and I whirled around, hands on our weapons, both recognizing the distinct chirping noise.
“Abominations,” he whispered. “We’re here.”
The two of us slowly crept forward. The faint chittering getting louder and louder, but still remaining almost gentle in nature. Eventually, we found ourselves in a larger chamber, one with a small ledge where we stood, and a hundred foot pit leading straight down.
Gennady left his bag of mana tools behind, taking only a single handheld rifle, while I left the ball of light at the corridor behind us; there was no need for illumination here when we were facing Abominations because they themselves would offer us the light source we needed to see. And true enough, when Gennady and I peeked our heads over the cliff edge, there was an ethereal glow.
The radiance of hundreds of luminescent yellow cores, shining faintly through the darkness. The light glowed brighter, then darker. Brighter, then darker. Oscillating. Fluctuating between a shimmer and a glint. Almost like a pulse.
There were hundreds of Abominations at the bottom. The intensity of their glows were not uniform, and more than that, I saw bodies without the blue bulbs sticking out of them, that still had the glowing yellow cores on them. They were… eggs? Or something like that.
It reminded me of fish eggs. Except bigger, glowing, and instead of hatching, it slowly sprouted out bulbous protrusions from the body, creating a second skin that took control over the corpse.
“Holy Hell…” Gennady uttered the Goblin curse softly. “This is my first time seeing an Abomination’s lair. This is how they infect the dead? They’re like parasites!”
They’re worse than parasites. I did not audibly agree with him, but I did mentally say it.
I watched as one of the bodies— a regular antelope— with one of those yellow cores sticking out of its neck stirred. The body had to have been rotting for weeks, although there were no swarm of flies hovering over the corpse; blue flesh had grown over the skin, covering the antelope’s head, neck, and part of its front legs, but it stuck close to the body.
Suddenly, the antelope’s body jerked, the core glowed even brighter than before, shining so intensely that I had to squint for a moment just to see what was happening. Then, the blue flesh began to inflate, turning spherical in shape as it grew larger and larger. The Abomination slowly stood to its feet, letting out a soft chirping noise.
So that’s the sound from earlier. New Abominations being born.
I turned to the man lying prone next to me as we slowly crawled away from the cliff.
“The Abominations must have taken over the Crawlers nest. You can see some remains of webs still hanging around,” he said. “Now, we need to destroy it completely. Cause a cave-in or something. There’s a lot of them— and I saw some Horrors too! If we let this mass of Abomination grow even bigger than it is, this could become a repeat of what happened at the Free Lands.”
I cocked my head. “…isn’t that what we came here to do?”
“I…” the Dwarf trailed off. He was nervous. Sweat was forming around his neck, and his forehead was a wrinkled mess. “Yeah. That’s why we came. We just have to—”
Gennady froze, staring at something behind me. I did not hesitate, I turned around, lashing out with my dagger, and stopped myself as I saw a woman.
Poking out of the pit was a decrepit woman. Her eyes were hollowed out, and her skin was shriveled up to a ghostly white. Her hair was a tangled mess, dropping down her back as she turned her head, almost as if she was inspecting me. The head tilted lower, and lower, and lower. The head… hung loosely off her body, tilted down at an angle no living being could turn.
Then its eyes snapped open.
Two pure red pupils that shone in the darkness stared down at me, and the woman shrieked. It pulled itself up out of the crevice. The woman rose up, revealing two other bodies holding her up, conjoined into an Abomination, barreling towards… Gennady.
The Dwarf was overcome by shock. He stood, eyes bulging out of his sockets, as he fell backwards at the sight. He raised a shaking finger. “A-amalgam—”
And the Amalgam was consumed by flames. My Fireball launched it across the pit, onto the other side in an explosion.
The sound of the blast was accompanied by hundreds of chittering noises. I immediately hauled Gennady to his feet, as I yelled.
“Try and take out as many as you can! We’ll only bring down this cave if we have no other choice.” I did not trust a collapse ceiling to do this job— not when Abominations were involved. We had to ensure they were all wiped out.
My shouting seemed to break the Dwarf out of his momentary stupor. He scrambled for his weapon, and came up beside me at the edge of the pit. I was already hurling spells down the hole when Gennady started firing his rifle.
The Abominations came up like a swarm. Climbing up the walls without any care in the world for falling back down. There were so many of them; enough to have caused significant damage to the city of Locke if they chose to attack now. I launched Fireballs, Wind Blades, Stone Spears— every powerful spell I knew— down at the incoming Abominations.
I had aggro-ed them, and they were now coming for me, no longer treating me like I did not exist. They would not stop until they ripped me to shreds, turning me into one of them. I was trying to cast spells and pre-cast spells simultaneously; it was difficult, and although it somehow worked, it only slowed down my barrage of attacks. Maybe if I had more practice, I could make it more efficient, but for now, it was not helping.
I impaled a group of Abominations with my Frost Spear, as I rained down Fire Arrows upon the entire pit. Gennady’s rifle was somehow more powerful than a regular rifle while just as efficient, yet even with his help, it was still not enough. The first of the Abominations reached the top of the crevice, with more coming right behind it.
“Back up, back up!” I shouted as I blasted the Abomination’s head off.
I was just about to take a step back when I heard a piercing shriek. It cut through even all the sounds of fighting, silencing the Abominations all at once as well. The Abominations climbing out of the pit froze, and were quickly taken out by Gennady and I.
“What… happened?” the Dwarf asked, panting.
“I don’t know,” I said, warily edging closer to the pit. The Abominations there had stopped moving as well. They just stood in place for a moment, before they began to lumber their way back down the hole. “What are they doing?”
“There,” Gennady said, pointing at the center of the pit. At the very bottom, standing amongst both living and dead Abominations, stood an Abomination that emitted a brilliant glow from its core. It lighted up most of the hole, showing clearly all the figures of the Abominations waiting down there. And I finally saw.
There were not just hundreds of Abominations. There were thousands.
The Abomination that halted them— that saved our lives— stood taller than the rest. It did not have a hunched back, or a limp body, but instead, it stood almost as if it were still alive. The blue bulbs had receded slightly back onto the skin, although they still remained slightly lumpy, but more than that, it also covered the body almost entirely. More than half of the body had been consumed by Abomination, and the core growing proportionally in size along with it.
“Atrocity,” Gennady breathed out the word. “That’s supposed to be an Atrocity. Different from the rest somehow. While other Abominations grow stronger and smarter with the more bodies they manage to amass into themselves, Atrocities are an anomaly that somehow only need one.
“I… don’t understand. They’re supposed to be incredibly rare. The Holy Xan Empire claims they never saw them unless there was an Amalgamation about. And even then, only one or two. Why is there an Atrocity here?”
I looked at Gennady, staring with a haunted gaze down at the Atrocity, then down at the Atrocity itself, staring up at us with a keen intelligence in its eyes. Slowly, I shook my head.
“I don’t know,” I repeated myself from earlier. “But I guess it’s a good thing for us.”
“What? Why?!” Gennady looked at me in shock. “Atrocities are said to be Inquisitor killers— they can be killed by Inquisitors too, but it’s not easy. The recommended protocol given out by the Holy Xan Empire indicates that if an Atrocity were spotted near a city like Locke, all of its citizens are to be evacuated immediately. We need to go back. We need to warn—”
I interrupted the Dwarf by raising a hand. He quieted himself, glancing at it in confusion. Then he screamed at me as Fireball formed on my palms, before I threw it down into the pit.
“What are you doing?”
“Exterminating them,” I said, not even looking at him.
I continued throwing Fireballs at the mass of Abominations waiting down below.
“You’re crazy! Insane! You’ll get us both killed! You’ll—”
Gennady slowly cut himself off as he realized nothing was happening. The Abominations were not reacting. The explosions echoed in the cavern, as the wall and ceiling itself shook, but there was no chittering. No swarm of Abominations coming at us.
“Why aren’t they…”
“I don’t know,” I repeated myself a third time. “I told you, didn’t I? They don’t attack me unless I attack them first.”
“But you’re attacking them right now!” the Dwarf argued.
“Yes, I am,” I said simply. “And that Atrocity is stopping them from attacking me back.”
I had stopped launching Fireballs down the crevice, fearing for a possible cave-in. I began raining down Fire Arrows and other smaller spells that could be cast rapidly. Abominations fell one by one, being culled ever so slowly.
And the entire time it happened, the Atrocity just stood there, staring up at us. At me. Its eyes never left me, and despite doing nothing else, I felt a shudder go down my spine as it watched me. I continued the onslaught, lighting the pit aflame, crushing the Abominations with falling rocks, and slicing them up with blades of wind.
Eventually, all that was left was the Atrocity. It stood amidst the fire, as a column of smoke rose up and threatened to suffocate me. Amidst the dead Abominations. Then it too fell. Dead.
I slumped over the floor, tired. I had never expended myself as much as I did today. I had been starving, injured, and lost in the Free Lands after I escaped Bys, but that feeling of exhaustion paled in comparison to this. I felt like I could not even feel the mana around me anymore. I could not cast another spell, and I did not think I could even operate a mana tool.
Gennady glanced down at me, opening his mouth to say something. I saw it move, but I heard no words. My vision blurred.
And then I passed out.
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