Before Miria could take more than one step, something flew by her side with a gust of wind. She shielded her eyes for a second and saw that Selene had just passed her, slowing down in front of Asterios. She came to a halt shortly before him.
Only he could see her enchanted expression, which surprised him greatly. She stood there with her mouth slightly gaping, moving her eyes all over his face and the new features, especially ears and tails.
Asterios chuckled lightly, which brought their gazes together. When their eyes met, Selene reached out with her hand towards his cheek but halted the movement, slightly hesitant. He smirked at her. And it was enough to break that hesitation.
She threw herself at him and joined their lips together, passionately entwining her tongue with his. Met with the fierce assault, Asterios had to hold his ground and hug Selene tightly. She rained deep kisses on him fervently enough to keep pushing him back. For around a minute, he let her pursue his lips in a quite passionate manner.
When they finally split, Selene’s cheeks were heavily flushed and she had to gasp for air. As they stared into each other’s eyes, she smiled a little awkwardly.
“I’m sorry, my Lord… I’ve lost myself in your charming appearance for a moment… It’s just… something I never expected to see…” She glanced repeatedly at his ears as she spoke.
“Do they look that good?”
“I didn’t really take myself for someone that interested in their own kind, not really thinking about what subrace my Soul Mate would be, but… very...”
He chuckled again and pulled her in for one more kiss before they turned to the remaining two. Miria also approached Asterios, and Selene moved to his side while her tail started entwining with his. With a faint blush, the panthergirl kept stealing glances at his lips.
Asterios extended his hand towards her and Miria stepped closer, tilting her head slightly up to give him a gentle peck. He brushed through her hair with his hand that wasn’t holding onto Selene and smiled at her.
“Thank you for the warning. How are you girls doing? Your clothes are pretty roughed up.”
“We had some issues on our way here but we are fine,” Suanori answered him, slowly walking closer to them. “You seem to be doing much better than us though. I honestly thought it would be the other way. What’s up with you turning into a spooky male version of Selene?”
“One or two techniques that I had used ended up with this look as a side effect. I had to try something different because I was burning through my crystals at an insane rate. Thus, I borrowed a few things from Miria, Selene, and Umbra, turning into… this.”
“This very handsome-looking fox, fufufu~” Selene chuckled softly by his side while stroking Ast’s ears. He could feel her hands playing with them and it was really nice.
“Anyway, this will revert in like ten minutes or so since I’ve been in this form for some time already. If you are all fine, we should check out the cathedral while I can still make use of it.”
Suanori nodded. “I’ve healed us up so we are ready to go. I’ll give you girls some time to replenish your mana and we can head inside.” She smiled at Asterios and turned away, walking towards the stairs leading onto the platform that housed the building.
“What was that about?” He glanced at his two companions, clearly sensing the emphasis in the guildmaster’s words.
“Nothing. We just talked a bit on the way here.” Miria showed a bright smile.
“The last time you talked a bit with someone, the number of women in my harem increased by one not that long after.” Asterios squinted his eyes at her and Miria giggled.
“I can assure you that it was just a casual banter, my Lord,” Selene added with a mischievous smile.
He sighed and shook his head. “Alright, whatever. I’m glad you girls are safe. How are your reserves?”
Moments after he finished the question, Selene pulled his face to the side and joined their lips in another passionate kiss.
“Not fair! You already kissed Master so much! It was my turn!” Miria grumbled, causing her Foxkin friend to chuckle into Ast’s mouth.
She soon pulled back while seductively licking her lips. “You are just too slow to act, fufufu~ Early bird gets the worm~”
Asterios chuckled after seeing Miria’s pouting expression and put both of his hands on her cheeks, pulling her face closer. She awaited his lips with a soft smile and let Asterios pepper her mouth with a myriad of tame pecks she loved so much. Their tongues tickled each other gently, without invading their partner’s domain. He spent some extra time pampering her and could feel the appreciation through their bond. The loud purring was another proof.
The trio exchanged a few more kisses and then walked up to Suanori. She stood up from sitting on the stairs and raised her hand while sighing.
“Don’t apologize. We have already talked about it. You are really too considerate for your own good. Some girls might be turned off by it, you know?”
“Then that’s an actual reason for me to keep doing it. I’m already kind of swarmed by beauties.”
She shook her head with a smile and they all refocused on their objective. Asterios, Miria, Selene, and Umbra quickly exchanged thoughts and talked mentally about their experiences in the labyrinth, relaying some crucial things to Suanori to keep it short.
They checked themselves all over to make sure everyone was okay before entering and Selene pushed the giant marble double door open. They walked inside a cylindrical construction with a very high cupola. All the columns were stylized and every wall had some carving in it. But, unfortunately, the building wasn’t empty.
Right in the middle, stood a giant marble throne. And on that throne, sat a huge humanoid figure. It had dark purple skin over its massive, muscular chest, strong arms, and the head of a bull. Its legs were covered in black fur and ended in hooves. By the side of its royal chair, an impressive single-edged greatsword laid in rest, almost the size of its owner, being around six or seven meters tall. Its crimson eyes gleamed and the monster began raising itself from its slumber.
“Not good… That’s a Voidtaur… This will be tou—”
~HAHAHAHAHAHA! FINALLY! FINALLY, SOMETHING I CAN SHOW OFF WITH!~
Umbra’s almost maniacal laughter interrupted Suanori and spooked everyone greatly. He quickly detached himself from Ast’s body since he had been wrapped around it and shot towards the rising enemy.
~Just give me five minutes! No! Two is enough!~
And with that comment, he plunged into the Voidtaur’s chest, disappearing from their sight. The monster staggered for a brief moment, looking at the spot where the weird shadow seeped into it, but didn’t find any wound after examining its body. It then grabbed the giant weapon and roared towards the four enemies in front of it.
“Well, two minutes it is then,” Asterios commented and lowered his posture. “Let’s quickly think on how to keep that purple cow bus—ahn~”
An unexpected moan suddenly escaped Ast’s lips as he was speaking and he quickly turned his head to the back. Slightly confused, the girls did the same, and they saw Suanori, with her fair cheeks tainted by a tinge of rosiness, holding onto one of Ast’s white bushy tails.
“Sorry… They started moving and looked so fluffy…” she apologized with a slightly embarrassed smile and hastily let go.
The girls chuckled, causing a little more of the rosy blush to appear on Suanori’s cheeks. They turned back towards the monster, which was now speeding their way while preparing to cleave through them with its huge sword.
Asterios shook his head and extended his arms towards Miria and Selene with a soft smile. “Care to dance with me?”
They both nodded and grabbed his hands, smiling back at him. Suanori was confused about what he was talking about when the two girls suddenly flung Asterios straight at the monster, doing a graceful spin afterward and then bowing to each other.
With a loud shout, Asterios quickly arrived in front of the Voidtaur’s ugly face and drove his fist enhanced with spiritual energy right into its cheek, pushing the monster back a few steps while a loud thud reverberated through the air.
In its unstable retreat, the Voidtaur swung its free arm at the human hanging in the air, but its target exploded into a puff of black smoke when its palm connected, confusing the monster greatly. It roared in pain a moment later as something pierced into its back and created a long cut from the top to the bottom.
Asterios landed on the ground behind it on one knee and rolled to the side to avoid getting stomped on. He slashed the monster’s ankle with his black blade, now extended into a greatsword’s length through Miria’s Mana Coating and covered in blue spiritual flames from Selene, causing the Voidtaur to release a scream of agony again.
And it was not all the pain it would feel as Miria showed up in front of Asterios and he grabbed her hand while she was still on the move, using centrifugal force and his increased strength to throw her straight up.
She immediately started spinning the moment he let go of her and created another long vertical wound on the monster’s body, this time on its chest, as she cut it with her blades while rotating around her own axis. Miria passed by its face and sliced its cheek as she flew above it, reaching the highest point of her ascent.
Selene created a spiritual platform for her and Miria used it to propel herself back down at the Voidtaur. It anticipated the follow-up attack and swung its greatsword at her. But, before it reached its target, the monster groaned and staggered in pain as a thin beam of intense white light struck it right into its eye, burning it to the extent of some sizzling sounds getting released into the air.
The painful pillar of white caused the Voidtaur to miss Miria with its sword by a hair’s breadth and she fell onto its chest from above, sinking both of her shortswords into it for a brief moment before she jumped away and landed on the ground near Asterios.
He glanced back to follow the mischievous ray and saw Selene holding some small ring with one hand and putting her spiritual flame behind it. She smiled at him and he nodded, thanking her for the assist.
Throwing it into a pocket inside her dress, she quickly lunged towards the duo and Asterios joined his hands with Miria in the middle, launching Selene into the air after she stepped onto their connected palms.
She conjured a big axe with her spiritual energy and swung it at the Voidtaur vertically from above. It had already recovered from the previous assault and easily blocked the strike with its own weapon, punching Selene back down onto the ground with a loud roar. Asterios caught her before she slammed into the floor and put her down.
Some thick roots and vines started covering its hooves, but they didn’t manage to restrain the monster for long. Its chest began rising gradually as its eyes started glowing even brighter. Selene and Asterios quickly put up a spiritual barrier together, sensing what was coming, and a powerful sea of purple flames flooded the whole chamber after the Voidtaur released its fiery breath into the floor. Suanori got to them just in time to get protected too.
For a brief moment, their vision was completely obstructed by the violent tongues of fire that surrounded the spherical barrier the duo had erected. Then, not even a second after the storm of hellfire receded, they saw that the monster had jumped into the air and was flying straight at them with its weapon held in two hands above its head.
Asterios and Selene prepared for the incoming impact and… the Voidtaur suddenly winced in the air. The weird motion slightly altered its trajectory and its greatsword slammed into the ground by their side with a powerful boom that shook the whole place. The monster faceplanted into the floor right after it.
Everyone was confused by its strange behavior but they quickly got into a fighting stance when the purple body began awkwardly rising up. The Voidtaur shook its head and groaned. Before they could launch themselves at it in its moment of weakness, it directed a hand at them and waved its finger. They stopped, confused even more than earlier.
Still wary, they watched the monster shakily stand up while almost losing its balance a few times, having to use its sword to support itself. It then seemed to sigh heavily and turned its bull-like head towards them.
“Ghk… Khrrrk… Ngeeh… Nee… One… One… Two… Three. Test. Test. Good, this thing can actually use its throat properly.”
They all looked amongst each other as the monster started making some rough noises and then began speaking with its deep, hoarse voice. It then cracked its neck a few times while using its hands and stretched with a loud, reverberating groan.
“Mhhhhhnnnn… Apologies, Master. It actually took me three minutes. I’ve grown a little bit rusty, it seems, hahahaha.”
Asterios raised his brow after the booming laughter quieted down. “Umbra?”
“One and only.”
“Woah!” Miria glanced towards him with excitement written all over her face. “You can control the boss monster?”
The Voidtaur chuckled loudly. “Not just control it. I now know pretty much everything that it does, be it about itself, this dungeon, or even the location of the Core. It seems that this monster was an old Core Guardian before it was replaced. Well, now it’s our Guardian.”
“That’s great,” Asterios commented. “How long can you manipulate it for?”
“Until I no longer want to. It’s technically gone now. I’ve almost completely eroded its mind from inside. The moment I let go, it will fall down and all its life functions will slowly cease because the brain is unable to control them anymore. It’s pretty much an empty husk with me inside, holding the reins.”
“That’s… scary…” Suanori smiled wryly and Umbra laughed again.
“Yeah, but pretty useful. I get that you can now lead us to the Core? Or this monster can’t leave the labyrinth?” Asterios asked.
“Fortunately, the Core severed its connection with it the moment I killed its mind, so it's no longer restricted by anything. And yes, I know where the Core Chamber is.”
“At least it can’t spy on us through it. What about the new Guardian? We should prepare as much as we can before the final encounter,” Suanori said.
“I apologize but this Voidtaur knows nothing about the new Guardian. It was kicked out of the Core Chamber before its replacement arrived. But, from what its instincts are telling me, it fears the new Guardian greatly, to the extent that it would run at the first sight of it.”
“Such a big and strong monster and it would cower this much…” Selene wondered out loud, slightly shocked by the revelation.
“That’s bad news.” Suanori rubbed her chin. “But, at least we have this one on our side now. It will definitely make things much easier than with just us.”
“Ummm…” Everyone glanced at Miria after she brought their attention to herself. “So, what now? I don’t see any exits? Is there a reward? Or did it not count because the monster is technically still alive?”
“The reward is actually this sword that I’m holding,” Umbra answered. “As for the exit, stairs were supposed to reveal themselves around the throne, leading down, but you might be right about us not beating the Voidtaur in the truest sense of it.”
“The sword? How could anyone even make use of something so huge?” Selene pondered.
“It can change its size to match the owner perfectly. It has a few other interesting functions too.”
“That explains it.” She nodded.
“How are we going to get out then? Can the stairs be opened some other way?” Miria asked.
Umbra pulled the giant greatsword out of the floor and walked towards the marble throne while dragging it over the ground. Arriving in front of it, he kicked the structure with its massive hoof and sent it flying to the back, crashing into the wall of the cathedral.
He then lifted the weapon above his head and it lit up in violent purple flames, covering the blade completely. Umbra rotated it and shoved the tip into the marble pavement, sinking the greatsword more than halfway into the expensive stone with moderate effort.
The flames erupted from the crevice surrounding it and he began pulling the sword while walking in a circle, cutting a ring with it, leaving a trail of molten marble behind himself. Completing the sizzling path, he pulled the weapon out and pushed it into the floor at a different spot, leaving it to rest there.
“Better grab onto something,” he warned them and started taking a few steps back.
Suanori quickly created a wooden railing for them to hold onto just when Umbra launched himself into the air as high as to almost hit the furthest point of the cupola with his head, and plunged down into the circle he had created previously.
With an earth-shaking thud, he slammed into the ground with his hooves and the point of impact caved in a little. He walked back and repeated the motion again and again, causing immense tremors with each descent; chunks of marble were sent flying into every direction and the platform moved lower and lower into the ground.
Finally, after the sixth try, the ground cracked much louder than before and Umbra almost fell into the pit he had created after his footing disappeared, but he managed to extend his arms quickly enough to grab onto the edges of the hole.
He dragged himself out of it and everyone walked up to him, checking out their newly created exit. In the meanwhile, Ast’s techniques reached their ends and he slowly turned back to his normal, human appearance, saddening the girls a little, especially Selene.
“With this thing, I can get us straight to the Core with a few more tunnels. We are actually on the forty-second floor. The Core is on forty-fifth, hidden outside of the usual paths for adventurers,” Umbra announced.
They all glanced at each other and nodded. Umbra grabbed his sword and jumped down first, with everyone else following after him. It was time to wrap this expedition up.