42. The Decanid
75 0 0
X
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Width
Reset
X
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Part 1 –

The Decanid was engulfed by a violent explosion. The world quaked as a pale inferno tore the cliff-face apart, sending out massive chunks of rock like a hailstorm.

A heat beyond their comprehension blistered and burnt all traces of life in its epicentre. It boiled and sizzled their blood, even from such a grand distance. Baffled faces spawned across the armed group as chunks of boulders rained beside them, destroying the various pillars as they collided like meteors.

In the orchestra of destruction, Uru smiled at her work before she glanced at a pained Exrite.

Ho? Your body can’t handle this kind of heat?”

Of course not. Just what exactly do you think I am, Uru?”

He swiftly responded and pointed both guns into the lingering inferno.

An illusive heat surrounded Uru’s claws as she brought them up to her face. Its intensity made it near impossible to make out the world past her claws. The explosion was mesmerising, even to the Commanders who couldn’t help but to grin at its majesty.

Compared to the two rockets that assaulted the human airship, this was more than twice of its calibre. In addition, a heat intense enough to instantly melt metal lingered like a concentrated orb in its epicentre.

The enraged Frosty took a moment to catch her breath before she softly uttered:

S-such a destructive force...”

Splendid! Aha! What a grand explosion that was! It looks like you’re not all talk, huh!” Black grinned as her eyes shimmered in admiration. “Hmhm~! It brings me right back to the Colour Plane! Wouldn’t you agree, White!?”

Barely. Don’t get excited because that’s the biggest explosion you’ve seen so far in this world.” White sternly responded as she brandished her pale blade. “This isn’t the time to be messing around, Blackheart.”

Tch. You’re getting riled over a mere spider?” Black snickered. “Granted, it nearly killed Frosty, but at least the favour’s been returned~”

She sounded confident of the Decanid’s defeat. There was no way that a creature – even one that stood a mighty ten metres tall – could withstand such an enormous amount of force.

From the times she had spent annihilating creatures of all sizes; this was a fact forged from the anvil of experience. A heat that could radiate from more than a hundred metres away was bound to eradicate all traces of life. It wouldn’t be a surprise if all that was left was a pool of molten rock.

However, White thought otherwise.

Not quite. Keep your eyes sharp, and your weapons sharper. I still have yet to pick up a scent of blood.”

She spoke though her teeth as she stared intently into the pale haze, which had soon shrunk to a considerable amount. The boulders that flew overhead had subsided, and all that remained was a blinding roll of dust and debris from the base of the cliff.

You sure it wasn’t entirely destroyed by that firestorm?”

I’m certain.”

Heh. It’s a stubborn pest if it managed to survived that.” Black muttered, slightly irritated. “So~ is it not going to come out and fight us?”

It’s waiting, most likely.” Exrite wiped off his sweat with the sleeves of his coat as Khaos trudged into the group, his armour clanking noisily with each step. “With how it tried to fool us into thinking it was dead in the fog, and how it ambushed Frosty – I’m certain that it’s playing dead again. It’s waiting for the right time to pounce on us.”

His judgement seemed to garner an agreeing nod from Uru, who knew that the Decanid was far more intelligent than the lesser species of the Anid race.

Black glanced at Exrite and hummed:

Right, right. Make us think it’s dead again, huh? What a sly creature. It’s a shame that its nothing but a disgusting insect.

You say that, but you nearly fell for it’s trap.” Exrite shallowly smiled.

Not at all, not at all~” Black firmly held the gun forward and took aim. “A good practice is to always double down on the attack if the enemy suddenly goes quiet. If you knock on their door and they don’t answer, then you knock harder. Just like this –”

Without warning, Black fired a barrage of bullets straight into dust cloud.

She violated the Decanid that hid within with a seemingly endless pool of ammunition, which left Exrite dumbfounded as he failed to comprehend the mechanism of her Night’s Melody.

And suddenly – an ear-splitting roar emerged from the dust cloud. It chilled their bones as a noisy screech of metal grinded from deep within. As Black continued to merciless torment the beast, Exrite recognised the noise and immediately turned to the others with broadened eyes.

It was the same sound the Decanid made when its legs blossomed into ten. By that logic, it wouldn’t be strange if the same noise was emitted when it transformed back into a drill.

W-wait –! Hey –! Everyone get out of the way! It’s going to charge straight for us!”

His voice was met with instant reactions, despite being drowned in the barrage of explosive gunfire.

Ho!?” An unexpected voice left the Demon as Exrite yelled for them to move out of the centre path once again.

By the time the metallic screeching abruptly stopped, the group had already began to disperse themselves with haste. As Uru dashed with Exrite and Khaos to the side, she kept her eyes fixed on the murky haze.

At first, she didn’t want to believe Exrite’s claim. Her magic – which was akin to that of the [Ninth Tier] – should have been sufficient enough to at least destroy the Decanid’s thin legs. To hear that it could still move even after such a devastating attack was difficult to swallow.

But after the dust began to die down, a massive glowing object suddenly shot out into their previous location. Like a comet, a trail followed its lunge as it ruptured the air with frightening speed.

T-that’s the Decanid!?” Khaos yelled, unable to believe his eyes.

It flew like a second sun; the Decanid’s armour glowing red from the absorbed heat of Uru’s seemingly indomitable magic. Among them who stared at it in disbelief, only Uru felt frustrated by its resilience.

Or rather – by her weakness.

Impossible! That was magic of the [Ninth Tier]! It shouldn’t be able to move with its armour so close to its melting point!” Uru proclaimed. “Even if its carbodix, it still has a limit!”

You sure that knowledge isn’t a thousand years outdated!? It looks fucking fine to me!” Black cried from far across before the Decanid collided into the stone ground with a quaking thud.

The ground nearly threw Khaos off balance while Exrite and Black began to bombard it with countless of bullets before it could transform once again. From its crater, it rose after a violent screech as Exrite’s bullets did little to penetrate its carbodix armour.

But Black’s however, were able to dent it to the point where cracks began to show. The others refrained from entering the towering Decanid’s melee range, for the heat of its armour would damage them more than a swipe from its razor sharp legs.

Exrite growled with every swift reload. The tools that were supposed to close the gap of being a mere human had little-to-no effect on the Decanid.

It wasn’t long until White too joined in and began to bombard it with bullets from her Moon’s Rhythm, while Frosty fired an assortment of [Ice Shards] at the beast. Every shard futilely burst into a cold mist before it could even touch its armour.

Ahaha! So it’s only fast when it’s allowed the time to charge up, huh!? Did it really think that ambushing us would work!?” Black sneered sadistically as countless of cracks formed across the sides of the Decanid’s circular body.

Before it had even transformed into its spider-like form, it had endured an incredible amount of damage. It was a miracle that its armour was still in tact, although for how much longer was left entirely in the hands of the cruel Commanders.

Carbodix was one of Six Point’s most powerful metals. It boasted unfathomable magic protection and a tensile strength that far surpassed limeite. For it to even crack was a testament to the destructive power of the Commander’s weapons.

Uru was still boggled by her magic’s failure. While she knew that her strength had considerably lessened over the past thousand years, she did not think that it was to this extent.

In an attempt to redeem her pride, she suddenly launched herself ten metres into the air and struck the Decanid body with her claws. However –

“– Remarkable… even for a creature born from the weakest Uninid, it’s still faster than I thought!”

Her claws were parried by a leg. It was twisted upwards like sword as it clashed with her momentarily before she thrust an explosive orb in front of her. The blast threw her back to Exrite, who busily loaded an iron magazine with bullets.

As if Uru possessed some sort of precognition magic – the space where she clashed with it was skewered with four more legs in the blink of an eye. The mere sight of its speed forced them to acknowledge the dangers of entering its melee range once again.

You ok, Uru!?” Exrite yelled as Khaos stood there wondering how he was going to contribute to the battle.

For now, I am. It looks like the Decanids have changed quite a bit after a thousand years. They were never this fast, nor could their legs turn in such a manner.” Despite her words, she spoke as if she was praising the creature.

For now…? Hey, you know a way to beat this thing, right?”

Naturally, that’s a given. But considering that none of us other than myself can get close, it won’t be easy. Or rather – why don’t I kill you so you can use something more powerful than my magic?”

As much as I want to say you’re asking the wrong person, there’s no way I can muster something of the [Ninth Tier]. The only magic I know I can use that’s past the [Third Tier] is [Time] magic, although...”

He trailed off as the Decanid suddenly thrust five of its legs to the side of its body. It looked like a giant spiky mace, and through intuition, the group from either side began to distance themselves as they continued to bombard it with bullets and magic.

I might be able to cast something like that with a good chant. I have a Maiden’s mana capacity, so it’s not impossible to turn something of the [Third Tier] into that of the [Ninth Tier]… W-wait –! That doesn’t mean we need to resort to that just yet! You still have a method to beat it, don’t you!?”

Exrite refuted the heated claws that were thrust underneath his neck. The heat reddened his skin as they came to an abrupt stop. The surrounding floor was smothered with the gooey remains of the Mononid, as well as a few survivors that were swiftly stomped on by the towering Khaos.

Of course I do. All we need to do is to get close and break through its armour. A single slash with my claws, or a punch from Khaos will be more than enough! However, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to give us an opening. If anything, its legs are our biggest adversary.”

The Decanid’s five legs that were pointed out like spines would most certainly parry whoever dared to approach it. In addition to its red-hot armour, there wasn’t a feasible way for Khaos, Frosty or White to enter a coordinated melee with it.

As Exrite focused his fire onto the black, beady eyes of the Decanid, Uru muttered:

All the Decanids I’ve fought in the past were strictly ambush predators. They never willingly threw themselves into danger like this.”

She wondered if the Decanids now had a different role in the Anid hierarchy, or if her attack had simply destroyed its capacity to create rational judgements. It would be unwise to believe the later, but it wasn’t a far-fetched thought.

Exrite however, began to notice something strange and before long, he swiftly ceased firing. In the middle of a lengthy reload, he wondered why the Decanid hadn’t retaliated despite the devastating damage it had accumulated from Black and White’s bullets.

It stood there menacingly, yet the only reaction it exhibited was the parry with Uru.

As more and more cracks formed across its thick armour – its eyes suddenly lit up to a vibrant white. And without any warning, its five lower legs combined into a giant needle before it slowly began to rotate.

Confusion struck them, particularly Uru who had never seen a Decanid behave in a such a manner. Amid the constant barrage of gunfire and confusion, Exrite noticed it tilt towards the others across.

It didn’t take a genius to understand what it intended to do. Out of instinct, he yelled across as loud as he could:

GET THE FUCK OUT OF ITS WAY! IT’S GOING TO CHARGE AT YOU LIKE A TOP SPIN!”

“– eh!?”

Excuse me!?”

What!?”

As soon as they realised that, the Decanid suddenly glided across the broken arena with its five arms spinning like the blades of a saw. It spun like a top spin as it gave chase to the three who swiftly launched themselves into the opposing direction.

It left a trail of shattered stone as it closely followed them with the tip of its blades at their heels. Frosty swiftly threw herself far ahead into safety as she fired countless of [Ice Shards] back at the Decanid in an attempt to aid Black and White.

However, something seemed off.

While Frosty’s magic immediately dispersed into steam, the bullets that were fired at the Decanid unexpectedly rebounded from the Decanid’s body. In an instant, a searing bullet grazed Black’s cheek and shattered the ground in front of her.

Tch!?” Black growled as she skilfully maintained her footing and avoided the cracked remains. “That insect can deflect bullets now!?”

By the time they had ceased firing, a barrage of bullets had struck them from behind. Their garbs protected them with utter ease, although a lingering pain caused Black to make a sadistic face.

Did it wait all this time just to deflect our bullets back at us!? It took all that damage just for that one moment!? What a pitiful creature. As I thought, it’s just an insect!” White spat as she transformed her Moon’s Rhythm into its blade form.

As they continued to flee from the Decanid’s rotating blades, Black suddenly twisted her head back and stared at the creature. Pure ecstasy and thrill flooded through her veins as she too transformed her handgun into a blade.

For the first time in this world, Black had found a battle worth savouring. After the constant one-sided slaughters against the humans, this was a breath of fresh air. White too was indifferent, although she held a more tempered demeanour.

Their focus was drawn onto their sole enemy as they silently vowed to destroy it.

Blinded by the rush of battle, they had forgotten that there were others also involved in the fight.

That was until a familiarly-round object collided with the underside of the Decanid.

It was a grenade.

It erupted into a violent ball of flames and shrapnel not a second after a dry explosion resounded from afar. The Decanid was instantly launched to the side where it tumbled into the remnants of the surrounding pillars.

Fragments of its armour spat out in all directions as one of its legs suddenly tore off when it tried to anchor itself. As it painfully skidded another twenty metres away, it let loose of a horrific scream as Frosty quickly regrouped with the Commanders.

That’s impressive if Khaos threw that grenade from all the way there!” White praised the juggernaut as they came to a grinding halt before Frosty.

Her light blue eyes fell onto the group of three afar. There, she saw the confident marksman who had shot the grenade mid-air with perfect precision. Even the man himself seemed surprised that he was able to pull it off.

So he actually hit it, huh? Not bad. Not bad at all~ Well, not that we needed any help or anything.” Black – while she sounded surprised with Exrite’s aim – had a tinge of disappointment in her voice. “I would’ve loved to tear off that leg myself, but what can you do? Looks like our swords are going to have to wait again. Now, shall open the firing range again?”

It goes without saying. Aim for its legs. I want to investigate the innards of that Decanid alive.”

Tch. You’re as disgusting as ever.”

You’re one to talk, Blackheart.”

The mechanism of how it deflected their bullets and the strange anti-magical properties of its carbodix armour intrigued the white-haired woman. Soon, their blades that were intended to slice off the Decanid’s legs mid-chase were turned back into handguns.

And as they pointed it at the recovering Decanid – they opened fire.

During this, they completely ignored Frosty’s presence as she continued to barrage it with countless [Ice Shards]. A dense mist of vapour would explode and linger for a split second every time the shards came into contact with the Decanid.

Uru’s eyes narrowed in displeasure.

Your sister’s quite the fanatic when angered. Even with the knowledge of the Decanid’s armour, she won’t give up with her futile attacks.” Uru spoke with spite.

Indeed. At this point, Frosty was wasting precious mana. It was so painstakingly obvious that her magic was ineffective against the Decanid, yet the hot-headed woman continued to bombard it regardless.

It seemed like she was fighting out of rage.

However, Exrite disagreed.

I don’t think it’s futile, Uru. Have a closer look at what’s happening with the [Ice Shards].”

Curious by what he meant, Uru carefully examined the faraway Decanid and found nothing that was mildly interesting. Apart from the Commander’s devastating weapons, that is.

Although it seemed like the Decanid’s reddened armour has regained some of its black colour far faster than what Uru had anticipated. And the longer she watched the [Ice Shards] explode into short mists, the sooner she realised Frosty’s motive.

Ho. So her magic wasn’t intended to damage the Decanid. She aimed to cool down its armour from the start?”

Uru was amused by this. From the beginning, she thought Frosty would lash out at the Decanid in a fit of rage, but instead showed some restraint. Or rather, this was a necessary step before she could personally fight it head on.

After all, there was no feasible way of getting close with its armour still brimming with heat.

Looks like it… hey, is it really fine to be acting this calm?” Khaos muttered as he rummaged through the giant backpack for another grenade. “That thing doesn’t look like it’s going to go down easy!”

Reserve your needless worries for another time. Those Otherworlders are doing a tremendous job at weakening the Decanid’s armour. I believed that this fight would rest on my shoulders... Hmm. Those… ‘handguns’ of theirs really is quite the interesting artefact.”

Uru hummed as she watched the Decanid suddenly scramble towards a pillar. Despite its size, it fled with incredible speed. However – it was nowhere near as fast as the supersonic bullets.

It baffles me. How can such a small object carry so much power without any magic? Human – or perhaps – Otherworldly inventions really are frightening. You humans are quite formidable with your toys. But I guess that’s a given when your race can only harness so much mana and magic. Unlike us Demons.”

She spoke with both spite and envy interwoven in her low voice.

To rely on tools is a sign of weakness –”

No. It just means we’re more resourceful. If you can achieve the same thing easier at a lower cost, then why wouldn’t you? It’s as you said – we don’t have the greatest mana capacities, but we make up for it in our weapons.”

Exrite argued as he gave a nod to Khaos.

The towering juggernaut arched his back and reeled his arm far behind him. A grenade was firmly clutched by his iron grip as he carefully studied the climbing Decanid.

Needless to say – he intended to throw it as hard as he could.

“… you humour me, Exrite. If you believe in chasing the most efficient route to achieving something – then why do you chose to be a human?”

Mused by those intoxicating words – Exrite broke into a bright smile.

Isn’t it obvious! I was born a human, not a Maiden!” He exclaimed.

Uru admired the blazing flame in his eyes. No matter how hard she tried to snuff out the fire, she ultimately became a bellow that fuelled his determination. With that, she couldn’t help but to softly grin.

Aim for the top of the pillar. If you miss, then we’ve got another four left inside the bag and one more on me. But by then, it would already be too late for it.”

He was certain of it. The Decanid had far too many cracks, to the point where it wouldn’t be odd if it suddenly shattered like a ceramic vase due to its frivolous movement.

Another leg was swallowed by a hole in the pillar. It screamed, thrashed and stabbed its legs deeper into the pillar walls as if enraged. As it clumsily reached the top, it let loose of one final screech.

Uru. How good are you with [Stone] magic?”

Ho? Is that a joke? Have you ever heard of a Succubus that could play with mud?”

“… forget I asked.”

Exrite pointed his gun straight at the Decanid before he suddenly cried:

Now Khaos!”

On it!”

And just as Khaos let loose of the grenade – Exrite immediately began to utter a chant underneath his breath. He realised that the Decanid had its body perched in a manner that seemed like it would pounce their way.

Not a second after the grenade was thrown, the Decanid suddenly leapt. The tip of the pillar shattered underneath its might as it tore through the air like a meteor. It seemed like it reacted to the grenade.

As it endured continuous fire from the Commanders, pieces of its molten armour finally began to chip off.

The three immediately escaped the vicinity – although not without a surprise. In the middle of Exrite’s chant, he swiftly buried his last grenade underneath a pile of Mononid remains and debris before he fled to a safe distance.

With precise aim, Exrite fired two bullets from his cobalt handgun and exploded the grenade just as it passed behind the Decanid. The explosion flung the beast at an even greater speed which surprised Exrite as he grinned and yelled:

“– [Stone Barrier]!”

Just as how they defeated their fist Octanid back in Uru’s prison, he intended to impale the Decanid with a giant spear-shaped rock. In an instant, a brown magical circle formed before a sharp rod of stone burst out from the ground and prepared to skewer the Decanid.

However –

The Decanid easily smashed through the piece of stone as it crashed into the ground.

Exrite expected this to happen. Due to his [Stone Barrier] being of the [Second Tier], it had zero effect on the Decanid’s armour. He gambled on impaling its vulnerable underside, but the Decanid was smart enough to close its legs as it landed.

But either way – the outcome would be the same.

Before the Decanid could even catch a glimpse of its new surroundings – a powerful explosion immediately tore through its underside. A chaotic symphony of white goo, fragmented ceramic and carbodix as well as the remainders of its legs spat out as it was launched metres into the air.

A strange liquid left its beady eyes as it fell into a bed of what remained of its steaming legs and underside. All that was left of the Decanid was a spherical body that perfectly fit inside of the hole the grenade had dug out.

A hoarse cry left the Decanid, for its mouth on the underside had been completely shredded. The silence of the aftermath garnered a cry of triumph from Khaos who patted Exrite’s shoulder while the others returned with unsatisfied faces.

Particularly Frosty, who wanted to see the Decanid off herself. However, the cloud in her eyes suddenly cleared up when she realised that it was still alive and… well.

Ahahaha! Hey Uru, what do you call an ‘Anid’ with no legs?” Black hysterically laughed as she approached the Decanid’s crater.

Truly, her sense of humour was nothing but disturbing.

Wouldn’t that be a Zeronid? Or maybe a Nullinid?” White hummed, stopping by to inspect a disembowel leg.

Fortunately, those don’t exist. Although… this one may be the first. Joking aside, I didn’t expect your weapons to deal a significant amount of damage to its armour.” Uru complemented them.

If it weren’t for the Colours, there wouldn’t have been a feasible way to defeat the Decanid other than resorting to far more powerful magic. Since she believed that the Decanid wasn’t a fight the Maiden of Time intended for them to overcome, she purposefully refrained.

After all, the cost of such potent magic would drain a considerable chunk of her mana reserves in the blink of an eye.

It’s the otherway around. We’re surprised that we couldn’t even penetrate though that thick metal. Hm... so this is carbodix, correct?”

White inspected a chunk of the red-hot metal. With her sword, pierced it with a simple thrust before she held it up in intrigue.

It’s heavy. Very heavy for a chunk of metal this small.”

Oh? That might explain why it was so hard break. Must be pretty fucking dense too.”

Black hummed and stared down at the Decanid with a sadistic face.

Hey, you gave us quite the hard time, didn’t you? Hmhm~ Hey. Do you see this mark on my face? It’s only fair that I get to do the same to you. So – since you don’t have any cheeks, let’s go for your eyes~”

With the tip of her sword, she easily gouged one of its beady eyes messily. The Decanid hoarsely screamed as white goo dribbled across its armour. Due to the intense heat, its blood sizzled like the whites of an egg.

Khaos was forced to turn away. If it were up to him, he would put it out of his mystery, even if it was a monster.

“… these shards are too cracked to be used at all. I would’ve liked to make a sword or a plate of armour out of them. But if they’re that heavy… then maybe not. I think Khaos would benefit the most, but I don’t think any of us have a clue on how to cast carbodix.”

He gazed at Uru, hoping that she would have some knowledge on it.

That’s out of a Demon’s expertise. The very nature of carbodix is poisonous to my race for obvious reasons. This is something for the Dwarves of Plunnerdell, although I believe it would be best to keep this to ourselves. That nagging race will only bring problems in the future. They’re a rather greedy bunch.”

“… right. Hmm. That’s a shame. This would’ve been the perfect material to make armour for Khaos, since he doesn’t have any mana resistance… We’ll hide it then.”

Ho? Is your inner greed starting to bear fruit?”

Better us than anyone else harnessing this metal. This place is also frequented by the Elves it seems. Look – after Black and White’s done with the Decanid, we can bury it underneath the crater or the fallen pillars.”

I was thinking the same thing. I’d love to investigate this metal further. I want to figure out how our bullets were deflected, unless it was some sort of ability the Decanid possessed.” White nodded.

Can’t be letting our enemies have our loot, now can we? Carbodix makes room for some interesting improvements for our airship. Oh, and you too Exrite and friends. Besides, I’d rather my enemies not be bullet resistant. I expect all my bullets to carve straight through them without any issues.”

Speaking of carve – Exrite noticed how easily White’s sword had penetrated through the carbodix. For a moment, he thought about making a make-shift shield with one of the larger fragments.

For him, it may be far too heavy and impractical. But for Khaos on the other hand, it might be perfect. Although that decision was ultimately up to him.

He enquired both White and Khaos on the idea, to which the man in question agreed on. It played on his strengths and weaknesses almost perfectly. With his strength, he could easily wield the shield and with his non-existent mana capcity – it could protect him from even magic of the [Ninth Tier] if he used it correctly.

There was also a discussion about turning a shard into a giant sword, but given how cracked they were, it would be impossible to tell if the sword was ‘damaged’ or about to give in or not.

As Black and White continued to ‘play’ with the Decanid and its carbodix armour, Uru suggested that they clear out the entire place from the pillars and Mononids. The risk of another Decanid emerging was possible, and because this place stood before the surprisingly intact geared altar far ahead – Uru felt the need to wipe out the Anid infestation.

It was a disgrace to have an insect’s breeding ground share the same space as an artefact left behind by the Maiden of Time. The very thought infuriated her. With an orb of explosive energy, she destroyed a towering pillar with utter ease and satisfaction.

Exrite and Khaos too joined in, seeing that they couldn’t touch the metal while it was still smouldering. Frosty was about to follow, but was quickly interrupted by White.

I would advise that you stay here and help cool down the carbodix. You can’t save them, Frosty. As much as it pains you, please point that anger to the very thing that damned them.”

Plus, I doubt you have the resolve to murder those innocent souls~” Black hummed in an attempt to enrage Frosty but to no avail.

Upon seeing Frosty’s hidden face, Black’s smile softly turned into a gentle grin.

Frosty, there’s no right or wrong in this world. With so many perspectives, you can’t satisfy everyone. You’re better off satisfying yourself, else you’ll be torn apart trying to get everyone on the same page. But hey, do what you want to do. And I’m reaaaaal sure you’re type of person who’d take the advice of a black-hearted weapon.”

“… I know that.”

Frosty wore a conflicted face underneath the shade of her hair. She didn’t expect to hear that from Black of all people. Slowly, she retreated to the side and began to cast her [Ice Shards] once again.

I know that already...”

She whispered as the taste of blood returned.

* * *

Part 2 –

After an array of thunderous explosions, the pillars that had once infested this vast space were now nothing but piles of shattered rubble. A thick stench of rotting carcasses, blood and liquefied remains enshrouded the desolate space.

Now that they had a clear sight around them, they realised just how large this place was… and how devastating Uru’s [Ninth Tier] magic truly was.

A gaping hole was all that remained of the cliff-face. Whatever was in the epicentre disappeared entirely, and everything in its proximity continued to emanate an intense heat. Molten rock oozed from the cracks and crevices as they pooled into the massive crater that was left.

Thankfully, the altar was still in tact from the ordeal. However, it ominously floated in the centre of the crater. Exrite imagined that it was one of the properties of the [Gears], although he wasn’t so sure that the altar was actually comprised of them.

Regardless, it was still a mysterious yet fascinating sight.

They spent the next three hours gathering the scattered carbodix and buried them underneath the heaping piles. During this time, Black had tortured the Decanid while White attempted to dissect it, only finding mushed flesh underneath its armour. It didn’t seem to have any recognisable organs nor anything that stood out in particular.

At first, they imagined that the Decanid was the breeder for the nest, until Exrite and Khaos stumbled upon a six-legged Anid. These Hexanids were the main breeders, and were responsible for the thick thread that wrapped the countless broodmothers.

For these three hours, Exrite personally saw off many of the captured Elves and killed the powerless Hexanids with his sword. Their soft, leathery skin made it easy to hack them into pieces.

In addition to his training with the Guildmaster – Anoma – Exrite had little difficulty, other than facing the repercussions of the Eye of Despair. Thankfully, Khaos was present to nudge him back to reality whenever the horrific illusions manifested.

It also seemed like White went off to kill some of the Elves herself. When they asked what she was up to, she simply showed them a handful of blood-filled vials. As a Vampire, keeping her thirst under control was imperative, less wanted to resort to feasting on Exrite’s scrumptious nape.

And besides – there was no telling how long they’d be stuck in Gaia’s ‘trial’.

Once they returned to the group, the early night began to envelop the world in darkness. It seemed like they had another hour before the light would completely disappear.

The round body of the wailing Decanid had soon been pried and carved open like a black rose. Frosty and the Commanders stood mildly satisfied with their efforts, although White wore a perplexed face.

She still had no clue on how the Decanid managed to reflect their bullets. Perhaps it was the spin of its blades, but that seemed far from logical.

The Decanid’s remains were soon buried as Exrite and White quickly began to work on the make-shift shield. They utilised the threads of the Octanid and Hexanid and created sturdy handles that could withstand Khaos’ crushing grip.

The giant shield was riddled with cracks, and looked as if it would shatter at a simple nudge. But it was better than nothing. Even the shape was unreliable, and didn’t do a good job in completely covering the towering man.

With that aside – the group gathered their attention to the altar as they made their final checks on their equipment.

“… I’ve only got a hundred or so bullets left.” Exrite muttered as he felt the weight of his ammunition pouch.

Indeed. During the fight he tore through nearly a hundred bullets – nearly all of which were needlessly wasted.

That’s all? Hmm…. Well, I guess a hundred should be more than enough for a sharp shooter like you. And besides, you can easily make a hundred more as a Maiden.” Black shrugged. “If we can find a good source of metal, that is. There should be plenty inside of the mountain~”

You’ll never know. That altar could send us to another batch of hopeless Gods.” Frosty sighed sarcastically. “Between the Children of Balance and the Maiden of Time, they’ve both sent us on a blind goal. Exrite, she didn’t tell you what the trial was, did she?”

I wish. As much as I hate going in blind, there’s not much can we do. It’s as you said Frosty – we’re at their mercy.”

Exrite complained, although he maintained a confident demeanour. No matter what was thrown their way, he was certain that they’d prevail.

He glanced at the others and confirmed that they were ready. Confidence, pride and passion resonated from their eyes as they stared back at him with a brimming grin.

Is everyone set?”

Whenever you’re ready.” Black hummed.

Slowly, they began their journey once more. Exrite led them through the devastated space with his eyes glued onto the floating altar. The stench stung their noses and irritated their eyes as it quickly became painfully sour.

Although this was only limited to Exrite, Khaos and Frosty, who were the closest of the bunch to being ‘human’. The intoxicating gasses fled the molten pit and stained the air in a black smoke.

Exrite swiftly pulled his collar over his nose and hoped that it would suffice.

The crater was still more than two hundred metres away.

An uncertain symphony of the crackling ground, the rustling of their equipment and the soft humming of Uru became the ambience of their short journey.

Not a clue, huh. Sounds like your Maiden of Time has confidence in you. Hah! Makes me wonder if she’s sane or not.” Black cut through the ambience with a light sneer as she walked beside the leading Exrite.

But then again, I guess I’m indifferent.” She added and lightly bumped into him. “Try not to betray my expectations, Exrite. As much as I love a good twist, the last thing I want is for you to fail.”

That’s surprising to hear, considering you want me to abandon my humanity.”

Hmm? Losing your humanity won’t fail you the slightest~”

No. I mean I feel like I’ll fail myself. All I have left of myself is my humanity. I’ve already lost my eyes, my heart and I have a completely different body. But I’m still a human at heart, and nothing is ever going to change that.”

We’ll have to see about that. Your compassion, your kindness and warmth are all shackles that’ll keep you from achieving your goal. Why stay down here as a lowly human when you can achieve so much more as a Maiden?”

That’s something for me to decide, not you.”

So. Fucking. Be it. I guess the advice of an ex-human is not needed for a soon-to-be ex-human.” Black clicker her tongue in annoyance as she bumped into Exrite again.

The man sighed and rubbed he back of his head. Like White, he too found Black incredibly annoying. Although her words did spark some thought.

He knew very well that he could embrace his title as the Maiden of Time and the Exrenity and focus everything he had into achieving his goal…

But then what happens to the people around him?

As the Maiden of Time, would his connection with others be as warm and authentic as it was being a mere human?

The thoughts of the cold hands and voices from his decade of solitude caused him to grit his teeth.

He was afraid of it. If he sought for a place to call home, then what would it be worth if everything was so cold? And if that was the case…

Then that ‘home’ would be a lonely place.

It was his honest fear and the reason why he continued to hold onto his humanity with everything he had.

He gazed up into the clouded sky and thought about the lonely Gaia.

Did she feel the same way as the Maiden of Time?

There was no way to tell.

A small conversation was shared by Khaos and White. They speculated about the many different ‘trials’ Gaia may have in store for them. Frosty crossed her arms and uttered an occasional “Idiot” whenever Khaos brought up an absurd idea.

With a small laugh, Exrite wondered about the Decanid, and why it was here in the first place. It seemed strange for it to be close to the altar, unless it was something Gaia intended. However, he didn’t feel like that was her intention.

If Exrite came here alone, then he would’ve undoubtedly been killed by the Decanid. Or worse – been turned into a broodmother. The mere thought of it chruned his stomach as he turned to the trailing Demon.

Uru. What makes a Mononid any different from a Uninid?” His question immediately caused the Demon to cease her hums.

Are you curious about the Decanid?”

Yeah... I just find it weird as to why it was here in the first place.”

Likewise. They’re normally born from a Uninid – which requires an unfathomably powerful broodmother to give birth to the creature. Apart from White, Frosty and myself, I didn’t sense anything else with a sufficient mana reserve.”

Are you sure the Maiden of Time didn’t give birth to that –”

Impossible. The Decanid is the lowest of its class. The only explanation I can offer is that because the Elves of Vevillan frequent these parts of the Shallows, a potent Elf must’ve been caught and gave birth to a Uninid.”

Uru spoke with some edge in her voice. To hear Black say such a thing was insulting to the Maidens she so dearly respected and loved. Had Black not been part of their group, she would’ve killed her on the spot for her impudence.

Right. The Elves are potent with magic, aren’t they? I can see that happening… as unfortunate as it is.” Exrite sighed. “Thanks for that.”

With his question answered, Uru immediately returned to her gentle humming.

It wasn’t long until the group finally arrived at the molten crater. A peer over the edge garnered a foul sulphuric smell that choked Exrite briefly as an intense heat blasted his very being.

A lake of molten rock resided at the bottom as chunks of rocks floated on its surface. The altar of gears was levelled to where they stood. It hovered ominously, as if patiently waiting for them to approach.

However, that didn’t seem necessary.

It’s like the altar in the Chapel, huh. Just much bigger in scale.”

It was as Frosty said. From the tiny gears to the larger more predominant gears, they all began to turn noisily in Exrite’s presence. The amalgamation of gears fascinated them as they watched with careful eyes before a faint light shimmered from a crystal in its centre.

Beautiful...” White was taken aback.

Just as confusing as those Biomech… really, what the fuck are those gears?” Black asked no one in particular as the light rapidly grew brighter and brighter.

And with it, so were the churns of the gears.

Ho!? The light is everywhere!?” Uru suddenly realised that their surroundings had soon been engulfed by the pale light.

Shit! What the fuck’s going on now!?” Black yelled as she felt for the others.

This also happened back in the Chapel! We’re going to lose our hearing and sight for a short bit!” Khaos yelled as loud as he could, but his voice was like a whisper among the churning gears.

Although he only said it would take away those two senses –

Their footing suddenly disappeared.

Screams, yells and cries were drowned as they fell into the pale void. Or rather – it seemed like they were floating. For a moment, they had thought that they fell into the molten rock.

The strange sensation was frightening, although it only lasted for a brief moment.

And soon, when their senses returned to them – they suddenly found themselves in an entirely new enclosure.

The ceiling was high and rocky, and a massive tunnel unfolded endless before them. From the cool nature of this place to the mostly uniform walls –

This place was undoubtedly a cave.

Needless to say – the group was riddled with dumbfounded faces and confusion.

0