Chapter 60: Varok Prayerwing
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Chris summoned his Beastblade as he ran, using it to probe the ground ahead of him once he suspected he was near where the hole was.

He was already slowing his place when his weapon hit empty air—well, not quite empty, but filled with cloud, normal cloud. He glanced back, the gryphon was striding leisurely toward him, with a look that Chris would have sworn was smug on its face, despite its inhuman features.

Chris had no idea how far down the tower vine was by now. Still, he’d brought supplies for exactly this sort of event. It was meant for the tower, but it would serve just as well here.

He stowed his hammer, then reached into his backpack and pulled out the staple of every adventuring party, the rope and grapnel.

The gryphon sped up when he saw it, but by then it was too late. Chris dug the points of the grappling hook in near the edge, winced, then jumped off.

The coils of white rope fluttered up above him as he fell, then the rope jerked taut in his hands. He slid down quickly, breaking through dense layers of cloud. Stone Form on one hand and a gauntlet on the other saved him from friction burn, but even as he flew down, he could feel the surfaces in contact with the rope heating up. He was moving quickly, but, even so, he could smell singeing—quickly left behind and quickly replaced.

Then the clouds were above him, and below, worryingly far, was the tower vine. But he was gaining on it, and that was what mattered.

His rope was long and relatively thin, but that of course came at a price. As he descended it, he could see a legacy of scorch marks and frayed threads left behind. Dammit. At this rate, he was going to burn through the rope.

With Alchemical Flesh and Internal Alchemy he modified the Slime within his arm, reducing its acidity as far as the skills allowed. Then he undid pinpricks of Stone Form in his right palm and pushed his Slime outward. Soon a slick of Slime coated the rope. It spread, contained, and conducted the heat far more reasonably.

The lubrication resulted in less frictional damage to the rope as well. However, that came at a price.

Chris sped up. Faster and faster. The rope slid through his fingers as he descended, and he considered stopping pushing out Slime. Maybe he was travelling too fast.

He checked his rope and swore. Not much left. Not enough to reach the tower vine, even if it was only a few dozen meters down now. He was travelling fast.

Yeah, fuck the rope. He stopped pushing Slime onto the rope, feeling friction reassert itself. It wasn’t good enough. Even with full grip strength, he wouldn’t stop in time, and then he would slide straight off it. He was going way too fast for good health.

Desperate, he gripped tighter with his gauntleted hand, seeing smoke rise from beneath his fingers and the first sparks settle in thin, frayed, and blackened cord.

He rippled the substance of his right hand, then set it back into Stone Form, exploiting the split-second gap of flexibility and malleability to hold as if he was gripping his cock in a hurricane.

His shoulders jerked in his sockets, but his grip held. Thread spiraled from beneath his grasp like wood before a lathe.

He slowed. The bottom of the rope approached. Nearly there.

Twenty meters to the tower vine, nearly there, just a little slower.

And suddenly, miraculously, the cord stopped moving in his fingers.

So why was he still falling?

He looked up, just in time to see his grappling hook fall through the clouds, rope still attached.

He glimpsed down. Still going too quickly. Going for a Hail Mary, as he’d done too often this past week, he turned his blood to stone.

As his feet hit the top leaf of the withering beanstalk, moments before he blacked out from the pain, Chris realized he’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. [Danger Sense] flared. No shit, Sherlock.

The stone in his legs detonated, his petrified veins turning into shrapnel that punctured upward. His bones shattered, and his arms and torso slammed into leaves that were unpleasantly firm and unyielding.

The last thing he saw, was the gryphon breaking through the dissipating clouds above him, gliding down calmly on its white and brown wings, spear held in its talons.

\\\

Chris’ eyes blinked open. The leaf of the tower vine beneath him was wrinkled and yellowing, like the skin of an old man, yet surprisingly firm. It was also covered in Slime, gore, and what looked like teeth.

How was he alive?

He felt like shit, like he’d survived a car crash at sixty without a seatbelt, then been hatefucked by the car, before the neglected seatbelt decided to go full Fifty Shades of Grey with him as well.

He rolled over, feeling something crunch against his back. He groaned, then patted his chest. Why wasn’t he dead? He wasn’t complaining, mind you. Just surprised.

His breastplate was caved in, he could feel it lodged within his body. That alone should have killed him. The fact that he only had one hand to feel it with, should have meant he’d been dead as well.

His right arm had been blown to smithereens, all the way to the elbow, a broken bottle of cracked stone teeth ringing where the arm had been. Slime leaked out of the ruins of his stone arm, holding to the surface like a drop of water clinging to a faucet.

Half buried inside the stone wreckage of his arm were small crystalline gems and shiny, white powder.

Had part of his arm turned to diamond from the impact?

Half-delirious from pain, he touched the diamonds wonderingly. The edges were sharp and jagged, and the diamond dust was oh so lovely as they stuck to his damp fingers.

It scattered light in such a strange way, shining rays of sunlight into his eyes as the bird wheeled above.

He blinked. Not a bird. Not a plane, either. Definitely not Superman. A gryphon.

Huh? Hadn’t it been trying to kill him?

That would explain why it was carrying a spear.

He pushed himself up with both hands, momentarily surprised when only one hand reached far enough down to obey him. His fingers brushed again something that was definitely not the leaf of the tower vine.

He looked down, confused.

Rope?

What was that doing here?

He shrugged, he was not going to count his blessings. He pushed himself to his feet, then began limping down the tower vine, leaf by shriveled leaf. The rope trailed behind him, grasped numbly between his fingers.

There was a gryphon trying to kill him, best make himself scarce.

The System, of course, had other plans.

New Quest!

(Optional – Human/Monster) Kill Varok Prayerwing (0/1)

From up above, he heard a defiant screech. Even in his current state, it told Chris all he needed to know. Varok had got the same quest, with one small, itty-bitty variation.

Chris descended even quicker. Now he had to really make himself scarce.

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