As I made my way toward the edge of the ravine, desperately looking for any place to hide, a deep thud shook the ground. A surge of wind then blew toward me, dispersing the cloud of debris that had been my only source of cover.
It was too late to hide.
Whipping my body to face my new enemy, I waited for the last of the dust to clear. Heavy footsteps approached my direction and the suffocating pressure I felt from the top of the cliff had been magnified tenfold.
Out from the fog of rubble, the shadowed figure stepped out into full view, leaving me all the more confused.
Letting out another devastating roar, it took another step toward me. “For two meals to fall in front of my home just before my deep slumber, how lucky of me.”
I didn’t know what to expect when coming face to face with the titan bear, but I sure as hell didn’t expect it would be half my size and have the ability to talk. Titan bear my ass, there was nothing ‘titan’ about it. Maybe it was just a cub? In which case, this was a good opportunity.
I stood my ground, not knowing how to proceed. I would’ve rather avoided a direct confrontation with this mana beast until I knew more about it. The pressure the beast had emitted was no joke, despite its appearance. If this titan bear was only just a cub, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with a full grown one. Or maybe it was an adult titan bear, and it had the ability to alter its size like Sylvie?
The titan bear looked down, regarding the dead panther in front of him before turning his gaze back to me. “This meal isn’t going anywhere. I should start with you,” the beast, less than a meter tall, growled, licking its lips.
There was no way for me to get out of this without fighting. Lowering my stance, I prepared to fight. I had expected the titan bear to come charging at me, but it stood in place.
Abruptly, the mana beast thrust its paw in my direction, somehow propelling me backward.
The bell tied to my waist rang mockingly as I tumbled on the hard ground.
“Guh!” I gasped for breath, relieved that it wasn’t blood that I had just choked out.
‘What the hell was that? It felt like I was shot in the stomach by a cannon.’ Getting back on my feet, I concentrated on the titan bear that was about ten meters away.
“Ooh! A tough meal,” the bear snickered. The sight of a bear, no higher than my elbow, standing on two legs and speaking coherently was an odd sight, but I had no room to be amused.
His attack just now was definitely some kind of long range spell, but I couldn’t understand why I had felt no mana.
The bear slowly lifted his paw, as if mocking me. As soon as the titan bear swung down, I activated Mirage Walk and used Burst Step.
My jaw clenched as I gritted through the ache that had intensified throughout the past several days.
A sharp pain suddenly came from my left leg. Looking down, I could see fresh blood flowing from a gash on the back of my calf.
I had expected the attack to be like the last one, but this invisible spell had taken the form of something sharp.
This attack as well; I wasn’t able to sense it.
The smile on the titan bear’s face was gone. It seemed like he wasn’t expecting me to dodge another one of his attacks.
“Stop running!” It growled, swinging his paw once more.
Immediately dropping to the floor, I narrowly avoided the slash attack, the severed tips of my hair sprinkling down on my nose.
It was a risky gamble, but through that last attack, I was able to figure it out. When he slashed with his paw, the attack that was released was also a sharp slash. When he punched with his paw, like he had for the first move, a blunt force was shot out.
The titan punched at me from the distance, sending another invisible cannon my way. Even when I concentrated mana into my eyes, I wasn’t able to see the attack, leaving me no choice but to blindly throw myself out of the way.
The mana beast’s spell hit my side and I felt ribs cracking. Not giving me time to prepare again, the bear swung his other paw, releasing another spell immediately after his first one.
I made too wide of a movement to dodge the previous attack for me to be able to avoid this one as well.
Gritting my teeth, I willed more mana to protect my body, waiting for the brunt of the next attack.
The force of the titan bear’s spell knocked me off the ground. Blood spurted from my chest as four horizontal gashes formed just below my collar bone.
“Damn,” I coughed out, suppressing the searing pain. I wouldn’t be able to handle any more direct hits.
I needed to get close to it, but to do that, I needed to be able to dodge the titan bear’s attacks.
The titan bear, aware of my vulnerable state, began smirking confidently again. I wasn’t sure how the titan bear was able to manifest those nearly imperceivable spells, but there was one way of discerning it.
Standing back up, shakily, I waited. To the titan bear, it must’ve looked like I had given up because its smile got even wider as it began licking its lips again in anticipation.
Just as the titan bear lifted its paw up, I firmly kicked the ground in front of me, creating a cloud of dust, covering me from view.
Four slivers immediately sliced through the dust cloud I had made between the beast and me, allowing me to just barely see how wide the attack was before I immediately used Burst Step to avoid it.
“Damn it,” I spat through gritted teeth from the sharp pangs of protest in my legs.
Rolling on the ground and back onto my feet, I prepared myself again. I knew the hitbox of one of his attacks now, and I could make do with that. However, I still needed to be able to completely dodge the attack in the least amount of movement as possible if I’m going to dodge all of his attacks and clear the distance between us.
Thoughts of Kordri’s training popped into my head, and I couldn’t help but reveal a helpless smile. Either this was some big coincidence, or Windsom was indeed a calculative devil.
I glimpsed the impatient titan bear release another attack, this time with a thrust of his paw. I immediately kicked up another cloud of dust to buy time, but the bell attached to me constantly gave away my position. Reacting immediately as a hole tore through the cloud of dust, I forced another Burst Step.
“The more you run, the more painful it’ll be for you and the less of you there’ll be left for me to eat.” The mana beast let foul chuckle that didn’t match his cute appearance.
“Okay! I won’t run anymore!” I stood still with my hands up.
I could clearly make out the almost human-like expression of a triumphant sneer on the bear’s face as it casually released another slicing attack with the swipe of its paw.
I barely had the time to swallow back a choke as I executed the modified Burst Step I had been working on.
As I willed mana into the proper muscles at the precise timing while strengthening my bones to help withstand the force of this abrupt stimulation, I heard a sharp crack from my legs before I was hit with the all-too-familiar sensation of high-speed motion just as the titan bear’s blunt spell pressed against my chest.
My body shifted less than a meter to the right, and the attack that was supposed cave my chest in just barely grazed my left shoulder.
Even more blood began flowing out from the deep gash on my left leg from the sudden pressure I had exerted to use Burst Step; a small crater had formed beneath my legs from the sheer force of the movement. Despite the success of my new movement skill, the explosion of pain that was growing increasingly unbearable had filled me with doubt.
Through sheer will and my own stubbornness to win this fight against my unruly body, I choked down the pain as I concentrated more mana to my lower body.
The titan bear stared at me, confused at first but it’s gaze soon turned sour as it narrowed its eyes in irritation.
Before it had the chance to release its next attack, I kicked at the ground again, creating a cloud of debris to separate us.
I had less than a second to dodge the bear’s attack once it passed through the dust cloud, and I was willing to bet the next assault wouldn’t be just a single attack.
In the midst of this game of dodging the lethal attacks, I had figured out the basis of successfully implementing my new Burst Step. Just as I had to coordinate the mana in my muscles to propel my body, I had to mirror the progression of mana flow in my body to stop the movement as well.
The ground underneath my feet had sunken, once again, due to the force I had to expel in order to come to a stop, but it had worked again.
The cloud of dust I had created was torn into pieces a flurry of attacks from the titan bear headed straight at me.
My vision blurred as I propelled myself to the right. The rigid ground cracked at the force of my landing about two meters away. The first step had me gritting in pain but using Burst Step again had sent an explosion of agony through my lower body as the muscles and bones inside me nearly gave out from the stress.
Just as the bell rang, giving away my position, I locked my mouth into a determined snarl and swallowed back any screams of pain that were building up in my throat, and executed Burst Step once more to reach my opponent. The titan bear’s head spun at the sound of my bell, but by that time, I had already closed the gap.
The bear’s dark eyes widened as its maw opened in surprise. Through the haze of pain, I let out a brash smirk. Mana had already been concentrated into my fist to the degree that it was glowing slightly.
The titan bear flailed back. “Wai—”
My augmented fist buried itself into tiny bear’s stomach, creating a loud thud on impact before the mana beast’s body shot towards the edge of the ravine, crashing into the rocky cliff from where I fell.
My legs, numb from the pain, finally relented and the cold ground was soon pressed up against my cheek. Using the last of my remaining strength, I tore off the bell from my waist and crushed it in my hand before my vision darkened and an alluring call beckoned me to sleep.
Arriving down at the gorge, I inspected the scene. There was a silver panther sprawled out, dead, with the ground dyed in blood beneath it. Nearby boulders had deep gashes while there were craters in the ground and wall surrounding them.
‘What exactly had happened here?’ I spotted the boy on the ground and a crater depressed onto the cliff that surrounded this ravine.
‘The boy came all the way down here?’ Arthur was in a rather pitiful state. Tearing off the last of his tattered clothes, he had at least three broken ribs, and the gashes on his chest had reached too deep to be considered a mere flesh wound. However, the most concerning injuries were surprisingly on his legs, as they had become blotched with a sickly purple and red color from extensive internal bleeding. I couldn’t make out the gravity of his wounds, but it had to be treated soon.
‘Was it wrong of me to have left Arthur alone like this? Lord Indrath had ordered me to give the boy some room to grow on his own, but seeing the state he was in now, he could’ve died.’
After treating the boy, I focused my attention on the creature in the center of the blast radius on the ravine’s rocky wall.
“Hmm?” It looked like the cub of a titan bear, but that didn’t make sense. A cub of this size didn’t even have the strength to defend itself; it shouldn’t have been able to injure the boy like this.
A full grown titan bear would stand at least three meters tall, possessing superior defense with its thick coat, but even a full grown one wouldn’t be able to cause this much devastation…
Just as I took a closer look at the titan bear cub, its body started writhing unnaturally. Suddenly, its stomach bulged before a black tentacle erupted from inside the dead mana beast, wriggling frantically before it slumped.
“Of course.” Despite the situation, a content smile formed on my face.
‘That explained everything, but to think that Arthur was able to defeat one,’ I sighed.
Demon leech. It was a truly rare specimen that was as intelligent as it was foul native only to Epheotus. By itself, it was weak, but when it latched onto a mana beast, it was able to possess its body and strengthen its host’s core to ridiculous degrees.
Seeing how large the demon leech had grown inside the cub, it was easy to guess that this monster was definitely levels stronger than a mere titan bear.
The boy was lucky that the cub’s body was still fragile. If the leech had possessed a full grown titan bear…
There was no use postulating alternate possibilities. I’m sure it wasn’t done with intent, but Arthur had done right in aiming for the stomach of the cub since this was where the demon leech resided. If the leech had had the strength to make its way to Arthur’s body while he was unconscious, even Lord Indrath wouldn’t have been able to save the boy without crippling him.
Prying the demon leech from inside the corpse, I crushed the parasite in my hand.
“Here you are.” Left in my hand was a shiny white orb that the demon leech had been refining inside the titan bear.
I picked up the boy, placing the white orb inside his mouth. “Your difficulties have paid off for you tremendously, Arthur.”