Chapter 254: Round Two
I toppled forward, collapsing hard on the cold marble floor of the sanctuary as a pool of dark crimson began spreading around me.
Struggling against the numbing grasp that threatened to rip my consciousness away, I crawled away from the door, desperate to get as far away from those monstrosities as possible.
“Arthur,” Regis muttered, his voice soft.
With the plethora of wounds driving hot needles through my body and mind, I focused on trying to keep myself alive.
Reaching a shaking hand over my shoulder, I gripped the shaft of one of the bone arrows lodged in my back.
I stifled a scream as tears rolled down my face. Without mana to protect my body and adrenaline to dull the pain, even touching the arrow sent spikes of burning agony through my back.
Letting out a guttural yell, I snapped the shaft off. A wave of nausea overcame me and I threw up on the ground. With nothing in my stomach, I heaved water and stomach acid until all I could do was gag.
It took a few minutes for my body to calm down—honestly, it could’ve been longer since I blacked out a few times in between. Mustering what little strength I had left, I brought the bone shaft up to my mouth.
“You’re not going to—oh, yup yeah you are.”
Regis regarded me with a grimace but I didn’t care. The aetheric aura was pure nourishment for me and I already felt strength returning to my body.
I snapped off the other shaft lodged in my side, barely able to keep myself from throwing up. I consumed the aetheric essence from that as well, thinking of how I was going to get out of here now that I only had one leg.
The pool of crimson that had spread underneath me began to dry, a good sign that I wasn’t bleeding anymore.
After polishing off both arrows, I dragged myself to the fountain. Gulping down mouthfuls of the clear cold water as my body grew limp and eyelids became heavier, I leaned back against the side of the marble fountain and let the darkness overcome me.
I was jolted out of my slumber in a fit of coughs as if I had been drowning in my sleep. I clutched at my chest, gasping for air as the wounds on my back burned.
Suddenly, Regis shot out of my chest.
“What…the hell are you doing?” I asked, controlling my breathing.
“I swear that wasn’t me. Okay, maybe it was a little me,” Regis replied with a guilty expression.
I shot him a glare that sent him retreating back a few more feet. “I’ll tell you what I found out while you were sleeping, but first, check out your body!”
Confused, I looked down, preparing myself for the worst. I had gotten shot three times in the back and once on my left leg before that same leg had been blown apart by a shotgun that I could only imagine Satan himself wielding.
However when my gaze reached my legs, I couldn’t help but let out a sharp breath. There it was, my left leg—bare from the thigh down but completely intact and without a scratch. I touched, prodded and pinched my leg to make it sure it was real, to make sure that it was mine.
“Neat, huh! You’re like some sort of weird starfish or spider,” Regis said excitedly.
I let out a laugh, unable to contain my relief. “You can’t think of a better life form to compare me to?”
“Well, I was going to say lizard but they can only regrow their tails and that’s not technically—”
“Okay, I get it,” I chuckled before studying my leg more closely. “I get healing a few gashes and puncture wounds but my left leg was completely blown off. Do you have any idea how I was able to do that?”
“I was getting to that,” Regis began. “I don’t know how you got the idea of eating the aether coming from those monsters but that saved you—no, it more than saved you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your physiology right now is neither human nor asura. It’s something in between because of the sacrificial aether art Sylvie used on you. The problem you had once you became conscious was that your mana core is damaged beyond repair. Unlike a lesser, without a functioning and rather powerful mana core to boot, you can’t sustain this body.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. How would my own body not be able to support…my body?” I asked.
“If you think of why asuras are so innately powerful, it’s because unlike lessers, their body is reliant on mana to operate. Since the moment asuras are born, their mana cores are constantly being taxed to even sustain their very lives. If their mana cores broke, their whole body would slowly collapse.”
I grimaced. “Okay, so since I don’t have a mana core, my body is slowly shutting down?”
“It was, until you savagely started eating the aether from those monsters like some starving zombie,” Regis explained. “After that, your body began to sustain itself a little better.”
I looked down at my hands and feet, marveling at how different this body was compared to my old one. It wasn’t just my exterior appearance that had changed.
“And more exciting still…remember when you were like, ‘Regis, get in my hand!’?” Regis said in a voice annoyingly similar to mine. “Well you thought that it was the aether from me that you were manipulating, right? It was actually the aether you already had inside your body. For some reason, when I went into your hand, all of that aether you had consumed—which had been spread throughout your body—came toward me.”
“Interesting…wait, does that mean you can basically siphon aether out of my body and use it for yourself?” I asked, suspicious.
“Maybe,” Regis answered before hurriedly continuing. “But I didn’t! Okay, maybe a little, but only once I knew your life wasn’t in danger! Until then, I went inside your leg and made sure all of the aether you had left in your body was focused on regenerating it. That’s why your leg is in perfect shape while the injuries on your back aren’t fully healed.”
I let out a sigh, tired by how my own companion was trying to pull fast ones over me.
“Look, I could go walk over to that door and trigger the range limit to put you in pain—hell, give me a few hours and I can think of even more creative ways to punish your incorporeal ass, but I don’t think keeping you on a tight leash is how we’re going to get out of here.”
Regis’ eyes widened at the thought before he nodded fervently.
“So you said that the aether I consume is spread around my body, momentarily nourishing and strengthening it before it’s all used up, correct?” I asked.
“Yup. From what I gathered, the aether tries to keep you at an optimal state so it prioritizes recovering wounds first, which is probably why you don’t feel that much stronger.”
“Good. And I’m guessing that if you consume the aether in my body, you’ll get stronger too in some way or another?”
“That’s what it feels like right now, didn’t you notice?”
I raised a brow. “Notice what?”
“My horns! They grew like an eighth of an inch!”
I stared at him, deadpan until he let out a cough.
“Anyway…what were you were saying, my beautiful master?”
I pointed at the metal door a few feet away. “We’re going to go back out there and try to harvest as much aetheric essence as possible either from the arrows or from those chimeras themselves and come back here.”
Regis’ eyes grew wide “Seriously? To what end?”
“Until I get strong enough to kill them all,” I said matter-of-factly.
Crossing through the door and walking up to the triggering point in the hallway wasn’t any easier the second time. The fact that we knew what was coming actually made it worse, but this time my body felt just a bit lighter and stronger, plus I knew what to expect.
With a rumble and explosion of stone fragments, the bow-wielding chimera broke loose from its statue first—the same as last time.
I broke into a sprint back toward the door to the sanctuary. I couldn’t allow myself to get surrounded here.
The goal was simple. Consume as much aether from the chimeras as I could while sustaining as little injuries as possible. The fewer injuries I had, the more aether that I consumed would go into strengthening Regis and my own body.
“So,” Regis began as we continued fleeing back while more stone statues began splintering. “We split the aether 50/50?”
“Nice try,” I scoffed. “80/20 after my wounds have been healed.”
Regis clicked his tongue…or made a sound that resembled it. “Stingy-ass.”
“Maybe if you become an actual weapon of some sort after getting stronger, I can allocate some more to you,” I replied, looking back over my shoulder.
The two of us parted ways as the chimera leapt off the podium it was on and landed with a ‘thud’. Locking its beady eyes at me, it unhinged its needled teeth-filled jaw and let out a monstrous wail that sent chills down my spine.
Maintaining my balance in this body while moving anything faster than a brisk walk took more control than when I was a toddler.
Still, I managed to make it back close enough to the sanctuary door without tripping this time. Whirling around to face the chimera, I stared as it ripped off one of its spiked vertebrae and nocked it on its bone bow.
The chimera released its attack, launching the bone arrow in a piercing howl that tore through the air.
I rolled out of the way, not trusting myself to dodge by a small margin. As the arrow struck the wall, the entire room trembled, and before I could even gather myself, the chimera already had two arrows ready to fire in its bow.
It didn’t do that last time, I thought.
Thankfully, Regis had reached the chimera by this time and was dancing crazily around its face.
The arrows missed their mark, allowing me some time to snap off the shafts of the arrow from the stone wall. I saved an arrow for later and consumed the aetheric essence off of the other one.
Things seemed to go more-or-less according to plan for the first few minutes until the second chimera broke loose. Then the third and a fourth…and a fifth.
“They’re breaking out faster this time!” Regis roared, still keeping the bow chimera occupied.
Cursing inwardly, my gaze shifted between the three chimeras racing toward me like frenzied animals holding weapons and the entrance back to the sanctuary.
I buried the temptation of leaving this soon. I wasn’t injured and I had consumed a bit of aether but that was nowhere enough now. My initial plan of harvesting a few arrows from the bow-wielding chimera to slowly get stronger over time had gone down the drain now that the possibility of the chimeras breaking free faster each time had dawned on me.
I wasn’t strong enough to beat them this round and I needed to get a lot stronger for the next round or I had no hope of going past this floor, let alone this entire dungeon.
The chimera wielding a whip made from the spine of some large serpent reached me first. Its weapon blurred in a barrage of swipes, sweeps and strikes, each of which created divots and splintered the ground.
Hardened battle instincts and decades of fighting knowledge made up for what little strength and control I had over this body. I ducked, rolled and weaved through the spiked whip, but I was just barely holding on even before the other two chimeras reached us.
The room was soon in chaos as Regis did his best to occupy the bow-wielding and shotgun-wielding chimera while I coped with the rest.
I clung onto chimeras as soon as their strikes missed and their weapons had become stuck in the ground from the sheer force of the attacks before consuming their aetheric essence to regenerate the wounds accrued throughout this little game of tag.
Every so often, the room would rumble after the shotgun fired off somewhere. Thankfully, Regis was doing his part.
“Watch out!” Regis suddenly called.
My gaze immediately landed on the bow chimera poised to launch three arrows before I whirled around and dove toward the sword chimera’s swing.
I had managed to avoid the sword just as I heard the deadly howls of the arrows. Following the swing’s momentum, I gripped the chimera’s sword arm and tossed the chimera over my shoulder in line with the three arrows.
The sheer impact of the arrows hitting the sword chimera knocked me off my feet and sent me tumbling back while the sword chimera toppled over me and landed on the whip chimera.
I watched in excitement as the chimera writhed in pain and just as an inkling of hope manifested in me, a blur whizzed by and the blunt end of the other chimera’s spear struck me.
Barely managing to guard the blow with my arms, I let out a gasp as the air was forced out of my lungs.
“Arthur!” I heard Regis yell as I flew back and hit the wall with such force that I felt something more than just the wall crack behind me.
I collapsed on the floor, blood pooling underneath me even faster than the time I lost a leg.
Both my arms had been broken from guarding against the blow and my consciousness wavered.
Contorting my body, I pried the broken arrow I had saved with my teeth and began swallowing the aetheric essence.
My right arm was shattered beyond use but I was now able to move my left arm. With strength slowly returning, I managed to pull myself up off the floor.
The room was just a few steps to my left and the temptation to just go back grew stronger. I weighed my options, trying to figure out the best way for me to survive when a beastly roar captured my attention.
The sword chimera and bow chimera were fighting…against each other.
The whip and spear chimera realized that I was still alive and raced toward me. A few minutes ago, I would’ve accepted this as my death, but now, a plan had solidified in my head.
My eyes locked onto the whip chimera just a bit ahead of its spear-wielding friend and with a sharp breath, I dashed toward it.
The chimera reacted by brandishing its skeletal whip as it continued its charge toward me. However, just before it was within range, I turned sharply to my right—nearly tripping in the process—and headed toward the spear chimera.
I only have one shot at this.
Not wanting its prey to get away, the first chimera struck its whip at me with a sharp ‘crack’.
I raised my only able arm holding the bone shaft and blocked the tail end of the whip before it spun around the bone arrow.
Now with the tail end of the whip in my grasp, I dove down just below the spear chimera’s midsection swing and used the whip as a tripwire.
The spear chimera toppled forward and crashed into the wall in a thunderous crash.
Unfortunately for me, the whip that I had been holding onto jerked back, taking me with it.
With an angered roar, the chimera prepared to deal its finishing blow as its foot pressed down my chest when another bellow echoed just beside us.
Speary charged relentlessly and lunged its spear into its whip-wielding friend’s shoulder. Soon, the two chimeras were battling amongst themselves. All that was left was for the last stage of my plan.
The shotgun chimera was slow to reload its gun but each attack made a crater in the wall or floor of the hallway. I was just thankful that Regis was able to blind it enough so it wouldn’t be too much of a threat.
Now, I needed to take advantage of that threat.
“Regis! Keep its eyes covered but steer its gun toward me!” I barked after narrowly rolling away from Speary and Whippy’s scuffle.
Unlike before, my companion didn’t question the command and unlatched itself from the shotgun chimera’s face just enough to keep its vision mostly obscured.
Enraged, the chimera swung its gun at Regis who was zipping around its face.
With no time to waste, I scrambled past Speary and Whippy and positioned myself in front of them just as the chimera Regis was harassing had fully charged up its gun.
“Now!” I roared.
Regis flew towards me and I found myself staring down the barrel of the chimera’s shotgun once more.
This time, however, it was on purpose.
Timing it up until the very last moment, I leaped out of the way just as the chimera fired, letting the bullets rain down on Whippy and Speary.
I gritted through the pain that shot up my shattered arm and back, astonished by the sight before me.
The shotgun had punched holes through both the spear and whip chimera—both of whom where laying limp.
The plan had worked better than I expected.
With no time to lose, I ran to the two chimeras that were tangled up in the chimera’s long whip and dragged them toward the door.
A feral roar ripped out from the shotgun chimera’s throat, getting the attention of the arrow and sword chimera that had been fighting each other. The two regarded each other for a moment before their beady eyes landed on me.
I heaved even harder, my eyes glued on the bow chimera reading its arrow and the sword chimera sprinting toward me.
“Regis!” I called out, not able to see the floating black fireball anywhere.
“Here,” Regis groaned, manifesting just beside me. “I didn’t know that it would take this long for me to form back after being obliterated.”
An arrow whizzed, barely grazing me on the leg as I continued pulling the corpses of the two chimeras back toward the sanctuary with only one arm.
I let out a roar, mustering every last bit of my strength in pulling the giant chimeras.
Another arrow whizzed. Without the strength and time to do much else, I pivoted my body so the arrow would strike my right shoulder, sacrificing my debilitated arm to keep the rest of my body able.
A piercing pain burned through me and I almost fell back from the force of the blow but I managed to stay on my feet.
The sword chimera was less than ten feet away by the time we reached the door and I had activated the aether runes to allow our escape.
I hauled the two chimeras through the portal, and even while I was physically inside the sanctuary, my heart pounded against my cracked ribs when I saw the spine whip slowly untangling itself around the two chimeras.
Barely managing to pull the whip chimera through the portal, I scrambled forward and began pulling back the spear chimera as well but as the whip around the spear chimera loosened, I felt a strong force pulling it back.
“No!” I roared, watching the spear chimera slip back through the portal as the sword chimera pulled it back.
“We need to close the door!” Regis shouted, shooting out of my hand.
“Damn it!” I cursed before giving up and shutting the large metal door close.