Chapter 255: Victory
My body shuddered as I let out a deep breath. Looking down at my body, I could see people mistaking me for a young noble barely in his twenties. Without a scar or blemish on me, the perfectly defined muscles that ran down my arms, torso and legs looked like they had been painted on, rather than acquired through training.
A faint aura of purple enveloped me, slowly dimming as more and more aether dissipated from my body. However, the biggest difference was something I could feel rather than see.
It was a feeling that differed from when I had enhanced my old body with mana… It was even different from how I felt after unlocking the third stage of the Sylvia’s dragon will in my fight against Nico. The strength pumping through me didn’t feel borrowed or artificially implanted—it felt like it was mine.
Approaching the nearby wall of the sanctuary, I squeezed my hand into a fist. My own eyes failed to properly see my hand as it struck the wall with a deafening explosion.
The entire room shook as water from the fountain spilled on the ground. While barely a crack had formed on the wall, I was still content; I knew that the force of my blow just now was enough to easily punch a large hole through even the thick metal gates of the Wall.
I looked down to see the wound on my fist already closing and healing itself. Turning around, I silently thanked the corpse of the giant chimera that had now been reduced to a pile of withered bones now that the aetheric essence holding it together had been absorbed.
“Ayy! You finally look a bit more like a man—at least, your body, that is,” Regis exclaimed, studying me.
“And you still look like a blob of ink,” I quipped, swatting him away.
I expected my hand to simply pass through him like it usually did, but this time I felt some resistance upon contact.
“Woah,” I said, startled.
Regis waggled his brows in an expression that I could only see as lewd. “Did you get a good feel for my muscles?”
I wiped my hand on my pants. “Gross.”
Regis laughed, zipping around the air as if he were flying for the first time.
I shook my head. “We should leave now. I can feel the aetheric essence leaving my body by the second and I need as much as possible if we’re going to kill all of those chimeras.
“You’re right,” my companion replied with confidence. “Let’s do this.”
Taking one last deep breath to calm myself, I pushed open the door.
My body tensed and my heart pounded against my ribs. Even though my mind knew I stood a much better chance against the chimeras, the fear and pain had been deeply ingrained into my body.
“Third time and this place is still creepy even without the chimeras trying to kill us,” Regis groused.
We continued walking, trying to make out any differences from the last time we came here. I hoped that the whip chimera that we had killed wouldn’t be here but its statue remained intact and looked somehow even scarier than the previous times.
“I’m curious how the party before us got through,” I wondered, my head still turning left and right as I scanned our surroundings. “How strong are those three?”
Regis shrugged. “Hopefully we’ll never have to find out.”
I must’ve reached the activation point because the room suddenly rumbled.
However, unlike the previous two times, that was the only warning—no gradual crumbling of the statues, no time spent prying themselves free from their encasings.
“So I was right,” I sighed. “They do break out faster each time.”
Regis rolled his eyes. “I’d clap slowly, applauding you for your incredible foresight but—y’know—no hands.”
All of the chimeras immediately leaped out from their podiums and let out a shrill screech in unison.
I got into a fighting stance, my trained eyes taking in the position and weapons of the twelve chimeras surrounding us.
I focused on the three chimeras wielding long-ranged weapons: a bow, a shotgun, and dual crossbows.
After making sure that the Sylvie egg was tucked tightly beneath my leather vest, I pushed the ground beneath my feet, propelling myself to the nearest chimera.
“I know the rough timing of the shotgun chimera. Keep the one with the crossbows occupied!” I ordered as I drove my fist into a chimera wielding two maces made from the skull of a giant ape-like beast.
The chimera was sent a few steps back from the force of the blow and it screeched in pain but was able to make a desperate swing with one of its maces.
I ducked under its path and released a wide hook straight into its exposed ribcage. It buckled and let out another wail but before I could capitalize on its injuries, an arrow caught me in my leg, going straight through my thigh.
Gritting through the pain, I tackled the mace chimera onto its back and focused on the other chimeras fast approaching.
Keeping the position of the shotgun and bow chimera always in mind, I dashed toward the next chimera.
Each step I took, each punch I threw, I could feel more of the aether that I had gathered being spent. Even as I consumed aether mid-battle from the various chimeras, I was expending it much faster than I could absorb it and I had only managed to barely kill three.
Making sure that my breathing remained controlled and movements sharp and unwasted, I mustered forward, using the same tactics I had used the last round. I was able to make two chimeras kill each other until the shotgun chimera quelled its forces with a gutteral warcry.
Meanwhile, Regis continued to occupy the crossbow chimera. Based on the speed at which its weapons reloaded and the power each bone bolt contained, I made the right choice in making Regis blind that one.
Still, as I killed more and more, an uneasiness spread from my stomach.
The entire hallway was littered with fragments of stone from the crumbled statues and the divots dug up from the battle ensuing.
I could tell that I had used over half of the aether I had gathered from the whip chimera, and the ones left were stronger than the ones I had killed.
“It’s never easy, is it,” I muttered under my breath, my eyes focused on the chimera with serrated daggers for hands.
Another idea began to form as my gaze shifted from the dagger chimera to the sword chimera.
Dodging the arrows of the bow chimera and picking two of them up, I locked onto the one wielding twin daggers.
Before I engaged, I hurled the arrow like a javelin, letting its tip bury itself into the arm of the sword chimera.
With no time to relax, I dipped and weaved through the flurry of swings from the lanky dagger chimera. My mind brought up scenes from almost ten years ago when I had sparred against Jasmine on a daily basis while starting my time as an adventurer.
However, unlike the way Jasmine seemed to almost dance with her daggers in hand, this chimera’s techniques were crude and relied on its long reach and ridiculous strength and speed.
Whoever made these things might have imbued the physical prowess of an S class mana beast, but it’s intellect and technique were subpar.
I continued skirting just out of reach from the dagger-wielding chimera, leading it around the palm of its hands now that I was fast enough to easily dodge its swings. I couldn’t make them kill each other while the shotgun chimera continued keeping its distance from me and shooting every so often. However, I was able to use wild swings made by the dagger chimera to give injuries to the other chimeras trying to kill me as well.
Growing more and more frustrated by its inability to even touch me, the dagger chimera let out sharp screeches, swinging its two daggers until a rather desperate overhead swing dug one of its blades a bit too deeply into the ground.
Finally with an opportunity in place, I jumped up, using its arm as a platform to reach its head in a roundhouse kick that snapped the arm stuck on the ground.
Just in time, the sword chimera found the perfect opportunity to kill me with its giant sword—regardless of whether its attack would also kill the dagger chimera as well.
Immediately taking the other arrow I had picked up earlier, I defended the overhead strike of the giant sword and redirected its path straight onto the broken arm of the dagger chimera.
I felt my left shoulder pop out of its socket from the sheer impact, but it worked. The dagger had been cut cleanly off from the rest of the chimera’s arm.
The dagger chimera let out a loud wail of pain, distracting the sword chimera just long enough for me to free the severed dagger from the ground.
The dagger in my hand looked more like a longsword, but the all-too-familiar sensation of a sword in my hand filled me with a newfound confidence.
Pissed off by the fact that I was using one of its hands as my own weapon, the dagger chimera ignored its injuries and scuttled toward me using all three of its remaining limbs.
Quickly popping the dislocated shoulder back in place, I gripped my new sword with both hands and smirked. “I finally got a weapon.”
“Oh bite me!” Regis snapped, his speed noticeably slower as he continued buzzing around the enraged crossbow chimera.
All it took was one step to avoid the desperate strike of the dagger chimera and a pivot to dodge the arrow of the bow chimera before I swung my new sword. And with that single swing, the severed bug-like head of the dagger chimera rolled on the floor.
The soft glow of purple surrounding the chimera’s dagger in my hand dimmed with that one swing and I knew that this weapon wouldn’t last much longer.
Cutting the other dagger off the headless chimera’s arm, I left it close by as I started my onslaught.
The sword chimera was next, its legs cut first before I stabbed my decaying dagger into its throat.
Four more seconds until the shotgun chimera is finished reloading.
I dashed past a chimera wielding a lance and shield as I knew it was one of the stronger ones, and I aimed my sword at an old friend of mine.
The whip chimera let out a shrill cry as I stabbed my sword into its gut and carved a line straight through its torso.
Discarding the dagger that had begun to crumble apart, I ran for the other dagger, dodging a barrage of arrows. Picking up the dagger on the ground, I prepared to rush the archer first when an earth-shattering roar resounded from behind.
I whirled around, prepared to dodge or block whatever was coming—except nothing was. It was the shotgun chimera that let out the thundering cry, but it wasn’t pointing its shotgun at me. It was standing tall with its arms spread wide.
It let out another roar, even louder this time, and the remaining seven chimeras that were still alive began barreling toward its leader.
Even the crossbow chimera ignored Regis and rushed toward the sound of its leader’s cry, leaving the two of us confused and wary.
“What in Hell’s name is going on now,” Regis groaned, floating by my side now.
Every fiber of my body screamed at me to run away. Unfortunately, the shotgun chimera was just in front of the door to the sanctuary and the rest had almost gathered together.
Spinning on my heels, I rushed to the metal door leading to the next level of this godforsaken dungeon and yanked at the rune-covered handle.
It didn’t budge.
Cursing internally, I scanned every inch of the door, looking for any familiar aetheric runes that I could alter like the door to the sanctuary.
“What?” I snapped, my eyes darting left and right, trying to find something that would get this thing to open.
“They’re…piling on top of each other,” Regis continued.
Despite my body screaming at me to focus on getting out of here, I couldn’t resist.
My eyes widened in horror at what I saw.
The chimeras weren’t simply piling on top of one another. With my enhanced vision, I was able to clearly make out the chimeras…devouring each other.
“How intoxicating to watch,” Regis mumbled, eyes wide. “Maybe they’ll just end up killing each other like that.”
“I don’t think so.” The aetheric essence enveloping their bodies grew thicker as they continued to eat each other in a pile of flesh and bone.
I turned to the door, not wanting to stick around for what was to come. Unfortunately, the door wouldn’t budge and unlike the door to the sanctuary, there were no runes that I could decipher.
I slammed my fists against the door in frustration before I turned back toward the monstrosity I would have to face.
Luckily, they were still in the middle of whatever process they were undergoing.
Picking up the dagger beside me, I dashed toward the pile of chimeras. If I can’t run away from them, I’ll just have to try and do as much damage as I can before it fully forms.
I swung and stabbed the large serrated dagger in areas where the aetheric essence had gathered the most but aside from the occasional wails of pain and brief spasms, the chimeras continued devouring each other. “Come on. Just die already!”
Suddenly, another sharp chill ran down my spine as a pair of gleaming red eyes shot open.
A split second later, a blast of purple erupted from the mass of chimera bodies and hit me like a lead wall.
The concussive force spread, blasting both Regis and I into the air. Barely holding onto my consciousness, I anchored myself to the ground, gripping one of the divots created by the chimeras to keep myself from rolling.
Regis tottered toward me. “Well that friggin’ hurt.”
My brows furrowed “That hurt you too?”
That’s not good.
My mind whirled, trying to think of a plan to kill that hunk of bone and flesh when an earthly roar resounded. I looked up, afraid of what my eyes would see this time.
And what I saw was worse than what I had imagined.
Like one of those old shooting games I had played with Nico and Cecilia in my past life at the rundown retro arcade, the creatures had merged into its final form.
The monstrosity that was close to a hundred feet away towered over the second row of sconces, bringing it up to about twenty feet in height. It had three heads and stood on six legs that jutted out from the bottom of its lanky torso.
While it only had two arms, one of them was a combination of the shotgun and crossbows merged together with long spines jutting from its forearms. The other arm was composed of the whip with a spiked sickle at the end that screeched while it dragged on the ground as the creature skittered toward us.
The thought of luring it away from the door and escaping back to the sanctuary crossed my mind briefly, but what I feared more than facing this monster was doing this all over again.
Clearing my thoughts from unnecessary distractions—like Regis begging us to go back—I tightened my grip around the bone handle of the dagger and propelled myself forward.
The fused chimera responded by aiming the barrel of its gun at me. I could see two of the spiked vertebrae on its forearm load and the aetheric essence coalescing until it was visible to even the naked eye.
Waiting until the last second, I pivoted and veered right just in time to see the two bolts fire, surrounded by a concentrated blast of aether.
What I didn’t expect, however, was for the monster’s attack to carry the force of a missle.
The area exploded in a dome of purple along with the debris from the demolished floor. Even though the attack had missed, the aftershock alone blasted me flat against the corridor wall.
I felt several of my of my ribs crack and my vision blurred for a second as my brain threatened to shut off on me.
Regis hovered in front of me, his expression serious, but I couldn’t hear his voice over the sharp ring in my ears.
My eyes focused back on the fused chimera, afraid to leave it out of my sight for even a second longer. Picking up the dagger that had landed a few feet away, I charged forward, paying close attention to the flow of aether around its body.
I knew that it would take the monster a while to charge for that last attack again because its blaster arm dangled lifelessly by its side while the aetheric essence around it dissipated into a purple smoke. I needed to make sure that it wouldn’t be able to fire off another one of those attacks.
The only problem was that the blaster wasn’t its only weapon. The monster swung its chain sickle at a speed that created gales of wind and gashes on the ground as it raced toward me as well.
The closer we got, the more I felt the danger of even getting skimmed by that sickle, but I continued my assault.
I was forced to perform at a speed that far surpassed what a normal human could ever achieve. Even I was surprised as I sidestepped, swiveled and pivoted just enough to dodge the weapon capable of slicing the marble flooring like it was made of butter. My eyes constantly flitted, pinpointing the direction the sickle would come from based on the slightest twitch of movement made by the fused chimera.
The flow of aether around its whip arm and around its legs was oddly familiar, allowing me to make use of my knowledge of reading mana flow. With my enhanced body, experience, and monstrous reflexes, I managed to take down two of its six legs before the monster’s blaster had finished charging.
It’s now or never, I determined, ducking under another swipe from the sickled end of the whip.
I stepped forward, turning the serrated blade up and preparing to swipe up as the gray blur of the creature’s whip arm flashed past me.
Barely managing to pull my left arm back, I watched as the serrated dagger and the arm holding it dropped to the ground in a spray of blood.
“Arthur!” Regis’s cry snapped me out of the momentary daze and I immediately rolled forward and grabbed the dagger from my severed arm and attacked.
The chimera shrieked in pain as aetheric essence splattered from its severed blaster arm along with part of its shoulder.
“Arm for an arm,” I muttered grimly as I reached down and consumed the leaking aether from the chimera’s detached arm.
Power flowed through me, and despite its effects being momentary, there was enough aether in my body to test something that I had seen from the chimera itself.
“Regis, get in my hand,” I ordered.
My companion, although worried, flew into my hand and this time, I could feel the aether coalescing in my grip.
I knew that aether wasn’t supposed to be manipulated but beckoned or ‘influenced’—as the Indrath Clan put it—but what if there was a way to force it into submission—to make it beckon to my will?
I dashed after the disoriented chimera trying to form another arm from one of the other chimera corpses lying on the ground.
I let the aether in my body congregate to my fist where Regis laid inside, focusing on the feeling—memorizing it.
As more and more aura condensed in my left hand, a thin layer of black coated my hand like a smokey glove.
I felt my pace slowing as more and more of the aether powering my body went into my hand.
‘I feel like I’m going to burst here. What exactly did you have in mind?’ Regis said, his voice echoing in my mind.
“Just hold it in until I say so,” I said through gritted teeth. It felt like I was walking deeper and deeper into a pit of tar as my own body worked against me, but I was almost to the chimera.
However, before I could go any closer, one of the chimera’s three heads whirled to face me.
Its remaining two heads twisted to look at me as well, but rather than use its remaining whip and sickle arm to attack me, it seemed…wary.
All six of its eyes concentrated on my remaining hand.
My hand felt like it was being squeezed by two boulders as more and more aether coalesced inside it, but before I could get in range to unleash it, the very room quivered and the sconces flickered off.
I could feel the aether in the atmosphere tremble as a baleful aura spread from where the chimera stood—its six eyes now glowing purple.
It’s using the aether in its body and in the atmosphere to launch some sort of debilitating aura.
My luck finally seemed to be turning around though. Whether it was because of this body, or because of my strong mental strength from living two lives, the aetheric intent had little effect.
Ignoring the intensifying pain radiating from the stub of my cleaved arm, I dashed forth.
The chimera let out a hysterical screech and began wildly swinging its whip arm.
Concentrating on the flow of aether to determine the path of its attack, I dodged one last time and jumped up.
“Now!” I roared, barely able to swing my arm.
My aether clad fist landed right underneath its three heads as a blast of black and purple erupted from my attack.
It felt like every ounce of strength had been sapped clean from my body as I lay sprawled on the ground just beside the remains of the fused chimera.
My eyelids grew heavy as I succumbed to the dark grasp of sleep when a loud cry suddenly snapped me awake.
“Hah! Screw you, I am a weapon!” Regis whooped in glee.
Despite the near-death experience we had just overcome and the fact that I was still missing an arm, I couldn’t help but let out a hoarse laugh.
Barely pulling myself up to my feet, I inspected the fused chimera. I couldn’t tell whether I had used space or life aether, but I had managed to create a crater in its chest, disintegrating most of its head as well.
“Good job,” I said to my companion just in time to hear the soft ‘click’ of the door leading to the next stage unlocking.
“So, pretty boy, did you want to consume this hunk of bone and move onto the next room?” Regis asked with renewed confidence.
“Not quite,” I mustered, hobbling toward the fused chimera corpse. “You know how you said that even asuras have mana cores that sustain and power their bodies?”
“Yeah?” Regis tilted his head. “But your mana core is broken.”
“Yup.” I looked back at him, images of the purple-clad chimeras ingrained in my head. “So what if I tried forming an aether core?”