Chapter 258: Law of the Wild
“There’s something coming,” I grunted, barely able to get back to my feet.
Regis turned around and I could literally see his smokey black body pale. “Oh, shit.”
My heart pounded as the rapid footfalls of the beasts grew louder. I hobbled as fast as my body would let me under the current strain of the fruit I had just consumed. There was no way I could I fight whatever horde was barreling toward us in the current state I was in.
Heaven-sent, we managed to find a dip in the ground just by large tree nearby. The exposed roots gnarled together, weaving in and out of the ground to provide us with a tight shelter to hide in.
My heart pounded as I listened to what sounded like a stampede searching every square inch of the area we had narrowly escaped from.
My mind whirled trying to think of the reason why we had suddenly attracted the attention of all of them. Was it because I had eaten the fruit? No, that wasn’t it.
That transparent fly trap… it let out that horrible scream just before it died.
And that’s when everything clicked.
The two-tailed monkeys, the trap monster and everything else on this floor made almost no noise. All of the organisms here had adapted to make as little noise as possible… most likely in order to survive against whatever those beasts were.
“Sensitive to sound,” I mouthed, pointing to my ear. Regis nodded back and the two of us waited for this beast to hopefully move on.
By now, the very ground shook under the constant footfalls of the horde of beasts. That’s how close they were. I could hear a loud chitter as the beasts continued to search for the source of the scream that had lured it.
With how close the horde of beasts were, I could feel the pressure they emitted and suffice to say, it was on a whole other level from the chimeras Regis and I had faced.
Steadying my breathing, I remained frozen as the grating sound of rusted gears clacking together grew closer. Even Regis remained inside me, afraid of being seen despite his incorporeal state.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck sensed something was coming that I wouldn’t like. The rapid chittering grew even louder until, moments later, I was able to see it.
It wasn’t a horde of beasts. It was just one very long, large beast.
The chimeras had been fairly horrifying to look at, but this creature was something straight out of a demon’s nightmare.
With the overall frame of a millipede—except the size and girth of a bullet train—the creature writhed past me using its countless spindly legs spanning twice my height. I was able to make out the serrated pincers on its head as it passed by but most of the smaller details were lost on me. I was focused on the fact that this millipede was almost transparent.
Tinged in a soft purple hue that blended with the glowing leaves, the giant millipede looked more gelatinous than solid… like it was missing its hard shell or something. However, seeing how not even the sharp branches of the ethereal trees made a scratch against the creature’s exterior, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to kill.
The millipede continued to crawl around us, searching for its prey. Despite its tremendous size and length, it moved with such deft and flexibility that even as it moved on to a different area, there was no trace that a giant beast had passed through.
Still, I could hear the giant millipede nearby. Its steps continued to shake the ground, keeping me from trying to leave from my cramped refuge.
Time dragged as we anxiously waited for the millipede to leave when suddenly I could hear a change in its actions. The beast’s rapid steps began to slow until all I could hear was a rhythmic thump.
‘What’s going on now?’ Regis asked.
I’m not sure, I responded, sorely tempted to take a peek.
It didn’t take long to figure out that I wouldn’t have been alive if I had moved. Not long after the millipede began rhythmically stomping its countless legs on the ground, I could hear pained cries.
I could only assume that the beast had used some form of echolocation to find anything nearby that had moved.
With the rhythmic stomping halted, I steeled myself enough to find out what was going on despite the burning sensation of my core continuing to absorb the aether from the fruit.
“It’s eating,” Regis whispered, looking over my shoulder.
The millipede had curled itself around a massive tree, which was apparently home to a family of two-tailed monkeys.
What was a feast for the millipede was a tragic bloodbath for the monkeys. I could see a larger monkey drenched in its own blood as it was being swallowed while a smaller monkey pounded desperately on the millipede’s head.
Unfazed by a sight that I had grown much too accustomed to, I studied the millipede. The giant beast had circular depressions all over its back that pulsated, but aside from the dagger-like pincers and its sharp legs, I couldn’t see any other form of attack.
“Please tell me you’re not thinking of fighting that thing,” Regis whispered an inch away from my ear.
“Not if I don’t have to.”
Despite there being over a dozen monkeys all tinged with aether, they stood no chance against the millipede. It didn’t take long for over half of them to be consumed while the other half had given up and escaped for their lives.
As the millipede eventually uncurled itself from the giant tree and began slithering away, I couldn’t help noticing the monkeys inside the beast’s body.
During the battle, the monkeys had grabbed stones from the ground to use as weapons. These had also gotten consumed along with the monkeys.
While the two-tailed beasts bodies were withering—as if their aether was being sucked out of their bodies, a slight glow began enveloping the rock that the millipede had consumed along with it.
After traveling a few hours in the opposite direction of where the millipede had gone upon finishing its meal, I was finally able to spend some time absorbing the rest of the fruit.
While the first bite had been an agonizing experience that could’ve gotten me killed by the millipede, the subsequent bites made it seem like it was all worth it.
I started off with small nibbles, afraid that I’d be met with another wave of pain. Instead, I was met with an overwhelming sensation of heat spreading throughout my body and coalescing back in my core. No longer afraid, I took larger bites as my core hungrily devoured the aetheric essence from the fruit.
What was even more fascinating was that after polishing off the fruit, the aether in my body had lost some of its reddish tint—and that was before my body had completely absorbed all of the aetheric essence.
I didn’t know exactly what the change in color meant but I knew I had gotten stronger.
Time went by neither fast nor slow on this floor. With little need to sleep as frequently and no sun overhead, my internal clock had become all but useless.
As we continued searching for the exit, my mind continued to think back to our encounter with the translucent millipede. More specifically, how the beast’s insides had completely absorbed the aether from the monkeys it had devoured but how a coat of aether seemed to be forming around the stone.
“—thur!” Regis snapped, his voice just inches from my ear.
“What?” I hissed, surprised.
“I was saying…” Regis stressed, his large white eyes narrowing. “That we need to think of a battle phrase for our combo attack!”
I raised a brow. “Our…combo attack?”
“Yeah! You know, when I go inside your hand and make your fist turn all smokey black and purple. In the heat of a battle, you’re going to need something more concise to say.”
My initial reaction was to dismiss his silly idea, but there was some merit to what my floating black companion was suggesting.
“Fine,” I sighed, relenting. “What did you have in mind?”
Regis’s eyes widened in surprise. “Seriously? I thought you were going to be a grouch about it.”
Shooting him glare, I enveloped my body in aether as I raised a hand to smack him.
“Okay okay!” Regis flinched.
“How about Aether Explosion Punch!” he suggested, out of arm’s reach from me.
“No,” I said flatly while my eyes continued to search for any signs of an exit.
“Aetheric Void Buster?”
“Shadow Death Imp— “
“No,” I cut him off. “Where are you even coming up with these ridiculous names?”
“Your early memories as Grey playing those arcade games come to mind,” Regis responded simply. “Ooh! How about—”
“Fine fine fine. I’ll be serious. What about something simple, like Fist Style or…Fist Form?”
I thought about it for a minute before I suggested something. “What about Gauntlet Form?”
“Yes!” Regis exclaimed, trembling with excitement. “That’s what I’m talking about!”
“Too loud!” I snapped, my head turning back.
“Relax. I saw that gigantic bug go back to its hole near the center of this floor. We’re hours away from it.”
“You saw its den?” I asked, shocked.
“Yeah, while you were absorbing the fruit. It wasn’t that hard to find with how much aetheric essence that place was giving off,” Regis explained before his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why? You’re not thinking of trying to fight that thing, right?”
“Let’s just search for the exit,” I dismissed. Meanwhile, the gears in my brain continued turn.
Subjective hours passed uneventfully as we combed through the ethereal forest. A few more times, we ran into a flytrap beast with its fruit tempting me every time we passed by them.
Thankfully, none of the other fruits seemed nearly as potent as the first one I had consumed.
We rested intermittently, mainly so that I could sit down and concentrate on my aether core. I was wracking my brain trying to think of how to form new channels throughout my body so that I could more freely control the aether inside me.
After hours of deliberation and testing with nothing to show for it, I pulled out the translucent stone which held Sylvie. It had become a habit for me to stare mindlessly at it whenever things got tough or I was feeling overwhelmed.
Since a few days ago, I had Regis go inside of it every now and then to see if there were any developments going within the stone—if Sylvie was getting better at all—but nothing had changed.
But this time was different. Whether it was because my core had gotten stronger after consuming the fruit, I didn’t know. But as I continued holding onto the stone, I could feel something pulling at my hands that were wrapped around on the smooth surface of the stone.
Will you accept the aether this time, Sylv? I thought as I pushed the aether from my core.
It only took a few minutes until my entire aether core had been drained, leaving me weak and shivering.
“H-Hey! What happened?” Regis, who had been inspecting the perimeter, flew to my side.
I held up my hand. “I…I’m fine.”
“I’m more than fine.” A smile formed on my face as I stared down at the translucent stone that seemed just a tad brighter than before. “Thanks to Sylv, I think I found a way to maybe control the aether inside me.”
“That’s great! But I got some good news too,” Regis said with a smile. “I think I found the exit from this floor!”
I tucked the small stone back in my vest. “No. We can’t leave yet.”
“What? Why?” Regis panicked. “Are you hurt?”
“Nothing like that.”
My thoughts went back to the millipede and the way it created a shell of aether around everything that it couldn’t digest. According to Regis, there was also a huge influx of aether stemming from its den.
If my thoughts were correct, then even at the risk of my life…
No. I had already decided that I needed to risk my life in order to overcome all of the challenges that I would face when I got out of here.
I turned to Regis and spoke with iron in my voice. “We’re going to kill that millipede.”