The entire floor reeked of death. The smell enveloped everything, piercing their nostrils and making their body shake with nausea. Lulu retched heavily, but she resisted the gag response. Lumia and Snowflake didn't seem bothered by the smell or the eldritch scenery. They walked casually, turning their heads left and right from time to time in an attempt to spot out in advance any other potential trap like the Formation they fell into on the second floor.
On the contrary, Frankenstein looked euphoric rather than worried; he kept inspecting the vegetation and collecting samples that he put meticulously inside his Interspace Ring.
"The deadly air around here might have tampered with the flora properties. If we imbued our clothes with them, we could even gain extra Bonus with an affinity…" Frankenstein was truly excited. He began speculating about all the benefit they could get from those plants. Everyone though, Helial included, stared at him in disgust. Despite his enthusiasm going unappreciated, however, he was still perfectly at ease and went on hypothesizing and whispering to himself without bothering to contain his excitement. His marbles was definitely gone for good.
An uncanny feeling slid by Helial's arm. "Stay put."
The boy sensed a number of Mana piles draw near at breakneck speed from several directions. Luckily, the floor was wide enough for them to run and hide away, but they first needed to find somewhere to hide and run to. The approaching monsters were swifter than those they had fought against before. They also had a different shape. They looked shorter, longer and… four-legged? Could they be some sort of animal?
Helial calculated the distance between him and them. The monsters were a kilometer away from their group.
"Get into formation. Triangle. Frankenstein, you'll have Lulu and Lumia as your support. I will stand behind you with Snowflake. We'll be the triangle corners. Now, be careful. Our targets look quick. Judging by their Mana's density, they're in the First Phase Intermediate stage. This means they're stronger than those we met before. Watch out."
Fortunately, now that they were in the First Phase they had the chance of reviving during the 24 hours following their death, if their body wasn't completely destroyed. Not like Helial felt like dying. But still, this chance kind of reassured him. It was a special treatment reserved to First Phase practitioners. Despite natural deaths, they could go back to life if someone cast a healing spell on them, or injected a great amount of Mana into their body.
In a dark beam, Curse of the Demon flashed into existence in Helial's hand. Helial took a fighting stance.
Body of the Qilin
Strings of fog rouse up all around them, intensifying the spookiness of the already eerie scenery. From time to time, a gust of wet wind hit them as they looked about themselves in alarm. The scenery was indeed spectral. None of them could help having chills running down their spines.
If someone talked, he or she would express out loud what everyone else was thinking; they needed to get out of there as soon as possible. The deadly air was making them feel quite uncomfortable. Their mental health was one slip away from being shattered. Goblins and Humans weren't meant to live underground like moles. The deeper they ventured, the more feeble the light. The only light source left was a misty glow emitted by the plants and the ceiling. The floor was scattered with torches; some were shining, but mostly they were off. As he passed by, Helial had turned them on with Flame of the Qilin. The white flame though helped very little in keeping them relaxed. Quite the contrary. They looked even more alarmed.
Little beads of sweat covered their foreheads. Keeping a Guard stance without any clue on what move to expect from an unknown enemy was no doubt quite a challenging strain for their young minds.
Helial heard footsteps echo out. He closed his eyes. He thought it could be Zombies. But Zombies walked slowly and a sound of broken bones followed their movements. This sounded a lot different. What he was hearing was more like the sound of nails on rock, and that pace was faster than that of an Undead. It must be animals. Helial was pretty sure about this, but he couldn't guess any farther.
All of a sudden, a bunch of deformed creatures popped their head out of the dark tunnels surrounding the cave. One after another, dozens of humongous beings appeared from the holes, their fangs uncovered. Their putrefying jaws were foaming. Dogs!
Rabid Hounds from the Netherworld
Health: 17,234/17,234 HP
Their face was unshapely. Their sore creased skin dangled to the ground. Their chest was covered in putrescent wounds dribbling pus and serum. Their eyes were bloodshot. Ever more of them swarmed the tunnels and then ran out to join the pack.
Helial furrowed his eyebrows. Now that he could examine them more closely, he noticed they had a basic Intelligence level. They wouldn't seem to be Undead, despite them looking infected by some weird disease. And once again, the manuals Helial had studied inside the Royal Academy turned out to be of great use; he promptly selected the information he needed from his memory and quickly concluded what creatures they were.
That monsters' strong point in hunting preys was the pack. As individuals, those creatures weren't too strong. Their speed and advantage in number, though, posed a significant threat.
Even someone in the Second Phase would need to be careful in order to save their own skin.
Ever more dogs gathered and advanced slowly as they gathered around the group in half circle.
Helial cursed to himself for placing right in front of an escape route. By doing that, he jeopardized the group's way out. He immediately decided to change formation. He would take Frankenstein's position, ahead of the triangle, to slaughter as many Rabid Hounds from the Netherworld as possible with Flame of the Qilin. He wouldn't let those monsters hurt his friends.
If he had wound up there alone, he would have probably deal with them without much thinking. After all, his body was as strong as that of a Qilin. Even if ten of them had bitten him off, or tried to claw at him, he would have still remained unharmed. Very few creatures in the First Phase could possibly hurt him.
"Frankenstein, I'll take your pl-" But Helial couldn't finish speaking. A thunder boomed out on his right. He wasn't sure, but it was very likely to be…
"WHAT ARE THESE MOTHERFUCKERS EXACTLY? HOW DARE THEM IMPOSE THE SIGHT OF THEIR HORRID FACES TO THIS HEAVENLY EMPEROR'S EYES?"
At these words, Helial almost stumbled. Not only would that cat always make him cringe, he also managed to defy the boundaries of any human logics. What could those creatures have done to deserve such a physical appearance? Couldn't it be their fault, could it?
"THIS IS DISGUSTING. THIS. IS. DISGUSTING. IF THIS SUPREME CAT ALLOWED TO YOU TO STEP ON THIS SOIL ONCE AGAIN AFTER INFECTING HIS SENSES, THEN HE COULDN'T BE CALLED THE PEAK OF FELINE EVOLUTION LIKE HE DEFINITELY IS…"
Snowflake churned out a load of nonsensical insults. Helial was this close to explode. Maybe he'd better stop Snowflake before he…
Too late. Snowflake had just broken the formation by taking a step forward in fury, his fur standing on end. The mere sight of those being seemed to have upset him completely.
Helial turned towards the cat. "Go back immediately!"
Snowflake glanced at him, curled his face and took another step forward. In a split second, the cat disappeared in a frightfully swift thunder. The spot where he was standing a moment before became a one-meter-wide crater. Then suddenly, he became visible again for a split second, leaving an afterimage and another crater behind. In a matter of tenths of a second, he beheaded over a dozen Rabid Hounds from the Netherworld, streaking the soil in trails of blood and scattering the area with headless corpses.
Helial gaped at his terrifying speed.
After a dozen of seconds, Snowflake had beheaded all of the monsters. Helial could hardly follow his movements as the cat blazed past the dead bodies at such speed that outran their eyes. Helial concluded that if Snowflake attacked him, he wasn't sure he would be prompt enough to defend himself, or even raise his sword!
Helial thought that speed was outstanding. Despite the panting though, Snowflake didn't seem to be about to slow down.
"I still need to acquire the Skill properly. Just showcasing an imitation is enough to slaughter my way to exhaustion. Only a dozen of seconds went by and I'm done already. Judging by the difficulty, I could reach eighteen seconds max. Not one more, or my organs will end up injured," Snowflake whispered to himself as he shook his head. Merely showcasing the Devil's Skill had been enough for him to unleash a terrifying power. And yet, if he wanted to acquire the Skill and bring it to such level as to be able to compare the greatest creatures in the universe, a long winding road was ahead of him.
Cultivating a Skill like that one would demand much more effort than any other common Skill. But as far as a Skill like that one was concerned, Snowflake was more than willing to overcome every possible bottleneck in the world.
Snowflake was the last one to walk on the first step of the descending staircase. They were headed to the third floor of the Dungeon. As he climbed down the stairs, he realized how staler the air was getting. The lower they got, the more the walls were covered with spooky putrid plants in yellowish rotten colors. My poor fur... , the cat thought grumpily.