The shrill, feral cry bore into his ears – his limbs were gripped by a sudden heaviness. At the same time, all of the numerous steel threads in the vicinity froze and drifted to the floor.
“No way…! I’ve never heard of this kind of petrification before!” shouted Elyria; she had been too far away to be affected directly but, without control over the threads, for the moment she was powerless.
Sinister killing intent seized his throat as if it were tangible, completely unlike anything he had experienced before. It felt as if there were needles piercing his lungs, and his vision darkened rapidly.
“Shit, that’s so overpowered…” groaned Reeds from nearby, apparently incapable of mustering any strength. The throwing daggers in his hand fell to the ground with a clatter; even he couldn’t move? It was an incredibly dangerous situation!
The blurry form of the basilisk snaked towards the assassin; incredibly oppressive maleficence had completely drained his stamina! The basilisk’s fangs glinted with a vicious light as Reeds struggled to stand.
Its head streaked towards him with lethal force, crossing the twenty-foot gap in less than a second…!
Kenjin leapt into its path an instant early; the fierce attack smashed into his shield like a battering ram. The basilisk howled and pushed against him savagely; he felt as if he was grappling with a bull!
As for why he could move, he’d consumed the remaining detoxification pills in a single gulp. It was inefficient, but they had no choice.
The basilisk wasn’t deterred – it had been able to shake him off once before. Its vicious offensive was incredibly difficult to deal with – biting, tearing, and swaying alternately, then slipping past once the slightest opening appeared in his defenses.
As a last resort, he pounced at its escaping body; he managed to hold it for less than a second before its sinuous form slipped through his fingers with ease. The only thing he’d caught was a thick layer of slime!
“Take it down before it can use that roar again,” he shouted discontentedly. Numerous wounds had re-opened on his body with just that short exchange… but he’d bought enough time for his teammates to recover.
Reeds darted around in the shadows, throwing daggers whenever he saw an opportunity. Between his attacks, Elyria lashed at the basilisk with numerous steel whips. Their combined assault had proven effective against numerous enemies in the past, but…
It was useless. The basilisk dodged their attacks with animalistic reflexes, weaving and bobbing like a pro boxer – no, a leaf caught in a storm. With shockingly fast speed, it shot towards Elyria with open jaws.
There was nothing that either Kenjin or Reeds could do to stop it. It rushed towards her with deathly finality; she was about to be crushed…!
Elyria had her own ways of escaping. Numerous threads bound around her arms and latched to the ceiling, hoisting her up as if she were a puppet. She’d escaped the basilisk’s range of attack completely –
–Or so it seemed.
The basilisk’s eyes gleamed with deadly intent, and it swayed back and forth as if motion-sick. Kenjin’s face paled; most of its abilities had been unconventional, but its movements now were all too familiar.
A dragon did the same thing before breathing fire.
“Hold on, Elyria!” With his injuries half-healed, he staggered towards the basilisk with renewed speed; tendrils of orange flame exploded from his legs, making it appear as if he were wearing fiery boots.
Two feet… Five feet… ten feet in a single bound.
Each step generated explosive acceleration; the wind whistled past, tearing at the open cuts on his face. Sacred Arts: Hell Impulse! The basilisk faltered when it noticed his increased speed, clearly realizing that a melee exchange had now become unfavourable.
It was fast, strong, venomous and intelligent… but not durable. Like all monsters, it would prioritize its own safety first.
Unwilling to take any risks, the basilisk coiled backwards, whacking the ground with its powerful tail. A jet of rancid green venom sprayed forth from within its throat in mid-air. Wherever the attack struck the floor, the stone sizzled and bubbled, releasing miasmic fumes!
Its venom had even damaged his armour earlier. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what damage direct contact would cause.
Moments before the caustic stream enveloped him, a multitude of radiant, multi-coloured threads wrapped around his shield. The attack crashed against its surface and was diverted around him; the watertight threads were just barely able to protect him –
However, his vision shook as flecks of venom were deflected onto his body. His vision shook as his health steadily declined.
The attack redoubled in intensity! For an instant he was completely surrounded by the torrent, losing his bearings. It was as if he was underwater – together with the barrier, submerged in the deepest depths of the ocean.
The colours on his shield rapidly grew dimmer, replaced by toxic green and black; he pushed forward blindly, resisting the enormous pressure as the spell’s duration ticked down.
A shriek of torment passed through the sea of rushing venom and hit him like a shockwave – the basilisk’s head emerged in his vision. The deluge immediately slowed to a trickle as the basilisk recoiled; dozens of throwing daggers were lodged in the tender, white underside of its throat.
Blackened fragments of metal fell from his armour and corrosive venom scalded his flesh. His vision flashed black and red, indicating that he was on less than 5% health. He was in terrible condition…. But he had just barely survived!
It was time to throw caution to the winds. He leapt ten feet with just one step and brought his sword above his head – he was going to smash its skull in. The basilisk hadn’t given up! Clearly sensing danger, it whipped its head towards him and fixed him with a single, pitiless eye.
Behind the girly goggles, those eyes were filled with an animalistic desire and will to live, immobilizing him with their overpowering vitality, ferocity, and killing intent. All strength disappeared from his arms; he was pinned by a furious glare as all the muscles along the basilisk’s lithe body tensed.
He’d jumped straight into its jaws… but he had a hidden trump card.
Sacred Arts: Blessing. A corona of light swathed his body – his stamina recovered in its entirety, his wounds healed, and the petrification status vanished completely! The original plan had been to save this skill for Dark Lord due to the long cooldown, but they had no choice.
The basilisk hissed arrogantly as it prepared to retreat, but its voice devolved into a confused howl as it found itself tethered in place. Numerous steel wires glinted between the daggers in the basilisk’s throat and his shield arm – each strand drawn taut.
With a great bellow, he hauled the basilisk forward as if the latter was leashed. This was the result of their combined efforts!
Before he could attack, the basilisk roared in indignation; in an instant, over half of them snapped under its razor-sharp fangs. He had to keep it still at all costs…!
Remaining mana – less than a third. It couldn’t be helped.
Divine lightning coursed through the remaining wires, paralyzing the basilisk for an infinitesimally small duration – would it be enough? No, there was no point thinking about it. He lunged forward like a speeding arrow…!
The fragile scales on the basilisk’s belly split apart as he drove his sword deep into its chest. Blood! The ruptured flesh drove him into a blood frenzy! He slammed his shield into its head, feeling its jaw fracture through his gauntlet; his sword tore itself free, rising to pierce a soft, white throat –
A cry of pure anguish sank from the basilisk’s open jaws, and a heaving tail slammed into him. In an instant, he was knocked back several feet, and landed heavily against a nearby rock. It was incomparably weaker than before, but still enjoyed absolutely monstrous strength…!
The basilisk flailed in fear and rage, only further painting the ground red. “I’ve got it!” he shouted, pulling roughly on the threads once more. Copious amounts of crimson blood spilled on the floor, and the frustrated basilisk was dragged, inch by inch, across the ground.
Ordinarily, no player should be able to manhandle a boss monster in this way… and if it weren’t a serpent, it would’ve been impossible. Their enemy had no feet! If it had a firm foothold it would’ve easily been able to resist…
…but now, even with its strength it was helpless, like an eel on the end of a fisherman’s line.
It was dying. He could finish it here, and they’d be able to pass just a little sooner. His heart thumped wildly as he realized that the end of the long battle was in sight…!
The basilisk was still a cornered animal. With nowhere left to run, it moved in the only direction it could. Forward. Its tail whipped towards him and tore his shield from his grasp, sending it spinning along the floor.
In the blink of an eye, hunter and hunted were reversed.
Time seemed to slow down; a nightmare of serrated teeth closed in at high speed. He could see every crease on the basilisk’s furious face, every gash on its body. It was already too close – he was too late to turn back.
Remaining mana: zero.
His sword immediately keened with a sharp melody, giving off the impression that he would be cut if he so much as looked at it. As if it had a will of its own, it arced upward to meet the onrushing basilisk –
The sword was just a sword, without sentience. Rather, what he felt was that it had suddenly grown incredibly heavy. It pulled him forward with the momentum of its own swing; his arm felt as if it was being ripped from its socket –
Something gave way in his shoulder; the price for using an artifact beyond the user’s level. It was worth it…! In front of him, the basilisk faltered – shrinking away as it was pressured by an immense weight.
It wouldn’t escape!
The sword suddenly accelerated; the illusion of a graceful, silvery arc of light fanned out before him. For a moment, it was as if the sword-tip’s incredibly fast movement left behind a crescent afterimage.
Remaining stamina: zero. His body was like a used battery. The ground rushed towards him; he collapsed, his mind numb. It was over… had he managed to land a direct hit?
Blood spilled to the ground before him; the basilisk’s head crashed to the ground an instant after he did. Its mouth opened in disbelief, and a single, great eye smouldered with hatred from where it lay.
Shattered fangs glinted in its mouth as it hissed at him wordlessly, snarling in pure anguish. Along its neck, a deep laceration bled unceasingly – pooling the remainder of its life into the surrounding water.
He couldn’t move, but it still could.
Even if I die, I can take you with me.
It thrashed violently, splattering his face with toxic black blood. Excruciating pain surged through his face; it burned like molten lead. Remaining health: almost zero…!
The ledge beneath him crumbled; icy-cold water showered the surroundings as it writhed. The ruined mouth descended with the speed of a descending typhoon!
“Don’t tell me it has a second stage?!”
Dozens of daggers thudded into the basilisk’s wound with pinpoint precision, but it didn’t even bat an eye. The pain didn’t register; it was maddened by bloodthirst. Not a single thought passed through those dilated pupils –
–Their faces were already close enough to touch. This close, he could see the whites of its eyes, every bloodshot vein hidden by the translucent plastic of the childish, pink goggles.
It was already dead.
The shattered fangs stopped mere inches from his throat. With a final tremor, the very last of the basilisk’s death throes ceased; it remained tensed in the middle of its lunge. Petrified, unmoving, like a lifeless statue.
It was dead! He’d managed to bring it down…!
“Seriously. Can’t you even killsteal properly?” Reeds commented dismissively, destroying the atmosphere. Kenjin backed away from the corpse quickly, almost unsure that it had really died. After retreating a few feet, he sank to a nearby ledge with a sigh.
“Damn it… as if you have any room to talk. You missed almost all of your throwing daggers.”
“Ah? Well maybe, if you’d been able to stop it for even half a second -“
The basilisk’s body crumpled, shocking them with the sudden movement. For the first time, Kenjin noticed numerous beads of sweat on Reeds’ forehead; the assassin was playing it cool, but even he was visibly shaken.
After a moment, both of them breathed out heavily and relaxed. There was still danger – snakes could continue to bite after death. However, the longer they stayed, the more danger they’d be in. The battle had been incredibly loud.
“Go ahead and dismantle the body, assassin. Ugly corpses are your calling, after all,” he said as Elyria slowly descended from the ceiling with a pale face. Reeds turned away while shaking his head; it was the messiest job, but it was yet another role they burdened him with.
Basilisk fangs, poison sacs, scales, meat, bones, eyes, and…
“Look. There’s a name on the goggles.”
Kenjin narrowed his eyes at Reeds’ words; there really was a badly-written scrawl on their loot. ‘Levii’… had it been somebody’s pet? He’d heard stories about baby crocodiles growing into monsters in the sewers, but…
Well, it didn’t really matter much in the end. Reeds lifted it from the basilisk’s face and tossed it to Elyria, who immediately clasped it to her hair. Really, it came from a corpse, and it wasn’t even clean…
“How does it look?!”
“Eh… suits you,” Kenjin replied, watching her twirl around excitedly. In reality, the goggles were somewhat oversized, but it didn’t really matter what he said. She’d probably get bored of it within a few hours.
“I’ll take the eyes.” He raised a weary hand; they were undoubtedly the most valuable component, but if he managed to incorporate them into his shield, he might be able to replicate the basilisk’s petrification ability. There weren’t many effects more valuable to a tank.
“Greedy miser. In that case, I’ll go for the fangs. Could be useful for dart-tips or something.” The assassin descended like a crow to claim his reward for doing the bare minimum, pulling out a dagger in order to perform R+ graphic material.
“T-that’s not fair! I wanted them…!”
“For what, a necklace? Inventory.”
Bleeding. Skinning. Gutting. Quartering.
Kenjin began to feel queasy as he looked over at Reeds butchering the carcass with a cool expression, and tried to distract himself by talking to Elyria. After several minutes, the basilisk had been completely dismantled, and he shuddered while moving his hands over the parts that he needed.
Ching. Multiple bursts of golden light passed through his closed eyelids; the items were absorbed into his inventory in an anticlimactic fashion. Some parts of the game were realistic, but other parts were streamlined for player experience.
It would’ve been annoying to be forced to carry around a heavy backpack all day, after all.
He rested against the wall for a moment, feeling extremely weak now that the battle had concluded. They’d faced much worse in the past – it was only him who felt tired. Even though it was just another everyday event, it might be the last battle they ever fought together.
The mental exhaustion was incapacitating.
“How does it feel?”
Elyria nudged him knowingly; he declined to reply. He had to forget about it all. This was it, the sense of victory. The ability to forget any worries that he had in real life. Complete immersion, the reason why Tiandi was the most popular game in the world.
Well, immersion was one thing – safety was another. Even as the great doors opened, gliding outward as if weightless, none of them took a single step. The inner sanctum of the castle was just a step away, but…
“We aren’t ready.”
Perhaps their coordination was a little lacking.
Perhaps it was their individual strengths that fell short.
Perhaps they just hadn’t prepared enough information.
Whatever the problem had been… the fact remained: they’d barely been able to take down the guard dog.
“…Well, let’s just see how far we can get,” Elyria said resignedly. “We shouldn’t waste this chance, even if it’s probable that we won’t complete the quest chain.”
Her train of thought… should’ve been correct. Even if dying was guaranteed, they’d at least have experience for a second attempt in the future. Nothing would start if they turned back after a victory.
It would’ve been correct – if he wasn’t leaving soon.
He choked on the words that he hadn’t been able to say before; they were lodged in his throat like a misshapen fishbone. “That’s… I mean, hasn’t it been a decent run, already? There’s no need to take any more risks -“
“Get off your ass, downer. Nobody’s got time for your cowardly act.”
He jumped to his feet angrily, but before he could reply, Reeds gave him a cold snort and walked away – Elyria gave him a short glance, but hurried through the open doors a few seconds later. They didn’t understand…!
Kenjin shook his head bitterly; in the end, it seemed like he was going to get dragged along for their convenience. The assassin never listened, and Elyria was too optimistic after winning once. Fine. Whatever came, he would just have to deal with it.
For the sake of ending on a high note, he had to deal with it.