Soulmancer – Chapter 13: Reflection and Information…

You have entered the B-rank waiting room.

Healing all external and internal injuries and status fatigue. This effect is constantly applied in the waiting dorm.

Izel, welcomed by familiar messages, strolled to the white bed positioned at the center of the typical waiting room. He lay flatly on the plush sheet, sighing with relief as his body slightly ached, presumably from the active room’s restorative effect.

“B-rank dungeon raid, huh?”

The blind man found humor in the fact that he had already raided six dungeons, facing death six times. Each raid had subtly altered his perception of this isolated world, deviating from his initial beliefs.

Upon passing through each portal, Izel found himself in diverse locations—first, the beige desert of the initial tutorials, then the F-rank dungeon, followed by a dilapidated futuristic subway for the D-rank challenge, and finally, the C-rank region with two distinct temperatures. These thematic shifts led Izel to a clear realization: the fortress wasn’t just transporting him to dungeons but also to extremely surreal niches.

With these reflections, a relieved sigh escaped Izel as he deactivated [Flawlation].

[Flawlation (F) has been deactivated.]

Removing his blindfold, Izel contemplated his vulnerability, hoping to survive each encounter in the fortress’s unpredictable landscapes. He understood that every raid thus far had been characterized by ‘high stakes’ and ‘high gain.’ Even assassinating the monstrous ‘Gatekeeper’ in such challenging environments posed substantial risks, but the rewards were undeniably worth it.

Exhaling deeply, the blind man acknowledged that his path involved not only defeating formidable foes but also risking his life while devouring a multitude of inferior opponents to grow stronger.

‘It’s going to get deadlier from here on out,’ he reconsidered. Typically, a growth-type skill allows someone like Izel to gain strength from every enemy he defeats. However, the strict rules and conditions of the Fortress of Dungeons restrict its efficacy and rate of advancement, thereby limiting his overall growth. To be honest, he wasn’t too bothered by any of these challenges because he knew that eventually, his hard work and perseverance would be rewarded.

However, he was a little miffed that this growth-type skill didn’t ensue a little sooner. If it had, he wouldn’t have gone through hell in the [Cascade Guild] as a F-ranked awakened hunter. Enduring a series of humiliations, all because he was blind, his teeth gnashed with fury as his lips conveyed a single name.

“Velkist Cambormir.”

It was the name of the [Cascade Guild] leader in [Exodus] district.

“You, blind fool, haven’t demonstrated your value even after extensive training within this guild. In that case, surrender the Cascade Guild’s Hunter ID from your pitiful hunter’s kit!”

The echoes of his prideful and authoritative voice lingered in the blind man’s mind—a painful reminder of the humiliation endured during a training session. Izel had been defeated by an E-ranked hunter, despite deploying every trick he had learned. The long, silk-crimson-haired man openly berated him, forbidding Izel from raiding dungeons or taking on even the most basic jobs. Considered an eyesore and burden to the guild, the authoritative figure declared him unwelcome among the guild members, effectively prohibiting his association with the guild.

“P-please, just give me a few months to train; I-I will prove my worth, P-please!!!”

Despite Izel’s desperate plea for additional training time, the long crimson-haired man glared at him intensively with his reddish-brown Will-o’-wisps-like eyes. This caused the blind man to shiver in despair, shock, and fear, resulting in buckets of sweat pouring from him. Unconsciously, he even leaked urine due to the overwhelming weight of the mana and concentrated presence in front of the trainees.

“What a fool,” sneered the certain E-rank hunter who had defeated him.

“Why would a blind man want to become a hunter? Know your place!” Some clicked their tongues in disappointment.

“Right. He doesn’t even realize his obvious weaknesses: being blind and a slow learner!” The other one shrugged.

“Leave him be. He doesn’t have much time left without a guild, y’all know,” one of them pinched his nose with an irritated face.

“Damn, he even peed upon feeling the boss’ presence; what a nuisance,” one turned his face away.

Recalling the series of mockery comments from the bystanders, Izel tightly clutched the blindfold in his hands in wrath, still feeling the severe impact on his mental state. Realizing that this sudden turmoil could worsen his accumulated traumas, he decided to calm himself.

‘After all, I need to survive the next dungeon raid to take revenge,’ he thought, regulating his shallow breath. He put a pause on such intentions for now. Shortly after, the bluish hue of the [Hemostasis] Demerit effect throughout his body almost faded out, leaving the urge to quench his overlying appetite and thirst to replenish the number of his lost blood cells. However, he put a hold on that as well since the Fortress system hadn’t been activated yet.

Deciding to rest before the Fortress System kicked in, his closed eyelids quivered slightly as he continued to regulate his breathing and calm his mind.

* * *

“Oh, yeah, I received bonus rewards.” His grim expression brightened as an epiphany washed over him. It appeared that he had been so consumed by upsetting memories that the notion had slipped his mind. Without hesitation, he called up his status and selected the new skill that had caught his attention.

[Active Skill: Basic Swordsmanship (E)

Proficiency: 0%

Description: As the name implies, the basic sword technique is made for effective combat.

Effect: When using a sword, all fundamentals such as slashing, parrying, thrusting, and other simple sword movements are increased by 3x.

Demerit: Without prior knowledge of the basic sword fundamentals, the effect would be impractical.]

A satisfied smile graced his lips. “Finally, a skill without overwhelming conditions,” he thought. What more could he ask for? Despite his preference for a rarer sword skill, he fully acknowledged that such a desire would inevitably come with a deadly and complicated demerit.

‘Basic swordsmanship,’ Izel briefly reflected. The principle was common in Elilaum’s swordplay, learned during guild training sessions. ‘Hah, my previous F-ranked awakened self couldn’t comprehend it,’ he chuckled lightly.

Although easy for normal hunters, it differed for the blind man. It wasn’t a lack of talent, but rather a gradual learning process during spars or duels, making him appear as a slow learner. This naturally infuriated others, but Izel remained unconcerned.

‘Anyway, let’s not dwell on the past,’ he considered it a forbidden act due to his unstable mind. Having perfectly learned the basics, the blind man could efficiently utilize this skill against a tough opponent relatively instantly. Izel appeared content with the skill effect but wondered about the dual bonus rewards.

“Of course, I cleared the raid perfectly, but…”

After a brief reflection on his raid approach, the blind man engaged in a one-on-one battle with the gatekeeper, supposed to halve his overall reward by 65% even if he defeated it. However, in the final moments, he lets down the monster’s defenses, dealing significant damage through assassination.

‘I guess it was one of the reasons my rewards were altered,’ he surmised. Speaking of bonus rewards, he resumed the feminine voice, narrating the other skill.

‘Hell-flame!’ Izel’s mind went momentarily blank. Indeed, it was the same ferocious skill that had nearly reduced him to a heap of ashes. While still dumbstruck by this unexpected bonus reward, his expression remained as pale as if his reality had suddenly crumbled. Regaining his composure, he inquired about the details of the skill.

[Active Skill: Hell Flame (D)

Proficiency: 0%

Effect: Burn anything and everything that is ignited to nothingness. When wrapped around the host’s body, one could gain resistance to other flame attacks.
Demerit: Although the skill can overwhelm and consume all things and be resistant to other flames, it’s quite weak to ‘Holy Flame’.]

Neglecting the skill’s demerit that somewhat ached his heart, Izel remained oblivious to the weight of what gaining the [Hell Flame] truly meant. However, one thing was certain: acquiring one of the rare flame-type skills that never existed without making a contract or pact with a monstrosity like the Gatekeeper.

“In addition, the ability to consume any other flames upon contact,” Izel thought aloud as he began to theorize how amazing [Hell Flame] would be when merged with [Soul Assimilation].

‘… Of course, both demerits aside, though.’ More introspection began to emerge in his mind. If the [Hell Flame] had such a strong effect and also a high combustion rate, contrary to the [Soul Assimilation]’s potent effects, he wondered how badass the final skill of both would be.

“But when both demerits are added,” his face suddenly scoffed as he disheartenedly murmured, “The demerit will be disgustingly badass as well.” Izel couldn’t begin to imagine that fact.

Momentarily, an inner, lingering, and seductive voice spoke in his ears, apprising him not to stop here and proceed with merging them both. That somewhat familiar voice overtaking him was the impulse he felt during the invitation difficulty selection. The voice continued, weighing his gains and losses if both skills were successfully merged.

‘Hmm.’ Izel, deeply in thought as he analyzed the words of his inner demon, eventually spoke out, “Nah, buzz off.” It was a vague reply, befitting the tempting suggestion. Aye, this time, the blind man didn’t let it get to him. He was fully aware that such an offer could lead to irreversible mistakes and death. Of course, he also knew he wasn’t some young master who would only get face-slapped. Moreover, at the end of the tunnel, there’s only darkness, not light, and lastly, this isn’t some VRMMORPG game; he would respawn if he died. If an unforeseen mishap occurred during merging or skill integration usage, he wouldn’t just die a dog’s death. Yes, end of story!

Izel, still weighing the odds or coincidences, let out a deep sigh. “I need to be careful about my inner demon…” he trailed off. It was because of a familiar and thrilling sound wave that stung his [Sound Reading].

All C-rank dungeons of all difficulty had been completed.

Reactivating the Fortress operating system. All commands are reactivated; commands require verbal execution.

The B-rank dungeon raid begins in 20 hours and 15 minutes.

When the string of usual announcements faded, he chuckled lightly. It was about time. Izel wondered why the fortress system took a bit longer to activate than usual, but he guessed it was probably due to the unbalanced raid difficulty.

“…Inventory,” he called out. A familiar, invisible rupture emerged out of thin air, sensed only by him. The monotonous voice narrated all the equipment and supplies within the pocket-dimensional storage. He let out a deep breath, enduring the relentless hunger and thirst. Izel began to pull out all his gear and then requested a plain piece of clothing and two waterskins from his inventory.

Currently in his shorts, Izel soaked the cloth with water from the waterskins and began to scrub off the dried blood from his whole body. He then cleaned the scattered clotted blood from his cloak and boots. The waiting room’s automatic restorative effect could only relieve fatigue and heal wounds, not clean his body from filth, gore, and specks of dust.

After a few moments of meticulously cleaning his boots, he also wiped clotted mud and dirt from his Aurora shortsword. Taking a moment away from his items, Izel brought out the last two otherworldly wheat loaves of bread, a strip of otherworldly jerky, and two waterskins. He comfortably laid back on the bed, feeling refreshed as the supplies alleviated his appetite and thirst. Absentmindedly neglecting each demerit of the supplies as they went through his mouth, he mused aloud, “I must be feeling a bit peculiar right now.”

[Verdes Remaining: 129.]

While Izel munched, crunched, and gulped on his supplies to alleviate the oddly lingering defect, he summoned the silvery potion-like reward of the raid.

[Blood of the Gatekeeper.

Grade: C.

Category: One-time use.

Description: The blood of a mysterious and rare race called the ‘Gatekeeper’, no longer knows what the so-called race protects and its reasons for doing so. Even when dead, the ‘Gate’ that it protects shall be forever sealed. Its blood possessed the insurmountable essence of inferno souls.

Effect: If injected, all stats increase by 10. The stat ‘Inferno’ would be created. If the ‘stat’ already exists, it will be increased by 20.

Demerit: Can only be applied when overall stats are below 174.]

The creation effect of a new stat piqued his interest, along with the horror demerit.


Izel quickly summoned his status to calculate his overall stats.

[Name: Izel Ethalt Blind.

Age: 19 years old.

Strength: 35 Stamina: 43

Agility: 47 Mana: 26

Constitution: 22

Active skills

Gear: Flawlation (F)

Basic Swordsmanship (E)

*Soul Assimilation (E)

Hell Flame (D)

Hemostasis (E+)

Anesthesia (D)

Passive Skills

Sound Reading (Innate)

Fortress Currency

Verdes: 129]

After calculating his stats, Izel breathed a sigh of relief, patting his chest with his right hand. “Thank goodness, I escaped by just one stat point.” It was a delicate, hairbreadth escape, making the item in his possession potentially useful; otherwise, all his hardships would have been in vain. He had never heard of a stat named ‘Inferno’ before, and he would have dismissed it as ridiculous if not for the item description.

“But, I guess, it doesn’t matter.” After a brief thought, Izel concluded that he would find out the nature of such a stat in due time. However, his mind drifted to the presumably high price of the item on Elilaum should he choose to sell this sacred item. It seemed crazy, even absurd, to possess something of this caliber, and yet, he felt a sense of pride.

Even if the market price might be historically high, Izel had no intention of selling it. His eyes sparkled as he regarded the gleaming item almost like a god. Wasting such a valuable thing on mortal necessities felt disrespectful and foolish, especially considering his slow growth. After reaching this conclusion, the item vanished into his inventory, after which he called for the forum.

[You are now online.]

[You have entered the Forum.]

[Difficulty: Extreme.]

Disregarding the nostalgic feeling, he gulped some salty water to help the bread and jerky go down. He exhaled sharply, seeking relief.

[B-rank Forum.]

[(978/ 2243)]

Moseley: Hmm, only 2243 of the Walkers survived this time. Nice job, y’all.

Edumund: Nice job, my ass. I got my head chopped up. However, thank goodness for the waiting room.

Moseley: What the hell are you talking about? How the fuck did you get into the waiting room if your head was chopped off?

Edmund: Hey, shut up! I survived, and that’s all you need to know.

Moseley: Hehe. Anyway, we just need to get up for one more raid to finally see some progress. It seems I was the only one who perfectly raided my dungeon to get my reward proportionally changed.

Edinburgh: Lmao. We still need to survive to take on the A-rank raid, though. Nah, my reward also gets changed as well. My heart almost popped out of my chest when the auto-request of the admin got dialed.

Rutherford: Damn! That familiar rumble was in tense… Thankfully, he rejected the auto-request. I’m worried about how I am supposed to survive to that point with this unbalanced difficulty.

Tension and anxiety gripped the forum as Izel scrutinized every chat. Such demeanors were justified, given the unexpected difficulty of the C-rank compared to the relatively straightforward D-rank dungeon. The latter wasn’t complicated for those who knew how to strategize and bravely face magical beasts. In Izel’s view, the forum’s mood wasn’t all that bad.

“Plus, it seems a few experienced ex-hunters and genius Walkers did get their rewards proportionally changed,” the blind man thought aloud. Seemingly, other Walkers also experienced the familiar administrator entrance ‘rumble’ that tensed one’s neck and whacked one’s mind. That damned administrator oddly refused every Walker’s auto-request. This observation strangely kept his mind at ease.

Yi Dong: I’m finally online after taking some rest! Calm down, man! Back when I was a hunter in a dungeon, we just stuck through it, no matter how tough the boss monster was.

Xilong Cui: Says the ex-hunter with experience. Just don’t say sh*t! Just go back offline—we don’t need an ex-hunter with a shitty irrational experience!

Jankovic Trevor: Lmao! Y’all crazy. It seems that only the more experienced and strong-headed people are still alive at this point.

Some walkers were throwing punches, cracking jokes, and showing sympathy, while others shared both ineffective and helpful tips.

Ji Suk Lee: Here, here, guys! I don’t recommend buying any items that require aura unless you have aura-related skills or knight-related skills.

Shualilong Wang: Isn’t aura the most important thing for a knight-type hunter? However, that is rare, unlike magic-type hunters, so you need it to use skills, right?

Zhang Chuan: That’s what the noobies think. The most efficient basic skills, like weapons skills, don’t use auras or magic. But techniques!

Kim Sung: Really? However, I already bought a magic item and an aura item. Am I fucked?

Maxime Coulon: Nah, you’re good. So keep your job-related traits to yourself. Since you unlocked it faster than others, focus on getting stat-related items now, like some cloud boots. Though it’s fucking expensive with some tiny but annoying demerits without the assigned cloak.

Ross Kirby: I’m a hunter. Ahem ahem… Sorry, I won’t be able to tell you about my job-related trait. However, what he says is correct. You can buy skills later, so you can just get magic and aura skills.

Adam Penton: And if you want to increase your skill proficiency faster, you can train after turning the auto-recovery in the waiting dorm off! It could also work with learning new skills; as long as you can remember and partially perform the skills, you can obtain them.

A slew of more useful tips circulated alongside the news about ‘job-related traits,’ prompting Izel to reflect. Despite unraveling his thoughts, he couldn’t pinpoint the category to which he belonged. ‘Hmmm.’

Amid numerous questions swirling through his mind—whether he could become an elemental-type hunter, a magic-type hunter, or a knight-type hunter—there was a palpable sizzle as if his brain were on the verge of popping into dark smoke. Izel, not just a slow learner but also a slow achiever compared to his fellow hunters, was well aware that he hadn’t unlocked that aspect yet. The uncertainty lingered, leaving him to wonder when, or if, he would unlock it soon.

Playfully, a chuckle escaped him, “It won’t be long, suckers.”

Ignoring some of the other tips, the blind man discovered valuable information – such as the fact that proficiency in ‘Tolerance and resistance-type skills’ increases if he disables the waiting room’s auto-restorative by paying 10 Verdes to an unfamiliar category in the Trading center.’ Surprisingly, he had never delved deep into the Fortress operating system to uncover such details.

‘It was unexpected. If that’s the case, I will quickly become proficient in [Hemostasis (E+)] [Anesthesia (D)] in no time,’ he mused. However, his optimism was overshadowed by the looming anguish and terror he anticipated during the process. A grimace crossed his face. ‘I hate pain,’ he muttered, sidely sighing

After conducting a series of surveys through chats, the blind man discovered that the acquisition of job-related traits depended on each hunter’s limits, nature, soul, and origin. He noted that understanding oneself was crucial to unlocking these traits. Izel, intrigued, clicked his tongue teasingly, ‘That’s interesting data. I truly want to know more about myself and my parents…’ He paused as his lips trembled, feeling a hint of despondency about his origins. However, he chose not to dwell on it too much to avoid overwhelming his mind. Taking a deep breath, he refocused on the forum.

Tonggong Qiao: Oh yeah. There’s a way to remove demerits from all skills.

Haiyong Zhuang: You mean the ones that have annoying stuff that comes as an aftereffect on literally everything?

Tonggong Qiao: Oh yes, at first I thought it was a bug until the administrator announced it wasn’t one. So you already know about it?

Amanda Van der Walt: Yeah. I think it’s also called an ‘equivalent exchange’ or something!

Willy Kinkela: Legit, those things can be removed! I have already removed two demerits from two items and skills.

Teddie Sizwe: Damn… I just took bad hits, and the sh*t disabled my tolerance effect and activated itself.

Anathi Qina: Damn man, I feel for you. If you get to remove the demerit from the tolerance skills or any skills, they are more useful than almost killing the user, so make sure you figure it out.

After a certain point, Izel pondered whether demerits were consistently applied among Walkers, especially in the [Extreme] difficulty. However, as he followed these conversations, it became clear that equality wasn’t a constant, even in the most challenging circumstances. The question persisted: did this uneven application extend to other difficulties? Though uncertainty surrounded this, Izel acknowledged the potency and lethality of this mysterious ‘feature.’

“After all, it’s an ‘equivalent exchange’ kernel embedded in the system.” Izel formulated a hypothesis regarding Dungeons, speculating that the fortress rewarded Walkers based on achievements while imposing demerits as a restrictive measure on their growth. It was akin to a double-edged sword—offering great benefits while holding destructive potential for the bearer. The catch: Walkers who discovered ways to disable these limiters remained tight-lipped, disappointing Izel, who disliked such features. In the end, he exhaled deeply, ‘I shouldn’t rely on these black leakers.’

Izel quickly overcame his initial disappointment. Despite thinking he knew it all, he acquired a decent amount of knowledge by listening to his bunky television and scanning articles on his hunter’s kit. Whether risking his life on raids or engaging in forum discussions, he continued to learn. The Fortress of the Dungeons remained a mystery, a strange world that surprised him daily.

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