Soulmancer – Chapter 5: D-rank Raid II

“…Fuck! This can’t be real!” The teen boy, suddenly finding himself in the middle of a massive desert, gasped for air as he ran desperately through the saturated reddish-yellow sand. His feet engraved abysmal footprints with every step taken.

This mysterious, spacious location had no single breeze and was composed of an empty white sky, faintly rippling only as the teen boy could sense. Regardless of how enticing the location was, his heart beat violently, and his lungs contracted and inflated vigorously as his legs pushed themselves instinctively through the thick grain of sand.

“KIIIEEEHHHK!!!”

The eerie sound resonated everywhere as the earth rumbled violently. A horde of grotesque-looking zombies exploded out of the sand, left and right, almost equaling a colony of bees, unrealistically numerous. The decayed-like zombies parted through the sand and rushed toward him, flinging and firing their weapons, eager to pummel their prey into bits.

‘Why? What have I done to deserve this?’ The boy exclaimed in desperation, oozing cold sweat enough to fill an entire bucket, as multiple weapons flew through the air ferociously, parting the sand.

“What the hell is going on? Why am I being chased?” This brown-skinned blind teenager hurriedly spun around and continued to staggeringly race as five roasted poison arrows pierced his rear and the back of his arms, almost stinging him to death. “Arghhhhh!!!” He gnashed his teeth tightly in agony, yet there was no time to deliberate on pain.

“I can’t die in a place like this. Never.” He refused to give up as blood and roasted poison slowly morphed his white t-shirt into purplish crimson; if he wanted to live that badly, then he had to run. That was the only thought racing in his head, filtering out all the excruciating pain from his receptions and focusing the only skill he was born with, [Sound Reading], on any eerie zombies leading an ambush underneath the sand or impending aerial weapon attack enough to instantly end his life.

However, even before he had taken several more steps, another pillar of beige sand exploded upwards, not far from his position.

“Euh-hkkkk?!” The boy fell on his rear from the powerful shockwave as thick crimson blood seeped from his back and arms, slowly dripping from the sleeves, dying the sand red. He rolled on the sandy ground before urgently getting back up amid the despair, agony, and terror. He was terrified of death; the pitch-darkness in his vision was comforting compared to this.

“I can’t die, No… No way!” He hurriedly swiped the sand off his despaired face. Momentarily, a rusted, dull sword from a certain zombie almost split his head open with an enormous arc-curve swing. The blind man couldn’t wait and wondered why a very fragile zombie could swing like that. As his [sound reading] caught that, He tossed his body and slightly rolled away from it. The sand erupted from that impact as the sword coated with poison melted the sand instantly.

At the same time, multiple sand eruptions went off as the sand exploded. Before he had even noticed the multiple waves that stung his ears, more hordes of zombies, three times the previous value, were jutting out from the sand with more rare hideous weapons like rusted chainsaws, encased with steaming, corrosive poison. All of them were glaring at him like premium meats, drooling with saliva and gores.

“KIIIEECHHK!!”

“KIIEEEK!!”

Whaaaaaaaaangggg!!!!!

Whaaaaaaaaangggg!!!!!

As the zombies issued shrill cries, along with all the engine harsh start-ups, sounds resonated loudly with each other. The teenager’s complexion changed for the worse. It got a lot worse as more weapons flew toward him—arrows, axes, swords, and spears—in all directions as they chased after him. In addition, the ones wielding chainsaws were unexpectedly fast, rapidly closing up on him like a butcher.

WHAAAAAAAANGGGG!!!!!

SWOOOSH!

WHOOSH!

KIIIEECHHK!!

“God damn it. Why?” Tears rolled from his eyes, racing as if the world had forsaken him, as his parents did.

— — — —

From the horrendous nightmare, Izel jolted awake suddenly, his head pounding as if he had a hangover. He had fallen asleep after training under extreme stress. Calming his sudden, racing heartbeat, he gasped for air. “Haven’t I moved on from that nightmare from the first tutorial?”

His face twisted with bitterness and stress as he held his forehead. It might seem like a weak statement to convey, but that first tutorial exposed him to the most extreme danger when he received the invitation and selected ‘extreme’ difficulty.

He might have grown accustomed to the fortress’s schedule, but deep down, his calm soul hadn’t recovered from that horrifying incident.

“Ha! This time it was just a nightmare…!” Frustration quivered on his lips, and he was sweating profusely. Despite his strangely unwavering mental fortitude, he wasn’t immune to trauma, seizures, and cramps. He wished he could leave the fortress right away and hurried to his rehabilitation center.

“Jane Austen,” he soberly murmured that particular name. He needed therapy from this person before his accumulated trauma burst through its bottleneck. The last time he had such therapy with this individual was in the entertainment section of the first district…

The D-rank dungeon raid begins in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Just before he could mop in this nightmare and drown in his desire, the raid countdown beeped in his mind. After this realization, he decided to listen to the forum while lying down, aiming to clear his mind.

Anonymous 4189: Morning Walkers! I just woke up from a long sleep. I love the bed I bought to calm my anxiety. It’s so soft and comfy!

Anonymous 4526: Oh! This morning, my body ached from sleeping on my old, so-called ‘comfy’ bed.

Anonymous 5000: Weird though… Bruh, just buy a comfier bed from the Trading Center already.

Anonymous 4526: Yikes, I’d rather get a nice bowl of rice and fish with that amount of Verdes.

Anonymous 3999: Quit it; you’re making me hungry.

Anonymous 4526: Legit. We don’t have any other desires… Why are we still hungry? We don’t even piss or shit anymore.

Anonymous 4888: Y’all are talking about food this time, huh? Just go buy some jerky and a few rare wheat breads from the Trading Center. That’s the cheapest thing you can get.

Anonymous 4755: Hehe. Good guidance… Haha!

Anonymous 4776: Guys, I can’t buy any first-aid because I don’t have any Verdes left. Why are magic items so expensive and stuffed with so many disastrous demerits?

Anonymous 3999: Haha…! Magic isn’t always immediately available in many worlds. Of course, it’s expensive, but the Fortress of Dungeons takes it to another level with its demerits. At least it’s always accessible if you can afford it.

Anonymous 4999: Is it just me who received a bonus reward? I earned quite a bit of Verdes from it.

Anonymous 4189: I received one, although mine were new skills rather than Verdes.

Anonymous 4489: What? I didn’t get anything like that. Did it give you a bonus skill slot? I thought you could only have one skill at a time.

Anonymous 3989: You must not be ‘awakened’ if you don’t know this. Hunters don’t have a maximum number of skills, so only having two skills as a Walker is child’s play.

Anonymous 4489: Noted…

The D-rank dungeon raid begins in 12 minutes and 2 seconds.

The messages in the Forum slowed down when the countdown approached ten minutes.

Anonymous 4887: The last raid was difficult as fuck… How extreme will the D-rank dungeon be?

Anonymous 4787: Screw this, I don’t want to fight… I just want to sleep. No, actually, I just want to go home to my family.

Anonymous 3749: It seems you have been released from your banishment, huh? Then stop pissing your pants and get ready to fight!

Anonymous 4787: Fuck, I don’t want to go. Why did I select the highest difficulty? Can I change it? Shit, please don’t report me; I felt lonely the last time.

Anonymous 3987: Hehe. This bastard became humble after getting banned once. Would you take the bone out of the dog’s mouth?

Anonymous 4787: Indeed, I have! Also, you are right! I can’t take the bone; I will just get bitten instead. In that case, I will fight to live.

The D-rank dungeon raid begins in 10 minutes and 30 seconds.

The Forum appeared grim as the timer counted down, and Izel was no exception as he performed his morning routine, warming up.

“Will I survive?” he wondered nervously, spitting out a long groan as doubts hazed his mind. Alongside the accumulated traumas swaying within him, his hand shook, his limbs trembled, and his heart beat faster, all while his hair stood on end. If he didn’t fight, the only thing left for him would be a pathetic death. That was why every Walker present in the Fortress of Dungeons was prepared to fight—to survive another day.

Having finished his morning ritual, he dressed in his vest and dark cloak and gulped down some water while the room’s rejuvenating light slowly swept over his body.

The D-rank dungeon raid begins in 9 seconds.

As usual, Izel tied his blindfold, securing his long, silver-white hair in a ponytail with tiny bangs. The length had become bothersome, prompting him to place his pocket-sized bag around his waist for easy access to additional water skins and bread. A fleeting thought crossed his mind about how much time had elapsed in the real world. Finally, he activated [Flawlation].

[Flawlation had been activated.]

Break over!

The D-rank dungeon raid is now starting.

Do you wish to enter the D-rank dungeon?

Yes/No

He selected ‘yes’ without hesitation, and, sequentially, the same crimson portal as yesterday formed.

Entering the dungeon.

Starting the D-rank raid.

Difficulty: Extreme.

Objective: Subjugate the boss monster, “Avalanche”.

Raid Reward: Stats boost, [Long Collar Cardigan Cloak (D)], and [Aurora shortsword(D+)].

Raid Failure: Death

“Subway?” Izel exclaimed in surprise.
Vibrant surges of vibrations coursed through the jungle-like subway station’s interior. Thick, twisted vines sprawled overhead, piercing through the cracked walls of the long-abandoned station. As the black outline of overhanging vines appeared in Izel’s [Flawlation], rancid odors assaulted his nose. Above all, the distant screeches of what seemed like wild beast species tickled his ears as the portal closed.

Remaining time: 15 hours.

“Subjugation…!” He reluctantly acknowledged. This raid had a time limit, expected from its rank but also surprising.

The Dungeon theme was subjugation or domination by brute force. ‘Do I have to subjugate a boss monster?’ Izel wondered. He had never faced such an objective before; this heretical goal was a first from the fortress.

What kind of Walker dominates a boss monster? A Hunter? No, in this case, Walkers were beings that fought their way through any monster, ripping them to shreds—no planning for subjugation when life was at stake. It was a letdown for Izel, but…

“I’ve been in a case like this before,” he thought, recalling a certain past. Truthfully, this objective occurred once in the F-rank dungeon, but it didn’t seem common. Yet, it didn’t bother him much; failing the original objective might halve his rewards, yet it didn’t change what he had to do.

“I have to try to overcome it my way, with my life on the line,” he decided. That was how the Fortress of the Dungeons worked—prioritizing life through decisions and struggles and awarding rewards based on them. Determined, Izel nervously swallowed his saliva and descended the steps.

He held his breath, surveying his surroundings with all three senses, yet found nothing. But it was forbidden to underestimate dungeon dangers—especially in the fortress. Among low-ranked monsters, many excelled at hiding and waiting to ambush prey. Izel walked past the bathroom, strode deeper, and encountered underground shopping malls.

Futuristic shops were worn down and in complete disarray. Glimpsing the ruined, human-less shops dimly lit by flickering lamps, an ominous aura weighed on him. Flickering lamps were surrounded by midges and gnats, warring an ugly battle over grubs. Carefully, Izel stepped over overgrown weeds jutting between cracked floor tiles, moving forward.

Alert, his senses pegged up on a general aura of unease as he scanned his surroundings. Everything seemed quiet and still, not satisfying his [Flawlation]. Yet, he smelled something—the scent of a rotten beast carcass, presumably buzzing with flies, emanated from an unknown place.

The blind man, with a keen nose, recognized the familiar smell of a decayed carcass. Despite realizing it, he hadn’t found its whereabouts; the beast could conceal its bodily sound. He scrutinized for even the tiniest sound, akin to a predator stalking its prey.

Time remaining: 14 hours and 20 minutes.

“I can’t waste much time. Let’s make haste,” Izel sighed at the time limit that beeped in his mind. He summoned the map.

[Opening the Dungeon Map.]

[Relaying the locations of beasts and ‘Avalanche’ to the Walker.]

Upon deciphering the message, a sequence of locations flooded his mind. Initially, he contemplated the presumed difficulty of the D-rank dungeon’s ‘Extreme’ level until stumbling upon a conversation in the Forum initiated by a High-rank Walker. It seemed that his habit of constantly monitoring the Forum had finally paid off. With the locations firmly fixed in his mind, he pinpointed the most crucial spot among them.

An obscure location nestled in the heart of the subway was revealed, guarded by formidable beasts, where a door led into a lengthy cavernous passageway. Then… a sizable blank filled Izel’s mind, leaving him with a myriad of unanswered questions despite replaying the narration. Undeterred, he resumed the voice, A lengthy series of steps appeared to lead to what could only be the entrance to the sub-train basement, housing what seemed to be a colossal subterranean serpent named ‘Avalanche—Snake Lord.’ Without a map, uncovering such information would undoubtedly take more than the allotted six hours, potentially exceeding the time limit.

Furthermore, aimlessly scouring the subway without a sense of direction would prove perilous and time-consuming, eliminating the option of exploring the decaying underground space. With the ticking countdown of the time limit weighing on him…

“I need to hurry up,” he decided, summoning his weapon from its scabbard.

[Iron longsword (ungraded)
A brittle and one-handed iron longsword.

Durability: 2.5/5

Effect: Damage +10

Demerit: The lower the durability, the more the blade becomes rusted and weakened.]

Slowly, he moved with the longsword in his hands, making his way halfway to the first marked location. Then, he laid low and began to crawl on hands and knees toward the path, deliberately exposing his back.

“This should do it, right?” he murmured, recalling an idea from a hunter’s guild’s raid analysis he had watched on his bunky television. The concept was that an animal would pounce on its prey as soon as its back was shown. He reasoned that a monster would behave no differently. Since he couldn’t identify its location from sound, this was his best bet for now.

He needed caution to react and avoid injury. As he waited for the creature hiding in the shadows to strike, he knew it would remain hidden. Almost a minute into his crawl, the creature pounced.
The food pub behind him shattered into pieces, and a menacing black silhouette of a four-legged beast jumped out, instantly landing on the ground and leaping toward Izel’s exposed back in one swift motion.

“RAAAAR!!!”

“A four-legged beast?!” His body froze in shock as the sound of the E-rank beast’s roar reached his ears. The shockwaves combined with a weak amount of white mana contained by the silhouette of the black wolf were enough for him to retaliate.

Almost immediately, he turned into a crouched stance, twisting his body and swinging his sword toward the contour. It was a precisely executed, instinctive counter. The sharp edge of the blade sliced through the creature’s open maw, eliciting a pained cry as it skidded away from Izel and crashed on the ground, whining in a heap.

Slightly larger than a regular wolf, the creature had a black coat of fur and sharp fangs. Struggling on the ground, black ripples and a red hue flowed from its damaged neck.

Careful of any final bout, he quickly approached the wolf, hacking at its neck with his sword before it could sufficiently recover. While he wasn’t too worried about its bite, which he had already disarmed, the beast’s sharp claws posed a considerable danger. The wolf spat out a gurgling whine and promptly stopped breathing.

[You have slain a Requiem Wolf.]

“Good,” he let out a breath of relief, the dead wolf gleaming in a black ambient glow. With slight hesitation – he still hadn’t gotten used to the surreal phenomenon – he extended his hand toward the carcass… Until he recalled that waving his hand didn’t do anything.

[Special conditions have been met. Activating ‘Soul Assimilation (E)’]

[Would you like to devour the Requiem Wolf?
Yes/No]

“Yes,” he uttered.

[Effect (1): Transduction has been activated.]

[You have devoured the essence of Requiem Wolf.]

[Capacitance: 1/10.]

After the usual stream of messages, the dead wolf transformed into a hazy black essence, siphoned into his hand. Feeling the awkward sensation, Izel moved further ahead. The first marked location opened up through the edge of the narrow, distorted entrance entwined with green moss.

“…?”

‘Wolf guards?!’ Stunned, Izel inquired as two hefty, much larger requiem wolves guarded a roughly ancient yet futuristic entrance that could only fit one grown adult at a time.

“GRRRRRRR!!!”

“KRRRRRRR!!!”

The roar he sensed earlier was probably from a soldier, while this roar was from a guard. Smudged in leather armor and equipped with steel jaws, they looked tough. Although he wanted to keep observing them, he decided to retreat and strategize, finishing any meaningful examination of the guards.

With a keener sense of smell than him, the wolves might discover him, even if he snuck past them…

“Firstly, I need to go into the opposite passageway to slay the ones that are patrolling to increase my stats,” he murmured his plan, according to the map. However, if discovered, he would be forced to fight. Fighting the intimidating guards would not only decrease his chance of subjugating the Snake Lord due to the injuries and exhaustion he would sustain but also force him to face both the guards and the hunter wolves.

“Which is something I can’t afford, even if I kill the patrols!” He deeply sighed. Slowly, he distanced himself from the entrance back to the passageway of the taverns he came through and inspected the nearby areas. Now that he had found the guards, which were completely different compared to the soldier wolf he fought earlier, he needed a place to observe them out of their detection range; perhaps they could have natural management and routines in their forces that he could take advantage of.

That was his initial thought anyway. An area out of their detection range—a place with high humidity. Yet, after a while of searching and pondering, maybe there could be shortcuts or hidden passages. Alas, Izel didn’t find either place.

“Tsk,” he clicked his tongue in frustration. ‘I just needed to do the ‘no way out’ plan.’ A plan he never wanted to follow. No, rather, he never thought he would be using such a risky plan, but he had to do it. After all, time is ticking fast.

Time remaining: 12 hours and 5 minutes.

“I have to do it!” He decided. Even if his chances are low, he has no choice but to do it, or he will be dead if he fails the raid.

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