Soulmancer – Chapter 8: Narrow escape…

The formation of the beam-sized portal began expanding from the size of a coin to full-adult size.

Still backed against the crater wall, Izel’s head spun like a spiral ribbon. His entire body ached to the point of numbness. Despite the flood of messages in his mind, he couldn’t care less about partial success in this raid.

[1:67 minute left.]

Although hemostasis had healed his internal and external injuries, he was overly drenched in crimson from his blood, and his exhaustion was too severe. But he needed to stay awake. Despite the extreme numbness, he mustered the strength to slap both cheeks. ‘Who knows what might happen? I could be killed by the Wolf Guards.’

Of course, he knew those Guards weren’t stupid enough to waltz in when the Snake Lord was alive due to the overwhelming mana and presence swarming about. But now that it was dead, it was only a matter of time before they would discover the intruder, who was present here and had slain their ‘god’. They would be pissed beyond belief.

‘But… the portal.’ He soon realized this. At least now he could decipher the faint frequencies of the portal.

[0:53 minute left.]

He didn’t want to conk out, but he was already at his breaking point. If his eyelids trembled even slightly, he would pass out, prompting the need for emergency measures.

[00:00 left.]

[The approximate demerit time has been reached. The Demerit: ‘extreme pain’ has been activated.]

Shortly after the interrupted alert that filled his echoing mind, Izel was bombarded by a backlash of increasing his stats by 200%. “Ahhhhhggggh!” Terror and anguish shook his entire body, the most tormented cramp he had ever felt assailing every part of him. Even his bones felt as though they would break apart; his blood ran amok; his heart was splitting, and his lungs were jerking.

His scarred pupil spun back like an omen. Floundering without direction, he landed inside the jet-black swells, where foreign substances melted into his skin.

“Urrrgggggggh!” He screamed deafeningly as his now-fragile body was seized by convulsions, seemingly caused by the jet-black substance. Squirming in the swells, the liquid seared his flesh into reddish spots, while gray vapor exuded out. He could feel his insides melting, the excruciating heat making him ponder if he were in hell.

[Constitution increased by 1.]

[Constitution increased by 1.]

[Strength increased by 1.]

It seems the jet-black magical substance tended to increase his stats, though it was just a few measly stats. Still, it was something unexpected that such overwhelmingly liquid could have mostly melted most walkers into indistinguishable junk of meat. Instead, it tenaciously augments his status.

And, his stats continued to rise.

[Strength increased by 2.]

[Constitution increased by 2.]

[Mana increased by 2.]

Though his strength and constitution mostly increased, his mana stat also saw a slight boost. As the drowned-out messages echoed in his mind, he absentmindedly crawled out on all fours and began rolling around the floor, flailing in all directions.

Eventually managing to stand, he staggered about like a madman. His bones and muscles churned, his blood seeming to flow backward. Two minutes of this torment felt like years, yet strangely, it proved profitable in a sense.

[The Demerit: extreme pain had been deactivated.]

As the pain began to subside, he exhaled a breath of hot air, realizing he was close to a wall. Lifting his body, the blind man relied on the walls for support. His [Flawlation] was blurred due to a half-charred blindfold, and his ears momentarily ceased to exist.

“Argh…!” Unaware of his current status, he drags his body like a zombie toward the carcass. ‘I had to devour it before I passed out,’ he wheezes. Passing out would mean becoming prey for the Wolf Guards. He can’t allow that; he’s endured too much to reach this point. The blind man must see it through.

“…!”

The Snake Lord’s carcass doesn’t gleam in the black ambient glow. Before confusion overwhelms him, messages flood into his mind.

[You are unable to devour the body of the Snake Lord, Avalanche!]

[The objective was slayed instead of subjugation! Proficiency increased by 35%.]

[Effect (1): Transduction Demerit has been deactivated.]

‘Too bad, I couldn’t devour a magical beast.’ Izel lamented, smacking his stiff lips. They were so rigid that he couldn’t even grit his teeth in bitterness over his unprofitable suffering—being unable to devour a magical beast and obtain the Snake Lord’s transmuted souls and stats.

[Flawlation had been forcibly deactivated]

His blindfold, dark cloak and vest either burned or crumbled away, leaving his bloody muscles exposed, with only burned pants and seared sneakers remaining.

Abruptly, a deafening BANG! echoed, accompanied by a menacing GRRRR!

The mossy, worn entrance door was forcefully banged open, torn apart, and flung away. It was the Wolf Guards Izel had managed to avoid confronting earlier.

The two Wolf Guards surged forward with murderous intent, jaws wide open, aiming to devour the unsteady intruder in a single bite.

They were late, seeking revenge for the blood of their kin littering the floor. Deceived by charred bodies, they were now filled with rage at the loss of their ‘god’ and the treacherous tactics used in the hideout.

“GRRRRRR!”

“GRRRRRR!”

Their gruesome roars conveyed hatred, fury, and the desire for revenge. They’d lived a peaceful life until his arrival, wondering what they’d done to deserve such chaos. Yet, their armored faces revealed the sorrow of losing loved ones.

In their blind rage, they sought to end the intruder’s life, allowing their ‘god’s’ significant soul to return to the ‘realm of the gods,’ and their kin to rest in peace.
As their sharp metal jaws, adorned with razor-sharp fangs, almost tore into the exhausted intruder, the air vibrated, and they narrowly missed by a hair’s breadth, tumbling into the jet-black swells.

“GRRRRR!”

“KRRRRR!”

Their sorrowful cries resonated.
Unaware of the imminent danger, the blind man lost consciousness in front of the portal. Through sheer will, he slowly collapsed into the portal, narrowly escaping death.

Teleporting to the waiting room.

Izel felt a wave of relief as the portal retracted from a full adult-size magical surging flat oval shape to nothingness.

* * *

Izel awoke on the room’s white linoleum floor, feeling a bit blurry and exhausted. He managed to prop himself against the white wall, retrieving a waterskin from his half-burnt, pocket-sized bag to soothe his parched throat.

‘How did I survive?’ The blind man contemplated his existence in the waiting room, struggling to comprehend how he got there. Wiping his lips with his right hand, he felt thankful that his ‘capacitance’ was empty, preventing the transmuted souls from overtaking him.

As his mind cleared, he tapped his palm against his body, employing [Sound Reading] to assess his condition. He realized his physical fatigue and severely damaged muscles, beyond his hemostasis’s ability have healed promptly.

Gradually rising to his feet, he pondered, ‘What happened to my vest?’ Recollecting its state as nothing more than a piece of irreparable junk, he doubted its usefulness for the next dungeon raid.

“Did the Snake Lord’s scales and flames cause such destruction?” Izel wondered aloud, acknowledging the vest’s failure against D-rank attacks, ultimately saving his life but leaving it in ruins.

“Well, I guess it did its job,” Izel reflected proudly, despite feeling upset about mastering the vest through hours of training, only to see it destroyed.

Frustration etched his lips as a powerful desire to confront and defeat the Snake Lord surfaced in his thoughts. ‘Die, you evil monster!’ he inwardly exclaimed.
Chuckling carefreely, he imagined an unscarred victory over the evil monster.

Grateful that the vest absorbed 50 percent of the impact, preventing him from becoming minced meat, Izel also acknowledged the usefulness of his dark cloak, deflecting 40 percent of fireball impacts with its special [Flame Resistance] effect.

Letting out a relieved sigh, Izel’s numb body dragged itself towards the bed, hoping for the reactivation of the Fortress operating system. However, it remained dormant. Anxious that something might have gone wrong, he slowly uttered, “Next Raid.”

The C-rank dungeon raid starts in 22 hours and 15 minutes.

‘Could it be that I was unconscious for about two hours?’ Awestruck, he had no choice but to open his mouth wide upon this realization. ‘So that’s why the Fortress operating system never came!’ He reflected, realizing it had been reactivated long ago. Being unconscious for two hours, even after being healed up by the room’s recovery, meant his body and mind had been pushed beyond their limits.

‘At the very least, the waiting room is pretty effective,’ he flatly said as he lay on the white bed. Even though the recollection of being burned alive by the Snake Lord and the excruciating agony of the ‘Boost stats demerit’ were still fresh in his mind, he wondered, ‘But did something occur after that?’ Seemingly, that piece of memory remained murky, indicating that the terror he experienced was overwhelming. ‘hmm?’ It appeared he tapped back and forth out of consciousness at that point. ‘Hmmm?’ He shook his head right and left in an attempt to clear it, but after a minute of pondering, Izel decided to let the thought go. Since he’d get nowhere by just thinking about it right now, it might eventually come back to him later. However, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he got off far too easily.

If it had been more severe, he would have been rendered useless by the demerit and chomped by those Wolf Guards if they had returned. Yet, at the end of his schemes and struggles, he did miss the Snake Lord’s carcass for completing the raid on his way.

‘In other words, it was an unprofitable endeavor.’ He felt bitter for not being able to devour the Snake Lord. His hard work had gone unrewarded. Yet, if viewed from another perspective, he should give himself a little more credit.

‘I gained experience…’ he considered. The blind man defeated a magical beast, tested his limits, and pushed beyond his boundaries. Even more significant was the announcement about gaining a skill valued at a whopping 90 Verdes in the trading center, [Anesthesia], earned through a brutal brawl with Avalanche. Ultimately, he acknowledged his credit as he smiled gently at the list of rewards echoing within his mind. Taking a deep breath, he slowly opened his dilated eyes, but a painful sensation throbbed in his forehead as if thorns were struck within them. He let out a few groans before it began to relieve him a bit.

‘The blindfold effect took a huge toll on my brain,’ he thought. The defect that was never mentioned in the demerit was the agony he would experience if the blindfold were forcibly removed.

‘This had once happened on an F-rank dungeon raid,’ Izel reminisced, still vividly recalling the extreme torment he experienced then. It was an unwritten demerit that he seemed to understand the reason for. In short, since the blindfold acted like an extra projection onto his retinas instead of his pupil, which is scarred in the form of a lens by utilizing his mental fortitude if cut off forcibly, it could not only cause painful mishaps but also damage his brain.

“I guess I was lucky again. Damn, or I would have become brain-disabled as well,” he let out a bitter laugh. ‘But how long would my luck last?’ His face became a little sober. Although, at some point, before he blacked out, all he could see were blurred black outlines, murky hues, and ripples before the blindfold crumbled away. These unexpected reactions caused both nerves that connected his eyes to his brain to strain as well.

“Hu!” His brain tingled, a sensation lingering amidst the tension. He reached out to his eyes, caressing his eyelids, and left them closed to hasten their recovery.

Feeling restless, he recalled the hidden bug he attempted to utilize in the raid but ended up being fixed by the administrator. He clicked his tongue conflictingly before opening his mouth and saying, “Inventory.” As usual, that word created an invisible rupture out of thin air.

Within this fracture, new items Izel had never heard of, yet familiar, took the spaces of the second and third slots. He went on and inquired about the first item’s details.

[Stats Boost Long Collar Cardigan Cloak

Grade: D.

Boost all stats by 10.

Description: Black Cardigan Cloak with ten layers of flexible polyethylene fiber internal wear specially designed for the chieftain of a tribe, ‘Mule’ by the best designer, ‘Newmark’.

Improved ‘Heightened Sense’ by 30% for one minute.

Active Effect: While imbued with mana, the user can grant a 50 percent boost to his or her movement speed produced solely by agility.

Note: Purchase the ‘Cloud Boots’ to maximize the effect. Without it, the user would sustain calves’ wear and tears from muscle reaction shock from a 25 percent movement boost.

Demerit: The active effect can be used again after 24 hours of cooldown time.]

Surprised, Izel couldn’t believe what echoed through his mind. Even after discerning it repeatedly, he knew it was overpowered. Yet, at the back of his mind, he acknowledged it wasn’t a great reward as he’d have to purchase ‘cloud boots’ for full utilization using the Verdes he just acquired.

“It’s enough to brighten my day,” he sighed slightly. An item made by the best designer, ‘Newmark’…

‘What a mysterious name!’ Izel nodded to himself.

… Even though he didn’t fulfill the full requirements of the raid. Taking a closer look at the item, the default active effect was already incredible, improving all stats by 10 and increasing his senses by 30% for one minute. He considered that unbelievable enough until he discovered the active skill: if imbued with mana, his overall movement via the agility stat would skyrocket by fifty percent.

“If I add ‘Cloud boots,’ the movement is sure to be epic,” he thought aloud. However, without those ‘cloud boots,’ he’d still be affected by the reaction shock.
In conclusion, the epic cool-down time tensed his mind. “Expected from a demerit, always spoiling a nice reward,” he scoffed, feeling conflicted enough to hate it in more ways.

He moved on to the next reward, occupying the third slot in his inventory.

[Aurora Short Sword.

Grade: D.

Reaction speed: 6% at a critical point.

Attack speed: Increase by 11% when chained onslaughts are involved.

Description: Extremely jet-black sword, created and forged using a thousand years ‘ashes of hell’, thus emitting sinister heterochromatic magic energy when wielded.

It had approximately 78 cm of incredibly thin dual-sharp edges that don’t dull easily and a thin, well-made leather hilt for better handling.

Demerit: Although well-forged using ‘ashes of hell’, it’s regarded as the failure of its creator because it could only handle up to C-rank attacks.]

Baffled by the item’s benefits, a gentle smile formed on his lips. It was a short sword capable of handling attacks up to C-rank, an amazing reward for Izel at this moment, an expensive item with greater graded value compared to the one-handed longsword.

‘Thankfully, it wasn’t a dagger,’ he expressed his disdain for a certain weapon. ‘I hate that shit. Even an axe or a long whip is better.’ If it had been a dagger—a weapon mainly for assassins or those with a cunning style of battle—he would’ve tossed it into his inventory without a second thought. Or perhaps sold it on Elilaum if he managed to survive in the end.

Therefore, Izel had no complaints; the short sword was a perfect weapon for diverse utilization. Grunting from slight pain at the side of his head, he rose and practiced swinging the sword a couple of times.

The sword moved through the atmosphere like silk, making clean and stealthy movements, slashing effortlessly through the air. No unnecessary effort was required for its razor-sharp blade to swing and thrust. When encased in mana, every arched motion was fine-tuned and enhanced, emitting a dense, sinister heterochromatic glow. If Izel could see, he might have thought his slashes and thrusts were made by the aurora in the night sky.

The sharpness caused slight air friction, but he could only feel those soundless frequencies if he paid deep attention to them, something unnecessary in battle. This demonstrated that the improvement of the shortsword was incomparable to the longsword he had previously used.

‘I’m sure the durability would be way better,’ he pondered, nodding without a single doubt. Regardless, he summoned the ‘shortsword miscellaneous details,’ expecting to be further amazed by the high value he predicted in his head.

[Aurora Short Sword.

Grade: D.

An extremely sharp and dual-edge jet-black shortsword.

Durability: 100/100

Effect: Damage +30

Demerit: it could only handle up to C-rank attacks.]

The blind man’s gentle smile broadened as he sensed the durability of the item drawing closer to his prediction. The decision to replace his lost and broken trusty longsword was now settled.

“Indeed, it’s a nice sword…” he murmured, running his palm along the jet-black blade. ‘Ouch!’ Suddenly, a line of red appeared on his skin, swiftly evaporating due to the room’s recovery system.

“… With very sharp edges!” Izel exclaimed. This indicated to him that despite being a C-rank weapon, the new item was crafted with remarkable quality and precision. He chose it as his main weapon and securely stored it in the black matte-textured scabbard next to his bed.

Satisfied with the new items, it was time to check the new skill. With determination, he initiated the process. Instantly, a monotonous, feminine voice began narrating the details of the newfound skill.

[Skill: Anesthesia (D).

Proficiency: 6%.

Effect: The user is resistant to physical pain by 20%, allowing him or her to power through serious injuries and continue to function.

Demerit: The user is only resistant to E to D painful impacts and attacks, immune to C-rank by only 2%.]

A disgustingly 90 verdes ‘Pain tolerance’ type of skill, different from the ones sold in the trading center, was unlocked by coincidence as he grappled with the Snake Lord. The demerits, though somewhat manageable compared to the higher-priced [pain resistance] and [tolerance skills] in the Trading Center, were more notable.

‘Besides that, it had 6% proficiency,’ he mused. It was one of those rare benefits that happened by chance but nothing too overwhelming. Yet, it would be useful for Izel, who utilized every little item, skill, common scheme, and survival instinct to scrape together for another day in the fortress of dungeons.

‘But… It’s not enough.’ Contrary to the long road he anticipated for his goal and ambition, he felt he needed more. His growth is limited by each raid, as the demerit is akin to some entity above the heavens trying to limit his growth to not disrupt the balance in the fortress. But the world has never been fair since the beginning of time,’ he stated his belief. It’s somewhat underwhelming for something he risked his life for. ‘I guess it’s better than nothing.’

At least he received a reward for attempting and completing the raid, so it’s a positive outcome. As indicated in the skill effect, which also applies to Elilaum, all tolerance and resistance skills aren’t initially cost-efficient. It becomes worthwhile only when a hunter increases its proficiency or advances in rank based on the amount of pain inflicted on the user.

While it varies from hunter to hunter, in the fortress of Dungeons, the cost is a definite ‘no.’ The higher the rank, the higher the demerit, posing a significant challenge for the blind man, who is still grappling with normal demerits and aims to catch up with the experienced walkers in the fortress.

“Darn, I despise that kind of training,” Izel clicked his tongue in disgust as he imagined the amount of consistent agony and terror he had to endure just to increase the proficiency and grade of the skill. Shortly, his mind drifted as he strolled back to the bed while eating some wheat-rare bread minced in two imbued with plenty of jerkies, like a bread sandwich, the blind man wonders. “Did the others pass?”

A fretted query that he had already figured out the answer to before he gulped down some water since there were former experienced hunters in the mix, he wasn’t too worried. Anyway, more introspections wafted in as well as queries about the D-rank raid objective. Just like the F-rank dungeon raid, the goal of the dungeon raid was subjugation, yet even after he subjugated the boss monster by killing it, his reward was again halved. Regardless, even if the objective was specific to taming the boss monster just like in the F-rank dungeon.

‘I won’t waste my time taming a magical beast,’ he disregarded such an objective. The blind man admitted he would choose the same notion again. Generally, magical beasts aren’t meant to be tamed by humans, especially those that are far too weak. In other words, a suicidal attempt for someone like Izel, who is at least a (D-) rank walker at the time trying to tame a magical beast of at least a C-rank. Just imagine how impudent that action would have been. It’s the same as an eagle trying to tame a dragon just because both could fly.

‘Yet, I barely survived just slaying that damn snake,’ he assumed, which was still the same in the past. If the heavens hadn’t bestowed a helping hand, it would have ended badly for him. It would have been more dangerous if he hadn’t prepared emergency procedures and planned out some scheme beforehand. In an impossible raid, the blind man survived because he avoided the intended subjugation and planned thoroughly. Yet there was no guarantee that the others would follow suit.

All in all, the dungeon was partially cleared by 65% as the F-rank dungeon raid. It would be strange if he had contemplated doing otherwise. He wouldn’t have been himself. No, rather, he didn’t let it bother him and just went along with what he knew he could do as a human. Perhaps if it wasn’t an incredible, strong magical beast, he might have reconsidered it. But that wasn’t the case.

Munching on the last bite of the jerky sandwich, he muttered, “Forum,” to listen to how it went for others.

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