Episode 147 – Seven
The team didn’t have any time to think, but their years of training weren’t in vain. All of them almost instantaneously jumped away and spread out. Elibu didn’t hesitate to use their Acceleration enchanted boots to widen the distance almost as fast as their argel companions.
Yet, due to the creature’s large size, comparable to a small house, their quick retreat couldn’t get them out of the monster’s attack range fast enough.
The creature’s long, slim tail swiped into motion, the whipping sound painful to the ear.
A single instant, and their logistics officer, who responded a beat slower, was severed in half, his facial expression eternally stuck in a grimace of shock.
Subsequently, the monstrosity didn’t rush to pursue the remaining people, rather, it slowly shook all of its body parts free from the hole in the ground.
After rising above the ice, it stopped once more to shake off all the remaining snow from its body.
It felt neither heat nor cold. It cared not about staying clean.
But this particular snow, with a lingering scent of divinity, made it feel inherently uncomfortable. Like an itch that one unconsciously wanted to scratch.
As the snow fell off, a gruesome sight of flexing muscles permeated with countless black veins was revealed. The creature that otherwise resembled a lupax, looked as if it was skinned, without any fur or hide, with all of its muscles fully exposed. Several parts of its body appeared to be festering, black and white puss flowing out with each flex of its muscles.
As the pungent rotting smell reached Nelaira’s squad, everyone hastened to cover up their mouth and nose with their bandanas. They were used to the sight of Tainted, thus everyone managed to keep the contents of their stomachs from coming out.
Well, everyone but the logistics officer, who had been cut in half a moment prior. The two leaking halves of his body seemed to be quite tempting to the creature, because it completely disregarded the retreating eight, lunging towards the gory mess.
A single gulp and the entire upper half was swallowed into its stomach.
The monster let out a satisfied snort, its breath visible to the naked eye. Yet, the breath didn’t turn white upon contact with the cold surroundings. No. What spread into the air was so very black. A wisp as black as its pitch-black eyes.
It turned its ugly head towards the lower half of the man’s body, opening its maw wide once again. However, it didn’t get to swallow its prey this time.
For the team of eight, who had been spreading and weaving their mana had just finished preparing their spells. Nelaira’s attack came first, several large ice spikes erupting from the ground and impaling the creature through its two hind legs.
The attack was more effective than expected, managing to briefly restrain its movement so that the following attacks connected.
One of Aurel’s swords inserted itself into the creature’s open mouth, attempting to skewer it from inside. Laica’s explosive fireballs followed, aiming for its eyes.
The Tainted reacted fast, clamping down its jaws around the sword but couldn’t shield its eyes from the flames.
It raised its head with its mangled eye sockets and let out a deafening screech of fury.
Yet, before it could lunge forwards, it found its front legs encased in ice, courtesy of the team’s scout.
One tug was enough for the Tainted to crack the ice and set itself free, but at that point, several arrowheads had arrived above its head. With their tips pointing downwards they slammed into the creature’s head with a force of a hammer. They passed straight through the head leaving behind large black holes.
Before they could lodge themselves into the ground their massive weight shifted to become light as a feather and they swerved to the side, circling around the monster.
With two gaping holes in its head, a normal creature would have been dead beyond the shadow of a doubt. But the monstrosity didn’t even flinch. On the contrary, when a searing hot whip arrived in front of it a moment later, it even managed to avoid it.
Its speedy dodge caused the whip to zoom past it to sear through the remaining lower half of the deceased logistics officer.
The overwhelming stench of burned meat fully awakened the bloodlust in the Tainted. It lunged towards its nemesis in berserk abandon, leaving behind it a trail of crushed gray snow.
Yet, the target of its hate was neither Nelaira who impaled its legs nor Laica who destroyed its eyes. It wasn’t Aurel who attempted to impale it from inside nor the comrade who created two gaping holes in its head.
The Tainted felt no pain, no pride, no fear, no fatigue.
It felt neither happiness nor sorrow.
The only thing it could feel was endless hunger.
What it couldn’t stand was being stopped from eating its meal.
Thus, it lunged towards the whip wielder without hesitation.
Unlike its assailants who couldn’t spread their minds as to avoid getting tainted by the Ink, it had no such inhibitions. It didn’t need eyes to see.
Forget the eyes, out of all the mundane senses it had always found its sense of smell and hearing to be far more useful than its vision.
Followed by the crunching of ice and snow, the creature ran nimbly, as if it had received no injuries, with speed so exaggerated that its target’s acceleration couldn’t keep up.
The whole team kept barring its path in various ways, sharp icicles, walls, holes; everything just to give their comrade more time to retreat. Unfortunately, although they managed to impale it quite a number of times, it did little to slow it down. Non-lethal injuries to a creature with no sense of pain did very little.
The only thing it achieved was to make the creature leave black footprints that resembled tar on the pure white snow.
In mere seconds, the monstrosity was upon its target. Yet just as it was about to bite down, a loud slam resounded, making the creature’s lunge diverge and miss its prey by a hair.
Only a black, gaping wound remained as the proof that Aurel’s broadsword was there. The shadow of the broadsword could barely be seen as it flashed around the battlefield as if teleporting, mowing down everything in its path.
Unfortunately, even though the creature’s lunge missed its target, there was still the tail.
The tail that swished with such speed that it couldn’t even be seen.
A tail to which a hair’s width of a distance was something that could be traversed in an instant.
The pale-faced female swung her whip with all her might, attempting to slash through the approaching tail. Her whole arm turned numb from the force but after reaching the bone, the whip could go no further.
It managed to lessen the force of the blow, but not block it. After all, a whip wasn’t a weapon known for its defense.
The last thing female cadet managed to do before the tail struck her was to raise her left arm in front of her chest.
A snap, and her body flew through the air like an arrow shot from a bow, before falling to the ground dozens of meters away. It skidded and rolled through the snow, raising white mist into the air, painting a crimson ribbon in the pure white snow.
The time started ticking again, the dust settled.
Yet, the woman never got up again.
In an instant, Nelaira’s squad of eight became a squad of seven.
Luki flinched and involuntarily took a step back before his reason overpowered the instinctual fear. Then he stepped into position to fly towards the fallen member. There might still be a chance to save her life.
However, just as he was about to activate his boots, the archeologist next to him barred his path. He gave Luki a meaningful look and shook his head.
His argel eyes could see the mangled chest of the female much more clearly than Luki.
There was simply nothing left inside but minced meat.
Luki’s face fell and he gritted his teeth. Their luck was just too horrid this time around. This Tainted was of a much higher level than what their squad was equipped to deal with.
It made sense, once he thought about it. If it wasn’t extremely powerful, it wouldn’t have survived beneath the snow for centuries. The Ink would have corroded its flesh into nothingness a long time ago.
The fact that it was still undead and kicking was a clear statement of its former might.
A might that only increased after it had been corrupted by the Ink.
It flashed around the battlefield like lightning, moving faster than them, with each one of its attack being enough to take a life.
All they could do was fall back, try to slow it down, and aim to take its head off before it caught up with them.
Removing its head was the only thing that could end this battle in their favor.
Like a saw, Aurel’s sword kept gnawing away at its front leg, repeatedly banging at it until it was half-severed. Though the Tainted barely seemed to notice, not slowing down much. Mid-run, it cocked its head to the side, trying to hear the whizzing of the sword as it buzzed around it like a pesky fly.
It halted briefly to swipe with its claws towards the approaching shadow of the sword, only for the shadow to suddenly switch direction in what seemed to be an unnatural maneuver, completely avoiding the swipe and slashing towards the already barely attached limb.
The creature momentarily lost its balance and stumbled. It seemed unable to comprehend what just happened because it still attempted to get up using the now already severed leg.
In its moment of confusion, Laica’s fireball hit its head with a loud boom followed by sizzling noise.
The monster lifted its half-melted head up and let out a disturbing, sinister bellow that made one’s eardrums feel like they would burst. Finally regaining its balance without a support of its lost leg, it kicked off with its hind legs towards Laica.
Its head swayed left and right, dodging the arrowheads that kept falling around it like meteors. They were aiming to open more holes through its head, however, not a single one managed to connect. Although their power was the highest among the comrades’ attacks, the slight delay caused by their increase of weight was more than enough for the monstrosity to move its head away from their trajectory.
As it reached the vicinity of its target, it extended its neck and snapped towards Laica’s head.
At that moment, the last remaining front paw that it had, fell through the snow, making it stumble onto the ground. Apparently, Nelaira had laid a trap for it in front of her comrade, creating a hole underneath the snow.
By the time it managed to get back on its feet, Laica had escaped its vicinity and numerous wounds big and small had appeared on its large body. In fact, at this point, some of its black innards had started falling out and many of its pustules had ruptured. The stench spreading in the air was so vile that even the specially made bandanas weren’t enough to block it.
Time and time again it had been thwarted in eating its meal. If it had the capacity to feel true emotion, the rage and indignation that it would have felt would be enough to drown any mind that touched it. Yet, seeing the violent way it slammed its paws onto the ground, causing a minor earthquake, it was hard to make the distinction between emotion and instinct.
The Tainted screeched so loudly that it caused everyone’s mind to buzz, dazing them where they stood. And then, like a shadow, the creature slid on the snow, appearing next to Nelaira.