Spoiler: Chapter 67: Survival Horror - Part 1 "What are you grinning for?" Roxanne asks. "This reminds me of the video games I used to play," I say and sigh nostalgically. "What kind of games?" Alissa asks as her ears twitch repeatedly, a sign of curiosity. "Horror." "What…" Yunia mumbles and grips her longsword harder. I grin again. "So, how about we split up and search the area? It'll be faster this way," I suggest. "N-no! Are you insane?! That's the worst decision we could make if we were in a 'horror' novel!" Roxanne exclaims and bonks the top of my helmet with her fist. "Most of us have [Bind]. So we can all be summoned to Wolfy in case something happens," Hana says as Alissa gently pulls Roxanne's fist away from my head. "What do you mean by 'horror'?" Aoi asks. "Horror is a genre of fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, disgust, or startle its consumers by inducing feelings of horror and terror," Ted answers. "Well, hello there, Mr. Wikipedia," I say. "What's 'Wikipedia'?" Aoi asks. "Wikipedia is a multilingual online encyclopedia created and maintained as an open collaboration project by a community of volunteer editors," Suzy answers. "What's 'online'?" Aoi continues. "'Online' is a computer technolog-…" "That's enough. We'll be here all day if we continue on like that," I interrupt Jarn. "Awn… it sounded fun," Aoi and lets her head drop in sadness for a moment. "Another time," Ciel says as she pats Aoi's armored head. I bring our conversation back on track, "Back to the plan… Ciel, Yunia, the golems, and I will form a team; Alissa, Lina, and Aoi will form another; and Roxanne, Hana, an earth elemental, and Ciel's [Holy Spirit] will form the last one." "No sex," Ciel says and sends a stern glance to Hana and Roxanne. "This is hardly the most romantic place for that kind of thing," Roxanne says and chuckles nervously. "Even us? You know, there are some pretty nice places in the residential area. If only we could turn the power on," I say and smirk towards Ciel. "P-please, let's not make ourselves vulnerable in the middle of a challenge," she pleads and blushes faintly. "Getting killed mid-sex is a pretty common way that characters die in horror stories," Lina says, and Roxanne cringes. "Huh… you know what, you're right. That's quite the popular trope," I say. "So… if we're avoiding tropes, can we just not split up?" Roxanne asks. "What's up with you? Scared of the dark?" Hana teases. "What if the station has a [Gate] scrubber?" Yunia asks. "Isn't a scrubber made specifically for [Gate] and [Eternal Gate]?" Roxanne ask. "But [Bind] could be different," Yunia answers. "Well, we can test it right now," I say and pull out our scrubber. "Why do you have that?" Yunia asks with a frown. "Darean's men tried to ambush us using this. They failed," I calmly reply, and Yunia nods stoically in understanding. I turn on the scrubber and summon Alissa. "Ah, yes…" She says in a soft tone, then she glows and appears right in front of me. I give her a peck on the nose and look at Yunia. "Satisfied?" I ask, and she nods, but Roxanne still looks skeptical. "I don't know…" She mutters. "It'd be much faster to explore the station this way," I say. "If you're that scared to go with only Hana and the Spirit, then you can come with me," I say and give her my dashing smile. "I-I'd prefer it if everyone stayed together," she says shyly and pokes the tips of her index fingers together repeatedly. "Awn…" I feel touched. "Awn…" Alissa sympathizes. "Awn…" Hana teases. "Awn…" Lina looks smug. "Awn…" Ciel gushes. "Awn…" Aoi copies Hana. "Awn…" Yunia smiles endearingly. "Gihihih," Gify giggles. I walk towards her and pull her into a hug. "I wish we were both naked right now," I say. Hana hugs her too, and the situation immediately devolves into a group hug. But since we're all armored, not much body warmth is transferred, so the hug quickly dissolves. I remain glued to Roxanne, though. She sighs and says, "Fine… let's split up. You don't have to treat me like a child." "Hey, I'm legitimately touched by your love for us," I protest. She pulls my face up to hers and gives me a kiss. "But did that change your mind about splitting up?" She asks with a pouty smile. "No…" Her tail pokes my nose, and I bat it away with my own. "Thought so." Hana pulls Roxanne back and gives her a deep kiss. "Don't worry, your knight in shining armor is here to keep you safe," she says with a smirk. "Hey, don't start," Ciel warns them. "Yeah, don't make her jealous," Alissa says with a cheeky smile. "I-I'm not!" Ciel protests. "Yeah, yeah. Let's go," I say and pull Ciel's hand. "We're going to the Power Station. We'll try to turn on the lights," I say as we start walking away from the others. "Administration. We'll search for information about the keycards," Lina says. "Residential. We'll search the houses for keycards," Hana says. I pull down the visor of my sallet, then I give them the thumbs up, and we head out. Each team gets a Holly and a Shad for safety. I can't summon any more than that since I need to conserve my mana for [Bind] summoning. "You two seem to be enjoying this," Yunia comments and raises an eyebrow, looking slightly amused. "Why shouldn't we be?" Ciel asks. "Oh, you know, it's just that the imminent danger and the risk of death both sound like good reasons to be tense," she answers and knits her eyebrows in worry. "Sounds fun," I say, innocently. "I didn't take you both to be thrill-seekers like Hana." "I don't chase thrills, I just want an adventure," Ciel says with a shrug. "I want something 'different' from the usual day-to-day, something 'new.' Even if it's just wandering around." "Flying the airship was really fun, and I find this dungeon enjoyable as long as we don't get hurt," I say. "I was trained to never take a dungeon lightly. Some of them might be trying to lure us into a false sense of security until they strike and wipe us out," Yunia says. I tap my chin and say, "Hm… that's reasonable. As long as we don't get careless, we can enjoy the dungeon as much as we want." "'Enjoying' it makes it much easier to lower your guard," she says in a stern tone. I play with my tail awkwardly. "I see what you mean. There's nothing that I can do other than saying that I'll keep that in mind and be careful." She sighs. "That's all that I need, but I'll remind you of those words if I feel like you're getting careless." "Please do." The [Holy Spirit] massages Roxanne's shoulders by tap-dancing on them. She's feeling rather tense now that she only has Hana to protect her from danger. "I'm watching over you," I say through [Bind]. She nods and smiles faintly as her stress level reduces a little. They have a Holly and a Shad with them, so they should be fine. They walk through an area that's incredibly similar to a modern shopping center. It's a long corridor flanked by shop after shop, with periodic green spaces and seats for people to rest on; three other floors with elevated walkways; and a glass ceiling, allowing them to see the light blue sky above. As they walk, Hana notices a wooden mannequin in the middle of the corridor. I don't remember that being there before. They pass a shop with a broken window, then a restaurant where the furniture has been thrown out into the open. I don't remember that, either. Are they really going the same that way my scouts did? They see more mannequins, all wearing a wide variety of shredded clothing. A hole in the ceiling is letting some air inside, and the buildings gradually transition to being mossier and dirtier. Then they notice cracks in the walls and a collapsed section of the walkway. Further in, patches of tall grass have grown out of the green spaces, and the walls are covered with ivy. There's also a large number of rotting mannequins blending in with the post-apocalyptic scene, causing even Hana to become nervous. "Is this like the lighthouse? Something that only changes when we get near?" Roxanne asks. "It s-…" Hana gets interrupted by my warning: something is moving in the tall grass behind Roxanne. Hana immediately hides Roxanne's body behind her shield while she slashes at the stalker with her bastard sword. A dull thunk resounds through the area as Hana's sword gets stuck in a wooden mannequin's body. It flails its arm wildly, trying to slash at them with a cleaver. Hana pushes her sword down, and the mannequin is forced to the ground, dropping its cleaver on impact. Hana stomps on the mannequin and retrieves her sword, then she kicks it away. It goes flying for a few meters, then stops itself from rolling and starts crawling back towards them with frightening speed. "[Explosion]!" Roxanne casts, and the mannequin's head explodes in a shower of splinters and dust. A few seconds pass, and the dust settles, then every mannequin around them starts to move in their direction, including the now headless one. "Run!" I order through bind. "Elemental! Make a path! Push them away!" Hana orders and pushes Roxanne in front of her. "I bet that they were activated by sound. Don't use [Explosion] again," I say. We stop moving so that I can guide the girls. Whenever a mannequin gets close, I guide Hana or Roxanne to intercept them with a spell. The mannequins are light and fragile, but there are so many of them that they would quickly overwhelm the girls if they got caught. "Follow the corridor," I suggest. It's better to stay in the open than to get cornered inside a shop. A platoon of mannequins starts to form behind the girls. They're all moving robotically and in sync, similar to how the Stilt Giants did. The mannequins are seemingly faster than the girls, but the ones chasing after them are keeping a constant distance. Hana stops and inhales a deep breath of air, then she turns around and blows it out, spewing a wide plume of flame. The now burning mannequins run through the flame as if it were nothing, and both of the girls have to cast spells to push them back. "I think I just made it worse!" Hana yells as she resumes running away. The corridor comes to an end, but there's no clear exit in sight. Fuck. Then I see it: a heavy metal door with a faded painting of the word "Security" on it. The door is ajar. "There!" I guide the girls, and they burst into the room. It's a simple barracks-like room with weapons and a map of the shopping center on the wall. "Hold the door!" Hana orders the elemental, and it immediately starts fusing with the door and the ground. Roxanne stops in front of the map. The label says that it's a map of the alarm system. There are dozens of small gems embedded in it, and there's a legend near the bottom that shows how the gem will glow in different colors depending on the emergency. Most of the gems are glowing in a faded orange, signifying structural failure. Those are likely dead ends due to collapsed corridors. Hana goes over to the other door of the room and opens it. It leads to a service tunnel. It's cramped, but there aren't any mannequins in it, at least not yet. Roxanne locates their own position on the map and traces a theoretically safe route out of the shopping center. "Let's go!" She exclaims after memorizing the map. Hana nods and leads their way onwards. The mannequins start to slam against the door with… something. Then the elemental completely fuses with the door, allowing me to see past it. The still-burning mannequins are using each other like battering rams. They're slamming the body of one of them until it completely breaks apart, then another mannequin takes their place as the ram. They can only endure a few slams before breaking, so a pile of broken, burned mannequins quickly starts to build up beside the door. It soon starts to bend and creak. Their relentless assault is powerful enough to bend metal. After just two minutes, they break open the door and flood into the room. Then they rush into the service corridors and sprint at full speed after the girls. "How big is this fucking place?!" Hana complains. "Not as big as some shopping centers I've been to," I say. "What the fuck is that?" "Like a Bazaar, but more formal and inside a building." "What's going on?" Alissa asks, only now noticing the girls' distress. "It's noisy in here," Aoi complains, and I feel a hint of agreement from Lina. "I'll explain," I say and start, but I stop soon after because I have to guide Roxanne's spells again to slow the mannequins down. "[Fire Wall], [Fire Wall], [Fire Wall]!" Roxanne casts over and over. The mannequin at the front finally collapses after crossing the third [Fire Wall] when its scorched legs turn to ash. Hana casts [Earth Bullet] in quick succession, creating a pile of ashes and burnt wood. The mannequins finally slow down, struggling to pass over the pile that only gets larger as more and more of them collapse, clogging the tight service tunnel. The girls finally break out of the shopping center and barricade the door they just came through. Then I unsummon the earth elemental since there's no way that they'd be able to go back to retrieve it now. They look forward, and Hana whistles as they see a very large mansion past a small, public garden. A glass ceiling right above it allows us to see it in all of its glory. It's a large, U-shaped gothic mansion with four floors. It has some pretty menacing architecture with gargoyle, lion, and dragon statues; and pointy little towers everywhere. Next target located. With things calming down over there, I return my focus to exploring. "Mannequins, huh. Feels like a puppeteer, just like in the lighthouse," Yunia says. "There doesn't seem to be any near the mansion, and they aren't chasing after the girls anymore," I say. "Something not made of flesh is exactly Roxanne's weakness," Ciel says with worry in her voice, and we nod in agreement. "This place is even more mysterious than the lighthouse." The "sterile" corridors of the administration section are soon replaced by the faded and rusty colors of the metal and concrete of engineering. The labels of rooms and plaques start to have more vibrant colors, but the paint job becomes rougher and uglier. "Feels like 'engineering,' alright," I say with a wry smile. The girls raise their eyebrows at me, and Ted sates their curiosity before I can milk their attention any more, "Workshops and machinery trade form for function, so they lack pleasing aesthetic details, but their straightforward design pleases pragmatic people like Master Wolf." "So you're going to refer to me as 'Master,' now?" I ask with a small smile on my lips. "Yes. You find the title 'Grand' to be 'odd,' but not 'Master,' as Master Alissa used to call you," Suzy answers. Yunia looks at me in confusion. "Why does Grand sound 'odd' to you?" She asks. "Two reasons: it is a title that he had never seen before, and it already has a meaning in English, his primary language. This creates a sense of incongruity when an established word is used in a novel way," Ted answers. I chuckle and ask, "Hah. So you two know everything about me, now?" "We know everything about your past, but not of your present or future," Suzy answers. "Do you know his first time?" Ciel asks with a mischievous smile. "W-wha-…" "He had masturbated before to make himself last longer, but then he couldn't finish. Though, his partner was pleased with his performance, so she was happy with the outcome," Suzy answers, and I swear that there's some smugness to her flat tone. "So you'd already showed signs of your skills," Alissa says through [Bind]. "Aren't you supposed to be paying attention to your surroundings?" I ask and grit my teeth in embarrassment. "There's no way that I wouldn't pay attention to something like that." "Awn, that's cute. I wish I'd met you when you were that innocent," Ciel says and gushes a little. "Would you have fallen for me if I were like that?" I ask. Ciel puckers her lips in thought. "Well, yes? The first time we met, you were still a little shy and awkward, after all." I smirk. "Oh? Alright, I know what we're roleplaying next." She smiles and shakes her head, and Yunia looks at us endearingly. We pass by a few warehouses, and I suddenly smell something foul. "Ew… are we close to the sewage system, or something?" Ciel asks and wrinkles her nose. Yunia eats an Eia pill and frowns. "There's a strong web of Life all around us," she says. "Is it like the Stilt Giants?" I ask. She shakes her head, but since she's wearing a helmet, I have to imagine her glorious hair and cute ears bouncing. "No. It is literally around us. I'm not sure what this means; I've never seen anything like this outside of a thick jungle." "This is worrying." "Yes." We hear a moan in the distance, echoing through the corridor. "Zombie moan. Male. Possible 'husk,'" Ted says. "Necromancy?" Ciel asks, worriedly. "I've never seen it create a web of Life as strong as this," Yunia says. Ciel casts [Judgment] on her glaive, and the blade glows with a dangerous light, then she takes the lead. As we walk down the corridor, I recognize the foul smell as the stench of rotting flesh. Then the moans increase in frequency and decrease in distance. We hear wet footsteps coming from the warehouses flanking us. "Shit, they must be all around us," I whisper. Our [Spirit Light]s reveal something in front of us. A human, a naked woman. Half green, rotting corpse, and half skeleton. She slowly turns around to us and moans mindlessly. The husk shambles forward, raising her hands towards us and making grabbing motions, then her skeletal jaw opens up and chews the air. Ciel slashes at the husk's leg, cutting it off and making her fall to the ground. Then the light of Ciel's [Judgment] fades, and she takes a few steps back, looking bewildered. The husk glows, and the leg reattaches itself, then the flesh starts to regrow around the skeletal bits, and the husk becomes faster. "What the fuck," we three say in unison. Ciel chops with her glaive again and embeds the blade deep in the husk's skull. She holds it still as the husk grabs the glaive and tries to dislodge it from its own head. "These aren't normal husks," Yunia says, worriedly. She raises her hand towards the husk and starts to groan from the strain. "It's so strong that I can't even use [Chain Life]." Tremors run through the husk's entire body, showing that Yunia is having some effect on her. I cast [Constricting Vines] on the husk, and Ciel retrieves her glaive. The moans get closer. "Alright, we need a strategy," I say. Yunia starts chanting. I cast [Lightning Bolt] at the husk and feel some relief when it gets stunned just like a normal humanoid would. "Chopping off limbs seems to be effective," Ciel says, and I grunt in agreement. I cast [Gravity Crush], and now the husk can barely move, too weak to struggle against my "Magic Power." "Physically weak. Blunt attacks should work fine, too," Ciel says, and I nod. "[Double Image]," Yunia casts and starts chanting again. This time, it's [Spirit Magic]. She moves while chanting, and the husk's gaze follows her. Then the husk lunges to the side, trying to grab at the air. "Vulnerable to Illusion, I assume?" I question, and Yunia nods. I throw a [Fireball] at the husk's shoulder, but nothing happens aside from our noses being assaulted by the stench of burnt, rotten flesh. "No [Fire Magic], please," Ciel asks. "Agreed," I say and wrinkle my nose. We hear a metallic clanking behind us. It's Jarn turning around to face a husk coming at us from behind. "Why are they human? Isn't this a chimeric facility?" Ciel asks. "To be honest, they remind me of Earth video games too much. I feel like I'm in Resident Evil," I say. "That's the name of a video game involving husks and horror," Ted explains. "[Soul Blade]," Yunia finishes casting. An ethereal, blue arm holding a simple shortsword grows out of her shoulder and moves independently from her physical arm. She walks forward, and the ethereal arm slashes at the husk's shoulder, then the zombie's arm falls flat on the floor. "Cut her head, try to kill it," I suggest, and she obeys. The husk's head goes limp and hits the floor, but it continues moving and struggling against the vines. "The Life controls all of its limbs independently," Yunia says. "Can't you 'cut its strings,' somehow?" I ask. "No. It's too strong." I walk up to right beside the husk, but it doesn't react at all. I kick its leg, and it immediately lunges at me as I dodge backward. "It lost its senses, though," I say. Jarn decapitates the husk coming at us and kicks it away. "How 'permanent' is spirit damage, anyway?" I ask. "Few things can permanently alter a soul, and most of those are offensive weapons that rupture the spirit, killing you instantly," Yunia answers. "So, we have no reliable way to kill them?" Ciel asks. "Seems so. Unless you have another way to use for your Gift that I don't know about," Yunia says and smiles wryly. "Not really," I say and smile, then I create two maces with [Vine Weapon]. "Ted, Suzy, use these to help us out." I throw the maces at them, and they stop them in the air with [Telekinesis]. "Alright, let's move. Start jogging," I order. The state of the corridors worsens as we continue on. Rust starts to appear more prominently, the air grows stale, and the floor now appears to be stained with unknown fluids. The corridors also become wider, but that only means that more husks can crowd around us. "Is that blood?" Ciel asks, looking at a particularly red blotch of rust on the wall. "Alissa, what's this smell?" I ask and share my senses with her. "Definitely dried blood," she responds and frowns. "I'm thankful that I'm not there to smell all that rot in person." "I think that my sense of smell is going numb." "Alissa says that it's dried blood," I say, and Ciel shudders. Dozens of husks on our way slow us down by joining into a literal wall of flesh. If we linger for too long, they'll also come up from behind us and overwhelm Jarn. "Alright, change of tactics. Ted, Suzy, focus on charging up your [Telekinesis] to the max. I want you two to punch a hole through the husks for us," I order, then I mold the maces into two large boulders as wide as my body. Two cannonballs of petrified wood. "We require someone to hold us if we are to concentrate all of our power," Ted says. "Ciel, switch with me and hold them," I say. "Gladly," she responds, and shows a small smile as the two golems stop floating and flop into her bosom. She holds them both against her chest with one arm while she holds her glaive with the other. Then they start gathering their mana. I cast [Discharge] for a second, then Yunia and I go all "chop, chop" on the husks' limbs. There's no need for skill in this fight, only diligence and focus. The husks don't know how to defend, so I only have to pay attention to when I should attack and when I should retreat. One wrong step and a hand will grip my leg and make me trip. One of Jarn's legs gets grabbed by a husk. She can float with ease, so she doesn't trip, but this means that our time is running out. With one hand, Ciel swings her glaive and frees Jarn. "Thank you, Master Ciel," Jarn says, and Ciel smiles. "Yunia, use [Searing Blade]," I order. "Understood," she responds. I turn around and cast [Discharge], giving Jarn a small breather. My mana~… I need to save it to summon the other girls in case something happens. I suddenly feel a significant amount of heat coming from behind me. I turn around and see Yunia's white-hot longsword grow to three meters in size, then she swings her weapon, and a dozen husks' heads go rolling. She swings it twice more and makes minced meat of the wall of flesh before us, then she deactivates the enchantments and resumes attacking normally. She grimaces in pain due to the overuse. She used two thousand points of MP in just three seconds, that's a fuck ton. Ciel pushes the diced husks to the side with her [Windstorm], then she starts throwing [Wind Hammer]s, crushing the heads of the husks still standing. I return to the front and help Yunia. We all start worrying about the golems. They're going to use up nearly all of their mana in one go. I hope the husks aren't sensitive to mana, otherwise, the storm the golems are creating will attract all the monsters in this facility. "Ready," they say in unison. Yunia and I jump out of the way. "Punch it," I order. The cannonballs whistle through the air as they are fired like bullets, taking the husks with them. The corpses pile together as they collide in a snowball effect, pushing the wall of flesh much further beyond what we can see. "Charge!" I order. We deal with the stragglers easily and dash down the corridor before the husks can surround us again. "We're getting close!" I exclaim. The boulders created a carpet of rotten flesh along the floor, so Ciel casts a continuous [Clean] to keep us from tripping on the guts and gore. The corridor finally ends and opens up into a large room filled with controls and glowing mana crystals. The problem is that this room is literally filled with husks. The boulders didn't even push that many new husks into this place, they were all in here, to begin with. They all turn to us and start their slow shambling. "Fuck that, we definitely don't have the mana to deal with all this bullshit," I say and look around. "Change of plans, let's get inside there and barricade ourselves." We enter a large closet filled with cleaning products, and Jarn easily holds the door closed by herself. "Now what?" Yunia asks. "Lemme think," I say and sit down. "Let's at least recover our mana." Hall of Fame of Patrons The patrons who support Rupegia shall have their names sung by the bards for they deserve the glory and honor. Their names are: Oracle Maximillian Hübner. Prince PreownedFIN. Lord Andrew Meyers. Lord Hope. Lord Samuel Lim. Lord Bill. Lord Novgarod. Lord DJ. Lord Cidant. Lord Ashadun. Lord Michale Erwin. Lord Enrique Peña Gomez. Lord Braidborn. Lord Bakerdea. Lord Yeeteris Dedmeem. Lord D4rk Sheep. Lord Nathan Vanbrunt. Lord Andrew Heffelbower. Lord Markus. Lord Maurice. Lord Badger. Lord Brennon Goetz. Lord Amelgar. Lord Krawn. Noble Salty Panda. Noble Evil. Noble Yamibomb112. Noble Mild Fracas. Noble Geminus. Noble EESDESESESRDT. Nobleman Lassiter. Noble Aclys.