Chapter 253: A Healthy Appetite
Preparations didn’t take very long, especially since our inventory was basically nonexistent. I tore off what was left of my tattered shirt, revealing milky white skin that didn’t seem to have any sort of muscle definition.
“Great,” I muttered, looking down at my body.
“Why so glum? You have a body most would kill for…” Regis started before snickering. “Most girls, that is.”
I swatted at my companion but he zipped out of reach this time.
My long pants were mostly intact thanks to the leather cuisses. Taking off the thick sheets of leather that had been protecting my thighs, I created a makeshift vest by tearing off pieces of the leather with my teeth and using strips of my shirt to tie them together around my waist and over my shoulder.
With the extra strips of fabric I had left, I created a mask to cover my mouth and nose and wrapped the rest around my hands.
“Why the mask? Are you trying to just complete your little ninja ensemble?” Regis asked, inspecting my new appearance.
I curled and uncurled my fingers that were wrapped up to the second knuckle by the cloth. “The Alacryans that passed by had different types of armor that most likely fit their fighting styles, but all three had masks around their necks and unlike ourselves, they seemed to know what it is they’re getting themselves into.”
“Wow. Smart,” Regis acknowledged, bobbing his head up and down.
“Why do you sound so surprised when you know I’ve led two lives?”
“Good point. This one apologizes for his ignorance, Milady.”
I rolled my eyes. This was going to be a long journey.
After going through a series of movements and martial art forms to loosen my clumsy new body with, I walked up to the large metal door feeling even less prepared than I felt before readying myself.
Every time I moved, there was an almost tangible resistance. It felt like the very air around me had been replaced by tar.
I placed my hands on the door filled with runes and let out a sigh. “Are you ready?”
“Let’s go,” Regis said without a trace of mockery.
I pushed open the door with ease and what appeared on the other side looked to be an extension of the room we were in now.
Looking at Regis, I jerked my head towards the door.
“What? Why me?” my companion complained.
“Because. You’re incorporeal,” I said flatly.
Letting out a string of curses, the will-o-wisp hovered toward the other side of the door when he jerked to a stop all of a sudden.
“Ouch! That actually hurt,” he said, more confused than in pain.
“What’s going on?” I asked, carefully waving my hand in the area where Regis got hurt.
Unlike Regis, though, I was able to go through.
“Ouch! Stop that!” Regis snarled, his form quivering.
I did it once more, and Regis yelped in pain again before glaring at me.
“Just wanted to make sure,” I smirked contently.
“I don’t think this is just an entryway to another room,” Regis grumbled. “This is the same kind of pain I get if I move too far from you, but the pain level is a lot more gradual than this.”
“That means this is most likely a portal,” I replied, looking at the room on the other side of the door. “Wait, why did you try to leave me?”
Regis shrugged. “I’m a sentient being. I wanted to know what my limit was and it’s not like I was born inherently loyal to you.”
I shook my head. “I’d be a lot more upset if you were actually useful as a weapon.”
“Touché,” Regis quipped.
“We’ll cross together on three,” I decided.
Regis nodded, positioning himself just behind the doorway. My heart thumped against my ribcage as I felt my senses heighten. I had no idea what we would face as soon as we left this ‘sanctuary’.
“One. Two. Three!” I stepped through alongside Regis, ready for whatever challenges awaited. However, we were met in complete silence aside from the click and hum of the door closing behind us.
The marble floor underneath my feet was flawlessly smooth but unlike the circular room we were in before, this one was a long straight hallway with a ceiling that arched high above our heads with another metal door etched with runes on the other side. Two rows of sconces were lined across the patterned wall, illuminating the hallway in a warm natural light. On either side of us were giant marble statues depicting men and women armed with not just the familiar swords, spears, wands and bows, but also… guns.
Apparently, Regis was just as surprised as I was. “Are those…”
“Guns? I think so,” I answered.
The firearms that some of the statues were holding were different from the ones I was accustomed to from my previous life. They were more archaic, like the ones of the past that still used metal bullets and gunpowder.
My gaze shifted away from the stone statues for a moment, landing on the door straight ahead, roughly three hundred feet or so.
“So we just…walk past these giant stone statues and go to the door on the other side. That’s not ominous at all,” Regis muttered.
Rather than walking straight ahead, I walked over to the wall to my right, searching for any sort of hidden side exit. After searching both walls, I let out a sigh and looked down the middle aisle again between the row of stone statues.
“You don’t suppose these statues will start moving and try to kill us once we get near them, right?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Regis said, perching himself on my shoulder. “Onward to victory, Milady!”
I got in a stance to run, cursing this new body of mine. If I was able to use magic, clearing this hallway would’ve taken no more than a few seconds—less, if I used Static Void. Letting out a sharp breath and allowing my brain to clear itself from needless thoughts, I pushed my feet off the ground and broke into a full on sprint through the line of stone statues on either side of me.
“Come on! A toddler can crawl faster than this!” Regis badgered right beside my ear, infuriating me even more than my debilitated body. Gritting my teeth, I continued running as fast as my heavy legs would take me when I misstepped and tripped over my own feet.
I slid forward on the ground, barely managing to bring my arms up fast enough to keep myself from slamming my face into the cold marble floor.
There was no pain, only embarrassment as I scrambled back up to my feet. It didn’t help that my companion was laughing his nonexistent ass off as he reenacted my crash.
I dusted myself off and started briskly walking. “Hey. What happens to you if I die?”
Regis stopped laughing. “Huh?”
“Do you become free, or do you die as well?”
“I never really thought about it but…” Regis pondered for a moment. “The foundation of this form comes from the acclorite that was placed into your body, but my life force is tied to you so if you die, I suppose…”
“You go back to being a hunk of rock?” I finished, scanning the statues now surrounding us as we passed the quarter mark in the hallway. “That’s nice to know.”
“Hey! Are you s-smiling?” Regis stuttered, looking at me with those large, unblinking white eyes of his.
“You’re just seeing things,” I said, swatting him away.
“No, I saw you smile! Are you sure some of Uto’s mana didn’t infect you, or were you always a bit sociopathic?”
Ignoring him, I searched for any signs that the statues were a danger to us. Continuing our way down the long hallway, a sensation I hadn’t felt since waking up in this…place, struck: hunger.
The sharp pang that made my stomach churn went away as quickly as it had come but a little bit of it lingered behind, making my mouth water.
We had only taken a few more steps past the quarter mark of the hallway when my vision began to narrow, blurring out everything but the statues in front of me.
“Well, I’ll be. No stone statues came to life and started attacking us,” Regis chimed as he floated closer to a statue holding what looked like a shotgun.
Suddenly the room shook as the lights from the sconces dimmed to an eerie degree.
I looked forward at the exit still over two hundred feet away. The aetheric runes carved on the door had changed and the handle that used to be there was gone.
Thanking Sylvie mentally for being able to see so far with such clarity, I whirled back around, bolting for the door we had come from.
I had no idea if we would be allowed back into the sanctuary but it was either that or face whatever it was that was about to happen.
I must’ve taken about ten steps when the statues around me began cracking. Large stone fragments broke off and fell to the floor…and as more and more of the statues began crumbling, the more I could make out what was inside them.
What was exposed from the coffin-like statues these…creatures were trapped in could be nothing short of unsettling. Scabrous flesh covered patches of exposed muscles and bone in these sinewy humanoid creatures. The weapons depicted in the statues were actually weapons in similar shapes made of elongated bones and muscle fibers.
If I could describe it simply, it would look like some lunatic had ripped apart a large human and tried to piece him back together inside out. Like some failed chimera experiment.
The first chimera to fully ‘hatch’ out of its stone encasement had been a statue of a man wielding a bow and arrow. It let out a guttural screech from its crooked mouth as it leapt from the podium the statue was on, sending shivers throughout my entire body.
“W-Well…at least technically the statues aren’t trying to kill us,” Regis mumbled. “Just what was inside them.”
I raced toward the door that we had come through, less than a hundred feet away. However, just after a few steps, I heard a faint whistle in the air.
Without looking back, I dove to the side and rolled, narrowly managing to avoid the bone arrow that managed to create a fissure on the ground from the force of its impact.
I scrambled back up to my feet just as the bow-wielding creature snapped off one of its long, spiked vertebrae and nocked the ‘arrow’ on the gut string of its bow.
“Axe monster finished hatching as well!” Regis called out from above, just a few feet away.
The split second I had taken to look over at the second chimera with axes for arms was all the bow-wielding chimera needed.
A burst of pain erupted from my side and I was sent flying back from the impact. Letting out a hoarse cough, I looked down to see a bone arrow protruding just below my ribcage.
I got up to my knees. My vision narrowed again, blurring out everything but what I had to focus on. I’ve had this feeling before in battle, but nothing as extreme as this. My head pounded against my skull as blood surged through my body.
I jumped back, barely in time to dodge the blurred swing of the axe chimera. Just as it was about to swing down its other bladed arm at me, a black shadow whizzed by.
Regis stuck to the axe chimera, obstructing its vision and allowing me the opportunity to limp away.
I made it another few steps when another searing pain bloomed, this time from my left leg.
Stifling a scream, I toppled forward, barely avoiding the first arrow from getting pushed further into my stomach.
“Arthur! I can only distract one of them and there are more of these things hatching!”
“I know!” I mustered through gritted teeth. I snapped the shaft off of the bone arrow inside my body, letting out a gasp as I did the same with the arrow on my leg.
My vision pulsed once more as if my body was trying to expel my soul. Colors began fading and what began surrounding the sinewy monsters emerging free from their stone statues were soft auras of purple. Looking down at the bone and muscle-strewn shafts of the arrows in my hand, the same soft purple aura seeped, causing me to do something that I couldn’t quite believe.
I bit down on one arrow. More specifically, I bit down on the aetheric aura surrounding the arrow, consuming the aether as if it were the meat attached to a bone.
“What in the unholy hell are you doing?” Regis cried out.
I chomped down on the dwindling aetheric fire, tearing it off the bone arrow and swallowing it down before moving onto the other aether-coated arrow.
My veins burned as the aetheric substance surrounding the arrows flowed through me, filling me with a strength that I hadn’t felt since waking up with this body.
It had gone as quickly as it had come, but what shocked me was that the wound on my leg and side were gone and two bloody arrowheads were on the ground below my feet.
With no time to spare, I got back to my feet with a renewed spring in my step. The ground trembled as the third chimera fully freed itself from its statue-shaped coffin—this one being a sword-wielding one.
The sword chimera jumped off its podium and galloped toward me at a breakneck pace while the first chimera loaded another one of its spiked vertebrae onto its bow.
Controlling my breathing, I let my enhanced senses pick up on the details.
The bow chimera released with a sharp whistle, but this time I was able to actually see the path of the bone arrow piercing through the air. Dodging it with an exaggerated motion, I steadied myself in order to face the sword chimera just a few feet away.
It swung its pale white broadsword in a brilliant arch that left me with a gash even though I had managed to dodge it.
My heartbeat quickened as various scenarios raced through my head. In this life-or-death place facing monsters in my debilitated state, there was only one thing I could do: risk it all.
If I wasn’t prepared to give up my life, I knew I wouldn’t survive in this place.
Lunging forward as the sword chimera’s large blade skidded on the smooth marble surface with a screech, I grabbed its arm and bit down and consumed the purple aura surrounding it.
The sword chimera let out a mournful wail, revealing a mouthful of needle-pointed teeth. The chimera flailed wildly in pain but I clung on, trying to hurt it in any way I could. Kicks and punches hurt me more than it hurt the chimera but as I continued consuming the purple-tinged aura surrounding the chimera’s sword-wielding arm, I felt my strength growing.
An explosion resounded this time and the entire room shook madly, throwing me off the chimera.
The chimera kicked me with its long, leathery leg and I slammed against the wall, coughing up blood and a couple of teeth.
“Arthur!” I heard in the distance as my consciousness faded in and out.
Ahead of me, marching towards me was an army of chimeras, each wielding a different weapon made of bone and muscle.
Another explosion resounded, much closer this time, and the ground in front of me burst into shards of marble and blood.
A guttural scream tore out of my throat as a pool of blood formed just where my left leg had been. It was the chimera holding what looked like a gun, its hollowed bone pointed right at me.
Dragging my body across the floor as the chimeras approached, almost tauntingly slow, I reached for the door we had come through—the door to the sanctuary.
Pulling myself up to my single good leg, I pulled at the handle. It wouldn’t budge.
“Come on!” I pleaded, yanking at the metal handle futilely.
Regis, who had floated back to me, let out a sigh. “My life sucked.”
I heard a faint whistle before a piercing pain erupted once more, this time from my left shoulder.
Gritting through the pain, I kept myself from falling by pressing myself against the wall and grabbing ahold of the handle for support.
That’s when I saw it. Amongst all of the aetheric runes and symbols etched onto this door, there was a single part that I recognized from when I had watched Elder Rinia activating the teleportation gate in the ancient mage’s hideout.
Pressing myself harder against the wall for support, I used my only good hand to trace the aetheric runes.
“Damn it! Please!” I pleaded, trying again.
I screamed once more as another arrow pierced my lower back, dangerously close to my spine. I gripped the handle again, to keep myself from falling, when I saw the same faint purple aura the chimeras emitted around Regis.
My eyes widened. “Regis, quick, come here!”
“Okay, but you’re not going to eat me, right?” Regis said, uncertain.
“Hurry!” I hissed. “Get in my hand!”
The black will-o-wisp darted into my right hand, and I almost cheered in delight at what I saw. My hand was tinted in a faint aura of purple.
Quickly, I traced through the runes again, shifting it ever-so-slightly so that its function of opening was enabled.
The hum of the door unlocking was heavenly, but my eyes widened as I spotted the gun-wielding chimera fully loaded and a thick cluster of purple gathered at the nozzle.
Prying the door open just enough for me to squeeze through, I lunged back inside the sanctuary just in time to feel the door shudder from the force of the chimera’s shotgun shell.