As the larger queen began devouring the smaller one, I couldn’t help but become perplexed by what was happening in this dungeon. There were more than ten floors here, with minion snarlers inhabiting all but the tenth floor, where the queen snarler dwelled. The reason this dungeon was considered a beginner dungeon was because the queen never left the tenth floor, allowing for easy training up until the very last floor.
Although the queen snarler was a B class mana beast, a large party of E class adventurers was still capable of defeating it.
Which brought another question to mind: Was it normal to have more than one queen in the dungeon? From what I had read, queen species were very territorial, and aggressive to any potential competitors that threatened their den.
Professor Glory didn’t really think much of it but I couldn’t help but be bothered by it. This brought me to my last inquiry. How were those two queens so much stronger than they normally should be?
I could understand Professor Glory having a hard time against two B class mana beasts that were considered dungeon bosses, but she shouldn’t be losing. An A-class adventurer was supposed to easily dispose of the kind of queen snarler I had read about.
“Why is that one so much stronger?” Professor Glory got up as she groaned, cleaving a few minions out of her way.
As I fended off waves of snarlers, my attention kept on drawing back to the queen snarler eating its former ally.
“Professor, does this usually happen?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve heard that some species of mana beasts do indulge in cannibalism but I’ve never really seen this particular case. Why now of all times, I have no idea.” Shaking her head, she picked up her other sword and made her way towards her opponent.
As the queen snarler finished consuming her fallen comrade, a bizarre change occurred. Its once grey fur turned jet black and the small horn on its forehead that I failed to notice at first curved upwards, growing substantially. The once beady red eyes turned sharp and menacing—almost psychotic—as it began foaming from its mouth as well.
Professor Glory didn’t say anything but I knew that there was a growing sense of doubt in her mind as the beast charged at her. Until now, getting back home safely was considered just a matter of time, but even I couldn’t help but shiver involuntarily from the murderous intent that exuded from the queen.
“Professor! We can’t… keep this up!” Tess shouted hoarsely amidst the growls and hisses of the enemy.
Her condition didn’t look too good and brought to my attention a rather obvious problem we were now facing.
“Everyone! No more fire spells! The entrance of the cave is blocked so our supply of oxygen is limited!” I roared out.
From the burnt pile of corpses accumulating, the air was becoming thick as some of the weaker students began coughing uncontrollably.
The queen and Professor Glory were at a stalemate, with our professor drifting towards the losing side. As I focused on the main battle, I could see that the fighting style of the queen snarler had completely changed. There was no trace of hesitation or sense of self-preservation. Each attack it lashed out at Professor Glory was with the intent to kill without caring for its own body. Usually that should’ve been its downfall, but that unique queen snarler’s black fur was able to absorb most of the damage from our professor’s attacks.
“Arthur… I think… my mana core is beginning to… act up.” Tess, who was a few meters behind me, fell to her knees as she began clutching her abdomen.
‘Papa! What’s wrong? Are you okay?’ Sylvie’s voice popped in my head.
We ran into a problem, get here as fast as you can and head down the stairs, I responded before focusing back on what was happening here.
Several factors began weighing down on my mind now and I began to feel a sense of nostalgia from my trip to the Dire Tombs. Did I have the power to clear the mountain of rubble blocking the front entrance to the stairs? And even if I did, should I just take Tess and escape by ourselves?
No. Tess would never forgive me if she knew that I left everyone else in here to escape.
Then after opening a way back up, should I stay behind and help Professor Glory kill the mutated queen snarler?
Whatever decision I chose to make, the first thing I had to do was remove this rubble. It was important that I cleared a path back up in one try, since it was obvious the queen wasn’t going to let us all escape.
“Professor, keep the queen busy. I’ll try to open a way out of here for us!” Professor Glory had to work even harder to keep up with the queen since she couldn’t use any fire techniques. After giving me a nod of affirmation, I got to work. Tess wasn’t in any state to help and everyone else was too busy fending off the army of minion snarlers. Lucas had to resort to using heat spells to try and deter the snarlers since oxygen levels were becoming more and more scarce.
I would have to do this by myself. I had to calculate this well. If I were to use a large enough fire spell in this state right now and fail, we were all going to suffocate in here. Water? Ice? There were too little water elemental mana particles in this cave to release anything strong enough to drill a hole through the mountain of rock. The once ice-filled cave was now dry and arid with a thick layer of smoke being produced from some of the burnt snarler corpses.
That left me with wind and earth, or a mixture of both, but even with the level I was right now, I wasn’t confident in being able to produce a powerful enough attack. I thought of maybe using phase two, but with Tess in the condition she was in right now, I had to stay conscious, at least until we got out of this dungeon.
Was there really no other option? As my mind began spinning for possible solutions, I saw Professor Glory receive a pretty large blow to her right arm.
‘I’m almost there, Papa! Hold on!’ Sylvie’s voice gave me an idea.
“Curtis! I need your help right now!” I roared across the battlefield.
“Arthur, I don’t think I can afford to—”
“Come, now!” I barked back before he could refute.
Curtis was a bloody, grimy mess, but from the shallow wounds on his body, it was obvious that the blood on him wasn’t his.
“What is it?” He panted heavily. I could tell he was exhausted by the wear on his face and body. His shield was badly dented and his sword was slick with blood, dulled from repeated use.
“Do you think your beast will ability, World Howl, is strong enough to clear the rubble?” I turned his head to snap him back to attention.
“Arthur, I don’t think I have the mana to even go into my first phase.” He shook his head hopelessly.
“Just answer the question. Is it strong enough?”
“Y-Yeah, if I had enough mana, I could potentially produce a blast bigger than the one in the mock team battle where you, um, got injured.” He scratched his head, confused by where I was going with this.
I thought about maybe directing the blast at the queen snarler but even if it were strong enough to kill it, it would be impossible to accurately catch only the queen and not Professor Glory. It was safer to just go with this plan.
“Okay. I want you to not question what I’m about to do. Just focus on going into your first phase and producing a blast strong enough to clear that mountain of rubble. Got it?” The amount of urgency and authority must have gotten through to Curtis because he just nodded and turned around.
Taking off my seal and putting it in my dimension ring, I made sure to control the amount fluctuation in the mana as to not tip anyone off. Everyone was occupied with the snarlers but if I didn’t control the mana release like Professor Glory did after she released her seal, I would draw attention from the queen snarler.
Feeling the untapped pool of mana that I now had access to, I placed both my hands on Curtis’ back.
From the amount of mana I willed into Curtis, the prince involuntarily dropped to one knee before he was able to adjust his body to the sudden bombardment of mana.
Mana transference had been studied for many years according to professors and many of the books in the library, but it was a hopeless cause for them. They believed that if a mage had the fire attribute, receiving mana from another fire attribute mage should be possible, but after countless tests and failures, they deemed it implausible; the reason being that even if someone was specialized, the mana inside their bodies weren’t purely of just that element. Hypothetically, if someone was able to condense and refine their core to the highest sense, then they could transfer mana with another person core of that same level and element. Other than that, it would be impossible. Except for me.
The fact that I was able to manipulate all four elements allowed me to adjust and mimic and input the types of mana and the ratio of each element of the person I was transferring to. It was sort of like what I did for my sister and Lilia when teaching them mana manipulation in their bodies but on a much bigger scale. Of course I hadn’t perfectly mastered this so it was inevitable that I’d be wasting a lot of mana, but this was our best bet.
As I began slowly controlling and limiting the amount of each elemental mana particles I transmitted to Curtis, I couldn’t help but grit my teeth in self-deprecation at the turn of events.
There were so many small signs that I chose to ignore, thinking that it would work out fine, and that I could handle it. Was I treating this life I had right now for granted? Being fortunate enough to have this amount of power at my age definitely made me lose my past sense of rationality to a degree.
No longer a king, tied down by rules and politics as well as my own physical capabilities, I’d become careless. In this world, the limits to my potential were boundless. Reaching white stage or even further wasn’t a dream but a matter of time and effort.
The thing that appalled me the most and what I hated to admit was that I was, in a sense, a bit like Lucas. I was nowhere near as much of a jerk as him and I had people I actually cared for besides myself, but I was becoming arrogant; arrogant to the extent of carelessness.
“I-I don’t know what you just did, Arthur, but I feel great. I think I’ll be able to go into my first phase!” the prince exclaimed, bringing me back to reality. I sensed the change his body was going through as he began to transition into his first phase.
Mana fluctuated erratically around him as he released his beast will. I jerked my hands back in pain as Curtis released his first phase. Confused, I tried transferring mana to him again but the rejection from his body was even stronger than the first time.
Did the mana from his beast will reject my mana?
Before I had the chance to try again, Curtis began gathering mana for his World Howl technique.
He crouched, lowering his center of gravity to withstand the recoil of the spell, the mana from both his body and the atmosphere gathered in front of his open jaw.
During this time, I rushed to where Tess was curled behind the front line and scooped her up. Getting Tess out of here was first priority. I was partly to blame for this mess. I should’ve done a better job in preventing something like this from happening in the first place.
With a beastly roar, Curtis unleashed his powerful breath attack, but the mutated queen must’ve sensed that something was wrong because it immediately changed its target from the wounded Professor Glory to Curtis.
“Oh no you don’t!” Bellowing at the top of her lungs, Professor Glory leaped up and grappled the mutated queen in flight, hoping to deter it from reaching Curtis.
With a thundering explosion, Curtis’ spell blasted a large hole through the rubble, clearing a path to the now visible stairway entrance back to the surface.
“Everyone, head to the stairs!” I roared through the sound of rocks falling and snarlers growling.
“Go now!” Professor Glory shouted as well as she struggled to hold her own against the queen snarler.
The exhausted class made one final push towards the entrance as Professor Glory held the queen at bay, the wall of snarler corpses obstructing the ones alive for a brief moment.
“Claire, I’m trusting Tess to you.” I handed Tess to Claire, who seemed to be in the best shape right now.
“You’re not planning on staying, are you? You can’t be serious. As your commanding leader in the disciplinary committee, I forbid—”
“Just go…” With the limited amount of time we had, I released a sharp killing intent to get my point across, making her flinch backwards in surprise.
Helping the drained Curtis back to his feet, I pushed both of my disciplinary committee teammates toward the front entrance of the cave before turning back to where Professor Glory was fighting.
“Why the hell did you come back, Arthur?!” I could almost feel the amount of frustration in my professor’s voice as she snapped at me through gritted teeth.
“We’re going to need both of us to kill this thing.” Taking Dawn’s Ballad back out from my dimension ring, I unsheathed it.
“You better hope this thing kills me because you’re going to regret not following my orders,” she responded, blocking a blow from the queen’s sharp claws.
“Hey, I’m a professor too, remember?” I gave her a weary smile before making a sharp swing with my blade.
“You’re too smart for your own good, Arthur.” She smiled back while shaking her head. The situation didn’t seem too good as the mana transference had made me use most of my mana. If it weren’t for mana rotation, I probably would’ve gotten backlash already.
While battling the queen and keeping her busy enough so the rest of the class could get out safely, I noticed that the last one here was Lucas. Our eyes locked for a brief moment before he turned his head back and disappeared into the entrance.
I could’ve sworn I saw him snort before he turned away.
As the fight continued, I managed to sever one of the queen’s wings so it wasn’t capable of flight any longer, but its thick fur was preventing us from doing anything more than giving it shallow wounds. This mutated queen, standing almost ten feet tall on its hind legs, was filled with wounds from both Professor Glory and I, but it didn’t seem to bother it at all.
“I don’t think we can kill this thing!” I shouted to Professor Glory, who was on the other side of the queen snarler.
“We’ll need to at least bind it somehow so we can escape. I don’t think the queen will follow us out of the dungeon!” she responded as the queen howled in anger.
“I need you to keep it busy for five seconds, Professor.” I repositioned myself so Professor Glory was in view.
“Okay.” She didn’t question what I was about to do as she unleashed another burst of mana out of her core.
As Professor Glory leaped toward the mutated queen, I put my sheath back into my dimension ring and grasped my sword with both hands. With the seal gone, I used the last of my mana to will lightning into Dawn’s Ballad.
Without mana to strengthen and empower my movement, my dash toward the queen snarler felt like a crawl.
“Move!” At my signal, Professor Glory leaped out of the way as I stabbed my sword into an already existing wound that I had managed to inflict just earlier between its shoulder blades.
The crackle of electricity prying its way in through the seam caused the queen to erupt into a high-pitched shriek as she began to spasm.
“Let’s go!” Without even being able to pull my sword back out from the queen snarler, Professor Glory grabbed me by my waist and carried me toward the front entrance.
As the hordes of minions got in our way, Professor Glory slashed through until we reached the front entrance.
Suddenly, a dark shadow passed over us. “H-How?” Professor Glory could only gasp as both of us looked up. The queen, with my sword still embedded in its spine, somehow recovered enough to make one desperate leap to keep us from escaping.
“Hurry!” I was currently dangling on top of my professor’s shoulder as I tried to snap her out of her shock. With the mutated queen snarler almost upon us, we barely managed to avoid its sharp claws before she landed hard on the ground.
Without the luxury to even look back, we made our way past the minions and into the hall when I spotted the mutated queen crawling her way toward us. I guess my last attack did some damage because it wasn’t freely mobile—instead, it awkwardly limped toward us, using its claws to drag its body.
Reaching the end of the hall where the stairs began to ascend, I noticed something odd about the queen snarler that was just a couple meters away from us.
Every bit of that mutated queen was odd, but this was different. As it reached closer and closer to the top of the staircase, where we were, its face and body began pulsating. Tumors began growing sporadically in random parts of its body and face.
Don’t tell me…
Before I was even able to finish my thought, the queen burst apart in an explosion of guts, blood, and shards of exoskeleton.
Before Professor Glory could even turn around, the force of the explosion pushed her forward, and she lost her grip on me.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the explosion caused by the queen opened up a large hole beneath it.
“Arthur!” Through gritted teeth, I heard my professor’s desperate cry as she reached her hand out for me, but it was too late. I could feel myself growing weaker from the force of the queen’s last desperate attempt.
“Save Tess!” I called back out weakly before using the last bit of mana I’d been gathering for the short amount of time to augment my body.