Chapter 1087 Not Strong Enough
Hephais believed he was undetectable, tucked away in the unobtrusive shadow of a rock. But no sooner had the thought crossed his mind than he felt an acute sense of danger. Without hesitation, he teleported to another shadow across the river, just in time to witness the rock's shadow get swallowed by a greenish swamp.
Upon contact, the shadow, which was supposed to be intangible, began to sizzle as if it was a steak thrown into a boiling oil pan. A sharp pain echoed in his Spirit Body, and glancing down at his own shadow, he noticed a bit of that corrosive substance had followed him there.
"Fast..." Hephais muttered, directing his gaze to the creature deliberately emerging from the boggy ground where the rock and its shadow had been mere moments ago.
The creature bore enough human traits to not be labeled an utter alien but was distinct enough to rule out any native origin. Roughly the size of a nine or ten-year-old, with coarse green skin, short curled horns, webbed fingers, and delicate wings, there was no mistaking it.
Its blue-violet eyes, common amongst the Underworld Barbarians, and its reptilian-skin tunic, adorned with a necklace made of teeth from unknown species, fit in fairly well with other conscripts.
Too bad for this Player that he was aligned with the Lustra Plains… Whatever little advantage he had in anatomy and attire had now become moot. But undoubtedly, this unfamiliar Player could cope with such disadvantages.
From their first encounter... he was formidable.
"A Marshling?" Hephais speculated based on his visual input. Even without the Oracle System, his Oracle AI and he had downloaded and stored a myriad of data before the Ordeal, anticipating such scenarios.
While countless Mirror Universes and races existed, one could still categorize them based on recurring traits. A Marshling was akin to a Kappa but this one was clearly more lethal due to its flying ability and the potent toxin constantly oozing from its pores.
Without a doubt, this particular Marshling was even more treacherous, having evolved its original bloodline several times over.
"Oh? Managed to dodge my strike, did you? Sharp instincts," the amphibious creature praised, a predatory grin warping its inhuman face. "Did I forget to mention I'm not alone?"
The river separating Hephais and his newfound adversary was suddenly bridged by a colossal stone chain plummeting from the heavens without warning. Unfazed, the Egaean calmly took a step back, distancing himself from the heavy chain that crashed into his previous spot.
For a fleeting moment, the river was split into two towering walls of water by the chain's force. It then disintegrated into billions of fragments, vanishing entirely from Twyluxia's surface. Both the surprise attack and the spiritual enchantment triggered by the Lumyst Water had failed.
However, the danger wasn't over yet. The plumes of water stirred up during the impact and the collapse of the two watery walls were the real hazards. Whether it was Hephais or his two opponents, they all simultaneously distanced themselves from the stream, moving in opposite directions to avoid the fallout.
Accustomed to navigating his shadow network, he vanished into the sea of darkness without a hitch. Yet, he was caught off guard again when millions of fine droplets from the river finally hit the ground. Some of the shadows he was moving through were instantly obliterated along with the ground they occupied, but others... survived.
The disappearance of several shadows halted him dead in his tracks, breaking his shadow network at multiple points and forcing him to teleport to the next one to maintain his speed. On the flip side, the shadows that remained appeared unchanged, but Hephais, who had an unparalleled affinity with elements of shadow and darkness, was violently shaken.
Indeed, these shadows had been enchanted to +1 and gained some level of spirituality. Judging by the expression on the Marshling, one of his marshes had also received such a spirit enhancement. As for the Player trying to smash him with his enormous chain, he wore a mournful expression.
"My chain... That's the eighth one I've lost today." A colossal, ridiculously stocky alien suddenly broke into sobs, shattering the battle tension that had just formed.
In addition to his towering height exceeding 12 meters, his rough skin resembling a cliffside, and his pupil-less, luminous yellow eyes, it was his bald head topped with a triangular hat that literally looked like a miniature snow-capped mountain that made him so recognizable. The mini-mountain was strapped to his chin by another stone chain, forming a rather eccentric helmet.
As for the massive chain that had just smashed the river, another one was coiled around his torso, which was clad in a primitive rock armor. Behind his back, this chain appeared to pile up in dubious knots, its origin somewhere near his nape, as if it were some kind of umbilical cord with a second navel located there.
'Krea, do you recognize this guy's species?' Hephais mentally queried his Oracle AI, never taking his eyes off the two Players.
[Negative. A mountain troll variant, an earth spirit, a cave titan, a minor deity... all are possibilities.] Krea replied, as unflappable as the one asking the question.
'I guess we'll find out what they are when we fight them.' Hephais tossed his doubts to the back of his mind and decisively drew the same twin scimitars he had nabbed off a Pulsar a few days earlier.
"So you're done running?" The Marshling commented excitedly, brandishing in response a wooden javelin emanating overflowing vitality. "Torak, you handle the distraction."
"Torak, fight!" The giant roared enthusiastically, as if bestowed with a divine mission.
Before the troll or whatever it was could even firm up his resolve, Hephais burst from the shadow at his feet with the speed of a sniper bullet. The giant's yellow eyes widened stupidly to their limits as he saw the hooded face of the killer targeting him fill his field of vision, but it was already too late.
Arms crossed over his chest, Hephais uncrossed his blades with lightning speed, slicing the colossus in front of him with confidence. But as he dove back into another shadow a few yards behind, his expression changed.
'Tsk, not strong enough.'
The rugged-skinned neck of the giant was indeed unscathed. Only the stone chain wrapped around his neck had been slightly chipped. In fact, even the rock armor protecting his skin was still intact.
From this first unsuccessful decapitation attempt, Hephais immediately deduced how the rest of the fight would unfold. Regaining his icy composure, he realized,
'I can't kill it. Not quickly, anyway.'
The problem was the suppression of his powers. If Hephais and this stone troll were in full possession of their abilities, he'd have countless ways to take down this tough bastard. But in this context, where their power was 99.5% determined by their body attributes and the boost from their Lumyst Aura, he was facing an unsolvable equation.
Regardless, not for a moment did he consider asking Jake for help. As an killer who had never failed a mission, he had his own pride.
Aware that this would certainly drain his stamina, he commanded the shadows he melded into to wrap around his dual scimitars. Concurrently, the shadow of the giant he had unsuccessful to kill seemed to rebel, with dark tentacles rising from the ground to suddenly constrict their former master, squeezing him like a python.
This time, the somewhat dim-witted colossus sensed the looming death and tried to dodge, albeit a beat too late. Hephais's now completely black scimitars were already at his neck, slicing through the first protective stone chain like a hot knife through butter.
As Hephais already envisioned the troll's head rolling on the ground, rendered as brittle as sand thanks to the terrifying debuffs accompanying his blades, he abruptly withdrew them to parry invisible projectiles. Suspended in the air and without support, the assassin contorted at high speed to dodge enemy shots that his weapons unsuccessful to intercept, withdrawing into the giant's shadow as soon as his feet touched the ground.
Fading into the darkness, Hephais grimly inspected the condition of his dual scimitars, or rather the shadows on them.
'Completely corroded,' he concluded, deciding to switch targets.
While the walking mountain was powerless against his shadows, the Swamper was a real thorn in his side. Unless he eliminated him, triumph would be impossible.
"Then, you'll be the first to go."
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