It felt like the darkness was pressing against her skin. The in and out of her breathing sounded deafening. She strained to hear the flesh sethers but all she heard were her own steps. Her entire body was tense. She knew she was being hunted. The thought made her heart beat faster. It sounded even louder than her breathing.
There was a whisper of sound. She turned only to have teeth rake over her arm. Nova jerked back and swung her staff but it hit nothing. She twisted around, trying to get a pinpoint on the next attack but there was nothing.
She twisted in a circle. She felt helpless. How was she supposed to fight? The torch only provided a small circle of light that made her more of a target than actually helped. Besides, if the flesh sether were from the dungeon then they definitely had some sort of sense that allowed them to see in the dark.
Nova’s thoughts were interrupted as another whisper sounded in the air. She twisted and this time the tip of her knife sliced into something. Her triumph was short-lived as another of the flesh sether attacked her from behind. She felt teeth bite down into the wound on her back.
She reached back, grabbing the sether and yanking it off her before it could burrow in. She swung her staff in a sweeping arc, hoping to catch any other attackers but all she heard was the whistling of air as it hit nothing.
I can’t do this.
She wasn’t some master fighter. She couldn’t fight blind. She was barely able to hold her own when she could see. The flesh sethers knew this. They kept out of the circle of her light and attacked her back. How long before they attacked all at once?
I can still use my scythe.
She probably had enough mana for one attack as long as she didn’t miss but that meant she would be out of her trump card until she recovered enough mana. She already knew the dungeon held worse things than the flesh sethers.
No. Helena taught me to fight. I can do this. I have to do this.
Her thoughts were interrupted as she was suddenly hit in the back of her knee. Nova was too unprepared to catch herself and fell. Her staff fell from her fingers and then suddenly two more flesh sethers dove at her.
Nova rolled to the side and grabbed up her staff in the process. The flesh sethers weren’t deterred. They twisted in the air and dove towards her. She kicked, slamming into one, throwing it back as she tried hitting the other with her staff.
Her position was too awkward for a long weapon and the flesh sether easily dodged the blow. Nova rolled again and then pushed herself up just in time to hear a whistling sound as another flesh sether went for her neck.
She swung again, this time awkwardly hitting the monster and then jumping backward, trying to put distance between them.
This isn’t working.
The staff was too long for close combat. She needed something else. Nova turned and ran. Behind her, the flesh sethers grew louder. The excitement of their prey running away from them had caused them to forget about stealth. It didn’t matter too much to Nova. She was focused on other things.
Her run was clumsy and she stumbled on the rocks in her path but always caught herself. She knew if she fell now, she wouldn’t be getting back up again. She switched to mana sense. It was a short run, but it felt like forever, but as she moved her steps grew surer as her senses grew. She could feel the threads around, she could feel their threads.
Nova began to weave. The weaving was rough and she knew it might likely fail, but she could only hope it would be enough. With a burst of speed, she reached her destination. Nova reached out to the bloody rocks on the ground.
Nova didn’t wait to see what happened. She scooped up the dagger she left behind and twisted around, bracing herself for the fight. Flinging her staff to the side, she stabbed her knife into the nearest monster. Nova put her full weight into it, dragging her and the creature to the ground, until her knife was buried to the hilt, leaving the creature dead underneath her.
There was no break. Nova immediately twisted onto her back, bringing the flesh sether up as a shield. The remaining four flesh sethers leaped on her. Nova brought up her knees, trying to protect her body from their teeth. She dug her hand into her pocket, pulling out the magnetism crystal. She lifted her hand and activated it.
A swarm of rocks flew towards them, covered in the remains of a wind-sharpening weaving. They slammed down on the monster that covered her, both crunching and stabbing. Two of the flesh sethers were caught, leaving two alive. It was okay. That was what the knife was for.
One of the flesh sethers was pinned by its fallen packmates while the other managed to slither free. Nova dropped her wrist and lurched forward, trying to pin the escaping one down but it already slipped away into the darkness. She couldn’t chase it, not yet when she had the other one pinned down.
Nova yanked her dagger free of the monster’s corpse and then shoved it down on the pinned monster, stabbing it repeatedly until it was limp. She then pulled herself up, looking around her. The dungeon was dark but she could feel the mana threads around her. She could feel hints of the flesh sether.
Nova went back to where she had flung her staff. She picked it up, giving the weapon a silent apology for her treatment of it. She then turned and quickly began making her way back to where Mathius was. This time, she didn’t trip. Her senses felt sharp and she could feel the threads around her, shaping the room.
She moved faster until she had almost reached Mathius.
“Nova!” Pan called out.
She already knew. She raised her arm and then stabbed down on the flesh sether as it leaped through the air to bite down on Mathius, the easier prey. The staff’s spearhead pierced through it and its weight pinned it to the ground. The flesh sether wiggled desperately, trying to tear itself free.
Nova stared at it, mesmerized by its desperate struggle.
“You going to kill it or what?” Pan asked.
Nova jerked and then she stabbed the flesh with her knife until it stopped moving.
Pan whistled. “She definitely has potential. What do you think, Kamila?”
Nova blinked and realized the female ghost from earlier was there. She still wore a scowl on her face.
Nova bristled at the word. “It worked.”
“This time,” she said, and then without another word, she vanished, sinking back into the staff. Nova glared at the staff.
Pan laughed. “Don’tcha take it to heart. Kamila is a tough one. You did well out there. Wasn’t sure you would make it but you did well.”
Nova frowned at Pan. “I don’t like being tested.”
Pan raised an eyebrow. “Oh? That bothered you?”
Nova glared at the ghost.
“Aye, I see it did.” The old man leaned forward with a serious look in his eyes. “Aye, it was a test. You can fight but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re too afraid to.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the flesh sether. “That fight, well, that’s easy compared to what you’ll be facing deeper in the dungeon. So, if you can’t handle those, well you’re already dead.”
Nova’s lips tightened. She didn’t like what he was saying but he had a point. A part of her had wanted to fight, to see if she could handle it. She had but only barely and even then, she had to use her weaving as a crutch. She needed to get better at fighting.
“I’m glad to see you’re taking my words seriously. All of us want to see you survive,” Pan said.
Nova frowned. “Why?”
Pan grinned. “We get to live again because of you. It’s got its drawbacks. No denying that but we’re out of that pit-ridden tree.”
Nova’s face softened and suddenly she felt exhausted. She looked into the darkness. “Do you think we’ll make it?”
“Don’t know,” Pan said. “But at least you have me to help you.”
Nova arched an eyebrow. “And who are you exactly, Pan?”
He grinned. “Thought you would never ask. Pan Ruzeli, the best monster hunter the world has ever known, retired.”
Nova blinked in surprise and then hope filled her. “Monster hunter?”
“Yes indeedy. I was enjoying my retirement years when that damn tree got me. It’s always when you let your guard down.”
Nova shook her head. “That’s…”
She didn’t know what to say.
“Let’s get you through this dungeon,” Pan said and stepped forward. “And soon too. The dungeon is growing restless. We’ve stayed for too long.”
Nova nodded. She turned back to her staff, jerking it out of the carcass of the flesh sether. She then turned to Mathius. The man still slept and she hoped that wasn’t a bad sign. She moved to his side and began tying down his things as best she could. She took his satchel, pulling it over her shoulder.
Once she had secured everything, she tied up the two magnetism crystals and pressed them against the wall. She could sense the thread reacting and then suddenly Mathius was being dragged forward until he was smashed against the wall. Nova winced at the impact.
“Shit.” She reached over, checking his head. There was a trickle of blood but he looked okay.
She sighed and then turned to Pan. The ghost was looking at the set-up with a mixture of surprise and amusement.
“Lead the way,” Nova said.
Pan nodded and then turned. Nova took a breath as they moved deeper into the dungeon.
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