A wide expanse of grassland!
There was no such things as hills here, but this was a mountain. Only by satisfying a certain condition would one be able to climb higher, and if I remembered correctly this was the 25th level.
‘Only 81th levels are known to be explored.’
There were no accounts on how many levels there were. Some had said that 99, or perhaps 100 was the end, but I had only managed to climb to the 78th level myself. That’s why the mountain was nicknamed as the mountain no one could conquer. It was relatively smooth-sailing up until the 40th level. But upon reaching the 50th level, pretas would appear causing a sharp increase in difficulty while the conditions to advance would rise in complexity, so there was a clear limit to climbing alone. Although I had vowed to climb to the summit, there was no immediate need to do so, because Rakshasa Mountain was one of ‘the hunting grounds with optimal conditions’. Simply put, it was like one of the courses of a curriculum taken on the way from novice to expert.
‘The 25th level should be home to black wagons.’
Black wagons. They were named so because they are said to look like ㄷshaped hand wagons, and because their internal organs were outside their body, they would take their prey into the loading (kind of) space of the wagon to sedate and digest them. Their main specialty was to ram into their targets, stunning them by using their broad and sturdy frontal parts. They were quick as well, so a moment of mistake might mean heading straight to the other world, but otherwise it wasn’t a hard monster to face as long as one remained on guard.
Pant pant pant.
Soon after the gnoll warriors appeared following behind me. The gnolls surrounded me in a circular shape, staring at their surroundings in curiosity. While it was indeed a wide grassland, one could see gaze upon the galaxy and a few planets close by, making it a picturesque place.
‘It was concluded that this place wasn’t part of the same universe.’
That’s what the astronomers said, and as for me I could only nod in agreement. At any rate…if this was indeed the 25th level, Etaqua should be in a place somewhere not far.
I raised my voice, attempting to call him out. I waited for a long while, to no response. He must have definitely landed in a similar area. Had he moved location during the past several days?
‘He shouldn’t have left the 25th level.’
Simply being capable of hunting didn’t make it possible to advance to the next level. There was a necessary ‘condition’. As I drew a cross in midair, my status window as well as the condition popped up.
「User is located at the ‘25th level of Rakshasa Mountain – World of Sloth’.」
「A gate leading to the next level will appear upon killing five Lazy Black Wagon Kings.」
That’s how it was.
One in a while there would be an individual akin to a ‘king’ among the black wagons; a lazy male that would form a pack, and do nothing but gorge on the food brought by the females. To kill five of them was no different than having to fill five pack of black wagons. Normally they would go around in packs of 10 to about 50, so it would definitely take time for Etaqua and the shadow kaim to clear them.
‘I’ll come across them for sure if they’re on this level.’
I had a certain level of confidence. I had a tiny feeling of being ‘connected’ to something. There was no other being apart from Etaqua that could give me this feeling.
‘I should begin hunting.’
I relaxed my heart. In any case, Rakshasa Mountain was one of the ‘best hunting grounds’. Especially at present, empty of competitors…this place was no different to a gold mine.
The last to remain black wagon king hurled its body forth at a tremendous speed. As I quickly dodged, the black wagon king created a hole planting itself into the ground. It extracted its body from the ground using its four legs and once again tried to charge, but I sent a command to the gnoll warriors.
The 17 gnoll warriors instantly set upon the black wagon, chomping at its four legs and scratching its body. Even so the black wagon king wasn’t affected in the least. I suppose, no matter how lazy, a king was a king after all. But its movements had clearly become sluggish. It further worsened as time went on, and taking advantage of an opportune moment I used ‘Stygian Touch’.
A 10m radius around the black wagon king was tainted black. Finally dozens of arms emerged to completely envelop the black wagon’s entire body. Floundering, the black wagon melted down in moments, and at the same time the result of the hunt presented itself in the form of messages.
[1 Black Wagon King and 32 Black Wagons have been hunted.]
[‘Gnoll Warrior Group(17)’ has ended their hunt successfully.]
[The ‘Str/Agi/Con +1’ effect of the buff ‘From Today We Are One’ affecting ‘Gnoll Warrior Group(17)’ has increased to ‘Str/Agi/Con +2’.]
[‘Stygian Touch’ has leveled up to 2.]
[User’s intelligence stat has increased by 1.]
[380 points has been obtained.]
It was smooth-sailing. I had progressed by way of dividing and conquering; having the gnoll warriors lure off small numbers of black wagons while I would almost always land the last blow to raise skill proficiency.
Anyone witnessing this would be astonished. I might even be mistaken for a Beast Master, because it was unthinkable of utilizing this sort of method if one didn’t have a top level occupation related to ‘taming’. Moreover, I may even be detested as extremely evil for taking the finishing blows as the owner. After all, there was a slight difference in the degree of growth depending on who landed the last hit to take the kill.
‘Intelligence is developing well…? I hadn’t expected this as well.’
Was this the influence of the mana reconstruction? Intelligence and magic power were quite similar in a way. Intelligence had the effect of increasing the speed of leveling skills, and it was also related to the function of protecting one’s self from an opponent’s magic. While it did improve memory, high intelligence didn’t necessarily make someone clever; in fact, the aforementioned two effects were greater.
‘An S-rank skill is amazing indeed.’
Stygian Touch. While I was far from exhibiting the same power as I did with the demon lord’s body, its destructive power was still off the charts considering my current stats. Skill level multiplied by 2, and a power conversion rate with no mana loss, meaning that it could display an effective power of 68 as my current magic power was 64.
To make a contrast, even for A-rank offensive skills, most formulas went as the following: ‘(Skill level * 1.5) + (Magic power * 0.9)’. Applying that formula to my current magic power equaled an effective power of merely 60.6. This alone made a difference of over 7. This difference only stood out more the higher the skill level and magic power. Especially when magic power reached 90, a difference of 1 become all the more significant; thus it was impossible to recreate the might of an S-rank skill using an A-rank skill. Of course, acquiring an S-rank skill was that much more difficult. Perhaps about ten among humanity may have barely learned one. That’s just how much every skill of a demon lord had to be viewed as ‘impossible to compare to’.
‘The area of effect and number of hands created using Stygian Touch depends on the mana efficiency.’
The maximum area I could cover was about 20m, and 100 hands were about the limit. The problem was that the hands couldn’t affect anything outside of that area. Black wagons were speedy, so using the gnoll warriors was the best hunting method.
I stopped my understanding the skill, and turned my gaze towards the gnoll warriors.
“Are you hungry?”
Pant pant pant!
It’s been long since the hunting had begun after all. There was no distinction between day and night on Rakshasa Mountain, so one had to pick a random time to eat or sleep, moreover, the black wagons weren’t much of a food. But during the stay on Rakshasa Mountain, these kind of things would be the only food source, at least until reaching the 29th level where fruits or creatures akin to ordinary animals would appear.
I took out some spice from my rucksack.
‘What better way than this to mask the taste.’
Among those I took out, there was a spice giving off a fragrance favored by dogs. I took out a burner and a huge pot which looked to be used in Chinese restaurants. After pouring in water and heating it, I tore off the legs only from the black wagon’s corpse. Its legs were the only edible(relatively) parts. Using ‘Cold Blood’ to drain the blood, I tossed it inside the pot.
‘Who knew I would be using Cold Blood to drain blood from food.’
It was a skill used to ‘shape’ the blood drawn out of corpses. I had obtained it during the forced awakening caused by Jörmungandr, but surprisingly it had a use in places like this as well. A feature to hasten the process of draining blood!
‘I should ready the gnoll warriors’ share first.’
I added in the spice with a fragrance which dogs were fond of.
The gnoll warriors became excited the instant the pot lid was opened.
The fragrance was originally used to lure gnolls. Though I had never expected to be using it to feed them instead. Although sprinkling the spice was all I did, the cooking was finished. As there were 17 of them to feed, I was repeating the process for the third time when a new skill appeared.
<’Cooking(Lv1)’ skill has been created.>
‘Was the cooking skill this easily acquired?’
I had eaten delivery food when I was at home. During the time at the altar I had eaten fruits and the like in the vicinity. Come to think of it, this was my first time actually implementing the thought I had of surviving by cooking. However, one had to be at the level of a reasonably skilled restaurant chef to obtain the cooking skill. It was definitely not a skill that could be acquired by simply pouring water and sprinkling some spice.
‘This is also the ability of Universal Man.’
I rubbed my chin; this was a new discovery. If this was the case, wouldn’t I be able to learn other production related skills?
As I stared at the words of the cooking skill, which I’d learned for the first time in my life including the past, the related explanation soon popped up.
Slightly improves taste of food.
Slightly improves mood upon consumption.
There was no significant effect. But when eating a delicacy prepared by a master chef with the highest cooking level, there was a slim chance of stats increasing, or being granted a buff. That’s why the food of a master chef was worth a king’s ransom.
I threw a well cooked leg of the black wagon onto the ground, and the gnoll warriors madly set upon it. After finishing their feast, the gnoll warriors languidly splayed themselves about the ground, as if they couldn’t bother about anything in the world. They did look happy though.
I’ll say, what’s the point of an already dominated target having increased loyalty? But one could also look at it this way; Raising my cooking skills to the pinnacle, and rendering others completely captivated by my cooking so that anything else couldn’t be considered as food, thereby activating the Dominator skill…
I shrugged. A man’s cooking was all I was capable of.
But at that moment…
ㅡIt’s a preta. A preta appeared.
ㅡWhat has a preta appeared in a place like this?
ㅡThe preta must be lost. How pitiful.
ㅡNo. The one being chased is more pitiful. It’s such a pretty dragon.
ㅡDragon’s are scary. They destroy our homes.
It was the voices of spirits. There were many spirits of grass on this level, and I could see and hear their forms and voices as well.
‘A preta and a dragon?’
preta! It was a monster that existed on the 50th level and above. They were categorized into small pretas and great pretas, and their abilities would rise twice as much as their size grew. But even a single small preta was beyond me in my current state.
Why had a preta, which was supposed to be on the 50th level and above, appeared on the 25th level? This was no precedent to this, as far as I knew. But my attention was caught on the other word. The dragon must be…
It was certain to be Etaqua. If Etaqua was being chased by the preta, I had no time to lose.
I asked the spirits of grass.
“Could you tell me where that dragon and preta is?”
I had been ignoring them all this time, since my affinity was low anyhow, but the spirits of grass were the only ones who could tell me the way.
As I approached the three spirits of grass closeby, they trembled.
ㅡW-, we must be visible to him!
ㅡI-, I don’t know anything.
ㅡP-, please don’t eat me.
Why do spirits fear me so much like this? They looked like they would flee if I gave them a scare. Although seeing and hearing was possible, physical contact with spirits was impossible, so I would be in trouble if they ran away.
I spoke as coaxingly as I could.
“I won’t eat you. Why would I eat you guys?”
ㅡW-, will you really not eat us?
ㅡIt-, it’s a lie. He says that but he’ll eat us!
ㅡBu-, but what does eating mean anyway?
I forcefully controlled the urge to frown.
“If you tell me, I won’t eat you and I’ll also do you guys a favor.”
ㅡTh-, then I want to ride the ‘pollen of verdant hills’.
ㅡM-, me too! It should be fun riding around pollen.
ㅡDra-, the dragon is way~ over there! Hiding in a cave.
It was fortunate. Although I hadn’t a clue what pollen of verdant hills was, they became cooperative. Good.
I tried making the best smile I could.
“Will you guide me?”
ㅡFo-, follow me.
ㅡSca-, you’re scary so don’t come close though.
ㅡQui-, quickly let’s go!
I didn’t know why they forced themselves to talk, trembling all the while, but finally the spirits of grass began to lead the way. Together with the 17 gnoll warriors, I made my way toward the cave Etaqua was in.