Book 3: Aldrich’s Keep || Chapter 30: The Uncharted Wilderness (3)

The trembling of the ground thickened with every passing second as hundreds of vicious Spirit Beasts broke through the thick bushes of the woodlands. Wolves, bears, apes, boars that had absorbed spiritual energy over the years had evolved into mana hungry Beasts that could manipulate the elements. Some of the Spirit Beasts had even begun to deform and took on hideous attributes that suited their fighting style. Thankfully, the horde of beasts that had been set loose was rather weak, with only a handful of them reaching Tier 3 and above.

Nonetheless, having over a hundred beasts stampeding towards them was not pleasant. Swinging his flaming claymore, Commander Alwig landed the first blow. Coating himself with a brilliant red aura, the handsome blonde knight leapt over twenty metres in the air and locked onto a central target. When the destructive flames on his sword reached its peak, Commander Alwig swooped down from his position, like a meteor crashing into the Earth.

“Death from above!”

Instantly incinerating a large chunk of the Spirit Beasts, Commander Alwig dispersed the horde, sending the creatures into a state of disarray. At this moment, Ines flashed a mischievous smile as she addressed the youths under her care:

“Guys! Now’s your chance! While the Spirit Beasts are confused, you can take this chance to take care of them!”

If not for the overall strength of the beast horde, there was no way that Ines would allow Shin and the others to risk their lives. Merging with her Ainu Flame Wolf Spirit, Ines’ physical and sensory attributes had been heightened to the limit. Should the Ariel or the orphans fall into any harm, she had ample time to react and protect them.

“Finally!”

No longer willing to wait, Ariel spun her gigantic Lava Warhammer as if it were a wooden broomstick and bolted straight to a nearby furry Earthen Bear that had its hind legs turned into solid rock. Its eyes were reddened, as if in a frenzy, and its jaws heavily disfigured, possibly due to a fight with a rival Spirit Beast. With claws sharper than a falcon’s beak, anything that got in the path of its paw swing would be brutally mauled apart in less than a fraction of a second.

“Wait, Ariel! Damn it, Ella! Emma! Give us some support!”

Chasing after the fiery scarlet-haired girl, Shin controlled the two orbs of water revolving around him as he instructed his two archers to provide some cover.

“Gotcha!”

Releasing their nocked arrows, the icy bolts sliced through the air and targeted the Earthen Bear that stood over two metres tall. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy to damage a seasoned Spirit Beast. Swinging its meaty arms, the Earthen Bear swiped the two ice arrows away with ease as it growled out in anger. Although the Tier 2 Spirit Beast was slower than average, it made up for its weaknesses using the thick hide and enormous physical strength that it possessed.

“Haha! So what if you’re strong? Can you take my hammer?!?!”

The Lava Warhammer in Ariel’s hands started to glow in a dim primal light, and small amounts of lava started to leak out from the insides of the bludgeon. Pumping in more mana into the Spirit, Ariel ferociously slammed the glowing Warhammer into the outreached arms of the Earthen Bear. Activating her first spiritual ability, a pool of lava leaked out from the head of her Spirit and spilt all over the beast, melting the bulky coat of fur on its arms in an instant.

“*OOOOAOOOOARRR!!!*.”

Groaning out in pain, the Earthen Bear took one step back and released the Lava Warhammer. Enraged at the little girl that caused it so much agony, it lifted one of its hind legs and directed a straight kick at Ariel, who was within arm’s length. Initially, Ariel thought that with her first attack, the beast would have at least been blown over five metres away. However, since its hind legs were made of solid rock, it stood rooted to the ground, unmoving at the fiery girl’s massive assault. Unsure of how to evade the attack, Ariel brought her Lava Warhammer close to herself as she braced for impact.

However, the pain that she had expected to receive never came. Before the Earthen Bear’s paws made contact with her milky flesh, a ball of water came in between the two and halted the vicious beast’s talon-sharp nails.

“Explode!”

Sending a surge of mana to the water sphere, Shin willed for it to detonate. Both Ariel and the Earthen Bear felt the full force of the explosion, but since Ariel was many times lighter than the Tier 2 Spirit Beast, she was sent flying backwards while the bear remained unmoving.

“Phew! Thanks, Shin! You’ve saved me there!”

Somersaulting twice to regain her bearings, Ariel landed square on the forest floor next to the black-haired youth. If Shin had not rescued her, although her sturdy body might be able to escape severe wounds, light injuries were inevitable.

“Ariel, we can’t be too brash! The Earthen Bear has one of the toughest stances among Tier 2 Spirit Beasts. Knocking it over is near impossible for us!”

“Oh, and you’re an expert in this after reading one book?”

“No, I just remembered the Spirit Beasts that frequent Aldrich’s Keep…”

Ariel was referring to the time where Shin was forced to memorise a book about Spirit Beasts given by his Master. Truth to be told, the young girl didn’t believe that her childhood friend could remember so much information in such a small amount of time, but thankfully, Shin was that smart. Otherwise, she would have been rolling on the floor in distress right now.

“For the Earthen Bear, its weaknesses are its eyes and the underside of its shoulder joints! We should aim for those!”

“You mean its armpits?”

“Exactly! Since its extremely slow, we should be able to aim for those parts with ease. Did you catch that Emma, Ella?”

“Loud and clear!”

Shin deliberately shouted out instructions at a volume that the twins at the back would be able to hear. While the four of them were working together to deal with a singular enemy, Ines and Marric were busy clearing the area so that the children could safely hunt the Earthen Bear. Once they heard the black-haired youth’s orders, they both flashed a prideful smirk and glanced over at the group sent by the Second Elder.

Although on average, their strengths were above Shin and the others, their knowledge of the Spirit Beasts that they were facing was lacklustre at best. Linus was using his Niji Swift Spirit to rapidly attack the Tier 1 Spirit Beast standing in his path, not knowing that the more he poked the beast, the angrier it got. The other Rank 9 Spirit Apostles that came with Linus weren’t doing all that well either. Each facing against a single Tier 1 Spirit Beast, they barely even got on even footing with the beasts before Songath or Slystan had to bail them out. Only Leon, who was older and much more experienced was able to effortlessly take down a Tier 1 Spirit Beast before heading over to help Linus with his target.

Creating one more ice arrow, both Ella and Emma aimed straight at the weak spots of the Earthen Bear that Shin had mentioned. Needless to say, it was a fruitless endeavour as the Bear simply swatted the two icicles away as they were annoying flies hovering about its honeypot.

“We can’t damage it! Its reflexes are too good!”

“Damn it! Ariel, we need to create a distraction so that the twins arrows can connect!”

“On it!”

Wielding her Lava Warhammer up high once more, Ariel bolted forward at the tall and lanky Earthen Bear with Shin following close behind.

“I’m over here furry furry furry!”

Mocking the Beast, Ariel swung her Spirit around in a frenzy to catch the bear’s attention. If it could move from its position, there was a higher chance that a window of opportunity would open for Emma and Ella to fire their arrows at its weak spots.

“*OOOOARREOOOORRR!!!*.”

Evidently enraged by the little girl’s taunts, the Earthen Bear began to emit a brownish-beige aura as the earth elementals danced around it. Mana being released from the insides of its body filled the stale air of the verdant forest and soon, the ground under the Shin and Ariel shook violently, as if in terror of what’s to come.

“What the!”

All of a sudden, spikes of earth rose from the feet of the duo forcing them to use body enhancement techniques to quickly evade the attack. The spikes continued to grow, and soon, the place where Shin and Ariel first stood at had been turned into a Thornfield that barred any entry.

“Hey, Shin! Why didn’t you tell me it could do that?!”

Blaming the black-haired teen next to her, Ariel shot Shin a vengeful glare, thinking that he had withheld information.

“I don’t know EVERYTHING! Why don’t you read some books for yourself?!”

“HAH?! You wanna go right now?!”

“Ermmm, guys… Please don’t start a fight right in front of the enemy…”

Letting go a dejected sigh, Ella reminded the foolish couple that they were currently facing a powerful Tier 2 Spirit Beast.

“Yeah, yeah! Let’s get this asshole first!”

Once more, Ariel dashed forward at blinding speeds, leaving a red trail of light behind her. Enhanced by her mana, Ariel’s body now could withstand extreme pressures and velocities. Sending much more mana than she did before, the Lava Warhammer started to glow in a blinding light instead of a dim radiance.

“What’s she doing?”

It was the first time that Shin had seen Ariel perform that manoeuvre. Curious about what was going to happen, Shin quickly trailed the path of his childhood friend.

“Shin, watch this! My second spiritual ability! I call it the eight-pronged combo!”

Once Ariel was within arm’s reach of the Earthen Bear, the Lava Warhammer buzzed out a low murmur as it molten light reached its peak. Swinging the heavy bludgeon from the right-hand side, Ariel shouted out:

“THE FIRST HIT!”

Closing in the distance, the Lava Warhammer moved at a speed that Shin could not follow with his eyes as it connected with the chin of the Tier 2 Spirit Beast. Leaving a significant amount of lava in its wake, the Spirit nearly melted off the entire snout of the deformed Earthen Bear. However, Ariel was not done.

“THE SECOND HIT!”

Using the leftover inertia from the initial attack, Ariel spun around once and thrust out the hammerhead onto the abdomen of the rooted bear. Similar to the first hit, the second hit contained a heap load of lava in its midst and rendered the thick fur that the Earthen Bear used for defence obsolete.

“THE THIRD HIT!”

“THE FOURTH HIT!”

Continuing her relentless attack, much to the horror of Shin and the other onlookers, Ariel made the Tier 2 Spirit Beast look like a mere punching bag that she used to train with on a daily basis. Since the Earthen Bear was extremely slow, it had no choice but to withstand the pain that it was dealt with using the thick hide and mana strengthened body that it had. Nonetheless, every single one of the onlookers, took one step back, in fear that a stray lava droplet might be sprayed into their area.

‘*Gulp!*. I must never cross Ariel ever again… I don’t want to suffer from that eight-pronged attack!’

Mentally making a side-note to never piss off this short-tempered girl anymore, Shin rotated the two liquid orbs around him, ready to form a water barrier to protect himself from the lava that was flowing around everywhere.

“THE EIGHT HIT! How’s that big guy?!”

Finally completing her combo, Ariel left the two-metre tall bear covered with molten lava from head to toe, that melted every single strand of fur that it had. Relying on its dense muscles and solid hide, the Earthen Bear convulsed violently as it tried to shake off the remnants of the lava.

“Damn it, what are you made of?! How are you still alive?!”

Ariel cried out in exasperation. However, she was not the only one who was stunned. Shin, the twins and even Ines who was overseeing their entire fight were all greatly taken aback. How could a mere Tier 2 Spirit Beast survive that deadly onslaught and still remain to stand?

“*OOOOARRRRRRR!!!!*.”

Growling out in anger, the Earthen Bear lunged forward, hoping to tear the little critter that had caused it so much pain from limb to limb. However, in that moment of anger, it had forgotten to protect its weak spots, giving Emma an opportunity to target the undersides of its arms.

The crystalline arrow whistled through the air and pierced deep into the flesh of the Earthen Bear, causing it to moan out in agony.

“Nice one, Emma!”

Finding the perfect opportunity, Shin bolted forward and controlled the orb of liquid containing the paralysing agent to come forward. Taking the chance when the Earthen Bear was squealing in anguish, Shin sent the sphere of water straight at the opened wound causing the drug to rapidly enter the Spirit Beast’s blood flow and quickly incapacitating it; And as expected, the Earthen Bear stumbled around like an old drunkard before falling flat onto the forest floor.

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