Chapter 24: Venom in the mist

Chris stood in the rain, waiting for the last of the wisps to approach—he’d taken to calling the things ghost lights. It floated over slowly, fading as the mist diluted around it. Before it could disappear, Chris struck at it with his hammer, using [Sunder] for extra effect. The ghost light wobbled as the haze around and within it was displaced. It paused for a moment, then its form rallied and it continued floating forward, only to fade as it ran out of mist to suspend and sustain it.

He couldn’t harm them, his weapons couldn’t touch them, but his [Danger Sense] screamed at him every time the ghost lights approached. They were enemies that only could be avoided or led out of the mist.

He’d have to avoid killing boars, if he got trapped by a swarm of them, he’d be a sitting duck for when the ghost lights approached.

Right now, it looked like the coast was clear, so he continued farther into the forest. The boars continued to gather around him, but he jumped into the trees and hid among the leaves before they gathered up for the charge. It wasn’t the most dignified response, but the boars would wander away moments later.

Chris continued like that for an hour. The mist had become thicker and the trees taller around him. He had to be close now.

As if on cue, a smell like smoke and leaves curled in his nostrils and the air became filled with sinister whispers. He stepped forward and the mist cleared around him for a moment, before a thick pulse of the haze brushed past him.

Then, he felt rain pattering against him and the light touch of a breeze. He must be in some forest clearing. However, the strange mist remained. This had to be where it was being produced. He stepped forward and the clearing thinned the mist enough to see the tree ahead of him.

Then the tree shook and a wave of dark smoke exploded out of it, brushing past him with enough insubstantial impetus to ruffle his hair. Then the wave of smoke was behind him, fading into the forest.

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He stepped closer, hammer at the ready. The tree was small, it would only take a single strike to fell it.

He was almost beside it, and after one of the waves of mist subsided, he saw the tree clearly. It was a squat and spindly thing. Skeletal branches jutted out, devoid of leaves—except for near its crown where a solitary leaf clung on for dear life. Its bark was reddish black and its trunk undulated upward in ugly crimson cankers that tessellated together in an odd pattern.

The ground around the tree seemed charred and burnt. Blackened grass crisped and crunched beneath his feet—brittle and dead despite the rain. There was something wrong with the tree, something killing everything around it, something creating the ghost lights within the boars.

Chris raised his hammer and slammed it into the trunk. The tree shook and groaned, but held strong, despite how spindly and half-dead it looked. Suddenly, the trunk shifted, red coils began to unwind from around it, revealing blackened wood and weeping golden sap.

Eyes like a wildfire seen through smoke snapped open and Chris realized too late the red ‘bark’ was a snake wrapped around a dying tree. The serpent’s fangs were dug deep within the wood, pale golden sap and reddish venom oozing out from within the bite marks.

The serpent seemed to glare at him as it eased its curving teeth from the tree.

New Quest!

 (Optional – Human/Monster) Defeat Xys of Smoke (0/1)

Chris blinked at the screen, then swung his hammer at the monster’s head, activating [Sunder] and feeling his mana drain slightly. There was no point in letting it get its head out of the tree. That seemed like a bad idea.

Like a vile nail, the serpent’s toothy jaw slammed back into the holes it had bitten in the wood. Xys let out an enraged hiss, then struggled to free its head again.

Chris attacked again, his mana empowered blows starting to crack the scales around the serpent’s skull. Somehow, through the onslaught, the tree held strong and steady, even as increasing quantities of the red venom carved smoking lines down its sides, poisoning the earth around it.

The tree throbbed as Xys writhed, and Chris found himself engulfed in another burst of smoky mist. He lost sight of the snake within the cloud, just as he swung again. His blow somehow missed entirely and the strength of the follow-through overbalanced him and sent him to the ground.

He picked himself up quickly, holding his shield in front of him, then tried to attack the snake again as the mist cleared.

He didn’t get the chance. Xys’ head had just freed itself of the tree, but it was too tightly wound to strike out at him as of yet. Its tail was another matter. The monster’s tail was loose, and it flicked out, smashing into Chris’ shield and toppling him backward.

Xys lashed out again with its tail, but it was slightly too far away. Chris rose and inspected his shield. He’d just bought it, but now there was a large dent in its surface. The snake was strong, stronger than him, that was for certain.

Nothing would save him if he let the serpent uncoil itself fully, so he charged back in—leaping over the tail when it whipped out at him once more and bringing the hammer down on its coiled body in one glorious [Sunder] from above.

The hammer struck Xys’ coils with immense force and the serpent hissed and thrashed. Scales buckled and shattered beneath the weight of the blow and Chris followed through with a shield bash to the snake’s head.

But its head was now free and it simply spun around the tree, moving with the blow, loosening itself as it went. Chris stepped back as streams of venom jetted from its mouth, splattering against his right arm and armor and shield.

The red venom hissed and steamed like the serpent itself and the metal it touched began to look like a layer of bubbling paint.

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Chris’ arm fared worse. The venom soaked into him, burning through layers of dead skin in an instant, exposing sensitive flesh beneath. He could feel the red liquid beginning to be swept into his blood stream. On impulse, he commanded the Slime to shed that part of itself. He wasn’t even sure if it was possible, but he hoped that the Slime’s upgrade to rank F-2 and its consumption of the flower in the demon Dungeon had given him greater control of it.

It had. Layers of flesh and skin resolved into green goop and trickled off the surface of his sensitive flesh, leaving exposed, unbleeding flesh behind. Even better, the nerves of the area seemed to have been pinched off as the pain vanished, despite him having a gaping hole in his arm.

He could still feel the venom in his bloodstream, but he had to hope that the Slime in his veins would be able to deal with it—it was a perk of his Monstrous Constitution trait: resistance to bleed and poison effects.

He stepped in close, just out of reach of the snake trying to reach him, then charged [Sunder] and slammed his hammer down on the snake’s head again. An area of weakened scales gave out under the blow and Xys recoiled. A gap in the serpent’s head now showed pulsing tissues and shard of scale and bone. It shrunk back to the tree and hissed menacingly at him.

Chris stood still, unsure of what to do, he didn’t want to go within the monster’s strike range, but it was obviously plotting something.

The snake side-eyed him for a moment longer, then buried its fangs back in the tree, its whole body contorting. The tree pulsed again and this time the mist that came out of it was tinged with sickly red.

He took a breath and closed his eyes, just before the rolling red cloudbank hit him and passed him by.

He opened his eyes to a world tinted ever so slightly red, to faint urges to follow the obedience of gleeful slaughter in the name of a serpentine master. It was at that point that he realized that his eyes, nose, and lungs were already burning up. It was at that point that he realized he should have been holding his breath the entire time.

The snake flicked its tongue mockingly toward him, as it withdrew its fangs from the tree it used to disperse its venom. The venom in the mist began to take hold.

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