I was afloat in an enormous lake. I looked around at the perimeter of the lake that was filled with shadow foxes.
It had been a few minutes since I had been swimming in this lake, but the shadow foxes still showed no signs of entering. They were only roaming around the banks of the lake.
This was a piece of good news, but this also meant that I couldn't leave the lake.
I was still having a hard time believing what had happened.
"All the chains had disappeared into thin air and there was an enormous lake at the bottom of the cliff."
The shock I had received when I looked down the cliff earlier was enormous.
Since the protagonist had only roamed near the volcano during the Entrance Examination arc, I didn't know how the lake had appeared.
The only thing I could think of was that for some reason, the lake was invisible during the daytime.
As I gazed at the surface of the lake, I noticed several thick roots from the floating island almost reaching the surface of the lake.
My eyes followed one of the roots and traveled upwards. Suddenly, my eyes widened.
"That's a cave!" Greatly astonished, I began swimming forward to get a better look.
The root was going inside a cave that appeared on the side of the cliff.
As I reached near the tip of the root, I began pondering.
"Should I go up or try to find the outlet of this lake?"
As I gazed at the perimeters, a helpless smile emerged on my face.
"Do I even have a choice?"
The lake was too large to swim everywhere to look for its outlet.
Grabbing the root, I began climbing. As an awakened, pulling myself should not have been hard in normal circumstances, but my circumstances were anything but normal.
The higher I went, the more strength I had to use to ensure that my grip didn't loosen.
'How much longer?'
Exhaustion from the whole day was catching up to me as sleep threatened to take over me.
All my muscles ached and my whole body felt sore. Every time I pulled myself up, I felt like my hands were about to fall off.
Thankfully, the climb wasn't long or I wouldn't have been able to muster the strength to continue climbing.
The moment I stepped inside, my body fell over. As my body lay on the rugged ground, my breathing slowly stabilized.
"I can't sleep here. I still don't know how safe this place is."
Thinking of the dangers that might be present, I tried to stand.
I already knew that this place might be even more dangerous than outside.
But between something that was surely impossible and something that might be impossible, choosing wasn't very difficult.
"It's bright." Unlike what I had expected, the interior of the cave was lit.
I walked towards the crystals that protruded from the walls of the cave.
The crystals had a rough surface and were giving a dim light.
Although I didn't know how it worked, it was clear that these were the source of light.
"There is nothing here."
I had been walking for half an hour, yet there was not a single soul in sight. As I kept monotonously walking, I began thinking of my goal here.
What I had been aiming for were the Ether manual and a legacy art manual.
In this world, humanity had only been able to derive three types of Aether constituents. Only two of these were known to the world, which were Aura and Mana.
The last one was monopolised by the Awakeners Association's secret unit, Goliath Unit.
But even so, none of them even came close to Ether. Not only will the Ether manual upgrade my talent to the highest but I also wouldn't have to worry Exp assimilation rate even with my low potential.
Not to mention the other manual was legacy art. Although I didn't know what kind of art it was, I was sure that it was at the least as strong as the protagonist's art.
Wouldn't I get super powerful at this rate? I could almost see myself dominating everything single-handedly.
I felt giddy thinking of my prosperous future. My second life was going to be smooth sailing!
I just needed to sit ba-
"Kheuk.." A groan escaped my lips as my knees buckled. I could feel something akin to tremendous pressure smashing me to the ground.
My breathing became ragged, and I felt as if the air was getting thinner. Cold sweat poured out of my back like a river, and my body began trembling.
The voice sent chills down my spine, and fear grabbed hold of my heart. Slowly raising my head, I looked toward the source of the voice.
A few hundred feet away from me was an enormous black shadow fox with… three tails.
'It's an Enma-ranked shadow fox!'
Despair sank in at the realization. For shadow foxes, their number of tails represented their rank. This meant that this shadow fox was two ranks above me.
In this world, only 7 ranks existed and the strength gap between each rank was enormous. Furthermore, the higher one went, the greater the gap between each rank became.
Even after trying to calm myself my trembling didn't stop.
I stayed completely motionless as I tried to think of any possible way to escape the situation.
Yet even after a few minutes, which felt like an eternity to me, nothing came to my mind.
But as I kept vigilantly looking at the beast, I suddenly realized something.
'It's not attacking me.'
Even though several minutes had passed, I was still standing.
I finally looked at my surroundings to get a proper look.
'It's protecting that pearl!'
I was standing in a dome with a radius of several hundred feet. The ground of the dome had patterns carved onto it which glowed with a golden hue while the top of the ceiling had a large weird black plate.
Many tunnels were opening in this enormous dome.
On the ground at the center of the dome, many roots coming from many other caves converged.
They formed a stump upon which a pearl, about the size of a basketball, was floating.
As I laid my eyes on the pearl, my eyes lost focus and my body began moving forward by itself.
But before I could take even a few steps, the pressure descended again, jerking me back to sanity.
I finally understood how I reached this place.
Just now, when I laid my eyes on the pearl, my mind became hazy and unnatural thoughts began popping into my head.
'Since it's not moving, maybe it won't come after me?'
I could think further about the pearl later. First, I needed to get away from here.
Slowly, I started backing away while facing the beast.
As I kept backing away, the Enma-rank shadow fox growled but never left the pearl alone.
Just when I was 50 feet away from the cave, the pressure again smashed into me, almost making me kneel.
The shadow fox's tails rose in the air and were now pointing their silver tip toward me.
'What?! What happened?!' The sudden outburst of the beast had bewildered me.
I had been backing as slowly as possible to not agitate it. I looked at the shadow fox as thoroughly as possible to find a clue.
'It's not looking at me, but at my feet?'
Peeking down, I saw that my right foot was on a root going towards the center.
I cautiously raised my right leg and saw the tails again lying back to the ground.
'I shouldn't step on the roots.'
Sighing in relief, I looked back to see where I should place my steps, only to choke on my breath.
'It's impossible to not step on a root!!!'
The roots had branched heavily near the borders of the dome. Effectively creating a 30 feet thick perimeter on the dome's circumference.
'Should I wait for it to drop its focus and then make a run for it? No, it won't work. I don't think it will leave me out of its sight.'
My expression turned grim as I looked over the 30 feet thick border made by the roots.
'I can only make a run for it.'
Staying in this place was the same as suicide. I never knew when the shadow fox would move and come to attack me.
The average stat for an unawakened human in every stat was 10, but this didn't mean I was only 1.4 times faster than an average person.
The 14 points in agility should make me almost twice as fast as an average human. Covering 30 feet should take only a few seconds.
I didn't wait any longer and dashed ahead. As the distance was rapidly shrinking, I quickly looked behind.
'It's not moving!'
The shadow fox looked ready to pounce on me at any moment, but it was still not moving away from the pearl.
At the crux of the moment, I remembered a crucial fact.
'Can't shadow fox lengthen their ta-'
My thoughts abruptly stopped as something grazed my sides and slammed into the wall. The attack was strong enough to blow up a portion of the wall.
The attack had missed me, but the simple graze was enough to throw me into the air.
Sliding into the tunnel, my body collided against its inner wall.
I could feel a metallic taste in my mouth while my side ribs stung. I couldn't even tell if I was coughing, howling in pain, or gasping for air as I struggled to breathe.
Yet, even though I was safely out of the shadow fox's range. It was still attacking persistently.
The only reason I was thrown inside the tunnel was that I had already reached the entrance of the tunnel.
Remembering the wall being blasted from its attack, I crawled as far as I could and hid behind some large crystals.
Slumping down, I pressed my right side rib as I tried to suppress the bleeding.
Even through the onslaught of pain, I was still feeling greatly exhausted. Strength had already left my body and my eyes were drooping heavily.
Turning my head slightly, I tried to hear if the shadow fox was still attacking, but sleep overtook me and my body went limp.
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