Chapter 143 -- Manticore
We began our subjugation of level 27 with something to eat, naturally. I got out the rest of the cabbage rolls I had made back at the inn in Doran and served them up. Dora-can was satisfied with one serving but Fer and Sui, as usual wanted more. Giving in I quickly grilled some Orc General meat marinated in miso since the cabbage rolls were the last of the ready-to-eat food I had prepared and stored in my Item Box. All I had left was a lot of cooked rice, nothing else. Where had it gone? I counted on my fingers, it had only been, what, four days since we entered the dungeon and the mountain of food I had spent two days non-stop preparing had been polished off already? The true culprits were Fer and Sui-chan of course, Dora-chan's eating habits were nothing to speak of and me, well I didn't eat that much myself, did I? Did I? I poked my belly experimentally, there wasn't a lot of muscle admittedly and it did wobble a bit... it meant I'd be cooking the meals for all of us from now on rather than just dishing them out. Ah well.
After finishing eating and taking a short break we headed off through the woods before us. Fer said at the speed we were moving at we'd get to the level's boss some time this evening. I wondered what sort of monster we'd be facing this time -- the 26th level's boss had been an S-ranked Vasuki so I couldn't expect anything less than that on this level. The bosses were sure to get harder to defeat the further down into a dungeon you dived, after all.
I'd leave the subjugation of this level's boss to my three contracted monsters, I wouldn't take part in the battle to come. I couldn't even imagine me fighting an S-ranked monster. Sure I have state abnormality nullification and Perfect Defence, but facing up to monsters like that? I'd drop dead from the shock if I even tried. My sombre thoughts were interrupted by Fer.
"There's something up ahead. My turn, I think." Fer said.
Oh, it looks like monsters. I peered ahead, a cluster of Wild Apes in front of us and then-- Flash! Boom! A lot of dead Wild Apes behind us. The next monsters we encountered were dealt with by Dora-chan and then Sui-chan in turn. I did my best as the party's official drop item collection guy but we were in a hurry and we often left items of little interest behind just as we had in the first few levels of the dungeon.
The one thing that did stop us in our mad rush through the forest was, of course, our belly clocks. Time to eat.
"We've run out of things to eat so I'll have to cook something." I said as we stopped in a clearing and Fer put up his Barrier. "Hang on a minute." We had fought through the previous 26 levels on what I had made beforehand saving us time. From now on we'd be taking it slower while I cooked for all of us. Right now I needed to make something quick and easy... well, and it will have to be filling, to build up stamina for the coming boss battle.
Since we were on on the 27th level there were no other Adventurers around. That meant I could use Net Super freely. I ordered up garlic sprouts, yakiniku sauce (roasted garlic flavour) and and white sesame seeds. Garlic does wonders for stamina.
I took out the Black Magic Cooking Stove from my Item Box while trying to choose between Orc General and Bloody Horn Bull meat but I quickly decided on the beef since we had eaten Orc General meat earlier. Either kind of meat stir-fried this way was going to be delicious though.
First I sliced the Bloody Horn Bull meat and cut it into bite size pieces, coating them with a little yakiniku sauce. I chopped the sprouts to about 4cm then put oil in a hot frying pan before I added the Bloody Horn Bull meat and quickly stir-fried it. Once the meat browned I added the garlic sprouts and stir-fried the mixture a bit more. The garlic sprouts took up the yakiniku sauce while the meat cooked through as I kept stirring continuously. Once it was ready I piled the meat and sprouts on top of cooked rice in deep bowls for Fer, Sui and Dora-chan, sprinkling white sesame seeds on top before putting them out. That should boost their stamina, yosh.
"It's ready." I announced, as superfluously as ever, stepping back as the Gluttonous Trio performed a perfectly synchronised assault on the heaping bowls of stir-fried meat over rice lined up in front of them.
"This sauce on this meat is delicious. I could eat all of it." Fer announced telepathically, his jaws munching hard and fast, devouring the stir-fry. Hey Fer, think about the others, think about me will ya?
"Well, this tasty sauce is sweet and spicy at the same time. Yum!" That's right Dora-chan, yakiniku sauce is really tangy.
"This sauce and the meat go together real well-. I could eat it all too." Sui-chan said, taking her cue from Fer-ojichan. She liked the yakiniku sauce as well, good. A few moments later...
"""Seconds""" Fer and Sui-chan issued their usual demand for more food but this time Dora-chan wanted more too. My own appetite was increasing, perhaps because of the smell from the garlic sprouts cooking in the frying pan. I made another lot of stir-fry but this time I reserved some of it for my own dinner, topping it over some of the cooked rice I still had in reserve. I dug in while the three of them launched a second assault on the line of dishes on the ground.
Yosh, the garlic-flavoured sweet and spicy yakiniku sauce goes well with the meat as Fer, Dor-chan and Sui-chan had said. The white sesame seeds added a slight but noticeable accent to the dish over the strong garlic sprout flavour. It was a good dish to boost stamina and simple and quick to prepare. I could eat a lot of it too. I'd make it again sometime, I decided.
I pulled a PET bottle of brown tea from my Item Box and took a quick drink, waiting for the inevitable...
""Seconds"" from Fer and Sui-chan, no Dora-chan this time. The appetite-enhancing effects of the garlic sprouts were hard at work and there was another round of stir-fry called for before they were satisfied. I shook my head, I had thought my reserves of cooked rice would last another meal at least but it had completely disappeared down the gullets of the Gluttonous Trio (and me too, I had to admit). Ah well.
After the meal I tidied up and we all took a short break before we set off rushing quickly through the forest again. Fer, Dora-chan and Sui took turns to defeat the monsters we met with no problem while I collected drop products. All too soon though...
"That's the boss monster of this level." Fer said as we stopped just at the edge of the trees. What was that...?
The boss was a monster a little larger than a lion with what looked like a lion's body but its tail was insectile, like a giant scorpion's tail bent up and over its back with its poison stinger pointed forward. The strange thing was the creature's head which was not catlike at all. Instead an old man's grotesque features peered out of the mane of hair around its shoulders. Its grinning mouth was too wide, reaching from ear to ear while its staring eyes bulged from its wrinkled face.
When I Appraised the strange-looking monster...
[ Manticore ]
A Manticore, I had heard that name before, a legendary creature that eats people... I shook my head, not good. Of course most of the monsters I had encountered since I had arrived in this world would quite happily eat people, would happily eat ME but for some reason the Manticore's face scared me more than it should. It was like something out of a nightmare.
"Ah, that's a Manticore..." I said redundantly. Of course Fer would know what it was. "Can you deal with it OK, Fer?"
"Of course I can deal with it OK." Fer said disparagingly. "I fought a Manticore once before. It was sneaky, it pretended to be badly wounded and when I closed in for the kill I got hit by that poison stinger on its tail. We need to watch out for that, it's got a longer reach than you'd think." Fer turned to Dora-chan and Sui.
"Dora, Sui, Manticores are quick and crafty opponents. Let me fight it by myself, I can take it down in one hit after all."
"Nah, you always want to hog the best ones, don't you big guy?" Dora-chan said, his own eyes fixed on the monster before us. "I'll help deal with him too."
"Hey, what's 'sneaky' mean-?" Sui-chan asked, her sniper tentacle already pointing towards the Manticore. It looked like she wasn't intending to get left behind either.
Fer shrugged, giving in to the other two's obvious readiness to fight the Manticore beside him. "Well, I mean, sneaky means being clever in a fight, deceiving your opponent. That sort of monster will pretend to be weak and if you get too close when you're attacking it will hurt you when you least expect it."
"Hmm, it's a bad monster doing that-. Sui will do my best!-"
Charged up, Fer, Dora-chan and Sui headed towards the Manticore.
Pew pew pew! Sui fired a string of Acid Bullets but the Manticore dodged nimbly and they all missed. While it was distracted though Dora-chan swung round to its opposite flank and fired off a wind magic attack, blowing a large hole in the Manticore's side, then wreathed in fire magic he dove straight into the hole! Manticore-san, you're not just fighting one enemy here...
"Guueeee..." The Manticore's grotesque face stared straight up to Heaven as it howled in agony then slash--! Fer released a Claw Slash from his right forefoot, the Manticore's upper body was chopped into small pieces and it was all over, a few seconds from the start of the one-sided battle. Oof... you guys were merciless, weren't you?
After the remains of the Manticore disappeared I collected the drops, a large magic stone, a skin and a Poison Stinger.
"Well, let's go down to the next level." I said. There was no point hanging around here now.
"Umu." Fer said, his paw already on the teleportation magic circle next to where the Manticore had stood. I climbed on his back carrying Sui-chan while Dora-chan clung to me as before. There was a moment of blackness and a disconcerting sensation of falling and then we arrived at the 28th level. What the...
"Eh?! Is the entire 28th level like this?"I said, looking around our arrival point. A swamp spread out as far as the eye could see.