Head raised, Arthur watched the avian monsters wheeling above. They made no move to attack him, and he had managed to make his way up the rest of the slope without a problem. A look along the edge of this level—lined with low-hanging shrubbery—indicated that he was in luck. The next slope up was just a hundred or so feet away, at a diagonal to his left.
But monsters from below were already gaining ground and beginning to charge up to his level. At least the shrubbery would slow the babi ngepet down a little. The birds above would likely slow him down too, if they finally chose to attack.
Intuition had Arthur scanning the brush even as he edged himself onto the level fully. He kept moving, knowing he could not stop, but he had yet to catch sight of any monsters on this level. If it was not the birds, it had to be an ambush predator. And what other creature had he fought on the first floor?
“Snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?” Arthur grumbled, sweeping his spear to slice off some low branches in the brush. His gaze flicked around constantly as he threaded his way.
Rather than attack, he chose to go around. Green and yellow snakes that lay draped on the top of branches, its brilliant scales blending nearly directly into the undergrowth. If not for his Enhanced Eyesight that highlighted the shift in temperature a little, a disparate change that he had not even noticed till now, he might have missed them.
The damn creatures were just a touch cooler, the subtle difference enough to almost highlight them in his eyes as he moved along. He could make his way through this level without an issue.
If a modified, enhanced Iron Skin trait was what was needed to deal with the rats, then here enhanced senses provided him the edge to survive. A cultivation exercise that expanded his senses in another way would have been just as good...
Moving warily, Arthur did his best to get through without having to kill the snakes. Perhaps they would take their venom out on his pursuers.
If only he could pause between levels.
Time would mean he could heal up a little; his healing technique was already running at full bore. He knew it was replacing blood, fixing up open wounds, and clearing injuries. But it would take hours for a complete healing, and the entire point of this exercise was never to let him stop and rest.
“I got to run again, don’t I?” Arthur muttered to himself. No jokes, no rhyming. He was too tired and in pain. He wiped at his face again, coming away bloody and gory before he judged the way forward clear. Then, he started jogging, slowly.
Step by step through the path he eyed.
The first snake that darted forward, wrapping itself around his arm, he managed to disentangle and toss away before it got its coils firmly locked. Thankfully, whoever decided to create this level had gone for a mid-level series of shrubs rather than tall trees from which a constrictor might drop. So the snakes did not have the advantage of height.
They still came at him, though, another dozen feet in. One swinging its head towards him. This time round, he reacted by putting his spear through its head. He shook the corpse aside, but as he ran, he realized there was another noise. A chittering that was rising up around him.
Another nightmare born: The damn rats were flooding upwards from the bottom plain. Rather than taking the walkways, their smaller bodies allowed them to climb directly up the steep hill face. Their sheer numbers let them overwhelm the other monsters, even killing dozens of larger creatures. There were hundreds of rats.
Arthur could not help but stare at the sight.
The rats swiftly reached his level and dealt with the snakes, who were sent bushes shivering as they dropped on their natural prey.
And were in turn overwhelmed by the horde.
Arthur’s attention came crashing back down to earth at last, and cold sweat broke out across his body. Dying by rat swarm was the last thing he wanted to do. The disease from earlier rat bites was slowing down his healing technique, making it hard for him to go on. He would be slowly torn to shreds, eaten alive . . .
Nope, nope, nope.
Rather than dwell on that, Arthur chose to speed up. In his haste he might be ambushed further by snakes, but better that than the rat swarm. Or, frankly, the thundering boars that had survived and were finally on the same level, charging through the underbrush and setting off new fights between the different species.
Head down and on the swivel, he kept running. With a hand, he batted at the underbrush in front of him, hoping to knock or startle the snakes ahead of him into moving before he reached them. The first snake that he managed to bait out, he managed to flip away as it reared back to attack him. Unfortunately, a second creature was just behind it on a lower branch and by the time his spear was dropping back into guard position, the monster had already attacked.
Wrapping itself around his neck and one upraised arm, the slithery serpent snaked its way up his body, clinging to him as it tried to tighten its grip. Arthur plucked the kris from his waist as he kept running, his other hand entangled and still holding the spear above his head a little.
Rushing forward, not daring to stop, he started stabbing into the snake, nearly taking out his own eye as the kris slid off hardened scales. Even so, he managed to pierce it a few times, even as the constrictor kept tightening itself on his body.
Till, finally, it began relaxing as the poison reacted.
Out of breath, forced to breathe in shorter gasps as the monster had tightened itself on him, Arthur shrugged the slow-moving serpent off him as he staggered forward until he finally exited the shrubbery to reach the slope to the next level.
Exhausted, stumbling up the slope which, thankfully, seemed absent of creatures, he made it up one more flight.
Just in time to hear the scream of birds as they descended.