t only filthy but hungry as well.
Looking at the remains of smoked meat I had left, I would have to hunt today.
After gnawing through the remainder of my charred squirrel, I packed my water pouch and departed.
Keeping my mind placid and my presence hidden with Mirage Walk, I slowly trekked deeper into the dense forest.
It had been harder for me to find wildlife near camp, so every time I hunted, I needed to go a bit deeper.
By the time I noticed, however, I realized that the forest had gotten much quieter.
Birds chirped in the nearby distance, but there were no signs of raptor squirrels or other mana beasts in the vicinity
“Hmm,” I muttered, surveying the area.
Releasing the use of Mirage Walk, I concentrated mana into my ears.
I wasn’t able to hear anything at first, but after a few minutes I caught on to a faint noise.
It sounded like a growl.
I couldn’t tell how far away it was, but the sound was familiar; there was a silver panther nearby.
I got a little closer, making sure to hide my presence again.
I enhanced my hearing once again, but this time, I was able to make out more noise.
I could hear the faint gurgling sound of running water, and a bit past that to the northeast.
What I also noticed was that it wasn’t just one silver panther.
There were two panthers in the same vicinity.
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“That’s odd,” I noted.
My understanding of the silver panthers, from what I’d seen so far, was that they were territorial amongst each other and hunted by themselves.
Perhaps they were fighting over territory? That would certainly explain the lack of prey in the vicinity…
Implementing Mirage Walk again, I hastily made my way towards the ensuing battle.
I couldn’t help but grin at my luck.
My speculation had been correct; as I stealthily approached the sound of the silver panthers, I spotted their distinct silver coat near a small clearing of trees alongside a cliff.
It was impossible to tell how deep down the fall was from here, but just from the fact that there was a good two hundred yards from here to the other end of the chasm, and I couldn’t see the ground meant that if those silver panthers fell off, it wouldn’t be easy for me to retrieve their bodies.
Hiding behind a nearby tree, I observed.
It was easy to figure out that they were clearly hostile to one another, but what caught me by surprise was that one of the silver panther was Clawed; the distinct scars on his back made him easily distinguishable.
His opponent, on the other hand, was unfamiliar to me.
He was clearly larger, but by the fresh wounds on its face and side, it seemed like Clawed had the upper hand.
As the two mana beasts slowly circled each other, they let out a low gnarl, baring their sharp teeth.
The opponent was the first to make a move.
The larger cat pounced with its claws held high as it let out a fierce snarl.
Clawed reacted instantly, dodging the swipe and countering with his teeth.
I became captivated by their fight.
Since silver panthers had innately accelerated reflexes and intuition, their exchanges were a relentless flurry of continuous dodging and countering, neither of them incurring any deep wounds.
However, for every gash that the larger panther had made, Clawed had given him three in return.
As their battle continued, I didn’t know why, but my heart began pounding restlessly.
I was anxious about something, afraid.
I had been so caught up in their duel that I didn’t realize how deadly quiet the forest had become, almost mute.
There were no sound of birds chirping or mana beasts moving; there wasn’t much as a rustling sound coming from the trees as if even the wind was afraid of something.
Clawed seemed to have noticed as well because he began behaving very cautiously.
His fur was standing on end, his tail sticking straight up as he constantly sniffed for something.
The larger cat, unaware of the disturbance, took advantage of the opening and pounced at Clawed.
Dodging his opponent, Clawed instead turned and started running away.
I didn’t get it.
There was something going on, but I couldn’t sense any other presence from here.
Why did Clawed run away like that when he was winning?
Putting aside my wariness, I took action against the larger silver panther that remained.
He was injured, and his escape routes were limited because of the cliff.
Spotting me, the larger cat began growling, lowering itself into a posture to flee.
It knew instinctively that, in its state, it had no chance against me.
The air around us grew heavier as it became harder to breathe, but I maintained my stance.
The moment I lifted my foot up, the silver panther leaped to the side.
“Got you,” I smirked.
Ignoring my protesting legs, I executed Burst Step from my standing position, using the fake step as a feint to get him to move.
My surroundings blurred, my eyes focused only on the movement of the wounded mana beast.
I had succeeded in cutting him off, but the distance I had cleared was insufficient by just over a meter.
As I lost my balance, I desperately grabbed onto the panther’s neck with my arms and held on tightly.
“Gah!” My body jerked unnaturally from the abrupt change in direction and I left was hanging onto the silver panther with all of my strength.
“You’re mine!” I hissed between my teeth as I used mana to strengthen my hold on him.
My only hope was to choke him.
The panther I was riding on let out a vicious snarl as it whipped its head, trying to throw me off but I endured.
Its sharp claws tore at my clothes, ripping fresh wounds on my sides and legs before it buckled feebly from lack of air.
Just when I thought the panther was about to relent, it suddenly jerked.
As if possessed, it used the last of its strength to throw itself backward.
By the time I realized what it had done, the ground underneath us was gone as we plummeted down the steep gorge.
Hurtling down, I was reminded of a very similar scene from when I was just a toddler, thrown off the edge of the mountain in order to save my mother.
A thousand scenarios ran through my head as I struggled to decide on the best option to take.
The silver panther that had dragged me down to hell was out cold from my choke and was helplessly falling beneath me.
Uttering a string of curses, I slowly balanced myself on top of the unconscious mana beast and exerted mana into my legs.
The scene around me was a constant blur from the speed that we were dropping.
“Windsom would understand!” I convinced myself aloud as I propelled myself off the panther.
With the push, I had slowed down but not nearly enough, and there was no place to grab onto on the edge of the cliff.
Another scene flashed into my head; it was the time when I had fallen down the hole in the dungeon, Widow’s Crypt.
‘Was falling down deep chasms going to be some sort of reoccurring theme in my life?’
A surge of wind gathered into my palms as I stared straight down at the approaching ground, concentrating on coalescing my mana into the spell.
Releasing the spell gathered my palms, the blast of wind surged toward the ground, a deafening screech echoing throughout the steep ravine.
Gritting through the pain in my arms as they held the brunt of the strain from the recoil, I continued exerting mana into the spell.
I could feel the force of the spell negating my fall as I came to a slow hover.
Suspending Typhon’s Howl, I dropped down the remaining few meters onto the ground in the center of the blast radius.
A thick cloud of dust had arisen from where my spell had collided with the dirt floor, impeding my vision.
Masking my mouth and nose from the debris in the air, I began making my way out of the dust cloud when an earth-shattering roar resounded.
After the thunderous howl had subsided, the ground shook once again at the sound of heavy footsteps approaching me.
The force of each resonating stomp threw me off balance.
Immediately, I dashed toward the edge of the gorge, praying to whatever divine being that ruled this realm that the cause of such devastating sounds were from an earthquake.
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