Sybilla, who first discovered this place, mentioned that it felt as if she was absorbed into the magic tower’s research laboratory.
As I looked at the densely packed books on the high shelves and various research materials scattered on the desk, I could understand the feeling.
‘In reality, it’s not a group of believers, but scholars trying to restore runes.’
It was the Dark Ages.
Religious sects serving God considered the practical interpretation of runes a challenge to their authority and condemned it as heresy.
As a result, countless scholars were said to have been driven away and died as heretics.
‘But it’s about time they start appearing.’
I rolled up the hem of my dress with a tense expression.
Swoosh~ I pulled out the whip that had been stuck in a leather pouch in my thigh and held it tightly.
While investigating the temple, Sybilla was attacked by beastly guardians. It might not have mattered to her, who was gifted by nature, but it was important to me.
Meeting a beast for the first time was inevitably nerve-wracking.
Tududu- Somewhere, the sound of small pebbles rolling could be heard.
Staring at the source of the sound, I saw the shell of a grotesque stone statue on the wall cracking.
A gargoyle. It was a low-level beast that usually concealed itself as a statue and then attacked.
Kwueeeek! Three gargoyles, shedding their shells, roared.
『 Warning! Risk of death increasing 』
The gargoyles, their sharp claws and fangs bared, were ferocious enough to make even wild beasts seem tame.
If it were me in my previous life, I wouldn’t be able to make eye contact.
‘Weird. I thought it would be terrifying.’
Despite facing the beasts, I didn’t tremble or shrink.
‘It isn’t scary at all.’
And my only guess was body assimilation.
Could it be that my soul was affected by merging with Kiana’s body?
Kwueeeek! One of the gargoyles, soaring as if to reach the ceiling, shot toward me.
Despite its breakneck speed, for some reason, it didn’t seem that fast to my eyes.
I used the centrifugal force of my whip to strike the wing of the charging gargoyle.
Snap! The leading gargoyle’s wing was torn off with a satisfying sound.
I twisted my wrist and also shattered the wings of the other two gargoyles. Losing balance midair, the group of gargoyles tumbled into a pile of books.
A wingless gargoyle emerged like a cockroach.
Despite the gruesome sight, I casually swung the whip back behind my head and forcefully brought it down.
The gargoyle at the forefront took a hit from the whip, and its head shattered into pieces.
Without stopping there, I continued to lash the whip one after another, reducing the gargoyles to such a state that their forms couldn’t be recognized.
“Is this all?” I was taken aback as I looked at the remnants of the gargoyles.
『 System Alert! Congratulations. You have successfully defeated the gargoyles 』
『 Regard granted. Your physical assimilation rate has increased by 1% 』
『 With a body assimilation rate exceeding 40%, your mana use has greatly improved 』
『 Current Physical Assimilation Rate – 40.9% 』
As the body assimilation rate surpassed 40%, I felt the mana inside me surging like a lively carp.
The strands of mana became sharper and stronger than before, making my body feel remarkably light.
“I did well coming despite everything.”
I turned around a bookshelf and walked toward the innermost part of the temple.
As I ascended a small platform, I noticed a black leopard sculpture the size of a human head placed there.
I bit my left index finger forcefully. With a drop of fresh blood, I let it fall onto the black leopard statue.
Like an illusion, the black leopard figure came to life and roared.
Kaaack! In the blink of an eye, it bit my finger hard.
I had anticipated it, but tears welled up as soon as the panther bit me.
Ssshh… As the black leopard statue vaporized into black smoke, it seeped into my body through the wound.
<center『 System Alert! Congratulations! You have obtained – Rune Armor 』
Following that, a status window appeared.
『 Rune Armor 』
『 Category – Defensive Gear 』
『 Description – Parasitic armor created by sealing the ancient demon Mammon with runes. A legacy of the Dark Ages, it inhabits the host’s body and possesses an instinct to protect the host in times of danger 』
『 Effect – When activated, Mammon’s shell protects the host 』
『 Passive – Activates automatically when exposed to enemy threats 』
“Shall I test its performance?”
Evoking my will to activate it, I activated the Rune Armor. A strange energy circulated faintly around the geometric tattoo near my collarbone.
Shing–! A transparent and intimidating barrier unfolded like a shield, surrounding me.
It was Mammon’s shell that had taken me as its host.
‘I guess I don’t have to worry about dying unexpectedly anymore.’
After confirming the performance, I returned to the underground waterway through the teleportation magic circle.
I covered my nose against the fishy smell, which was so disgusting that it couldn’t even be compared to the smell of sewage. I felt like I would vomit if I stayed any longer, so I hurried back the way I came.
Passing through winding tunnels, I reached the first intersection.
‘Who… is there?’
In the darkness, the silhouette of a man became visible.
The man was gripping a masked man’s throat with one hand, lifting him higher than eye level. Then, with his other hand, he plunged the sword he held into the masked man’s heart.
‘Wh- what the heck…?’
I couldn’t even catch my breath at the tragedy unfolding before me.
Fwish– At that moment, the man, sensing my presence, turned his head toward me.
As our eyes met head-on, my body froze.
Inky black hair that seemed capable of swallowing even the darkness of the underground waterway, and crimson-tinged eyes that appeared as if they were soaked in blood.
He was such a good-looking—no, the word “beautiful” seemed to suit him even better—man, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
I knew this man.
I mean, I couldn’t not know him.
On the entire Gracia continent, I was possibly the only one who knew that man best.
A man who had killed me before, and whether he would try again in the future, was uncertain.
A person that I, who had become Kiana, should not have encountered.
He was the male lead in the novel “Regressor Of A Wrecked World.”
* * *
Yussis de Croix.
The appearance of the novel’s protagonist made my heart pound.
‘Ho-how can this be?’
Everything related to the male lead had been beyond my plans.
In the current chaotic situation where I might die today or tomorrow, I had no time or energy to focus on the male lead.
Yet, today, at this specific time, and even in the underground waterway intersection, we happened to meet face to face.
‘I-isn’t this too far-fetched?’
The plot was so absurd that it made me doubt the sanity of whoever came up with it. Otherwise, there is no way the male lead would appear here. It lacked context.
‘Ha-haha. It’s all over.’
As someone who knew the male lead better than anyone else, the despair I felt now was twice as intense.
“The ones I’ve encountered are all evil. Even now, after regression, they are still evil, so there’s no reason to hesitate in cutting them down.”
The male lead had never shown mercy to the villains once he labeled his enemies, even after his reincarnation.
If I pretended I didn’t see him today, I’d probably wake up with his knife in my back tomorrow.
At that time, Yussis roughly pulled out the sword that had skewered the man’s body.
The lifeless body was thrust into the foul-smelling sewage.
‘Ah.’ My mind blanked out, and I couldn’t muster any thoughts.
Meeting the male lead was shocking enough, but witnessing the brutal death of a person right in front of me left me paralyzed, my limbs tingling with panic.
Step– Turning his body, Yussis looked my way, and his crimson eyes intensely scrutinized me.
‘He-he recognized me.’
I held my breath as I glimpsed a faint interest in Yussis’ pupils.
‘I need to find a way to avoid this situation quickly.
But Yussis didn’t give me time to think. With a determination to kill me, he charged mercilessly.
‘I-I need to escape.’
My opponent was the male lead.
With less than half of the assimilation rate, I was bound to face imminent death in a fight.
‘With the rune armor, I should be able to buy time to escape.’
Reflexively, the plan that came to mind was as follows:
Just before Yussis’ sword touched my body, I would activate the rune armor to deflect the blade.
While he is temporarily imbalanced from the recoil, I will dash away without looking back.
Given that Sybilla had used the rune armor in battle in this way, it was worth a try.
‘For that to work, I need to…’
I had to draw Yussis as close to me as possible.