77 Chapter 23: A Hidden Dungeon and its Protector
After killing off the lizards and leveling up Joshua decided to search the marsh a bit longer to see if he could find anything interesting. He wasn't planning to grind levels anymore so he avoided any creatures that he picked up on with his aura pulse. The only things he could sense around him in the area were similar groups of lizards that would occasionally have one of the commander sized ones alongside them. He also notice a few more frogs that seemed to be near large parts of water at all times. He had yet to encounter anything outside of the two species in the marsh which was a good sign that the area was newly made and wouldn't have a variety of beast at this point. Either that or there was probably a dungeon in the area with more variety of opponents that might be too dangerous to be left out in the open for the level range.
Throughout his searching of the area Joshua came across what looked like a rather large pond that was more of the size of a lake in his opinion. The area was fairly open with a large clearing that surrounded the lake as if it was a little oasis of its own away from the usual marsh like surroundings that Joshua had been quietly making his way through. At the far side of the lake, a ways away from him Joshua could see a pair of frogs coming into the clearing. Joshua made sure to hide behind a nearby tree so that the pair of frogs wouldn't notice him while he examined them. One of the frogs was a bit smaller than the other from what he could tell, but it seemed to be as large as the ones that he had encountered the day before. After scanning it he was surprised to see that the smaller frog already had two stars next to its name signaling it was a strong as the first frog he had gone up against.
A bit surprised by this Joshua immediately turned his attention to the slightly larger frog and noticed three stars by its name which made it the strongest creature he had come across in the marsh area. The larger frog seemed to be scanning the area as if it was searching for danger while the smaller one quietly laid at the edge of the water and relaxed in the sun. The fact that the larger frog was so sensitive to its current surroundings immediately signaled the warning bells in Joshua's mind to go off. Any other frog he had come across thus far in his exploration of the marsh wasn't nearly as vigilant and seemed to be kings of their own territories. Even the frogs without stars by their names seemed to act like rulers over their own little ponds, but this far stronger and bigger frog was anxious in its current location.
Joshua took this as a warning and quickly turned his attention towards the small lake. He concentrated so that he could feel the aura of things in the surroundings in a similar way to how he was able to perceive Ysildea's link to the nature around her the first time he had trained with her. It didn't give him nearly as clear a picture of his surroundings as his aura pulse would have, but it was less obvious for the creatures in the surroundings to pick up. Although they wouldn't be able to locate him just based off of his aura pulse, they would be able to tell something else was in the surroundings and Joshua didn't want that quite yet.
When Joshua was able to get a good feel from the aura coming from the lake he was able to feel some tiny aura's mixed in with the natural calm aura the lake provided. These smaller auras were most likely the fish that filled the lake, but outside of them there was an enormous aura that was well hidden at first. It took Joshua concentrating on it specifically for a time for him to get a feel for the creature that was hiding not too far away from him and slowly moving towards the frogs. The pressure coming off the creature was held back, but even so Joshua could feel a pressure that was even stronger than the boss monster he had faced in the first phase. Whatever the creature was it was clearly stalking the frogs and was planning to have one of them for a meal.
As Joshua continued to watch what was happening he noticed another frog come into the clearing and croak loudly towards the other frogs as if it was trying to claim this as its territory. This new frog was on its own and only had one star next to its name while also being at a lower level than the other two. It was clearly younger and weaker, but it didn't seem to know this as it sucked in air to make itself look more threatening. The new frog started to slowly move over towards the other two frogs that were now croaking back at it angrily. Its hind legs were on the edge of the water as if it was trying to show its adversaries that this location belonged to it. The entire time all three frogs were completely oblivious to the danger that was slowly approaching them from the lake.
Joshua's eyes were glued to the water as he noticed very small ripples start to spread across the surface near the other side from where he was hiding and watching the scene. These ripples only lasted for a second before they disappeared. Apparently whatever had created them dived back down a bit to avoid grabbing the attention of the frogs, but Joshua was certain it was closing in on the one star frog that was far too close to the lake for comfort. When the frogs looked like they were about to start fighting each other and the weaker one was preparing to lunge forward the apex predator finally decided to show itself.
'What the hell is that?' Joshua thought as he saw a scene that would stick in his mind for a long time. Before the frog could lunge at the other two a crash came from the water which startled all three of them. The closest frog tried to leap out of the way, but something caught one of its legs before a loud crunching sound spread throughout the air. The now injured frog let out a loud shrieking sound before trying to kick whatever had got a hold of its leg, but when it turned to see what had been clinging onto it, its eyes widened in fear.
What had emerged from the lake was a giant beast that's head alone was as big as the frog it had latched on to. A lot of its body was still in the lake, but from what Joshua could see the creature definitely resembled an alligator or crocodile. Its mouth was long and clamped shut like a vice on to the scared frog's leg. It almost seemed to be smiling a bit at the fact it had caught its prey so easily. Its eyes were a bright yellow color and seemed to be squinting a bit as it blinked to get some of the mud from the shore out of its eyes. Although Joshua couldn't see its entire body he could tell how large the creature was by the fact that the end of its tail was moving in the water slowly back and forth. It had to have been over fifteen meters long from head to tail and from the size of its head it was probably a bit taller than the frogs that each stood at nearly two stories high. It had large plated scales that were covered in mood, but still glistened a bit in the sunlight.
Before Joshua could finish observing the beast it jolted back into the water while dragging the panicking frog down with it out of sight. Before the other frogs could do anything the water started to splash as the beast seemed to twirl around underneath with its tail smashing into the surface of the water from time to time. If Joshua knew anything about alligators he knew it was never a good idea to fight one in water. This oversized monster was clearly doing a death roll that was quickly draining the life away from the frog. The thrashing of the dying frog slowed down as its leg was ripped off, but instead of escaping it simply floated to the surface for a moment before a large mouth erupted from beneath its body. The mouth bit into its sides and once again dragged the poor frog down beneath the now reddening water.
After a few seconds everything went still once again. Joshua and both of the surviving frogs were watching the lake attentively. It didn't take long for bits and pieces of the frog to come floating to the surface, but not much was left sense the beast had clearly finished its meal. Soon it once again poked its large head out of the water and glared towards the remaining two frogs for a moment before slowly moving in their direction. Of course the frogs didn't allow it to get to close and leaped away from it as the large monster slowly made its way out of the water. It let out a deep rumbling sound from its throat as it opened its mouth wide allowing everyone to see its now bloodied jagged teeth before snapping its mouth shut ferociously.
The two frogs croaked angrily and flared up their bodies in an attempt to scare off the larger predator, but it didn't work. The beast simply continued to slowly move in their direction, before it started to pick up speed. Even so, with its large frame it wasn't able to move nearly as nimbly as the frogs that started to shoot balls of acid in its direction that only seemed to mildly irritate the larger predator instead of actually hurting it. For a while the group of beast seemed to be caught in a standstill, so Joshua started to lose a bit of interest in the fight and decided to pay attention to the name of the alligator instead of just watching it fight. After observing its name Joshua took notice of a few things.
First off the name was a deep crimson red which showed how dangerous the creature was for Joshua to take on at the moment. The system must have thought it was possible for him to kill it sense it didn't have a skull next to its name, but it would be a tough fight. It had four stars to show that it had fulfilled a large amount of its potential at this point and its level was twenty five which was the highest possible level in the area for now according to the system. What really surprised Joshua was its name. In a deep red the words 'Protector of the Gate' instead of some variation of alligator like he had expected. The phrasing instantly lead Joshua down the thought path of the idea that this lake might have an entrance to a dungeon hidden away.
Joshua took his attention away from the fight and looked back towards the lake trying to see if he could judge if there were any signs of a dungeon in the area. Seeing as he couldn't find any with just his eyes he decided to try to use his aura pulse to search instead. He was far enough away from the fight to not draw their attention as long as he didn't use to strong of a pulse and seeing as how the creature had originally come from the side of the lake Joshua was near, it was likely the entrance would be close by. He crouched down and placed his hand on the ground before sending out an aura pulse to try to explore the area.
What he found surprised him. Sense he had focused on sending his pulse down into the ground and into the lake nearby the aura didn't just simply spread out over the ground like usual, but instead traveled deep inside it. Beneath him he could feel what seemed like a large building structure that went deeper and deeper into the ground. He couldn't sense what was inside it, but based off its complex patterns Joshua had a good feeling that it was probably a dungeon. When his pulse past over the area of the lake where the alligator had come from he could feel a gateway down below that had a large empty slot in it that was probably the entrance to the dungeon. Joshua smiled at the revelation, but a shriek from the fight grabbed his attention once again.
When he looked up the larger frog had been slammed into by the alligator's tail in a surprise attack sending it crashing into a tree far away. The now disoriented frog was endanger of being caught, but as the alligator charged towards it the smaller frog tried to knock it off course with a lunge attack. What shocked Joshua was the fact that the alligator seemed to expect it and at the last moment instead of continuing its pursuit of the larger target it turned and opened its mouth wide at the incoming frog. Before the frog could try to twist out of the way the alligators mouth locked down onto its leg and it quickly pulled the struggling frog back towards the lake to finish it off like had done before. By the time the larger frog was back up and prepared to continue fighting, the alligator and its prey were already back in the lake. Soon after the thrashing happened once again and body parts of a dead frog floated to the surface.
The surviving frog let out what sounded like a saddened croak before it turned around and hobbled into the forest to get as far away from the deadly creature as possible. For a moment Joshua was wondering if he should go after the frog and kill it, but he had already seen everything that happened and gaining more levels right now wasn't his priority. As quietly as possible Joshua left the area and started heading back towards the cliff. He would come back to take on the dungeon and its protector after he had prepared for it.