Re:Interference Chapter 10- Third Floor Hunt

<<This way! Quickly!>>

Retel is making way through a narrow passageway, with us following behind, chasing the noise that beckoned us to haste our march.

A faint voice, distant, weak, pleading for help from the Dungeon’s inner chambers.

We followed the screams, hurrying through the swampy floor as we neared their source.

From the entrance hall hosting the stairs to the second floor, we ran through a series of small corridors, strangely devoid of monsters. The voice grows stronger at every step, along with our hurry to get there.

Finally, we can get a glimpse of the person in distress. It is not some kind of trick by a devious monster, it is a genuine person, waving hands at us and yelling, pleading for help.

We can finally see the person in distress. A beast-man, who promptly waves his hands at us, signaling to come closer.

[Navi: Detected- Leidus, lvl 17 beast-man]

The man is lying inside a chamber, surrounded by the corpses of crab-like monsters. The water around him is painted in red, perhaps from the man himself.

<<Thank you, thank you…oh brave adventurers…my saviors>>

As we approach him, he starts thanking us. His voice, faint and weak before, is now energetic. It could just be my impression, but it does not sound like the voice of an injured man.

Levia immediately goes closer to him, ready to use her skill to heal the man.

With a fast movement, Leidus gets up and tries to stab her with his knife.

The beast-girl manages to dodge the dagger by a hair, jumping backwards to us.

<<Hey, what is the meaning of this?>> Retel yells furiously, weapon ready in his hands.

<<Nice reflexes you got there, girl. Still…>>

Leidus laughs and snaps his finger.

We realize it too late. From behind, the sound of bowstrings being pulled.

<<Drop your weapons>>.

We fell right into a trap. Not by monsters, by humans. Perhaps they are adventurers who though that hunting humans was easier and more remunerative than fighting monsters, or they are just a group of bandits that took residence in the Dungeon.

Still, their weapons are now pointed towards our backs.

Perhaps the group was using some kind of concealing skill, since Navi did not manage to detect them. Damn it, this is really a bad situation!

We do as suggested, letting our weapons hit the floor.

Well, there is a lesson here to learn…never trust strangers, even if they sound in distress…

A bad situation, indeed. We could just leave our weapons, armor and possessions here, but I doubt it will be so easy. After all, they could just kill us all afterwards, and blame it on monsters.

Fighting them could be risky as well, since they will fire their arrows as soon as we make the slightest move.

But, it’s not like I need to move in order to use my skill.

Slowly, I activate Black Fluid, making it crawl along my clothes into the water.

I start with only a small quantity, to test if the group can detect the activation of skills. As they show no response, I produce more, and make it crawl under the shallow water, reaching the enemies below their feet.

Now, it’s just a matter of timing.

As one of them nears Levia with a bad expression on his face, I decide to act. Using the skill, I entangle their feet and pull, making them lose their balance and fall into the water.

<<Run!>> I shout to my friends, as some of our assailants manage to let their arrows loose during the fall.

Still, since their balance is broken, the arrows do not hit the mark.

We try to escape from the narrow corridor, but the exit is blocked by other two members of the gang. Without even giving a warning, they shot their arrows at us.

I manage to guard them using my skill…the situation is looking too dangerous.

<<Watch out for that one, he has a Skill>>

Behind us, the leader shouts at his comrades.

<<Now, we were about to let you go, but you had to make things difficult here, kiddo>>

Leidus pulls out a curved blade, assuming a stance. Behind him, his comrades are already notching their arrows, ready to fire again.

What the hell do we do now…

Not even the time to think, and the leader is on us. He’s charging at Levia, moving at high speed.

She manages to avoid the blade, however…

<<Ahhh!>>

She shouts, falling into the water and holding her leg.

<<You’re not the only one that can use a skill, kiddo…>>

The leader laughs, showing his blade now clad in an ominous purple light. He slashes at Levia again, but Retel jumps at him, managing to divert the blow.

<<Stupid kid…want to die before your girlfriend? Fine>>

Without his weapons, Retel manages to defend for only some seconds before the man cuts him down.

The curved blade slashes his chest, leaving a red trail of blood.

In the meantime, as I try to jump to my companion’s help a volley of arrows is shot at me, from two different directions. I manage to guard some of them with my skill, but it’s not enough.

Gasping in pain, I fall to my knees with an arrow pierced in my lung.

We messed up. Badly. Thinking that we would only need to deal with monsters, we decided to press on with our current, low level defense equipment.

I mean, we managed to beat monsters the same level and even higher than those found here, and we were only wearing normal clothes during our hunts in the Grasslands…

Instead, here we are, facing off against humans. Unexpected, but our situation could have been avoided by just a bit more preparation.

Using Heod’s money, we could have bought better armor. For example, a metal breastplate could have deflected the blow directed to Retel’s chest. A pair of greaves could have prevented Levia’s legs from being injured.

A simple chain mail could have blocked the arrow fired at me.

Instead, we were stupid, and thought “it will be fine like this”.

Bullshit.

This world does not allow for poor decisions. Unpreparedness means certain defeat, and we’re learning that right now on our skin.

I even had the occasion to kill at least some of them with my initial attack…but I did not. Dealing against human opponents, I hesitated at the decisive moment, opting for a non lethal attack instead of going for the killing blow.

I’ve been to soft, reluctant to harm them even if they were pointing their weapons at us. A bad mistake, that I will not repeat again a second time.

Although…

This time it might really be the end for us.

<<Fuck>> I mutter, trying with all my will to muster the strength in order to retaliate against them.

All in vain. One, two, three arrows manage to pierce my flesh again.

<<Well, that’s what you get by angering us, kiddo. Now, let me end your suffering>>

The leader is nearing me, lifting his sword up his head to deliver the final blow.

<<Bagliore!>>

A female voice resounds in the air, followed by a sudden, blinding flash of light.

I can feel a presence besides me, grabbing my hands and pulling me away. Feeling faint from blood loss, I cannot resist, and let it carry me.

<<Retel…Levia>> I mutter, my voice devoid of any strength.

<<Don’t worry about them, just keep silent>>

The mysterious person drags me away from the chamber.

<<I’ll be back…try not to die while I’m gone, ok?>>

Still blinded, I cannot even see where I am right now. My back is resting against a wet stone wall, but as I try to open my eyes I can only see blurry shapes.

My wounds hurt, and I feel myself growing faint each passing second.

I can hear distant sounds, whispered words and some louder, angry cries. The noise of footsteps splashing in the shallow water, running…

I pray for my companion’s safety.

However, a different sound is nearing me. Clicking, bubbling…

Still robbed of my vision, I can only discern a confused shape coming towards me.

The thing moves sideways, making a clicking noise as it comes closer.

[Navi: Detected- Swamp Crab lvl 2]

So, some kind of crab-like monster is coming my way, perhaps drawn by the scent of blood.

Anybody else in my condition would consider this to be a nightmare scenario, being wounded, unable to move and bleeding out as something hungry approaches.

To me, right now…it’s a blessing.

<<Well, today is not your lucky day, little fellow>>

I quickly envelop the crab with my skill, crushing it, absorbing the monster as fast as I can. Right now it’s the only way to heal my wounds.

As I let the skill work, I painfully break the arrows sticking out of my body, extracting them from my wounds. Struggling to not let myself scream.

Enraged, I jump to my feet as the healing effect that comes from Absorption restores my body.

I swear to God, if those fuckers killed my friends…

<<Oh..you’re…ok?>>

A puzzled voice comes out of thin air. Literally, there is nothing in front of me.

As I look around in confusion, the air in front of me ripples,and something emerges from it.

Retel and Levia, wounded but still alive. Carrying them, a girl wearing a dark robe.

A magician? Still, she saved us, apparently. I hurry to her side, helping her to bring my friends to a dry spot.

Levia is still conscious, being only lightly wounded on her leg. Retel however is in more serious danger, as his chest is bleeding profusely and he’s fainted due to the injury he received.

<<Are they gone?>> I ask the magician girl as Levia tends to Retel’s wound.

She’s panting heavily, perhaps fatigued due to the effort of transporting two bodies while maintaining an active spell.

I expected her to retort something like “what, no thank you whatsoever?”, instead she simply makes a gesture with her hand, signaling me to shut my mouth.

As she does so, the sound of someone running around comes close to us…too close.

When the noise fades, she finally talks.

<<Don’t worry, I used magic here to carve us a little safe spot. They won’t find us if we keep silent>>

She whispers with a tired voice. Still, a safe spot? I remember being almost eaten by a monster here…although in the end I ate the monster. Well, sort of.

I take a deep breath, to let rage slip away. It will do us no good, right now.

<<It seems we owe you our lives. We do not have much here, but if we manage to leave this place alive, feel free to ask whatever you like as a reward>>

<<No need. I am sure someone like you would have done the same. Of course, that is the reason that got you in their trap, am I right?>>

She hits the mark. Still, judging from her words…

<<As you may be thinking…yes, I did fall in the same trap as you, some time ago. They ambushed my party and killed them all. I alone managed to escape, thanks to some cheap magic trick. A blinding spell and confusion enchantment can do wonders against small groups>>

Now that I take a better look at her, I recognize her figure. She was in the Gateway building the same day that we did our first exploration in the Dungeon, the girl that caused a commotion at the reception desk.

As I tell her so, she makes a bitter laugh.

<<Yes, that was me indeed. My name is Marica. That day I was demanding the Guild to send a Security Sweep in this level, to hunt down these bastards here. But apparently, they did not deem my request worthy of their time>>

She sighs, deeply, holding her knees as she sits.

<<My name is Roshal, and those there are my companions, Levia and Retel. Again thank you for rescuing us>>

She makes a sign with her hand, as if she’s brushing off my words. Her pale, silver hair slightly cover her eyes, and her small frame is hidden by the large, black robe that she wears.

I am nervously looking around, focusing my attention on the two entrances of the small passageway where we are. It is dangerous to stay here, enemies could find us any second now.

Marica seems to notice my nervousness. She pats my shoulder.

<<Relax, this place is safe, for now. I used a concealing spell, so they will not be able to spot us for some time>>

I exhale a deep breath, relieved. With this, we can safely wait for Levia to heal Retel, instead of running away with Retel still wounded.

<<Still, who are those guys? >>

As I ask her so, I sit besides her.

She shakes her head, clutching her clothes as she starts telling me about our assailants.

<<A group of renegade adventurers, who attack small groups of newbies. Their leader is called Leidus. A vicious bunch of murderers. They act between the fifth and third floor, and are responsible for the disappearance of almost five parties, I believe>>

<<You…believe?>>

<<There could be more. From what I know, however, the Guild does not know about their disappearance. No records about them, nor has ever made any official news about the disappeared adventurers. Apparently the parties that I know to have been wiped out by Leidus’s men were scheduled for long time missions inside the Dungeon, and the Guild simply considers them as if they are still on their mission. Hell, they even showed me the Heartbeat of my companions, and they were beating, almost as if nothing ever happened to my friends. I mean, I watched them die, how could those things not show it? Same thing with the other groups, no evidence whatsoever of them being in danger or worse. Like they are completely fine and just enjoying their permanence in the Dungeon>>

Her words make me shudder. Something bad is going on around here, apparently. And it gets worse…

<<After I survived the initial attack, I went and reported what I saw, right away. But, as I said before, they denied my request, telling me that my group was fine and inviting me to hurry and join them again. Later, as I went home, someone followed me. During the night, I was attacked in my house>>

She clutches her clothes as she speak, her lips trembling in anger.

<< I managed to fend them off, but from that day, I never went home again. Using my magic I sneaked inside the Dungeon, and I only go out to take provisions and pester the Guild to send someone here to investigate. Damn, they even suggested that my friends just went and kicked me out of the party, and that I was just doing commotion in order to sabotage my former party!>>

What she says is really heavy to sink in. Can the Guild really have no clue about what’s going on here?

<<So, the Guild really seem to be in the dark about this whole thing…still, that does not explain what are you ding here…don’t tell me you’re trying to do something like an investigation>>

<<That’s exactly why I am staying here- she interrupts me, raising her voice for a moment- see this? This item here is a Recorder. As the name says, it records and stores visual information. I am trying to collect evidence about the murders and theft inside the Dungeon. If someone attacks me, the images will still be recorded and sent to a second crystal, that I entrusted to someone I can trust. I have already recorded several criminal acts by that group, and I intend to collect more evidence and show it to the Guild. And, if I ever get caught and do not contact my friend in the next three days, the second crystal will be made public>>

She pauses for a moment, almost as if she’s holding back tears.

<<That’s the long story made short. I am here, roaming these levels to spy on them, to capture what that bastard Leidus and his good for nothing gang are doing to poor newcomers. I do know that they have some accomplice in the Guild, although I do not think that ALL the Guild knows about what they are doing here. And, even if they do…I will not relent from my purpose. I will expose them, no matter the cost>>

What she’s doing is really risky. The thing that baffles me here is how can the Guild be in the dark about this? It should go against the organization’s interests if some murderers prowl inside the Dungeon, killing off adventurers. There are two explanations here…perhaps the whole Guild knows what is going on, and they are just covering it up for whatever reason.

Most likely, someone from Leidus’s group has infiltrated the Guild, perhaps in some high position, and is managing information and providing false evidence to protect and conceal his group’s criminal activity.

<<Do you think that this Leidus has some of his men infiltrated in the Guild?>>

<<Most likely…I do not think that the whole Guild is involved, otherwise things would have gone in a different way. I mean, if the Guild was really involved they could just pretend to send a search party, bring me along and straight up kill me. Or something like that…no, this is definitely the work of someone that manipulates information and reports to conceal the group, behind the Guild’s back>>

It really seems that trouble follows me at every corner…

I sat there with Marica, waiting for Levia to finish her treatment of Retel’s wound.

After a while, Retel regains consciousness again. Levia hugs him, and I pat his shoulder while giving a tired smile.

This is too much to bear.

We consume a light meal, sharing it with Marica as we decide our next moves.

The group still prowls the entire floor. We can hear them, searching for us. They probably have some more members, keeping watch at the entrance and exit of this floor.

<<For how I see it, we have two options here. First, we try to sneak away. Keep in mind that this option will not let us avoid battle, since the group is most likely blocking the exit.

The second option is…we engage them. Of course, we do not go straight ahead, charging blindly. We need to outsmart them, engaging our opponents one at the time if we can. We could use monsters to distract them and such. Now, what do you want to do?>>

I leave the decision to my comrades. The enemies out-level and outnumber us, so fighting them could lead to very bad situations for us. Also, they have a better knowledge of the entire place, since it appears that they are used to hunting in this level.

The fact that the group before managed to escape Navi’s detection poses a definite threat to us.

We always fought having the advantage of knowing the number and position of enemies around us, thus avoiding ambushes or sudden attacks.

However, against this group, which has superior knowledge about the floor’s layout and the means to effectively conceal themselves from us, it will be almost impossible to just try and run away while avoiding them, while simply engaging them in battle will be immensely risky.

Still…I want to make them pay. Using such underhanded tricks, abusing our ingenuity as we ran towards someone we thought in danger, only to ambush and hurt us. They almost killed my companions, almost killed ME. Of course I want them to suffer a bit.

But, I cannot decide this by myself. My companions could feel otherwise, maybe they want to hurry to safety as soon as we can.

<<I…don’t know. As you said, just running away does not mean that we will avoid battle against them. Hell, it will probably make thing worse if we are spotted near the exit and all of them converge on us and take us by surprise again. So, I vote to retaliate>>

Says Retel, clutching his fist in anger.

<<They hurt my brother and my friend, right in front of my eyes. I will not forgive them. Ever. I want to hunt them down and…kill them>>

Levia’s voice sounds angered, cold and distant. Such tone is unbefitting of her, who is usually cheerful and positive. Her face is flustered, and her eyes…teary, but burning with fury. Her lips tremble as she tries to contain her emotions, however she’s doing a really bad job of it.

I grab her shoulders, forcing her to look at me.

<<Calm down, please>>  I whisper at her, giving the best smile I can in this situation.

<<I feel the same way, but we cannot lose our tempere here, understand? So, take a big, deep breath, and calm down, Levia>>

She smiles back, and goes to Retel’s side, searching her brother’s embrace.

<<So, we will attack them, right?>>

The two of them nod in response. It will be dangerous, of course, but that’s what we decided.

<<If you want, you’re free to come with us>>

Levia says to Marica, extending a hand to her.

The two girls exchange a long look, before Marica stands up and grabs Levia’s hand.

[Navi: Marica joined the Party!]

Navi’s cheerful voice in this instance is really out of place…

To help us plan a better strategy, Marica starts to share some details about her abilities.

She’s a level 10 magician, capable of using light magic to blind opponents and operate a minor camouflage,while her sound magic can be used to inflict confusion or to produce small distractions.

<<My forte, however…>>

Marica’s hand glow in a silver light, as she freezes a puddle of water. On her other hand, a small flame begins to dance.

<<Heat magic. I can use this spell to transfer heat from my target to another, linking them, like I did now. So, I can take heat from a target, freezing it, and transfer that heat to another place…or.. I can do this!>>

This time, she targets a small mushroom near the wall. As before, the mushroom freezes, but after that, Marica snaps her finger, making the mushroom shatter in a small explosion.

<<Heat shock. By freezing something and giving a huge amount of heat right afterwards, I can shatter them. Of course this spell has many other useful applications, but these are the basics I use more often>>

So, nothing like elemental magic…it’s something more related to physics than what I had imagined.

By manipulating heat, she can freeze a target by taking the heat away from it, and use the absorbed energy to start flames.

Next, we explain to her our abilities in turn. She is fascinated by my skill, it seems.

<<So, how do we proceed?>>

Outside of the safe spot made by Marica’s magic, there are two warriors patrolling the tunnels. It seems they belong to Leidus’ group.

What to do now…I am clearly seeing them, but the simple thought that there could be more enemies hidden, impossible to detect…it makes me hesitate.

We’re still hidden from their view, so no immediate danger is on us. What can we do in this situation…

<<Marica…I need you to do two things>>

Using Navi’s communication function, I instruct Marica on the next moves.

First, I ask her to cast concealing magic on me. The air ripples in front of my body, giving a strange feeling when the spell is complete.

Now I am concealed from sight. Still, this spell will not make me completely invisible, and of course my steps inside the shallow water that covers the floor can still be heard and seen due to the water splashing and rippling.

I decide to try something crazy. Using Black Fluid, I try to cling to the ceiling. The skill manages to support my weight, and I try to advance using the skill. It’s difficult, and tiresome.

Using this method, I come closer to the enemies.

One of them almost seem to notice something, but he just brushes his shoulder as he continues in his path.

My companions are still in the safe spot. I give the signal to Marica, and she casts her blinding spell right in the middle of the room.

I preemptively close my eyes, but the enemies are caught unaware, thus being blinded by the sudden light.

Dropping down from the ceiling, I rush behind one of the enemies, ready to strike him.

My hand trembles, but anger trumps the thought of hurting another person. I plunge the blade made with Black Fluid right into the man’s neck.

These two were the only ones inside the room, otherwise they would have reacted to Marica’s spell, moving from their position after being suddenly blinded, thus revealing their presence. But nothing else besides us and the two enemies we spotted seems to be moving in this room.

As I take out one of them, my companions deal with the other.

Levia’s arrow pierces straight into the other guy’s head, making him fall to his back, his legs twitching as life forfeits him.

We managed to take them out without making too much noise, but, for the good of our plan, we need to dispose of the bodies. We cannot afford to leave them here, risking to alert the rest of their group.

We proceed by taking off the clothes and armor they are wearing. Smeared in blood as they are, we cannot use the items we just stripped off from the bodies.

Now, only one task is left. Corpse disposal.

Disgusted by what I am about to do, I ask my companions to look away.

Reluctant, I activate Black Fluid on the deceased.

I almost vomit by just hearing the sounds that the skill makes while consuming the corpses, knowing that they are humans makes me sick.

Still, it’s something that needs to be done.

I do it again with the second body, leaving the scene as if nothing at all happened here.

I try to not mind the look of disgust in Marica’s eyes.

Of course, we could just leave the bodies here, maybe hidden away. The monsters would have probably eaten them, but, more likely, they would have been discovered by Leidus’s group.

<<Can we use their armor? It would give us some more chances if we could pass for someone of their group>>

Retel suggests so while holding a breastplate that belonged to one of the people we just killed.

That thought itself still lingers in my mind, too heavy to sink in. We killed someone. I killed a human being. It was out of self defense, surely…but still, murder is murder.

I try to shake away that thought, since dwelling on it will only hinder us right now. If I ever survive this, I will ponder about it, even pray for forgiveness. But right now, I need to be as cold as I can, to keep my mind lucid, unclouded.

It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Still, I need to focus on what’s happening here. Retel hands me the breastplate. It’s made with leather, studded with metal to increase protection. It smells badly, of sweat and blood, and the crimson liquid stains the leather, still wet and warm.

Of course, the enemy will be able to spot the bloodstain on the armor immediately. To use it, we need to remove the stain.

Also, I doubt we could just pass for someone belonging to their group even if we don their clothes. Still, our own armor was damaged during the ambush, so we need protective gear. Especially Retel, since his breastplate was sliced open before.

An idea pops up. Perhaps…I could use my skill to remove the blood, absorbing only the blood while leaving the armor intact.

<<Navi, is something like this possible?>>

[Navi: Selective absorption of substance is within the skill’s capabilities. Would you like to proceed?]

Activating the skill again, I let it drain the blood from the item. I try to ignore the message that notifies me of human blood acquisition.

Still, the breastplate is clean now, and we can use it. I hand it to Retel again, as I proceed to clean the other equipment we stripped from those two.

The armor and clothes does not fit neither me nor Retel, since they are tailored for adults. Still, we need them in order to better move around with more protection, replacing our previous equipment and clothes, damaged from the attack earlier.

Donning the new clothes, we move out from the corridor, aiming for the exit. Using Black Fluid in surveillance mode, I scan the area around us, trying to locate possible threats.

Inside a chamber, distant no more than 100 meters from our position, I find a lone member of Leidus’s group.

He’s kneeling besides a corpse, busy as he strips down the equipment from the dead body.

Again, we decide to strike, using the same strategy from before. Marica launches her blinding spell, targeting the man. This time, however…

Movement in the water. Surprised by Marica’s spell, two men lose their balance, slipping in the water and making splashing noises that reveal their position. As they do so, Navi manages to actually detect them, making it possible for me to see their position.

Taking advantage of their momentary blindness, we launch an all- out assault with our skills and Marica’s heat magic.

She manages to freeze one of the renegades on spot, striking another with a condensed fireball.

The man is caught on fire, but he quickly drops and rolls into the shallow water, extinguishing the flames from his body.

The frozen adventurer is being pinned by Levia’s arrows.

A grizzly scene, with the cold flesh being shattered as the arrows impact against the man’s body.

Retel deals with the burned adventurer, impaling his spear into his head.

The third one, however, manages to pull and fire some sort of signal flare. He evades my attack and runs away, avoiding the arrows and attacks from my skill.

This is bad…

We do not even have the leisure of running away. Attracted by the signal flare, more renegade adventurers jump into the chamber, weapons in hand.

Six of them in total, outnumbering us. A group of four comes from the direction where their comrade ran, while two others emerged from a narrow passageway on the side of the chamber.

Only two options…retreat or advance and face them.

We decide to retreat into the tunnel that we came from. The reason is simple…we can lead them to us, using the narrow entrance as a bottleneck. Even place some traps with my skill.

However, the group does not follow us. They split off, with only two people remaining in the room, shooting arrows at us.

<<They’re trying to flank us>>

Retel shouts in panic.

Moving faster than us and having a better knowledge of this place’s layout, they will make a pincer move on us, perhaps gaining reinforcements from other members of their organization.

The two of them remaining into the large chamber are not pursuing, sticking only to make us go further inside the corridor by shooting arrows at us, while keeping the narrow exit under their aim. If we go that direction, their arrows will pierce us immediately.

We can only push into the corridor.

Still, the others will probably come from the side and the gallery’s other end. No escape from the narrow corridor.

Their superior knowledge of this level’s layout will prove decisive in the long run. Not only flanking, they could just easily lead us into some kind of ambush or trap.

I can hear the echoes of approaching footsteps, splashing in the shallow water. They are near.

Quick, I need to think…think…

We had a chance when we had the element of surprise, but now the situation is reversed, as we are trapped into a narrow space, without even enough air to breathe.

Narrow place, without enough air…an idea begins to form in my thoughts. A desperate measure, still…it could be our only chance here.

<<Marica, please, can you use your conceal magic, on all of us?>>

<<Yes, but it will only last for about two minutes. It’s not enough to flee, and they will probably detect us even if I use it…>>

Good. I steel my will for the next move.

<<No matter. Use it, right now. We will stay here, and wait for them>>

Marica looks at me with wide open eyes.

<<Are you insane? They will find us if we stay here, spell or not. Hell, why even bother then? Let’s just walk to them holding out our hands!>>

Enraged, she starts speaking quickly in a high pitched, nervous voice.

I grasp her shoulders, forcing her to look me straight in the eyes.

<<Calm down, breathe. I have a plan, so I need you to trust me here>>

I say to her, perhaps trying to convince myself along with her.

<<You are insane>>

Still, she agrees to do as I say. We band together with Retel and Levia, waiting for Marica’s spell.

My heart is pounding, beating faster, too fast, almost like fear is making it burst away from my chest.

<<Now, get down…and try to keep your breath, as long as you can>>

As I say so, Marica activates her spell, concealing us under a rippling light. Now, only one thing left…

I activate Black Fluid, producing as much as I can. Exerting myself to the limit, I change it into mist form, making it swirl around us, dispersing it into the narrow corridor.

The effort that I am enduring right now is making me sweat profusely, but I need to keep it up, no matter what.

Signals from Navi. The enemies are here.

Three of them in total. The two that were shooting at us from the chamber came into the corridor, stationing near the entrance as to block us any chance of escape.

Those are the only ones shown by Navi. However…there are more.

From the opposite end, four of them are advancing towards our position, threading carefully.

Another pair is coming from a narrow opening in the wall. They are closing in on us, looking around, examining every detail as to not fall into some kind of trap.

Their camouflage is amazing, if I can say so. Even capable of eluding Navi, that should posses some kind of anti-spell property with her detection.

Still, I can feel them, as they move inside the room saturated by the Black Fluid. It’s a weird sensation, feeling them move through my skill.

<<Closer…come closer>> I mutter, while my strength is almost at its limits, spent maintaining the gas form of my skill.

<<No one here>> one of them shouts to his companions after looking around.

Another shakes his head.

<<Impossible…we would have seen them flee. Unless…>>

As he leaves his sentence hanging, he lifts his arm and mutter something.

With a quick movement, he throws his arm down, producing some sort of rippling shock-wave all around him. The wave expands, crashing around Marica’s magic. Ripping it down.

<<Found them! Fire!>> They shout almost at the same time.

Still…

I clutch my hand, changing the Black Fluid again. The same trick I used during the battle against the Hero.

The group came close, and breathed the invisible gas I transformed Black Fluid into. After that, I only need to change the skill back to liquid form, choking them from inside.

No need to make things excessively brutal by making blades extend from the skill.

Well, it could be quicker that way…

My little trick effectively deals with them. The other two at the entrance are quickly disposed off by Marica and Levia’s combined attack.

A moment of respite. I drop to my knees, exhausted, panting with my breath in disarray from the effort.

Controlling my skill so precisely, against this many targets at the same time was so draining that I almost feel myself faint.

<<Hey! Roshal! Are you ok? Drink this, quickly!>>

Retel comes to my side, supporting me as he hands me a small tonic made by Heod. A yellow looking liquid inside a small glass vial.

I gulp the potion entirely, without paying mind to the bitter taste that it leaves in my mouth.

The liquid reinvigorates me, giving back some energy.

A stamina potion, made to recover energy after a prolonged effort.

Still, no time to spare resting here.

This time, I directly absorb the bodies without stripping their equipment first. Just to confirm something…

As I thought, the items they wear are somehow removed and stored in my inventory, without being dismantled by the skill.

[Navi: This function can be toggled off if you want to harvest raw materials from equipment]

Well, good to know. I take out the clothes and armor from my inventory, handing them to Levia and Marica.

<<Wait… I have an idea. Uhm, it could not work, but…we could try like this…>>

Levia suggests her plan.

Basically, she intends to pose as a prisoner, having me and Retel pose as members of Leidus’s gang. This way, we could approach the gang members, pretending to be escorting prisoners.

<<This will not work. Listen…I’ve watched these…beasts for some time now. They don’t take prisoners, understand? As soon as they get their hands on you, they will take your possessions and kill you on the spot. Or, if you are a girl…my point is, this plan will fail without any doubt>>

Marica’s sudden remark makes Levia look down in embarrassment.

<<There is no need to shut her down like this, you know? She just made a suggestion>>

Retel angrily retorts to Marica, defending his sister.

This is bad. We’re all nervous, in a critical situation…the last thing we need is someone overreacting and starting a fight among us.

I try to calm them down, to make them focus on the current situation.

Taking a deep sigh I let my hands run on my face.

<<Listen, all of you. Stay calm. We’ve already lost if we cannot manage our heads here. The enemies outnumber us, they have better knowledge about this place. Our only possibility of getting out of here with our lives comes from us being calm and collected. Ok?>>

I try to sound firm and confident, but deep down I am so scared that I just want to run away. Still, for our sake, I, We, cannot lose our heads.

We need to think, and fast.

<<Marica, do you know how many of them are here? How many people work under this Leidus?>>

<<Roughly fifty people are in his gang, including Leidus himself. Not all of them are active in the Dungeon…they usually hole out in their hideout, located in the fifth level. They send out hunting parties, usually twenty or twenty-five members each time, to hunt and rob adventurers. There could be more roaming around, but I’d wager we have to deal with twenty-five of them, at most>>

Still a lot of them left…

<<Now. We took out fifteen of them, two when we were hidden, other two inside the chamber, and eleven right here. This means that more than forty-five people are still looking for us, in the worst case scenario, or, if we’ve been really lucky, we need to deal with ten more of them. So, what do we do now?>>

I try with all my might to not let that thought sink in, keeping it at bay. But it’s still there, emerging, clawing from the deep of my psyche.

We killed fifteen people. We murdered them. We-are-murderers.

I bite my lip to regain focus, but it does not work…that thought still lingers.

<<First, we need to get away from here. Staying still into one spot will only make us easy to surround. We could try and force the exit, since their numbers have dwindled a bit>>

This time, Levia’s suggestion gains a nod of approval from Marica.

<<I will take the lead, since you lot probably don’t know the way there>> says the magician, walking ahead of us.

<<No, we cannot just walk around like this>>

Retel suggests to walk in formation, in order to be ready for possible ambush by the enemies.

And so, we switch our positions.

I walk in front of the group, acting as a scout. Since the last battle, I am constantly using Black Fluid in mist form. The detection range is significantly low than Navi’s, however with this method I can perceive if something moves, no matter if they are using skills or magic. It takes a heavy toll, but I will endure.

The magician and Levia follow in the middle, while Retel takes rearguard position.

Marica will give instructions about the way out using Navi.

Having decided our organization, we depart from the spot.

Just to be sure, I deployed some off-shots with camera-like surveillance around us, to avoid any kind of sudden attack from behind or our flanks.

We move as fast as we can, sticking to Marica’s instructions.

<<Next corridor, on the left. There is a hidden path…it’s narrow, but we can squeeze in>>

Reaching the path, I let Marica and Levia travel through, after making sure that no enemies are on the other side.

Next comes Retel’s turn. He’s a bit too big for the passage, and he almost got stuck a few times before managing to squeeze himself out.

My turn comes last. The passage is really tight, and I am crawling inside the rock fissure, with the moss covered stone grazing my face as I push my way in.

Finally, I emerge from the passage.

It led us on a rocky ledge, overlooking the chamber that holds the floor’s exit.

In front of the rock-sculpted stairs, six people are keeping watch. From our position, I can clearly see them. Perhaps there are even more at the stair’s entrance, on the second floor, blocking any adventurer party that wants to come down.

Still…how are they managing to do so without any complaints whatsoever from the other adventurers? Someone would surely report this matter to the Guild, for God’s sake!

Well, that is something to think about when we finally manage to get out of this floor. For now, we need to focus on them.

It seems that another group of men is dividing a pile of objects…perhaps loot from another, less fortunate party of adventurers. As I turn around, I spot the lifeless bodies, being piled up on some kind of cart.

Hell, they really managed to kill another group of people here.

<<That’s how they work. They lock down an entire floor from the top exit, keeping any new party to come in and trapping the ones that are already in. I don’t know how, but they always manage to avoid high-level party or official Guild missions. Hell, they even know when the Army sends people here! That is one of the main proofs that someone in the Guild is involved with them>>

Marica whispers to us.

So, by knowing the schedules in advance, they know how many people will enter the Dungeon each day, and between them, how many aim to do a Dive or just plan to stay in one specific floor. From that info, they build their strategy, striking low level parties.

<<But…why? I mean, they could earn high quality items if they attack stronger parties, instead of just targeting newcomers and stripping their cheap equipment…>>

This whole thing smells, badly.

<<Not only that, in Sendria there is high law enforcement, especially against illegal markets and such. So, for them, selling the items and equipment pillaged from their victims is outright impossible. It’s…I don’t know what to think about them. It all seems so illogical, what they are doing and why. One thing is for sure: they are not doing this to gain profit or such>>

Marica continues explaining her thoughts about this whole deal. So, even she noted that something is really amiss with this group.

<<Another thing…their equipment is good. Too good to be just something that they stripped from dead adventurers. I mean, most newcomers cannot afford this kind of equipment right away, and these guys, not only they have basically high class armor for each member, but…look, look here. The armor we stole from them, even the weapons…perfectly maintained. And you said their base is inside the Dungeon, so they either have some skilled weapon-smith or such in their camp, or they’re getting resources from outside>>

Again, what I cannot understand is the reason behind all this. What the hell are they doing here…

An arrow flies straight over our heads.

<<Shit! They spotted us!>>

Even when we were under Marica’s spell, they managed to locate our position. More and more arrows are coming towards us…

Going back into the passage seems too risky, since we will need to enter it one by one, and the enemies are closing on our position. We could try and fight, using the high ground to our advantage.

First thing to do is deal with those archers. Three men are using longbows to strike at us from distance. The arrows travel at high speed, and guarding against them is really, really difficult.

Luckily I manage to repel them using Black Fluid, turning it into some kind of shield deployed in front of us.

Still…

A loud sound booms in the air, as one strange arrow flies towards us, hitting the rock wall behind our back.

As soon as the arrow impacts the rock, it explodes, letting out a shock-wave that flings us away from the elevated ledge. We scatter in all directions, falling down into the shallow water.

I can hear metal clashing from all directions around me.

It seems they properly managed to divide us, aiming to pick our group one by one.

Behind me, something moves at quick speed.

Barely, I manage to block an axe slashing at me from the side. As I use Black Fluid to retaliate, the assailant simply evades my counterattack, knocking me on a wall with a shoulder blow.

The assailant laughs, as he cancels his camouflage. He materializes out of thin air, like an alien hunter from a movie I loved in my previous world…

Wielding two short axes, the man standing in front of me resumes his attack. Barely, I manage to avoid his quick attacks, but I do not have the time to retaliate, as the flurry of slashes continues to rain on me.

The man is definitely more skilled than me in close quarter combat…

My only chance here is to keep my distance and use ranged attacks with my skill. If this becomes close quarter combat, I am dead.

Too distracted by the opponent in front of me, I fail to notice another man creeping up on me from my blindside.

He manages to plunge his dagger in my back, leaving a red stain in my armor and a sharp pain in my mind.

At the same time, the axe wielding man lands two hits on me. The first is shallow, deflected by my armor…but it still hurts like hell.

The second one however digs deep into my shoulder, making me fall and roll in pain. As he closes in for the kill, I manage to pierce him with Black Fluid.

The dagger wielding guy…lies dead, floating in the shallow water with an arrow sticking out of the back of his head. It seems Levia and Marica managed to shake off their assailant.

<<Retel…we need to find him>>

<<Wait…We need to do something with your wound, first>>

Marica says while looking at me with concern.

I shake my head.

<<No, go to him and help him out. I can manage here>>

Still looking a bit doubtful, the magician follows Levia as the run to Retel’s side.

<<I’m starting to rely too much on this>> I mutter as I consume the axe wielding man’s corpse, healing myself.

As soon as I am done, I run to my companions’ side.

The three of them are already engaging against the archer group. It seems that one of them has a powerful skill, capable of shooting arrows that explode into shock-waves.

Being faster than spells, their attacks prevent Marica from summoning any kind of magic, forcing my friends to hide behind cover, lacking any proper offense means.

<<Finally! How long did that take you?>>

Retel shouts at me.

<<Go, now!>>

Without letting me reply, he signals to Marica.

<<This spell is really a last resort. It is difficult to pull off, does not last long and it will have a heavy toll on me. Still, it’s our safest bet. Now, here is the plan.

As soon as I finish casting this, we need to run. I will use it in combination with my concealing spell to give us a better chance. Due to the effort, I will not be able to move, so either Retel or Roshal will have to carry me. Understood?>>

Marica starts chanting something, muttering strange words as she holds her hands near her chest.

Yelling the last part of the litany she’s been muttering, Marica plunges her hand into the shallow water.

<<Velo di Nebbia!>>

Nothing happens.

<<Now, give it a moment…>>

Suddenly, mist begins to rise from the water, covering the entire room

<<Let’s go! Straight to the exit!>>

As we leave our cover, Marica chants another spell, concealing us within the mist with her light magic. Keeping the two magics active at the same time is taking a big toll on her.

Her face is so pale, and I can see her small frame shuddering, trembling as she struggles to keep the magic under control. Retel grabs her and carries her on his shoulder as we run.

Confused, with their vision clouded, the enemies do not seem to spot us. I can hear them yelling, blindly shooting their arrows in the thick mist.

We’re close now…I can see the enemies searching for us, their vision hindered by the mist.

Arrows are flying above our heads, and the skill-holder archer is repeatedly trying to blow away the mist with his skill, unsuccessfully.

Slipping past them, we manage to reach the stairs.

We cannot be soft here. As we pass near the archers, I attack the with my skill. No time to show mercy.

Near the stairway, only one of them remains.

<<You’re coming with us>>

I whisper at him, after immobilizing him with Black Fluid and dragging him close. He tries to struggle, attempting to free himself, but I just need to squeeze harder with my skill, breaking a few bones to keep the man from resisting.

Running up the stone staircase, I drag the prisoner, now completely bound by my skill. I intend to bring him to the Guild, to expose what his group is doing right here.

The gateway connecting the staircase to the second floor is not guarded, luckily.

Just to be safe, I place some traps behind us, in case someone decides to pursue us upstairs…although I doubt that something like that will happen.

After some time spent navigating our way through the second and first floor, we finally emerge from the Dungeon.

We drag the prisoner with us, right in the middle of the Gateway Building. The surrounding adventurers are looking at us with a mix of confusion and fear.

In all consideration, we just barged in dragging a bound man.

The receptionists immediately call security, demanding that we release the prisoner.

After properly explaining the situation for too many times, they finally accept our story. The prisoner is taken in custody by security, and one of the receptionists immediately scurries of to his superiors, to organize a search and capture party inside the Dungeon.

One by one, me and my companions are accompanied inside one of the security offices of the Guild, being questioned for who knows how much time about what just happened to us.

I just want to go home and brush off this day from me. I feel sick, nauseated by what we have been forced to do in order to survive there.

I mean, fighting monsters is fine, but I cannot stomach the thought of having killed other people, even in self defense.

By all means, even if our actions were due to self defense, we are murderers now. According to the security officer that spoke with us, we could even be charged or detained for our behavior.

Still, I do not care about that kind of consequence, I am just glad to be still alive and in one piece.

Using Navi, I contact Heod, informing him about our situation, and persuading the old man to just wait for us at home, instead of running here like he was about to do as soon as he heard what we went through.

We remain in the security room for hours, until late night.

In the end, they decide to let us go, after collecting a signed testimony from the four of us.

I demand several times to be informed about any kind of development concerning the search expedition inside the Dungeon. Although the officer accepted my plea, I doubt that they will go out of their way to let me know.

In the middle of the night, we finally leave the Gateway Building, escorted by some Security officers right to our home.

We took Marica home with us, offering her to stay the night. She accepted, coming along.

Without even having dinner, everybody just went straight into their rooms.

Old man Heod immediately understood, just looking at our faces, how heavy was our day. He let us go, without saying a word.

Tomorrow, we will surely take the day and talk to him.

For now, I just lay on my bed and pray for sleep to come.

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