Unlike the floors above, the sixth floor is basically a huge circular chamber.
Inside it, instead of the usual hallways and rooms that can be found in the upper levels, a lush tropical forest extends as wide as the eye can see.
Colossal trees emerge from the forest, reaching up to a ceiling clouded by a thick mist.
On the ground, the undergrowth looks almost impenetrable, dimly illuminated by the light of some luminescent plants.
The hot, damp air carries the heavy scent of vegetation, so strong that is almost irritating to breathe.
Just walking around is making me sweat profusely, and breathing in this climate is difficult due to the excessive humidity.
<<So, any advice on this level? Marica, Dahl, you are the ones with experience in Dungeon Dives, so, care to share some tips?>>
Marica answers immediately to my question, still stuttering a bit in embarrassment. According to what she says, she came here only two times with her previous party.
So, we will need to take the other route. Well, a safe path is fine, but our time is running short, so we cannot spend too many days in traversing a single floor.
Marica’s suggestion basically offers us two options. Although I would like to take the quickest route, we still need to decide things together.
After few minutes of consultation, we decide to traverse the center portion of the floor.
As we march inside the forest, we are forced to cut our way through the thick undergrowth. The soft soil that we thread on is ridden with small puddles of stagnant waters, looking like a heavy rain had just poured down.
Still, can it even rain inside the Dungeon? The ceiling of this level is covered in something like clouds, but I do not think that something like proper rain can happen here.
But my reasoning immediately proves wrong.
Unexpected, a light rain begins to fall on us, growing in intensity with each passing minute.
Now, a violent downpour is falling from above, changing the terrain into mud and thus making our advance in the forest even more difficult.
The lack of visibility, together with the difficult terrain and restricted movement possibilities will prove to be difficult to deal with, especially if we encounter some aggressive monsters.
So far, we have met none, although the forest around us is resounding in thousands sounds and cries coming from all directions.
Even the signals that I pick up with Navi’s detection are many, all around us.
After one hour of walk, we encounter the first monster.
Looking like a huge beetle with a single, long horn sprouting from its head, the level eight monster is paying no mind to us, focusing on munching some small flowers.
His thick carapace might prove to be difficult to pierce, but this monster here will be the perfect test to see what our new party member can do.
But, as we start attacking the monster, Dahl just stands there, looking at us.
In the end, we managed to bring down the beetle-monster, but our new addition did not even lift a finger.
More than that, after the battle he even started to criticize our strategy and movement during the battle. Especially, he scolded Retel about his amateurish use of the shield.
<<Hey, you could help us instead of standing there doing nothing>>
Retel rebukes him, sounding slightly offended by Dahl’s remark.
Without even paying further attention to Retel, he just spouts one sentence and leaves, threading further into the forest.
I exchange a puzzled look with Retel, lifting my shoulders.
Muttering with himself, Retel lets things slide as we resume our march inside the forest.
Even if we’re walking together, Dahl seems to pay no attention to us.
From time to time, all of us try to engage him in conversation, only to receive annoyed looks or to be blatantly ignored.
Levia seems especially annoyed by Dahl’s attitude.
<<It’s not wise to chitchat in enemy territory>>
Again, he answers with a single sentence. Well, it’s not like he’s wrong, but I think he’s taking things a bit too seriously.
More than an adventurer, he looks like a soldier walking into the battlefield. Perhaps, that’s what he really is after all.
Even Levia decides to just leave him be. Well, you cannot go along with everybody you meet, after all.
Still, I am curious to know why he decided to go with us. I know it was something arranged by the Guild but…why him?
Still, I think it will be a long time before this guy decides to talk a bit with us.
For now, we will have to act mature and just let him be. Perhaps he’s just shy and dislikes conversation.
We go further inside the forest, making our way among strange looking vegetation and a wide variety of monsters.
The rain has stopped, as quickly as it came.
It seems that in this floor rain is a common event, suddenly falling down with great intensity and stopping almost as quickly.
As the rain ceased, several monsters came out of their hiding spots inside the vegetation, in order to hunt for food. Moved by the rain, the soft soil was distrubed by the sudden precipitation, forcing out small creatures and insects, and the bigger creatures and monsters took advantage of this to hunt their prey.
Since I came into this world, this is the first time I’ve seen so many different creatures.
It’s almost like seeing a documentary from my old world, but this time I’m inside of it.
Most of the monsters prove to be passive creatures, not paying attention to us unless we approach o attack them.
Some, however, reveal their predatory nature and attack us on the spot.
Much to Levia’s discomfort, we’ve been attacked several times by large spider-like monsters.
Dropping down from the trees, they ambush their prey, taking advantage of the vegetation to hide themselves as they wait.
Well, luckily for us, we have the means to spot them before they attack and react accordingly.
Unlike the first time that we fought spider-like monsters, back when we explored the second floor of this Dungeon, Levia is fighting well.
She still has a disgusted expression painted on her face, but it seems she’s managed to conquer her fear of spiders.
After all, we went through things far more terrifying than some eight legged creatures.
The experience we’re getting here is pretty good, and the monsters themselves do not seem to be a huge threat to us.
However, it’s not like this forest is proving to be an easy place.
Since we’ve encountered something more dangerous than monsters.
It seems weird to say so, but what almost managed to kill us all was not a terrible creature of immense power, but a small white flower.
Unknowingly, we walked straight into an area where these little, pretty white flowers were blooming all around.
<<Well, this place seems to be safe enough. We could set camp here for a moment, and have a bit of respite>>
Strangely, it was Dahl that suggested to take a break from our march. Since we were going on for quite some time, we agreed with his suggestion.
It was a splendid view, so peaceful and soothing that we decided to rest there for a moment.
Laying there, we begin to chat a bit among us, but I notice something strange happening.
As time goes by, our discussion begins to steer in a weird way. Retel is starting to insult Marica about what happened with the Guild, while Levia is angrily muttering to herself.
What the hell is going on here?
Before I can calm them down, Retel and Marica start arguing, with Retel even going so far to point his weapon at her.
Levia is starting to cry without any proper reason, rolling on the ground and wailing like a spoiled child.
[Navi: Resisted- Whitestar Poison]
Navi’s message informs me about something sinister. I realize it a bit too late but…these flowers are emanating some kind of poison.
And it’s affecting our group in a bad way, tampering with my companion’s emotions.
It looks like only me and Dahl are unaffected by it.
But I was wrong.
As soon as I try and do something, Dahl attacks me. Without expecting it, I’m caught off guard by his sudden kick.
With just one hit, he sends me flying a few meters away. I do not even have the time to get up on my feet, and he’s already lowering his blades on me.
This situation is too dangerous. I try to block his attack with Black Fluid, but the blades went through, cutting my skill.
Luckily, I managed to deviate his blow with my skill, but things will go badly if he can just cut my Black Fluid like it’s made of thin paper.
Seriously, to be in this kind of situation because of some fucking flower…
I take a quick glance to my other companions, in order to ascertain the situation. Retel is defending himself from Marica’s spells, while trying to skewer her with his weapon.
If I do not end things quickly…
Again, Dahl attacks me right as I was distracted.
This time however I expected him to do something, and I manage to use Black Fluid to trap and disarm him.
Having taken care of Dahl, I only need to stop Marica and Retel from harming themselves.
I use Black Fluid to pin the two of them, and then I go to Levia’s side.
Among all of my companions, she’s the one that got the less dangerous effect from the poison, since instead of attacking someone else, she just broke down in tears.
I lift her and carry her within my arms, while I transport the others outside of the flower field using Black Fluid.
Keeping them restrained is hard enough, and especially Retel is giving me a hard time to keep him pinned down.
As soon as we are outside of the field, I contact Heod using Navi. Being an alchemist, he might be able to suggest a cure for the poison.
Waiting for his answer, I decide to get rid of the flowers, since their poison might still be spreading around. I absorb them using Black Fluid, eradicating every single one of them.
Finally, Heod replies.
He says that the poison from this kind of flowers is not lethal in itself, since it only causes a mild mental effect.
What is dangerous about these plants is the effect that their poison has on the psyche. Basically, it alters the perception, and heightens the sense of conflict.
I reassure Heod about the others’ condition, describing to him the symptoms they’re showing.
<<So, Heod, how fast does this poison act? Can it cause a sudden change of behavior, or does it take some time for it to take effect?>>
So, it is a slow acting poison. But, if that is the case…why did Dahl attack me immediately? It should have gone differently, like between Retel and Marica.
The two of them started bickering against one another before their discussion became a proper fight, due to the poison’s effect. But the same did not happen with Dahl. Could it be…
Some kind of suspicion is starting to form in my mind. For now, Dahl is behaving exactly like a victim of the toxin, but he could be faking it.
Nonetheless, I have to postpone my considerations for now, since the priority is to make my friends recover from the poison.
According to Heod, the antidote to this poison can be concocted by using the roots and flowers of the plant itself, along with some other ingredients.
Otherwise, it is necessary to let the body itself expel the poison, a process that takes a different amount of time for each person, taking usually between three days or a week.
Letting them recover naturally will take too much time, and it’s not like I can afford to leave them be in this state, especially since we’re inside the Dungeon.
So, in order to cure them, I ask Heod to instruct me about how to prepare the antidote.
I have plenty of materials from the flowers, and other ingredients needed to prepare it are already in my possession or can easily be found around in the forest.
After collecting the necessary plants that contain the missing ingredients, I start to make preparations.
First, I need to grind roots and petals of the Whitestar together, being careful not to inhale the pollen or touch the resulting paste.
Usually, you would need thick gloves especially made to manage this kind of plants, since the toxin it contains can effect you even by direct contact with the plant.
Luckily, I can use Black Fluid to do the dirty job, without touching the flowers with my hands.
Next, it comes the most difficult part. I need to distill two separate liquids, using alcohol as a base and boiling it with different plan mixtures.
One will be containing the paste I obtained by grinding the Whitestar parts, the other will have other plants in the mixture.
Since I do not have the correct alchemical equipment, this task could be considered impossible in m conditions.
But, since I have an all purpose skill that can basically make any shape…
I ask Heod to instruct me about the equipment he uses for distillation.
Since Navi’s communication system can transmit images, Heod sends me how the equipment looks.
Using Navi’s calculation abilities I manage to reproduce a version of the apparatus with Black Fluid.
After starting a fire, I load the equipment with the necessary ingredients. Having done this, all that is left is to wait for the distillation to be complete.
In about two hours, I managed to produce the complete antidote to the toxin, in enough quantity to cure all my companions.
I give a dose of the antidote to all of my companions, keeping them bound with my skill. Well, at least until I can see some signs of their condition improving.
To think that a small flower was almost responsible for making us kill ourselves…
I wonder what would have happened if I did not resist the effect.
As a side note, I got several new skills from this sudden misadventure.
Alchemy and Compounding, obtained as I was making the antidote, and Black Fluid itself grew to level six.
Perhaps the skill leveled up from the unusual use I made of it, since I’ve been forced to mimic different structures and materials in order to produce the antidote.
From absorbing the Whitestar flowers, I gained the ability to reproduce their poison with Black Fluid.
It will be useful if I somehow manage to combine it with the gas-form of my skill.
Although, the thought of using the two abilities on a group of enemies is a bit too evil for my taste…perhaps I am really becoming a Demon Lord, after all.
Still, another full hour goes by while I wait for the antidote to work.
Once freed from the poison, my companions look dumbfounded as they ask why I am binding them with my skill. Apparently, they do not remember anything that happened.
After making sure of their well being, I contact Heod again to let him know about the antidote working.
Reassured, he reprimands all of us to be more careful from now on.
He even goes so far as to send a mental image of all the plants and flowers that we should avoid.
[Navi: Image stored and recorded for future reference. Would you like to mark their location on the map?]
Wait what? How the hell is this Navi thing dishing out function after function…and, what was that about a map?
[Navi: A Mental Map is one of the standard, most basic functions of a Dream Navigator. Would you like me to display it?]
I nod in affirmation. After I do so, the image of this level seen from above pops in my field of vision.
According to Navi, I can zoom in, out and rotate the mental map however I want, and even see a three-dimensional representation of it.
[Navi: Well, I wanted Master to properly explore and experience the true romance of a Dungeon! It’s all in order to make a better Demon Lord out of you, since the current you is kinda lame.]
Her response makes me drop my shoulders.
Well, the time spent reasoning with her will only be wasted time, so I leave things as they are, accepting this new feature.
In the end, we lost some precious time because of this little incident with poisonous flowers.
I’m glad that it all resolved in something to laugh about, some story to share around a fire, remembering “that time when we have been almost killed by flowers”.
Still, what happened here is just another proof of our lack of caution and preparation.
After all, I am sure that the Guild has at least some information about the poisonous plants that can be found in this floor.
In short words, we could have easily avoided this with a little preparation.
While considering these thoughts, I start to release my companions, one by one. The last one remaining is Dahl, but I do not plan to let him go.
When Retel, Marica and Levia were under the poison’s effect, their behavior changed slowly, devolving more and more as the toxin exerted its effect.
But Dahl…his behavior was different from the others. Instead of starting a slow, verbal argument against me, he immediately attacked me with his weapons.
And that makes me suspect of his actions.
As I question him about what happened, he feigns ignorance, telling me that he has no idea of what I am talking about.
But, I am not easily convinced by what he is saying.
<<So, if you do not want to answer me honestly…>>
I start exerting more pressure with Black Fluid. Of course, I am not trying to injure or kill him. I am just aiming to scare him a bit, in order to make him talk.
Levia voices her doubts about what I am doing, but I have my motives here.
Dahl himself is protesting, begging me to let him go.
I do not know if he’s faking ignorance, acting like he does not know what I am talking about, or if his reaction is honest and he just acted under the poison’s influence.
Dahl is not answering, looking straight at me with a dumbfounded expression on his face. I will not buy your acting, you know?
I come near him, staring him right in the eyes. Using my best “bad guy” voice, I tell to him what I suspected.
That he was appointed by the Guild to follow our group, reporting our activities and status in order to spy on us. And, at the first occasion when we would show some weakness or be in a dangerous situation, he was ordered to attack and dispose of us.
Since, now that I think about it, it was his suggestion to camp inside the Whitestar field.
He recognized the flowers, and he thought of a simple plan to eliminate our group without much effort.
By leading us into the poisonous flowers, he hoped that we would fight among ourselves under the toxin’s influence, and he would have personally killed whoever was left standing after the infighting.
But his plan went wrong, since I resisted the flower’s poison.
He smiles. It seems that my suspicions were right on point. Still, now that I know that he planned all of this, what the hell do I do?
I could kill him on the spot, but I want to hear something from him, first. Namely, who was the one that ordered him to act like this, and why.
My first suspect would be Alvares, since he openly showed his hostility to me when I was under the Guild’s custody. But matters could be more complicated than that.
Because, if someone just wanted me dead, he could send assassins to do the job instead of infiltrating someone into our party like this.
<<Well, it seems you figured my intentions out. Yes, I planned all this. I lead you lot into a trap, hoping that you would kill each other. Now that you know about this, what will you do?>>
In a situation like this, he has the nerve to taunt me. I do not know why he’s acting like this, since pissing me off will not help him in any way. Or perhaps he just wants to anger me.
<<So, who gave you those orders? Or are you acting on your own initiative?>>
Now Retel is also joining in the interrogation. Marica still seems a bit perplexed by what is going on, and Levia is watching us from a distance, with a stern expression on her face.
I continue questioning Dhal, but he does not answer. This is going nowhere, and we’re wasting precious time here. After all, I have a pretty dangerous time limit on my head.
Still, I wonder what would be the best course here. Killing him on the spot would be the wisest decision, but I feel like something is off.
After all, he could have killed me in so many different occasions. During battles, for example, where me and my companions were focused on the monsters.
It would have been much easier to do, instead of leading us into some kind of trap like he did.
Perhaps, there are some ulterior motives that explain Dahl’s actions.
As I look at him more, I understand the reason why Dahl acted this way. It’s faint, but I can see traces of magic on him.
Strands of an ominous purple mana are barely visible on his skin. I would have not noticed this in normal circumstances. And now that I see them, I recognize what those strand mean.
After all, I had the same kind of magic cast on me not so long ago.
The spell that Alvares used.
If what I see is true, why did that man cast a spell on Dahl?
<<You’re being controlled by a spell. Am I right?>>
Dahl’s expression freezes for a moment. From the look in his eyes, I know I hit the mark. He denies it, however. But, for a moment, before Dahl spoke his answer to me, I saw the purple strands pulse.
So, even as we speak, he’s being controlled. I do not know if the spell that’s affecting him is the same one that Alvares cast on me.
I doubt so, since he did not directly control me, which would have been the best strategy. After all, he could just control me and make me attack my companions. It would have been easier for him to do so.
Unless…maybe he could not cast a complete spell on me, since when he spoke to me Telesia and the other guy from the Triumvirate, Radva, were also there.
<<So, let me get things straight. Someone, and I do know who, cast a spell on you in order to kill me and make it look like an accident. But, somehow you are resisting it. Otherwise you would have attacked me or my companions in different circumstances, instead of going with a plan that had low chances of success>>
Again, as I tell Dahl my conclusions, the light coiled around him flutters, shining for a split second.
It seems that Dahl is resisting it, and that is causing him pain.
As I feared, the situation is really much complicated than what it seems.
Because, if Dahl is being controlled, I cannot just go and kill him. After all, he’s only a person caught into someone else ‘s plot.
So, how could I resolve this predicament? The best solution would be to dispel the magic that’s controlling Dahl, but I do not know how to do this.
Killing Dahl will not solve anything, and now that I know he’s being controlled, I do not feel like hurting someone that brings no ill will towards me.
I cannot just let him free, since most likely, now that I know what is going on, the one who cast the spell will just order Dahl to attack us again.
Well, I could try and do something. The chances of success are pretty small, since it’s something that I thought on the spot.
I ask Marica for assistance in this matter, since she’s the one that has most knowledge about magic in our group.
She answers with a worried face. Well, it’s not like we have any other option right now.
And so, I prepare to act my plan. With Marica’s assistance, I start to pour my own mana into Black Fluid.
After that, I stretch the skill, making thin blades, as thin as I can manage. Keeping the mana flow inside the skill is truly difficult, but, following Marica’s instructions I manage to keep a constant flow.
The reasoning behind what I am trying to do is simple. Basically, I am trying to disrupt Alvares’s spell by using my own mana.
Since I lack the proper mana control needed to accomplish such a feat, I devised a little trick, hoping that it works.
I infuse my mana into Black Fluid, and use the mana infused skill to “cut” Alvares’s mana strands.
To succeed in this I would need to perfectly shape and move my mana, forming thin blades from it in order to “cut” the spell from Dahl’s body.
But, I do not have perfect control of my mana.
What I have, is a skill that I can mold and move as I want. In short, a skill that I can perfectly control.
Combining the skill with mana, by forming Black Fluid into the delicate and precise shape needed, and injecting it with mana in order to cut away the spell, should be a solution for this situation.
At least, I hope so.
And so, I start this crazy attempt, exerting all my willpower and concentration in order to accomplish this.
After one entire hour, it is done.
When I cut the final strand of mana, it evaporates from Dahl’s body, forming a purple smoke that twirls in the air.
Exhausted, I lay on the ground. It was tiresome to do all this.
Dahl himself seems to be fine enough. He thanked me for what just happened, and he told how all of this came to be.
Apparently, before Dahl was appointed by Telesia to join our group, Alvares made it clear that he wanted to dispose of me.
When the Guild Headmaster and the other members of the Triumvirate voted against his proposition, he insisted to place someone into our party.
He even went so far as to personally select candidates, but Telesia strongly opposed his decision.
She appointed Dahl instead, since it was not possible for them to completely negate Alvares’s proposal. In short, Dahl joining us was a necessary compromise to shut up Alvares’s complaints.
It was then that Alvares approached Dahl and put him under his spell.
According to what Dahl is saying, Alvares is being suspected to be the one behind the accidents caused by Leidus inside the Dungeon.
Since Leidus was one of the other Candidate Demon Lords mentioned by Radva, I can start to see why Alvares wanted to dispose of me.
If he’s the one behind Leidus’s actions, I am nothing more than a nuisance, an obstacle to whatever he’s trying to accomplish.
Perhaps, he hopes to make Leidus gain power inside the Dungeon, in order to have a powerful Demon Lord under his own control.
He could have done the same to me, but apparently he was forced to act differently since I was always being watched by Telesia during the time I was captured.
So, instead of applying a spell that could fully control me, he was forced to cast an inferior version in order to not raise suspicion towards himself.
He then resorted to this convoluted plan, controlling Dahl in order to make him kill us inside the Dungeon, far from the Guild’s eyes.
By using Dahl, he could make thing pass as an unfortunate accident inside the Dungeon, instead of a proper assassination.
Or perhaps, his plan was even more convoluted, since Alvares knew of the deadly time limit that I have on me. He could have planned all this in order to slow us down, with Dahl sabotaging our advance here and there in order to consume the little time I have at my disposal.
This way, he could just undo the spell when everything was done, and no one would have suspected him about anything.
Still, no matter what his plan was, now it has failed. Well, we still lost a considerable amount of time in this level, so I do not know how things will go after this.
After all, Alvares could have already achieved his objective here, since even a single day will prove essential to me, and we basically already spent half a day just dealing with things here in the sixth floor.
That leaves me with five days and few hours to reach the tenth floor. And given how we’re still in the outer rim of the sixth floor, I am starting to doubt I will make it in the end.
More than that, Alvares could try and intervene again, this time more directly. He does not even need to send someone that manages to kill me, after all.
He just needs to make us lose more time, and after that…well, I ‘ll be dead.
Just as a precaution, I use the same trick to undo the spell that Alvares cast on me. I doubt that he would use it to take control of me, but safe is better than sorry.
Doing this on myself proves to be more difficult than doing it on another person, and I have to rely on Marica’s mana perception to actually succeed in dispelling myself.
Having done that, we decide to resume our march inside the forest. From now on, we will need to accelerate our schedule, cutting resting time in order to traverse this level in a short time.
We set our route to the center of this level, avoiding as much battles as we can.
But, this route poses a big danger to us.
Since, in the center portion of the sixth floor, there is a peculiar monster.
Dahl, being the one with most experience about the Dungeon between all of us, is the one that puts us on guard about the danger lying ahead.
Unlike the other monsters that inhabit this floor, those that reside in the center are a special category.
Much like among humans there are individuals with superior abilities, like elite soldiers or such, this distinction also applies to monsters.
Depending on the race of the monster, creatures that have the same level can show widely different prowess, in both stats and abilities.
In short, those that we will find in the center are considered elite monsters. And, among them, there exists one that stands above the others, a Champion monster.
From the sixth floor onward, each floor hosts one such monsters, named Champion. These are extremely though monsters, characterized by their gigantic size and incredible abilities, superior to those of the common monster.
A peculiar kind of Champion monster are those called Guardians.
Even superior to the Champions, a Guardian is a special existence that can be encountered every ten floors.
Those kind of monsters often require large groups to be taken down, and pose a large threat to every adventurer that tries to dive deep into the Dungeon.
But, such monsters can also be considered as a test of strength, and adventurers that want to prove themselves often challenge the Champions and Guardians, in order to gain fame and to acquire the rare materials from their bodies or the treasures that these creatures guard.
Most likely, the second trial will pit me against one of these Guardian monsters on the tenth floor. I definitely do not look forward to this.
But, right now, we have not the luxury to avoid battle against the Champion monster in this floor.
One thing that puzzles me is how can these monsters still be around in the Dungeon. Since each floor has been successfully conquered and mapped, it should mean that these monsters have been dealt with by precedent adventurers.
<<Well, it’s simple. Basically, after a set amount of time, the Dungeon regenerates each monster>>
Dahl’s explanation clears my doubt. Apparently, after forty-eight hours, each monster “respawns” in its original position, and that includes Champion and Guardian class monsters.
A troublesome thing, indeed. So, we will be forced to battle against these Champions, after all.
Traversing the forest is taking us to the limits of our resistance. Having cut resting time, we are slowly accumulating fatigue as we thread inside the thick vegetation.
The terrain itself is difficult enough as it is, and hurrying through it is only making things worse.
But, we have to resist and push forward.
Luckily for us, after being dispelled Dahl is now actively participating in battle, making it easier and quicker for us all to advance in this floor.
I have to admit, this guy is seriously strong. I am glad that he did somehow resist Alvares’s control, since, if he attacked me with all his strength, he would surely have won.
Perhaps that’s why Telesia chose him to come with us. Maybe, she expected Alvares to attempt something like this, and appointed Dahl to our group knowing that his strength would have hindered Alvares’s plan.
We marched inside the forest for five hours straight, battle after battle, without even stopping for catching our breath.
Now, the center portion of this level is right in front of us.
The forest is only the outer rim of this level, encircling the central portion of this floor like a ring of trees and vegetation.
The central part looks like an open plain enclosed by the trees. The plain ground is covered in tall green grass, almost reminiscent of the Grasslands that lie on the road to Sendria.
Inside the grass, we can see several shapes moving.
Monsters, and a lot of them. Their appearance is similar to baboons, with a white mane and large, muscular bodies. Their faces are painted in red, and from their open mouths, sharp fangs are protruding.
A single, large rock stands tall inside the exact center of this floor. Sitting atop of it, we see the gigantic form of the Champion monster.
Taking into consideration the distance that separates it from us, the monster should be taller than four meters. Perhaps even more.
With a body similar to a huge gorilla, muscular arms and a thick, silver colored fur, the beast oversees the plains below him, reigning like a king over his domain.
A named monster.
Silverback, level fifteen.
Although his level might not seem much high, I am sure that fighting it will prove to be considerably difficult.
We cannot just jump straight into battle, or we will meet an unpleasant fate. Beside the Champion monster, there are more than one hundred of those monkey-like creatures here in these plains.
The monsters are patrolling the area, moving around in coordinated groups. This could really be bad for us.
If those were isolated creatures, it would have been fine to just advance and attack them one by one.
But, these monsters seem to show some kind of superior intellect.
As we wait and observe them, we see one of the monsters from the forest trespass into the central plain.
Immediately, the monster is spotted by the monkeys, and is immediately attacked.
A coordinated pincer attack from two different groups of monkeys, leaving no hope for the poor forest-dwelling creature. The corpse is rapidly dismembered and eaten on the spot.
What shocked me the most was seeing some of the monkeys use makeshift weapons. By the looks of it, they are just crudely made wooden spears with sharp stones acting as spearheads.
But, if those things can use and craft weapons, they will prove to be a much bigger threat than what we considered in the beginning.
There are too many of them around for us to try and take down small groups of them each time. If we do so, we risk that one of the monsters might alert his brethren, and we would end up swarmed by a large number of them.
Their level is surely no joke, with the lowest of them being level ten, while the highest is a level twelve monkey with several scars on its body.
Dahl warns us about the danger that these creatures pose to us.
We take some time to brainstorm an effective plan, but most of our options seem to be pretty ineffective in this situation.
Marica suggests starting a fire, burning the high grass in order to kill the monsters all at once. But that strategy will not be usable for us, since the terrain and the grass are still wet from the recent rain.
Even if I says so to her, it’s not like I have a plan to deal with the situation.
<<Roshal, did you…absorb some of the plants from before?>>
Levia’s voice resounds from behind. She’s holding a white flower in her hand, a different kind from the Whitestar.
Perhaps…what she is hinting about could really work, after all.
Before, I absorbed some of the toxic flowers, and from that I got the ability to produce the same exact toxic compound with my skill.
By using it with Black Fluid in gas form, I should be able to attack the monkeys without them even realizing what’s happening, and let the poison do the rest.
If this works, the monkeys will start to fight among themselves, thus dwindling their numbers and making it easier for us. If we’re lucky, we could even wipe out a large number of them.
As I propose the plan to the others, Levia corrects me. She makes me note that the targets are too many and too sparse for this to properly work.
<<That’s if we aim to several small targets. But…why do so, when we have one big thing that we can use to our advantage?>>
In short, she’s suggesting that I use the poison on the Champion monster.
If things go well, the Silverback, enraged by the toxin, will start to attack his lesser kin. This way, we could achieve two objectives, simultaneously killing the small monsters while weakening the big one.
It will be difficult, but this might work. There is no wind blowing in this level, so, even if I use my skill at a big distance, it will not be disturbed by the air currents.
Of course, I could also try and use Black Fluid in a different form. Maybe, I could shot a dart containing poison into the monster.
This should prove to be more effective than just controlling a cloud of gas and hoping that the monster inhales all of it.
But, it could also pose a problem. The poison from Whitestar flowers does not act immediately, since it requires some time before the full effect can take place.
During that time, if I just shot a dart to the Silverback it could spot us from the distance and attack us while it is still unaffected by the poison.
Or simply, the poison could not be effective against the monster, after all. There is also that possibility to consider.
In the end, we decide to go with the plan. Still hidden inside the forest, I start to produce the dart that I will shot to the Silverback.
What I need to do is load it with the highest quantity of poison that I can produce.
The dart itself has an hollow point and a simple peristaltic mechanism in order to pump the poison inside the Silverback.
I was thinking about an insect stinger when I started preparing it. And that thought gave me a better idea.
Why use a dart, when I could use something better? After all, I can use Black Fluid to form biological structures, and let Navi control them.
This way, I could prepare some small things carrying the poison, and use Navi to guide them to the monsters, unnoticed.
In short, I will use my skill to make some insect-like things. With this, if I can manage to control them properly, I can attack also some of the smaller monkeys, poisoning them along with the Champion monster.
All that is left now is to properly realize this plan. I start producing the toxin within Black Fluid, using the new Alchemy skill at the same time to speed up the process and produce a higher quantity of poison.
While doing that, I task Navi to produce the small poison carriers. In my mind, I imagined them like small insects, somewhat of an hybrid between mosquitoes and flies.
What Navi produced, however, was definitely different from what I had envisioned.
Large as a chestnut, the “thing” made with Black Fluid has a legless, teardrop shaped body, with three pair of translucent, membranous wings.
On one end there is a long, rigid sting. The thing squirms in my hand, moving its “head” segment restlessly.
The design of it is similar to those biomechanical paintings that I loved in my previous life, with a style and design reminiscent of a famous creature from a science fiction movie set in deep space.
Since I first saw that movie, I had been impressed by that kind of art, and I ended up searching the original artist’s works, fascinated by the design that fused machine and organic matter.
Perhaps, the deep impression that Giger’s style had on me is the reason why Navi chose this kind of design for the “thing”.
Well, I am very pleased by the end result, but my companions seem to be taken back by the look of this thing, and they are looking at me with mixed expressions.
I pay no mind to their reaction and focus on the insect-like construct that lies in my hand.
Six pair of small, composite eyes are on each side of the head portion, and, from them, I can have some kind of visual feedback. With the first “unit” produced, I try to inject the poison inside of it, loading as much as I can.
I cannot be stingy with it, since if the dose is too low, the entire plan might fail. To have better chances of success, I am using a concentrated version of the poison.
Now, having filled it with poison, I test if the loaded thing can properly fly. The results are pretty satisfying, and the insect-like thing moves quickly, silently and it easy to control.
<<Now, it’s time for a test run>>
Muttering to myself, I let the “thing” fly, leading it towards a small group of monkey monsters. My creation moves undetected, approaching rapidly the group until I manage to make it reach one of the monsters.
When near it, the insect automatically latches to the monkey’s fur, sprouting leg-like appendages from the underside of its rear portion.
Once it latches, it stings the soft skin of the monster, injecting the poison contained in the rear portion.
After few minutes, the monkey monster starts behaving strangely, making loud noises and showing aggressiveness towards its kin. It then snaps, and jumps to the throat of a nearby monster.
The two of them fight for a bit, but the other monkeys intervene and kill the poisoned monster.
The plan works. However, for it to be more effective, I need to poison multiple targets at a single time, otherwise the monsters that are not under the toxin’s effect will rapidly single out the one that has been poisoned.
<<Roshal, please stop making that creepy smile>>
Marica’s words bring me back to reality, making me realize about the unsightly expression that I am making. Hell, perhaps I am enjoying this little trick a bit too much.
But, for something this stupidly convoluted to work exactly as I have planned…
Still, now it’s time to fully enact the operation. I prepare as many insect as I can, and then I focus my attention to prepare a larger version of them.
The large ones will be used against the Champion monster, since I will probably need a much higher quantity of toxin to affect him if compared to the lesser monsters.
Once completed, I test run the swarm by making it fly around me for a bit. Buzzing as they fly in circles, dark as coal as they reflect the light on their smooth surface, my creatures are now ready to attack.
I feel like letting out a villainous laughter as I release the swarm. But I keep my composure here.
Using Navi’s detection, I divide the swarm and direct a small number of insects towards different groups of monsters.
Flying undetected, the insects do their job, latching to the monsters and injecting them with poison.
Even if some of the monsters managed to detect the insects and destroy them before being stung by them, the swarm managed to poison a large number of monsters.
More than that, the big ones have successfully poisoned the Silverback.
The Champion monster quickly detected the swarm, and it started to attack them by swaying its large arms, aiming to crush the insect-like constructs.
But, thanks to the quick movement capabilities and the remote control operated with Navi, most of the swarm survived the assault and successfully managed to sting the Silverback, injecting the poison inside the monster’s body.
Having accomplished their function, the constructs made with Black Fluid evaporate into gas for, returning to me unseen by the enemy.
I am pretty pleased by how things are coming together. If this trick works, I could use this same strategy to deal more effectively with enemies now on.
After almost twenty minutes, hell breaks loose in the central portion of the sixth floor.
The monkey monsters start fighting among themselves, making for a pretty gruesome scene.
But things get even more violent as the Silverback joins the fray, attacking his lesser kin under the influence of my poison.
The giant ape crushes the smaller monsters under his mighty blows, grabbing his lesser brethren and hurling them away.
However, the smaller apes are putting up a fight against it, managing to injure the Silverback before being killed by it.
What I see in front of my eyes, is a huge success. Each time a monster was felled by one of his kin, we even received some experience from it.
It must be due to the fact that we initiated the attack, and the monster killing each other is solely a consequence of my initial attack.
In less than an hour, all the monsters in the central plain have been annihilated. The only one left standing is the Silverback himself, wounded and weakened.
Marica complains about my method, her face pale as she looks at me. It makes me want to mess a bit with her, but I will refrain from doing so.
<<Well, I am pleased by the results. With this, we basically wiped out the monsters, and we even managed to seriously wound the Champion>>
Retel stands in my support, while Levia…well, since she has an instinctive disgust towards insects, I think that she especially dislikes my little show.
Dahl is looking at me in wonder.
He praises me a bit, sincerely surprised by the little show I just put on.
<<So, shall we try to bring that thing down?>>
Dahl suggests that we attack the Champion, now that it is weakened. After all, it still stands in our way.
Although it has been wounded by the other monsters, the Silverback could still prove to be a challenge for us.
Still, I want to do it. Without using underhanded tricks this time.
If we manage to bring that thing down in a proper battle, it will be for the best, since we will surely earn some experience from the battle, perhaps even level up from it.
I confirm things with my companions. Taking an unanimous decision, we head into the tall grass, ready to face the Champion of this level.
As soon as we set foot into the grass, the monster notices our presence.
It launches a bellowing roar, beating his muscular chest with his closed fists before charging right at us.
Although the sight of it is truly terrifying, we will not let it intimidate us.
As the monster launches the first attack, slamming his fist into the ground, we scatter in order to avoid the blow.
Waiting his attack, I planted Black Fluid under the ground, letting it burst out as soon as the monster strikes his fist on the floor.
Tentacles formed with my skill entangle the giant ape’s arm, locking it on the spot as Marica and Levia launch a coordinated assault with magic and arrows.
Marica uses her freeze-fire combo spell, while Levia shots mana-charged arrows towards the Silverback’s head, aiming to his eyes.
Then it’s Retel and Dahl’s turn to attack. Taking advanced of the damage caused by Levia’s arrows, they charge the Silverback, hitting his hind legs to make him fall down.
To finish the monster, I concentrate Black Fluid, forming a great spear with it. I launch it towards the monster’s body, piercing his chest.
The Silverback bellows, squirming as my skill tears his flesh. For a moment, I really thought that it was our victory.
However, the monster grabs the black spear piercing his chest and pulls it away, hurling it back at me.
Enraged, the Silverback begins leaking a wild and violent mana.
The air around him ripples in red, and the monster’s fur begins to move as if swayed by a sudden and intense wind.
I see the wounds on his body slowly closing themselves, as the monster heals the wounds we inflicted on him.
This battle might prove to be more difficult than we anticipated.
But, if we do not manage to bring this monster down, it will only mean one thing.
That we are weak.
There is no point for us to avoid this battle, only to end up being defeated in the lower floors.
This is a test that we have to pass, in order to improve, in order to prove to ourselves that we can do it.
Staring at us, the regenerated Silverback roars again, as if he’s challenging us, baring his fangs as he readies his next attack.