All around us the ground bears the scars caused by the Silverbak’s attacks. The strength that this beast is showing is something out of this world.
If we let ourselves be hit by his attacks, it will be the end.
Truly, this monster deserves the title of Champion that it holds. With his massive size and defenses, it is an extremely though opponent to face.
And it is an obstacle that we need to surpass, if we want to proceed inside the Dungeon.
Moving with unexpected nimbleness, the beast relentlessly swings his huge arms around, forcing us to avoid every single attack in order to keep alive.
In order to defeat this unreasonably strong monster, we have revised our usual strategy. Normally, Retel would act like a tank, drawing the monster’s attention to himself while guarding blows with his shield, while me and the others acted as damage dealers and crowd control.
But, against the Silverback, this strategy will not work.
Retel would simply be blown away by even one swing of the beast’s arms, so we cannot risk him to take his attacks head on.
Instead, I am the one restricting the monster and taking his blows. For two main reasons.
First, by using Black Fluid I can effectively guard me and my companions from sudden attacks, preventing any harm to befall on us.
And, even if I get hurt, I can just use Black Fluid to absorb some of the monster corpses laying around us, healing my wounds and regaining strength.
At the same time, I am using Black Fluid to try and restrain the beast’s movement. But every time, the Silverback breaks free from my skill, using sheer strength.
I can keep him restrained for roughly ten seconds before he starts rampaging and wrings himself out of my binding.
During that time, it is difficult to land any effective attack.
Even Marica’s spells are proving to be ineffective against the monster. If she tries to freeze it on the spot, the Silverback simply breaks free without any damage. And the thick fur protects it from her fire based attacks.
The only ones that are successfully inflicting injuries on the monster’s body are Levia, Retel and Dahl.
Although her arrows are dealing a low amount of damage on the muscular body, Levia managed to gouge out one eye of the monster.
Even more, Retel successfully managed to plunge his spear in the Silverback’s throat, leaving behind a gaping wound that profusely bleeds.
Dahl is dancing around the creature, gripping his twin short blades as he attacks the giant ape from his blindspots.
Such short weapons should be ineffective against a monster this size, but Dahl is using them in unison with some kind of skill.
With their sharpness enhanced by the skill, the twin blades are leaving wide and deep cuts on the monster’s hide.
But all of this seems to be useless.
When a certain amount of damage s inflicted on his body, the Silverback simply activates some sort of skill, and it regenerates to full health.
<<Damn, this is troublesome>>
Retel lets out his frustration while he takes a moment of respite. When it activates the regeneration, the Silverback stops for about thirty seconds.
We’ve tried to attack hi during that time, but all damage we managed to inflict was healed.
In order to beat it we have do deal a decisive blow.
But we currently lack such kind of powerful attack. Even when I used Black Fluid earlier, molding the skill into a spear and skewering the beast’s chest, the Silverback simply regenerated back to full health. And that was the strongest attack that I can think of.
I’ve even tried to attack the Silverback using Black Fluid in mist form, hoping to injure the beast from inside.
Somehow, the monster sensed that something was amiss, and released some kind of special attack. Roaring, he produced a shockwave that dispersed my attack.
Basically, we’re in a stalemate situation. We can avoid any damage that the monster tries to inflict on us, but, on the other hand, we cannot inflict a decisive blow against our foe.
If things continue to drag out like this, it will be our loss.
<<We can’t keep up with this! Every thing we do, this monster is just shrugging off any damage like nothing at all happened>>
Marica shouts her disappointment. She’s right, we need to think of something to bring the Silverback down for good.
<<We need to regroup and think of a better strategy>>
Retel proposes a tactical retreat. Perhaps it is the wisest thing to do right now.
Responding to Retel’s suggestion, Marica launches her blinding spell on the monster, giving us an opportunity to retreat into the forest. I’ve also used Black Fluid to ensare the monster, in order to keep it busy for a bit while we make our escape.
Using Marica’s light magic to conceal us, we safely get away from the Silverback’s sight.
A moment of respite. We use this opportunity to catch our breath and use some regeneration potions The monster is still rampaging around, confused by our sudden disappearance.
We might not have much time to rest, and we quickly need to think about bringing him down.
<<I might be able to do something here. But you all need to listen and do exactly as I tell you>>
Dahl shares his plan with a serious expression. Apparently, he noticed that the Silverback cannot use his regeneration skill two times in a row.
<<The beast needs some time to recharge the skill. About two minutes. So, if we could force it to use the skill once, we will have a time window during which he will not be able to heal himself. We only need to strike him during that time>>
Dahl’s plan is fine, in principle, but…
<<Well, the problem is that we do not have any skill or attack that is strong enough. Even if we attack it all at the same time, we are unable to damage him enough in that short amount of time>>
Retel’s observation is on point. As we are now, we definitely lack offensive power, especially against an enemy as big as the Silverback.
<<Do not worry about that. I have an ace up my sleeve. Ok, this is the plan. You lot will work to force the monster to use his healing skill and restrain him on the spot as soon as he uses it. Meanwhile, I will be gathering the necessary mana to use the skill. It will take some time to do so, however>>
<<Then, why didn’t you do this sooner? I mean, we have been going on with this fight for a while, you surely had some chances to use this “ace up your sleeve”>>
Retel retorts to Dahl’s suggested plan. Well, it’s not the time to bicker about what could have been done sooner or such things. Right now, we have a proper course of action, and we need to focus on that.
<<Let’s leave the complaining for when we defeat the monster, shall we?>>
Dahl brushes off Retel’s complaint with a smile.
<<So, shall we go?>>
We head up from our hideout in the forest, heading towards the Silverback again.
The monster raged all around, devastating the area as it was searching for us. Still furious, the monster is roaming the area, bellowing in anger.
To start thing off, Marica launches a series of spell from a distance. The monster escapes the first freezing magic, but is caught in the following fire spell.
The area around him is set ablaze, but the monster slowly emerges from the flames, glaring at us with murderous fury.
I immediately activate Black Fluid. This time, I will need to hold and distract the monster as my companions damage it.
Using Black Fluid in tentacle mode, I wrap the monster’s limbs with it. Before, the Silverback simply tore apart my skill with his brute force, but this time, I have modified it a bit.
Every tentacle has a series of blades, that dig in the Silverback’s flesh as soon as my skill envelops his limbs.
When the beast tries to wring himself free, the blades slice his skin open. The Silverback flinches, roaring in pain as his attempts to wring himself free from my skill only hurts his body more and more.
Keeping him restrained like this is rapidly consuming my energy. But, if we want to succeed, I need to do this.
While I exert myself to keep the monster from moving, the others are raining their attacks on him.
Levia is using her arrows, charging them with mana as she aims for the open wounds in the Silverback’s body.
As they make contact, the arrows explode inside the wounds. I can see the fatigue that this attack is causing on Levia, but she’s keeping up, forcing herself in order for us to win.
Retel is resorting to his spear attack, putting himself in a really dangerous position as he needs to be close to the monster. Just one hit from the Silverback will be his demise, and the risk of him getting hit by friendly fire is also high.
But, thanks to Navi’s communication, we can coordinate our attacks. So, as Marica is ready to unleash her next spell, Retel jumps away, only to resume his attack afterwards.
The Silverback is now bleeding profusely from numerous wounds.
And here it comes. With a bellowing roar, the monster summons his skill. The sheer force of it breaks my Black Fluid, and the gaping wounds on the Silverback’s body close almost instantaneously.
Dahl shouts from a distance. During all this time, he was hidden under Marica’s concealing spell, collecting his energy for the skill he’s about to unleash.
Following his signal, I do one last effort to summon Black Fluid and attack the monster in an all-out assault, locking his hind legs in order to not let it evade Dahl’s attack.
Levia and Marica use a combined attack, with Marica applying her magic to Levia’s arrows, enhancing their damage by increasing the arrowhead’s temperature.
Retel is also charging at the monster, using his skill Raise to the limit of his ability, focusing all his power into a single spear strike.
He hits the Silverback on the chest, tearing open the beast’s pectoral muscles. The wound is not enough to kill the monster, as we’ve already experienced before, but it hinder the Silverback’s ability to retaliate and guard from Dahl’s attack.
Clad in a blue light aura that sways like a flame, Dahl extend his right hand in front of him. The aura flows from his body, concentrating into his hand into a pulsing blue light. He molds the light into an elongated shape…a blade, made out of his mana.
Dahl grabs the hilt of the ethereal weapon and assumes a stance. He then disappears from sight, moving so fast that my eyes cannot follow his movement.
He shouts something, a battle cry of some sort, while he slashes at the Silverback.
Following the blade’s movement, a pale blue tray of light flickers in the air, tracing its form down from the Silverback’s head to the ground below.
For a moment, it’s as if nothing happened.
Like a scene from a japanese anime, the monster’s body begins to slide, two halves separated by Dahl’s single slash.
He bisected the monster.
In a single blow. Now I agree with Retel…if Dahl has such amazing power, why didn’t he use it sooner?
<<I wanted to see how good you lot would fare without me doing anything decisive. It was a test of some sort, to see how much you are capable off. And I am pretty disappointed by what I see. Well, this is not the time or place to talk about things. For now, let’s focus on reaching the safezone on the seventh floor. There, we will have to talk about some things>>
Dahl is showing an aura of authority that I never thought possible for someone like him. It seems I really misjudged him, since he was so easily controlled by Alvares. But, this man is strong. And it pisses me off that he was hiding his ability all along, especially during a crucial fight like this one.
Still, it’s only thanks to him that we won. And he’s right about things. We’re still in a hostile place, after all, so we cannot just leisurely talk about things.
What is left to do here is to collect materials from the monsters and move on.
<<Now, it would be nice if we could bring back the Silverback’s corpse to the Guild. But that thing is too big to be transported. Even taking only the head will be difficult for us right now>>
Dahl is muttering his dissatisfaction, shaking his head as he looks at the Silverback’s corpse.
<<Why should we bring it back to the Guild? Is there some reward for killing this thing?>>
Turning his head to Marica, Dahl smiles at her before answering her question.
<<Well, sort of. They do not give money or any material rewards, but you could rank up as a party. Right now, you lot are registered as basic adventurers, “newbies” as those at the Guild nickname parties that just joined the Guild. But, if you show proof that you defeated such formidable monsters, they will consider your party to be ranked up>>
The discussion catches my attention. I wonder what this “rank up” will entitle.
As I ask Dahl about it, he makes a surprised look.
<<So, you really do not know? Not even you, Marica? Well, let me explain then. By ranking up, you will enter the Guild’s list of reliable parties. That means, the Guild will seek you out to accomplish certain tasks in the Dungeon, be it hunting specific monsters or resources, search and rescue missions, or even lower floors exploration. By doing these tasks, the Guild will pay half of the expedition costs and reward you with money upon each task’s completion. And the more you work for them, the more you will rise in the ranks, thus having access to better paying missions and so on>>
<<In short, it’s a way to make extra money?>>
<<Yes Levia. Also, by raising your rank, you will also gain fame in Sendria. Craftsmen and artisans seek high ranked parties, often gifting them with free equipment. They do so for publicity. If a strong adventurer wears their gear or uses the weapon they sell, other adventurers will flock to that shop demanding the same item that the popular adventurers are using>>
Dahl seems a bit carried away in his explanation. It’s almost as if his eyes are sparkling at the thought of money.
Still, he was complaining earlier about the impossibility to take the Silverback’s corpse with us. I think he will be shocked by what I am about to do.
I go near the huge remains of the monster and activate my Inventory skill. I decided to take the whole corpse as a proof, without harvesting the materials. After all, if we sell it whole to the Guild we could even get a pretty sum of money from it.
Dahl is astounded by what just happened.
With a hearty laugh, I explain to him how my Inventory skill works. He seems shocked when he learns that it is basically a limitless storage.
After that little show, there is much to do here before we can leave. First, there are a lot of monster corpses laying around.
The lesser monkey monsters will also prove to be useful to us, since we could sell their materials.
And so, I start collecting the monster corpses scattered around, while my companions take a small break to recover the energies they spent during the fight.
As an aftermath of the battle, we obtained quite a bit of experience points, both from the lesser monkey monsters and from the Silverback itself. It goes without saying that all of us managed to increase our level.
The amount of experience we got from this battle is really something crazy. Well, considering how we basically decimated the population of monsters in the central portion of the map, and also killed a Champion level monster, I should have expected this kind of result.
Still, it’s strange to see how all components of our group managed to gain exactly four levels each.
I do not know if this is a coincidence, or if it is something like a “fixed reward”.
After all, according to the information I have about this world’s level up system, all of my companions have different growth rates, so they should have gained a different amount of levels from this battle.
And yet, what happened is the opposite of it, with us gaining the same amount. Even when I interrogate Navi about what happened, she cannot give me a satisfying answer. Still, although I find it a bit weird, I will not complain about this.
To me, this level up will not yield an immediate stat increase, since I will need to sleep in order to allocate the points I gained, but my companions have already obtained the benefits of the level up.
Marica and Dahl were at level eleven before we started the battle, and now both of them achieved level fifteen. I do not know about Dahl, since he’s still keeping his skill set a mystery, but Marica gained a skill from the level up.
According to what she says, her new skill is something related to mana regeneration. In short, she will be able to cast her spell with an increased frequency, since her mana now regenerates way faster than before.
Me, Retel and Levia are now level fourteen. Unfortunately, Levia did not manage to gain any new skill this round.
Retel, on the other hand…
<<This is so cool!>>
Excited like a baby, it seems like he’s having too much fun with his new ability.
<<Ok, one more time! Levia…go!>>
Shouting in excitement, he signals Levia to start. Sighing deeply, the beast-girl pulls her bowstring and releases the notched arrow, aiming at Retel.
With a loud sound, the arrow directed at Retel bursts into thousand splinters, shattered by a translucent, red-glowing barrier that materialized half a meter in front of Retel’s shield.
<<Now, let’s try the remote version. Hm…hey Roshal! Stay still for a bit!>>
I turn around to his call, only to see Levia pointing her arrow towards me with a wry smile on her face.
Faster than I could react, she fires the arrow.
<<What the hell are you two doing?>>
I shout at them in surprise. The arrow shattered right in front of me and I am unharmed but…this could be dangerous.
Retel is laughing his ass off, while Levia tries to apologize to me, but I can see how she’s trying to suppress laughter herself.
I give the two of them a slight reprimand for this sudden, dangerous joke.
<<Well, I needed a test subject for my new skill>>
Retel makes a straight and serious face as he tells me so. It only lasts for a moment, before he bursts out laughing again.
<<Oh, you should have seen your face, man!>>
<<Is that so? Well, I want to try my new skill too>>
As I say so, I activate Black Fluid, forming various blades with the skill.
Retel freezes with a scared expression painted on his face. Just to mess with him a bit, I chase him around while using Black Fluid. Of course, I am not aiming to injure him or anything, I am just playing around a bit.
<<Like two children playing>>
Marica complains in the distance, while Levia is snickering at the sight of us.
Well, even behaving stupidly like this has its merit. After all, we need to relieve a bit of tension after the battles that we’ve fought, and there is nothing wrong with being a bit silly with my friends.
That word still puts a silly smile on my face. Having lived my previous life without any person that I could consider close to me, here, in this harsh world, I found some people that I can call friends. Life surely is strange. Well, mine seems to be stranger than most.
Still, time is running short, and we cannot just stay idly here having fun.
I go back to collecting materials, while the others are going through the treasure that the Silverback was guarding.
Although, the word “treasure” is not the most appropriate to describe it.
While we were playing around, Dahl was exploring the area around us. Near the rock when we first spotted the Silverback, he found a pile of objects.
Surrounded by bones and skulls from various animals, and even human remains, the objects were most likely the prized possessions of adventurers that challenged this level and met their end here.
Probably, their belongings and corpses were collected by the monkey-like monsters, and collected or discarded there after the monsters feed on the adventurer’s corpses.
<<Hey, come see this!>>
Dahl called us using Navi, sharing the details on his discovery.
Since I was still in the middle of collecting materials, I sent the others in order to sort the objects, hoping to find something that we could use or sell among the pile of objects.
After being done with collecting the remains, I join my companions to see what they have found.
Most of the equipment and weapons seem to be in a bad state, either being damaged or unusable due to their deterioration. Some of them look like they’ve been here, exposed to this level’s weather for ages.
Still, some are recent enough and in good condition. We could use them as spares, or keep them in order to make some profit by selling them.
Among the notable items, we find a staff with a pale green crystal embedded in its tip. According to Marica, that staff is a catalyst, used by magicians to amplify their spells.
Of common accord, we decide that Marica should have the staff, since she’s the only one that can use magic among us.
We found other useful objects, like quivers still full of usable arrows, a well-crafted crossbow and some shields. Even money, kept in a different place. Perhaps the monkeys, attracted by the metallic shine of coins, piled them like treasured objects, offering them to the ruler of this level.
Still, it’s quite a sum. Some of the coins seem old, but most of it is current currency, at least according to Dahl.
No matter, I decide to collect all the items here, even the broken ones. They could still be of some use, after all.
After a few minutes, I basically cleaned the entire place, even taking the scattered bones of animals and monster with me.
It seems like my hoarding compulsion from the time I played RPG games in my world is strongly showing up. After all, loot is loot, no matter how crappy it is.
Well, I took the adventurer’s bones for a good cause, since I will be returning them to the Guild after all. Yes, that is definitely the noble reason that compelled me to take them.
<<You know, I think you might have a small hoarding problem, Roshal>>
Dahl is looking at me with a pity in his eyes. Don’t make that face, it’s all under control, my friend.
We decide to depart again, since we’ve already wasted so much time in here. From now on, we will do a tour de force until we manage to reach the seventh floor’s safezone.
After all, we still have a considerable distance to cross before we reach this floor’s exit. Luckily, the remaining portion of this level seems to be similar to the initial forest area.
It’s still a place filled with monsters, but they are nothing like the Silveback. And, after all, we should have an easier time since we increased our levels.
Again, we delve inside the tropical forest.
Still, we have a long way to go before we reach this floor’s exit.
Fatigue is piling up on us, and we try to avoid as many battles as we can in order to increase our pace. After all, most of the monsters inside the forest can be easily avoided.
The thing that is really hindering our march is the thick vegetation, however.
To clear up a path, we are forced to slice and carve our way into the thick undergrowth. Luckily, I can use Black Fluid to clear the vegetation away to a certain extent, so it is a bit faster than just hacking it away with blades.
From time to time, I stop to collect interesting plants. As the vegetation here shows a wide variety of species, many of them have interesting alchemical properties, useful for concocting several kind of potions and elixirs.
But, I am more interested in another type of plant that grows here. Namely, poisonous plants. As I have learned that my Black Fluid can absorb and reproduce toxins and poison, it would be beneficial to me if I can increase the number of compounds that I can produce with it.
And so, in order to increase my battle potential, I spend some time searching and collecting interesting plants.
I do not know if this ability can also be used with poison belonging to animals or monsters, but I want to test it.
One encounter inside the forest gave me the opportunity to test things. The monsters that came out of the vegetation were some kind of large spider, as big as a dog and with their body closely resembling that of a Black Widow from my world.
Three of them, jumping on us from the trees above. Well, it would have been a perfect ambush from them, if not for my detection skill.
Knowing about their presence beforehand, it was easy to avoid their surprise attack and retaliate, ensnaring them with my skill.
<<Wait, let me kill them>>
I shout as Dahl was about to inflict a deadly blow on the immobilized spider.
He looks at me with a puzzled face, but he sheathes his weapon, waiting to see what I am about to do. As usual, I start the absorption routine with my skill.
The spiders are relatively small, so I am able to consume them quickly. As the skill leveled up, the time it requires to absorb something really has decreased from when I first got it.
From absorbing the spiders, I obtained several skills. Well, to be fair, the skills I got are multiple copies of the same three skills.
It’s the first time something like this happened. As I question Navi about it, she simply said that this kind of monster only possess three skills. Namely, Bite, Poison Production, Web Production.
Although I already possess a “Bite” skill, the one I got from the Red Wolves I fought o the day I first met Retel and Levia, it seems that the skill from the wolves and the spider is the same.
In short, I have acquired multiple copies of the same skills. Now, I possess four “bite” skills, and three copies of “Poison production” and “Web production”.
I wonder what will happen if I integrate two copies of the same skill together.
As we walk, I lose myself a bit in the process. I can take this leisure, since Navi’s detection can also work automatically, so, if something nasty approaches us, I will be able to react.
First, I integrate two copies of Bite. What I get from the process is a stronger version of the same skill. I can tell that something has changed, because the way that the skill is displayed in my status log is different.
That is something I did not notice before. Well, to be fair, I did notice that different skills were written on the log with different colors, but I thought that each skill had a different color, or it was something related to the skill type.
Instead, Navi explained that the different color is something related to the skill’s grade.
Skills represented in white color are the basic ones, the lowest grade existing. For example, the two “Bite” that I combined were white skills.
After integration, the skill I got was still “Bite”, but it was displayed with a yellow color. That means, the skill is a grade higher than before.
According to Navi, the color of each skill can be, from lowest grade to highest, white, yellow, orange, red, purple, green, blue. Blue skills are the equivalent of legendary abilities, on par with heroes or such. Of course, I have none of them. Well, Inventory is a green skill, so its grade is pretty high.
<<Hey Navi, why is Black Fluid displayed in a different color?>>
I ask the question to my Navigator with a curious tone. Because, Black Fluid is displayed in…well, it has a black color.
[Navi: That skill is the special gift from God to Master, so of course it is special! It’s a super rare skill, one that has the…well, it will not be fun if I tell everything about it. So, in order for Master to enjoy the romance of discovery, I will only tell you that black skills are special!]
Again with her nonsense.
I shook my head, and returned to my Integration routine. I integrate the remaining white “Bite” producing another yellow one. Then, I integrate the two yellow and obtain an orange skill.
With this, I understand that I can obtain multiple copies of a low level skill, and increase its grade. One notable thing is that grade and level of a skill are two completely different things. Navi starts her explanation about the skill levels and grades. To increase our understanding of things, I am sharing the explanation with all members of our party. After all, this info could help us in future battles.
According to what Navi says, skill grade (namely, the color) only concerns something like raw damage and basic attributes of the skill, while skill level summarizes the proficiency that you have with the skill. With higher skill level, the skill can gain additional effects, like a piercing attack or the ability to hit multiple times with a single use.
More than that, Navi explains how a skill can naturally increase the grade after reaching a certain mastery of it.
For example, a white skill will become yellow when reaching level ten; a yellow one will become orange when reaching skill level twenty, and so on.
It goes without saying that higher grade skills are more difficult to level up than white ones.
Well, that ends her explanation about skills. I wonder why every single time she does things like this, starting to explain a subject and then withholding some information, only to give it to us later.
It could have been nice to know such things from the start, although I imagine how she will answer if I complain about this, saying something like “it will not be funny if you know everything from the start” or some other bullshit answer like that.
Still, it’s time to go back to the experiments.
Using the two yellow “Bite” I obtain an orange skill. Well, it seems that my high Luck stat is really influencing the Integration process, since I did not have a single failure from it. When I level up, I will surely dump some more points on that stat.
Well, although I got an orange “Bite” skill, I will not integrate it with Black Fluid. And, since the skill itself is not be usable by humans, it’s not like I will be able to use it. In short, I only utilized the skill in order to experiment with it.
What I really want to do is increase the grade of Poison Production, and integrate that into Black Fluid.
By the way, Poison Production is already a yellow skill.
I fuse two of them obtaining an orange Poison Production. Well, to increase the grade further I would need to have other copies of the skill. I could hunt for more spider monsters here, but I do not have the time to do that.
Next, I integrate Poison Production to Black Fluid. The process is a success, and I now have the possibility to produce the spider’s neurotoxin with my main skill, along with the ones I obtained from harvesting plants.
Well, there is a catch to it. In order to produce different kind of poison or toxin, I need to absorb it first. So, in order to increase the number of poisonous substances in my arsenal, I will need to find and absorb several species of both animal and plants.
After gaining this new attack possibility, I searched for a group of monsters to test the skill on.
This forest is pretty packed with several monsters, most of them being large insects with a passive attitude towards humans.
Meaning, they do not attack unless provoked. Well, most of them do, since there are still some aggressive creatures like the spiders we fought before.
As we go ahead, I spot a small group of beetle monsters, the same species that we fought the first time we set foot in this floor.
Immediately, I use this opportunity to test the new poison at my disposal.
Using various combinations of toxins and different forms of Black Fluid to administer the poison itself.
The results were less satisfying than I expected. The spider’s neurotoxin worked greatly against our opponents, but the ways that I can use to effectively introduce the poison in my enemies’ bodies are limited, especially against monsters armored with a thick exoskeleton like these ones.
Namely, the trick that I used against the monkey-like creatures did not work, and I had to resort to mist-form Black Fluid or directly piercing the thick exoskeleton with a strong attack in order to poison these bugs.
Still, I end the experiments there. In the future, I will take some more time to further develop things.
We walked for hours, making our way inside the vegetation. And yet, the exit is nowhere near to be seen.
<<When will this forest end…>>
Marica mutters with a low voice, her face showing the signs of fatigue. After all, we’ve been going on without resting for some time now.
Even Retel and Levia look severely tired. The only one among us that is not showing any sign of fatigue is Dahl.
Seriously, he’s as fresh as if he’s doing a simple stroll in the park. As if he’s not even sweating in this hot, damp air.
<<We still have two to three hours of march before we reach the exit. So, hang on>>
I try to cheer the group up, but they simply drop their shoulders as they learn how much we still have to march.
Seeing them like this, I propose to take a small break. Although time is not on my side, I cannot bear to drive my companions to exhaustion. After all, my stamina is fine, since I can just fully recover my energy by killing a monster or two.
The area around us is relatively safe to rest for a bit, so we quickly consume a small meal while the others recover a bit from fatigue.
<<One hour. After that, we need to move. Is that ok?>>
Dahl concedes to our break, setting a time limit for it.
After eating, the others take a quick nap to let their bodies recover a bit.
<<We’re losing a bit too much time in here>>
Dahl says so with a concerned tone. He’s sitting in front of me, a bit far away from the spot where the others are still resting.
<<Yes, we are. But, you must admit that we cannot continue like this. I mean, look at them. They were exhausted. It’s fine to let them rest for a bit>>
<<That is true. And overexerting ourselves will only take its toll on us, after all. Still…aren’t you worried? About us losing too much time here. After all, you’re the one that is going to die if we do not reach the tenth floor in six days, right?>>
I make a bitter smile to Dahl’s words.
<<In truth, I am worried. Hell, I’m scared shitless about this, the possibility of failure. But, no matter how worried I am, I cannot bring myself to ask too much from them>>
We talked for a bit more, waiting as the others rested. I took the occasion to actually get to know Dahl. More than that, I wanted to ask something to him, a question that has been lingering in my mind since he was appointed to our party.
<<Tell me, why did Telesia choose you to join our group? I mean, besides all that happened with Alvares. She could have sent someone with a higher level, or even several people. And yet, she choose you>>
Dahl ponders a bit before answering my question.
<<I do not know that, Roshal. I mean, Telesia herself does not explain the motives behind her decisions. But, I have my own conclusions about the matter. Yes, she could have sent someone with higher level than me, but at the same time, she could not>>
Dahl’s answer leaves me a bit confused. He pauses for a moment, before starting to explain his point of view on the entire matter.
<<Telesia, and the Guild as a whole, are in a very bad spot right now. Well, to be fair, all of Sendria is on the verge of some nasty situation right now. I suppose you know how Sendria is governed, am I right?>>
I shake my head in denial.
<<I know that you have no king, and the decisions are taken by a council of some sort>>
<<Well, that’s only part of it. Let me explain then>>
According to Dahl’s words, Sendria is an independent city-state, governed by two main powers. First, is the Triumvirate. Radva, who represents the Temple as High Priest. Valtha, elected by the Merchant association as their representative. And finally Alvares, who controls the military.
They hold the executive and legislative power in Sendria.
After the Triumvirate, we have the Council. Composed by notable and influential citizens of Sendria, they have the power to approve or reject laws proposed by the Triumvirate.
<<In short, the Triumvirate proposes laws, and the Council votes if said laws are approved or rejected. Now, things get complicated here. The Triumviri represent three powerful organization in Sendria, namely the army, priests and merchants. Those powers are also represented in the council, but there, another power is also represented. The Guild. Although it does not have an official representation in the Triumvirate, the Guild can influence the decisions taken by the Council>>
Dahl goes on with his explanation.
In recent years, Alvares rose to power in the army, eventually reaching the highest seat and becoming a member of the Triumvirate. He did so by showing a remarkable increase in public order inside Sendria, although there are rumors that he himself made a deal with the local criminal organizations in order to take control of the city.
<<There are even suspicions about him being the leader of Sendria’s underworld. But, these are just speculations without any kind of proof. The only truth here is that Alvares is a very powerful man. Alone, he controls half of the Council’s votes. Some, he controls in a legitimate way, others, he gained by corruption and coercion.>>
I am not surprised that Alvares is revealed to be a shady character after all. Well, I did not imagine how powerful he would be. For him to be the head of Sendria’s army…
<<Well, I understand that the city’s government is a chaotic thing but…how all this relates to our situation right now?>>
As I ask him so, Dahl makes a brief laugh.
<<Yes, it might seem something unrelated but…just bear with me for a bit>>.
He continues the long explanation about what happens in Sendria.
He talks about the power struggle between the Army faction, controlled by Alvares, and the Merchant’s faction.
<<Basically, the Guild and the Merchants share the same political views. After all, most of the business here in Sendria heavily rely on the Guild to prosper, and vice-versa. After Alvares rose to power, he wanted to strip away the Guild’s authority on the Dungeon, allowing the Army to take control of Sendria’s most profitable resource>>
As Dahl goes on with his explanation, the situation that he’s describing is really making me anxious.
Basically, Alvares wants to dismantle the Guild and take over their power. The reason is not only economical, however. According to Dahl, the only power that can rival the Army inside Sendria is the Guild itself. Since the adventurers represent a powerful force, Alvares wants to gain control of them or suppress the ones that do not want to side with him.
<<If he manages to do so, he will basically rule Sendria alone. Who would dare to oppose someone that holds the combined war potential of both adventurers and the Army? To make things worse in this scenario, we have two more things happening at once. First, the matter concerning the “Demon Lords”, namely you and that other Leidus guy. Next, we have evidence that Aldora kingdom is starting to mobilize their army again. Now, the two things are somewhat related>>
As Aldora is beginning to move beyond the border, sending small platoons and the Heroes in order to cause unrest in the territory managed by Sendria, the natural move for Sendria should be to send the army to defend and strengthen borders.
<<But Alvares is not acting this way. Instead, he gathered the army in Sendria’ defensive fortresses, abandoning the remaining territory to fend for themselves. Well, his strategy makes some sense, as dispersing the army to cover the territory will leave Sendria itself defenseless. But, his reasons to do so are not strategic or related to Sendria’s safety. He wants to keep the army close to the city, in order to compel the other factions to do his bidding. To normal citizens, having eighty thousand soldiers near the city only makes them feel more protected, but for those that oppose Alvares, that same army is nothing more than a threatening weapon. He’s used the situation to enact his plan, proposing a law that compels the Guild to send the higher level adventurers to safeguard the border. His proposition passed, and now, every adventurer above level twenty is being employed to strengthen and patrol the border, in anticipation to attacks from Aldora>>
<<His strategy does not make any sense to me. But, if the Guild has been forced to send the capable adventurers to the border, I can see the reason why Telesia did send you to join our party>>
<<Well, I too cannot understand what Alvares is really trying to accomplish here. It’s clear that he managed to weaken the Guild with his move, sending away all capable adventurers save a few hundreds of them that are busy managing the Dungeon, setting up safezones and so on. Also, the recent matter about the attacks inside the Dungeon, all of it was thought in order to disgrace the Guild to the public’s eye. Why else would they target low level adventurers? Perhaps, Alvares is taking advantage of this whole situation to strip away the Dungeon from the Guild. Also, if he will manage to make Leidus a proper Demon Lord, he will gain another powerful piece in his game. The same could be said about the Guild, if they manage to make you gain more power. And that takes us to our situation right now. Telesia was forced to spread her war potential thin, covering the border while keeping management of the Dungeon. So, she could not send any powerful adventurer to ensure your safety, since all of them above level twenty have been forced to leave Sendria for the countryside>>
Dahl’s explanation only managed to confuse me. As he described it, Alvares’s plan seems so convoluted that it is hardly believable. Still, what Dahl said about the Guild sending out most of its high level adventurers seems to be true. After all, I only saw adventurers below level twenty since I first set foot in Sendria. Also, the matter with Aldora’s army starting to move is something that I experienced firsthand. If Alvares is really withholding the army for some stupid power struggle, Sendria will be doomed if Aldora starts to invade.
<<Also, there is another reason why Telesia sent me, a low level adventurer, with you. If she sent someone of a higher caliber, after refusing the one that Alvares himself had suggested, it would have put Alvares on his guard. If she sent someone powerful, Alvares would have made his move by sending someone from the Army to deal with you. She needed someone that Alvares would underestimate, while at the same time she needed someone reliable enough to keep you safe and increase your party’s potential. And, she also needed to send someone that she could trust with her life. And so, she choose me for this mission>>
<<And why would she trust with your life?>>
<<Well, Roshal, I am her nephew>>
His last words almost made me fall to my side. All of this long and nonsensical explanation, when he could just say that. He really could save me a huge headache after all, without making me worry about the impending invasion from Aldora or Sendria’s political struggles on top of my own situation.
I let things go, since there is no point in complaining about it now. After all, it is already time to wake up the others from their nap and resume our march towards the seventh floor.
I call out to them, interrupting their sleep. Rising up like a zombie, Retel has still a pale face with deep bags under his eyes. It seems his resting time was not enough after all.
Still, we need to resume our march.
After two more hours spent walking inside the forest, we can finally see the huge rock wall that signals the end of this level.
Embedded inside the large wall, there is an opening carved in the rock. The exit, leading to the floor below.
We make the final rush to reach the exit, ignoring the monsters that are popping out from the vegetation around us.
Safely running past them, we enter the dark space inside the wall, quickly stepping on the descending ladder sculpted in stone.
More and more, we descend in the dimly lit stairway, headed towards the next floor.
We made it, after all.
Even if we spent too much time in the sixth floor, we should be able to traverse the seventh one relatively quickly. The reason is that this seventh floor is a safezone managed by the Guild.
Inside of it, there is a permanent garrison of high level adventurers, which dedicate themselves to killing each monster that spawns in this level. There is also some non-combatants from the Guild, people that manage small shops that permit the adventurers passing by to restock their supplies of food and other consumables.
<<If you want, we could challenge this floor’s Champion after we get some rest>>
Dahl’s words surprise me a bit.
<<I thought that there was no monster here>>
Marica also sounds fairly surprised by what we just heard.
<<Well, it’s a custom of the safezones. Usually, the keepers leave the Champion monster alive and confined, in order to let the passing adventurers challenge it if they wish to do so. It is a safe way to experience battle against a strong monster in a controlled environment, after all, since if things start to go bad the keepers will intervene. Of course, if you want to challenge it you need to pay a small price, usually taken from the loot after the Champion is defeated. It’s your choice, really, if you want to try and test yourself against the Champion or skip it in order to spare some time>>
We reserved to think about it. A bit of extra experience will be nice, since we will not be gaining any during the time we will traverse this floor.
And, if the Champion will yield as much experience as the Silverback, we will even be able to gain some levels from it.
On the other hand, dealing with the Champion monster will make us waste some time, and it’s not like we have too much of it to spare. After all, we need to traverse three more levels including this one.
The stairway ends, revealing a large and luminous place unlike the other levels that we visited. Here, numerous torches are lit, illuminating every corner of the floor with dancing flames. The seventh floor should have had a layout similar to the first three, with stone walls that enclose hallways and chambers.
But here, most of those walls have been destroyed, revealing a large space where only few chambers are visible on the sides, and a large one lies in the center space.
The smallest chambers have some signs around them, and people can be seen coming in and out of them.
According to Dahl, those are the shops and quarters managed by the Guild. Some offer accommodation to the residing Keepers from the Guild.
Others are shops, or small rooms lent to adventurers in order for them to take a bit of respite from their travel.
The large room in the center is the one where this floor’s Champion is confined, trapped inside it by several barriers.
For now, however, we will ignore the large room.
Instead, we immediately head towards the small chamber that has a visible “inn” sign laid in front of it.
The receptionist behind the desk greets us with a smile, and we purchase the room for a night’s rest.
The price was not so high, and we could afford to rent separate rooms for all our members.
As we pay the price, the receptionist calls one attendant to lead us to the rooms we rented. Before letting us in, the young attendant goes into the room. From outside, I hear the sound of water splashing.
He repeats the same with all the rooms, before parting from us with a large smile.
As I open the door to my room, I smile to the sight of a proper bed.
The room is also furnished with a wooden tub and some soap, and the tub is already filled with hot water.
<<So, that’s what the attendant was doing earlier>>
Well, I will not waste this opportunity to take a warm bath. I undress myself, entering the wooden tub. Although the tub is a bit too small, the water is at the right temperature, enough for me to enjoy this leisure.
After washing myself, I don a spare set of clothes taken from my Inventory, before I begin to wash the dirty ones I had earlier.
With a big yawn, I dry the clothes, using Black Fluid to gather water from them. It is faster than letting them dry to the air, after all.
As soon as I let my body touch the soft bed, I immediately fall asleep. The level up screen immediately floats in my vision, and I start to allocate the points I received from leveling up. Having increased my level by four times, I gained twenty points in total.
This time, I allocate five points each into Strength, Agility, Accuracy and Luck. My Intelligence stat has been boosted by the Trial of Ashes, reaching a value of twenty, so I do not think that I will dump some points in it right now.
After allocating my points, I now have fifteen points in Strength, Agility and Accuracy, while Luck and Intelligence are at twenty points.
I wonder if I am distributing them in a smart way. Well, the Luck skill is serving me well enough, as it hugely helps with the Integration process. And without that, I would basically be powerless, after all.
As soon as I finish point allocation, Navi informs me that Black Fluid has increased to level seven.
The effects are the usual…no, this time it is a bit different.
[Navi: New properties added to the skill! Volume increase- with each successful absorption, the volume of matter produced will be increased by the total mass of the creature absorbed; Special Attacks Unlocked- By increasing Skill Proficiency, it is now possible to unleash devastating Special Attacks with it! 1/?? Unlocked: Beelzebub- Summon a swarm of Poisonous creatures constructed with Black Fluid; Type of poison and shape/size of creatures can be varied]
<<Oh? That seem interesting. So, what I have to do now is just yell “Beelzebub” or something like that, and the same technique I used to beat the monkeys on the sixth floor will materialize?>>
[Navi: It’s easier than that, dumb Master! Just think about the attack, and it will happen!]
One of this days I should scold Navi for her bad manners. Well, I doubt she will listen, thou.
As the level up process ends, the interface slowly fades, leaving place to darkness and proper sleep. I feel myself falling into it, peacefully as if slowly immersing myself in calm waters.
But the peaceful sensation only lasts for some moments. The peaceful dream distorts, and nightmare emerges from it. In a twisted landscape, I find myself running from something that I dare not to see. I can feel it behind my back, the impending sense of danger that compels me to move my legs as fast as I can.
But, no matter the effort, I feel it coming closer and closer. I want to look at it, and, at the same time, I am too scared to do so.
Finally, my escape comes to an end, in front of a huge black wall. Unable to go forward, I reluctantly turn my back to the wall, facing the impending doom that was chasing me.
I suddenly wake up, covered in sweat as the nightmare begins to fade from my mind. The only thing left, is the impression of a snake’s eyes, painted in an ominous purple color.