<<So, what are we going to do?>>
Retel asks a question while sipping a small cup of tea. We’re all sitting around a small table in one of the stalls of the safezone, consuming breakfast before we set on march again.
Of course, he’s asking about the battle against this level’s Champion.
We’ve been talking about this since we woke up. After all, if we spare some time to actually fight the monster trapped in this safezone, we will have the opportunity to gain more levels.
On the other hand, time is running out for me. Fighting the beast could take too much time, so it is a decision that we need to carefully think about.
With a serious expression, Retel makes his intention clear.
It’s not like it will be impossible for us. First, the monster is confined in the central portion of this level. So, when we reach it, we will already be halfway through our goal.
Then, if we manage to kill it quickly enough, we could rush our way through the level after the battle, recovering the time we lost fighting it.
The only thing that would hinder us is if the battle drags on for too much time, it will put us in a bad position.
<<So, let’s give ourselves a time limit. If we cannot manage to defeat it in two hours, we will call the keepers to help us and get on with it. Of course, we will gain less experience and materials, but I think it is still better than not getting any experience at all>>
We discuss some more among us, to set the course of action. Retel is the one that most wants to fight the Champion, while Levia is opposed to this.
Marica and Dahl are in a neutral position, telling that it is fine either way for them.
<<Hell, let’s do this. After all, the Champion is alone, there are no other monsters around. If push comes to shove, we can request help from the other adventurers stationed here>>
In the end, we decided to go along with fighting the Champion.
But first, we need to get there. Even if this level is easier to navigate than the others, we still have to cover quite the distance before reaching the room were the monster is confined.
According to the innkeeper’s information, it will take roughly half a day to traverse this level on foot. That is, if we do not fight the Champion.
<<So, let’s say that we take four to five hours to defeat it. We will still be able to traverse this floor in less than twenty four hours>>
What Dahl says makes sense, but it all depends on how much time we will take to traverse the remaining two levels.
After all, we do not know how much time we will spend on the eighth and ninth floors. And even if we reach the tenth floor in time, who knows if we will manage to reach the trial site?
In that aspect, increasing our level here will help us during the battles to come. After all, if we manage to increase our battle potential, it will be easier to deal with the monsters that reside in the floors below.
Before setting off, we contact Heod and report to the Guild.
The old man cheered on us, but his voice carries the sound of his preoccupation. After all, he worries a lot about us.
When we contact the Guild using one of the orbs, I am surprised to hear Telesia herself respond to us.
Dahl is handing the report, and he’s going through everything that happened inside the sixth floor.
From the battle against the Silverback to the spell that was cast to him.
Telesia laughs when she learns about the little trick I did to dispel Alvares’s incantation on both me and Dahl, but she also remind us to be careful.
She parts with those words, closing communication.
Having taken care of those matters, we set off from the stall and head towards this floor’s central portion.
Some adventurers can be seen along the way, going in and out from the small shops built in the remaining stone walls.
Most of them seem to be returning from their Dungeon Dive, using this safezone to replenish their provisions in order to safely reach the surface.
After all, the main purpose of safezones is exactly that.
To allow adventurers to safely acquire provisions, thus permitting them to carry less baggage along the way.
And of course, if each party does not need to occupy too much baggage with provisions, they can carry a higher quantity of materials and resources, thus benefiting the Guild’s economy as a whole.
But, right now we do not have the need to stop there, since most of the shops in this zone only deal with armor and weapons.
Our equipment is still fine, and we have spares in case something breaks during our permanence inside the Dungeon.
Along the way, not too far from the room where the Champion resides, there is a general store that deals with food stocks, and there is also a water reserve in the vicinity.
We will stop there, to restock a bit of food and water. What I have right now should be fine for the time being, but it’s better to buy some more, just in case.
After all, even if we take an excessive amounts of provisions, all the items will safely be stored inside my Inventory, so it’s not like they will go bad.
Still, it’s a long walk before we reach the place.
It’s a bit strange, how this place looks so peaceful if compared to the other floors. Here and there, we can spot some of the people responsible for keeping this safezone.
The Keepers, nicknamed like this for their duties, are a group of mid-level adventurers, responsible for safezone management.
Here, the combined force of twenty adventurers above level thirty is what guarantees the safety of this place.
As we advance inside the floor, a voice calls us from one of the stalls.
<<So, it was really you guys! How is the Dive going?>>
It was Julius, and his party. We encountered them back in the fifth floor, as they were hunting in the same level as us.
Apparently, their group is returning back to the surface, having completed their objective.
Julius ends his sentence with a hearty laughter. Still, they have killed the Champion on the next level.
I ask Julius to share the details of their fight, hoping to learn some information about what expects us on the floor below.
He looks happy to boast about his party’s achievements.
One of Julius’s companions, a girl named Verte, cuts into the discussion, taking the spotlight from her party leader.
Still, undead types…that could be troublesome.
<<Well, the ones you should be really worrying about are the magicians. They are a rare breed, but since they can use magic, they are really troublesome monsters>>
Another component of the other party joins in the discussion. He’s a boy that looks about my age, dressed in a white tunic.
<<Although, it will be definitely easy to deal with them if you can use healing magic or skills. Being undead, if you heal them they just become dust>>
The boy, Marthel, continues his explanation about the undead monsters. Well, it sounds like an old role-playing game cliche, undead being weak to healing magic.
Again, Julius laughs while praising his companion. But, he becomes serious again.
That means that we will not have to fight it, since the monsters re-spawn every forty-eight hours inside each floor.
<<So, what are you guys doing here? Aiming to fight that confined thing over there? Or you’re skipping right into the next floor?>>
Retel answers to Verte’s question. The group grows silent as Retel expresses our desire to reach the tenth floor, but they cheer on us.
From their reaction, I can assume that the road to the tenth level is dangerous enough to make them worry about us.
Following Levia’s remark, Julius asks if they can spectate the fight. Apparently, the place where the Champion monster is confined has some spots for observation.
From there, researchers belonging to the Guild observe the monster when it is idle.
But, when some party of adventurers challenges the Champion, the observation spots are made available to the public, in order to let them spectate the battle.
<<Well, I have nothing against it. Feel free to take a peek, if you want>>
After that, we move towards the grocery store in order to restock our supplies. To my surprise, the shop has fresh fruit and vegetables.
I expected it to be furnished with only preserved goods, but apparently this is not the case here.
Vegetables and fruit are being sold inside small crates that give off a cold feeling to the touch.
As I ask the clerk, an old man with a thick pair of mustache decorating his face, he makes a big smile while boasting about it.
The boxes are a product of his skill, which seem to be some kind of variation of the Inventory type.
It allows him to produce small confined spaces with a set temperatures.
Unlike my own inventory skill, which takes the items into another “space”, the old man’s skill materializes a container around the items.
I end up taking some of the fruit-containing boxes. After all, vitamin intake is important in the situation we’re in.
Also, I would like to try and absorb the boxes with Black Fluid. It’s something that I never tried, to absorb the product of someone else ‘s skill.
I want to see if I can absorb the skill from its product. Of course, that would be the best case scenario, but I will be satisfied even if I only manage to obtain the material properties of this skill.
Although, most likely, I will not obtain anything from it.
Well, that matter will be for a later time, after all.
Right now, we need to head towards the central chamber.
As we come close to it, I realize that the room is way bigger than I thought. It has a rectangular shape, with rock walls that reach the ceiling above.
The walls on each side have some large openings, where a transparent, glass-like material acts as a large window. From there, it is possible to see what happens inside the room.
<<Won’t it break? I mean, just look at this, it’s only glass!>>
Retel is standing in front of the large window, tapping his finger on the transparent surface.
Behind him, a plump, middle aged man answers to Retel’s words.
Retel is a bit surprised by the man’s sudden appearance, but he recomposes himself.
<<So, will you only look, or do you want to take a shot at that?>>
With a large smile, the man asks his question.
He introduces himself. He’s one of the Keepers of this level, and one of the highest level adventurers stationed here.
From his physique, I would have never guessed him as one of the top adventurers here.
According to his words, the old man is the one responsible for creating and maintaining barriers in this level.
And also, he’s the one that regulates entrance inside the Champion’s chamber.
He smiles as we announce our intention to fight the monster trapped in there, looking at us as to evaluate us.
We discuss the fee and terms for taking down the monster; the Keepers will deduct some of the monster’s materials as a fee, and they will keep additional materials if we end up requesting their assistance during the fight.
Before we head in, we decide to gather some more information from the old man.
According to his words, this seventh level was originally a place with a desert environment.
Sand with thin grains covered the floor, while scorpions and snake-like monsters roamed the entire level.
All of them capable of producing deadly venom, and above them all, the Champion of this floor.
Reigning supreme, the Black Scorpion.
While making his explanation, the old man leads us to one of the large windows. From there, we have a clear view of the room.
Levia squirms in horror as she catches a glimpse of the creature, and I must admit, even if I myself do not fear insects, I felt an intense sensation of disgust and fear by gazing upon the monster.
Retel asks to Levia with a preoccupied tone.
Her face became a little pale, but she steels her will and nods with determined eyes.
Parting from the old man, we head towards the room’s entrance. Taking a big breath, I confirm if the others are ready to start this.
<<So, how are we going to do this?>>
Marica asks about the plan to take down this floor’s Champion. Smiling, Retel starts proposing his strategy. It’s a bit unusual for him to be the one dishing out an attack plan, but he seems confident enough in the strategy that he’s proposing.
With a few more suggestions by Dahl, we decide on our course of action. The only thing left to do is to enter the room, and start the fight.
In front of us lies an open space inside the wall. A door frame without a door. In there, we can see a rippling blue light sealing the entrance.
Beckoned by the old man, we proceed towards the rippling light.
Then, we step together inside the room.
Inside, the light is dimmer than in the huge other space, and the air reeks of mold and closed space.
Another smell lingers in the air, faint, carrying the menacing notion of the monster’s presence.
With a body length exceeding four meters, the thing’s black carapace glistens in the dim light, his legs clattering as the clawed tip hits the rock floor.
The beast’s large pincers look like they could easily slice a man in two with a simple movement.
Looming over the black, segmented body, the scorpion’s tail sways lightly in the air, green poison dripping from the stinger.
Composite eyes notice our presence inside the room, and the creature turns, facing our direction.
Without making any sound other that of his large body moving, the beast opens its obscene mouth, revealing uneven rows of sharp teeth dripping with saliva.
Repulsive. That’s the only word that can describe this monster in front of us.
A beast, with power surpassing the Silverback that we recently fought, the named monster prepares to attack.
Serketh, level seventeen.
Although it spotted us, the beast did not charge straight towards our group. Instead, it waits, observing us.
In his natural environment, this monster would surely give us a hard time.
Burrowing deep inside the sand, emerging suddenly to assault the pray with pincers and deadly poison. In a fair fight, it would probably kill us.
But, this is not a fair fight, nor the monster is in his original environment. Here, right now, there is no sand to hide under, only bare rock too hard to burrow in.
Well, it’s not like the monster has lost all of his power. It is still a powerful creature, well capable of killing us all if we underestimate it.
We decide to break this stalling situation, moving to strike the first blow. Using Navi to coordinate our movements, we launch the assault on the creature.
Retel dashes forward, catching the monster’s attention. Instead of charging right to him, Serketh holds its position.
However, the beast does not stay idle. With a quick movement of its tail, it shoots out globes of poison from it.
Green spheres as big as a human head are flying towards all of us.
Retel immediately reacts, deploying his new skill to all of us in order to intercept and guard the incoming attack.
<<Now, taste this!>>
As the scorpion’s attack impacts with the red, translucent shields summoned by Retel’s skill, the boy shouts. Successfully intercept a direct attack. That’s the condition for Retel to be able to activate his strongest skill.
Shouting in high spirits, he lifts the shield equipped on his left hand, pointing it towards the beast.
Retel’s shield glows red for a moment, as the counter-attack skill is activated.
A large spear made of crimson energy shoots out of the shield, its power equal to the total power of each attack successfully intercepted by Retel’s shield skill.
The red, glowing spear crashes into Serketh’s left pincer, destroying the thick exoskeleton and the tender meat inside of it.
With a violent, repulsing screech, the beast wallows in pain, convulsing around while thrashing its amputated pincer wildly.
From it, a thick purple liquid is flowing, being scattered in the air as the beast convulses in pain.
Boasting a confident smile, Retel readies his lance to strike the monster again.
This new technique of him, is only possible since he increased his level after we killed the Silverback. Having his mana increased considerably after the level up, Retel was able to produce this powerful technique.
To think that he came up with this technique all alone, it’s truly worth some praise.
But, there is something that’s worrying me.
It might seem like Retel’s attack was a success.
But the truth is different. The purple liquid that has been scattered around is starting to release some kind of smoke.
As I look at it, Navi’s analysis informs me of that liquid’s composition. A strong, volatile poison is contained inside the scorpion’s blood, and it is now diffusing in the air.
A monster that poisons you each time you wound it. If we’re not careful here, things might go really badly.
Well, that will not be the case here. Expecting some kind of wide-area attack from it, and since the monster itself is poisonous, I scattered Black Fluid in mist form inside the room.
Using it, I am able to absorb the poisonous blood and the venom that has been released in the air.
I will have to do this every time we wound the monster, or we seriously risk being poisoned by it.
Seeing how the poisonous blood has vanished, Serketh charges toward us, ignoring Retel that is standing right in front of him.
It is quick, but not enough to surprise us. Charging straight at Marica, it tries to grab her with the pincers.
However, Serketh’s attack bounces on the red shield materialized by Retel’s skill. Again, he activates the Stab Counter, wounding the monster.
But the scorpion does not falter, using his large tail to strike at Marica.
Before the stinger can strike her, it is skewered by Levia’s arrows. Each arrow, embedded in the thick exoskeleton, explodes damaging the stinger portion.
With the intervention of Retel and Levia, Marica managed to evade a deadly blow. No doubt that the poison contained inside that stinger is definitely deadly.
Serketh prepares again to strike, changing its target from Marica to Levia.
But, as it distracts, I take advantage of the situation.
Concentrating Black Fluid, I form a blade with it and slash the tail.
The initial cut is shallow, however I can modify the skill to enter inside the wound and cut from there, thus severing the stinger portion from the scorpion’s body.
After all, the stinger is the most dangerous weapon for this kind of creature.
Enraged, the monster turns around and charges toward me.
Or at least, it tries to do so.
Converting my skill again, I mold it into Tentacle form, using it to entangle the scorpion’s legs.
The monster comes down crashing before me, making the floor tremble as the huge weight comes down.
Next, I open my Inventory right on top of the monster’s body, letting out some of the water that I had stored in my skill.
At the same time, Marica completes her spell.
Since her mana has increased, and she got a new skill that quickly regenerates the mana that she spends, she’s now able to cast more powerful spells.
I run away from the spot, in order to not be caught by my companion’s spell.
Cold air is coming from there, although, it is better to say that heat is being sucked out from the spot, knowing how Marica’s spells work.
As she shouts the final words of her magic, the water I splashed on the monster quickly becomes ice, freezing the monster’s legs.
Using the water as a primer, she’s now capable of entirely freezing the large monster.
The heat she stole from it, is now being transferred to the tip of her new staff.
Swaying hot air is condensed around the gem, letting off a red light as its temperature rises more and more.
She points the staff towards the creature, muttering strange words as she weaves the spell, transferring the heat stolen from the beast to the air, giving it form, compressing it into a single point.
The red light becomes brighter when the spell is released, and a small fireball flies slowly toward the monster.
I expected some flashy magic being released, instead it looks somewhat weak.
The explosion that comes after makes me forget my previous impression.
Instead of dispersing the heat in all direction, the spells contains it in a precise radius, scorching everything that is inside of it.
I can see the scorpion’s exoskeleton being cracked open by the sudden change of temperature, the shock caused by changing from a freezing cold to scorching heat causes it to crack and break.
As the spell ends, the creature is left charred and wounded, its shell cracked open to reveal the soft meat inside. In the air, a disgusting aroma of burned flesh is making it hard to breathe in here.
However, Serketh still lives. Bleeding poisonous fluids, the beast glares at us with composite eyes.
Again, I convert my skill into gas form to clear the place from both the liquid and gas poison.
The monster is keeping still, wounded by Marica’s scorching attack. It starts shaking, and a thick green aura begins to envelop its body.
The broken exoskeleton is being shed, making a clanking noise as it falls on the ground.
Me, Levia and Marica try to attack the monster from a distance, but the aura repels our attack.
Inside of it, the monster changes shape, twisting as if shaken by an electric current.
Abruptly, it stops moving, dropping to the ground.
Retel mutters with a suspicious expression as he approaches the monster, keeping his shield up.
Suddenly, something erupts from the body, charging at Retel with incredible speed.
He manages to block the sudden attack with his shield, however the strength behind the blow manages to push him back several meters away.
Standing with its right leg up in the air, a humanoid figure.
Although this creature’s silhouette somehow seem human, it’s more like seeing a hybrid between human and insect.
Instead of skin, an armored exoskeleton that covers every inch of its body.
Two legs, with junctures that look unnatural. Two pair of arms, each ending in a small pincer instead of hands.
A short scorpion tail extends from the back of this thing, curving up as it sways in the air, the stinger dancing slightly above the monster’s head.
The monster turns around, looking at us. Within a human-shaped head, large, composite eyes gleaming in red are looking at us.
Its mouth is smiling, looking too human for our comfort.
I thought it impossible, but this monster managed to repulse me even more.
Standing almost two meters tall, the new form of the Champion Serketh begins to attack.
Boasting a speed far superior than its previous form, the monster is brutishly assaulting Retel, pushing him with a consecutive attack from its arms, legs and stinger.
Retel’s shield skill is managing to repel the assault, but some cracks are starting to form on the red barrier made with mana.
He uses the counter-attack skill, Stab Counter, but Serketh evades with a nimble movement.
As it moves away from Retel, the beast is now being targeted by Levia’ arrows. She manages to pierce one of its arms, making the arrow explode as it hits its target.
Without flinching, the monster simply yanks away the half severed arm, and resumes the attack.
This time, I try to catch it with Black Fluid, but every time Serketh manages to evade.
Retel joins me in fighting the monster in close combat. Using Black Fluid to guard from its blow, I am slowly trapping the monster with it.
As I shout so, Retel immediately slashes with his spear.
The weapon’s tip leaves a red afterglow in the air, as the swing powered by Retel’s Raise skill comes down on the monster’s back, severing the tail from it.
High-pressure poisonous blood gushes from the wound, but Retel manages to guard himself from it with his mana shield skill, and I absorb the poisonous liquid.
Enraged by the sudden wound, Serketh begins to thrash around, breaking free from my Black Fluid’s binding.
However, before he can effectively manage to break out, Marica casts another freezing spell.
Combining her effort with my Black Fluid, we manage to keep the monster pinned down. It is not completely immobilized, however, and Serketh is rapidly regaining its freedom.
As it squirms to free itself, the Champion is wounded from behind.
Sensing the attack at the last moment, it avoided the blow that should have decapitated it.
Missing the head, Dahl’s blue blade slashes into the monster’s shoulder, cleaving it deep enough to reach the monster’s chest. A fatal wound, without any doubt.
Or at least, it should have been on a normal opponent.
With a powerful kick, the monster strikes Dahl from point blank range, sending him flying.
He lands on his feet, looking only slightly injured by the blow.
<<Still, for this monster to survive my skill…>>
Dahl mutters in dissatisfaction.
We’ve been preparing his strike all along, with Marica keeping him concealed as he charged his skill, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Although the blow was not lethal, it still did a considerable amount of damage.
I am impressed by this creature, strong enough to survive Dahl’s skill that killed the Silverback with a single hit.
I shudder at the thought of fighting this thing in its natural environment, surrounded by the elite monsters like the Silverback was, with sand to hinder our movements.
Well, that is not the case right now. This monster is in a clear disadvantage here, and we will profit from it.
It lasted long enough, but we need to end this.
Dahl is still grasping the blue blade summoned with his skill. The monster is looking at it, trembling, as if it is struck by fear.
Dahl mutters as he readies himself for the final strike.
Serketh jumps forward, in a desperate effort to stop Dahl from attacking again.
But, its body is wounded beyond repair, and the trump card that this monster held, its poisonous blood, has been neutralized by my skill.
With its body wounded, the monster cannot move as quickly as before, and it is caught by Retel’s attack before it manages to reach Dahl.
Pierced by Retel’s spear, Serketh falls to the ground.
Dahl dashes forward, dealing the finishing blow by severing the monster’s head.
To be sure about its death, I use Black Fluid to impale the severed head and the squirming body.
Navi’s message confirms the Champion’s defeat.
I take a deep breath, relaxed by our victory. Using Black Fluid again, I absorb the corpse before we head out from the room.
Of course, I also take the materials from the charred shell of Serketh’s scorpion form.
As we head out, the old man from the Guild welcomes us with a surprised look on his face.
So, it took roughly twenty minutes to kill this floor’s Champion.
Retel asks to the old man, cleaning his face from sweat with a towel.
I can see his mouth gaping as the old man answers his question.
Still, we can be satisfied about what happened here.
We killed the monster in a timely manner, and we even got a huge amount of experience from the fight. Enough for all of us to raise our levels by two.
Again, all of us leveled up by the same amount.
Baffled by this, I ask the old man if he knows about some special property of experience earned by defeating a Champion.
<<No, I think that it was just some lucky coincidence. And stop with this “old man”, call me Danton>>
His answer disappoints me a bit.
This level up thing cannot be a coincidence, happening twice in a row for us.
And Navi did not give a satisfying answer about it either, spouting her usual nonsensical lines.
Having beaten the champion quicker than I anticipated, we have more time to dedicate to our descent toward the tenth floor.
Although, I would like to allocate my stat points right now, I can do that once we reach the eight floor. We could camp for a moment right at the floor’s entrance, after all.
Julius and his party come around, complimenting us for the battle.
Old man Danton is still around, looking at us with a big smile.
Well, we did not give him the payment for fighting the monster, so I think that he’s just politely waiting.
I open the Inventory, taking out the amount of materials needed to pay the fee.
To my surprise, he does the same gesture, storing the items I gave him inside an Inventory of his own.
After the transaction, we bid farewell to Danton and Julius’s party, making our way towards this floor’s exit.
From the battle, Levia, me and Retel rose to level sixteen.
This time, Levia managed to get a new skill.
When she demonstrates it, I start laughing.
<<Hey, what’s there to laugh about?>>
With a sulking expression, she seems somewhat troubled by my reaction.
<<Nothing, it’s just…I mean, you get an area-healing skill, right when we’re about to enter a floor swarming with undead monsters. The timing of it it’s too perfect. It’s like in those stories, where the protagonists gain a new power right before a major battle, and that power is the key to victory or something like that>>
She still looks at me with a puzzled expression.
Well, perhaps this world’s stories are a bit different, or the authors in this world maybe know better than to resort to such cheap tricks.
Nonetheless, her new skill will be incredibly useful for us.
Dahl and Marica are now at level seventeen.
Marica herself did not get a new skill, but Dahl…well, we do not know, since he’s still keeping mystery about his skills.
Although, judging from his expression, he might have gotten a new one.
I guess I’ll only know during battle, after all.
Not only my companions’ new skills, this battle also gave me a pretty interesting thing.
By absorbing Serketh’s corpse, I did not gain his skills, but…I got plenty of his poison.
Having absorbed it with Black Fluid, it is now possible to replicate it within the skill.
With Retel’s guard and my skill we basically trivialized the poison secreted by Serketh, but looking at it now, this thing is really dangerous.
We were lucky enough this time.
After collecting materials from the monster’s body, I analyzed each different venom that the beast could produce.
The results make me shudder. Even a single scratch from Serketh’s stinger would have meant instant death. Not to mention the cocktail of volatile toxins contained inside the monster’s blood.
Luckily, the volatile poison is weaker than that secreted by Serketh’s stinger, so, even if we were exposed to it a little, we survived still.
Well, for precaution I gave my companions some of the all-purpose antidotes that Heod made for u, and we drank it before and after the battle.
Still, things could have gone really badly in there.
Well, we’re fine now, so it’s useless to wonder about what could have happened. In the end, we survived and won the battle.
The only thing to do now, is to focus on the road ahead of us.
In the next floor, the monsters that await us are undead-types. That means, poison will not be effective against them, since they’re not living beings.
Magical attacks will probably be the best solution against them, and we can also rely on Levia’s healing skills to inflict some heavy damage on the undead monsters.
One nice thing this time is that the eighth floor’s Champion has already been defeated, so we have to not worry about it.
Also, since Julius’s party was hunting in that floor, most of the monsters that they have taken out will not have been re-spawned yet.
That means, less foes for us to worry about.
We still have a long way to walk, however. This seventh floor seems to never end, the stone wall that delimit the level still faraway in the distance.
It would be nice to have some kind of transportation at our disposal.
Even a simple cart dragged by a mule or a horse would be better than just walking with our legs. Instead, we are forced to cover the distance by walking on our feet.
Hours went by, as the distant wall came closer and closer.
Until the exit from this level came into sight, a gaping hole in the rock that signals this level’s end.
Inside of it, the usual descending staircase that leads to the level below.
This time, the staircase feels longer than those we crossed in our way here.
We’re going down and down, spiraling through hundreds of stone steps in the dimly lit staircase.
It makes me wonder how such things have been built here, if they have been a part of this Dungeon all along, molded by some kind of magic.
Or perhaps, it was the handwork of some unknown stonemason of ancient times, tasked with making the Dungeon itself more suitable for human exploration.
My thoughts go to those early explorers of this place, who went in without any proper knowledge about the Dungeon.
Diving into the unknown, without safezones or maps. The true exploration of an unknown place, where no human had set foot before.
From what I remember, this dungeon has been explored only partially.
The deepest floors have not been touched yet, even by the top-tier adventurers belonging to the Guild.
Who knows how deep this place really is? It could be hundreds, or even thousands floors below that this place finally ends.
And, considering the strength of the creatures we met in the top levels, what kind of monster awaits in the lowest portion of the Dungeon?
Even the farthest explorers of this place are facing monsters whose level exceeds eighty, from what I know.
Info about the advanced front are the most popular kind of gossip in the Guild, serving as a beacon for those that aim to reach such places.
I stop spacing out in my thoughts. Before my eyes, the eight floor of this Dungeon. It gives a different feeling than those we already crossed.
The stagnant air carries the stench of mold, and all around us, wall-mounted torches burn in an eerie blue light.
Unlike the levels above, the walls here look man-made. Instead of crude, hard rock, we see constructions made with rectangular shaped bricks, covered in mold and vegetation that rotted away a long time ago.
The walls look cracked and collapsed in several points, with rubble obstructing parts of the large corridors that extend in front of us.
The floor itself looks like marble, consumed by time, covered in who know how many years of dust and debris.
At the end of the staircase that connects the seventh and eighth floor, a large Antechamber awaits us.
Circular in shape, from it three corridors extend in the cardinal directions.
We came from south, and to our left, right and front the corridors extend towards unknown destinations.
Crumbled statues and torn tapestry adorn the chamber, and in the center of it, a broken throne stands tall and ruined.
Levia mutters as she studies the place, her hand lightly touching the crumbling drapery that is hanged on the wall.
The place really gives an abandoned castle vibe.
I wonder how it looked like in the past, when time still had not taken its toll on this place.
Shining marble on the floor, and magnificent statues guarding an empty throne.
Still, this place looks safe enough for us to set up a quick camp.
We need to eat before exploring this place, and I will take the time to level up my stats here.
I leave guard duties to the others, while I try to take a quick nap.
Seriously, having to be asleep in order to increase my strength is really troublesome in times like this.
Well, I am tired enough to fall asleep almost immediately.
That’s one of my quirks. Even in the previous world, I never had any trouble falling asleep, no matter the place or time.
I allocate the ten stat points gained by the last level up.
Four points in luck, the remaining six I split evenly between strength, accuracy and agility, increasing them by two points each.
My intelligence stat has been boosted by the first trial’s result, which gave me fifteen extra points on top of the five I already allocated in it.
So, right now, I am at level sixteen with seventeen points in STR, ACC, AGI
twenty points in INT and finally, twenty-four points in LCK.
I am still increasing my luck in order to have better chances with the Integration process, since that little trick has basically been my saving grace up to this point.
I asked the others to wake me up after thirty minutes, and now Retel is shaking my shoulders.
I would have preferred Levia’s soft voice, opening my eyes to see her beautiful smile…but, oh well, it went like this.
After fixing something to eat, we resume the exploration of this level.
Since the place looks like a closed environment, it would be easy to map it using the sonar mapping skill.
I activate it, closing my eyes to better visualize the map that Navi is building. Using information from the sonar, the Navigator constructs a map of this floor.
This level is built like a proper maze.
There is a small number of large chambers, while most of the layout is composed by corridors that often lead to dead ends.
Using the map, we can define the quickest route to take in order to save time.
As expected, the fastest path towards the exit is the one running through the central chamber, where the Champion monster would reside.
However, that chamber is empty right now, since the Champion has been defeated recently.
From our position, we need to enter the northern corridor. It would be nice to take some time and thoroughly explore this place, since it gives the feeling like it holds some forgotten treasures.
But, we do not have that leisure at the moment.
The north corridor extends in front of us, going straight for roughly two hundred meters.
From it, set at intervals of twenty meters from each other, a number of doors are visible on each side.
Every door connects to a different room.
Some of the doors seem to have been blasted open, revealing what’s inside the room.
Others are still locked, although the wood that they are made with looks rotten and brittle.
Still, we have no time to spare for exploration right now.
The curiosity to peek what lies inside each room is high, but we need to focus on the current objective.
Although the corridor and rooms look empty, Navi’s scan revealed that some enemies are hiding, waiting for us to pass by before ambushing our group from behind.
Well, since we already know their position, it is easy to prevent being ambushed.
Using Levia’s new skill, a wide-area healing power, we trap the undead inside each room and let the skill do its work.
I am using Black Fluid to lock the entrance, while Levia casts the skill.
Since she needs to keep visual contact with the place that she casts her skill on, I am not making a full wall to block the entrance.
It’s more of a net composed by Black Fluid, with enough gaps to let Levia see while keeping the monsters to reach our spot.
Inside the healing field, the bone creatures are slowly melting away, like acid has been poured onto them.
Each monster has the appearance of a human skeleton, with glowing blue lights inside the empty skull’s orbits.
Brandishing rusted metal weapons, these Skeletal Warriors have levels comprised between twelve and fourteen.
To quicken their demise, Marica is using her spells in unison with Levia’s skill. This way, we can effectively clear the monsters hidden inside the room.
Confirming their defeat, I collect the materials from their remains and move on. Luckily, not all rooms have monsters inside, and we can skip the ones that are empty, focusing only on advancing and clearing possible threats.
When we reach the end of the corridor, a small, rectangular room is in front of us. Again, three corridors branch from it.
However, a group of three skeletons stand inside the room. Two of them are similar to those we already fought, but one is different.
Wearing a tattered black coat, the skeleton stands taller than the others.
As soon as it spots us, it points skeletal fingers towards us.
The air around it sparks suddenly, and an arrow made of light flies our way.
A Skeleton Caster, level twelve.
Retel easily guards the magical attack with his skill. Dahl is already on the move to attack the warrior skeletons, but as he slashes his blade, the Caster skeleton weaves an energy shield that repels Dahl’s attack.
Dahl mutters, recovering his stance.
Julius warned us about the monsters capable of using magic in this place. I wonder…what will happen if I absorb it?
I am a bit sorry for the loss of experience, but I cannot let this chance pass.
As Levia starts her healing skill, I grab the Caster with Black Fluid before it can do something.
Using all the matter that I can produce, I envelope the Caster and start absorbing it.
Since the creature is only made of bones, the absorption is way quicker than I expected.
<<Well, since I started this…>>
I use the skill again on the remaining skeletons, eating them up.
During recent battles, I focused more on gaining experience rather than dedicating some time to absorb skills from monsters. I should start to do it more often.
After all, a single monster’s worth of exp will not hurt us a lot, while by absorbing it I could gain some pretty useful skill.
The results from absorbing the three skeletons are a bit disappointing.
From the Caster, I received a skill that enhances the effects of spells.
Not useful to me right now. The Skeleton Warriors gave me two copies of a yellow skill, called Swordsmanship.
To my surprise, this skill that I absorbed from the monster is already usable.
All the others I got from absorbing monsters were not immediately usable for me, being restricted to the Monster race.
Me being able to immediately use this skill only means one thing. That the skill is a human one.
In short words, these remains are not monsters made to look like human bones. They were human, turned into monsters.
This thought gives me the creeps.
There is a high possibility that we’re fighting the remains of long lost adventurers, or the original inhabitants of this place.
It’s a sad thought, that the monsters roaming this place were once humans.
But, it’s not like we can do something about this. Those are monsters now, and they stand in our way.
Using Integration again, I produce an orange skill from the two “Swordsmanship”. I usually do not carry a sword with me, but I can easily make one with Black Fluid if I want so.
Having dealt with the skeletons, we progress inside the maze-like structure, taking the corridor on the left.
Again, a narrow path with several doors opening on each side.
This time, the rooms are empty, while skeletons armed with bows and arrows are waiting on the opposite end of the corridor.
Retel jumps in front of us, activating his shield skill to guard from the incoming arrows.
We advance like this, while I support Retel’s guard by knocking some of the incoming arrows with Black Fluid.
As we finally come into melee range, I use the skill again to bind the skeletal archers.
At the same time, I form a short sword with Black Fluid and dash out. I want to try this new skill I got.
The results are somewhat disappointing.
I managed to destroy one skeleton, but it was weird.
Using the skill, clear movements formed in my mind, as if I knew the exact form and steps to take in order to evade, or to maximize the strength behind each swing of my blade.
However, my body is not accustomed to such movements, and so I could not really attack efficiently.
It’s like I perfectly studied forms and sword art from books, having perfect knowledge about it but my body lacks the proper training to do each action.
It’s frustrating, thinking about doing an action and seeing your body not being able to properly respond.
I guess, this skill will take some time and exercise to properly close the gap between the movements I want to do and those I my body is capable of.
Still, the skeletal archers are no more, and we can advance once again.
This floor goes on and on like this, with winding paths closed off by skeletal warriors and the occasional one that wields magic or longbows.
I took the time to absorb some of them, gaining new combat-related skills.
Namely, I got the Archery, Spearmanship and Shield Proficiency by absorbing warrior-type skeletons.
From the rare ones wielding magic, I gained skills related to enhancing the effect of each spell and shortening cast time.
One of them yielded a useful skill, similar to the one Marica owns.
Named Mana Regen, this skill was red in color, and it allows quick mana regeneration without needing any further action. In short, it’s a passive skill.
Now that I think about it, all the skills I got from the Caster-type skeletons all belong to the passive-skill type.
Well, those skills will be useless to me until I manage to properly learn at least one spell.
Still, gaining Spell Effect up and Quick Chanting from these monsters will surely help me in the future.
After spending more than five hours inside this floor, we are finally starting to encounter some of the elite monsters.
That means, we’re getting close to the central chamber.
Our march has been quicker than expected, since most of the monster that infested the first portion of this level have been dealt with by Julius’s party, and have not yet re-spawned.
When I meet him again, I will have to treat him with some beer in order to thank him for the favor.
Well, he did it unknowingly, but his party’s actions greatly benefit our march in this undead-ridden level.
The elite monsters in this floor are called Skeletal Knight, their level ranging between thirteen and sixteen. Clad in rusted metal armor, they wield their damaged weapon while coordinating and leading their lesser brethren.
When one Skeletal Knight is present in a group of monsters, it leads them into battle, making them more effective and tougher to deal with.
It’s not only a matter of coordination. These elite monsters also possess some kind of skill that strengthens the other monsters.
Still, with support from Levia’s healing skill and Marica’s spells we manage to deal with them.
We kill the lesser skeletons, while I use Black Fluid to absorb the Skeletal Knight.
From it, I obtain different copies of the skills I gained from the other skeletons, although the ones I gained from the elite monsters are of a higher color.
As we advance, we encounter more and more Skeletal Knights. Killing them gives a pretty amount of experience, however I am still taking some for me to absorb.
The reason is…I want that strengthening skill.
Finally, after absorbing more than ten of those monsters, I get the skill from the eleventh one.
Leadership, a red skill.
The effects of it are amazing, almost to make me cry from joy. It is a skill that I can activate or deactivate at will. When it is on, it reduces my total mana by one fourth.
The effects it gives are worth the cost, and even more.
As I turn it on, a black aura envelops my companions.
The skill increases their stat points by one third. But, the most amazing effect is the increase in gained experience.
When under the skill’s effect, my companions will have any experience they gain increased by a third.
And, while I have this skill active, I will gain an experience boost by the same amount.
In short words, it is a very, very good skill to have at my disposal.
Finally, we manage to reach the central chamber of this floor.
The layout is similar to the antechamber that lies at the entrance.
Only, here some of the statues still show their original form, and the large throne located in the center of the room is still intact.
Well, the design is definitely different.
Instead of a throne made with stone, it is a weird structure made with skulls and molten metal. Like the work of some psychopath.
Bones are scattered all around the room, the remains of Julius and his companion’s battle against this level’s Champion monster.
Beside the remains, there is nothing of interest inside this room. Also, with it being clear from monsters, we can safely camp here for a moment of respite.
We’ve been going for eight hours straight, so it’s time to rest a bit.
Thanks to my new skill’s experience boost, we managed to raise our level once again.
This time, however, only me, Retel and Levia managed to level up, and our level only went up by one. Nonetheless, it’s a good result. Right now, all of us are level seventeen.
If we go on with this pace, we may be able to hit level twenty by the time we reach the tenth floor.
Still a long way to go before we reach that place. Right now, we’re halfway through the eighth level.
We plan to rest here for one hour, before rushing forward until we meet this floor’s exit.
To increase our speed in traversing this level, we’re cutting sleep and rest time, pushing ourselves to march onward.
For me, this pace is not really too much, since I can just recover my full energies whenever I absorb a monster with Black Fluid, but the others are showing severe signs of fatigue from the prolonged battles and the constant march.
I would like to make them rest a bit more, but right now we do not have that luxury.
When I finally end this trial thing, I will treat them to a full week vacation.
No Dungeon or monsters for at least one entire week.
This thought makes me smile a bit, before the usual voice within my head adds an “if” to that simple sentence.
In this case, it’s “if we survive, that is”.
Way to spoil my good mood, brain. I am trying, forcing myself to be positive about things.
We will do it, we will win and all will be good. That kind of things.
Because, if I let myself think too much about the huge amount of things that could go badly, I know that it will crush me.
So, it’s better for me to shut those thoughts and focus on hope.
One hour went by so fast that I almost did not notice. Again, it is time to resume our travel inside this level.
Time passes between battles and travel.
At the end of the day, that is, after the hourglass signals that twenty-two hours have been passed since we first started to explore this level, we reached the exit.
The usual spiral staircase is waiting for us, leading down to the ninth floor. In there, we will not have an easy time like in the seventh floor and in this one.
The ninth floor’s Champion is still alive and kicking, for what we know.
And surely, we will need to traverse the chamber where it resides in order to clear the ninth floor as fast as we can.
We still have some time before the countdown imposed on my head ends, and my life with it.
Taking a deep breath, I step towards the descending staircase.