At the end of the staircase, we find ourselves into a large Antechamber, bathed in a cold blue light.
We’ve taken a bit of time to rest on the stairs, before venturing into the ninth floor.
Even if our resting spot was all but comfortable, I’ve used some time to take a nap and level up my stats.
It’s better to use every single advantage that I can get before challenging a new level, after all.
I take the first step into the new environment.
As soon as I leave the room where the staircase ended, I have to shield my eyes from the excessive light that shines in this new floor.
With every breath, moisture condenses in front of my mouth, forming a small white cloud.
All around us, the floor is covered by a thin mantle of brine, crackling as we step over it.
In the cold air, snowflakes are dancing, following a cold breeze that is flowing from the inner part of this floor.
The ninth floor’s environment seem to be enveloped in an ice age.
The large antechamber is delimited by grand walls, completely made of ice.
A cold surface that reflects the multicolored light emanating from the ceiling, creating a dazzling environment that I could never expect here, in the Dungeon.
As I look up to the ceiling, my mouth gapes in surprise.
Lights are dancing above the floor, masking the ceiling with their ever-changing color.
Aurora borealis, commonly called northern or polar lights.
A mesmerizing phenomenon that happened in the cold regions in my old world.
The sight of them made me remember one of the entries of my never realized bucket list. To see those dancing light at least once in my life.
And yet, I did not have that occasion in my previous life.
A bitter smile surfaces on my face, as I admire the mesmerizing dance of those shifting lights.
Retel comments, his face up and his gaze taken by the sudden show.
I just nod silently, unable to say something else.
To think that such beauty could be found here, in this dangerous place.
I take a deep breath, forcing myself to part from the dancing lights. After all, we do not have to spare in sightseeing.
We resume our march, threading forward, walking on the semi-frozen soil.
Since the temperature here is significantly lower than the floor above, we’re all wearing some heavy mantles above our armor.
I’ve taken those with me when we first started exploring this dungeon, well before the thing with the trials and the Guild happened.
I heard that in the Dungeon it was possible to find different climatic zones, ranging from scorching desert ones to polar wastelands of ice.
And so, I prepared different sets of clothes to take with us, storing them into my inventory as a precaution.
The heavy coats effectively protect us from the cold, and they do it well.
But I fear they might become an obstacle during battle.
Well, we could just drop them whenever we spot some enemy.
The antechamber ends in a narrow passage, built inside the ice wall.
It is a long, circular tunnel, and as we enter it, we spot some kind of mineral growth sprouting from the ice.
<<This is moonstone. I never thought you could find some before the tenth floor>>
Dahl mutters as he examines the rocks. Their shape is round, smooth, with a white color resembling bone. As I look at them, Navi confirms that the material contained in them is indeed the mineral called moonstone.
<<Perhaps we’ve just been lucky>>
Retel utters, standing near the mineral deposit. Even if we never found some before, we know that it is a precious material.
It’s used in several alchemical preparations, and acts as a reagent to produce mid-level potions, especially those that restore mana.
And that makes it a valuable resource.
<<Well, let’s take it with us>>
Saying so, I gather the mineral deposit using Black Fluid. In normal conditions, one would have to mine the entire rock, processing it later to extract the precious mineral.
The extraction process is without a doubt a costly and laborious process, but with my skill I can select what I want to harvest from the absorbed materials, discarding the rest in the process.
What I obtained from harvesting the rock was pure moonstone mineral, separated from the other components that compose the original form of this ore deposit.
Still, I will not throw away the remaining materials, after all, I can just store them into my inventory and find a use for them later.
We continue to follow the passage.
There are no monsters in sight, but using Navi, I know that some of them are present in the room where this passage leads.
Their levels are low, with the strongest of them being level eight.
The sudden drop in enemy levels should be something to be happy about, but somehow I cannot think that it will be a positive thing for us.
There could be some kind of trick at work here.
There is no way in hell that this place is easier than the floor above, where monster levels were higher than ten.
As we exit the corridor, I can see the creatures that showed up in Navi’s detection.
Floating in the air, the jellyfish-like monster slowly dangle their long tentacles, hovering three meters above the frozen floor.
Their bodies emit slow pulses of blue light, and every time their tentacles touch the ground, a small ice crystal instantaneously forms there.
Cryonis, that’s how these creatures are called.
It seem that they did not notice us, continuing their weird dance in the air without paying attention to us.
<<Shall we attack them?>>
Levia asks, notching an arrow in her bow, ready to fire.
I nod. There are five of them in total, each floating while keeping few meters of distance with the others.
Using Navi to communicate, we set up our course of action.
As usual, I will bind the monsters with my skill, preventing their movement, while Levia and Marica wail on them with spells and arrows.
This time, Dahl and Retel will be on standby, with Retel ready to guard us from any kind of attack.
It’s best to not engage these things in physical combat, since we do not know how strong their freezing ability is.
From Navi’s analysis, it does not seem to be the result of some kind of skill or magic.
Almost like this creature’s biological structure allows it to freeze everything it touches.
Marica opposes the usual strategy, however.
<<My offensive spells will be difficult to use here. Really>>
She explains the reason behind her words.
As she specializes in heat manipulation magic, her spells work by absorbing or giving heat to the environment or target, using mana as a medium.
According to her words, it’s impossible to create ice or flame with magic. It just does not work like this.
To operate a freezing spell, she needs to use her mana and absorb the heat from her target, thus lowering temperature and freezing it.
She can then use the absorbed heat to start a fire, and control it with mana.
<<In this situation, the environment is too cold for me to absorb the necessary amount of heat for a fire spell, even the most basic one. I will have to resort to another source of heat, like a torch or a burning fire, but that will severely limit my efficiency in battles. Also, since the temperature here is too low, even if I manage to absorb heat from other sources, it will disperse much faster in the air, weakening my spells before I could cast them. I am sorry, but it’s better if I stick to my support spells in this place>>
So, we cannot count on her offensive power.
She’s still useful, since she can blind opponents with light magic and cloak us with her concealing spell.
If an emergency arises, she could still use some offensive spells, but her output will be limited by this place’s conditions.
In short words, we are forced to think of a new strategy.
<<The best way to deal with them will be attacking from a distance. I could kill them with a single blow, but that ability to freeze everything that touches them scares me a bit. I would like to not come close to them, if we can>>
Dahl gives his opinion on the matter at hands. I came to the same conclusion.
Touching those things will be dangerous, so it’s better to attack them from faraway.
That means, me and Levia will be conducing the attack.
Using Marica’s concealing spell, we sneak closer to the monsters.
Immediately, those things react to our presence.
It surprises me a bit, since we should be perfectly hidden from view. Well, it could be the case that these monsters do not rely on eyesight to perceive the world.
This could be troublesome, if more monsters in this floor have the same disposition.
Still, the fight starts a little sooner than we expected. The Cryonis start flailing around, swaying their tentacles in the air as they attempt to strike at us.
Retel is guarding each blow, using his mana shield to block the tentacles. Every time one strikes, the air freezes around Retel’s shield.
Levia lets her arrows loose, aiming at the closest jellyfish.
To our shock, the arrows simply fly past the monster.
We all saw it, Levia’s arrow was perfectly aimed. But it did no damage, simply passing through the monster’s body.
I try to attack one of the Cryonis with Black Fluid. This time, the attack connects, skewering the jellyfish-shaped creature.
So, skills work, while normal attacks don’t.
Having transmitted the info to the others, we start again. Four monsters are left inside the room.
I take two of them out with Black Fluid, while Levia is using her skill to imbue arrows with mana.
This time, her arrows hit the monster’s body, maiming it as each arrow bursts when it hits the target.
Only one of them left alive. I stop Levia from shooting her arrows, since I want this thing alive for my skill. I envelop it inside Black Fluid, consuming it.
Much to my surprise, I do not receive any skill from the creature. Nor a material property, as if I had absorbed nothing.
The other monsters’ corpses behave the same way when I absorb them.
<<What the hell is going on?>>
Baffled by what has just happened, I look at the place where the corpses were.
A faint trace of mana can be seen, slightly tracing the corpse’s shape.
<<Don’t tell me…>>
Marica is muttering to herself. She walks were the corpses were, waving her hand in the air with her eyes closed.
<<There’s no doubt. These are Summoned Creatures, not normal monsters>>
I ask her to clarify her remark. She nods, beginning her explanation.
According to what Marica says, Summoned Creatures are constructs made with pure mana. They are not “living things”, only copies of them.
<<The name comes from the early school of summoning magic. In the past, magicians that were adept in this kind of magic thought that their spells were actually materializing these creatures from other worlds, or planes of existence. That was wrong, and more recent studies have proved that a summoning spell only copies the creature, reaching images from the caster’s subconscious and creating an artificial body with mana. These things do not exist, strictly speaking. They are projections, forms built from memory of something the caster has seen and that left a lingering impression on his mind. Still, summoning spell are incredibly advanced, and difficult to master>>
She pauses, drawing her breath while a serious and concerned expression is forming on her face.
<<And that brings us to the most worrying part. Summoned creatures require a summoner, to exist. But to construct something like this using a spell, you need intellect, imagination. We have two possibilities here. First, the summoner could be some kind of intelligent monster, capable of handling complex spells and has a wild imagination and power, enabling it to pull off the summoning spell and who knows what else. Or, we could be dealing with human mages. And I do not know which of the two scares me the most>>
She pauses again, letting her words sink in.
Well, I expected something like this to exist in a fantasy world, but it still surprised me.
<<But, we got experience from defeating them? How is that possible?>>
Retel asks, pointing out a simple fact. It is true, we got experience from defeating those things.
Although, I noticed that the amount of it was very scarce.
I thought it due to the difference between our levels and those of the creatures, maybe this world has some kind of compensation mechanism for when you hunt creatures with lower level than yours.
After all, this world seem to be based off some kind of role playing game rules, so something like this should exist.
<<Well, summoned creatures do give experience, albeit a limited amount of it. Even I do not know why it happens, or why they are basically indistinguishable from monsters, even if you use a high level detection spell or skill. The only way to know for sure that you fought a summoned creature is after you defeat it, since the body just disappears, as the mana that composes it fades away>>
<<So, they’re as troublesome as normal monsters, but give less prize when defeated. Am I right?>>
Levia’s remark hits on point. It seems that fighting this kind of creature has more demerit than fighting monsters.
<<Well, that is true. Also, the caster can easily call back summoned creatures when they are defeated. So, it is even more troublesome to fight them. From now on, we should focus in finding the summoner, before we even start fighting other monsters>>
Following Marica’s advice, I scan the room to see if there is some kind of hidden presence, aiming to find whoever or whatever summoned these things here.
The scan does not show results, at least not in the immediate vicinity.
There are some weird signals coming from the next room, however.
I inform the party about them, telling them to be on guard in the next room.
We depart from the place, heading inside one of the tunnels that leads out of this room.
Again, we find some moonstone ores on the way. Some of them are deep below the ice, while other are protruding from it. I collect them as we pass by them, without stopping too much for gathering resources.
At the end of the frozen corridor, another room opens. It’s the same exact copy of the one before, even hosting the same kind and amount of monsters inside of it.
At least, at first glance. Hidden, perhaps by a spell or skill, there is a sixth presence inside the room.
As we enter it, it gives no response to us. Perhaps, it is biding time, waiting for when we engage the summoned creatures, aiming for an opening when we are too busy fighting the creatures to notice an ambush.
Well, it had a bad match with us.
Instead of attacking the summoned Cryonis, I immediately use Black Fluid to strike the place from where the signal is coming.
Although it looks like the skill did not hit anything, I know that my attack succeeded.
Immediately, the Cryonis begin to charge at us, perhaps to protect their summoner’s life. Still, it’s too late for that. The monster dissolve into thin air, pierced by Levia’s arrows and my skill.
Navi’s message confirms the creature’s death, and we gain experience from both summoner and summoned creatures.
As the caster dies, the spell he cast to hide itself fades. Impaled on a Black Fluid spear, a body begins to be visible.
It looks human, although his body is incredibly thin, almost skeletal. I drag the body closer, to see what we’re dealing with.
Now that it is closer, we see that the caster is not human.
But it strongly resembles one.
His gaunt body is covered in a thick white fur, that I mistook for clothes while seeing it from afar.
The creature has a bald head, with long and narrow ears that point behind his head. It is definitely a male, judging from his genitals barely covered by a brown, ragged loincloth.
His eyes are still open, gazing at the ceiling, lifeless. They are far larger than those of a human, completely black and without visible iris or pupil.
Thin lips, covering a row of small, sharp teeth, dirtied with blood.
Navi does not show a general name for this creature.
Much to my shock, her analysis displays a status window, similar to those I can see from my companions. There is listed a name there, a proper name, not like those general ones that identify monsters.
This was an intelligent creature, it had a name, a level and it could cast advanced magic.
<<So, Marica, your first guess was correct. Intelligent monsters>>
Dahl tells so with a grimace, his voice deep with concern.
<<We’ve been lucky this time, since there was only one of them in this room. But, if more of those things are in the same place, it could go badly>>
I agree with Dahl. We have a big advantage, since we can scan the room and find out where the summoners are hiding.
But this advantage does not mean nothing if we cannot take them out in a single strike.
If two or more appear, we need to kill them instantaneously to prevent them from summoning more creatures, overwhelming us with numbers.
<<Well, we could use the same strategy against them>>
Levia explains her suggestion about our next moves. Basically, one of us would use Marica’s concealing spell to sneak around and deal with the summoners.
<<It could work. We can pinpoint the summoner’s location by using Roshal’s detection skill, but the problem here will be sneaking past the summoned creatures. As we’ve seen before, those things can spot us even if we’re concealed>>
Dahl exposes his doubt about Levia’s suggested plan.
<<Well, the rest of us will engage the summoned creatures in battle, drawing their attention while one of us deals with the summoner. I think it might work like this. Now, we need someone with a strong attack power to sneak around and take out the summoners as quickly as possible>>
Following Dahl’s remark, Retel adds his own considerations to the plan.
We discuss some more, and come into an agreement.
Our members with the highest attack power are currently Dahl and Retel himself.
Retel is out of the question for this role, however, since we will need to rely on his defensive skill in the battle ahead.
The most suited candidate for this job is Dahl himself, after all. He has a high damage skill, and he’s more than capable to kill a monster in one single strike.
The plan is laid out. Dahl will be under Marica’s concealing spell, sneaking around and silently taking out the summoners while the rest of us take on the summoned creatures.
We try the new strategy immediately. The next room is crawling with monsters, and there are two summoners hidden.
When we enter the room, we immediately engage the summoned creatures while Dahl sneaks away, heading towards the summoners. He can see their location, since Navi’s signals are shared between all members of our party.
He immediately takes out one of the summoners, but the other is still alive. Before Dahl can reach it, the monster attacks us, taking advantage of the confusion while we battle the summoned creatures.
The little creature aims at Levia, attacking her from behind.
It would have been a bad situation, if not for Navi’s detection.
As the signal from the summoner came close to us, I immediately used Black Fluid to grab the monster.
The others quickly dealt with the summoned Cryonis, and I can take my time to absorb the summoner.
Again, no useful skill comes from the absorption process.
I only got passive skills that boost summoning magic and concealing-type spells.
They could be worth using in the future, but right now, they do not have any practical use, since I do not know any spell yet.
Still, this situation could have gone badly for us.
Dahl did a good job by taking out the first monster, but he cannot be in two places at the same time, so, even if he’s fast, it is impossible for him to kill two or more summoners in a short enough time.
And, during the time when he’s dealing with one, the others will attack us, without any doubt.
This strategy we’ve been using is only useful when there is one summoner in the room, after all.
For now, our best option when dealing with multiple summoners will be to just blast them away at distance, hoping to take them out immediately.
Again ,we change our approach to battle.
Our priority will be to kill the summoners, so, every time we start a battle, we will have Retel draw the summoned creature’s attention, while me, Dahl and Levia will seek out and kill the summoners.
This strategy puts a heavy burden on Retel, since he will basically take the brunt of the summoned creatures’ attack.
Of course, I will also be supporting him with my skill, restraining the attacking creatures as best as I can.
It would be better if we could also count on Marica’s attack spells in the upcoming battles, but the situation of this floor does not make it possible.
For the future, it will be crucial that we gain some more means of dealing damage to groups, to increase our chances during battles.
But for now, we will have to make do with what we got.
Still, this level is really the worst one we encountered so far.
Not in terms of sheer difficulty, since the monsters here are troublesome but not enough to pose a definite threat, but for the floor’s structure and climate.
As we push on, heading toward the central portion, the temperature is quickly dropping, to the point that even breathing the air is starting to hurt.
The layout is even more painful to deal with.
The initial rooms were fine to navigate, but as we continued towards the inner part of this floor it became something like a mirror maze.
The ice walls that delimit each room and corridor have become perfectly smooth surfaces, cut with strange angles that reflect the surroundings like a mirror.
We often lost our direction, ending up visiting the same room twice or thrice before we started to rely only on Navi’s map system to advance.
It would be hell to navigate this level without a mapping skill, almost impossible.
Especially since our situation demands that we clear this level as fast as we can.
In order to traverse it faster, we will not have rest time here. Instead we will endure until we reach this floor’s exit.
As usual, we searched for the quickest route. It does not surprise me anymore that the quick way out of this level is passing through the central chamber, where the Champion resides. It is a pattern of this Dungeon, apparently.
As we go on, we encounter several groups of summoners and summoned creatures.
We simply try to brute force our way through, focusing first on the summoners and then dealing with the creatures they brought forth.
But, as we go on, battles grow tougher and tougher.
The summoners in the inner chambers have a higher level than those in the initial rooms, and they show increased resistance to our attacks.
The most troublesome thing is that they started casting supportive magic on their creatures, strengthening them.
Some would even cast healing spells on their creatures, making it painful to clear our way.
Often, we found ourselves in difficult battles, when one of the summoners just resurrected the summoned creatures that we killed.
That time, Retel got injured, almost losing his hand to the frost attack of a Cryonis.
Different kind of creatures started to appear, all of them with bizarre appearance. Instead of just summoning the jellyfish shaped Cryonis, the summoners in the inner chambers rely on a variety of creatures.
In one room, we fought a group of summoners that brought forth a single, high level creature. It had the appearance of a tall humanoid, with white, wrinkled skin and two sets of arm.
Eyeless, this creature’s face was all mouth, slit vertically and full of jagged teeth.
Navi identified it as a Gug, a level twenty-two summoned creature.
Initially, we were taken back by the sudden appearance of a strong monster.
However, we regained our composure after the initial panic.
Me and Retel dealt with the creature’s attacks, blocking it with Retel’s skill while I used black Fluid to injure the Gug and restrain its movements.
Meanwhile, Dahl and Levia killed the summoners.
Marica also participated in the battle, forced to support us with her weakened offensive spells.
She did not do much in terms of damage, but her spells provided enough distraction to allow Dahl to strike the monsters down.
Still, she was greatly fatigued after, having resorted to her own body’s heat to conjure flames.
<<You’ve been too careless Marica. Let’s stop here, for a moment. We need to rest a bit>>
Reluctantly, I propose a forced stop to our march. Marica is heavily fatigued, and Retel is wounded.
If we push on like this, we will meet a bad end.
<<Half an hour. No more than that>>
I say, taking out some food and water from my storage.
The food that I brought out is already cold after just one minute, and the water freezes my throat as I drink it in small sips.
I desist from drinking it, since it is too cold, and I start preparing a small fire in order to heat it a bit.
I take out a small pot and some leaves of an aromatic plant, that has a taste and effect similar to my world’s coffee.
As I tend to food and beverage, Levia is using her healing skill on Retel.
She had already treated the most serious wounds on her brother, but minor injuries still remained.
Well, since we decided to stop, it’s better to have him in full shape.
I hand small cups of the improvised coffee to the others, giving some sweets to go with the beverage.
Although consuming more nutritious food would be the better thing to do in this kind of climate, those sweets are special.
They were made by Heod, using several alchemical ingredient to make them into some kind of emergency ration.
The sweets give strong stamina and mana restoration effects, thus being more similar to potions that food. The main difference is that, instead of acting immediately like a potion, they release their effect for a prolonged amount of time.
Our reserve of them is limited, so we cannot use them during every meal.
Still, the old man’s cooking is really something else. The sweets taste really good, and they also have restorative properties.
With our stomach filled, and having rested a bit, we resume the march again. The central chamber is still distant, we’re almost halfway through.
To increase our speed in traversing the level, we’ve been neglecting the material deposits and treasures inside this level.
After all, we collected enough in the previous levels, and we could always stop on the way out, after we deal with this trial bullshit.
It pains me a bit to leave all those resources behind, but it’s for the best in this kind of situation.
Again, we delve into the corridors and rooms built in ice.
The number of monsters and summoned creatures is increasing as we continue towards the inner parts of this level.
We’re starting to encounter different kinds of the summoner’s species.
Navi’s analysis now identifies them as members of Rapta race.
It’s troublesome to see how each of them that we fell has a status window with a name and level, reminding me that those things are not animal- like monsters, but intelligent creatures.
To them, we’re the monsters, invading their living place for who knows what kind of reason, and they react as humans would do in the same situation.
By attacking the intruder.
As we encounter more and more members of the Rapta race, we find individuals that specialize in different kind of roles, instead of just summoners.
These new monsters have armor and weapons. Some of them hold long-distance weaponry, like short bows and even crossbows.
I take one of the crossbows that survived our attack and give it to Marica.
The weapon looks simple at first glance, however by examining it a bit I see how it is everything but simple.
This crossbow is built to be used by someone with low arm strength, and has a mechanism to draw the weapon’s string with ease.
So, it is the perfect weapon for someone like Marica, that does not have the necessary strength to use a bow like Levia does.
Well, Levia is a beast-kin, so, beside her appearance, she is stronger than a human girl.
With this, even Marica has some means of attack.
Perhaps it will dissuade her to use some reckless spell like before, now that she has options. At least, I hope so.
The darts that these crossbows use are very peculiar. Instead of a hard, sharp arrowhead, they have some kind of frail crystal on the tip.
The monster did not have any chance to fire it, so we did not see which kind of effect it has. Luckily, for us.
As Marica test-fires one of those darts, it explodes when it impacts with the target, letting out a cloud of white smoke.
The ice pillar that Marica hit becomes encroached into a wide ice crystal.
She mutters, looking intensely at the remaining ammunition.
They will be of little use in this floor, but their use and value will be great in every other place. It makes me almost reluctant to use them.
In fact, I store the freezing darts in my inventory, remembering that I had some normal ones from the time that I scavenged the Aldora fort.
I shudder a bit with that memory, the lingering thought of what happened there.
Still, the trauma of that event was less than I thought, still affecting me but not as much as to ruin my sanity.
I hand her the normal darts, and she seems more pleased with them than the freezing ones.
Leaving the room, we proceed inside the level.
A big problem of this place is that these monsters give a really scarce amount of experience.
The loot they give, as in weapons and materials, is pretty valuable, since there are exotic items and weapons that could fetch a high price if sold outside.
Also, the bodies of the Rapta race seem to possess some kind of alchemical quality, especially their glands and organs.
Perhaps old Heod would be pleased if we give him some Rapta materials, but I would prefer to hunt something that gives more experience.
We’re getting near the central chambers. The level’s layout is slowly changed, and now there are even signs of the Rapta’s civilization inside the icy rooms.
Barricades of rock and ice, along with wooden structures can be seen here and there.
We’re also starting to encounter some kind of wildlife monsters, some of them similar to large, hairy cows with long brown fur and immense horns.
Often, we find them inside crude wooden fences, and the Rapta desperately try to protect those fences.
<<They’re farming them. These are their farms>>
Retel mutters, a sad look on his face.
Not only cattle, the Rapta structures also seem to hold some kind of seeds, hoarded like grain or rice.
We’re inside their living territory, trespassers and invaders.
As we push on, we enter into a big chamber. Inside of it, a village, bursting with Rapta.
The creatures jump on the alert as soon as they spot us, sending out some heavy equipped members of their race as others, smaller and defenseless, run inside the wooden houses.
We have no choice but to attack them.
Although they are defending their territory, they will do it by killing us, without any doubt.
After all, would a human let a monster pass inside his village? Or would he kill it on the spot, without even trying to communicate with it?
And the Rapta are doing the same.
They see us, different, unknown, and immediately they consider us as a threat that needs to be crushed.
It pains me a bit, but we need to kill them if we want to advance inside the Dungeon.
And we need to advance.
The Rapta village’s defense force is composed by no more than twenty heavy armored Rapta, while others with improvised weapons are joining the fray.
Some are coming from the near chambers, attracted by a loud sounding horn, probably an alarm of some kind.
If we do not act, we risk to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
And it will be a disaster if some summoner joins with their brethren.
As I look around, I realize that my fear has come true. Several summoners are being shown by Navi’s detection, some of them are already bringing forth their creatures.
More than sixty monsters, including the summoned creatures are now coming to kill us.
Their levels are somewhat low, the strongest of them being a level fourteen warrior clad in a heavy bone armor. Probably their leader, as it is barking orders in their strange, guttural tongue.
We prepare for battle. First we have to deal with the summoners, before they manage to increase further the enemy’s numbers.
Dahl sets out to do that, dashing through the enemy’s lines. I immediately deploy Black Fluid, restraining as many monsters as I can while Retel guards us with his skill.
Since the attackers are mainly resorting to physical attacks, he can fully utilize his Spike Counter against the enemy, taking out a few of them in the process.
Levia and Marica are picking out targets with their arrows and darts, aiming at those that I have not bound with my skill.
The summoners are falling one after the other, taken out by Dahl. Still, some of them managed to bring out a level twenty Gug.
This will be bad…
The white beast is towering above the Rapta, heading out towards us with leaping strides.
I use Black Fluid to restrain it, but I am at my limit with the skill.
I will not be able to produce more, unless I release some of the other monsters that I am holding.
Retel takes action, using his spear to skewer the Rapta bound by Black Fluid.
With this, I am able to release those that have been defeated and trap the ones that are coming towards us.
Still, there’s too many of them, and the level twenty summoned creature is starting to break free from my restraints.
Absorbing it will take too much time, while I cannot dish out too much damage to take it out.
With a sudden realization, I think about how stupid I have been.
Instead of using my skill to full potential, I resorted to it to restrain the monsters, while I could have taken out a large amount of them with less effort.
I could have used poison. Using Beelzebub, the same way I did against the monkey monsters in the sixth floor, would have been the best strategy against this group.
Now we’re into the fray, and releasing Black Fluid to use that attack is not the best move, since the monsters I’ve been restraining could end up injuring me or my comrades.
But I can still use Black Fluid to poison the monsters I have ensnared, taking them out immediately or at least rendering them unable to fight.
I slightly modify Black Fluid, making stingers sprout from the tentacles holding the monsters. It takes a moment to make it produce Serketh’s poison, the strongest venom at my disposal.
The venom taken from the seventh floor’s Champion immediately shows its deadly effects.
The Rapta are dropping dead one after the other, and I move the skill from those defeated to the others that are still attacking.
Quickly, the situation turns to our favor. Dahl joins in the fray, having killed all summoners he’s now free to help us kill the assailing creatures.
With his brethren falling left and right, the leader-looking Rapta begins to flee the scene. Still, it is the only one left standing.
Even the high level Gug has succumbed to the poison, falling down before having its head pierced by Retel’s skill.
Dahl immediately jumps to pursue the leader, but I am quicker with Black Fluid and I catch it, alive.
<<Leave this one to me, please>>
I ask to Dahl. Although the exp would be nice, I am sure that this monster will have some interesting skill to grab.
<<That is a nasty habit you have. Well, it’s all yours>>
Dahl says, sheathing his blades.
Crying in pain, the leader begins dissolving into my skill. Navi’s report gives me information about the acquired skills.
As expected, these are restricted to Rapta race, and I cannot use them immediately.
Cold resistance, Leader’s roar, and even an inferior version of the Leadership skill that I absorbed from the Skeletal Knight.
Leader’s roar sounds like a powerful skill, but all that it does is inflict a fear effect on same members of your species with their level lower than yours.
It is worthless, in short words. Cold resistance would have been incredibly useful to have, but since it is restricted to monsters I doubt I can use it effectively.
Well, I integrate it into Black Fluid anyway. My high luck stat strikes again, as Navi’s report about the successful Integration notes.
As expected, nothing changes. I still feel the cold. That means, Black Fluid became cold resistant.
So, if that is the case…
I activate the skill, and wrap myself into Black Fluid. It really blocks the cold away, but I will need to shape it in a way that does not hinder my movements, or look too hideous.
Right now, I have the appearance of a boy submerged into a pitch black slime.
I focus, trying to shape the skill like something to wear above my armor. However, an intense fatigue immediately assaults my body, and the skill cancels itself, leaving me on my knees, panting heavy breaths.
<<What the hell?>>
Until now, I always used Black Fluid like it was an extension of myself, freely shaping it however I wanted. Following this, it should be the easiest thing in the world to shape it however I want around myself, and yet, it failed.
[Navi: The skill level is still too low to use Armor Mode. Train some more, Master!]
Oh, that’s what happened. Wait, is there an Armor mode? This skill is ever full of surprises…
<<Hey, I get that this “Armor mode” is not yet unlocked, but can I at least use it to make a mantle?>>
I ask Navi, but her answer is disappointing as ever.
[Navi: Silly Master, “Armor Mode” refers to any use of the skill directed to oneself. So, it means “no”. Even someone as dumb as Master should know!]
I am getting fed up with her bipolar personality. Can’t she be professional and efficient like when she talks to the others?
Well, I do not want to bicker further with a voice in my head. I head towards the others, checking out on their conditions.
This time, the battle went without any major injury on our part. Since the number of monsters was pretty high, we ended up raising our levels by one.
Now, all of us are at level eighteen.
I would love to rest a bit and allocate the newly gained stat points, but time is running out, I will do it whenever we reach this floor’s exit.
Around us, the corpses of over sixty Rapta are lying on the ground. I use Black Fluid to clean the surroundings, taking everything. Corpses, weapons, and even their bone armor.
I say, a cold tone in my voice.
We head towards the Rapta village, feeling cold stares on us as we pass the shabby wooden houses.
Since we displayed our strength, I highly doubt that the remaining Rapta will attack us. After all, judging from Navi’s detection only a few of them remain, all the survivors being elder, women and low level infants.
Still, it’s a weird sensation, walking into this village with stares of hate following our figure.
We leave the survivors alone, there is no point in butchering them.
Past the village, we find a room where thick, brown colored trees are growing. The place where the Rapta take their wood, I assume.
These plants produce a low quality wood, and edible fruits with scarce nutritional value. At least, that’s what Navi’s detection tells.
No point in losing time here.
We pass the room, entering the usual succession of tunnels dug in ice and large, frozen rooms.
In some of them we find remaining Rapta. Few in numbers, we manage to overwhelm them with ease.
We’re getting near the central portion of this floor. Every room we enter seems bigger than the one before, and also the quantity and quality of materials seem to be increasing.
Not just moonstone ore, we’re starting to find rarer materials like ores containing trace amounts of zinc and cadmium.
The rocks here contain too little of the precious metals, so they are rarely mined here in favor of more pure veins that can be found in the surface world.
Still, I take some with us, stopping to hoard some high purity moonstone on the way. It seem I could not resist my compulsion to take everything.
Well, we’ve decided to take a small break, so it’s fine if I indulge in a quick material gathering spree.
In particular, one curious rock formation captured my interest. It is very similar to the Fire Crystal that we found on the fifth level, only, this one has a pure white color and emanates a cold aura.
Unlike the Fire Crystal, I can effectively mine these ones.
Marica stops by, making a comment about my find.
Ice Crystals. That’s how she called these white and freezing stones. Looking them up close, I see that they closely resemble the arrowheads of freezing darts, those that we got from a group of Rapta we killed.
The crystal I harvested is big, roughly reaching the height of my hip from the soil. If we could process it, we could prepare some more freezing darts, or even arrows.
Or we could just sell it to some craftsman able to properly use it.
Nonetheless, it is a good find.
Having emptied this room of resources, and ended our small break, we resume the journey towards this floor’s exit.
As we push further into the inner chambers, we begin to spot some of the elite monsters of this level.
Much to my surprise, it seems that the Rapta are engaging those monsters in battle.
The elite creatures resemble large polar bears, their white fur spotted with blood as they rage on in battle.
The Rapta seem to be losing the fight, being overwhelmed by their opponent’s sheer size and strength.
We decide to swoop in on the fight, taking advance of both Rapta and monsters being too concerned in fighting one another to actually notice us.
Distracted, the summoners are easily taken down by Dahl, while the rest of us focus on the bears and the remaining Rapta.
The small humanoid monsters are easily taken out by Levia and Marica, but the bear-like creatures reveal themselves to be though opponents, even when already wounded.
Their level is higher than the Rapta, although they are in lesser numbers.
Unsurprisingly, Navi identifies them as White Bears. Inside the room, three of them were fighting against the humanoid monsters.
One was taken out by the Rapta, while the other two survived the initial attack and are now charging at us.
Arrows seem to only cause slight injuries on them, even when Levia charges them with her skill.
Beside their sheer strength, these monsters are using a troublesome ability.
Some kind of skill, similar to the ability that the summoned Cryonis possess.
In short, everything around the monster freezes.
They use this ability both defensively and in offense, freezing arrows directed at them and using the skill in combination with strikes of their massive claws, leaving large chunks of frozen ground whenever they hit.
Retel is managing to guard us with his skill, so we suffer no direct damage from the White bears.
Still, their resilience is impressive.
It took a combined effort to take the two monsters down, as the beasts just tanked several hits, shrugging off lethal wounds as if they were nothing.
Fighting these things head on will definitely be too dangerous. To make things worse, there surely will be some White Bears in the same room as the Champion, making the fight against this floor’s strongest monster even more difficult.
Well, that’s only if we fight head on against them.
Much like against the Silverback, I could use the same strategy and turn the lesser monsters against the Champion.
We traverse some more chambers, fighting both Rapta and White Bears on the way.
To be fair, we did not properly fight, since we played it smart.
I used Beelzebub to inject the monsters with different kinds of poison, resorting to the confusing toxin in some instances, and to the Serketh’s lethal venom in others.
Most of the rooms held Rapta and White Bears, challenging each other. It was easy to sneak by, concealing ourselves thanks to Marica’s spell and using my skill to poison the two opposing groups of monsters.
It’s somewhat of a coward tactic, to resort to this kind of means. But, if we can do something without risking our skin, it’s best that we take advantage of it.
Using this trick, we managed to keep our strength in order to challenge the Champion of this level.
We clear out one last room, stopping there to take a moment of respite before the big fight.
The next chamber is the central one, and Navi’s signal has already spotted this floor’s ruler.
Shartu, the White. Level nineteen, Champion of the ninth floor.
Besides his signal, there are a lot of lesser, weaker signals coming from the room.
Many of them are from White Bears, while the vast majority is from monsters of the Rapta race. I shudder when I see the number of them shown by Navi.
More than three hundred, and that’s just counting the Rapta.
I need to see what is going on inside the room.
With that thought in mind, I form an off-shot from Black Fluid, using the old “camera” trick that I used in the past.
By sending it inside the room, I have a clear view of what is happening there.
The large Champion is laying down near the room’s exit.
His form is enormous, enough to make me tremble at the mere sight of it. The Champion is a bear-shaped monster.
His size, however, is almost three times that of the White Bears that we already fought. And those were almost three meters long.
It is gigantic, boasting a size more befitting of an elephant than a bear. His pure white fur is encrusted with long shards of ice, looking like spikes that come out of the creature’s back.
In front of him, the Rapta are dancing and praying in their strange tongue, dragging offerings towards the huge bear, as if they revere it like a god.
The offerings are member of their same race.
Some of the Rapta are bound and wounded, while others lie down lifeless.
Seeing this scene, it makes me perplexed.
We saw the Rapta fighting the bears before, and now I am witnessing the opposite situation.
Perhaps there are various factions of them, with some that fight the White Bears, and others that pray to them like gods.
Maybe, the Rapta that are being sacrificed are prisoners, taken from the other factions and offered to their god as a tribute of some sort.
Still, the reality of things is that there are way too many monsters in there for us to take out.
We will never win against a group of monsters this large, unless we play dirty.
Well, I had that intention from the start.
Using Beelzebub, I summon the fly-like creatures loaded with confusing poison.
Unlike the first time that I used this kind of attack, I immediately can form the tiny insects from my skill, without having to go through the process of filling them with the poison.
It’s like the entire process became automated when it was registered as an attack of my skill.
I’ll have to ask Navi more information about what happened.
With the amount of Black Fluid that I can produce now, I have more than enough flies for each monster in there, except the Champion.
Still, I fear that the little flies will be of little to no effect against the White Bears.
Their thick fur and their massive size would require a large amount of the toxin to work, not to mention that my little creatures could not be strong enough to pierce their skin.
Another obstacle to my plan would be the White Bear’s freezing skill.
Luckily, I absorbed a cold resist skill before, and I fused it with Black Fluid, so my little creatures should be fine even if the bears activate their freezing skill. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
Still, I will start by poisoning the Rapta, making them revolt against the monsters they revere.
Next, taking advantage of the following confusion, I will summon bigger flies from Black Fluid, adjusting them to contain more poison and to properly inject it into the White Bears.
There is no need to use the confusing poison on the Champion, since I only need to make the lesser monsters attack it.
For dealing with Shartu, I have another plan.
First, I use the small sized insects to inject the Rapta with my confusing poison.
Since their bodies are small, the effect manifests quickly, spreading chaos among their ranks.
The small Rapta begin to attack the large White Bears, frenzied by the toxin.
Next, taking advantage of the confusion, I produce larger carriers capable of holding a much larger quantity of poison.
These new carriers have also a stronger stinger, capable of piercing the White Bear’s thick skin.
Unlike when I used Beelzebub to produce the already made insects, producing new ones from scratch consumes more energy and requires a longer time.
Still, when the new carriers are complete, a message from Navi informs me that the new carriers are available for production with Beelzebub attack.
Still, who names these things? I remember that Beelzebub was the name of a demon in my world, something related to flies if I correctly recall.
Perhaps the system is taking names from my subconscious? Well, it does not matter much, as long as it does its job.
The new carriers are slower and larger, and could have been easily spotted in normal conditions.
The poison they contain is also slightly different than before.
Mixed with the confusing toxin, I added other compounds capable of enhancing physical strength.
I need the White Bears to do a lot of damage to their bigger cousin, so I have enhanced their prowess a little bit.
If they kill the Champion, it will be fine for us.
The same thing can be said if the Champion manages to wipe out all of them.
It’s our win, no matter which monster comes out victorious from this battle.
Well, the ideal situation would be that only the Champion survives, gravely wounded and unable to fight back.
But I doubt that things will turn out so convenient for us.
I watch the battle unfold, while making preparations for our next move.
After all, I used the confusing poison for two main reason. First, and most obvious, is to take out the small fries.
Second, is to buy us time and allow some preparation before the fight.
Taking advantage of the fray, I’ve been busy preparing poison with Black Fluid and using my Alchemy skill.
I’ve been thinking about a method to deal with the Champion as best as we can. And that includes a way to let Marica use her spells.
In my stay in this world, I’ve been focusing on using this world’s methods to deal with monsters. That means, using skills and such.
But in my world, enemies were dealt with using different methods. In short words, I am preparing something that in my world was pretty popular in warfare.
By mixing some chemicals I have absorbed from plants, I can use alchemy and compounding skills to produce oils.
And I could use it like some sort of rudimentary incendiary cocktail, tossing it toward the enemies and setting it on fire.
I wanted to make something like an explosive mixture, but it seems I do not yet possess the necessary material or skill proficiency to do so.
Well, using the oil and setting it on fire will give us a tactical advantage.
With this, our plan is in order. All that is left to do is wait.
Of course, I expect the Champion to kill all the smaller monsters.
My expectations are proven correct, sooner than I anticipated.
Swooping down on the battlefield, the giant bear crushes everything in its path, cleaving the ground with every sweep of ts claws and leaving behind frozen bodies.
As it fights its lesser brethren, we’re able to observe the skills that the Champion holds.
Much like the smaller White Bears, Shartu’s attacks have a freezing effect.
The scale of it is, however, far stronger than that of the White Bears.
Another ability of the Champion monster is some kind of frost breath. Bellowing a huge roar, the monster stands on its hind legs, letting out a huge breath attack that sweeps the battlefield with cold wind.
The White Bears withstand it, albeit taking damage, but the attack is devastating against the Rapta.
All of them succumb to the large scale attack of the Champion. I hoped they would last a little bit more, but it seem the Champion was just too strong.
The White Bears are still under control of my poison, and they are swarming on Shartu. The Champion is taking damage, but not too much.
With each of its attacks, one White Bear falls, lifeless.
<<Are you done yet?>>
I ask Marica, looking at her direction.
She’s standing near a large fire, muttering incantations. We’ve figured out a way to use her fire spell.
Since she needs to absorb heat from an external source in order to prepare her highest damage spells , we’ve lit a big fire in the empty room.
It’s not a method we can use in every battle, since she cannot store the absorbed heat and needs to discharge it immediately.
Also, it seems that the incantations she uses are not suited to pull heat from fire or incandescent objects. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, to me.
She blabbered something about heat control being more difficult and dangerous while absorbing heat from high temperature sources when she explained how her spells work.
Well, she’s the one that has knowledge about magic, so we need to follow what she says right now. Still, I have the slight impression that her spells are a bit inefficient.
Looking at her with Navi’s detection, I can see her mana flow from her body to the flames and back to her. She’s showing a good control, the mana flow is steady and unperturbed, but I feel like seeing someone that’s doing a job in a bad way, only because the manager taught them that method.
Although her control is really good, she’s only taking a small fraction of the energy, while the rest is being dispersed in the air.
I could be wrong, of course, and I most likely am, since I do not know the theory and principles behind magic.
But I cannot shake off that feeling.
<<Now, I am ready. Let’s do this>>
Her voice shakes me off my thoughts. It seems Marica has completed her preparations for the spell. Now, all that is left to do is act.