Re:Interference Chapter 18- Icy Winds, Charred Ground

We enter the large, frozen room, facing off the wounded giants. Icy wind is blowing on us, coming from the breath of the white colossus.

Shartu, the Champion of this level.

A bellowing roar resounds in the air. A chilling sound, that shakes my body, skin and bone.

Yet, I push onward.

[Navi: Fear Status Resisted- White Roar (Fear Effect)]

So, a status skill. Well, it seems that it had no effect on any of us.

Seeing as how the skill was resisted, Shartu begins to charge at us. The ground shakes under the Champion’s weight.

The mere sight of it should be enough to send me running. Instead, I feel thrilled by it, anticipating the fight. I smirk, thinking about what’s wrong with my head. This feeling, this sensation, so out of character for someone like me, weak. Well, I do not consider myself weak after all, not anymore. Maybe it was like this when I first woke up into this world, alone, without any clue about what happened. I remember feeling helpless, hopeless. Like the first time I saw a monster here, or when the slimes attacked me, back in those accursed marshes where I almost forfeited my life.

Even when the Laughing Man came, or the time against the Hero. There, I felt the intense sensation of hopelessness, the dread of being unable to do anything. I survived those situations out of sheer luck.

But, since I came to Sendria, things have been slowly changing. More and more, as time went by, I overcame the challenges that have been set on my path. I gained the means to defend myself, I have companions that I can count on. We faced some minor setbacks, and some pretty shitty situations.

But, we survived. I survived, and understood one simple thing. I can do it. I can win, I can face this world and beat it.

Right now, in front of something that should make me cower in fear, I feel thrilled instead, excited even, at the prospect of bringing down this opponent with our strength alone.

The beast charges, and we set our plan into motion.

I unleash Black Fluid, opening my inventory at the same time. I am not aiming to restrain the monster, it would be futile to do it against something of this size. Instead, I use the skill to stick the improvised incendiary bombs that I had prepared earlier.

Sticky grenades, or something that works the same way. The monster does not even bother to avoid my attack. Perhaps, it felt confident that its defenses would protect it from such weak move.

Well, it was exactly what I intended. Of course, Shartu is not smart enough to notice that I have placed all the pots containing the incendiary oil on its left side.

The great bear did not even interrupt its charge.

We disperse, avoiding the attack that it unleashed on us. As Shartu’s right paw slams into the ground, it gouges it, leaving a blooming ice crystal where the blow struck the ground.

Separated, we head towards the back of the room. Shartu is slower than us, significantly so.

It is a monster that relies on bulk and brute strength, after all. It has no need to be quick, since it can just shrug off attacks and retaliate when the enemy comes into range.

Enraged that its attack missed, the monster turns around and roars again. It lowers its huge head and charges at us once again.

<<Now!>>

I shout, signaling Marica. She’s been chanting the incantation all along, forging her spell since we entered the room. Of course, when we avoided Shartu’s attack she moved on the right side of the room, keeping her line of sight on the huge bear’s left side, the side where I planted the incendiary bombs.

She unleashes her spell, waiting for the moment when the large beast has gained enough speed.

Surprised by the sudden explosion, made even more powerful with the help of my incendiary oil, the monster is set ablaze, and it tumbles, crashing down on its own weight.

Moving forward due to his own speed and momentum, the monster comes crashing right into my trap. As Marica unleashed her spell, I placed several blades made with Black Fluid right in front of the monster.

Falling over them, Shartu’s own weight causes it to skewer on my skill. The blades made with Black Fluid deal massive damage,maiming the beast’s head and the already injured left side.

Taking advantage of its fall, I change Black Fluid into barbed tentacles, making it hold on the monster’s limbs and back.

Next, I open my inventory once again, pouring the remaining incendiary oil right from it onto Shartu’s body.

I feel the wave of heat on my face, as the oil catches fire, exploding in a grand fireball that curls upwards before collapsing on itself.

All around the burning monster, I’ve set up a ring of oil, that now is burning splendidly, trapping the monster inside.

Burning, raging, Shartu thrashes in pain. However, it does not escape the flaming prison. After all, being a creature adapted to the cold, it seems that fire is its true weakness.

The combined attack has inflicted serious damage on the beast, however I suspect it will not be enough to bring it down.

Without waiting for confirmation, we start once again to rain attacks on the burning giant. Using the burning oil, Marica can now freely absorb heat from the flames, using it to fuel her own fire spells. More than that, she’s using her incantations to direct the already existing flames, turning them into a raging whirlwind of fire.

She’s exhausted by the sheer effort of keeping such intense incantations, and I see her chug down a few mana recovery potions in order to regain the energy she lost.

In the meantime, I am using Black Fluid to both attack and restrain the monster. I even produced some poison with it, hoping that the venom would weaken Shartu even more.

However, a message from Navi informs me that the monster resisted the poison.

[Navi: Enemy Shartu resisted the poisoning attempt- Skill effect: Full Poison Immunity]

So, those kind of troublesome things exist. Well, it was to be expected. Sooner or later, I would encounter some enemy with ridiculous total immunity to some form of attacks.

We continue to wail on the wounded giant. Retel and Dahl are on standby, since the raging flames would endanger them if they attempted to attack the monster with their melee weapons. After all, the two of them do not possess any long-range attack, to my knowledge.

Dahl might be hiding another ace in his sleeve, but if he does, he’s not letting it show.

Marica, me and Levia concentrate our attacks on the bear. Levia is aiming her arrows toward the monster’s face, directing them towards the sensible spots like eyes, nose and ears, or piercing the most obvious wounds on the bear’s body.

Each arrow explodes with mana every time it makes contact with the monster’s body, making the monster howl in pain with every attack. She manages to severely injure the beast’s snout, leaving a deep crimson wound extending from the bear’s mouth to its left eye. As she continues her assault, she focuses her aim on the injured left side of Shartu’s snout and head.

When she stops, catching her breath for a moment of respite, the left side of the Champion’s head has become a red mesh of maimed meat. The monster’s left eyeball is no more, in its place a dark, bleeding empty socket.

Marica is launching an assault of repeated fireballs, while constantly channeling the raging fire to keep the monster burning and trapped.

It almost seem a brutish beating, rather than a battle. Still, I do not think that this will be enough for us to win. It will be too easy.

As if reading my thoughts, the monster roars. It is different from before, fiercer, angrier. The wind pressure alone is enough to blow the flames away. A raging wind is now circling Shartu, freezing the wounded skin on his body, creating a frost armor on the gigantic beast.

So, it’s a two phase boss. It seems the real battle has yet to start.

Now encroached in ice, the monster stands on its hind legs, letting out his breath attack.

Quickly, we form ranks behind Retel, taking cover behind his shield skill. To reinforce our defense, I deploy Black Fluid before Retel’s mana shield.

The impact of the breath attack is tremendous, and both Black Fluid and Retel’s skill begin to crack under the pressure.

Luckily, I had absorbed an ice-resistant skill before challenging this monster, so my Black Fluid shield is making a good job of protecting us from the sheer cold of those icy winds.

Shartu’s remaining eye is set on us, and now it glimmers with a cold blue light. The same light starts to envelop the creature’s claws, spreading to its immense muscles.

It is similar to what the Silverback did. However, it does not seem to heal the monster’s wounds. Thankfully, otherwise we would be in a very bad situation.

Shartu charges at us, its speed now double than before.

Me and Retel are tanking its attacks, alternating between his shield skill and my Black Fluid.

With every attack Shartu crushes Retel’s shield, but my companion manages to activate his Spike Counter with precise timing, damaging the monster’s huge paws every time it attacks.

While Retel’s shield skill is recuperating, I am the one guarding the group. I am using Black Fluid to imitate Retel’s skill, by forming a shield with it and quickly making it spur sharp spears one instant before Shartu’s attack connects.

Still, this thing’s vitality is impressive, terrifying. It has taken a huge amount of punishment, yet it still rages at us, bleeding so much that its fur has become red.

The terrain all around is painted in red, both from the battle that involved the lesser creatures against Shartu, and from our own battle against it.

With me and Retel taking care of the monster’s attacks, Dahl, Marica and Levia are the ones that continue to damage it, acting in cooperation as to not expose themselves too much.

They wait for the monster to rage on me and Retel, and take advantage of its distraction to release their attacks on it.

Marica is using her spells to shave away the icy armor that the monster has summoned, while Dahl is alternating his attacks between breaking the armor and slashing at the gaps between its parts.

Levia does the same, directing her arrows to the points where the armor is cracked. However, this time she’s exerting herself, keeping her mana charged arrows from exploding. At least, not yet.

When she pins enough of them into the same position, she releases the restraint on all of them at the same time. Each arrow, embedded deeply in the icy armor, blows at the same time, making the hard ice to shatter, exposing Shartu’s wounded body underneath for Marica and Dahl to attack.

Without any armor to protect it from attacks Shartu’s body is vulnerable. Dahl’s skill is doing massive damage to the monster.

With one attack, he managed to hack away large chunks of meat and muscle from the bear’s body, severely hindering its movement.

But the beast still refuses to give up, roaring at us, in a show of undying will and determination. I am almost moved by the indomitable will displayed by Shartu, its form wounded and bleeding but still showing the strength and will to fight.

Still, the beast falls under our attacks. The final blow belongs to Retel, as he jumps to avoid one last, desperate attack from Shartu, plunging his spear into the beast’s head as he falls down.

The great bear collapses, shaking the ground as it falls.

Its body still twitching, as life flows away from it.

Navi’s message confirms the Champion’s death.

Releasing a big sigh of relief, I sit on the ground, my breath still in disarray. The experience we obtained from the fight is enough to make all of us jump two level higher, bringing all our party to level twenty.

To think than less than a month ago I was still struggling against low level monsters, and now here I am, killing a huge beast like it was nothing.

I really came a long way.

With a half smile on my face, I look towards my companions. Fatigued, covered in splatters of blood and dirt, but alive and well. Not even a scratch on them. Of course, if I came this war, if we came this far, most of the credit goes to them.

We take a quick break, to recover our energies before the final push towards the tenth level. The goal itself seemed so far, after all that happened with the Guild. There were some moments where I really thought that it would be impossible, that we would fail along the way.

Instead, here we are. The goal is in sight, and we still have time to reach it.

Well, sitting idly, thinking about how good things turned out to be, will not help us in the future. And so, I start preparations for the battles to come.

Again, I make use of my compounding and alchemy skills to prepare some more of the incendiary oil. That strategy proved effective in dealing against the Champion, so I will rely on it in the upcoming battles.

It would be nice for me to take a little bit of rest, in order to allocate the skill points I gained after the last level up. But I will hold for now, until we reach this floor’s exit. After all, we’ve been doing fine until now, and the remaining monsters on this ninth floor will surely be easier to deal with than the Champion itself.

After making preparations, I head toward the gigantic corpse that lies on the ground. Using Black Fluid, I harvest the necessary materials, taking care of keeping the monster’s head intact. After all, when we come back to the surface, it will serve as proof that we defeated the Champion.

Perhaps it will fetch some good reward, but it will be fine even if it only provides bragging rights among fellow adventurers.

After all, slaying three Champions in a single dive should be a fine achievement, in the eyes of the Guild.

I collect the other corpses and weapons scattered around. There’s too many of them, making the scene around us seem like a picture out of some horror movie. Well, it was a battlefield, after all.

Most of the weapons scattered around are crude things crafted with wood and bones, the weapon of the Rapta race.

It surprises me a bit, if I compare them to the crossbow we got from members of the same race. I assumed that the weapon was crafted by them, but perhaps it was something they stole or pillaged from some adventurer’s corpse.

Speaking of adventurers, it seem that even here in this room there is a pile of items and remains, like that one we found when we defeated the Silverback. Apparently, felled adventurers in this level were taken by the Rapta, their bodies and belongings offered to the Champion as a tribute.

Like I did before, I collect the remains and belongings. No point in leaving them here, and we could give back the remains to the Guild, hoping that they would identify the fallen adventurers and send back their bones to their family, to let them have closure and a proper burial for their loved ones.

After all, adventuring is a cruel business.

Among the items I found in the pile, there are some of interest. Most are just useless weapons and armor, consumed by age or damaged when their owner was killed. Some, however, are still in pristine conditions.

In particular, I found a good composite bow and a set of spears. Of course, I give those weapons to Levia and Retel, along with arrows and a couple of daggers. There are also several other objects of interest, like armor and shields. Even money and jewelry, buried under the rubble of broken items.

Having finished my scavenging, I wait for the others to finish their preparations, and we set on march again.

Heading away from the large chamber, we enter one of the icy tunnels that lead towards the ninth floor’s exit.

The number of monsters we encounter on the path is significantly lower than before, and with our increased level, we manage to deal with them quickly, without incurring in any risk.

I take the time to absorb some of the elite monsters, the White Bears. From them, I gain a freezing attack skill.

It goes without saying that I immediately Integrate the new skills, first to produce a stronger version then to include it into Black Fluid. The process goes well, after few failures. I did not manage to obtain a high skill rank with it, but I successfully completed the process, giving my Black Fluid a new mean of attack. Of course, it will not be of much use in this frozen ninth floor, but in the floors above and beyond it will be really useful to have this new option.

After few hours of march and battles, we finally reach this floor’s exit.

Finally, we can leave behind this frozen place and the icy winds that sweep our skin.

As we head towards the exit, I draw a big breath before setting foot on the descending staircase.

The initial part of it is made with ice, but as we descend, ice recedes, revealing the usual rock staircase.

Halfway through, we find ourselves into a circular room, furnished with some crude beds, a cooking post and even some dusty alchemical equipment.

I look at the place, a bit perplexed by the sudden find.

Dahl explains that, sometimes, it is possible to find this kind of rooms between a floor and the next.

These are the original “safe-rooms” of the Dungeon, built in the structure itself. According to his words, the place even has some peculiar mana, that speeds mana recovery and overall regeneration.

I check with Navi, and I see that the effect is really there. It is nothing more than a minor boost, but it is there.

We decide to rest inside the safe-room, in order to properly recover our energies before challenging the tenth floor.

We can spare the time, since, taking into account the time we will rest here, we’ve still plenty of hours before the “time limit” on my head expires. So, we can take the leisure.

After fixing us a good meal, the first proper dinner that we had since our Dive started, I go to bed.

Sleep comes quickly as usual, and with it I can finally apply those points that have been on standby since I leveled up.

Among my skills, cooking, compounding, alchemy, leadership and Black Fluid have risen. All of them, except Black Fluid, have gained new properties. Leadership grew to level three, increasing the bonus experience that it awards to the group. Cooking, compounding and alchemy jumped to level four, and now with every successful preparation the effects are amplified and there is a slight chance to add random positive effects. Probably, my luck skill will increase this chance. Well, I hope it does.

I allocate the ten stat points from the recent level up. Now, I boast twenty one points in STR, ACC and AGI. My INT stat is still at 20, boasted by the permanent stat bonus from the first trial, while my LCK stat is the highest one, with thirty two points.

Being done with level up, I fall into proper sleep.

After four hours, I wake up. I did not know it, but apparently Navi has also an alarm function. Much to my surprise, and disappointment, it seems she can also visualize some kind of digital clock. As usual, I’m disappointed in her failure to communicate her functions to me. More than that, I am really convincing myself that she does this on purpose, just to piss me off.

I reprimand her, and Navi answers with a nonsensical excuse that sounds more like a veiled insult to me.

To hell with her, I do not have time to spare arguing with this thing’s shitty personality.

We take care of morning routine and, after eating the leftovers from our dinner, we head out of the safe-room.

The usual descending staircase awaits us, going down and down with every step. Finally, we reach the end of it, setting foot into the new floor, the tenth one.

What lies in front of us, is a scorched wasteland. Similar to the fifth one, this tenth floor’s ground looks like it has been scorched by some intense, blazing fire. Charred remains of twisted trees can be seen all around, and the rock that makes up walls and ceiling is blackened and cracked. In some points, the intense heat looks like it melted the rock itself, leaving behind vitrified stone that glistens in the dim red light of this place.

The air is hot, and hard to breathe. A completely different climate from the floor above, without any doubt.

With this intense heat, I am forced to remove some of the clothes I wear under my armor, in order to not sweat to my death.

Still, even if the place is so unpleasant, we finally made it to the tenth floor.

As I set foot into this new level, a message appears in my sight.

[Navi: Congratulations, Candidate! You’ve reached the tenth floor in the suggested (imposed) time limit! Now, all you need to do is find the trial site and rise to success! -Time Limit Removed, restriction: unable to leave Dungeon still active]

Thank god. I can take all the time I want to deal with this place and the damned trial it hosts.

It felt like a damned Damocles sword, all this time limit crap, menacing to fall on my head at every second.

But now, I can take it a bit easier than before, since we’re no more forced to rush our pace anymore.

As I look around the scorched antechamber, I confirm the direction to take by using Navi’s radar function.

Sharing the map with the others, we decide the best course to take.

Most likely, the trial will take place in the central chamber of this floor, where the strongest monster resides. Unlikely the floors above and below, this tenth floor hosts a special creature, whose stats and ability surpass even the Champion level monsters.

A Guardian. Special entities among the creatures that inhabit this Dungeon, a Guardian can be considered a true boss monster, the highest challenge that resides in these ten beginning floors of this Dungeon.

The trial itself will probably require me to defeat such monster. Well, I cannot leave the Dungeon unless I complete the second trial, so it is imperative for me to challenge this level’s boss monster.

Well, we still have to get there, after all.

As usual, the layout of this tenth floor consists in an alternation of hallways and chambers, leading towards the center portion, which is a wide, elliptical room far bigger than any we’ve encountered before.

From it, several paths head out, intertwined together, leading to the exit.

Of course, once I finish this trial thing, if possible, I plan to go back to the surface. I’m craving a breath of fresh air, and a vacation from the dungeon routine will be very, very beneficial to us.

That is, if after this trial things go well. There’s also the possibility that it might go like the first one, with some sort of curse imposed on me that forces me to go on until the next trial. I really hope that it does not happen, but the possibility is still there.

Of course, I’ll only know when I finish the trial, so there’s not real point in worrying about it. That’s easier said than done, however, and I find myself drifting towards those thoughts as we proceed into the tunnels of this new floor.

Fire Crystals can be seen basically everywhere, scorching air emanating from them, as a dim red light pulses from the crystal formation.

I remember being unable to harvest them, due to their bad disposition to even the slightest perturbation of mana around them.

I look at the crystal, thinking deeply. If I could somehow manage to extract them, I could use their instability to my favor. Perhaps I could drop them into my inventory, storing them safely. By opening the inventory over a group of enemy, I could drop the crystals on them and use those crystals like some kind of grenade, since they would explode at the slightest perturbation.

I signal the others to stand back, as I try to harvest the Fire Crystal once again. When I did so in the fifth level, the crystals exploded right on my face.

This time, I am using Black Fluid to try and harvest the crystal. With my Mana Control skill, I am keeping the least amount of mana flowing into my skill. If I completely cut it, the skill will deactivate, while if I give too much, the flow will cause a perturbation and the crystals will explode.

It’s like I am defusing a mine. Not that I have ever done something like that, both in my old life and this one. Still, that’s how I imagine this situation, the feeling of cold drops of sweat running on my skin as I delicately move my skill in order to touch and harvest the crystal.

After a few unsuccessful attempts, I finally devise a trick to harvest those damned crystals. I noticed that no matter how little was the mana I poured into my skill, it still interacted with the mana that fluctuates into the surrounding air.

I tried to stop the external mana from flowing, but of course I could not do it. Then I found another conclusion, accidentally.

As I tried to control the flow of mana inside my skill, I ended up taking it away with too much speed. I thought I had caused my skill to collapse and fail, but something surprising happened. A small quantity of the external mana flowed into my skill. It still disrupted Black Fluid, leading to the skill failure and subsequent explosion of the nearby Fire Crystal.

The next time I tried, I repeated the same process, focusing myself to do it slower. It took a few tries, but I managed to extract mana from the air, letting it flow into Black Fluid. By alternating the flux of my own mana, and quenching the perturbation in the external mana by absorbing it or releasing some of my own, I finally managed to touch and then absorb the crystals.

Marica’s jaw was gaping wide open when she saw what I did.

It seems that absorbing mana from the environment is something that the vast majority of magicians and sorcerers can only dream to do.

I wonder what her expression would be, if I told her I obtained a Mana Absorb skill from this experience.

The skill has a blue color, it is the highest grade skill that I have, beside Black Fluid.

Well, this skill is almost wasted on me, since at the moment I do not know any kind of spell. I will have to wait for it to be of some proper use, but it really is a nice skill to have at my disposal. Even if at the moment it has no practical use for me, except for gathering the Crystals here.

Another think that I gained while harvesting the Crystal is a peculiar material property. I absorbed some of them with Black Fluid, and, taken by curiosity, I did the same with some of the Ice Crystals that I gathered from the ninth floor.

Having absorbed the two kind of crystal, Black Fluid gained the material property, becoming able to mimic the structure of said crystals.

Basically, I can now form a crystalline structure with Black Fluid, capable of storing and releasing mana at will.

It’s an interesting property, although I still do not know how to use it effectively. Perhaps I will experiment with it a bit, when I have some spare time.

We proceed, heading further into the initial part of the tenth floor. After the first corridor, we find ourselves into a room. There, we encounter the first type of monster that inhabit this floor.

With a large body, the monster has a shape that resembles a lizard, with red and black scales and a long tail clad in thin spikes.

Red Lizard, a level eighteen monster. There are six more of them into the room, two of them hanging on the walls.

As soon as they spot us, the lizards attack by spitting fireballs at us. Looking better at their attack, it seems that they are not spitting out actual fireballs. There’s no magic or any special power behind their attack. Basically, the lizards are just spitting out some kind of poison or bodily fluid, which immediately catches on fire if exposed to air.

We manage to guard ourselves from their attack. Crashing on Retel’s shield, or repelled by my Black Fluid, the flaming liquid is scattered around, sticking to the walls and to the ground, still set ablaze.

Aside from their flaming spit, it seems that the monsters themselves do not pose a major threat. Once you get close to them, they’re basically defenseless at melee range.

Dahl makes quick work of them, killing lizard after lizard while the rest of us guards their attacks or support him.

The scaly hide of this creatures could fetch a good price, and their scales are pretty and sturdy. As I look at them, I remember that the old lady from the armor shop did request us to gather some of these scales.

I had almost forgot her request, to be sincere. Luckily, I ended up gathering most of the materials she wanted anyway. It seems that we will not be able to bring her everything she requested, since some materials are found only in the floors beyond this one, and I do not plan to delve further into the Dungeon after we finish our business here.

Well, she will have to settle for the materials we will gather here.

Keeping the old lady’s request in mind, I take a mental note to hoard as much materials as possible from the lizards.

I would also like to absorb a live one, just to see which kind of skills I would obtain from them.

As we delve further into the charred rooms, we encounter a wide variety of monsters.

Large beetles that shoot flaming gas out of their abdomen, strange turtles with Fire Crystals growing out of their shells. One time, we even found a room containing a monster made out of fire.

It had a vaguely human shape, twisting and shifting in the air like a flame in the wind. Physical attacks had no effect on the creature, and we took it down with a combination of Marica’s cold spells and Black Fluid’s new freezing attack.

Still, how wonder how the monster population in the Dungeon sustains itself. There are some predatory acts between monsters, I’ve seen them myself. But, the overall ecosystem seems really scarce, unable to support a large population of creatures. Well, floors like the sixth, which was a tropical jungle properly had a viable ecosystem, with plants and a food pyramid going on. But floors like this one, or the frozen one we just explored seem to be too harsh to actually have proper wildlife or something like that.

Perhaps the monsters here survive by taking in mana, like in most of the dungeon stories I read in my previous life.

I try and ask Navi about it, but she just ignores my plea. Well, it looks like I will have to live with this doubt in my head for the time being.

As we get closer to the inner part of this floor, the temperature rises gradually. Now, the air swirls, twisted by the hot temperature, and we’re basically boiling inside our armor and clothes. I am very tempted to use Black Fluid to cool the air around.

<<Fuck it!>>

I say out loud, and I use the skill.

I take a deep breath, as the wrong use of my skill gives us a bit of respite from the excessive warmth of this place. It’s the opposite situation of the ninth floor, when we were plagued by the cold and freezing environment. Here, we have to fight against the scorching heat.

Personally, I hate cold the most, but Marica and Dahl are showing their suffering with every step. Dahl seems especially fatigued by the unnatural heat, probably because his metal armor is making his temperature even more.

Retel and Levia are fine, they even look happy and at ease in this kind of environment. Well, they are beast-kin, and reptile ones, so I guess it’s expected for them to have a good affinity with hot temperatures.

Dahl gets rid of some parts of his armor, keeping the breastplate and minimum protection. The combination of leather and metal is really cooking the poor boy. Well, my armor is basically the same type of his, but it seem that the old lady’s design used better materials capable of thermal isolation. Luckily, no one among us wears full plate armor, otherwise they would die inside of it.

I am not kidding, the temperature should be well around 40 °C here, or even more. It seems that the heat is coming from the ground and rock wall itself. Perhaps we’re nearing a pocket of magma, hidden below the floor. Or it could be the work of some kind of magic.

Well, that is a handy explanation for everything that happens in this world. Unexplained climate in each floor of a Dungeon? Magic. Monsters resurrecting every two days? Magic. People gaining experience and leveling up? Of course, magic again.

I snicker to myself with these silly thoughts. I guess that reaching this tenth floor really lifted up my spirit a bit. Before, I was too concerned with the possibility of failure. It’s still there, of course, but now I can see another possibility, another fate for me. Victory. And it gives me hope.

And usually, thoughts like these are death flags, at least in the light novels I loved to read in my previous life. I should stop setting those, just to be sure.

Still, it’s better to keep these thoughts at bay, and focus on what I have to do here. Perhaps, once I finally manage to get out of this Dungeon for a week or two, I will have all the time to just ponder things about.

Finishing our short break, we go on into this scorching, hellish place of a Dungeon floor.

We’ve reached a good coordination as a team, and we can easily deal with the monsters that we encounter on the path ahead.

To be fair, having Navi’s detection and mapping feels like a bit of a cheat, after all. Well, I am surely not complaining about it, since without this, we would be dead or still lost in the upper levels after all.

Most of the monsters here seem to have an affinity with fire or stone. The vast majority of them consists in monsters that have the shape of normal wildlife, with bigger size and some kind of fire element attack.

A rare one we found was some kind of small snake, with golden scales that dazzled as the monster immediately fled from us. It was so quick, darting away to safety.

As Marica saw it, she widened her eyes in surprise. Apparently, it was one of the legendary creatures that are said to appear in the Dungeon. A mythical snake monster, famous not for its power but for being entirely made with precious materials.

<<To date, there are no official records of its existence! If only we managed to catch it…we would become famous>>

She seems really disappointed by the monster’s sudden escape. The encounter itself was so quick that nobody of us had the time to properly react.

And I really doubt that we will manage to encounter it again, or find another one of the same species.

The other monsters we encounter are not so kind as to flee from us. In this level, we’ve not met a single creature, beside the golden snake, that showed a passive behavior or did not try to attack us.

Mostly, they’re nuisance, more troublesome for the time and fatigue we spend in hunting and killing them than actually being dangerous.

In truth, this could be just my impression, since we’re still in the initial part of this tenth floor. I think, no, I am almost sure of it, that the difficulty will increase as we go further inside this place.

After three hours, we exit the outskirts of the tenth level, and we begin to notice a gradual change in the floor’s environment and layout. The crude stone that made the walls before is giving place to proper walls, built with square blocks of a deep crimson stone. Rooms that held an irregular shape can no longer be seen, and we find ourselves into square or rectangular rooms, from which depart winding hallways and corridors.

For the first time we’ve entered this Dungeon, we encounter a new and unsettling element. Traps.

The first one was a classic trap, one that I have seen in hundreds of different media, from books to movies and games. A switch on the floor, that would activate a rain of arrows if pressed.

It was a bit obvious, however, and we managed to properly avoid triggering it. The following traps that we found were more properly hidden, however.

More than the monsters, the trap and the scorching air are the dangerous things that almost cost us our lives a few times.

In this new portion of the tenth floor, the heat seems even more heavy to bear than before, to the point that not even Black Fluid’s freezing ability can keep up with the heat. I could increase the input of the skill, but that would end up drying my energy more than the heat itself.

Well, I suppose we will have to endure it.

We’re consuming an amount of water that is double than what we would drink in normal situations. Thankfully, I had a vast amount of it stored into my inventory, otherwise we would seriously risk death by dehydration in this floor.

After all, we’ve already passed some remains of adventurers that presumably suffered the same fate.

And that’s just one of the problems that we’re facing here. A few times more than I would like to admit, we fell prey to the traps placed in this portion of the tenth floor.

Some were easy to break out, others were simple mechanisms that just shot out weapons or arrows, and we survived them using Retel’s skill or my Black Fluid.

One was particularly nasty. It was a trap hidden behind another. One of the triggers was very obvious, while the other was a pressure plate indistinguishable from the normal paved floor. Thinking that we successfully avoided the trap, we fell right into the next one. The floor split open, and we fell down for few meters into a pit of tar. As the ceiling closed on our head, a small, lit torch was supposed to fall on us as soon as the mechanism stopped. It was a trap designed to make you look up and see the torch that was about to fall. Most would be unable to react, lacking the means to take out the torch or evade the tar pit before the falling torch would set it ablaze.

Thankfully, Levia reacted fast, and she pinned the torch in place with a precise arrow. Then, I used Black Fluid to get rid of the tar and pry open the mechanism that trapped us in the pitfall chamber.

After a bit of tinkering with the trapdoor’s mechanism, I managed to pry it open, thus regaining our freedom.

Still, we really need to be more vigilant about traps, especially since Navi’s detection does not properly signal them. It can show empty spaces inside the walls, or hidden weapons and mechanisms, but it cannot visualize the triggers or pressure plates. For that, we will need to rely on our own eyes.

As we continue, we encounter some rooms that hold both monsters and traps, making it really difficult to traverse them.

If we just jump into battle, we risk getting caught in one of the traps. And, if we try to dismantle the traps first, we expose ourselves to the monster’s attack.

Some of those dangerous rooms can be avoided, since the path towards this level’s central room does not require us to clear them.

Others, however, are the only way to head towards the central portion, and we’re forced to traverse them.

To deal with both traps and monsters, we’re forced to split our roles accordingly. Retel, Marica and Levia deal with the monsters, with Retel using his skill to guard us from monster attacks while the two girls retaliate and defeat the monsters.

Me and Dahl are the ones on lookout for traps, taking care of dismantling them or preventing their activation.

The presence of traps is really hindering our progress, and as we go further towards the center, more and more complicated mechanisms are starting to appear.

In one corridor, we found a trap that, if triggered, would close a section of the corridor and release a cloud of poisonous gas. In the room that immediately followed, the same kind of trap released an inflammable gas, and the room itself was full of Fire Crystals.

If left unchecked, or if carelessly triggered, the trap would release the gas, and the Crystals would ignite it, leading us to a gruesome death.

The trap itself had multiple triggered, an obvious tripwire that was surrounded by well hidden pressure plates.

It was troublesome to deal with, but I am starting to get the hang of the trap’s mechanism. Navi’s detection does not immediately detect the traps, but it can detect hidden mechanisms or empty spaces hidden in the walls or below the paved floor.

Whenever I encounter some of these abnormalities, I make our party stop and retreat to the previous room or corridor.

Using Black Fluid, I probe the places revealed by Navi, looking for the hidden mechanisms and blocking them in place or disconnecting them, thus preventing the trap from triggering.

I’ve noticed that most of the monsters in this level do not trigger the traps, much to my surprise. Perhaps there’s something special about them, like some kind of “magical sensor” that recognizes monsters from human, and only activate the trap when the latter triggers it. But I cannot see any kind of mana flowing from the traps themselves, besides the thin mana flow that is suspended in the

air of this Dungeon. It is the same as the other floors we’ve already explored, so there is nothing special about it in this particular location.

As we progress, I find a solution to this problem. It seems that the pressure plates that activate the traps are purely mechanical, and they are calibrated to trigger only when a specific amount of weight is on them at regular intervals.

The ground monsters in this level are big, with a single one of them weighting more than one ton. Flying monsters and those made of fire, like the flaming humanoid we fought before, do not make contact with the pressure plates, so it’s only natural that they do not trigger them. But the ground dwelling creatures do step upon those plates. The trick, is that they weight too much, even if compared to a group of humans. When a monster steps on the plate, the excessive weight makes it that the trap does not trigger.

When we pass on the plates, the weight is considerably less, and the trap triggers.

More than that, there are some pressure plates that are activated after we step on them and we pass by. I do not know the exact mechanism that makes them work, but I suppose that it might sense a certain amount of weight and pressure, repeated in time. It’s like they are calibrated to let a group of people pass by them, and then activate.

It would be really interesting to study those delicate mechanisms, but it will be impossible for us to pry the mechanism open and take it back to the surface, without breaking it or making it unusable.

Luckily, all we need to do to stop the traps from triggering is blocking the mechanism itself, and, after a bit of trial and error, I can easily do it using Black Fluid.

After few more hours of march, we decide to take our lunch break inside a room we just cleared. We still have a long way to go before we manage to reach the central portion of this level, about two or three more hours.

Well, even if this is a lunch break to us, the time of the day we’re doing this is totally wrong. As Navi showed her clock function, I can check the time without relying on the hourglass we brought with us. It seems that right now, the surface world is shrouded by night. It’s half past midnight, according to Navi’s clock. Apparently, we lost a proper day-night cycle here in the Dungeon, since there is the absence of alternating dark and light, with the environment being constantly lit by dim lights.

After all, we’ve been going deeper and deeper without properly having a march / rest schedule, since we needed to get here within a time limit. For future explorations, it would be better for us to keep a proper schedule, in order to maintain our rhythm. It could seem something that does not require attention, but I think it will be beneficial to give ourselves a proper schedule and stick to it.

We eat the lunch I prepared with a bit of leisure, properly enjoying the meal as best as we can. Mostly, I prepared cold dishes, a mixed salad with cooked meat, some kind of tomato-like fruit and purple carrots. The taste of it is a bit strange, slightly more bitter than the vegetables I remember from my old world.

Thanks to the new level reached by my cooking skill, the food we eat has some kind of bonus effect added, like a small stamina regeneration and such.

After we end our meal, we take some time to clean and maintain equipment, before heading out again.

Finally, after another hour of straight march and battles, we enter the central portion of the level. As usual, the presence of elite monsters is what gives away the location.

When we encounter the first one, my heart skips a beat. The thing before us is a mass of incoherent shapes, forming and dissolving from the liquid body. The color of it is different from the ones I encountered before, but the sound they make is the same that I remember.

Before our eyes, a Slime appears.

To be precise, it seems some kind of subspecies, or variant. Navi identifies it as a Scorching Slime, the level of this creature is nineteen.

As it moves inside the room, it leaves a trail of liquid on the stone floor.

<<Disgusting>>

Levia mutters, her face twisted in disgust as she looks away from the creature. Inside the semi-transparent mass of red liquid, we can see some bones and skulls floating. They are not human, probably belonging to some unfortunate monster that fell prey to the Slime, becoming its meal.

I shudder, remembering how I could have ended the same way, if not for an incredible stroke of luck.

It seem that the monster still has not noticed us. I smile a bit, thinking about how I will be able to have my revenge against this species.

After all, it was a group of Slime that gave me my first “warm welcome” into this world, chasing the powerless and terrified me until I jumped from a waterfall in desperation.

Now, I can repay the favor. Well, I doubt these things can even feel fear or pain, so there is no point in taking too much time to kill this thing. Although, this thing’s “cousins” did try to eat me, so it’s only natural that I will do the same to this monster. I might also gain some useful skill by doing so.

I tell the others to not attack the monster, having decided to deal with it myself. Being a monster of this level, it must have some kind of affinity with fire, so I guess that attacking it with Black Fluid’s freezing power should have some effect. After I weaken it a bit, I will absorb it whole.

I advance towards the monster. As soon as the Scorching Slime notices me, it launches the same kind of attack I experienced inside the Aldora Marsh.

The shape of the creature changes, becoming sharp spears that plunge towards me. It tries to pierce me, the spear-like protrusions that it formed are burning the air around them. I guard the attack with Black Fluid, nullifying the flames with my freezing skill.

Entangled by my Black Fluid, the Slime goes back to its liquid form, trying to squirm away from my binding.

I start freezing it, and the Slime slows down its movement until it completely stops.

Seeing how the thing has stopped resisting, I completely envelop it with Black Fluid, starting the absorption routine.

It’s almost like seeing two monsters of the same species fight. The red slime is being enveloped by a black substance, so similar to its structure.

Well, I guess that in some kind of way my skill and the monster are the same thing, since Black Fluid was born when I absorbed a slime. Of course, it was a more complicated thing that happened, and more embarrassing…but, let’s leave things like this, shall we?

As the absorption ends, the usual notification from Navi pops up. From the slime, I gained the three skills I also obtained with the first slime I absorbed long ago. They are redundant now, since Black Fluid has long surpassed them and I do not see how these skills could be beneficial to me. However, I obtained one more skill from the red slime. Similar to the skill I absorbed from the White Bears, this one will let me increase the temperature of objects.

I integrate it into Black Fluid, thus giving my skill a flaming attack.

Well, now I have more options to deal with monsters. As I experiment with the new skill, I notice something.

As I remember some notions from my past life, about the nature of heat and such. Basically, I remember studying the phenomenon of heat and temperature at school. I was a bit distracted back then, but somehow this notion stuck to my mind.

Heat, can be considered like a vibration of molecules, a phenomenon related to the energy that the molecule itself posses. Objects with higher temperature have their molecules that vibrate faster, with more energy, than those that show a cold temperature, which in turn have less energy. And heat transfer is no more than the vibration, the energy, being transferred from one molecule to the other.

In short, by using my freezing or scorching skill, I am basically using my mana to increase or decrease the vibration of molecules, in this case I am modifying the molecules of Black Fluid.

Marica’s fire and frost spells are the same, I think. She uses her mana as a conduit, taking the vibration and energy from a target and transferring it to another.

And then, while I was immersed in this kind of physics related thoughts, my stupid brain clicked.

Beside the old memories of school, another one surfaced. About a manga, where a swordsman held an invincible blade, capable of cutting everything. The secret of that mysterious sword was nothing more than vibration. In that manga, the swordsman applied some kind of supersonic vibration to his sword, allowing it to cut anything.

And, by the fusion of this silly thought and some physics remembrance, my strongest power was born.

It was something so silly that it made me almost die by my own laughter when I pulled it off.

Basically, I played around with Black Fluid, trying to imitate what that fictional swordsman did.

I shaped a sword with Black Fluid, without even giving it a proper edge. It just had the vague shape of a sword, like those plastic props you could buy in my old world. I concentrated myself to make the blade vibrate at high frequency, using both form manipulation and the new temperature manipulation skills to keep the blade vibrating without it becoming too incandescent.

I tried slashing with it, and the result was exhilarating.

A simple swing of the blade, without any strength whatsoever behind it, left a gaping scar in the wall besides me. I tried swinging again, and this time I cleaved a rock in two.

[Navi: Black Fluid-New attack Acquired! Vorpal Edge!]

This is beyond ridiculous. And wait, it’s not a skill but another of these “attack” things, like Beelzebub?

[Navi:Congratulations, Master! You’ve unlocked a new attack! Would you like to hear an explanation about them, since you’re a bit too slow to understand it on your own?]

Again, Navi reveals her toxic personality. Sighing, I tell her to go with the explanation.

[Navi: Ok then! Attacks are special actions that can be performed with your personal skill, Black Fluid. Once Master completes a special and complex patterns that allows for new offense means, the pattern is registered in my system as an “attack”. Once it is registered, the new “attack” can be used automatically, with less energy consumption and some optimization offered by me! Isn’t it great?]

Well, I must admit that it is indeed a fine thing to have.

I try again the new attack, this time using it directly with Black Fluid. I shape some tentacles with a bladed end, applying the new attack to those blades and swinging them around. The results are even better than before. I try some more combinations, like shaping spear-like protrusions with the skill and having it pierce the wall.

The others are a bit taken back by the sudden development. Especially Dahl seems positively surprised by my skill. According to his words, he never saw something like it, a skill that grows and adapts.

With this new and sudden development, I have gained a powerful mean of offense. And now, I want to test it on some monsters.

In the next room, we stumble upon a group of the lizard-like monsters. The new attack makes quick work of them, tearing through their scaly skin as if it was paper.

They weren’t much of a test, tho.

If I really want to see how reliable this new attack is, I need to fight something that has a high defense. One of the turtle-like monsters we fought before would be the perfect test subject for it, if we manage to encounter one. Of all monsters we found in this tenth floor, the turtles were the ones that required the highest amount of time for us to kill, since they boasted high defense and vitality.

Advancing from room to room, we finally encounter some of the turtles. Their level is slightly lower than mine, with the highest of them being level eighteen.

With a single swing of Black Fluid, the monster fall one after the other.

<<Wow>>

A single word. That’s the only thing I can say while seeing what just happened. This new attack might be the most overpowered thing I have at my disposal. No, it definitely is, without a single doubt.

I wonder how things would have turned out for me, if I had this attack from the start.

I clench my fist, and go deeper towards the central portion of this floor.

With this, I no longer feel fear about the upcoming trial.

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