I sat in that dark, strange space, staring at those “prisoners” I took. Their forms, frozen in time, the same expression painted on their faces.
A chill ran on my skin, thinking about their fate, the sheer fact that it was me, the one responsible for these men’s condition.
After the battle in that desert floor, I almost fainted, exhausted to my limits. Although during the fight I played it smart, without wasting my mana on flamboyant spells and flashy attacks, the whole process still wore me down, both physically and psychologically.
The clashing between what I had done, what I discovered myself capable of, and that voice, the old jumble of morality and experience that was me, but at the same time was not.
I sat there, looking at those figures frozen in time, asking myself. Who am I? The one that regret things, that abhors violence almost to the point of hurting himself in order to not hurt others?
Definitely, not. The reason is, before doing it, before forcing myself to kill those men, to rob their lives, I thought the consequences of those acts would haunt me.
Instead, I feel fine. Proud even, of what I managed to do. Against a group of people, whose levels and battle experience was significantly higher than my own, whose aptitude for killing was stronger than mine, I came out victorious.
Who am I? The meek, naive person that sometimes peeks from those memories hidden in my mind, or the one without mercy, that back-stabbed, ambushed, led others into a trap.
Right after John’s monsters pulled me out of that place, giving me one hell of a scare in the process, I have been thinking deeply about all those things.
My mentor, the one whose destiny played much like my own, thorn between the same dilemma I am facing now.
He gave me a simple answer.
<<Be who you want to be, cast aside the memories that tie you down>>
A simple answer, yes, the application of it, not so simple.
Or at least, I considered it to be so. Instead, it was easy. And now my hands tremble, not for the unbearable remorse, or for the shock of having actively robbed others out of their lives.
I had already killed humans, before, but, that was just a reaction to their offense. Self defense, so to speak.
This time, I was the one to strike first. And, it felt good. So, my hands tremble now, but not out of fear, or remorse. It’s excitement, due to the recent discovery. Of what I can do, of what I am willing to do.
And I had prepared myself for it, for the first time actually planning ahead, instead of just waltzing around without the slightest idea of what was expecting me.
I trained, finding the best conditions for things to play out in my advantage. Like the new, strikingly powerful use of Inventory.
Yes, it was thanks to someone else ‘s guidance that I managed to use it like this. But, I put a great deal of effort in devising this strategy. Testing, mostly, the limits of what I could do with it.
Starting from objects first, seeing how they would react to being stored in the new, improved space that Inventory brought forth. And then, trying it out with moving objects, like a stone thrown, and then arrows. Even magic could be stored in there, frozen in time inside of that weird, pitch black dimension that was my own.
In there, laws of physics only apply according to my will. For all purposes, I am the sole ruler of it, my will is absolute.
And in there, I would find a hiding spot, sanctuary and cover to ambush from. A place where to work, unbound by the laws of the world. It was in there, that I was able to refine those unstable Fire Crystals into usable weapons. Well, I only managed to produce one working arrow after all my experiments, but I still have time to perfect the process.
Most important thing of all, in there, time flows different from the rest of the world. I still have to get the hang of the process, but, right now, roughly ten minutes inside the Inventory dimension equals to less than an instant in the outside world.
So, I can basically blink inside, sit down, drink a coffee and eat something, and blink out again, without the opponent realizing of the small break I took.
Of course, that is a silly example. But, by using this dirty trick, I can recovery from injuries by drinking a potion while completely safe, rest for a moment, allow my mana or health to regenerate and resume the fight.
All while not even a single second has passed in the normal flow of time.
Perhaps, with training and more mana at my disposal, I could even make this effect stronger, making the time-lapse last hours, days even.
Still, the control I have over this aspect of the skill is limited, but again, I have time to grow.
One thing that puzzled me was that I was able to use the improved inventory, which is now a blue ranked skill, without any repercussions on my body.
It turns out, only those skills that have an effect over your body, forcibly raising stats, have that nasty after-effect.
Blue skills that do not affect your body have the only risk of burning out your mana in a single use, but, given Inventory’s low activation cost, it was something that did not happen.
I said it some more times, but, this Inventory skill is definitely the strongest I have.
And, speaking of strength, I have something to do before dedicating my attention to my prisoners here…
I summon my Status Screen, glancing at the growth that this battle netted me. Of course, this system does not grant levels for killing a member of sentient, humanoid species. The only things I can get from murder are skills and equipment.
Still, between the skill I stole from Leidus, and the STAT bonuses netted from the Trial’s completion, added to the level up from killing the floor Champion, I reaped quite the benefit from this fight.
After John took me out from the desert thirty-fourth floor, I took some time to rest and give a through look at my own stats.
And, they were a bit of a mess, to be honest. Mostly, I distributed them without a general direction, keeping them as even as I could, since, during battles, I did not commit to a specific role. I mostly used my skill, Black Fluid, sometimes acting as ranged support, others as crowd control, or scouting ahead and so on. Well, I did not have the option of magic back then, so I spent more points on those stats that I thought useful for strengthening my primary skill, namely the Luck stat, while keeping the others rather even. None of them lacking, but, surely, none of them was clearly my strong point.
Since I plan on relying heavily on spells and mana during the future, and given the insanely large amount of points gathered from both leveling up to thirty and the trial, I decided to modify my own build a bit. After all, I gain five STAT points per level up, and the experience from killing the Champion gave me eight levels, for a total of 40 points. To those, I have to add thirty five bonus points for each STAT, granted by the Trial’s successful completion, and another twenty for having Integrated a Cosmic series skill. Whatever the hell that might mean. So, if math still works in this world, I have ninety-five points to freely spend. To those, I have to add the extra ten points already assigned to both Strength and Accuracy stats as an effect of the trial. In short, this battle granted me the ridiculously huge amount of one hundred and fifteen total stat points.
Of course, I will not complain, since I worked really hard to get them.
I allocate the points according to my own needs. I still plan to rise Luck to a decent level, since, judging from the system message that I received after the trial, it looks like this stat will be more determinant in the future for me.
So, I rose the stat up to fifty.
Next, the physical stats, Strength and Agility. Those will be set at both forty-five, as will be Accuracy. All the points left, I dump them into Intelligence stat, that changes from my lowest stat to the highest one, boasting ninety points in it.
The change after allocating all those points into a single level up session is like a jolt of electricity, that wakes me up immediately from the short nap I took. Before doing it, I asked Navi for advice, and she reassured me about the absence of painful consequences in doing so. The only thing dangerous about leveling up too much in a single fight, was the moment when you get the EXP and your body converts it into energy. That was the dangerous moment, that could easily cost one’s own life if not treated accordingly. Mostly, because it would incapacitate you for some time, leaving you open for attacks while your body adjusted.
And, given that most level up events appear in battle, the danger of it is well apparent.
Still, it was not painful rising my stats so much, only…weird.
For good measure, I try to summon a minor spell. Just a flicker of sparks from my fingers, nothing too…
The resulting heat almost burns my hair off my head.
It seems I will need some time to adjust to the new mana pool.
All considered, my stats are something ridiculous already. Most of the stat points I got comes from the Trials, who granted me over one hundred bonus points after completing three of them. And, I only have thirty fragments of that “Crown” mentioned each time, with one hundred pieces in total.
So, I think there should be at least two more trials for me to complete, and given how each of them has had increasing bonuses added each time…
A normal person in this world gains four stat points with each level up, having four stats to where the points are distributed. So, it means that a person my level has about one hundred and twenty points, to add to the single points each stat has when a person is level one. A total amount of one hundred twenty four points. Maybe more, if we account for skills or other special circumstances that I may not be aware of.
Let’s say that an exceptional individual, he might go up to one hundred and seventy points, having fifty or so more than the normal human being.
I, on the other hand, have gained more than two hundred points, exactly two hundred and seventy five. Taking into account that I gain five points, but I also have another stat, Luck. If I take out the Luck stat from the picture, with it having fifty points, the remaining four stats have two hundred and twenty five points distributed into them.
Almost double the amount of a normal person my level, the same as one whose level is double my own.
So, yeah, I think I might be leaning into the overpowered side of things. And, that is without taking skills into any account. Just to speak, the new title I gained added a synergy between luck and intelligence, and now my mana pool is calculated by taking both into consideration. Or the new charisma skill, which is impossible for me to allocate point in, but grows of a single point for each stat point I invest in either strength or intelligence.
I just hope that all this does not get to my head, and makes me behave arrogantly. It’s best I do not forget those times where I struggles, least that I do some stupid mistake that could be avoided by being careful.
I return my attention to my captives. Now, it’s time for the serious experiments.
I look at my skill list, my sight fixed on the new one that the trial, and resulting process afterwards, granted.
It has both the effects of Black Hand and Black Fluid, and it is listed as a Cosmic skill.
The name of it, highlighted in black characters, flickering with light on my status screen.
I try to summon it first, hidden away in my own private space.
The sensation that comes with the skill’s invocation, it’s different from Black Fluid. My skill, it consumed some mana whenever I used. It was a negligible amount, the reason that allowed me to use it so extensively.
But now, no mana is spent from it. Instead, what I feel coming from the skill…
The appearance of it is the same, but the black mass I summoned is slightly different. The same color, but the substance of it is altered, thicker, it pulses with its own strength, a different mana flowing through it.
It has its own, like a living thing. And with that, emotions, and a will comes from the thing, reaching out to me.
I can feel its curiosity, its needs. Above all, an insatiable hunger emanates from the thing.
An eye opens in the middle of the bubbling black mass, staring back at me with two connected irises, their color the same as my own, the pupils of them intersected as to form a eight shape.
I will the eye to blink, and the shape of the thing to change. It still responds to my commands, perhaps, no, definitely even better than it did before.
Still, no mana is spent on my part, no matter how the shape changes and shifts, bound to my will while keeping its own.
Before, there was some grade of resistance from the skill, I still had to put some effort into shaping it and moving it as I wanted.
Now, that resistance is gone, as the thing itself complies to my orders, feeling almost as if it is glad to follow my will, and the promise that lies at their end.
And I know it, I do not know why, but I know.
That the thing abides, because if it follows my orders, it will lead to it eating once again.
Before, I would have shuddered at that sight, recoiled in disgust from it, as I did the first time I saw what Black Fluid was capable of.
Instead, now a smile is painted on my face, as I play around with the skill, as I make it wiggle and change its shape.
Of course, I already know that it can do everything that Black Fluid could, to a better degree.
What I am curious about, is to see how the skill I stole from Leidus comes into play, how it changes my possibilities.
With my heart thumping in my chest, I advance towards the first prisoner.
The face of the magician, frozen in time, without having the slightest idea of what is going to happen to him.
I take a deep breath, my hands shaking.
First, I want to try the effects of that “Black Hand” skill.
Willing the new Shoggoth to abide, it wraps onto my right hand, like a glove. It dissolves into a pulse of blackness, and the same flame that was once in possession of Leidus now envelops my hand.
I touch the chest of the magician, muttering the name of the skill.
A Status window opens in front of me, showing the prisoner’s list of skills and attributes.
As it turns out, this skill allows me to select one from my target, and take it as my own. Without the need to kill him during the process. A gentler, more precise way of getting new skills than my Black Fluid. Although, this one only works on humans. And, it does not need to kill, but the extraction process is painful for the target, as I have experienced on my own skin.
But, the power of this skill is not limited to that. I can steal the target’s mana, or temporarily add a quarter of its stats to my own.
Or even steal the target’s health.
Each thing listed on the screen has a percent near it, indicating the percent of success if I try to “snatch” the specific skill or attribute. As I ask Navi to inform me on the details, I learn that this percent is calculated taking the Luck stat into account. Failure makes the target lose the skill, without me taking it.
So, it can even be used to make someone else lose their precious skills, even if the process fails and I do not get the selected skill.
It makes me realize the risk I took in letting myself to be the target of it. If Leidus chose not to rob me of Black Fluid, and went for my health instead…well, there would be a different Demon Lord in Sendria.
Still, the gamble I played was well placed. By spying on Leidus, I knew that he would steal the skill and then kill me.
He did so a number of time, acting otherwise only when the target did not have any peculiar or strong skill to select.
And that was definitely not my case.
I undo the skill, since the magician does not have anything that I particularly want. Copies of skills related to mana control, inferior to the ones I already possess.
Still, I will consume him the same.
This time, I will Shoggoth into existence once again. The skill squirms happily at the sight of the bodies, and I can almost hear a sound of joy come from it after I mutter a word.
Blackness spreads from my hand, taking its old on the immobile prisoner, as the skill crushes and gnashes.
Of course, it consumes the target. Not like Black Fluid did, dissolving it slowly. It still enveloped itself around the prey, covering its body into a bubbling black veil.
But, judging by the sounds coming from it, it is eating.
With mouths and teeth, gorging themselves in gore.
Quicker than Black Fluid was, the consumption takes place and ends in almost twenty seconds.
As it is done, a message window pops up, similar to the one that came when I used Black Hand.
Unlike the absorption with Black Fluid, it looks like I get all the skills from the target, instead of a random selection of them like it happened with Black Fluid.
The only disadvantage is that I can only keep three of the skills absorbed, the others being lost forever.
So, with this new power up, I can avoid getting weak or useless skills, and focus on the ones that will be an advantage to me.
As with Black Fluid, Shoggoth increases its size with each successful absorption. Which is an incredibly good thing, since it has basically regressed to its original size. With the last level of Black Fluid, I could summon more than twenty liters of it.
Now, the Shoggoth I can bring forth could fill a bucket, but that’s it. It is stronger, and quicker than Black Fluid, but the less quantity might be disadvantageous for a while, until I manage to absorb more enemies and return it to its original quantity. Perhaps, even more.
I turn my attention to the other prisoners, hearing a low grumbling noise come from Shoggoth.
It’s almost like a pet now, squirming in excitement while it looks at its food.
The cruelty of my own thoughts should have repulsed me, instead, I find it almost a funny sight to spectate.
One after the other, the blackness eats those men.
Murderers, rapists. I sit back and watch. Who am I?
That question has been drilling itself into my thoughts, and the answer is opening its way through misconceptions and fears, through cowardice and doubt.
It brings with it new aspects of me, like ruthlessness, and cruelty. Not something that I did not have, but rather, some aspects of me that I did not want to look at, that I did not want to acknowledge.
Who am I? A nice guy, easygoing to the point of forgiving, neglecting the things that might have killed him? Or the one that’s smiling at the sight of gnawed flesh and lives being ended?
The answer is simple, and yet complex.
I am both, and none of them.
I am not yet, but, I am becoming.
I will be merciful, when it would give me a gain. I will be cruel, when needed.
Who am I?
I still do not know the answer yet, but it’s coming to me.
Setting those thoughts aside, I focus on the window screen floating in my view. In it, the skills I decided to keep from my recent bounty are listed.
A mild passive health regeneration skill, and one that grants a minor boost to both strength and agility were the only two skills that I found interesting. The others were copies of skills I already have, like mana control or swordsmanship, or smaller versions of skills that passively enhance attributes, like speed or attack, without working directly on stats. The increase they gave was too little for the continuous mana cost, and I chose to acquire the only skill that offered a permanent stat boost, without having any mana usage.
And, of course, the last skill I acquired is that weird mana shield that each of the warriors had. I would have liked to “snatch” the one that the healer guy had, I even brought his corpse back. But, as it was before, I cannot obtain skills from corpses. Only from live subjects. Oh well, it’s a bit of a waste. Still, I gained some new, useful abilities from all this. The mana shield I got is useful. I initially thought it was some kind of spell, given its peculiarity, but, it turns out, that it is a proper skill.
It’s not only a shielding skill, that activates unconsciously whenever killing intent is directed on the owner, but it also grant a regenerative ability when activated. Of course, it is possible to activate the skill at will, using a bit of mana to activate it. Still, it’s a good acquisition.
In short, it’s a really useful ability.
After obtaining the new skills, I immediately try the new shield. Instead of a glowing bubble of light, like the one that the original owners boasted, mine is more of a thin, white aura surrounding my body. Of course, the original owner had the skill leveled up quite far, I suppose it was almost maxed out.
With a sigh, I head out of my Inventory space.
<<So, how much time?>>
John asks me, while laying down on the grass that covers the ground. The place we’re in, it is still the last floor of this Dungeon, the safe room. Today, I do not know why, he’s wearing a hat over his face, to block out sunlight.
Apparently, John changes the layout of the place according to his mood. And today, he wanted to rest on a patch of green grass, with sunlight on his skin. The Dungeon changed accordingly, even shining blinding daylight from the rocky ceiling.
<<Fifteen minutes. Still a long time to go before it becomes what I want. On your end?>>
<<Zero point one seconds. Enough for most people to not even notice, still too much time if you find yourself against a Hero>>
He replies, without even sending a glance to me.
<<Well, it was zero point five yesterday, before the attack. So, I have improved>>
<<Yes, you have. But not enough, my friend. Never enough>>
He flicked his fingers, and in his left hand appeared a weapon. One of my weapons, one of those shabby spears I crafted during my first days in this world.
<<Impressive. Is that your way to show me that this trick I have can be easily dealt with? I already know>>
John laughs. He slightly lifts his hat, looking at me straight in the eye.
<<Use it again>>
As he asks, I abide, curious to see where this is going.
I feel myself slipping into the Inventory space. Where I use to relocate myself, I do not need to open a “gate” for it. I simply slip into that strange dimension.
But, as I am there, I feel a sharp pain, and a sensation of being pulled.
It happens in a slip second, and I am once again in front of John.
<<Interesting. Under thousand?>>
I ask John, who is now enjoying a cocktail. A “modern world” cocktail, served in a proper glass.
<<Under five hundred, and I could even do less. And five hundred, or even a thousand, two thousand points of mana, they’re nothing to a Hero. Remember that, and the way that mana works for them. If you are prudent, and aware of their strengths and your own weakness, you will manage to survive. Not win, not yet, but survive. So, what’s next, Roshal? Plan to pay Alvares a visit? Or do you want to have some fun into my Dungeon?>>
Yeah, the way mana works around Heroes. Being a former one, John demonstrated that to me. And it was not pretty, making me realize several things. First of all, how I have been lucky against Damien, the child Hero that attacked Nudria.
More than luck, I now have the certainty it was divine intervention of some sort.
Perhaps, old Azatoth really cares about me, and he’s just shy to admit it.
Navi giggles to my thought, without replying. Thankfully.
<<Right now, I want to head into the Dungeon for a while, with the others. Our levels are still on the lower side, so I want to use what time we have left to raise it as much as we can. Speaking of which…>>
Ignoring John for some moments, I check on the others using Navi’s communication. During the time I was dealing with Leidus and his men, the others have not been sitting idly, going into the Dungeon on their own. For safety, I asked John to keep an eye out for them, but given their response, there has been no need.
Currently, they are inside the Safe zone that the Guild set up on the twenty second floor. All in order to increase their levels, and to test the new abilities they gained from training and from the bonuses that the second trial granted them.
<<So, how did it go? Well I suppose, since, you know, you’re still alive>>
Retel is the first one to answer, before Levia cuts in the communication.
<<Roshal! What the…where are you? What were you thinking, going alone was the stupidest, idiotic, dumb…>>
And she continues in a crescendo of insult. Well, it’s her way to vent out frustration.
<<Yeah, sorry, in the end she got it out from me. My bad>>
Retel apologizes, as he let his mouth slip up, revealing what I was up to. Still, I asked him to keep it a secret from Levia, since she would certainly oppose my decision.
But, it was something I needed to do on my own, after all. Not only because John threatened to beat me black and blue if I didn’t, but also of my own volition. Although the threats helped to motivate me, a lot more than I would like to admit.
<<Yeah. Don’t worry about that. How are things on your end? How many?>>
<<Six, and we are keeping the number from going up too quickly. The thing that adjust experience gain is still active, even if you are not here, so we’re leveling up at the same rate. All of us. You?>>
This time, it was Marica to cut in the discussion. Her voice seems fatigued, tired. Perhaps they’re overexerting themselves too much.
<<Eight. I’m level thirty right now. So, four more levels on your part, and then we will meet. Give me a call when you’re ready>>
<<Understood. Oh, and drop by the old man before you come, he has something to discuss with you. Retel out!>>
And with that, he cuts communication.
Well, using Navi I can see both their position and status, so I didn’t actually need to ask them. But I wanted to hear their voices, nonetheless.
<<So, I guess I will head out for a bit. I’ll come back later. See you, Master>>
Flicking his hand in a lazy gesture, John mutters a goodbye…or was it “good riddance” he said?
Well, it does not matter. Once again, I slip up into the Inventory space, reopening it inside Heod’s new laboratory.
Surrounded by bubbling glass vials and tubes, the old man is bent over one of the most sophisticated equipment, muttering curses as he scribbles notes into some parchment.
<< Wrong time?>>
I ask him, looking over the old man’s shoulder to take a peek at what he’s working on.
<<Wrong everything, my dear Roshal. The reagents from this batch were poorly harvested and transported worse, making them less useful than they should have been. The new formula is a mess, and those pesky adventurers keep pressing for more healing potions than ever. I would need twice the ingredients and four time as many instruments to even hope to meet the demand. And of course, there’s not enough money for the new projects. There’s never enough money to find something new>>
He draws a big sigh, calming himself from the frustration of handling a large laboratory that took public commissions.
<<Could these help?>>
I hand him some ingredients that John gave me permission to gather.
The old man smiled, shaking his head.
<<Ah, that’s cheating, you little brat. Give ’em here. Quick, before Telesia comes to snap my neck. That woman is scary, let me tell you>>
I follow him to the repository, where he keeps the samples and ingredients. Unloading my Inventory from the plants and mushrooms gathered, I ask him about what he wanted to discuss.
<<Oh, that. We’ve tested it, and it works in a marvelous way>>
This time, I am the one who smiles widely.
Of all the time I spent in the Dungeon, training was not the only thing I did. I also used some time to sit down and think about something that would give us a clear advantage over Aldora.
Although this world is one based on RPG and magic, it lacks a fundamental, staple kind of item. Magic items.
It is possible to imbue items with mana, but only for a short time before it disperses. Items like magic swords, or enchanted armor are impossible to make, using this world’s knowledge and methods.
Several scholars tried, using different approaches. The one that came closest to something like an enchanted item, managed to make a slab of gold to keep mana in it for one entire hour, before it dispersed.
As I follow Heod, he leads me into a smaller chamber, separated from the rest of the laboratory.
In it, behind a glass panel, a single bar of steel is suspended between two pedestals, a blueish glint on its surface.
<<So, how many?>>
<<Thirty-two hours, and still going. Without loss. It is still far from completion, but this method shows promise, without a doubt. And, we’ve successfully reproduced it, even on composite materials. The efficiency is a bit lower, but, the margins of improvement are really wide. In a month, perhaps even less if Telesia approves my request, we will be able to have usable pieces>>
In short, although it’s still far from the wonders of a flaming sword, or an enchanted armor impervious to any blow, this steel bar is the first step towards an enchanted item.
Thanks to John and Heod’s combined efforts, we’ve managed to theorize, and then realize, a method to make mana flow inside an item, without leaking out and dispersing to the winds.
The key for the process was Black Fluid. Using the skill to produce microscopic channels into the metal, and filling them with a porous material whose microscopic structure can transmit mana, it was possible to store it inside the item, and make it circle instead of dispersing to the environment.
By using external mana, it was possible to influence that stored into the item, making it flow outward, or rapidly leave the item. Even empty it and charge it anew.
Right as it is, the item is no more than a mana sponge, able to absorb it and release it when “squeezed”. But, there’s time for improvement, and the will to pursue it.
The trick to it, was to devise a method precise enough to produce the tiny channels and the material to fill them.
Any imperfection would result in a defective product, like it had one too many time in the early stages.
Channels too big would make the metal brittle, and it would shatter under the strength of mana, even in minimal quantities. Channels that are too narrow, would clog and impede the flow, causing the mana to congest and ultimately burst out.
Satisfied by the results, I restocked my supplies of potions from the old man’s private reserve, the ones he prepared for our group.
<<And, about that other thing?>>
He grumbles, taking his eyes from the shiny metal and setting them on my figure. Heod’s face looks older than he is, his eyes tired but showing a glint of determination.
<<Deep shit, that’s how things are. The compound that Alvares used is hard to isolate, even harder to analyze. To this date, we’ve only managed to get few samples, and all of them deteriorated or contaminated. It’s bad, and if we do not get a pristine sample soon, a countermeasure would be impossible to develop>>
So, good news and bad news. The good being advancement on the enchanted materials, bad news concern the more pressing matter, freeing the army from Alvares’s influence.
Drugs and magic, that’s how he controlled them all.
<<I could try and get…>>
Heod stops me, lifting his finger to silence me.
<<You won’t try anything. I think you have tried to do enough dangerous and reckless things for now. Don’t get me wrong, but, I think it’s better to leave this matter to the Guild for now. Focus on going on with that training, or level up, or whatever you youngsters are up to during these days>>
With a smile, I part from the old man, leaving him with the promise of sharing a bottle of good liquor together.
After parting from Heod, I travel to the armor shop. In there, Martha is dealing with some clients, two grizzly looking adventurers with bulky bodies and bulging muscles.
One of them pushes a small satchel on the wooden counter, emptying it in front of Martha and counting the coins.
With a wide smile, Martha takes the money, handing a small receipt to the duo.
<<Your armor will be ready in six days. See you soon!>>
The two leave, taking a quick, measuring glance at me before heading out of the shop.
I ask Martha, who greets me by waving her hand.
<<No, just four customers, today, counting you. But, affairs have been good these past four weeks>>
<<Good for you. Is your grandma here?>>
She simply turns toward the back-store and shouts her granny’s name.
The old lady peeks from the curtains that separate the two areas of the shop.
<<Who’s there? Oh, it’s that brat. Came to pick up yer armor?>>
As usual, her voice greets me with the usual rudeness. Still, old Helena’s items are top tier for their cost, and they served me well in previous battles.
<<Yes. Is it done?>>
She comes forward, her hands still dirty with a dark substance.
As I look at her, she makes a shrug with her shoulders.
<<Tanning paint. To dye leather. It smells, and it’s hard to scrub from your own skin. Oh, yes, your armor is ready. Come, pick it up>>
I follow Helena behind those black curtains. In there, wooden tables are arranged around, a variety of items littered above them and all around the dimly lit room.
Pieces of metalwork, stripes of leather and sheets of various tissues. All around, the place is nothing but a mess.
Blueprints drawn on yellow scrolls are lying on a table, among with measurement instruments, lenses and other tools made for precision drawing.
Crates, containing metal plates, scales or simple parts, along with others, more specialized, like mechanisms apt to lock pieces in place, rivets and buckles, and many other items I do not recognize. And, further from them, in another table surrounded by wooden mannequins, the half- assembled pieces, on their way to become armors.
The final pieces are further from there, displayed on full figure mannequins. There is a full plate armor, shining silver under a blue coat of arms. Next to it, a crude set of breastplate, gauntlets and thigh protectors, painted in the color of blood.
<<These were commissions, nothing more than pieces to display in a noble’s house. No actual purpose other than being pretty, or intimidating. Here, this one is yours. Your friends already came to pick up theirs, and arranged payment for that. Try it on>>
The design of it is similar to the previous version of the armor. Materials are different, using sturdier, higher quality leather that comes from Shartu, the bear Champion of the ninth floor.
Plaques of silver metal reinforce the black leather, a blueish glint in their silver shine.
<<This is moonsteel, an alloy of steel and moonstone. It costs quite a bit, but it’s an excellent item. Light, sturdy without being too rigid. It resists well against blunt blows, performs splendidly against piercing and slashing>>
The moonsteel is fashioned into a lorica for the torso portion, its design made to ease movements as much as possible, while keeping the amount of metal high enough to provide a good defense.
It’s kind of an hybrid between a proper lorica and a leather armor, with smaller, thinner plates grafted onto the dark leather.
Unlike the previous version, this one has pauldrons, and reinforced gauntlets. Same for the leg portion, that in the previous version was nothing more than a pair of tanned leather pants studded with some plaques of metal.
Although they’re far lighter than those of a full metal set of armor, the pauldrons and arm guards are almost all moonsteel. Curved plates of metal, arranged as big scales to cover the top portion of shoulder are, leaving the armpit free for better movement.
The legs are roughly the same, leaving the groin area exposed, with metal plaques running down thighs, covering the knee area and continuing down on the shin. Boots are also comprised in the set, along with two belts, some satchels and pouches, a large, dark mantle and a helmet.
Fashioned in the same way as the armor, dark leather and moonsteel, the helmet is simple in design, offering enough protection without being too encumbering or limiting vision.
Instructed by Helena, I learn how to wear the armor and the protection to wear underneath it.
She gives me some more recommendations on how to run maintenance on each piece, which instruments to use when cleaning it and how to maintain the leather parts in good conditions.
I purchase some extra products for necessary repairs and general maintenance.
Before I head out, Helena makes me stop. She rummages into a chest, coming back with an item enveloped into a piece of cloth.
<<Here. A gift, to one of our best customers>>
Inside the sheet of cloth, there is a straight sword.
<<It’s moonsteel, light and sharp. Use it, and keep it in good state. Otherwise…>>
I thank the old lady with a smile, admiring the new sword. Not that I have the need for it, but such a fine item can only be accepted with gratitude.
Navi’s analysis identifies it as a mastercrafted sword, perhaps, it might even wasted in my hands.
I fasten the scabbard to my belt, on the left side.
Now properly equipped, I head out of the store.
Still some time left to spend, as I wait for the others to advance into the Dungeon.
Once again, I head back to John’s side, to train some more before actually challenging the more advanced floors of the Dungeon.
<<Back so soon?>>
The view in the safe room has changed once again, now being a warm beach, complete with sand and even crystal clear water.
Even a light breeze. Well, it looks like being a Dungeon Master shows its perks, if you can bear the loneliness of it, that is.
<<Yeah. Any news?>>
<<Hm. Your group is now out of the Safe zone, traversing the twenty-third floor. Still at the beginning of it, tho. Alvarez made a little trip to the thirty-fourth floor, and he was frantic about something. Still, he went back, with a sour look on his face. Now, enough with the idle talking>>
All in all, two more days I spent training with John.
The new skill is working fine, the only defect of it being the small quantity I can summon. Although, it is slowly increasing, as I absorb some of the Summoned creatures brought forth by John.
Time finally has come for me to join the others once again. Having reached the twenty-sixth floor by themselves, they now are all level thirty.
I search for their position with Navi, opening the Inventory space right where their signal points.
This twenty-sixth floor is like a sea-side coast, with shallow waters and coral-covered rocks emerging from the water.
As I step out of the Inventory, I take a deep breath in the salty breeze that caresses this place.
<<Oh, welcome back. Took your sweet time, huh?>>
Retel is the first one to notice me. He’s sitting on the large corpse of a scaly creature, that looks like a hybrid between a fish and a lizard, having fin-like protrusions on its legs and tail, and gills on the side of its head.
My friend is wearing his new armor, a full plate of reddish metal. His shield and spear are also different from before. Instead of the kite shield he was using before, he now has a tower shield, its eight more than half of Retel’s. The spear that is resting on his shoulder, is longer and has a wider spearhead than the one he used before.
Marica and Levia come out from behind the beast, waving their hands at me. The two of them donning new equipment and weapons.
<<Yeah, let’s say so. Well, ready to start? Hm? Where is Dahl?>>
To my question, Retel lifts his shoulder. Behind me, I hear a step, and by reflex I jump back, ready to counter whatever was creeping up behind me.
Undoing his cloaking skill, Dahl appears.
<<Oh, did I scare you?>>
I recompose my stance, shaking my head. Since when was he the type to play pranks on people?
Finally together, we start to move towards the central portion of this new floor. All around, patches of white sand emerge from the water, small isles linked together by thin strings, paths made out of sand or small rocks.
The water near the isles is shallow, ankle high, but it grows deeper as you go further from the isles.
Monsters are lurking on the isles, resting on the warm sand, soaking in the artificial sun that illuminates this place.
As soon as they see us, they change their positions, charging at us after alerting their group.
Their levels are lower than ours, the highest among their ranks being a level twenty-six merman.
Still, they immediately dove into water, hoping to use it to conceal themselves and ambush our group from it.
I start an electric based spell, but…
<<Schiocco di tuono>>
Marica’s own spell precedes me. Apparently, the title she gained from the second trial, Bishop, granted her a boost in power for magic attacks, as well as mana regeneration and increased control of it.
A single spell was enough to clear out the group of eight monsters. Being lesser level than us, the monsters yield a low amount of exp.
What we’re really aiming for, during this trip, is to hunt down Elites and Champions. Even when lower leveled, they grant a good amount of experience. And of course, the Champion, being the strongest challenge of each floor, it grants a ridiculous amount of experience.
Perfect for grinding levels.
We thread on into this weird space, so out of place when confronted with the distant rocky ceiling and walls, all shining with a strange luminescence, intense enough that the place looks like it is basked in sunlight.
The variety of monsters in this place is stunning, several different species of fish-like creatures, and crab-like monsters crawling out of the sea to ambush us.
To be fair, I still have done nothing to take them out, aside clearing the corpses with Shoggoth. The skill mumbles in dissatisfaction, as I feel its need for live prey.
Still, if I absorb them with Shoggoth, the EXP would be lost, so I think my new skill will have to wait a long time before having some live prey served to it.
Although, if I manage to find something with useful skills, things might go differently.
As we near the central portion, the number of monsters increases, and the environment slightly changes. The isles are less frequent, but those that we encounter are wider, and even have some coconut-like tree on them. The fruits they produce look like pineapples, with a hard shell and soft pulp inside.
To my surprise, it looks like these fruits have a high effect on mana recovery. Perhaps, if refined, they could yield a high quality mana potion.
I decide to stash a number of them into my Inventory, perhaps old Heod will find some good use for them.
The materials gained from the sea monsters here, scales and hard shells, might fetch for a good price.
One truly nice thing about this floor, it’s the lack of winding paths and corridors. It’s basically a wide open space, half of it covered in deep waters.
There is no chance to be lost here, since the exit from the level is in clear view all the time, albeit looking so small in the distance.
The difficulty of this place is not the winding paths, but the sheer size of this place. The map of it, it’s double the size of the thirty-fourth level I visited before.
Not that most adventurers would explore the entirety of this place, since it’s mostly deep waters. Although, in the distance, there are some remote islets to be seen, perhaps to lure adventurers with the promise of treasure, with danger waiting below deep waters.
To others, that is.
Since, well, I can just hop there using Inventory.
On one of such islets, I found some nodes of rare metal. Even gold, mixed along with other materials of more common use. The first time I hopped on one isle, I took the others with me. It was a bit strange, seeing them frozen into Inventory space. It looks like I need to actively will them to be able to move here, otherwise, they are just treated as everything else.
But, the after effect of them moving with me, are bad.
Retel crouched down, puking. The others are also feeling some symptoms, from headache to disorientation.
It looks like transporting others might still be outside of my capabilities, if I do not think of a method to lessen the side effects.
The first islet I visited, it was devoid of monsters.
But the others…
I went there alone, leaving the rest of the group to deal with the monsters on the normal path.
As I went out on the remote isles, I found several, large type of sea creatures that burst out of the sea to attack me.
One, it was like a huge sea serpent. Although gigantic in size, its level was only twenty-two.
It had no interesting skills, but its size would grant Shoggoth a nice increase. And so, much to the hungry skill’s happiness, I ordered it to devour the monster.
Given the size of it, it took more than ten minutes for Shoggoth to consume it. It gained several material properties, both biological and not. Like the possibility to form pressure resistant muscles, or eyes that work underwater and in low luminosity.
Curiously, since it evolved into Shoggoth, the skill can now perfectly mimic a creature, assuming size, behavior, stats and much to my surprise, skills.
A skill that hold skills.
Interesting concept,isn’t it?
I wonder about the possibility of this new aptitude of my skill. Perhaps, I could let it assume the sea serpent’s form, and roam the waters in search of prey.
I doubt that anything in this level could pose a threat to it, and decide to go with the plan.
Only, the form it assumes is perfectly the same as the serpent, but black in color. And the size of it, is roughly longer than two meters. Not anything near to the gigantic, more than twenty meters long snake that attacked me.
Still, I release it into the waters.
Much to my surprise, a window opens into my view, letting me see what Shoggoth sees, and listing its stats on the side.
Immediately after scurrying into the water, Shoggoth starts its eating spree, latching itself on bigger creatures and changing its form in order to better consume them.
I head back to the others, letting Shoggoth rampage as much as it can.
Parting from my strongest skill would have been foolish, but, I have other means of offense after all.
Combining magic and Swordsmanship skill, I test both my new spells and the new weapon that Helena gifted.
The sword performs magnificently, and , given that moonsteel has a high affinity with mana, it is possible to shortly infuse it with mana to increase the power of each slash.
Much like Vorpal Edge, I am using mana to make the blade vibrate at high frequency, making it cut deeper than a normal weapon.
To the point I gained a new skill, the first one of my own ability since a long time.
Vorpal Slash, a green ranked skill.
From time to time, I turn an eye to whatever the hell Shoggoth is doing. Right now, it has been eaten by a large, squid-like monster.
It makes me pause for a moment, but, the feedback I get from Shoggoth can only be interpreted in a single way. Happiness.
Inside the large monster’s stomach, it starts eating again. It carves its way out of the monster, and then starts munching on it, growing bigger with every bite until the squid monster is no more.
After four hours, we stand in a small islet, resting for a moment before confronting the Champion of this level.
Shoggoth has returned, having basically cleared all monsters in the area.
It gains a zero point one percent of the mass it consumes, and given the large size of each monster in the area…well, let’s say it has grown. A lot.
<<So, what’s the plan?>>
Retel asks, munching on a roasted fish that he’s eating with his bare hands.
<<We kill the Champion then head to the next floor. And repeat. And repeat. Fairly simple>>
Levia replies to him. Well, she’s not wrong, since that’s basically what we set out to do with this Dive.
I look at them, remembering how we all were the first time we encountered each other. Retel, barely being able to keep up against a level two mob monster, and now single hand blocking the blows of monsters ten times his size. His title, Rook, tremendously boosted his strength, allowing him to withstand and even push back monsters. Combined with his new skills granted by the class Guardian, he’s basically capable of preventing any monster from even landing a single attack on us.
Levia, she’s become a force to reckon with in the battlefield. Her arrows rain, literally, on enemies. Each charged with mana, with different effects. Piercing shots, some that explode with a shock-wave. I even saw her using electric magic with her arrows, using it to both accelerate the arrows and deliver a stunning jolt when they strike.
And she’s constantly deploying her area healing skill, all the time. Like she does it unconsciously. Moreover, her new title boosted attack speed, power and her overall movement. Like the titular chess piece, the Queen. Still, I have yet to see her new skills, both from the title and the class she obtained.
Dahl is…well, he was strong even the first time I met him. Now, he has refined his style. Which is basically striking enemies from the shadow, slipping among their lines to kill those targets that may be troublesome, like monsters with healing powers or even capable of using magic. It seems like the title he got from the second trial, along with his class received after ranking up, granted him two peculiar skills. One, it allows him to become perfectly invisible, as long as he does not take any offensive action. This one comes from the title “Knight” gained from the trial, along with a boost in movement speed and evasiveness. The next one, it is a passive damage boost against anything that has mana. Another blue skill that he possess, and one gifted to him by the recent rank-up process.
And, the more mana the thing has, the more it is hurt by Dahl’s attacks. Especially nasty against magician types.
Marica’s spells have increased in power and scale. Different from my spells, she uses large quantities of mana to summon flashy effects, like thunderbolts of pillars of flame, often requiring long incantation time to unleash indiscriminate destruction on the enemies. The typical fantasy magician, so to speak. Well, I guess that for someone from this world, she reached quite the power in relation to her level. One very good thing is that she’s no longer limiting herself to heat-based spells, increasing her variety to better respond to different situations.
Although, I still have to see most of the new tricks my companions learned from their training and growth during these days. And vice-versa.
What we lack now, is neither power nor determination, but levels and sheer battle experience. Since, the looming menace of Aldora is there, closer with each passing day. It might go well, if Telesia manages to regain control of the army, and the situation in Sendria does not deteriorate too much.
But, the thing I want to see most is how we’ve grown in this time, what we really can achieve.
Well, the upcoming fight with the Champion of this level will probably provide that opportunity.