The Elite monsters that infest this floor’s central portion are humanoid shaped creatures, with hunched backs and fish-like features. They crawl from the water, holding barnacle encrusted, rusty metal weapons and gurgling their strange verses at us.
Their bodies disproportionate, their upper half, torso, head and arms, bigger than the lower half.
Shark like teeth, and their scaly skin varies in tone from individual to individual, showing different shades of green and blue.
Some individuals among them have more human-like features, with flat, nose-less faces adorned by gills and fins, upright posture and harmonious proportions. These ones hold red coral staffs, and are able to cast strange spells, specialized in manipulating water and sound.
Much like some other humanoid monsters we managed to encounter in the Dungeon, these seem intelligent, communicating between themselves with strange, gurgling sounds. In battle, they employ tactics and show a high degree of coordination.
For that reason, they’re a threat we need to eliminate before we start our confrontation with the Champion.
As the monsters attack in formation, their forward melee fighters supported by shields of bubbling water cast by rearguard magicians clash with Retel’s new skill, Rook’s Phalanx, a large scale mana shield that completely repels their assault.
With each strike that the enemy deal against the shield, Retel’s spear glows,more and more, a sparkling red aura swirling around it.
Then, with a sudden movement, Retel pierces the ground, releasing a large amount of mana from that action.
Countless red spears, made out of translucent mana burst out of the ground, skewering, piercing and impaling everything in their path.
That one, it was his old skill, Spike Counter. Apparently, the skill had changed since Retel gained both the title and his Rank Up. More powerful, with a larger scale and less activation time required.
The combination of those skills allow for some intensive crowd control, along with the defense provided on our group.
Dahl is using his own skills to circle around the front line, infiltrating among enemy ranks and doing quick and powerful attacks.
He’s targeting the magician-class enemies, taking the most advantage from his skills and his passive damage boost against mana.
In a single hit, he’s taking down each monster.
Being Elite creatures, these monsters we’re fighting at the moment grant a good amount of experience. Perhaps, by killing them alone, we will even manage to gain one level or two.
The big prize itself has yet to appear. Right in the center of this floor, there is a circular atoll, nothing more than a round strip of sand surrounding a deep blue sinkhole. Around it, stone pillars encrusted in barnacles and coral formations emerge.
From there, I can sense a large signal with Navi’s detection, several hundred meters under the deep blue waters.
In that spot, the Champion monster resides.
But, in order for us to reach it, we need to cut our way through the army of Elite monsters that infest the place.
Using Shoggoth, I bind the monsters with it, resisting the skill’s urge to consume the monsters. After
letting it rampage, the thing is still hungry, it seems. Still, it abides my will, limiting itself, engulfing the scaly creatures, crushing and slashing.
Levia’s arrows and Marica’s large scale spells do the rest, dealing the decisive blow against the monsters.
Dahl is still on the prowl, stalking the magician-type monsters without they can even manage to conjure their spells.
The bout lasts roughly one full hour, and at the end of it, the shallow sea and the scarce strips of sand are littered with scaly corpses.
Some monsters managed to retreat, diving into deeper waters. To no avail, since I send Shoggoth to hunt once more.
Its size now is comparable to that giant sea-serpent I fought earlier, and still growing. After chasing out and consuming the stragglers, I order the skill to clear out the corpses littered around.
Gleefully, the black bubbling substance loses its semblance of form, returning to its slime-like shape
The amount of it is now vastly higher than what I could produce with Black Fluid, and still growing.
Perhaps, I should let it consume more, larger monsters whenever I have the chance. But, big monsters have a tendency of yielding higher amounts of EXP, so the decision between empowering my skill, or gaining more experience and let everyone grow it’s an easy one.
Of course, I will take the experience.
Speaking of which, the bout against those fish-people granted our group enough experience to let us level up twice.
Now, we all stand at level thirty-two, and that’s before we confront the Champion. If we’re lucky, the experience from it will let us gain another level.
Definitely, we’re over-leveled for this area to be a true challenge. The monsters in this area are hardly above level twenty-eight, with most of them being level twenty-six or below.
It’s some kind of pattern I have noticed, the monster levels being almost the same as the floor number. There are some exceptions, perhaps monsters that are meant to be a tougher challenge.
Before heading out to the Champion’s location, we take a quick rest in order to recover some energy and prepare for the big fight itself.
I wonder what kind of monster holds the title of Champion in this floor. Judging from the surroundings, and the type of monsters we’ve already met, it has to be some kind of giant fish creature. Perhaps a whale, or sea serpent. Or even a giant version of the same fish-people we’ve already fought.
Using the spare time, I contact Heod to let him know how we’re faring, and show him some samples of the materials we gathered in this floor.
After chatting for some time with the old man, I bid him farewell. Next, it is time to report to the Guild, to announce our progression and the intent to challenge this floor’s Champion monsters.
There is a nice mechanic that the Guild has set up, for hunting the Champion and Guardian monsters from the twentieth floor and beyond.
It’s basically a bounty, set on the head of those powerful monsters. You need to communicate your intention to fight it to the Guild, and, if you successfully bring back the monster’s head, your party receives a reward.
In order to provide assistance, the Guild decides a time limit on the operation. If your party does not contact them after one hour, or if they receive a distress call, they will send a high-level party to the last location displayed by your Identity stone.
But, I highly doubt that we would need it. Not to sound too cocky, but our current strength is definitely above that of this floor’s Champion.
That’s for sure.
<<Time to go>>
Dahl is the first one to get up, and we follow. Heading out to that strange place.
In there, the wind does not blow, and there is a persistent smell of decay in the air.
Under the water, it is possible to see some bones, littering the small portion of shallow waters before the huge, gaping underwater abyss.
The floor rumbles, as waves begin to stir from the circular sinkhole. Bubbles are rapidly forming on the surface, as the Champion rises to meet its challengers.
Bursting out of the surface, the gigantic, serpentine figure roars, a bellowing sound that makes my chest tremble from its violence.
It is blue in color, scales as large as my own hand armor its body, water dripping from it.
A huge mouth, lined with rows of shark-like teeth, each as long as a sword and ready to tear and crush.
A large dorsal crest, and two wing-like fins protruding from the gigantic body, giving it the appearance of a water dwelling dragon.
Still, this thing is not a dragon, at least, not in the classification of it made by Navi.
Its status shows it as a King Serpent, the level twenty-eight Champion of this floor.
As the beast roars, electricity runs along its body, discharging from the front horn on the monster’s forehead.
It unleashes a wide area lightning attack, a warm welcome for our party.
Retel receives it with his Vanguard shield, that becomes cracked in the process. Still, it holds without breaking.
Smiling, he uses the energy absorbed by the skill to unleash his Spike Counter, but the Champion avoids it, diving into water once again.
As the Champion emerged before, the place has changed. Channels now connect the internal sinkhole with the water surrounding the atoll, allowing the monster to swim into the surrounding sea.
It re emerges, its form far away in the distance. Once again, it roars, thrashing its long body, its mana charging and releasing, affecting the water around its coiled body.
A large wave is produced, increasing in height and strength, looming on us as it is about to crash on the small strip of sand.
I shout, activating Inventory to avoid being swept by the wave.
Inside that dark space, the forms of my companions are floating, their time frozen, surprised expressions locked on their faces.
From there, I start charging my own spells, releasing them by opening small “gates” and unleashing the spell from them, aiming at the large serpentine form.
Once again, the thing dives into deep water, avoiding my attacks.
The best course of action, would be to lock that giant’s movements as best as we can. I doubt it could be damaged enough by lightning or fire spells, given that the monster itself can clad its body in electricity. And of course, being a water-based creature, using fire against it is out of the question.
Perhaps, I could try and use Shoggoth to restrain is movement and drag it out of the water.
As the waves subside, I hop out of Inventory, along with the others. This time, they do not seem to suffer severe after-effects, only mild nausea and momentary disorientation.
Still, the monster perceives our presence once more, and emerges from its original position, once again using his electric attack.
Retel uses his Vanguard to block once again, while I deploy Shoggoth to block the monster in place.
My skill wrestles with the creature, enveloping the serpentine body among black tentacles. It’s like seeing one of those battles between giant monsters of some B-movie.
Marica supports the process, using a freezing spell on the creature.
Now locked between pillars of ice, its body being wrapped and torn by Shoggoth, the King Serpent unleashes a sonic attack, shattering the ice around it and attempting to wrestle itself free from my skill.
However, a charged shot from Levia pierces its body, letting a huge spurt of blood paint the water in red.
Dahl is also on the move, dashing towards the creature at high speed.
He jumps, his figure blurred by speed, clad in a bluish aura.
His sudden slash leaves a blue trail in the air, and a long red gash on the Serpent’s scaly skin.
Shoggoth plunges its tentacles into the thing’s wounds, shredding the soft flesh underneath it and sending the monster into a fit of pain.
Levia stands, her mana gathering to a single point. The arrow she’s holding shines with white light, air twirling around the arrowhead in a spiral movement.
She releases it, a shock-wave following the arrow as it breaks past sonic speed.
With one single arrow, she blows away a part of the snake’s body, decapitating the beast.
Its head falls, splashing into the water, followed by a cascade of blood.
Still, the thing’s mana has yet to disappear. Moreover, it’s being channeled toward the wound.
The mana fluttering around begins to flow towards the beast, gathering itself into shining particles that flock to the monster.
Its body trembles, then it shakes, the wound bubbling, the flesh underneath it squirming, expanding, until two heads pop out from it.
<<You’ve got to be kidding>>
I hear Retel curse under his breath, while Marica voices her complaint in a more polite way.
The monster bellows at us, with twice the noise and fury.
One head unleashes a scalding breath, while the other shoots electricity darts.
All the wounds the monster had, they have been healed when it entered its second phase.
Retel’s Vanguard catches the attacks, cracking and breaking under the barrage.
For the first time in this fight, we’re forced to avoid the attacks. Even it its level is lower than ours, receiving a Champion’s attacks will deal significant damage. Lethal, most likely.
There is no room for carelessness on our part.
I channel one of my spells, while Shoggoth is still wrestling with the two-headed sea monster.
I channel my mana, condensing it on a single spot, pressing it until collapse point and then releasing the force at once.
The resulting attack is an unstable sphere of energy, flying at high speed towards the beast. It explodes on contact, sending a shock-wave from the resulting impact.
The monster roars in pain, wounded, but still alive.
<<We’ve got to end this…>>
Levia shouts, inciting us all to put more effort towards slaying the monster. Responding to its pain cries, monsters are flocking from the surrounding depths.
Surrounded, we are forced to divert our attention from the Champion in order to deal with the incoming waves of lesser creatures.
Retel deploys his Vanguard once again, this time spreading the barrier further to include all of us.
We tighten our ranks, as Retel guards each blow Levia, Marica and Dahl deal with the monsters crawling out of the sea.
If we drag this too much, it could turn into a bad situation. I definitely do not want that scenario to play.
For this fight, I wanted the others to slay the Champion by their hands. But, as the situation has changed, it seems like I will have to deal with the King Serpent.
After drinking a mana potion, I take some moments to let my mana recharge before weaving the next spell.
This time, I need to go with my strongest move. Shoggoth alone is a wonderful skill, but it is more suited to block and slowly consume the target, rather than dealing a massive amount of damage in short time.
Well, for it to have that effect, I need to use another method.
Channeling my own mana within the skill, I activate the “attack” that it is capable of. Its shape changes, tentacles sprouting blades that begin to vibrate, quicker and quicker, and with increased frequency they shred the flesh wrestling with them, as they dig deeper and deeper into the Champion’s body.
Shoggoth twitches, delving deeper its bio-mechanical looking tentacles into the King Serpent, ripping out chunks of flesh every time the monster tries to wrestle itself free.
The monster retaliates, discharging electricity to get rid of Shoggoth.
I struggle to maintain control of it, to not let the surge of energy disrupt its structure or even weaken it.
Of course, I took care to not let my own body be connected physically with the skill, in order to avoid receiving a huge electric shock.
Doing this decreased Shoggoth ‘s power, but it was for the best.
Still, Vorpal Edge is doing its work, rending the Serpent’s body, painting the water in red as the monster’s roars decrease in intensity, until they become nothing but low mumbles by a dying creature.
The others have already finished clearing the area of smaller creatures.
<<So, someone wants the final blow?>>
I ask, looking around to see if someone takes the honor.
Shrugging his shoulders, Dahl advances towards the dying monster, drawing his blade.
He pauses, letting his mana burn as he activates his skill. It wounds itself on the blade, a blue flame encroaching it.
He slashes, delivering the final blow on the serpentine creature.
This time, Navi’s notification informs us of the Champion’s death. From it, we gained a good amount of experience, enough to let our levels increase once more.
Now, our party has reached level thirty-three. And we still have a long way to go before stopping.
Perhaps, we should entirely skip some of the fights, and directly head toward a lower floor and the higher monsters it hosts.
But, the others wanted to progress “naturally” in this Dive. And so, they started sweeping their way from the first floor, to the point were I joined them.
And they still want to go.
The others rest while I let Shoggoth run amok, clearing the area from the remains of the monsters we slain during the last battle.
I take particular care when dealing with the King Serpent’s body, preserving both heads along with the first one that Levia severed, while the rest of the thing’s body is being devoured and dismantled by Shoggoth.
As it did when the skill was only “Black Fluid”, useful materials like skin, scales, bones are stored by the skill right into my own Inventory, while the rest is consumed by it. I can still select how much I want to keep, and how much of the “gathered” materials are to be consumed by the skill.
I only collect a rough ten percent of the total creature, unless it is something like a Champion or Guardian, since materials from those kind of monsters fetch for quite a high price, and can be used in crafting strong armor or used as a base to brew potions of great effect.
While I clear the area, the others are already directing their attention to the stash of treasure that this Champion had. It’s another of those constant elements of each Dungeon floor. A Champion monster’s chamber will have a pile of treasure, somewhere.
Sometimes, it’s just a heap of items collected from the bodies of fallen adventurers. Other times, it may be an area with nodes of rare minerals, or a clearing full of the rarest alchemical ingredient.
This time, it is an underwater grotto, filled with rare materials from the sea. To reach it, a normal adventurer would have to seat aside weapons and armor, since the water is rather deep and the extra weight might cause him to drown. Then, he would need to dive underwater, collect the materials and swim back up while taking a part of the loot with him. And repeat the process until his greed was satisfied.
Or, if a magician was in their party, they could use some spells to easily reach the underwater treasure.
Luckily, I have a handy skill to deal with this. Simply, I send Shoggoth in the underwater grotto, ignoring its mumbles of protest for the lack of meat there. Expanding itself, the skill absorbs everything in there beside the rock.
A system window appears, informing me of the acquired loot. Rare, precious corals that are used in refining and production of items related to sorcery, like catalysts and scepters, or even normal jewelry. Ores, among which a peculiar kind of coral that uses metal instead of calcium to produce its structure, giving rise to a bio-alloy with incredible properties, some of which I let Shoggoth consume to acquire said properties.
A curious form of crystal, molded by pressure into becoming denser, its structure perfect for absorbing and storing mana.
And other useful and interesting items. There’s also a lot of more classic materials, like pearls or precious shells.
After clearing the area, we move again.
The last part of this floor is the easiest one, with the least amount of monsters to encounter on the way out.
Battles are scarce during the next three hours of march, at the end of which we find ourselves near the rock wall that delimits this floor.
Embedded into it, the large opening that leads to descending stairs, the way out of this level, and the entrance to the next.
We descend the staircase, delving deeper into the earth as we step on a spiral staircase made of polished rock.
Halfway, there is a large space, a sort of room that we’re able to use as a base camp to spend the night.
Six hours of rest, then it is time to delve again into battle, as we will face the next floor of this Dungeon.
During sleep, I allocate the fifteen points gained from the level up in this floor. Fifteen more points, that I distribute into Intelligence and Luck, ten and five respectively.
Afterwards, I drift into proper, dreamless sleep.
Navi’s voice wakes me up six hours after, her “alarm function” working as intended. The others are already up, making their preparations to descend into the new floor of this Dungeon.
We spend half an hour between eating and completing our morning routine, then another hour and half is spent for the descent, stone step after the other, spiraling down further and further.
Once we reach the end of it, the staircase leads to a small antechamber, that opens into the first room of the twenty-seventh floor.
This one is also based on a “sea” theme, but rather than the open beach area that we admired in the previous floor, this one has the look of an undersea cave.
The walls are encrusted in algae and large barnacles, and puddles of waist-deep water litter the floor along with coral formations of different shape and color.
Large shells can be seen, some of them slightly opening and closing, almost like in a breathing motion.
The air has a strong, salty smell, and a chilly breeze comes from the deepest part of this floor, carrying notes of rot along with it. In the distance, high pitched, melodious sounds can be heard, almost like a song sung from the deepest part of these caves. It resembles a whale’s song, its melody
pleasant to the ear.
A blue light illuminates the place, coming from some of the deepest ponds. The underwater lights project strange, dancing reflexes on the rocks surrounding them, giving rise to a breathtaking spectacle.
I wonder if the Core is the one responsible for the composition and architecture of each floor, or if John is somehow behind these beautiful design. I doubt the latter to be the case, given that man’s lazy disposition. But, who know, he might have some kind of hidden artistic vein in him.
As usual, the first room is void of monsters, a kind of “buffer place”, to let adventurers acclimate to the environment before delving in.
I let Navi’s detection work, taking its time to scan the area and form the map.
The passages are narrow, connected to some large rooms, most of them flooded with ankle deep water, along with deeper spots.
Most monsters seem to concentrate in these rooms, although some can still be found in the corridors, patrolling them or simply resting in the narrow passages.
The quickest route, same as the other floors of this Dungeon, leads straight through the central chamber.
And that’s the one we will take.
Given how the corridors are narrow, roughly three meters from wall to wall, we advance in a single row, with Retel on the front and Dahl acting as rearguard. I follow immediately after Retel, with Levia and Marica behind me.
The monsters populating this floor are similar to those of the floor above, along with some new creatures.
Resembling large crabs and lobsters, these monsters boast a high defense and resistance to both slashing and piercing attacks.
Moreover, they use electricity as the base for their attacks, taking advantage of the wet floor to increase their area of effect.
Of course, these monsters are immune to electricity, since it simply runs along their metallic exoskeleton, discharging itself on the ground.
A rather peculiar method of “hunting” for these creatures, since it could damage their own allies as well as their prey.
It seems, however, that this floor has secluded populations of monsters. Unlike the floors above and beyond, where the monster population would either work as an ecosystem, with predators and prey, or work together as a community, this floor here is more game-like.
The monsters are idle in their positions, separated into each rooms according to their race. So, one room might have lobster-monsters, the other those strange fish-people, the following might host a population of crab creatures, and so on.
They do not seem to change positions, or do something else beside waiting.
As I think about the peculiar situation of this floor, John’s words come back to memory. During the time I spent training with him, he explained me something about the Dungeon.
Especially, he talked abut how the Dungeon itself was different before he managed to become Dungeon Master. In his word, the Dungeon before was more bland and easier for adventurers to deal with.
He was so proud of the way he changed it, working on each environment by adding new species, by granting them some semblance of a mind on their own, until the point when static floors, where monsters existed for the sole purpose of attacking adventurers, became thriving ecosystems, where monsters would live like proper wildlife.
In short, this floor was one of those that John had not yet modified, or perhaps, he was still working on it.
And the monsters here, they feel more…stupid. It’s like fighting robots, that repeat the same strategies ever and ever, acting in accordance to their program. There isn’t the slightest glint of life in them, although, by all means, they are living beings.
They do not fight for their life, and they do not attempt to flee when that life is in danger. They simply charge, following those patterns ingrained in their minds until they fall, or manage to kill some unaware adventurer.
Still, by taking some simple precautions it is possible to deal with them fairly easily, without incurring too many risks.
Definitely different from the monsters infesting the floors above, where a single mistake could spell your death, even when fighting against monsters below your own level.
This floor, and the original organization of the Dungeon that it represents, might have been easier for adventurers to conquer, and raise their level in a safer way. But, the new floor organization brought forth by John, it adds a new level of challenge, forcing the adventurers who dare to challenge them to think and plan before doing so, instead of rushing in and brute-force their way through the floor.
In some ways, the new organization is better, presenting a tougher challenge that ingrains caution into the adventurers.
Halfway through the floor, we begin to notice a change among the monster populations. Rooms have mixed races in them, and the monsters themselves seem more active, behaving like proper wildlife instead of standing around, waiting.
The mana flux inside this portion of the floor, it’s slightly different than that of the entrance.
It appears, that this floor is only halfway remodeled, the entrance left like it was before this place had a Dungeon Master, the entrance left as the original organization was.
Not only the monsters’ behavior, the layout of the place is also different. Traps are present in this portion of the floor. The peculiarity of them is that they’re not mechanical hazards ready to spring with the slightest movement.
They’re living creatures, akin to plants or sedentary animals that wait for their prey to come to them.
Some, lie in the shallow ponds, under a thin layer of mud and sand, ready to spring their tentacles closed at the slightest hint of movement or pressure above them.
As big as an adult person’s foot, they are not lethal, but inject a nasty toxin when they close their tentacles, clad in minuscule stingers.
It goes without saying that I absorbed some of them, to increase my collection of toxins and poison.
Also, the thing about these microscopic stingers might be helpful, if I manage to reproduce their structure.
As we advance, more kind of traps await. Some, similar to small pods, explode whenever something moves near them, releasing thin shells that have razor sharp edges. A closer examination of those shells, reveals that they’re some kind of worm, that burrows itself inside wounds, using its sharp shell to slice skin and muscle open as it gorges deeper into flesh.
Other traps release electric shock, or a gush of corrosive liquid.
There was one so bizarre, that it was almost comical. It sprayed Retel with a stinky liquid. No harm, no poison. It just had an awful smell. Later, when we walked into a room where monsters did reside, we learned that the smell was due to some kind of pheromone, that sent the monsters into heat.
In short, they chased Retel, trying to attack him in some disturbing ways.
<<Oh God! Get them off!>>
He shouted, struggling to keep the horny monsters at bay with his shield skill.
The most striking thing was that the “smell” persisted, no matter how many times he tried to wash the liquid off.
I had to resort to a spell to cleanse him of the pheromones, and even after that, he still felt the smell on him.
<<This is the worst thing that ever happened to me. I can deal with monsters trying to kill me, but this…this is too much>>
He was still shocked, trembling from a different kind of danger than what he was used to.
Strangely, it was Levia the one most amused by the situation, teasing her brother and making fun of him.
Marica looked at him, her eyes concerned but the corner of her lips kept twitching, as if she was trying her best to not burst out laughing at her boyfriend’s misadventures.
There goes without saying, that during all the remaining time we spent into that floor, Retel’s eyes were fixed on the ground, looking for any trace of that kind of trap.
And when he found one, he utterly destroyed the spot using his strongest attack.
Well, I would have done the same after living through this terrible joke.
Still, we avoided most of the traps, while the monsters themselves did not even pose much of a threat.
The only true challenge was the Champion of this level, a hulking version of the fish-people we fought earlier.
As a weapon, he brandished a large, rusty anchor, probably coming from the shipwrecks that littered his chamber.
How did those ship end up there, of all places, will always be a mystery to me. Perhaps, it was the Core that re-created them to add some decoration to the ocean floor themed level, or they could have been transported there with some kind of spell.
Still, they provided enough cover for us to hide when we approached the Champion, allowing for a concerted first strike that brought down the monsters without giving it time to retaliate.
The whole twenty-seventh floor netted us two more levels, setting our group to level thirty-five.
Given the result, I doubt that we will get much experience in the upcoming floors, at least until we manage to reach floor number thirty. From there, the experience given by the monsters should be higher, and also, instead of a Champion, the boss monster in that floor is a Guardian, that should give even more experience when defeated.
The thirty-first floor is one that hosts a Safe zone from the guild, although much of the floor itself is still untamed, the Safe zone only occupying some rooms of the actual floor.
Speaking with the others, we decide to rush the next three floors as quickly as we can, in order to challenge the Guardian and rest in the upcoming floor.
After a quick rest, we leave the twenty-seventh floor, heading down the usual spiral staircase.
The remaining floors until the thirtieth have the same ocean cave setting, only with slightly higher water as we progress down, and higher level monsters and traps. They have a feeling of re-hashed assets, with monsters that basically have the same appearance but different colors and statistics than the ones encountered before. The only difference is the layout, with rooms and chambers arranged in different ways, and the Champion monsters.
The one that resided in the twenty-eighth floor’s central portion, was a large hermit crab with incredible defense and a high-power water jet attack.
On the twenty-ninth floor, the Champion monster was some kind of sea urchin creature, that had a counter-attack skill much similar to the one Retel used.
It was a though fight, not because the monster itself posed a high threat, but because of its high defense and defensive skills were too much of a hassle to deal with.
The two floors combined, did only gave us enough experience to level up twice.
As we enter the thirtieth floor, our group is all at level thirty-seven.
This floor also follows the sea cave theme, only with more spacious rooms and waist deep waters to thread on.
Proper footholds are scarce, and the blue light that illuminates the surrounding is dimmer, letting ample sections of the corridors and rooms to be shadowed, perfect for monsters to hide and ambush from the shadows.
Serpentine figures swim in those shallow waters, often attacking from underneath the surface, undetected.
Well, that is not the case for us, since with Navi’s detection we can see the monster’s position before it approaches us, but this floor might be terribly dangerous for groups that do not possess any member with similar skills.
Although, I really doubt that parties like that would even venture so deep in the Dungeon.
This floor actually stands as the defining point, the line between a proficient party and an elite one. Surviving this floor and its Guardian is by itself an act recognized by the Guild. Slaying the Guardian would earn us public recognition, and a proper contract with the Guild. Each party that proved able to do so, is recognized into the Guild’s elite forces, and given a rank, along with benefits and a monthly wage.
Of course, being recognized by the Guild this way, it also means that your party is going to be used by the Guild.
Be it monster subjugation in the territory managed by Sendria, or, most likely, given the situation, scouting missions at the border and active patrols against Aldora’s scouting parties.
In short, if we report the success to the Guild, we will be entering their official forces, with the benefits and duties that are a direct consequence of that.
But, we do not plan to report immediately after.
Because, earning a rank is not our goal at the moment, nor it will be beneficial to us for now. Truth to be told, we still do not have decided whether to enter the Guild’s official ranks, or if we would fare better by keeping the current condition.
And, given my peculiar situation, the Guild, and Telesia herself, might give us a different treatment than the usual adventurer party.
Definitely, that is what will happen, although I do not know to what extent Telesia would alter thing for us.
We still plan to reach at least the fortieth floor during this Dive, without going back to the surface until we defeat the Guardian there.
After that, we will have a good talk about the next moves to take. For now, we need to focus ourselves into clearing this floor, and advancing to the next.
The monsters here are all above level twenty-nine, with some of them reaching even level thirty-tree.
A tougher challenge than the floors above, for sure.
Thankfully the levels we gained while clearing the previous floors have been really helpful, both for the total Stat raise of our group, and with the increased skill proficiency that the many battles yielded.
But, one thing is becoming more and more apparent as we progress further. We lack another member.
As we are now, our offense is fine, with Levia, Dahl, Marica and me dealing damage. I and Marica are also taking care of crowd control, limiting the monsters movements and attacks.
The lacking part is represented by sheer defense. Retel is the one taking the brunt of the monsters attacks, especially from melee fighters. He manages now, but in the lowest floor the pressure might be too much for him to shoulder alone.
I am participating in the defense using Shoggoth to guard some of the attacks, and all of us have either a mana shield skill or a defensive spell, but it would be nice to have another member specialized in defense, to increase our overall efficiency.
If that was the case, I could concentrate better on restraining and dealing damage, leaving defenses to two party members instead of Retel alone.
It was Dahl to first voice this missing piece in our party formation, and the recent, more difficult battles only made it more apparent.
For now, we can adapt our formation accordingly, either relying on support defense from me, or Marica.
The strategy we’re using is to take out monsters before they can overwhelm us, but, progressing deeper into the Dungeon, that will not be so easy.
First, as we delve deeper, the monsters are getting not only stronger, but smarter.
Employing tactics, they have proper “parties” that mirrors an adventurer party’s organization, with vanguard members, melee attackers and even ranged or spell casters. Sometimes, and more often than not, they even have healers, protected in the middle of their ranks.
When they’re not behaving intelligently, the monsters are more beastly, relying on large health pool and defenses for their lack of intelligence and tactics.
It seems a contradiction, but those are proving to be more difficult for us to deal with. Against an organized formation, our own formation works very well.
Retel clashes with vanguards, locking them in place while Dahl swiftly deals with their ranged or spell casters, infiltrating enemy ranks while they’re distracted by my attacks or Marica’s spells, defending themselves from the barrage of arrows that Levia unleashes, providing both means of offense and covering fire for Dahl to act undisturbed.
But, against groups of feral creatures, strategies go awry. Sometimes, they gang on Retel, quickly destroying his shield under the pressure of their beastly blows.
Other times, they simply charge through our lines, aiming for whoever they perceive as the weakest member, often the girls.
Dahl’s camouflage is most of the time useless, since the most feral monsters rely more on other senses rather than sight, quickly individuating him and singling him out.
For now, we’re encountering the two categories of enemies apart from each other, but in lower floors, it might not be the case.
Groups of intelligent monsters that use tamed, feral creatures would be difficult to deal with.
And, it is something good.
The situation forces us to come to terms with what we currently lack in terms of strategy and experience. Learning to fight against different types of enemies, in different conditions and environments.
In short, the truest purpose of the Dungeon, to simulate a wide number of situations and dangers in order to forge individuals, to increase their power and make them ready for battle.
The loot it contains, it is nothing more than incentive, using greed as a motivation to forcibly “train” those that dare to dive into its depths.
At least, that’s how I perceive it. And, given what little details John shared about this place, I might probably be right in my conclusions.
The fact that here, of all places, I found something related to that peculiar “title” that has been forced onto me, might only be the meddling of that outer God that interfered with my being.
Well, those are empty thoughts for now, considerations that I can make until I find some proper answers.
Still, the place does a good work in shaping warriors. Those who survive it, are leagues above the average person, in both power and experience.
That’s the reason why Alvarez fears the Guild, since it is basically a gathering of strong willed, powerful and battle hardened individuals. Something that a person who aspires to become an absolute ruler must consider as an enemy.
And the fact that one of his pawns has been eliminated by a certain adventurer, it will only make him more wary of the Guild as a whole.
Although, the man himself still has not taken any move after Leidus’s death. And I am sure he knows about it, after all, I deliberately let the spell he cast on me active, in order for him to see his pupil’s end.
I expected some retaliation on his part, but, perhaps, he’s biding his time. Before, he might have seen me as a nuisance, or even something to use to make his own “Demon Lord” rise in power. After that little show I put on, his consideration about me definitely changed.
The fact that I definitely broke his spell afterwards might also have had some influence in that.
It is kind of ironic how tables have turned in regard to that situation. I still remember the fear I felt, when I met that man the first time.
Now, I am the one that is spying on him, checking his moves with my own spell, waiting for the perfect time to bring him down.
It is stunning, how much that single person could damage Sendria if left to his own devices. But, the situation might turn worse if we remove him too suddenly. First, the army is still under his control, bound to him. Next, for how strange it may sound, most of the commoners actually support Alvarez, seeing in him a strong and decisive leader, blind to the lies and machinations that are his true colors.
Moreover, the one that is really behind Alvarez’s plans might react in a harsh way, perhaps causing a huge number of casualties in the upcoming conflict. To avoid that, we need to be patient, and strike at the right moment.
I chuckle, thinking about how I went from being a simpleton struggling for his own survival, to someone scheming to take down an influential political figure in one of the largest cities of this continent.
More than ever, that dubious title I have might not be too wrong, after all.
We advance further into the floor, our movements slowed by the cold waters.
From time to time, some of the rooms are not flooded, providing proper foothold for fighting and even to camp after clearing the monster infesting them.
As we advance towards the center, we start to encounter the Elite monsters of this place. Black bodies, nothing more than a hulking mass of muscles and tentacles, these octopus-shaped monsters provide a though challenge.
Unlike their beastly appearance, they’re smart, and rely on peculiar tactics based on their bodies.
Their skin has some form of advanced camouflage ability, able to alter itself by reproducing not only the color of the surroundings, but also texture.
So, a huge rock reveals itself to be a mass of tentacles, strong enough to crush a person in their deadly embrace.
Moreover, this peculiar ability they have is not something generated by magic or some skill. It’s their biological nature that allows them to do so, an intricate system of muscle fibers and pigment pouches that allow the skin to change its color and form.
But the most dangerous thing, is that these monsters are clever.
They lay ambush, and retreat. They set traps, and their boneless bodies allow them to pass through even the slightest gap in the rocks, allowing them to swift retreats or attacks.
The first encounters with them have been rough, since, even if we knew their position and numbers, their strange ways of fighting took us by surprise.
Being far stronger than they look, a single one would often manage to push Retel back, while its brethren would circle around us to attack, using their flexibility to sneak through the natural barriers of this place, or sticking to the ceiling with their tentacles only to drop on us.
Still, after some initial difficulties,we got the hang of how to deal with them.
Their weak-point lies in the middle of their odd eyes. Stabbing there, with enough force behind the blow causes direct damage to their brain, killing the creature.
No point in injuring the other areas, beside severing the tentacles to impede their attacks. A most annoying feature of these Elite monsters is their regeneration speed, that is so quick that non-lethal wounds visibly regenerate on their bodies.
Severing a tentacle would only momentarily incapacitate the monster, as it rapidly grows back.
The only way to effective deal with them, is a precise strike in their weak point.
Having learned that the hard way, after hacking at their bodies for too much time, we now have a better grasp of how to fight and defeat them.
As usual, Retel uses his skill to block incoming attacks from the front, while Levia’s arrows pick the monsters one by one. Marica stands in the center of this formation, using her spells to support Retel and to bolster Levia’s attacks, while I keep using Shoggoth for both attack and defense, and Dahl deals with monsters that somehow manage to slip by Retel’s guard.
Our back-line is a bit too exposed, if we ever found ourselves into a pincer attack, it would lead to a potentially dangerous situation. If the need arises, I can switch to the backside of our formation, but that reduces our offensive potential on the front.
We definitely need another “tank” in our ranks.
During a moment of respite, I ask Dahl if he knows some recommendable adventurer that we might recruit to work with us, given that he’s the one most acquainted with the Guild’s adventurers.
We could even take some low level adventurer, and level him up in the upper floors until the new member is battle ready.
A lot of options to consider once we come back from this Dive.
Well, that is if Aldora does not make its move in the meantime. Judging from the information that Telesia shared with us, the movements beyond the border have quieted from some time. Her scouts have reported that several large camps of Aldoran soldiers had been taken out overnight.
The destruction in them suggested a large group at work, but I suspect another factor to be at work here.
The Laughing Man. Definitely, that man has the same enemy as we do, given his affiliation with Azatoth.
But, his actions are the perfect example of a wild card. Unpredictable, and impossible for Sendria to actually work with him.
For what I know, the man could as easily kill Sendrian people along with Aldoran troops, unable to discern them in his insanity. And, the opposite is also possible, that Sendrian troops might recognize him as an enemy, and attempt to take him out.
Things are good, as long as he sticks to acting outside of Sendria’s territory and damaging Aldora. But, if he moves further in, who knows what would happen.
Perhaps, I could try to contact him using Navi, but I doubt I will be able to.
We’re taking some time to rest before heading towards the central chamber. The upcoming fight might be the toughest among all the battles we fought up until now.
And, we need to prepare accordingly.
Unlike the Champion level monsters that ruled the floors above, we cannot just waltz in here and challenge the Guardian head on.
First, there are many Elite monsters surrounding the area where the Guardian resides. Next, the Guardian itself is definitely strong, its level being thirty and his stats even higher than a Champion class monster.
This time, I cannot resort to Beelzebub, the same strategy I used against the first Champion monsters we fought.
The reason is, the Elite monsters in this level are immune to the confusing poison.
I tried several strategies during previous battles, ruling out those that would not give us a proper advantage.
Anything that uses poison might as well as be useless in this place, since all the monsters here have a skill called Altered Metabolism.
In short, their cells do not work like those of normal organisms, thus making their own biology too different for a normal poison to be of use.
I would need to specifically produce a poison that would affect their bodies, something that, right now, I do not have the time to do.
The skill is also unusable for me. I absorbed it and all, but, if I used it, my own metabolism would be altered, in some lethal ways. In short, it is a useless skill for a human.
For this battle we would need to rely on brute force, it seems.
After having some rest, during which I allocated the Stat points gained from the recent level up. My level is now thirty-eight, as well as the other’ s.
The others are giving the final touches to their preparations. For the upcoming fight, I handed Levia some special arrows. They are a refined version of those Fire Crystal arrows, safe for her to use while keeping their devastating effect whenever they hit their target. I have a limited supply of them, however, so we’re forced to resort to them only for intense fights.
Her bow is also a different one. Instead of the usual short bow she uses, she now has a composite longbow.
Normally, such item would require an enormous strength to be used, and it is definitely the kind of weapon no one would expect a delicate-looking girl like her to use.
But, appearance are deceiving, especially in this case.
Given how Levia’s Strength stat is the highest among all of us. Even Retel’s does not compare, as the combination of both titles, her own natural growth and her new class granted Levia a significant boost in her stats.
Perhaps, even higher than the one I received.
Marica is busy charging some mana into crystals, chugging potions afterwards in order to regenerate her mana and repeat the process.
She will use those as reserve mana, in order to be able to rapidly cast her spells even during battle.
At the same time, she’s chanting some of her spells in advance. According to her, a method that her master taught her.
To prepare part of the structure in advance, and use a common one for all her spells instead of spending time and mana devising and realizing a different structure for each spell.
Hers still need to rely on long chants, and are bound to waste a lot of mana just to keep the desired structure active, but she’s leagues better than she was the first time I met her.
Dahl is silently meditating on a corner of the room we’re in. His mana is almost imperceptible right now, almost as if he’s erasing his own presence.
As he opens his eyes, he disappears completely. A new skill he got from the recent level up.
Instead of simple camouflage, he shifts into another plane. Much like my Inventory, but without him being able to bring something in or out.
The potential of his new skill is only for battle.
I am also doing my own preparations, using Inventory to store the spells I am casting, one after the other. Setting them up in advance, and releasing them at the same time will deal a powerful blow to the Guardian. I do not think to be able to take him out with this combined attack, but it will be a useful card to play if we get in a pinch.
Or, as the opening move of our fight, if we plan to use the element of surprise, sneak in, and assault the Guardian with all we have before we deal with the remaining Elite monsters.
Spell after spell, I go through a number of mana potions, feeling their bitter taste spread from my mouth to my stomach, where it changes into a warm sensation that slowly crawls in my body.
Along with that, there is the blur of emotions that precedes each fight. Excitement, fear, anticipation and other, a biochemical storm going on in my brain as thoughts race through the possible scenarios.
I take a deep breath to calm me down, before using Navi to check the room ahead once again.
The signals are all there, along with the bigger one that comes from the Guardian itself.
Level thirty, surrounded by Elite monsters about the same level as it. Some higher, some lower. Fifty of them. No traps or hidden monsters waiting in ambush. The room itself is elliptical in shape, flooded with waist deep water.
It will hinder our movements, while the Elite monsters dwelling in there will have advantages due to the terrain.
The chamber itself presents several spots that emerge from the water, some of them reaching two or three meters above water level. Only, those areas are limited in both number and space, and fighting from there would be difficult in a group.
I call the others, sharing with them the map window displayed by Navi.
As they examine it, we go through propositions on how to deal with the monsters.
The possible points that could provide a proper foothold, or choke points where we could make use of Retel’s skill to hold off monsters, forcing them to fight us with reduced numbers, instead of having to deal with all of them at once.
The spells to use, and the movements to take during battle. Instead of barging in, we lay down a proper battle plan.
One hour until we challenge the Guardian, one more hour to prepare. Retel is looking nervously at the room’s entrance, sending glances in that direction while grasping tighter his spear.
Marica is using the remaining time to further increase her mana reserve, while Dahl is going once again through his stock of throwing daggers and potions.
I advance towards him, taking something out of my Inventory.
He looks at the sphere I am holding in my hand, a puzzled look in his face.
<<These are…experiments. It’s a new kind of weapon. To use it, pull this piece here until it comes off. It will activate the weapon, that will go off five seconds later. I have only ten of them for the moment, so take care when you use them>>
I look him straight in the eyes, with my most serious gaze.
<<Take a lot of care when using them. Do not throw them too near you, at least twenty meters away. Try to use them against enemies that are close together, or even better, against groups>>
He nods, taking the sphere and the ones I give him afterwards.
They are few, but those grenades that Heod made, should be useful in the upcoming fight.
The last hour has passed, and we stand, heading towards the central chamber, ready to face the Guardian of the thirtieth floor.