Re: Interference Chapter 21- Master

The air is damp here, heavy with humidity. As I turn around, I can see how the man in front of me used this saferoom as his home, here in the deepest level of the Dungeon.

A messy bedroll is laying on the corner, beside a pile of clothes that look ragged, and dirty. A small table is on the opposite side, with some scattered object on it. A plate, still holding some food scraps.

A sack of coin, slightly open, revealing the glimmer of gold that it contains. Books, scattered all around, some new, some with dust covering them, their pages turned yellow from the course of time.

No trace of weapons, or other personal things that might give me some insight about this man’s character.

And, beside everything else, there’s the silence that has fallen into the room.

Thick, almost palpable.

The man named John is sitting on a small stool, roughly ten meters away from me. He avoids my eyes, the curiosity in them.

Still, I cannot believe what I just heard from his lips. The implications of his words made me shake, locking my mind in a swirl of emotions.

There’s anxiety in there, uncertainty.

Sounds are ringing in my head, from that accursed Navigator, her messages popping up in my mind like some obnoxious ringtone. Yet, I ignore them. I am sure, they will all be lies after all.

<<So, that’s how it is>>

I take the courage to break this silence, looking down on the floor, at my hands that are still trembling.

<<Sorry. But you needed to know>>

John’s voice echoes mine, with a short sentence, an apology.

He says I needed to know, but…can I trust his words? The implications, the weight behind what he revealed to me.

<<What…what should I do now?>>

Stuttering, I ask him for guidance. After all, that’s the reason that brought me here. Well, technically I was dragged here by that old lady, but…

Well, it does not matter right now. And perhaps, it was for the best.

<<That’s something for you to find. I cannot give you such answer, Roshal>>

He tries to smile, but I can see what’s really driving his expression. Behind his eyes, I can see pity, for me. Maybe, some of that pity is also for himself.

<<I suppose I should go now>>

Getting up on my feet, I announce my intentions to John. He simply nods, handing me a small, black orb. It’ a transfer stone, different from the ones I saw before. Smaller, the size of a marble, with a rough texture on its surface.

<<That will only work two times. One, for when you leave this place after our conversation. The other, for when you feel like coming back here. Not that I would like you to come back, but I made a promise to Telesia, to train you as best as I can. But, I will understand if you choose to not come back here. So, Roshal, see you. Or not>>

After handing me the small transfer stone, he gets up from his seat, heading out of the saferoom.

As he opens the door, a small air current from the Dungeon’s last floor flows in. The smell it carries, and the density of mana contained in that simple whiff of wind are enough to make me feel sick.

To think that John has been living here, secluding himself from the world above…

I grasp the transfer stone, activating it with a bit of my mana.

As it happened with Telesia, I am instantly moved from the saferoom to the Archives.

The air in here feels so light, so easy to breathe. The transfer stone in my hand has lost some of its brilliance, and I feel like it is a bit smaller right now. Well, it could just be my impression.

I head back from the Archives, without contacting the others. Walking out of the building, I realize that the Sun has already gone down, and only small torches are now lighting the way in front of me.

I’ve never seen Sendria during the night. Especially in this portion of the town, far away from the center and residential area, it looks like a completely different place than during the day.

Dimly lit roads, where prostitutes and drunkards can be seen roaming around. The number of homeless people I meet on the way back home is high.

Passing by them, I see the mutilations that their bodies carry. One man, begging for money under a porch, had his right eye and left leg missing, supporting himself on a crude wooden crutch.

Not so far away from him, a legless woman was begging for food, keeping her head low under her cowl, perhaps for shame.

More and more of them can be seen. The dark side of Sendria, the adventurers who failed.

They failed to win, and failed to die. Unable to sustain themselves with activities in the Dungeon, too injured to even try a normal job, these men and women are driven to extreme poverty, in a town that only cares for those who win.

In a spur of generosity, I let some coins fall into the plate that a young boy is holding out with his emaciated right hand.

<<Thank you>>

He mutters, lowering his head. I do not want to see his face, nor do I want to glance for more than one second at the sorry state that his body is in.

The thought that I could end up in this same situation, or that it could happen to some of my friends, is even more scary than death to me.

I chuckle, still thinking about fear and some other emotions. Like a proper human being, something I should not be allowed to do.

John’s face pops up in my mind, and with it the words he spoke to me. I clench my fists, accelerating my steps in the night of Sendria.

To no avail.

<<God damnit!>>

I punch the wall, in a secluded alley, alone, I let out the emotions that were boiling inside me, the frustration, the anger. Those that are easy to get rid of. But the others, stay deep, gnawing at me and the doubt of my very existence.

I lie my back on the wall, and let myself slide down, until I sit on the floor. My head hanging between my arms, while John’s words play out again in my memory.

At first, I was overjoyed when he told me that he too was an otherworlder. I immediately asked him some questions, aiming to find if John came from my world, or some other parallel world or something like that. It was a possibility to consider, and since my first time coming here, my mind has already been opened up to new possibilities. Where magic and skills exist, why shouldn’t there be parallel worlds?

John answered correctly to all my questions, proving that he indeed came from my old world. Although, our timeline was surely different. From what he said, it looked like he came to this world roughly ten years before the same thing happened to him.

Initially, we had a very nice conversation, about the state of the world, the advancements in it. Hell, he was overjoyed when I told him about the sequel to his favorite movie saga. I felt like we spoke for hours in there, just talking about movies and books.

But, as we talked, he had this expression in his eyes, a mix of sadness and pity.

<<Before we start with this, I need you to know some things. After all, I have the slight suspicion that Telesia just dragged your ass down here, without even giving you a proper explanation. First, I am doing this because I owe Telesia. She’s a good person,and all she desires is the well being of both Sendria and her Guild. But her methods are rude, and ruthless. Right now, she does not see you as a person, but as the Candidate Demon Lord, a weapon in her disposal. And she’ll do anything to use you for her means. Keep this in mind.>>

He paused for a bit, before asking me some questions. He wanted to know in detail how I came to this world, and what goal I decided to follow in here.

As I gave him my answers, he sighed, deeply.

<<So, it was that dick Azathot, huh? Well, it could have been worse>>

He muttered to himself.

<<Say, do you remember more details of your old life? Not the general things…what I am asking you is if you remember specific details. Like the name of your pet, if you had one. How your mother looked like. Something like that>>

I felt like his question was a bit weird. Of course, I was about to answer, of course I remember my mother’s face.

But then, I realized that I didn’t. When I recalled her, the image that formed in my mind was vague. The same happened when I tried to recall my old dog. I knew I had one, and yet, I could not recall its appearance, the color of its fur.

<<So, it’s as I thought. To me, is the same. I recall my general past, what happened during my time. Even things that I studied at school. But, the important things, those memories that define you as a person. Well, those are confused, and sometimes, they’re not even there. Even my name…this one, John Howards, it’s not my real name, only a cool sounding one I choose to call myself, when I first came into this world and I was nothing more than a young, foolish boy. My real name is lost to me>>

He was staring at the rocky wall of the safezone, but his gaze was fixed on something far away, locked in remembrance.

And he spoke about something that was bugging me since I came to this world. Because, even I did not remember my true name, the one that my parents gave me.

I thought it some kind of after effect of whatever the hell brought me to this world, some sort of post-summoning trauma. But, John’s words make it sound like it’s something far more concerning.

I told to him what I felt about that matter, that I believed it was some sort of after-effect from when I, we, were summoned here.

<<I thought the same. Initially, that is. But, I was not summoned here. I was reincarnated. In my old world, I died of sickness. A brain tumor. It’s strange…I remember the pain it caused me, the burning sensation of the chemotherapy running through my veins. And yet, I do not remember the face of my wife, that was there, holding my hand as I passed away. Not even her smile>>

He clenched his fist, like he was grasping something.

<<Say, Roshal. Do you know about summoning magic?>>

I nodded, unable to see the connection between what he said and this new question.

<<Well, that makes things easier to explain. If this could even be called easy. In summoning magic, the magician uses his mana to summon a creature. Now, the summoned creature is not something that exists, and is brought here in this world. It’s something created, patched up from memories and the caster’s imagination. That creature, does not exist. It never had>>

John turned around, staring at me. And I begin to understand his point.

<<Now, does this ring a bell, Roshal? To me, it was studying summoning magic that sparkled the question, and that question was the reason that brought me here in the end>>

John took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment before he resumed talking.

<<I started my life in this world by reincarnation. The usual thing that you would find in some crappy novels, one lame guy dies and the God offers him to reincarnate as a Hero of Justice.

It was almost comical, the haughty sounding voice, coming from a ball of light. And the first years of my new life, they were wonderful. I really, really believed the God’s words, you know? As soon as I came of age, I fought for the Kingdom, for Aldora, as a Hero. But then, I started to notice some discrepancies, some things that were not quite right. Both in the world, and in me>>

I tried to interrupt him, but he silenced me, lifting his finger in an imperious gesture.

<<Please, let me finish before asking your questions. I’m sure there will be plenty of them, so, be patient for a bit and listen to what I have to say>>

John cleared his throat, and continued his story.

<<When I asked the God, when I prayed, I never received a clear answer from him. It was all vague, telling me to not worry about things, that the God had a plan. I committed atrocities in that thing’s name, withholding my doubts, letting them rot inside me as I followed orders. But, as I went on, it gnawed me from the inside. I did my own research, about the Heroes first, then it came summoning magic. You know, I was the one to first formulate the new paradigm about that, to find out that summoning magic does not “summon”, it “constructs”something. I left Aldora, wandering from place to place, until I ended up in this Dungeon. In here, I was fascinated by how the monster revive with a set time. Do you know how it happens?>>

His words were difficult to follow, jumping from one topic to another, almost like he was trying to form a coherent story but failing at it.

<<No, but it’s something similar to RPG games that I played. I thought it could be based on that>>

John scratched his beard, looking thoughtful.

<<Well, that’s what happens, more or less. But how? That’s what I wanted to know. So, I delved into this Dungeon, hiding my identity from the Guild. It would have caused quite the uproar if they found out that a man from Aldora strolled right in the middle of town and entered their precious Dungeon, after all. Nonetheless, I came here, and studied the monsters and the Dungeon itself.

It’ all related. In some ways, it’s summoning magic. Only, the scale of it is vastly bigger. Instead of “constructing” a single creature, this Dungeon “builds” entire floors, limited, but complete biomes with their ecosystems. The creatures that you find here, are similar in nature as the summoned creatures. They do not exist, and are “built” from scratch from something, or someone’s memories>>

I shook my head in denial. What John said, it was fascinating, but it had something wrong to me.

<<Well, summoned creatures do not give experience when killed, while monsters in this Dungeon do. So, they’re definitely proper living creatures>>

My question made John smile.

<<Or, they could just be elaborated fakes>>

Up until then, he only limited his lesson to words. But then, he started showing me what he meant.

We went out of the saferoom. Inside the lowest floor of the Dungeon, he shielded me with some spells, basically erasing my presence.

As we advanced, the monsters in there made me question my sanity. It was like seeing pages of Lovecraftian fiction come to life, with wriggling masses of darkness, tentacles and powers beyond comprehension.

And yet, John cut straight into them, ensuring mine and his safety in less than a split second. The difference in power between me and him was something incredible to think at.

But that was not what he wanted to show me. He brought me to the central room of the floor. A chamber so wide and big that I failed to see the ceiling above, and the end of it was lost to my sight, shrouded in a distant mist. In there, instead of an insanely strong monster, there was something unbelievable.

Looking like an enormous trees of twisted, pulsing meat, it emerged from the ground. Rooted with vein-looking roots that emerged from the ground, the tree stood tall, gigantic in the otherwise empty room.

At the center of it, surrounded by a semi-transparent spherical mana barrier, there was a pulsing white brain of enormous size. Perhaps, it was even bigger than a whale.

<<Relax, there are no monsters here. This, is the final room of the Dungeon. It hosts the thing called Core. Not quite living, not quite dead, this thing supervises and implements all that happens in the Dungeon. Now, let’s go closer>>

As easy as breathing, he cast a spell on me. We took off in the air, levitating towards the pulsing white mass.

I was too overwhelmed to enjoy the sensation of flying up in the air. We rose and rose, for several hundred meters.

The air around us became cold as we ascended, and a loud humming noise was reverberating, growing in intensity as we neared the gigantic Core.

Its size was even greater than I imagined. I gawked as we came close to the barrier, its light slowly pulsing with the same frequency as the thing it protected.

<<Ok. Now, brace yourself>>

John made a gesture with his arms. Following it, his spell’s intensity grew, increasing the speed at which we were moving.

We closed the distance between us and the Core in an instant, traversing the barrier as if nothing was there.

Inside of it, the air had a metallic smell, and static electricity made my hair stand up.

<<Why are we here?>>

I asked to John, looking around while feeling both perplexed and concerned. This place was not somewhere suited to humans. That’s the impression I had.

Yet, John ignored my question. He distended his arm in front of him, pointing his palm towards the brain-like gigantic structure.

He was muttering words that I could not understand, mana flowing back and forth from him to the Core and vice-versa.

<<Don’t fight it>>

He said, his voice still being clear even over the noise from the Core. He pointed his finger at me. As he did, a dense string of mana sprouted from the Core, enveloping me.

Navi’s messages went critical, buzzing with static noise as my mind went blank.

Connected to the Core, I saw what it was doing. What it was. A recollection of memories, fabricated, patched up from whoever knows how many different creatures. It did not have a mind, working instead like a program, repeating its task over and over again. It absorbed and refined mana, working by absorbing the natural mana from the environment and converting it in a refined form, more dense, more suited to transport energy and information. Some, it would release into the Dungeon, the rest it would hold inside massive storing chambers, located in the tree-like structures below and above the Core itself.

It monitored, analyzing the flow of mana to know whatever happened inside the Dungeon. Each person that stepped inside of it, every monster that lived in the various floors. Each death that happened in there.

The Core registered it all.

And it intervened, according to the data it registered. To each monster’s death, it would respond by waiting for a set amount of time, forty- eight hours.

In that time, the Core would collect and refine mana, in a quantity decided by the type and level of the creature killed. It would use that mana to fabricate an identical copy of the creature, a “summoned creature” like those produced with summoning magic. But the process differed from the magic summoning.

The Core, using complex calculations, would also produce an array of behavior patterns, instincts and experiences. All of them synthetic, the products of innumerable calculations and simulations that happened instantaneously inside the Core.

In short, it crafted a personality, a “soul” to bestow on the newly created monster. What resulted, was a fake creature with a fake soul, but manufactured perfectly, making it almost indistinguishable from a proper, living creature. Then, the connection was broken, leaving me with a huge headache and a bleeding nose.

<<The copy is so perfect that it can trick this world’s system. It’s truly a messed up work…when you kill something, it condenses its feeling, instincts and experience, the whole mind or “soul” of the creature. All of it, it becomes energy, fed to you in the form of “Experience Points”. A cruel system, made by an even crueler God. But, this Core here, it can trick the system, giving you EXP without having to kill a real creature. Am I right?>>

Still shaken by the vision from the Core, I could not even respond to him.

Yet, John continued.

<<Now, I want you to think thoroughly about everything I said. The summoning magic, our circumstances, what you saw here, in the Core. And I want you to tell me your conclusions>>

One more time, he looked at me with those eyes, that look of pity he held.

And I did understand the reason behind that feeling he had, both for me and for himself.

Summoning magic, the “creation” of monsters by the Core. The latter could be called the perfected, evolved form of the other.

A summoner, with his limited, human mind, could construct a creature from his memory and imagination, bringing forth something that mimicked life, but was an imperfect copy of it. Useful for limited purposes.

A Dungeon Core, with its unimaginable processing power and mana flow, could do the same, while also constructing a mind, complete with behavior, instinct. Even a personality for the more advanced monsters, and to some, memory.

What John wanted to show me, was the process of mind creation from a Dungeon. And the implications of it, were terrible for someone like us.

Comprehension sparked inside my mind, as I linked what I learned here to my memories.

A mind can be created. Memories, can be created. And if something like a Dungeon Core could do it, it would be a menial task for something even more powerful. Like a God, for example.

What John wanted me to know, was the possibility that all I had, all I was, could be fake, constructed. Mere forgeries, built for whatever reason by a God.

All of my being refuted this notion, but, at the same time, I could not deny it.

It could be a possibility.

I shouted, protesting, throwing my anger at John for telling me something like this.

<<I too reacted that way, when I first came to that conclusion>>

He diverted his eyes from me, pointing them at the Core beside him.

<<And I searched for truth, for a definite proof of who I was. Of who I am. Want to know what I found? Nothing. Nothing at all. There was never a human being with the memories I hold, that lived the life I remember>>

John’s voice turned sour, angry, to the point that he lost control of his own mana flow, releasing all the power and fury he held in his body.

In that instant, I saw him for what he really was. If he really was a human, it was a long time ago.

The information that Navi displayed about him made me shudder.

[Navi: Detected- John Howards lvl 999- Race: Demon- Title: Broken Hero (Aldora), Dungeon Master (Mahal Dungeon)]

His form did not change, his aspect still that of a human. It was his nature that was different now, without the spells he used to hide it.

His voice now sounded more powerful, as if the Dungeon itself resonated with it.

<<With all the power I accumulated in my life, I found a way to peek at that world, the place where my soul should have been born. There was no trace of me, or of the Heroes that once were my companions. Not even that Broken Demon Lord, who laughs in his madness. And I have looked for you, Roshal. Thinking, hoping that you might be different, that your past would be really there. Let me show you what I found>>

Again, mana burst out of the Core, linking to me as it did before.

It showed me my own memories.

Shards of them, at least.

The pain I remember suffering while on my deathbed, it was from an old man from France.

The cherished memory of my first day of school, from a kid that grew up in North America.

All of the experiences I had in my…in what I believed to be me previous life, all of them were nothing more of a patchwork of different memories, taken from several people and patched together to mold a personality, to craft a mind. My own mind, nothing more than a construct, a fake.

<<I’m sorry but, it’s best for you to know. When Telesia told me about you, your situation, I felt like I needed to let you know about this. I could just go on without telling you, but…I prefer being honest to people. Of course, you could still think it a lie, and act otherwise. You could oppose what I just showed you, and retort that a God’s power should be able to bring a dead soul back to life, even transfer it into another world. But that reasoning contains one big mistake. The assumption that those who call themselves God are the real thing>>

I blacked out, and when I returned to my senses, John had brought me to the saferoom.

Those memories play again and again in my mind, as I sit there in the dark, thinking about the implications of them.

I feel the discrepancies that John mentioned, both in my memory and in my actions. If my mind, my soul was something created by the God, my desires, my feelings, are they really mine, or just a bunch of pre-programmed thoughts, nothing more than a code to make this body work as the God intended?

That would explain why I am following this path, trying to become stronger instead of doing the thing that a sane human being would do, avoiding danger altogether and living a quiet and tranquil life.

It makes me so fucking angry, and yet, this feeling does not seem artificial to me at all. Of course, that John could be just lying.

Voices are calling me, as I wallow in my thoughts, still lying on the floor with my head cradled between my hands.

As I lift my eyes, Marica and Levia are in front of me, with Retel and Heod following behind.

They seem concerned, perhaps they went out, looking for me in the night.

How much time did I spend here, just brooding about what happened in there? And…should I tell them?

I feel like talking to them would help me process things, but at the same time, I am not quite sure they will understand.

Deep down, I am clinging to the idea that John could be lying to me, that his was all an elaborate prank he played on me, only to laugh his ass off in that saferoom where he lives.

And yet, what he revealed to me has shaken me deeply. Hell, it’s like everything I believed has turned out wrong, one way or the other.

I go back with the others, keeping silent on the way. I do not want to concern them too much, so I repeat that I am fine, that I only needed some time to think about things.

Of course, they are not convinced by my poor acting. Hell, it must be showing on my face.

As we come back home, I wait for the others to go to their rooms, and I ask Heod to talk a bit with me.

Since I met him, the old man has always proved to be a good listener, and someone with enough insight to give me good advice.

He offers me one cup of his homebrew beer, while he sips from another cup.

Holding the cup in hand, I share with him what happened during the day.

For the first time since I met him, Heod does not have an answer to give me. Instead, he looks at me, with sadness in his eyes.

When he finally speaks, it’s something about me being me, regardless if I come from another world, or even if my mind was something artificial.

More than his words, it was talking to him that let me calm down a bit.

After I finish the beer, I say goodnight to the old man, and head to my room.

I hoped to sleep, but my mind was restless until dawn.

Getting up from my bed, I feel tired, but…

The sleepless night made me come to a conclusion. It’s rather simple, and it comes from an old school of thought that brought immense serenity all over the world. It can be summarized into two simple words.

Fuck it.

That’s it. Just fuck it. Even if my mind is a fake, that does not mean it does not exist. I exist, here, now. What I feel, is real. My anger burns, my tears are as wet as those of anyone else. My blood is as red, and my laughter sounds the same.

No matter if some God built me from scraps, or if it just pulled my soul from whatever Hell I was destined to fall into.

During breakfast, I apologize to the others and reassure them about my well being, this time without acting like last night.

It’s like I lifted a weight from my mind, having reached this resolution.

Heod seems pleased to see me laugh and joke with the others, and when we’re left alone in the room, he asks me how I feel.

I tell him that I’ve come to an understanding with myself, and I do not really care about that matter at all.

The only thing that’s still bugging me is what John said about the Gods.

<<Those calling themselves God might not be the real thing>>

That’s what he said. There is no denying that my being has been influenced, perhaps even created, by one of those things, but if whatever brought me here is not a God, then what is it? And why are they here, playing with lives as if they were mere toys, making their followers wage war one onto the other.

To answer these questions, I decided to head back to John’s side.

This time, I used the transfer stone from my home. It shattered after it transported me in the saferoom, breaking into pieces that vanished in thin air.

<<Back here so soon? I thought that you would at least take one day to process things, to find your answer to what I showed you>>

John’s voice came from the bedroll. It looks like I’ve surprised him in his sleep. He rises from his bed, still drowsy from sleep.

<<So, why are you here, fellow fake soul?>>

His voice sounds like he’s mocking me a bit. But, I give him my honest answer, one that I spend the whole night thinking about.

The simple conclusion that I came to, is that I do not care what my origins are. Sure, it pisses me off that my head is basically full of fake memories, most of them painful ones. But, that does not deny my existence here, in this world.

<<Hm. I see, that’s the conclusion you reached. Well, a normal person wound be devastated by this, knowing that all they are, memories, personality and desires, are just fabricated, fake. Your reaction right now, the will to live on, it only means that you’re a fool. And that makes two of us>>

John smiles, perhaps pleased by my answer, by the fact that I am standing here, instead of cowering from what he revealed.

<<I too came to the same conclusion, a long time ago. Well, my motives were a bit different from yours. During my life in this world, I always longed to go back, to that world I thought to be my home. And, when I achieved the means to do it, I was shocked to know the truth. That I did not belong in that place. Like I said before, a normal person would be devastated by something like this. Instead, to me, it did not matter. It almost felt like a liberation of some sort, like lifting a weight from my chest. I bet you felt the same way too. No longer tied up to that place, to those memories, I was able to forget the pain they brought, those shackles made by bad memories and unpleasant feelings. I do not why the God of Aldora uses those kind of memories when he “makes” personalities for his Heroes. Perhaps, he wants to fuel some sort of uneasiness, to make them try to “balance” their painful memories with gaining power in this world. Who knows what that thing is really thinking, what plan he has. I can only make guesses about it, after all, we’re talking about something “alien”, so different from us that trying to understand it will be impossible>>

John continued his monologue, introducing me on his theories about how and why our minds were fabricated like this.

We feel like we hold memories of another life, and the knowledge that has been embedded in our minds is the real thing, no doubt about it. But, as he says, none of us actually holds the knowledge or concepts to actually change this world with notions from that other.

<<For example, even if we know about nuclear power, we do not have the knowledge to actually build a reactor. The knowledge we have, is limited, useful only to do some tricks with magic. For example, you could think of a spell that separates protons and neutrons, giving rise to a catastrophic explosion. But, no matter what, you, and I, we will never be able to piece together this notion in order to build something, to harness this “otherwordly” concept to change the world. The same goes for electricity, or computers. I’ve met “reincarnated” people that were electricians, or engineers, or even computer programmers. They made incredible spells and abilities, using their “knowledge”, but no one among them was even capable to build an instrument like a cellphone, or a computer. Even when during their “previous lives” they did that as a job>>

According to John’s words, the memories that are chosen to “build” an otherworlder’s mind are those that will give him an edge in battle. Nothing that could really impact the world outside of a battlefield.

<<It’s strange. I mean, if the God really wanted to win his war, he could use the technology to his advantage, make people build our world’s weaponry and such>>

In response to my words, John chuckles and shakes his head.

<<Sorry, it’s just…you’re still saying “our world” like it’s a fact. Well, I guess it will take some time for you to adjust to the concept. Still, you’re right. Partially. Yes, it could be easier to do as you said, but, I have the strong feeling that the Gods need this world to be right as it is. Think about it. What happened when science became the answer to all humanity’s questions? What was the most thing that was hurt by this?>>

<<Religion>>

John claps his hands, smiling.

<<Exactly. If science explains why it rains, and it becomes advanced enough to predict when precipitation would happen, why should people pray for rain? If science has an explanation for sickness, and a cure for it, why should people pray God for forgiveness, and raise sacrifice to have his favor? Now, in this world, prayers are not just chants and words. When someone prays, their mana is put into it. And guess where all that mana goes?>>

What he’s saying has some pretty heavy connotations. I am left speechless, unable to even answer.

<<It goes to the Gods. Well, we still call them with that name for the lack of a better name. They’re definitely not Gods in the proper term. First, they’re incredibly powerful, but not omnipotent. Me and you, we’re proof that their will is not absolute. It is possible to interfere with their plans, although it requires a lot of power to do it. Well, in your case it was another God that meddled in, but…you get what I’m saying right? Second, they need people to pray them. Perhaps they feed on mana, or their power is proportional to the people that pray them. That’s the reason why this world’s original God is weaker than that of Aldora, for example. Third, and most important, they are not eternal, or immortal. They are physical beings, hidden, extremely powerful, but they can be wounded and killed>>

He waits a bit after the last sentence, letting silence settle between us, as his word sink in. He then shows me the reason of his claim.

The Dungeon Core register everything, not only what happens in the Dungeon itself, but in the world as well. And it is ancient, even more than the structure where it is, even more than Aldora, or Sendria.

In an ancient time, when it was buried underground, when this world’s original God was still strong and powerful. Before the Aldora God came, there were others who attempted to conquer this world, and the Core registered the battle between two Gods, this world’s and a rogue usurper.

The rogue was defeated, killed. But, it wasn’t another God who did the killing. It was a man, holding incredible, unfathomable power.

<<As you saw, a mortal, a human, killed that thing. Before, the Gods would challenge themselves into battle. But, as time went by, they changed their strategy, raising minions, humans, giving them fancy titles like Hero or Demon Lord and sending them into battle. Building them with false, painful memories, in order to drive them to strife for becoming better than their “old self”. Making them thirsty for strength, to overwrite the memories of their pathetic “previous life”. That’s why Heroes, Demon Lords, me and you, all of us strive for power. It’s ingrained in us, we’re made to become more powerful, with the ultimate goal of slaying the enemy God. For me, Azathot and the God that ruled this world were the target. For you, it’s the God of Aldora. All that happens in the middle, it’s there to take you to that final moment. If either of us fails, the Gods would simply build another one, and another after that. Until one succeeds>>

<<So, you’re basically saying that these Gods are the bad guys and we need to get rid of them?>>

John makes a displeased face, shaking his head in denial.

<<Not really. Some of them are good. Take this world’s “original” God, for example. She, I think her name was Skelj, she harbors good feelings towards her creatures, she grants prayers and all that stuff. Your friend, Azathot, he’s a bit weird, definitely mad, but what he tries to do, chase out the rogue Gods and helping the ones that actually care for their worlds, it’s a good thing. Maybe his methods are a bit strange, but he tries to balance things out. The God of Aldora, well he’s a ruthless bastard, aiming to erase magic and enslave worlds to his will. He did that with our “old world”, too, but it backfired, since there science grew to suppress faith and he basically lost that world. Well, enough with this topic, it’s already making my head hurt. Now, let’s start with your training, and we will talk some more in a later time>>

I am a bit thankful when I hear his words. I really was on the verge of a severe headache wit all the notions and talks about Gods and stuff. It’s something I will need to elaborate slowly, without burning out my mind in order to sort things out.

John snaps his fingers, and a door appears on the saferoom ‘s wall. We head in, finding ourselves into a large, empty room. It appears that John, being the Dungeon Master, can create and alter the Dungeon at will thanks to his connection to the Core. Sadly, according to him, the same connection prevents him for ever leaving the Dungeon.

That should be one hell of a story, how and why someone like him ended up trapping himself forever in this place.

Still, I do not have the time to ponder about things, for his training starts immediately.

He used the same spell as the first time I met him, when he forced me on the ground with some kind of increased gravity, or air pressure.

The room where we are becomes imbued with it, making my movements almost impossible. Breathing in here is hard, and I am struggling just to keep myself standing upright. What the hell is this, a training room for Saiyan?

In there, he makes me start with basic movements and exercise. To his words, he will not help me raise my level during this training. What we will do together, is increase my stats by physical training, then work on my skills and finally, he will teach me how to use magic.

It seems something simple while said like this, but the smile John’s making, makes me feel like what he’s preparing is truly a hellish training.

After five hours spent in that room, I return to the surface, exhausted. My muscles ache all over, and even taking a single step is excruciating.

But, the sense of fatigue, it has given me time to clear my head a bit. As I focused on the exercises John made me do, I didn’t let my mind dwell on the notions I learned during these two days.

Which is fine, I think.

Having used the Transfer Orb that John has given me, I returned into our house, surprising the others with my sudden appearance. Well, I suppose it would have been better to warn them first, but oh well.

Much to my surprise, Dahl is here with the others. His wounds healed, he’s sitting at the table trying to stop Heod from putting more cake in his plate.

<<It’s a battle you will not win, Dahl>>

I say, smiling at that scene. Yes, all that exercise definitely improved my mood, although it drained my energies.

Even if I feel exhausted, I decide to go out with the others. Right now, I want to enjoy a bit of time with them, without monsters trying to kill us or Dungeon floors to explore. Just a bunch of people hanging out, speaking about what they did during the day.

Before we go, Heod stops me, checking out how I feel. Our talk yesterday night must have been concerning to him.

I reassure him of my well being. The old man smiles, patting my shoulder, telling me that whenever I want to talk, about anything, he’s there.

It’s refreshing to see that there are people here who are ready to support me, listening to my insecurities and complaints with patience. Seriously, I don’t know how things would have been without Heod’s support.

Thanking the old man, and promising him a treat of good liquor when I come back, I part from him, heading out to join the others on our night out in Sendria.

Unlike the alleys I saw yesterday, the Central plaza is something beautiful to see at night. No trace of poverty or desperation here, only people doing their business and others willing to spend their coins in exchange for good food, alcohol and a bit of fun.

We decide to grab a bite at the foodstalls, and we walk around seeing what Sendria has to offer at night.

Several stalls and taverns are willingly serving alcohol to us, since here there is basically no concept of minor or adolescents. After you get older than thirteen, you stop being a child and are treated like an adult, with all the good and bad sides that come from it.

Surprisingly, Dahl seems to be rather weak to alcohol. We’ve taken a few rounds of beer, and he’s already red in the face and talking funny.

And he’s talking too much, it’s like seeing another person from the usual, calm and collected Dahl.

Well, the first impression he made might have been a strange one, but he’s gradually growing on me. He’s a nice guy, and reliable, most of all.

Each of us is talking about what happened with their respective trainers. Retel is really pleased with

Rupert. Although they haven’t yet started a proper physical training course, the retired adventurer has begun to give him some theory notions about proper martial forms, and the use of weapon and shield.

<<Things like how to properly hold out your shield, how to maximize impact deflection and so on. Lots of complicated, but interesting stuff>>

When it comes to Marica’s turn, her face turns pale while she recalls the huge amount of books that she has been forced to study. Apparently, her tutor is somewhat of a strict one.

<<Well, after all magic is about knowledge, and you can only acquire that with hard study>>

She empties her cup, cleaning her mouth from the beer foam with her sleeve in an unfeminine gesture.

Levia too has begun to study some basic magic tomes. Her tutor is someone that specialized in both archery and magic, combining the two in battle.

Judging from the way she speaks of her, she holds her new master in great consideration already.

When it comes to my turn, I omit the ridiculous part of what happened, like the level of my new master and his circumstances.

They try to pry about what happened yesterday, what could have possibly saddened me so much. But, I divert the topic, saying that I just felt a bit homesick. Nostalgia for my old world. Well, that’s one hell of an excuse, coming from my own mouth.

But, I do not want to ruin the atmosphere right now. We’re having fun, no point in bringing some depressing topic out.

When the right time comes, I will talk to them properly. But for now, we’re having fun, and I do not want to ruin that.

I am taking this occasion to push Retel to make his move with Marica. It’s almost painful to look at them, as they steal glances one from the other, embarrassed, unable to properly stand up and tell each other what they feel.

Every time Retel looks at her, Marica’s face becomes red, and she diverts her eyes. Mostly, she looks down and fidgets with her hands, or she turns to Levia to talk.

Not that Retel is doing something different. He’s being his usual self, joking out loudly, but since we’ve been here, he never directly spoke to Marica.

We spent another hour in that tavern, before heading back home. Sadly, me and Retel had to carry back Dahl. He’s really too much weak to alcohol, and he fell asleep on the table.

<<Well, I guess it’s enough for this night. Tomorrow, you all have stuff to do after all>>

I smile to them, reminding them of the upcoming Rank-Up ceremony. Since Dahl was discharged earlier from the Hospital, Telesia decided to hasten things and do the Rank Up tomorrow morning.

Since I have different circumstances, I cannot participate to the ceremony, but I will attend it together with the old man.

After all, it should be an important day for adventurers, worthy of celebration.

With Retel, we lift up Dahl from his seat, and we start heading home.

<<Wow, he’s still asleep even now. Are you sure he’s not dead?>>

Retel asks, a bit concerned. Of course Dahl is still alive, he’s just passed out. Perhaps, this was his first time drinking alcohol?

<<I guess he’ll wake up tomorrow with a nice headache>>.

Since there’s a spare room in hour house, we brought him back with us. It’s a bit strange, if I think about it, but none of us actually know where he lives. The only personal thing we know about him is that Telesia is his grandmother, and that’s it. Nothing about the rest of his family.

Well, I figured out he might just be a shy person after all, reserved about his whereabouts.

Taking him up the stairs was a bit of a chore to do, since, even if passed out, he was still moving in his sleep, making it difficult for us to carry him.

I’ll take my revenge on him tomorrow, that’s for sure.

Thankfully, he didn’t puke, or this situation could have become seriously worse than it is.

After laying him on the bed, we left the room. Marica and Levia are already in their rooms, while Heod is downstairs in his improvised laboratory. He’s probably making his inventory, since he will need to move to the new lab that the Guild has provided him.

We decided to pay him a visit. After all, I promised some good liquor to the old man.

He’s glad to see the bottle. Personally, I never tasted the liquor inside of it, and I bought it by Levia’s suggestion.

She said that it was a long time favorite of Heod, and often, back when they lived in Nudria, he would buy the liquor and sip it after each meal.

Although he enjoys liquor, he is not a drunkard at all. More like a connoisseur, enjoying the thing without letting it become a vice.

We stay some time with the old man, helping him to move and pack things.

<<Hm, I guess it’s enough for today. Go to bed, lads. Tomorrow will be a great day, you need to rest a bit>>

He sends us off with a smile.

Once in my room, I take off my clothes and collapse on the bed. Hell, I feel tired. That bastard John really worked me to the bone.

Still, I’ve been trying to avoid the topic with myself, in order to not crack the resolve I found yesterday. But, it returns, always, coming back from the corners of my consciousness, no matter in how many menial tasks or conversations I try to bury myself.

It’s not something a normal person should be able to process in only one day. Well, John’s words were right about that.

Hell, I do not know if it will take me a lifetime to come to terms with this. I tried to ask Navi about how things really are for me.

After staying silent for a while, her voice rings in my head. Her usual mocking tone is not there, instead, the voice she makes sounds apologetic.

[Navi: Yes, it’s all true. Sorry, if we kept it hidden from you, but something like this could cause severe psychological instability, even crush your mind. We could not risk something like this happening]

Well, she admits things are as John told me. And what’s this “we” she’s talking about?

[Navi: This conversation was authorized by Azathot. Since he does not want to lose another subject, this time it was allowed to share the details, in order to avoid the same accident that happened with the Laughing One]

So, the God is listening, huh? Well, that makes two of them out to spy me, Alvares and my old friend.

I feel like those VIPs from old movies, paranoid about microphones and spy-cams being set in their office.

Well, I hope they enjoy the show, seeing a man facing doubts about his very existence. Although, since Navi confirmed it, I guess they’re not doubts anymore.

All the memories I have, the life I thought to be my own. Nothing more than forgeries, things put together to build my personality.

All the decisions I took in this world, they all stem from the way I was constructed. Even me being here, it’s nothing more than a desire already “programmed” into me when I was created.

All that talk about becoming stronger, it was not really my decision, but something ingrained in me, pre-set, a path I was supposed to chose for myself and follow, thinking it like a decision I took. While it was not.

And all the times I considered to turn back, abandon whatever I was attempting to do and live a quiet life here, those were empty consideration, only possible to make this whole thing more plausible, like I had a proper inner dialogue with myself.

It makes me laugh, thinking about how really messed up this situation is.

I roll over in my bed, trying to let myself fall asleep. After all, I already took a decision about how I would deal with all this. Yes, this whole situation is so messed up, but, I cannot change. No matter what I do, it will not change the fact that my head is full of memories that are not mine, and that whatever I am, I am tied to whatever game these Gods are playing.

So, what should I do? The answer is simple. Continue what I am already doing. I will continue training with John, and after that, I will resume the exploration of the Dungeon and the trials hidden within. Somehow, I will deal with things, like I’ve always had up to this point. Perhaps, if I really become strong, I will have the occasion to look one of these supposed Gods in the face, and let him taste a bit of pain.

Hell, I really sound like a proper, stereotypical Demon Lord right now! Well, it’s the Gods’ fault, since they made me this way.

Finally, sleep comes to silence my thoughts. After all, tomorrow will be a great day. No point in spending another sleepless night, brooding over things that I cannot possibly change.

Re:Interference Chapter 20- Rest

A knock on the door, light, but persistent. I open my eyes, still drowsy from the first good night of sleep I had in a while.

Navi’s clock signals noon. I smile, thinking about the straight fourteen hours that I spent sleeping.

Well, my body needed some rest, after all.

Having allocated all my points from the recent level up, I drifted into proper, good sleep for the first time since I’ve set foot into Sendria.

<<I’m coming down!>>

I shout while suppressing a yawn. Man, I feel still sleepy, that sensation when you oversleep and yet you feel even more tired than when you went to sleep.

Before going downstairs, I do a quick trip to the bathroom. After refreshing my face a bit, I head down.

The others are already awake, and they’re sharing lunch, sitting at the large table located in the kitchen. The only one that is not here is Dahl, since he’s still in the Healer’s care. After all, his injuries were no joke, and he will need some days before the Healers will let him out of the Hospital.

<<Morning…everybody>>

Sluggishly, I take a seat at the table.

<<Morning? It’s noon already. Damn, you like to oversleep huh?>>

Retel teases me a bit, while sipping a bit of wine from his cup.

<<Hey, aren’t you a bit too young to drink that?>>

I retort to him. Still, he’s underage, right? Even in this world, letting someone his age drink alcohol should be prohibited.

<<Oh shut up! We’re celebrating right now!>>

He raises his cup, spilling a bit of wine on the table.

<<Cheers! For our first successful Dive in that hideous place!>>

Well, he is right. Although, I am more interested in the food rather than drinking wine right now.

The meal in front of me is something wonderful. Far better than the things I prepare, for sure. And I have the “cooking” skill, so…

As I take a bite from the meat served in my plate, I mentally praise the old man’s cooking prowess.

He’s still in the back of the kitchen, tinkering with stoves and ingredients.

<<Hey, Heod! What are you cooking in there?>>

I ask him, but the old man denies my curiosity.

<<Oh, just wait…you’ll see when it is ready>>

What he brings back, is one of the most delicious cakes I ever tasted.

We stayed there, enjoying the meal and taking the time to catch up a bit with Heod.

He wanted to know what happened inside the Dungeon, all the details of the battles we fought.

From his part, he shared how his alchemy shop was faring during our absence. It seems that his potions are selling well in the city, and he has already made a name for himself.

<<Soon, I will need to hire some new people and open a stall in the Central Marketplace. You know, I’ve received a good offer for a collaboration with my shop. Soon, I will move the business from this house, and I will have a proper laboratory. You’ll see, this old man will make you never worry about money in your life!>>

The man himself seems really pleased with how good his business is doing, although, it seemed like he’s a bit troubled by something. It could just be my imagination, after all.

<<Oh, that reminds me…we found a lot of ingredients there in the Dungeon. You might want to see them>>
After lunch, I head to the old man’s laboratory in the basement.

From my Inventory, I unload the ingredients from the Dungeon. Heod sorted through the ones he requested, while some of the plant samples from the sixth level were unknown even to him.

<<Hm, I will need to study these later. Say, Roshal…what are you going to do next?>>

<<Well, first off I need to visit the Guild building and drop some things there. Then, I need to go to the armor shop, and perhaps to the Hospital building to visit Dahl>>

Heod chuckled.

<<No, I meant in general. You know, you mentioned that you would like to take some time off from the Dungeon, after all. What are you planning to do, and how long would you like to stay in the city?>>

<<Hm…I haven’t decided about it yet. Two weeks, perhaps? I need to consult the others, see what they would like to do>>

<<Can I give you some advice? Take your time. Right now, you’ve grown incredibly fast by fighting in that place. Yet, you still lack something, all of you. Both as individuals and as a group. If you want my honest opinion, you should take at least a month to sort out things, learn some new tricks before you decide to head in the Dungeon again>>

The old man has a point there. I myself was thinking about something like this, take a pause from the Dungeon and focus on honing our skills here, without having to risk our lives everyday.

I part from him, still thinking about what he said.

A bit of proper training will be beneficial to us. I remember that the Guild gives out free courses an training to adventurers, while more advanced training courses cost a pretty sum of money.

Well, the old man said to not worry about money, since he will take care of it for us.

Of course, we can have our own funding, from the loot we obtained during this Dive we will probably gain quite a good amount of money.

First things first, I need to go to the Guild now. I will worry about what to do in a later time.

The girls went out on their own, taking the day to do some errands and spend some “girl time” on their own.

Levia seemed particularly glad when Marica asked her. The old man was almost moved to tears, seeing his little girl head out with a human friend for the first time.

I usually do not give it much thought, to the fact that Heod, Retel and Levia are from a different race. But for them, who tasted discrimination from who knows how much time, it is something to cherish when people treat them as equals, as friends.

<<So, shall we go to the Guild?>>

Retel distracts me from my thoughts.

<<Sure. We need to drop by the armor shop after that, and then we meet up with the girls and head to the Hospital. Do you want to stop anywhere else on the way?>>

<<Nah, I’m ok. Maybe later, after we deal with business first>>

We go towards the Guild building, chatting about small talk on the way there.

<<So, what would you like to do from now on? The old man suggested we take a bit of rest from the Dungeon for a while. What do you think about it?>>

Retel ponders a bit to my question.

<<I wanted to ask you the same thing. All that happened in there, it made me reflect on some things. Sure, we won, and we got stronger. But, that’s just counting levels and skills, right? I don’t know about you, but I would like to properly learn how to fight. I was a bit pissed off when Dahl called me an amateur the first time, when he criticized my moves…but, after thinking about it, I know he was right. I mean, I know how to swing a spear around and lift my shield up, but…>>

<<Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I too have the same feeling, that somehow I am still lacking on several aspects here. After all, what am I doing in battle? I use my skill, and that’s it. Maybe it will be the right choice for us to stop a bit from going inside the Dungeon, and focus on some real and proper training for a while?>>

As we head towards the Guild, we continue speaking about what to do in the near future.

<<And…why haven’t you spoken with her about it?>>

Retel blushes, blabbering some excuses. It makes me laugh a bit, and it only makes his blabbering worse.

<<Relax, I don’t think it will go that badly. Just go and speak to her. Invite her somewhere, maybe buy some pretty things as a gift>>

Before we realize it, the Guild Headquarters stand right in front of us. We drop the talk we’ve been having, and I feel like Retel took a sigh of relief.

<<Well, let’s get on with it>>

I open the large, wooden door. Stepping inside, we’re welcomed by one of the receptionist.

As I look around, I notice that the building is almost empty, only a few adventurers are in there.

<<It looks like we got lucky this time. No line, and almost all receptionists are free>>

Retel smiles, heading towards the reception desks.

Greeting the female receptionist, a blonde woman with freckles and light green eyes, we make our official report to the Guild.

After taking care of the paperwork, we ask her about selling the materials we got from the Dungeon.

Of course, I will not sell all the loot and materials we obtained. Some of them, I have them promised to the old lady’s armor shop. The rarest ones, we will keep them for ourselves, while the rest I will split in two, and sell them to the Guild and at the Central Marketplace.

But, what interests me the most right now, is seeing if there is a reward for the Champion and Guardian monsters we’ve slain.

The receptionists points us to another desk, situated in the back part of the building.

Entering there, the strong smell of blood and animal envelops the air. At the counter, a rough looking man is weighting some monster parts on a scale, while some adventurers wait in line.

<<So, with this and the skins from before…I’d say ten gold coins>>

As the man gives his price, the adventurers make a sad face. Perhaps they expected more from the monster parts they brought back from the Dungeon.

Still, without protesting out loud, they accept the money and head away from the building.

Another adventurer party advances to the counter, delivering their bounty of bones, teeth and monster shells to the old man.

We’re standing in line, behind another party.

Waiting for our turn, we look around and comment about the things exposed in this shop. This counter serves adventurers, selling and buying monster parts. It also is the place where you can exchange proof of having taken down a Champion monster for the appropriate reward.

<<Next>>

The middle aged man at the counter calls for the next in line.

This time, the adventurers make a ruckus out of the price that the old man offered. One of them even takes out his weapon, trying to threaten the receptionist.

The old man crosses his large, muscular arms. His face is not showing anything but disappointment towards the adventurers.

He cleans his hand on the white, blood stained apron that covers his large belly.

<<Huh…you never learn. I’ll say one more time. These are the prices here. The items you brought, are only low level materials from the easiest floors. And this is the best price for them you’ll get in all Sendria. Now, for the last time. Stop being childish, take the money and get the fuck out of my sight>>

His deep voice resounds in the air. Despite him being visibly angry, the receptionist is trying with all his might to sound gentle to the protesting adventurers.

<<Tch. As if we’d settle for this measly amount of money, old bastard. Nevermind the price for this loot, give me all the money you have here>>

Nearing his face to the receptionist, the protesting adventurer points his dagger at the man’s throat.

The others behind him have also taken their weapons in hand.

<<Well, it looks like words do not work with scum like you. Whatever>>

Lifting his shoulders, the old man looks like he’s giving up.

The leader of the protesting party seems pleased by what he’s seeing. Strangely, none of the people working behind the counter seem to do anything about this situation.

Almost as if they do not even consider this a dangerous situation, they simply gave a sorrowful look to the adventurers, and then resumed their work.

The receptionist smiles.

In a flash, the adventurer that was threatening him flies off, crashing to the wall with an unpleasant crackling sound.

He screams, lifting up his arm.

It is broken, bent in an unnatural direction.

The other adventurers look at their leader, before they charge towards the counter.

Again, with a movement faster than my eyes could see, the receptionist takes care of them.

Five crashing sounds, and now six voices are screaming in pain from the floor of this building.

<<Martha, take these rascals out of my sight please. Next!>>

A girl comes out from behind the counter. Smiling, she grabs the rebellious adventurers by the collar, all six of them, and drags them away from the building.

As I look at her, I notice that the girl’s level exceeds fifty.

The receptionist himself, he’s at level sixty-five. Definitely not a match for those adventurers, who could not reach his level not even if they combined all theirs.

A bit scared by him, I greet the receptionist.

<<Oh, new faces. Well, I hope you enjoyed the show from before, and learned from it>>

He smiles, but his eyes are a bit cold.

Definitely a scary man.

<<Yeah…you don’t often see a man breaking six arms in the blink of an eye. I am impressed>>

Retel praises the receptionist with sincere admiration.

The man laughs, a hearty, bellowing sound.

<<Heh, scum like that are not even worth my time,lads. You know, once I was an adventurer like you…>>

Please, don’t say that you took an arrow in the knee…

<<Then I got married, and I retired from the field. Now, I manage this place, since this damned Guild could not let me go. Well, my name is Rupert, Rupert the Rock as they called me back then>>

<<So, mister Rupert, I am Retel and this one here is my friend Roshal. We would like to sell some materials, and also…>>

Rupert’s eyes widen as I empty my inventory in front of him.

<<Wow, it has been ages since I saw one of those skills. It surely is convenient eh?>>

He praises my Inventory, smiling.

But his expression slowly turns into surprise, and then astonishment.

<<You…how? This much materials, and all in pristine conditions. And wait, these are…lads, did you bring the heads, also?>>

I nod, and take out the heads of the Champion level monsters we killed.

<<So, Silverback, Serketh and Shartu. All three of them…another party brought back Elthor, the Champion from the eighth level…but to think a group of youngsters like you managed to take out those three in a short amount of time>>

His mouth was about to fall off when I presented the Guardian’s head.

<<Even this one…lads, I am impressed>>

Incredulous, he looked back and forth from us to the materials, then to our Identity stones. In there, there was recorded the duration of our last Dive.

Usually, a party would take at least four days to clear levels beyond the fifth one, even more for the successive ones.

The tenth level was especially rough for newcomers, and since our party registered to the Guild less than two months ago, we’re basically newcomers to the Guild’s ranks.

One of the other workers comes near the counter, and whispers something to Rupert’s ears.

He looks at us again, and a wry smile opens up in his face.

<<Oh, so you are those guys. Well, Telesia did speak about some youngsters with peculiar circumstances. Huh, I thought you lot looked different. Wait, there should be more of you, right? Two girls and that little brat, Dahl…where are they?>>

We share the whereabouts of the other members. Rupert seems saddened to hear that Dahl was injured.

<<So, he’s at the Hospital right now…well, I’ll pay him a visit later. Now, let’s get to business>>

As he did for the other adventurers, Rupert weights all the materials we brought back.

The corpses from the monsters have already been dismantled by my skill, so he does not need to take the corpses apart himself.

<<Huh, you surely made my job convenient boys. Well, definitely a lot cleaner>>

He laughs again. Definitely, he feels like a fine person. As he does his work, separating the monster materials, weighting them and registering them, he shares a bit of his old stories from the time he was the one slaying the monsters.

Since the materials we brought were a large amount, we had the occasion to talk with Rupert for some time.

His stories are really interesting, and none of them feels like the empty boasting of a retired adventurer.

He even claim to have fought against a Dragon, and I totally believe him.

<<Damn, that beast was the foulest thing I ever set my eyes upon. It smelled of sulfur, and its roar made me literally piss my pants. That was one of the turning points for me, lads. When we fled from it, we lost two thirds of our party. Only me, my wife and two others survived, from a party of twelve adventurers well over level fifty. Our leader was level seventy-six, and he got munched like a snack by that overgrown lizard>>

<<So, how high was the Dragon’s level?>>
Retel asks, leaning on the counter.

Rupert turns around with a dramatic air.

<<It was level one>>

Without a word, he turns back to his work.

<<You’re kidding right? Level one?>>

Retel is incredulous about Rupert’s words. I too am surprised by what I heard. First, Dragons do exist in this world. Well, it is a fantasy world, so it’s only logical that they exist here, if logic can even apply to this place.

But the most shocking part, was about the Dragon’s level.

<<Lads, let me get things clear. Level is not an absolute. Sure, it’s a measure of power, but it can be tricky sometimes. What really counts, are skills and stats. So, a level one with good skills and stats can easily beat a level ten with sub-par abilities. And, when it comes to Dragons, they’re naturally born with the strongest skills and ridiculous stats. Many adventurers lost their lives, thinking that just because their levels were much higher than the Dragon they dare to face, they could have an easy time against it. If you want to know more about those beasts, I believe there’s something in the Guild’s library>>

We continue to chat a bit whit Rupert.

He finishes inspecting the materials we brought, and he writes the sum for them on a sheet of paper, stamping it with the Guild’s seal.

<<Here. It’s better if you take this to the Treasury, instead of taking the coin with you. It’s a fine amount, mind you, and it comprises the rewards for these beauties here>>

Pointing at the heads of the Champions and Guardian we’ve slain, he gives us a big smile before sending us off.

<<Take care, lads. And drop by sometimes!>>

As we head out of the building, we pass to the main reception desk to ask the Treasury’s whereabouts.

The receptionist gives us direction to the detached building. It’s near the main building, in a side alley.

We exit the main building, heading out in the street again.

Levia and Marica were waiting for us outside of the Guild, since we took too much time to sell our loot and they already finished their tour of the city.

Together, we head towards the Treasury.

On the road there, we share with them what happened during the afternoon.

The Treasury is a luxurious building, which shows the opulence and wealth of the Guild. Inside, the marble floor is adorned with mosaics representing warriors and monsters.

The receptionists there all have a professional and dignified look, and the adventurers waiting in line all have splendid armors and the aura of strength around them.

A familiar voice beckon to us as we stand in line.

<<Oh, look who’s here>>

Telesia herself greets us. Surrounded by attendants that scurry behind her, carrying packs of documents while showing a concerned and frustrated expressions while they try to get the old lady’s attention.

We greet her, telling her what business brings us here.

With a wink, she guides us to a private office, raising some mumbles of protest from the other adventurers in line.

<<Oh shut up you lot!>>

She snaps at the adventurers, bringing silence again in the large hall of the Treasury.

Inside the small private office, a receptionist takes care of the sum we’ve come to claim. Instead of paying us upfront, she makes us open an account in the Guild’s bank.

With this, according to the receptionist, we’ll be able to deposit or withdraw money just by presenting our Identity stones to the counter. Definitely more convenient than having all the money with you. Well, not that something like that is a problem for me, since I can store the money into my Inventory after all.

Taking advantage of the situation, I immediately deposit some of the funds I had in the Inventory into the Guild’s account.

The receptionist makes a surprised face, while Telesia smiles to us.

<<Well, aren’t you full of surprises…>>
She beckons the receptionist to speed up the practice, and then she basically drags us out of the office.

<<Now, follow me>>

Unable to deny her request, we follow the Guildmaster into her own office. The place is a mess, with documents scattered all around without any sense of order.

It would give nightmares to my old boss and his OCD.

That thought makes me chuckle a bit. Well, it’s also because we’ve made a huge profit today, and we still have some loot to sell.

Telesia cuts straight to the point. She wants to hear the details about what happened with Dahl and me on the sixth floor.

<<I already asked Dahl what happened, but I would like to hear your version too>>

And so, I tell her about what happened in the flower field, when Dahl attacked me under Alvares’s spell, and how I did unravel the magic cast on him and me both.

<<Hm. I see. But, you’ve been a bit too naive, Roshal>>

She flicks her fingers, and around me, for a brief moment, purple snakes coiled around my body manifest.

<<You did not break the spell on yourself. Even with Dahl, I had to ask for the help of a close friend to actually break the spell on him. Alvares is one of the strongest magicians in Sendria, perhaps the strongest one. There’s no way someone of your level could have broken free from his spell>>

My face pales as she tells me so.

I really thought that I had somehow broken the spell, but I was mistaken.

<<Still…why make me think that it worked?>>

<<Perhaps he wanted you to lower your guard. After all, he’s using this to spy on you. If he wanted you dead, if he really wanted something like this, I think nothing would stop him. Oh, do not worry. In here, his spell does not work, so we can have a little chat. And, let me reassure you, his spell does not have any harmful effect>>

Telesia continues, explaining how the situation in Sendria is right now.

According to her words, more and more scouts from Aldora have been spotted in Sendria territory. But that’s the only movement their troops have shown so far. Even the attack on Nudria has been the only offensive action they had taken towards Sendria’s territory.

<<It’s like they’re waiting for something, and we do not know what they’re waiting for. I have some suspicions, however. But, without any kind of proof, I cannot do anything about them>>

She shares some more details about what is going on in Sendria. She seems worried, crushed by the heavy implications of some of the recent happenings.

Well, what she says is really something to lose your sleep on.

Besides from the movement of Aldora’s scouts, there is also the matter with the Triumvirate. Alvares is behaving more and more aggressively during the Council reunion, and he’s pressing the other members of the Triumvirate to make his own law propositions pass.

Criminal activity is spiking in Sendria, and people are demanding the Army to take matters in hands.

<<In a normal situation, this would be something disadvantageous to Alvares. But, there are strong suspicions of him being the one behind the underground activities in Sendria. More than suspicions, it’s certain to me that he’s the one holding the reins here, but without proof I cannot bring him down after all. Still, he’s the one causing the problem, while he holds the solution in hands. Soon, the criminal activity will become too much, and the Triumvirate will be forced to call for martial law in the city. It’s inevitable, and I have the strong feeling that Alvares will use that opportunity to deal a blow against the Guild. Perhaps, he has already a plan to pin some false accusations to us>>

The news she’s sharing to us make me worry, but I do not understand the reason why she’s sharing some delicate matters to us.

First, even if we’re registered to the Guild, we are in no position to hear some delicate state matters. And, as she said before, I am still under Alvares’s spell. So, there is a high probability that, no matter the precautions she took in here, Alvares might use me to…

<<You’re worrying about that? Well, it is considerate of you, but I have my reasons here. And, I already told you to not worry about that spell. Nothing I will tell you here will reach Alvares, of that I assure you>>

Right. I forgot that she’s a mind reader, after all.

<<As the reason why I am sharing things with you…well, let’s say that I plan to make use of you lot. Oh don’t make that face. Of course I will use all my assets against that old bastard, and you are one of those assets. Right now, my most trusted parties are busy doing some secret operations all around the territory that Sendria manages. Mostly, we’re doing sabotage and intel gathering, but we’re stretched thin here. What I want to say is…I will rely on you, in the future. And, in order to do that, I will need you lot to be informed first, and then to grow a little bit more>>

She ends her sentence with a wry smile.

This woman is scary…

She talks some more about the current situation in Sendria, about the Guild and whatever is goig on behind the scenes.

In short, Alvares is the biggest threat to Sendria, and the Guild itself. Even more than Aldora, since Alvares could easily strike from inside Sendria. Telesia even hints at some suspicious rumors, about Alvares being in contact with Aldora itself.

According to her, he’s using his influence to destabilize Sendria, while using money and coercion to take total control of the Council, effectively ruling out the other two members of the Triumvirate.

But, he is taking his time, in order to not stir things too fast.

<<In two or three months, however, he will make his move. I know it, and I am preparing for that. Along with you, I am raising some promising individuals. It’s some kind of a private army of the Guild. Of course, every notion about it is kept in secret, so do not go blabbering anything about it>>

She winks, and then she hands out to each of us a bundle of paper.

<<There, you will find your first orders an assignment. Relax, right now you’re way too weak to be of use in the field. What I will have you do, is a hellish training course for the next two months. But, before that, we will take care of your Rank Up>>

Again, she gives us her smile. It could even look the amiable smile of an old lady, but her eyes betray the sly intelligence behind that smile.

I look at her, puzzled by her words. The others too look like they did not understand the last part of her sentence.

Telesia sighs, while holding her head with one hand.

<<So, you lot don’t even know about this, right? Well, I expected this from the otherworlder but…>>

<<Wait how do you…ah, mind reading. Of course>>

I jumped up from my seat when she said that word, but then my reasoning clicked in. If she can read minds, of course she would knew about my circumstances.

This woman is not scary, she’s terrifying…and I fear that we’ve been caught into something far greater and dangerous than anything we’ve faced before.

<<Hey, what is this “rank up” thing that you mentioned?>>

Retel asks Telesia a question, his tone being a bit rude to the old woman.

She sighs again, and begins explaining about it.

<<All of you, you already surpassed level twenty, right? It should be common knowledge, but once you break past level twenty, it is possible to undergo a special ritual, that will reward you with something called “class”. By ranking up, and receiving a class, your stats will go up and you will gain new skills in accordance to the class awarded. So, we will have you all undergo the rank up ceremony>>

I ask Navi to confirm Telesia’s words. The Navigator explains the process, using almost the same words that Telesia used.

Unfortunately, according to Navi I cannot “rank up” normally. She tries to be evasive about it, but my own “rank up” will happen in relation to how many trials I manage to pass.

Leaving me outside of the picture, the others will be able to have a significant increase in their power. Which is a good thing.

Still, Telesia says that the “rank up” will be held when Dahl will be discharged from the Hospital.

She makes a sad face when she mentions his injuries, looking like a loving grandmother for a small moment.

The impression around her disappears, when she orders us our new training schedule.

To all of my companions, she appointed a specialist from the Guild. Retired adventurers, who were the best in their specializations when they were still active.

I do not know if I should feel honored for this opportunity, or I should be despairing, since my plans about “some weeks of relax in Sendria” have just gone out of the window.

Well, looking at things from a different perspective, Telesia’s intervention resolved my doubts about what to do in the near future.

And it’s not like we could refuse her, after all. She did not make any explicit threat about what would happen if we refuse her generous offer, still, I can imagine how crossing her would be really unpleasant, and dangerous.

Well, I came here to Sendria in order to become stronger, and she’s basically serving that opportunity on a silver plate for us.

I will consult things with Heod first, however.

<<Oh don’t sweat it. I’ve already spoken with that grumpy old man>>

Again, the thought reading thing. Telesia hands me a sheet of paper. On it, there is a formal contract between Heod’s alchemy shop and the Guild.

<<So, the old man sold us…>>

<<It’s not like that. Well, I may have convinced him about the fate of his shop if he refused, and it’s all for giving you guys the economic support that you need. But enough of that. We were talking about your training…>>

She goes on, telling us where to find our new trainers and when to meet them. For now, before the rank-up, we will only have an informal meeting with them, and the true training will start after the rank-up ceremony.

Telesia dismisses us, turning her attention to the documents scattered on her desk. One of her attendants comes into the room, to escort us out of the office.

Still a bit shocked, we leave Telesia’s office, heading out to the armor shop to drop the materials they had requested from us.

Since we will be staying in Sendria for a while, we also decided to drop our weapons and armor for an upgrade. After all, when this “training” will end, we will need better gear to protect ourselves.

On the road there, we speak about the sudden development that happened with Telesia.

<<To think that she went and organized us this tight schedule…>>

Retel is mumbling, reading the papers that Telesia handed to him back in the office. To each of us, she gave instructions about the supposed training regime we have to follow.

A specialist from the Guild will train each of us, individually. For Retel, the retired adventurer that should be his new master is Rupert, the man we’ve met when we exchanged the monster parts.

Marica was excited as soon as she saw the name of her new master. According to her, she would be studying with one of the most famous magicians in Sendria. Among all of us, she’s the most eager to start this new thing.

<<I don’t know what to think about this. I mean, it’s somewhat a good thing, we will be able to study and learn from some strong people, but, I feel like we’re being trapped into doing this>>

Levia is fidgeting a bit with her hair, an habit of her. She does this whenever she’s feeling a bit anxious.

<<Well, no point in overthinking about this. I think that, all considered, this will be a good opportunity. I mean, usually you would have to pay a pretty sum of money to get this kind of specialist to train you, right? And, we did come here to get stronger, for how empty that goal sounds. If we follow what Telesia said, we will get stronger, and with considerably less risks than just strolling down in the Dungeon>>

Levia nods and smiles to Retel’s words. But, no matter what her brother says, she seems like she’s not really sure about what to do.

Even I am a bit conflicted about all of this. I am angry at Telesia, she basically pushed her agenda on us, without even bothering to ask first.

Seriously, my experience with the Guild and the people managing it is a bit too much convoluted for my tastes.

They made a good first impression, feeling like a competent organization. Then, that matter with the trial happened, and they decided to kidnap me. And now, this development with Telesia.

To think I was getting ready to have two weeks of relax in Sendria…

We finally reach the old lady’s armor shop.

As we enter, her young assistant greets us, before she strolls to the back room, calling her grandmother.

Helena peeks out of the curtains that separate her shop from the back of the building. From the looks of it, she was working on some project right now, judging from the smears of oil that are on her face.

She smiles at us, and comes forward in order to properly greet her “dear customers”.

<<So, back from that funny place, aren’t ya? Well, did you bring the materials I asked?>>

To her request, I respond with a nod. As I take out the materials from my inventory, she makes a pleased expression, examining them with quick glances.

<<Good, good. Hm? You even brought back some materials from Champion monsters? How thoughtful of you!>>

Her eyes sparkle as she looks at the rare materials. In particular, Shartu’s hide is catching her attention.

But, as she browses through the items…

<<Say…where did you find that?>>

She’s pointing at a small knife I have, hanged to the leather belt I am wearing around my waist. It was one of the experiments I did with my crafting skill.

<<This? Oh, I made it myself>>

She gestures me to give her my knife. As I take the weapon and present it to her, Helena practically snatches the item from my hands.

She is gazing at the small knife, running her fingers on the blade and handle.

<<Boy, do you have a crafting skill?>>

She asks while staring at me.

<<Yes. Why?>>

<<Tch. Damn cheaters…and here I thought that you had actual talent with crafting. Oh well. So, did ya come here just to drop the materials? Or do ya need something else?>>

As usual, she’s a bit rude, but there’s no denying that the items she makes are pretty good.

I leave the armors and weapons to her, asking Helena if she can strengthen them.

<<Hm. Yes, I can modify the armor, although, if you really want something more performing, it would be better if I craft some new sets altogether. For the weapons, it’s the same>>

We decide for the new items. She will base them on the old design, using improved materials for both armor and weapons.

Helena goes through each of us, asking which kind of equipment would suit us better, which modification she should do to the armor and such.

Like we agreed on the first time she made items for us, part of her payment will be in monster material from the Dungeon.

After giving her an advance payment for material costs and small expenses, we head out of her shop.

Having taken care of the armor business, we set out to the Hospital.

The building is near the entrance to the Dungeon. It’s a bland building, with a single wooden sign that explains its purpose.

Many people can be seen entering and going away from the building. Visitors, probably, here to have some news on their acquaintances that are being treated in the Hospital.

Inside the building, the air is filled with a strong smell of alcohol. It’s nice to know that, even in this world, they’re using something like a disinfectant in an Hospital.

The inner ambient looks clean, with white being the dominant color all around. Medical personnel can be seen all around, scurrying from room to room.

Right after the entrance, we find ourselves into the waiting room. At the center of it, there is an information desk manned by a young female nurse. She’s wearing a white, large robe. Slightly chubby and short, she has light brown hair and a gentle smile.

The nurse greets us, asking what business brought us here in the Hospital.

With her, we go through the necessary paperwork to be able to visit Dahl.

When she’s done, she calls another nurse. The new nurse guides us through the patient’s rooms, pointing the one where Dahl is resting.

The room is small, with a clean appearance and a large windows that lets daylight in.

Dahl is laying on a bed, reading a book.

We spend some time there, just talking about some small things. I am being a bit quieter than usual, since hospitals always had a bad effect on me. I do not know why, even in my old world, I always felt an unpleasant feeling while visiting a sick friend in hospital. Probably the strong smell of disinfectant, or something more profound, like a mental association between that place and sickness, suffering, it always made me feel strange about it.

Nonetheless, I try to endure the sensation.

Dahl is feeling significantly better now. He should be able to be discharged tomorrow, since his recovery has been much faster than anticipated.

<<It’s good that you’re feeling better but…your skill is really dangerous. Please, do not use it anymore>>

Levia voices our doubts. To all of us, it was a shocking moment, seeing what that skill could do. A double-edged sword, that could easily kill.

<<Yeah. The Healers said that I really did risk too much. Thankfully, I managed to level up after the battle, and that repaired a bit of the damage done by the skill. That, and your efforts, have saved my life>>

He makes a sour expression, perhaps blaming himself for this situation.

Well, there was no other option in that moment, and it all played well in the end.

We try to cheer him up a bit, and we stay with him until visiting hours end. The nurse comes back, inviting us to leave the room.

Parting from Dahl, we exit the room.

After our visit to the Hospital, we decide to stay out for the night. I contact Heod to let him know that we will be eating dinner outside.

The old man sounds a bit disappointed, and he recommends us to be careful.

He really sounds like a concerned grandfather.

From the Hospital, we head to the Central Market. In there, we spend some time loitering around, doing our first “touristic visit” of Sendria.

The central road, and the plaza where the marketplace is, are full of people. Tourists, but also locals and adventurers, all of them busy in their activities.

Food stalls and restaurants are open, almost all of them full of people. Sendria is really lovely at night, almost a different place than what Telesia has told us before. We stay out for a bit, without even catching a glimpse of disorders or criminals around.

To be fair, we just spent our time in the rich portion of the city. Perhaps, in the poorer quarters the situation is different, like in all cities.

We spent a nice evening, having a relaxing walk out for the first time since I came to this world.

After we head back home, I spend some time with the old man. To him, I tell everything that happened during the day. He apologizes for the matter with Telesia, saying that he signed the contract thinking about our future.

Well, I understand what Heod thought in that moment, but I would have appreciated if he told us about it.

After apologizing, the old man gives me his thoughts about the matter with Telesia. Reasoning with him, he makes me see the potential opportunity that lies in this situation. To learn from some of the best adventurers, it’s a rare opportunity that should be treasured. Even if Telesia herself is just using us to her advantage.

However, he is concerned about the situation of Sendria as a whole. He too has caught some rumors about the Underworld of Sendria beginning to stir. And, around the city, there are hushed rumors about people disappearing, and scouts from Aldora being seen in the outskirts from time to time.

We speak some more about the current situation, what it could lead to. The prospect of a war between Aldora and Sendria is a scary one, without any doubt.

It would be best to leave the city as soon as we can, but that would mean losing the shop and the Guild’s support.

<<Well, Telesia was sure that Alvares would not make his move until two or three months right? W can start to make some preparations about it. Although, I really doubt that the Guild would let us go. And there is also that matter with Alvares. I’m still under his spell, after all. Who know what he will do if I leave the Guild’s protection>>

It’s surely a complicated situation right now, so much that is making my head hurt. Seriously.

I part from the old man, heading to my room for the night.

Unlike last night, my sleep is agitated, ridden by nightmares.

As the new day comes, we all head out to meet our respective trainers.

To me, Telesia has assigned a specialist from the Guild. I have to meet him in the Archives, a detached building from the Guild Headquarters.

The others will head out to different part of the city, since the various specialists are scattered in all buildings of the Guild.

Retel will go to the monster part exchange building, since he will be having lessons from Rupert.

Levia is supposed to go to the Hospital, while Marica is also going to the Archives.

Retel gives me a jealous look as I head out with Marica. Well, to be fair, since yesterday I have been trying to support him in his “battle”. Although Retel himself seems oblivious about it, Marica does have feelings for him. It’s just that Retel does not make his move, and neither does she.

Well, they’re young, and this is probably the thing called “first love” for both of them.

Of course, I cannot criticize Retel’s behavior with women, since in my old life I was pretty clumsy with them. To the point of being ridiculous, sometimes.

Not that right now I am any better…

Still, during the walk towards the Archives, I talk with Marica about a few things.

First, she apologized again for the matter with the Guild, when she reported me. Hell, I lost the count of how many times she did apologize.

I can see how she still feels guilty about it, since the treatment that they gave me at the start but…well, it’s all in the past for me.

No point in dwelling about it. I decided to forgive her, focusing on what good she did to me instead of the one bad thing.

As we walk, I begin to stir the conversation towards her considerations about Retel. She blushes a bit when I mention him.

I tease her a bit, pondering if I should already tell her about what Retel feels for her. In the end, I decide to desist about it. It would be better for both of them if they talk with each other, without me meddling into things. It will make them grow.

Well, that does not stop me from praising Retel with her. If I can manage to win him some points, why not do it?

As we arrive to the Archives, we need to part our ways.

Her tutor is waiting in front of the building. I expected him to be an old man, the classic appearance of a magician, with a long, white beard, staff and pointed hat.

Instead, the adventurer that should look after Marica is a woman. She looks no more than ten years older than Marica, perhaps even less.

Her appearance makes me wonder why she’s retired, but, as she turns around, I realize the reason.

She’s missing her left arm, cut to the shoulder. Her left cheek is scarred, ruining the beauty of her face.

Perhaps, she noticed me staring at her scars, as she starts glaring at me.

<<It’s rude to stare at someone else’s scars, don’t you know?>>

Her voice is cold, almost as her blue eyes.

<<Sorry. I have been rude, and I apologize for that>>

After my apologies, I introduce myself out of courtesy. Well, I already made a bad impression on her. Way to go, Roshal.

I leave Marica and her new teacher, heading into the Archive building.

I expected to see something impressive in here, like vast rooms stuffed with columns of rare tomes and scrolls, but the reality of this place is a bit underwhelming.

It looks like the place itself is in the middle of reconstruction, with large black stains on the walls and floor.

No trace of books, or scrolls.

As I look around, a bit disappointed, a hand taps my shoulder.

<<Roshal? Please follow me>>

It’s one of Telesia’s assistants. She beckons me to follow her, and I abide.

<<This place is like this because of a recent fire. It happened three months ago, and destroyed the vast majority of our tomes. It was a shame, all that knowledge lost in a moment>>

She sounds sorrowful as she speaks. Well, I can imagine why she is. After all, seeing those books become cinder must have been terrible. Perhaps, there were some lives lost in the fire, too.

As we walk in the Archives, I see how extensive the damage was. Beautiful murals that adorned the walls have become charred black, lost forever. The same goes with the books that should have been there, some of the furniture that housed them still visible in the rooms, or at least, what is left of it.

Blackened, broken pieces of wood, stacked in the corners of the rooms, left there after the fire that devastated this place.

The damage becomes even more as we head further inside the building. One room in particular is in terrible state, completely blackened, the ceiling broken, collapsed as the fire raged into the room.

Perhaps, the fire originated there.

<<We’ve arrived. Please, go downstairs to meet your new instructor>>

I part from Telesia’s assitant, heading down the stairs into the ruined room.

There is nothing there, besides the thrashed and burned wood, leftover from the recent arson that destroyed this place.

<<Great. Now I have to wait in here>>

Minutes pass, without anything happening inside the room. No one is passing by, the only sound in there being some distant voices from other parts of the building.

Bored, I look around, trying to imagine how the place would be at its best conditions, without the charred spots on the walls. When the fresco paintings on the walls were still fully visible in all their glory.

Perhaps this place had been full of people, all of them reading the stories and knowledge hidden inside dusty tomes.

Of course, none of that remained in the room, being now empty and ruined. A sad ending for a place of knowledge.

<<Yes. It is indeed sad>>

The voice comes from behind. I sigh, without turning around.

<<Hello again, Telesia. Or, should I call you Headmaster?>>

She surprised me, appearing from nowhere. Again, someone managed to get near me without alerting my detection. It’s fine since Telesia does not harbor any ill will against me, but, it’s worthless to possess a detection skill if it fails like this.

<<Well, that will be part of your training. Now, follow me. And no, I will not stop reading your mind>>

I immediately close my mouth, as I was about to ask her to drop this mind-reading shenanigans.

Seriously, this old lady terrifies me.

She takes out a Transfer Orb from her purse, activating it without a warning.

Unlike the ones I’ve used before, this orb transfers us instantly, without any pretty light or strange effects.

<<Where are we?>>

She smiles, in her usual wry expression.

<<Can’t you tell? Feel the mana here, Roshal>>

The Dungeon. The flow of mana here is unmistakable but…it’s much more dense than the what I remember, so much that it makes breathing difficult.

Wait, don’t tell me…

<<Yes. This is far below any floor you’ve managed to reach. Few people know of this place. Officially, no one ever reached this depths. This is Mahal Dungeon’s last floor, Roshal. A saferoom, to be precise. Well, not even I can be safe against the things that dwell on this floor, so I had to take some unorthodox measures in order to bring you here>>

She claps her hands.

<<Well, I’m done here. See you around, Demon Lord>>

And with that, she disappears.

<<You’ve got to be kidding me!>>

I shout at the empty air where Telesia was. What the hell is happening here?

Did she set me up? Trapping me here after she separated me from my companions. Of course she has, and I did fall in her trap like a damn idiot.

<<So, you’re the one that Telesia mentioned…>>

A man is now inside the saferoom with me. Once again, Navi’s detection does not show anything.

<<So, who might you be? And what the hell is that old hag thinking, leaving me here?>>

The man sighs, scratching his beard before he answers me, as if thinking the appropriate answer.

<<First, never , ever talk about Telesia in that tone. She’s a wonderful person, and I will not tolerate some random brat badmouthing her. Second, she begged me to take you as a disciple, so try and be more grateful to her, next time you see her. And third…>>

The atmosphere around him changes, literally. It’s like gravity itself increased in the room, forcing me on my knees with tremendous pressure.

My ears feel like they’re about to explode, and I cannot even breathe, crushed by the pressure.

<<You will address properly to me. Understood?>>

<<Y…yes>>

<<Yes what?>>

<<Yes, Master>>

He releases whatever the hell he was doing, and the place turns back to normal.

I cough, gasping for air.

Who the hell is this monster here?

<<Now, your name>>

He offers his hand to help me get up.

<<Roshal>>

He helps me get on my feet, basically lifting me up without much effort. He’s almost as tall as me, a bit short for a grown up. Black hair, and an unkempt beard grows around his thin lips. His nose looks like it had been broken at least a dozen times. Brown eyes, and a plain face that makes him look like the most common person.

His appearance is the exact opposite of the power he just showed.

<<Well, Roshal. My name is John Howards. Now, stick to whatever I tell you, and…wait, why are you looking at me like this?>>

John Howards. A name so different from those of this world, almost as if…

I hesitate a bit, staring at him before I ask him the crucial question.

But, should I ask it bluntly? There is a possibility that his name might just be a coincidence after all, or some invented name.

Perhaps, I should be indirect here, maybe dropping some reference during conversation, something that a normal person should not be able to understand.

In the end, I choose to be direct.

John’s eyes widen in surprise, as I ask him my doubt. Again, he strokes his beard, pausing, weighting his words before giving me an answer.

<<Ah, Telesia…you’ve really found somebody else. Yes, boy. I come from another world>>

Re:Interference Chapter 19- Trial by Fire

The central chamber is right before our eyes, at the end of the dimly lit tunnel that we’re traversing.

Well rested, with our equipment in order, we advance towards the room.

Oddly, Navi’s detection is not showing any signal coming from the room.

Taking a deep breath, I step first into the large central chamber.

<<This is…magnificent>>

For a dangerous place, the Dungeon surely delivers some breathtaking scenery.

The central chamber is shaped like a circle, spanning a diameter of roughly two hundred meters, judging by eye.

The shape of it, and the architecture of the walls, reminds me of the Coliseum from my world.

More than a room, it looks like an ancient stadium, with empty rings of marble rising high until they meet the ceiling.

Some columns, worn by time, can be seen in the central portion of the room, where the floor is made of coarse, light brown sand instead of the usual paved floor that characterize this portion of the tenth floor.

Beside us, and the architectural elements of this place, there is nothing else here.

No Guardian, no other kind of monsters or traps.

Not even the Fire Crystals, so common in the rooms we’ve crossed yet absent in this one.

The silence of this place is astounding, broken only by our voice and the echo of them.

Definitely, this place is different from what I had expected.

Basing my assumptions on the previous floors, I expected that the Guardian would be in the central chamber, like the Champions of previous floors were.

And yet, there is nothing here, besides us.

<<Well, someone could have already killed it>>

Retel voices his remark, looking around while crossing his arms on his chest. He doesn’t seem worried by the sudden absence of monsters here.

Well, I am bothered by it. I rule out that the Guardian has already been defeated here.

There are no traces of battle in this place, and the damage we can see on the surrounding is due to time, not from some fierce battle.

If someone or something really fought here in recent times, there would be signs of the battle all over the place.

And yet, none of those can be seen. No traces on the ground, or spots destroyed by some kind of magical attack.

Even the flow of mana in this place looks exactly the same as the other rooms, without any sings of perturbation.

This is strange, too strange even for a weird place like this Dungeon.

We search around the place, looking for some kind of clue about what the hell is going on here.

From the central chamber, four hallways part, heading out into the four cardinal directions.

One of them is the hallway we came from, the south one.

The other three, all of them head into dead ends, towards three square rooms with nothing inside of them.

After exploring each room, we head back towards the central chamber.

I cannot shake off the sensation that we’re overlooking something here, that something is amiss in this place.

After all, I thought this place to be the site where the second trial would take place, but apparently I have been wrong.

Once again, I use Navi’s detection, probing the room to see if some kind of signal pops up.

Nothing at all, beside the signals coming from my companions.

I sit on the ground, holding my head between my hands as I try to think.

Perhaps, my suppositions about the second trial have been amiss.

It could be that this tenth floor is different from the others, and the Guardian could be hidden in another room, in a place we’ve yet to explore.

Or, the Guardian and the trial could be separate things after all.

Well, sitting on my ass here will not yield me a solution to this problem. I consult with the others, and we decide to head back the way we came.

Perhaps we overlooked something as we crossed the hallway, some kind of hidden switch or who knows what.

Or we’re just in the wrong part of this floor, and this large chamber is nothing but a pretty dead end.

With a sigh, I get up and head towards the south corridor.

We cross it once again. At its end, we will be in a small rectangular room, with three other paths departing from it.

One leads to the portion of the level we’ve already explored, so no point in going back there. The other two go sideways, circling the large central chamber.

One, the left path, leads to a room with a small amount of monsters. Another dead end. The other, the path on the right, leads towards a portion of this level we’ve yet to explore.

We’ll head there.

As we walk down the hallway, I check the place with Navi’s detection.

Thoroughly, every nook and cranny of this place.

The result is the same as the first time we passed by here.

Nothing at all, only bricks and the rock behind them.

Disappointed, and confused by whatever the hell is going on, I step inside the rectangular room, ready to turn right towards the other path.

As I do so, I hit my face to something that should not have been there. I fall back, landing on my ass on soft, sandy ground.

<<What the hell…>>

I get up and look around, my heart beating faster in a mix of fear and surprise. I just hit my head on a marble column.

Because, we’re back in the central chamber.

<<How could this happen?>>

Levia looks around, her words almost a broken whisper. We’re all thinking the same, feeling the same confusion about what just happened here.

We were moving away from this chamber, there’s no way we just turned back on our feet without noticing it.

There must be some kind of nasty trick at work here, and I do not like it.

Again, we try to leave the room. The other three paths are fine, we reach the dead ends at the end of them without any problems. The exit hallway, however, warps us back to the central room again.

Warps us. That’s the only thing I can make out of this.

We’re being somehow teleported back to the central chamber, without any noticeable spell or trap activating.

No perturbation of the mana that floats in the air, no hidden mechanisms clanging and clattering behind the walls.

I try to use Black Fluid, making an offshot and sending it towards the exit of this room.

Using the camera function, I make the offshot traverse the corridor, while seeing the place as if I was the one walking in there.

Much to my surprise, the offshot reaches the other room at the end of the corridor, without being transported back here.

<<Levia, I want to try something>>

I explain to Levia what I want to do, and leave the offshot in the other room, pointing it towards our direction.

Levia notches an arrow, and pulls the bowstring as strong as she can. She releases the shot, and the arrow flies whistling in the air.

It reaches the other room where my offshot is.

From the visual data it recorded, the arrow passed the hallway just fine, without anything strange happening at the end of the corridor.

I ask Marica to do the same with one of her spells. The result does not change, as the fireball flies into the rectangular room.

<<So, it’s only something that activates when living beings cross it, I suppose>>

Dahl shares his thoughts, furrowing as he tries to make sense of whatever is going on here.

<<Yeah, that must be it. I bet whoever or whatever set this thing here, is laughing at us right now>>

Retel kicks the ground in spite, lifting a puff of sand as he does so.

<<Well, what do we do now? We’re trapped in here, and I cannot see any way of resolving this>>

I look at each of my companions, one after the other.

Perhaps I hoped that, like it happens in movies, someone among them would mutter an absurd idea, a plan to lead us out of this situation.

It did not happen, and all of them are as confused as I am by whatever the hell is going on here.

<<Maybe we could look around once more, see if we manage to find some clue about what is happening. We’ve only looked on ground level, but we could head there>>

Levia is pointing her fingers towards the marble rings that circle the chamber.

Much like a stadium’s rings, there are several levels of them encircling the chamber, almost reaching the ceiling.

<<Yeah, we could do that. Only, let’s stick together please. No splitting up, I do not want this to end like some horror movie>>

As I say that line, my friends look at me with perplexed stares. I wave my hands, shrugging my shoulder in a gesture that says “just let this go”.

But I am serious about the splitting up part. This trick here, is clearly designed for two things.

First, to trap us inside this place. Second, and scarier, is to confuse us.

Whoever, or whatever is responsible for what is happening, wants us to panic about this situation, and perhaps split up in the attempt to cover more ground while looking for some clues.

And then, it would pick us one by one.

No, we definitely need to stick together here.

Heading towards the wall that circles this central chamber, we pass by the columns that stand in the center of this place.

Every time we tried to leave, we have been warped back into the chamber, standing still inside the column formation.

Perhaps, that place has something to do with all of this. But, I did not notice anything there out of the ordinary.

Still, it’s better to check the places we’ve not yet investigated, before we return our attention to the ground level.

As we reach the wall, I use Black Fluid to make a ladder, using it to cross the four meter tall wall.

On top of it, the first ring of marble seating.

Seeing it from a distance did not really convey how elaborate the structure is.

What seemed like plain marble is instead finely carved with figures and scenes of battle, ruined by time in a merciless way.

Some of the figures are so worn out that I can barely see their outline, while others resisted the course of time, still showing their splendor.

In all of them, human figures are entwined in battle against monsters.

No matter how pretty these carvings are, they will be of no help to us right now.

We proceed along the first ring of the arena-like structure, looking for anything that can give us even the smallest clue about what is going on in this place.

To no avail.

Even here, there seems to be nothing out of the ordinary, for how ordinary things could be inside some kind of ruins in a Dungeon floor.

Still, no sign of any kind of mana perturbation, or other things for that matter.

We ascend to the second ring, and the third one after that.

Until we reach the highest ring. Again, nothing of interest there, besides a pretty view of the arena below us.

I sit on the marble, looking down towards the arena. From this height, the column formation that stands in the center looks like a circle.

I did not notice that when we were at ground level, since some of the columns were collapsed, no more than scattered rubble on the floor.

But seeing them from this height, it is possible to see how they are placed, forming some kind of circle in the exact center of the arena.

Besides the way the column are arranged, I cannot see anything strange, or out of place, while looking down.

Perhaps, this is some kind of puzzle?

After staying in the upper ring for about one hour, staring down and trying to figure out whatever thing we’ve been overlooking, making hypothesis after hypothesis about how to deal with this situation, we head back down to ground level.

One promising point to investigate would be the column formation, but we already scouted that place, to no avail.

I cannot shake the feeling that something is amiss here, a bad sensation that’s making my skin tingle.

The worst part is that nothing changed, and we’ve been trapped here for hours now.

I expected some kind of ambush or attack, but instead nothing happened during all the time we spent here, just walking around and searching for something that isn’t here.

Having reached ground level again, we head out towards the column formations.

Seen from here, it really does seem that they are arranged in a random way, rather than in an ordinate shape.

As we get close to them, I absentmindedly stare at the marble columns.

From above, the formation counted twelve columns in total.

Seven of them destroyed, their pieces scattered around in the sand, so much that it made the circular formation unrecognizable from ground level, making it look like a bunch of randomly placed columns instead of them being arranged in a precise disposition.

The remaining five intact columns show different degrees of damage, with two of them being in pristine condition, one intact but blackened by dirt, and two cracked, a little leaning on their side.

Five columns, and there’s five of us here. I shake my head, sighing at this unreliable connection my mind just made.

This must be a coincidence after all, there’s no way in hell that our numbers and the columns are somehow related.

Still, when I first set foot inside this room I expected a completely different outcome. I was ready, prepared for battle both physically and mentally. Eager even, to challenge whatever this new trial was about to throw at me.

I was already wondering how would it go, if something would restrict my skills and stats like in the first trial, and how to take counter measures if it really went like that.

Instead, what I am facing here is a huge headache, and a situation that is more annoying than dangerous. Well, at least for now.

What if, instead of fighting us head on, whatever did this trick is just taking its time to starve us? That is also a possibility here, after all.

There’s no way that all the monsters inside this Dungeon are just plain dumb, resorting only to physical violence.

We could have stumbled on something with large power to pull this off, and with enough intelligence, or craft, to not directly attack us and instead trap us here, biding its time until we die out of starvation, or boredom.

Mine are only speculations that do not lead to anything.

The truth here is that I do not have the slightest idea about what is going on at the moment, and this scares me even more than any monster we’ve faced thus far.

Because, no matter how powerful the enemy was, it was there, in front of us. But right now, whatever is doing this is hiding, unseen, unknown.

Perhaps waiting for us to make a mistake, biding time for the perfect occasion to strike.

All of us are feeling this tension, that something bad could happen at any time, and we’ve not the slightest idea of what or when something would happen.

And this situation is enervating me, wearing down my nerves as time passes by in this fake tranquility, this artificial calm and stillness.

<<Perhaps we could try and split out. Maybe if we do that, it will lure out whatever is playing its trick on us>>

Retel’s suggestion makes some sense, although what he proposes is dangerous.

Surely, if we divide our group we could lure out the responsible of this strange situation.

But, if that really happens, how would we fare? If something like the Guardian appears, I really doubt that any of us could stand a chance against it, alone.

As I am about to respond to him, I notice a flutter in the mana flow around me.

I’ve been careful until now to not get any of us separated from the group, sticking together in all situations up until now.

But, as we walked inside the column formation, I must have lagged down a bit, behind the group.

They’re no more than ten meters apart from me, but all of my companions are now outside of the column formation, while I am still inside of it.

And now, right between two of the still intact columns, I see the mana fluttering again.

Suddenly, the air around me flashes red, in a fiery blaze that envelops the space inside the column formation.

I try to shield myself with Black Fluid, but the sudden burst has taken me by surprise, and I see myself enveloped in the raging flames.

Much to my surprise, I cannot feel any pain from it, nor the heat of flame on my skin.

The flames surround me, and I cannot see the others outside of the circle formation.

I fell right into a trap, it seems. As I try to contact my friends with Navi, I receive only static in response.

Then, the usual voice of my Navigator pops in my mind, and announces something that makes my skin shiver.

[Navi: Routine Started- Trial of Flames (second trial)]

As Navi’s voice strops, multiple enemy signals begin to appear inside the room. More than twenty monsters are now visible in the map, and their number keeps increasing.

<<Oh brave soul that walks the path of Daemons, I welcome you to my fiery test>>

With a bone chilling voice, something spoke behind me. I turn my head around, and I notice the owner of that voice.

Its form is the same that I fought during the first trial, but the level of the monster is way higher than the first time.

Before my eyes, the monster named Thal makes his appearance. This time, its level is twenty, and his appearance is slightly different from what I remember.

His humanoid shape is now charred black, more skeletal and with some strange patterns of a fiery red color on his naked torso.

Instead of a staff, he’s holding a rusted broadsword.

Burning red eyes gleam in his face, and his head is crowned by hair and beard that look like they’re made of fire itself.

I immediately jump back, assuming a defensive position.

The first time I fought this monster, I was about to lose my life, overwhelmed by its power while the thing wailed on me, having sealed my skills and stats.

However, the monster does not react. He’s only looking at me, without moving from his spot.

He taps his sword on the sand, and, crossing his leg, the Guardian sits down on the spot.

Baffled, I look towards the monster, unable to wrap my head about what is going on.

Checking with Navi, I know that the monsters outside have not yet attacked my comrades.

They’re surrounded, but they’re still fine.

<<Please, child of man. Have a seat, for this trial is not a matter of combat. At least, not for you>>

Thal invites me to sit in front of him. I could try to attack him right now, but…

[Navi: Trial of Flames- During this trial, the Candidate is tested for his leadership and tactics. If the Candidate himself attacks or takes any offensive actions towards the monster(s) during the trial, it will result in failure, and the Candidate will forfeit his life along with his companions. If the Candidate refuses to comply to the trial’s demand, it will result in failure, and the Candidate, along with his companions, will lose their life. To complete the trial, limited communication with the Candidate’s Minions will be allowed. The Candidate will have to order his minions in battle, asserting the situation and guiding his subordinates to victory. No other actions other than orders will be allowed. Death of any of the Candidate’s minions will result in failure, and the Candidate, along with his remaining subordinates, will forfeit his life. Conditions to Clear the trial: all monsters must be taken down within the time limit of -two hours- to gain the right to challenge the Guardian. The Guardian must be defeated within – one hour- to successfully clear the trial. Inability to clear the trial in the given time limit will result in failure, and the Candidate will forfeit its life, along with his minions. Good luck, Master!]

After the long explanation, Navi goes silent, and my companions’ voices can be heard again. They’re panicking, as much as I am now. Surrounded by monsters, they have not taken any offensive action yet.

<<Roshal! Hey! We’re blocked here!>>

I hear Retel shouting in my head, the others too are mixing their voices to his, giving rise to a cacophony in my head.

I try to explain them what is going on, to calm them down a bit, and perhaps, to calm myself.

<<And please, try to speak one at the time. You’re making my head split open from your shouts!>>

<<Roshal? Are you ok?>>

Levia replies to my comment. This time, she’s the only one speaking.

<<Yes, more or less. What about your situation over there?>>

<<We are blocked. Some kind of spell, or skill, I do not know. But we cannot move a muscle here,and these monsters…God, there are at least thirty of them, and they’re just staring at us. Roshal, what is going on?>>

Dahl’s voice comes across. He sounds agitated, panicking.

I never heard him so, as he usually is the most calm and collected of us.

<<It’s some part of this trial bullshit. Hang on, I will try to fix things>>

As I say so, Thal’s voice resounds in the air.

<<Now, I do believe you’ve received an explanation about what is going to happen here. You cannot take any action, besides directing your minions, or “comrades” as you humans like to refer to the lesser beings that accompany you. Care to take a seat, so that we can start this?>>

A bit reluctant, I sit in front of the monster.

Thal flicks his fingers, and something materializes in front of us.

Some kind of board, on which I recognize a model of the room we’re in. The elliptical space, representing the room, is divided in a series of squares, and in some of the squares, there is a miniature of a monster.

The miniatures and their positions reflect the positions and types of the monsters inside the chamber.

Like in a tactical RPG, what I have in front of me is a representation of the map and enemy units.

At the center of the map, near a circular sign that represents the circle of columns where I am currently trapped, I can see some of the squares shine in a blue color.

Over them, miniatures representing four humans are flickering.

One looks like a mage, one holds a spear and shield. The third one holds two daggers, and the last one is an archer.

Of course, each miniature represents my companions.

<<The rules here are simple. You have your minions at your disposal, and you can arrange them in the battlefield. I will do the same with my own, of course. By giving them direct orders, you can have them move accordingly. Or, you can move their pieces on the board, and the trial’s spell will compel them to move and abide to your will. You choose whatever suits you better. First, you will need to ask their consent, if they want to take part in this trial as your “pieces”, or not>>

I look at the wry smile on Thal’s face. All of this, he looks like he’s enjoying it.

<<And what happens if they refuse?>>

The Guardian chuckles, but his unblinking eyes carve their burning gaze on me.

<<You will lose the piece, and your comrade. And, you cannot tell them about the condition if they refuse your plea. Now, child of men, let’s see how good your words are, if they sway hearts, or seal your defeat>>

Their life is basically in my hands right now. I use Navi to communicate with the others, explaining them the situation as best as I can.

I am trying to keep my voice from breaking, but I am failing, miserably so. A mix of emotions is swaying my head, anger, concern, contempt for the sadistic mind that birthed this monstrous mockery of a game.

<<I am sorry, for all of this. But, I cannot do otherwise, or we will die. All of us. Please, forgive me for having dragged you in this nonsense>>

I make a slight pause, catching my breath. What am I doing here, letting myself be swayed like this?

What is this weak plea, only apologies, when I should be the one reassuring them, guiding them in this situation? They’re here, in this mess, because of me. So, I need to steel my heart, and show some balls here.

<<Now, I owed you this apology. But let me get things straight. I trust you all, and I know that, even if the situation looks dire, you will win. What I want to say is, I count on you. I always did, since the first time I met you all. I put my trust in you, and you all always delivered, exceeding my expectations. And now, I need you lot to do the same with me. Trust me, fight with me>>

One after the other, my companions give their consent for this battle.

<<So be it. Let this battle start>>

As the Guardian’s voice bellows, the arena’s terrain shifts. From under the sand, pillars and walls emerge, changing the shape of the battlefield.

From the board, a small screen materializes in front of me, floating while relaying images from the battlefield.

I can cycle the view that the screen displays, from an aerial view of the entire battlefield, to close up shots of my companions.

The image can freely rotate around each of my comrades, as if a camera is flying around them, filming whatever happens to them.

The Guardian takes the first move, advancing his line of monsters towards my companions.

By the representation of the battle I have in front of me, the biggest danger to my companions is the high number of enemies they’re pitted against.

Thirty monsters in total, their level being between fifteen and eighteen.

Ten of them are the same kind of fire lizards we’ve already fought. Another ten are similar to the Ash Servants of the fifth floor, only these ones are carrying ranged weapons, with three of them equipped with shield and axes.

The other seven are carrying longbows.

The remaining ten monsters are Fire Spirits, probably some kind of spell-casters or monsters with long range fire attacks.

We’ve already fought each type of monster, but all of them being in the same place will be a problem.

Attacking them head on will only be suicide, so I need to direct my companions in a different way.

As the terrain has been changed, there are now walls that could be used for cover, as well as elevated places from where we could get the high ground.

However, the presence of monsters with high mobility like the lizards will basically nullify the advance of a high ground, if they manage to reach it.

The best thing to do here would be to find some kind of choke point, and lure the monsters there, forcing them to battle one on one instead of ganging up on my friends.

There is a point in the map that has those characteristics, but it’s a bit far from my friend’s position.

Reaching it will be an hazard, but to me it seem like the best option right now.

Now, the trial offered me two possibilities to face this battle. The first one, and the simplest, would be to take total control of the place, just by moving the miniatures that represent each of my comrades on the map. In short, if I do that, I will be using them like pawns.

I would be the one having total control of the battle, however I do not like this at all. The other choice is to relay my orders using Navi, and that leaves some degree of freedom to my companions’

actions.

Of course, I choose the second method.

I use Navi to communicate them my plan. First, Marica will use a spell to lock the closest enemies in ice.

Using that opportunity, the group will move towards the northwest portion of the map, where the new walls have formed some kind of closed room, with a single entrance.

From there, Retel will hold the choke-point, while Marica and Levia will attack the other monsters from a higher position.

Dahl will have another role in the upcoming battle, and he will need to wait and charge his skill.

<<Ok, let’s do this!>>

As I relay my plan, the others begin to move.

Marica’s spell catches a good number of enemies, freezing them enough to pin them in place.

While moving towards the designated spot, Retel is keeping rearguard, using his shield skill to block the incoming arrows and fire spells from the monster group.

Levia is using her arrows to snipe the monsters that come too close to the party.

As they advance, I alert the group about incoming monsters or dead ends on their way.

Avoiding getting caught into the large number of creatures creeping up on them, my companions are steadily advancing towards the place I am guiding them to.

Up until now, neither my group nor the monsters have suffered fatal damage.

As my companions reach the place, I hear their surprise and complaining.

Since they do not have a clear grasp of the map’s layout, they did not know that the place I told them to reach was a dead end.

I try to calm them down, telling them my strategy about that place.

<<Yeah, good thinking, trapping us here. What is wrong with you,man?>>

Retel protests, shouting at me. But he regains his composure, and heads toward the choke-point.

<<Whatever. I am trusting you on this, Roshal. This thing might better work…>>

I draw a big breath, before relaying the next step of my plan.

<<Levia, Marica, get to high ground and begin to attack the monsters. Marica, you still have the crossbow and some of those freezing darts we obtained from the ninth floor right? Use them, and when you run out, use your spells>>

The two of them get into position. Levia is now standing on the three meters high wall, which she climbed with Retel’s help.

Marica has done the same, and she’s standing on the opposite wall. The two of them are on the sides of the u-shaped room, while the monsters are beginning to reach the area in front of the room.

<<Now, I chose this place for a reason. You see all the walls in front of you? If we use Marica’s spells, we can make ice barricades to lock some passages, and force the monsters to go the way we want them to go. In short, instead of facing them all head on, we will force them to advance one at the time. Retel, you will be the main part of this plan. Since’ you’re the one with the highest defense among us, you will be the one to take on the assault, using your shield to keep the monsters at bay while Levia and Marica attack them from high ground. And Dahl, listen closely…>>

Levia starts her suppressing fire as Marica is busy using her spells to make the ice barriers, obstructing some passages between walls while restricting the size of others.

In a short enough time, she manages to make a maze out of the small area around the place.

Unable to swarm up on my friends, the monsters are forced to separate their group in order to advance towards my companions.

The Fire Lizards are easily climbing the walls, and with their speed they will be the first ones to reach Retel’s position.

The Ash Servants, limited in their mobility, are forced to advance into the improvised maze built by Marica’s spells.

More than that, they do not have a clean line of sight for their arrows, and are left with two options. Retreat and look for a better position to snipe my companions, or advance and try to force their way through Retel.

Much to my surprise, they chose the latter option. Well, they did not choose it themselves.

Rather, Thal is controlling them like pawns, moving the pieces on the board. He does so with a blank, unreadable expression.

I try to ask him some questions, about all this trial bullshit that’s going on. But the monster simply gives me a wry smile, and returns his attention to the board.

Frustrated, I do the same.

The first casualties among the monster group are beginning to appear.

Two of them, caught by Levia’s precise arrows.

The large lizards have had their eyes pierced by Levia’s arrows. The mana charged shots dug into their skulls, exploding afterwards in a grizzly scene.

She’s prioritizing the enemies with high mobility, in order to quell their numbers before they manage to reach Retel.

As the Ash Servants advance inside the maze, I notice that some of them are being injured. That only means, Dahl has been successful in his role.

I had him sneak around, cloaked by Marica’s spell, moving into the maze-like structure to place some of the traps I had prepared beforehand.

When we were preparing for the fight against the Guardian, before all this happened, I had the spare time to craft some crude traps. Nothing more than tripwires, some linked to vials of poison, others to an explosive mixture of chemicals.

Of course, among the poisons I used there is the confusing toxin of the Whitestar flowers, although it looks like that one is not having an effect on the monsters.

Perhaps, that is happening because the monsters are not acting by their individual wills, but are following Thal’s command, bound by the strange spell of this trial.

Still, the other traps are showing their effectiveness, taking out some of the Ash Servants and severely weakening the others.

Now, the battlefield is under our control. The Ash Servants cannot utilize their weapons, since the maze blocks them from having a clear shot and the winding paths filled with traps are working to our favor.

Of all the ten Ash Servants that were initially attacking my group, only six remain.

An explosion rings in the distance.

Thal smiles, staring at me with his burning gaze.

The fire spirits have begun their assault, raining fireballs towards my group. Retel’s shield is doing a good work in deflecting the incoming spells, but even his skill has its limits.

<<Take this! Spike Counter!>>

Retel shouts as he activates his counter skill. But the Fire Spirits take little damage from it.

Still,Retel’s attack managed to make them flinch, stopping the next volley of fireballs from raining on the others.

Other monsters are jumping on Retel. Using the fireballs as distraction,t he Fire Lizards have reached his position, and are now jumping on Retel.

They have been wounded by Levia’s arrows, however they still pose a threat to my companion.

The bombardment starts again, and the remaining Ash Servants are now about to reach Retel’s position.

If they join with the lizards, it will be our loss here.

Initially, I would have tasked Dahl to eliminate the remaining servants from the rear, slowly working his way to Retel’s position in order to take the lizards in a pincer attack, while Levia and Marica would concentrate their attacks on the Fire Spirits in the back lines.

But, as things are right now, that strategy is not possible. The long range attacks form the Fire Spirits are forcing Retel to constantly deploy his shield, and he’s splitting his attention on both the fire spells and the lizard that are now attacking him, without being able to focus on either of them.

I am facing a crucial decision here…

I could send Dahl to help Retel, having the two of them deal with the lizards, while Levia and Marica support them from behind the lines.

But that would leave the Fire Spirits free to rain their spells on them, leading to a bad situation. Or, I could send Dahl to the Fire Spirits, having him fight them.

Indecisiveness in this situation will only damage us, so I need to take a swift decision.

As I ponder about what to do, the attack from the Fire Spirits changes. Now, they switched from their fireball spells to something different.

Instead of multiple spells with low power, they’re focusing their mana into a singe, large fireball.

They release the spell, shattering Retel’s shield in a single blow. The impact is enough to deal damage to him, hitting Levia and Marica at the same time.

Luckily, they did not suffer fatal damage, only minor burns, as the brunt force of the spell was stopped by Retel’s skill.

Still, they’re already charging another shot, and the lizards are closing in on my friends.

It’s frustrating to see them struggle like this, unable to leave my place, locked in this fucking game.

My blood is boiling, and I am digging my own nail into my flesh for how strongly I am clenching my fists.

Now, the narrow space is proving to be an handicap to us, rather than an advantage. The Ash Servants have managed to surround the place, since the fire barrage from the spirits melted the ice barriers that Marica made.

From the sides, their arrows are starting to fly towards Retel and the others.

Dahl is shouting at me, flustered, angered. By this trial’s spell, he cannot take any action unless I order it, or I move the piece that represents him on the board.

I smash my hand into the soft sand, biting my lips as I see the monsters slowly overwhelming my friends.

This strategy, this formation, will not work right now. I need to think about something else.

First, I send Dahl towards the Fire Spirits. If he uses his skill, he could manage to take out a few of them, lessening the impact of their assault.

To support him, I tell Marica to start firing the ice darts, together with her spells.

At the same time, I tell Levia to jump on ground level, behind Retel. I make her deploy her healing field skill, in order to provide Retel with some means of recovery.

But, by doing this, Levia cannot provide support fire.

Dahl is steadily advancing towards the Fire Spirits. His battle will be difficult, since they outnumber him ten on one. And, until he gets into melee range, the enemies have an advantage over him.

Seeing how one of my companions is advancing towards them, some of the Fire Spirits focus on him, attacking Dahl with their fireballs.

With some of the Fire Spirits distracted by Dahl, the others cannot unleash the same level of destructive power as before.

Meanwhile, Marica is starting to attack the monsters with both her crossbow and spells.

The Fire Spirits move backwards, out of the crossbow’s range. She did not even manage to hit a single one of them.

And the arrows coming from the Ash Servants are preventing Marica to properly concentrate on her spells, as she’s focusing on evading them, since Retel is focusing his shield skill on himself in order to block the lizards from advancing.

He alone has managed to take out three of them, but the others are pressing on him, and his wounds from before have yet to heal.

<<Roshal…this will not work. I cannot stay here and just heal Retel. If we want to win, I need to get out there and assist the others with my arrows. Please, listen to me>>

Levia’s voice reaches me. I feel her frustration, her concern for the hard battle they’re all facing. What she proposes, it’s so dangerous that I would not want to consider it as an option.

But, I need to trust her judgment here.

She, all of them, are trusting mine, and my strategy already proved lacking.

<<Yes, do it. I believe in you, Levia>>

Without replying, she jumps over Retel’s shoulder, heading towards the group of monsters on the side.

She’s keeping her healing field active, and she’s charging at the enemies at the same time.

Levia is equipped with a composite short-bow, which allows for better maneuverability and overall agility in the battlefield than the longbows used by the Ash Servants.

What follows goes beyond my expectations.

Alone, Levia heads towards the group of Ash Servants.

She’s quick, much quicker than I ever thought.

During the battles we’ve fought together, she’s been a reliable member of our party, but she limited herself to the rear part of our formation, using her arrows to support the advanced attackers like Retel or Dahl.

But, as I see her fight right now, I think that her choice has stopped her from showing the true potential she possess.

Levia is darting through the place, jumping from cover to cover with incredible speed and agility. Her movements are taking the monsters by surprise, as they are unable to properly aim at her.

One by one, she kills the Ash Servants, planting her arrows in their bodies from almost melee range.

It’s like seeing another person fight, instead of the usual Levia.

She’s keeping her healing skill active, while dashing, jumping around and using her other skill to power her arrows.

Every time, I fear she might run out of stamina, but she’s relentlessly going on.

In a few minutes, she made short work of the Ash Servants, and she’s now heading to Retel’s side, in order to help her brother in dealing with the lizards.

Meanwhile, since the Ash Servants are no longer shooting their arrows at Marica, she’s now able to use her spells on the Fire Spirits.

She starts her chant, taking away the heat from the Flame Spirits, weakening them.

Usually, she would use the absorbed heat to cast a fire spell, but, since the monsters here have high resistance to fire, she is instead using another incantation.

Using the heat she absorbed, she’s creating an air current around the position where she, Retel and Levia are fighting.

<<Barriera d’Aria>>

She mutters the final part of her incantation, which reveals a swirling barrier of wind around their position.

I was surprised when she told me about this new spell she wanted to try, and she could not use it directly without my instruction, given the circumstance of this trial.

I wish she would have told me sooner about it, it could have been useful during the fight before. Still,I am pleased by the result showed by her new spell.

The air barrier is proving enough to deviate the spells that the Fire Spirits are still launching on the group.

They stop, however, when Dahl finally manages to reach them. He unleashes his skill, taking the spirits down one after the other.

At the same time, Retel and Levia kill the last of the lizards.

This battle has been our victory.

Marica drops to her knees, exhausted as her mana was completely drained by the last spell. Retel is injured, but Levia is already at work on him with her healing skill.

I look towards Thal, to see how he reacts to his defeat. The monster just smiles, and with a gesture of his hand…

Dahl shouts in the distance.

He’s lying on the floor, his left leg enveloped in flames. Rolling on the sand floor, he manages to put out the fire, but his leg is injured, badly.

Something is emerging from the place where the Fire Spirits have been slain.

The board in front of me flickers, as the miniatures of Thal’s monsters glow and disappear into ashes.

In their place, five red spheres have appeared on the board. Two near Dahl, three are converging on the others.

Flame Slimes, each level twenty.

<<The battle has only begun, oh child of men>>

Shit. To think that other monsters would immediately appear…

Moreover, Dahl has been caught off guard by the sudden appearance of the Slimes.

The distance between him and the group is too much for his injured leg, and the others are also in bad shape.

They will not reach him in time, nor can he flee or fight with his leg in that condition.

<<Damn it. There is no other choice then…Roshal, listen carefully. Here’s what you need to order me…>>

I cannot believe his words. Up until now, he always kept his skills a secret, and now I know the reason behind his reasoning.

But, if we want to survive this, I need to make him use it.

<<Levia, be ready with some potions and your healing skill. Marica, we will need your spells soon. Ignore the monsters, and be ready>>

I feel still a bit reluctant to do so, but we’re left with no other choice. The Slimes are already looming on Dahl, there’s no other way to save him.

<<Now! Dahl, use it>>

It happens in a flash. A slight tremor shakes the place, as Dahl unleashes his skill.

According to what he said, Dahl’s new skill is a blue ranked one. The highest grade, something akin to a legendary power.

But, for the one who holds it, it is a double edged sword. Since his level is still too low, he cannot control the sudden power that the skill grants, and his body suffers severe damage after he uses the skill.

Even if he uses it for some seconds.

And if he uses it, few seconds is all that he needs.

Basically, his skill is a stat multiplier. Strength, speed, attack power, all depend on stats in this world. So, if Dahl’s stats, which are already considerable in his normal state, get raised…

His skill, Full Drive, applies a five time multiplier. That means, his stats when he uses the skill are on par with level one hundred.

Incredible power, with a terrible after effect. Something to use only during desperate situations

Five seconds. That’s all it takes to him to take out the slimes and head towards the others.

As he arrives there, I order him to stop his skill.

He’s screaming, thrashing around as the after effects of his skill begin to take hold.

<<Now! Marica, use your spell to disperse the heat from Dahl’s body! Levia, make him drink the potions and use your healing skill. Retel…try to keep him still while the girls treat him>>

The close up of Dahl that is being shown on the small screen is something painful to look at.

His skin is bursting open, like if some kind of acid has been poured all over him.

Smoke, or steam, is raising from his body, and his screams have now become a low wailing, as his voice is broken from pain.

Levia forces him to drink the restorative potions, while using her healing skill to counter-balance the damage.

Marica is working to lower Dahl’s temperature, taking care to use her spell with the right balance, in order to not damage further Dahl’s body.

The whole process lasts only four minutes, but it feels like an eternity.

To save him, we’ve basically burned through all of our healing potions, and Levia overexerted herself using her healing skills, activating all of her skills at the same time.

But, thanks to her effort, Dahl’s condition has improved considerably. The damage he sustained is still extensive, however he will not lose his life now.

<<Good work, oh child of men. Your pawns proved to be strong enough to be of some use to a Demon Lord. Now, let us set apart this childish play. Your pawns have been tested, now it is your turn>>

As Thal says so, the fire circle that is around us expands from the column formation, tripling its size

<<Come, and show me your worth>>

Navi’s communication has been cut, and the Guardian begins to charge at me. I avoid the blow, and retaliate using Black Fluid.

This time, my powers have not been sealed, and I can use my skills and stats during the fight.

However, the monster before me is not the same one that I fought on the fifth floor. Perhaps, the Guardian’s powers were also sealed, or it has received a power-up in this fight.

Still, it does not matter right now. The only important thing is that I am going to kill this thing here and now.

Unlike what happened during the first trial, this time I am the one pushing Thal back.

Not that the Guardian is putting up a good fight, hell, his attacks and magic are really nothing to joke about.

It’s just that Black Fluid has become something ridiculously powerful. The Guardian’s fire attacks are being nullified by my skill’s cold, and my attacks are piercing through the monster’s defense.

Wounded, Thal jumps backwards. He clasps his broadsword, lifting it high above his head while charging magical power in the blade.

<<As if I’ll let you do it>>

I shout so, concentrating all my power into the next attack.

Taken by the flow, I cannot stop myself from shouting the attack’s name. Well, I’ll have enough time to feel dumb for it when I finish this battle. For now, all I need to do is win.

<<Vorpal Edge!>>

I shout, letting out my strongest move with Black Fluid. All the mass I can produce from my skill is being converted into a flexible tentacle.

I use some of the skill to mimic strong muscles, using their contraction to make the tentacle swipe with the maximum amount of strength I can exert from it.

While in motion, I change the shape of the skill, turning the end portion into a blade. I exert myself to make the edge as sharp as I can, and then I activate the Vorpal Slash.

Every molecule of my skill resonates, vibrating at incredible frequency. The sound it makes is deafening, and it makes me feel a bit dizzy, nauseated as the high frequency vibrations reach my eardrums.

Nonetheless, I endure it. The attack connects, right before the Guardian manages to unleash his own move.

If this was a movie, the scene would have been one of those where time slows, and the hero sees the bad guy reaching for his gun.

He would react in surprise, reaching for his own weapon and shooting faster than the bad guy.

But, this is not a movie. All of it happened in a fraction of seconds. I unleashed my skill, and if I had been only a split second later, it would have been Thal’s victory.

Instead, my attack was faster, and that’s all that matters.

My Black Fluid blade slashed through the Guardian’s body in a rising slash, hitting his right flank and rising up to his left shoulder.

The top portion of the Guardian’s body falls over, while his torso and legs stand still in their position for a moment, before falling down.

It’s my victory.

Using Black Fluid again, I absorb the Guardian’s lifeless body.

[Navi: Communication routine restored- Success! Trial by Fire complete (Second Trial)! Obtained Blessing of Flames: +6 stat bonus awarded to all stats (permanent, 30 points total); +5 stat bonus to all registered party members awarded (permanent, 20 points total); Effect of status: Marked by Ashes- Removed. No new status acquired, restrictions lifted. Acquired: Crown Fragment (Sendria) 9/100 (10/100 total fragments possessed).

Awarded “Titles” to each registered party members: Retel- Rook; Marica- Bishop; Dahl- Knight; Levia- Queen

New skills awarded to each registered party member according to their acquired title

New skill awarded- Lord’s Aura: Raises attack, defense, mana and health regeneration rates for registered party members (passive)

New Navigator Functions Revealed- EXP Harmonizer: Controls and applies adjustments to acquired EXP, in order to keep the party’s growth balanced; Map Scan: Uses a mana pulse to analyze the map, reproduces a 2-D image of the analyzed terrain, highlighting in real-time enemy and ally position, stats and level

Advanced Thought Processing: Using the Navigator’s functions, it is possible to enhance normal thoughts speed and memory abilities beyond human limits.

Congratulations for this great success, Master!]

Following the huge status message from Navi, the notification of level up and skill level up pop up in my mind.

As the aftermath of the battle, all of us had our levels raised to level twenty two.

Apparently, it was one of Navi’s functions that was interfering with our group’s level up, adjusting the amount of exp we gained to keep us all at the same level.

I do not know if this system has been beneficial or detrimental to our group, but at least now I know the reason behind those weird level up patterns.

Ignoring the messages, I rush to my companions’ side.

The terrain inside the central chamber has returned to the condition before the trial began, the walls returning underneath the sand.

I leave the scattered corpses of monsters all around, since I want to make sure of my comrades’ conditions before everything else.

As I get to their side, I notice how Dahl’s conditions have improved.

He’s asleep, probably fainted, but his breath is regular and he no longer looks in pain.

His left leg still has the signs of the recent burn, and his skin is still showing several small plagues and injuries, the aftermath of his dangerous, double- edged skill.

Still, he will not die from this, thanks to Levia’s healing skills.

After greeting my companions, and commenting a bit about what just happened, I take out the Transfer Stone that Telesia gave us.

It has one more charge, the necessary power to take us out of the Dungeon.

<<Ready?>>

I ask my companions if they’re ready to move. All of them appear severely fatigued, especially Marica and Levia.

<<Oh yes. Let’s head back, and please, no more Dungeon for at least one week>>

Retel’s comment makes me chuckle a bit.

<<Yeah. Let’s make it two weeks>>

As I say so, I activate the stone.

The sudden sensation of movement leaves me a bit nauseated and dizzy, and my head starts to hurt a bit. Nothing in comparison to when the Guild’s party forcefully took me out of the Dungeon, that time it was definitely worse.

The effect from the Transfer Stone ends, revealing the Guild’s scenery as the blue light fades. We’re inside the Dungeon entrance building, near the reception desks.

I go and make the report about our successful Dive inside the Dungeon, before we head back to old man Heod’s place.

Tomorrow, we will go back to the Guild to sell materials and all that stuff, but right now, the only things that I want to see are a warm bath and a soft bed.

When we arrive to our house, Heod jumps towards us, almost tearful. We’ve contacted him as soon as we came back from the Dungeon, and he has been fixing us a meal while waiting for us to arrive.

Before coming home, we left Dahl in one of the emergency treatment buildings that the Guild hosts.

Telesia herself came to see her nephew’s conditions, and she’s strictly overseeing his treatment. I am a bit concerned about him, but we left him in good hands.

While having dinner, I share with Heod everything that happened. Levia and Marica seem too tired to join the conversation, while Retel is just burying his face in his plate, overjoyed by the meal that Heod has prepared for us.

I would like to stay and chat a little bit more with the old man, but I too am at my limits. Parting from him, I head to my bedroom, and collapse on my bed, exhausted.

Re:Interference Chapter 18- Icy Winds, Charred Ground

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

Shartu, the Champion of this level.

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

Yet, I push onward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The great bear did not even interrupt its charge.

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

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

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

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

<<Now!>>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navi’s message confirms the Champion’s death.

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

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

I really came a long way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, adventuring is a cruel business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<<Fuck it!>>

I say out loud, and I use the skill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I suppose we will have to endure it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before our eyes, a Slime appears.

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

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

<<Disgusting>>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They weren’t much of a test, tho.

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

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

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

<<Wow>>

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

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

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

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

Re:Interference Chapter 17- Ninth Floor

At the end of the staircase, we find ourselves into a large Antechamber, bathed in a cold blue light.

We’ve taken a bit of time to rest on the stairs, before venturing into the ninth floor.

Even if our resting spot was all but comfortable, I’ve used some time to take a nap and level up my stats.

It’s better to use every single advantage that I can get before challenging a new level, after all.

I take the first step into the new environment.

As soon as I leave the room where the staircase ended, I have to shield my eyes from the excessive light that shines in this new floor.

With every breath, moisture condenses in front of my mouth, forming a small white cloud.

All around us, the floor is covered by a thin mantle of brine, crackling as we step over it.

In the cold air, snowflakes are dancing, following a cold breeze that is flowing from the inner part of this floor.

The ninth floor’s environment seem to be enveloped in an ice age.

The large antechamber is delimited by grand walls, completely made of ice.

A cold surface that reflects the multicolored light emanating from the ceiling, creating a dazzling environment that I could never expect here, in the Dungeon.

As I look up to the ceiling, my mouth gapes in surprise.

Lights are dancing above the floor, masking the ceiling with their ever-changing color.

Aurora borealis, commonly called northern or polar lights.

A mesmerizing phenomenon that happened in the cold regions in my old world.

The sight of them made me remember one of the entries of my never realized bucket list. To see those dancing light at least once in my life.

And yet, I did not have that occasion in my previous life.

A bitter smile surfaces on my face, as I admire the mesmerizing dance of those shifting lights.

<<It’s beautiful>>

Retel comments, his face up and his gaze taken by the sudden show.

I just nod silently, unable to say something else.

To think that such beauty could be found here, in this dangerous place.

I take a deep breath, forcing myself to part from the dancing lights. After all, we do not have to spare in sightseeing.

We resume our march, threading forward, walking on the semi-frozen soil.

Since the temperature here is significantly lower than the floor above, we’re all wearing some heavy mantles above our armor.

I’ve taken those with me when we first started exploring this dungeon, well before the thing with the trials and the Guild happened.

I heard that in the Dungeon it was possible to find different climatic zones, ranging from scorching desert ones to polar wastelands of ice.

And so, I prepared different sets of clothes to take with us, storing them into my inventory as a precaution.

The heavy coats effectively protect us from the cold, and they do it well.

But I fear they might become an obstacle during battle.

Well, we could just drop them whenever we spot some enemy.

The antechamber ends in a narrow passage, built inside the ice wall.

It is a long, circular tunnel, and as we enter it, we spot some kind of mineral growth sprouting from the ice.

<<This is moonstone. I never thought you could find some before the tenth floor>>

Dahl mutters as he examines the rocks. Their shape is round, smooth, with a white color resembling bone. As I look at them, Navi confirms that the material contained in them is indeed the mineral called moonstone.

<<Perhaps we’ve just been lucky>>

Retel utters, standing near the mineral deposit. Even if we never found some before, we know that it is a precious material.

It’s used in several alchemical preparations, and acts as a reagent to produce mid-level potions, especially those that restore mana.

And that makes it a valuable resource.

<<Well, let’s take it with us>>

Saying so, I gather the mineral deposit using Black Fluid. In normal conditions, one would have to mine the entire rock, processing it later to extract the precious mineral.

The extraction process is without a doubt a costly and laborious process, but with my skill I can select what I want to harvest from the absorbed materials, discarding the rest in the process.

What I obtained from harvesting the rock was pure moonstone mineral, separated from the other components that compose the original form of this ore deposit.

Still, I will not throw away the remaining materials, after all, I can just store them into my inventory and find a use for them later.

We continue to follow the passage.

There are no monsters in sight, but using Navi, I know that some of them are present in the room where this passage leads.

Their levels are low, with the strongest of them being level eight.

The sudden drop in enemy levels should be something to be happy about, but somehow I cannot think that it will be a positive thing for us.

There could be some kind of trick at work here.

There is no way in hell that this place is easier than the floor above, where monster levels were higher than ten.

As we exit the corridor, I can see the creatures that showed up in Navi’s detection.

Floating in the air, the jellyfish-like monster slowly dangle their long tentacles, hovering three meters above the frozen floor.

Their bodies emit slow pulses of blue light, and every time their tentacles touch the ground, a small ice crystal instantaneously forms there.

Cryonis, that’s how these creatures are called.

It seem that they did not notice us, continuing their weird dance in the air without paying attention to us.

<<Shall we attack them?>>

Levia asks, notching an arrow in her bow, ready to fire.

I nod. There are five of them in total, each floating while keeping few meters of distance with the others.

Using Navi to communicate, we set up our course of action.

As usual, I will bind the monsters with my skill, preventing their movement, while Levia and Marica wail on them with spells and arrows.

This time, Dahl and Retel will be on standby, with Retel ready to guard us from any kind of attack.

It’s best to not engage these things in physical combat, since we do not know how strong their freezing ability is.

From Navi’s analysis, it does not seem to be the result of some kind of skill or magic.

Almost like this creature’s biological structure allows it to freeze everything it touches.

Marica opposes the usual strategy, however.

<<My offensive spells will be difficult to use here. Really>>

She explains the reason behind her words.

As she specializes in heat manipulation magic, her spells work by absorbing or giving heat to the environment or target, using mana as a medium.

According to her words, it’s impossible to create ice or flame with magic. It just does not work like this.

To operate a freezing spell, she needs to use her mana and absorb the heat from her target, thus lowering temperature and freezing it.

She can then use the absorbed heat to start a fire, and control it with mana.

<<In this situation, the environment is too cold for me to absorb the necessary amount of heat for a fire spell, even the most basic one. I will have to resort to another source of heat, like a torch or a burning fire, but that will severely limit my efficiency in battles. Also, since the temperature here is too low, even if I manage to absorb heat from other sources, it will disperse much faster in the air, weakening my spells before I could cast them. I am sorry, but it’s better if I stick to my support spells in this place>>

So, we cannot count on her offensive power.

She’s still useful, since she can blind opponents with light magic and cloak us with her concealing spell.

If an emergency arises, she could still use some offensive spells, but her output will be limited by this place’s conditions.

In short words, we are forced to think of a new strategy.

<<The best way to deal with them will be attacking from a distance. I could kill them with a single blow, but that ability to freeze everything that touches them scares me a bit. I would like to not come close to them, if we can>>

Dahl gives his opinion on the matter at hands. I came to the same conclusion.

Touching those things will be dangerous, so it’s better to attack them from faraway.

That means, me and Levia will be conducing the attack.

Using Marica’s concealing spell, we sneak closer to the monsters.

Immediately, those things react to our presence.

It surprises me a bit, since we should be perfectly hidden from view. Well, it could be the case that these monsters do not rely on eyesight to perceive the world.

This could be troublesome, if more monsters in this floor have the same disposition.

Still, the fight starts a little sooner than we expected. The Cryonis start flailing around, swaying their tentacles in the air as they attempt to strike at us.

Retel is guarding each blow, using his mana shield to block the tentacles. Every time one strikes, the air freezes around Retel’s shield.

Levia lets her arrows loose, aiming at the closest jellyfish.

To our shock, the arrows simply fly past the monster.

We all saw it, Levia’s arrow was perfectly aimed. But it did no damage, simply passing through the monster’s body.

I try to attack one of the Cryonis with Black Fluid. This time, the attack connects, skewering the jellyfish-shaped creature.

So, skills work, while normal attacks don’t.

Having transmitted the info to the others, we start again. Four monsters are left inside the room.

I take two of them out with Black Fluid, while Levia is using her skill to imbue arrows with mana.

This time, her arrows hit the monster’s body, maiming it as each arrow bursts when it hits the target.

Only one of them left alive. I stop Levia from shooting her arrows, since I want this thing alive for my skill. I envelop it inside Black Fluid, consuming it.

Much to my surprise, I do not receive any skill from the creature. Nor a material property, as if I had absorbed nothing.

The other monsters’ corpses behave the same way when I absorb them.

<<What the hell is going on?>>

Baffled by what has just happened, I look at the place where the corpses were.

A faint trace of mana can be seen, slightly tracing the corpse’s shape.

<<Don’t tell me…>>

Marica is muttering to herself. She walks were the corpses were, waving her hand in the air with her eyes closed.

<<There’s no doubt. These are Summoned Creatures, not normal monsters>>

I ask her to clarify her remark. She nods, beginning her explanation.

According to what Marica says, Summoned Creatures are constructs made with pure mana. They are not “living things”, only copies of them.

<<The name comes from the early school of summoning magic. In the past, magicians that were adept in this kind of magic thought that their spells were actually materializing these creatures from other worlds, or planes of existence. That was wrong, and more recent studies have proved that a summoning spell only copies the creature, reaching images from the caster’s subconscious and creating an artificial body with mana. These things do not exist, strictly speaking. They are projections, forms built from memory of something the caster has seen and that left a lingering impression on his mind. Still, summoning spell are incredibly advanced, and difficult to master>>

She pauses, drawing her breath while a serious and concerned expression is forming on her face.

<<And that brings us to the most worrying part. Summoned creatures require a summoner, to exist. But to construct something like this using a spell, you need intellect, imagination. We have two possibilities here. First, the summoner could be some kind of intelligent monster, capable of handling complex spells and has a wild imagination and power, enabling it to pull off the summoning spell and who knows what else. Or, we could be dealing with human mages. And I do not know which of the two scares me the most>>

She pauses again, letting her words sink in.

Summoned creatures.

Well, I expected something like this to exist in a fantasy world, but it still surprised me.

<<But, we got experience from defeating them? How is that possible?>>

Retel asks, pointing out a simple fact. It is true, we got experience from defeating those things.

Although, I noticed that the amount of it was very scarce.

I thought it due to the difference between our levels and those of the creatures, maybe this world has some kind of compensation mechanism for when you hunt creatures with lower level than yours.

After all, this world seem to be based off some kind of role playing game rules, so something like this should exist.

<<Well, summoned creatures do give experience, albeit a limited amount of it. Even I do not know why it happens, or why they are basically indistinguishable from monsters, even if you use a high level detection spell or skill. The only way to know for sure that you fought a summoned creature is after you defeat it, since the body just disappears, as the mana that composes it fades away>>

<<So, they’re as troublesome as normal monsters, but give less prize when defeated. Am I right?>>

Levia’s remark hits on point. It seems that fighting this kind of creature has more demerit than fighting monsters.

<<Well, that is true. Also, the caster can easily call back summoned creatures when they are defeated. So, it is even more troublesome to fight them. From now on, we should focus in finding the summoner, before we even start fighting other monsters>>

Following Marica’s advice, I scan the room to see if there is some kind of hidden presence, aiming to find whoever or whatever summoned these things here.

The scan does not show results, at least not in the immediate vicinity.

There are some weird signals coming from the next room, however.

I inform the party about them, telling them to be on guard in the next room.

We depart from the place, heading inside one of the tunnels that leads out of this room.

Again, we find some moonstone ores on the way. Some of them are deep below the ice, while other are protruding from it. I collect them as we pass by them, without stopping too much for gathering resources.

At the end of the frozen corridor, another room opens. It’s the same exact copy of the one before, even hosting the same kind and amount of monsters inside of it.

At least, at first glance. Hidden, perhaps by a spell or skill, there is a sixth presence inside the room.

As we enter it, it gives no response to us. Perhaps, it is biding time, waiting for when we engage the summoned creatures, aiming for an opening when we are too busy fighting the creatures to notice an ambush.

Well, it had a bad match with us.

Instead of attacking the summoned Cryonis, I immediately use Black Fluid to strike the place from where the signal is coming.

Although it looks like the skill did not hit anything, I know that my attack succeeded.

Immediately, the Cryonis begin to charge at us, perhaps to protect their summoner’s life. Still, it’s too late for that. The monster dissolve into thin air, pierced by Levia’s arrows and my skill.

Navi’s message confirms the creature’s death, and we gain experience from both summoner and summoned creatures.

As the caster dies, the spell he cast to hide itself fades. Impaled on a Black Fluid spear, a body begins to be visible.

It looks human, although his body is incredibly thin, almost skeletal. I drag the body closer, to see what we’re dealing with.

Now that it is closer, we see that the caster is not human.

But it strongly resembles one.

His gaunt body is covered in a thick white fur, that I mistook for clothes while seeing it from afar.

The creature has a bald head, with long and narrow ears that point behind his head. It is definitely a male, judging from his genitals barely covered by a brown, ragged loincloth.

His eyes are still open, gazing at the ceiling, lifeless. They are far larger than those of a human, completely black and without visible iris or pupil.

Thin lips, covering a row of small, sharp teeth, dirtied with blood.

Navi does not show a general name for this creature.

Much to my shock, her analysis displays a status window, similar to those I can see from my companions. There is listed a name there, a proper name, not like those general ones that identify monsters.

This was an intelligent creature, it had a name, a level and it could cast advanced magic.

<<So, Marica, your first guess was correct. Intelligent monsters>>

Dahl tells so with a grimace, his voice deep with concern.

<<We’ve been lucky this time, since there was only one of them in this room. But, if more of those things are in the same place, it could go badly>>

I agree with Dahl. We have a big advantage, since we can scan the room and find out where the summoners are hiding.

But this advantage does not mean nothing if we cannot take them out in a single strike.

If two or more appear, we need to kill them instantaneously to prevent them from summoning more creatures, overwhelming us with numbers.

<<Well, we could use the same strategy against them>>

Levia explains her suggestion about our next moves. Basically, one of us would use Marica’s concealing spell to sneak around and deal with the summoners.

<<It could work. We can pinpoint the summoner’s location by using Roshal’s detection skill, but the problem here will be sneaking past the summoned creatures. As we’ve seen before, those things can spot us even if we’re concealed>>

Dahl exposes his doubt about Levia’s suggested plan.

<<Well, the rest of us will engage the summoned creatures in battle, drawing their attention while one of us deals with the summoner. I think it might work like this. Now, we need someone with a strong attack power to sneak around and take out the summoners as quickly as possible>>

Following Dahl’s remark, Retel adds his own considerations to the plan.

We discuss some more, and come into an agreement.

Our members with the highest attack power are currently Dahl and Retel himself.

Retel is out of the question for this role, however, since we will need to rely on his defensive skill in the battle ahead.

The most suited candidate for this job is Dahl himself, after all. He has a high damage skill, and he’s more than capable to kill a monster in one single strike.

The plan is laid out. Dahl will be under Marica’s concealing spell, sneaking around and silently taking out the summoners while the rest of us take on the summoned creatures.

We try the new strategy immediately. The next room is crawling with monsters, and there are two summoners hidden.

When we enter the room, we immediately engage the summoned creatures while Dahl sneaks away, heading towards the summoners. He can see their location, since Navi’s signals are shared between all members of our party.

He immediately takes out one of the summoners, but the other is still alive. Before Dahl can reach it, the monster attacks us, taking advantage of the confusion while we battle the summoned creatures.

The little creature aims at Levia, attacking her from behind.

It would have been a bad situation, if not for Navi’s detection.

As the signal from the summoner came close to us, I immediately used Black Fluid to grab the monster.

The others quickly dealt with the summoned Cryonis, and I can take my time to absorb the summoner.

Again, no useful skill comes from the absorption process.

I only got passive skills that boost summoning magic and concealing-type spells.

They could be worth using in the future, but right now, they do not have any practical use, since I do not know any spell yet.

Still, this situation could have gone badly for us.

Dahl did a good job by taking out the first monster, but he cannot be in two places at the same time, so, even if he’s fast, it is impossible for him to kill two or more summoners in a short enough time.

And, during the time when he’s dealing with one, the others will attack us, without any doubt.

This strategy we’ve been using is only useful when there is one summoner in the room, after all.

For now, our best option when dealing with multiple summoners will be to just blast them away at distance, hoping to take them out immediately.

Again ,we change our approach to battle.

Our priority will be to kill the summoners, so, every time we start a battle, we will have Retel draw the summoned creature’s attention, while me, Dahl and Levia will seek out and kill the summoners.

This strategy puts a heavy burden on Retel, since he will basically take the brunt of the summoned creatures’ attack.

Of course, I will also be supporting him with my skill, restraining the attacking creatures as best as I can.

It would be better if we could also count on Marica’s attack spells in the upcoming battles, but the situation of this floor does not make it possible.

For the future, it will be crucial that we gain some more means of dealing damage to groups, to increase our chances during battles.

But for now, we will have to make do with what we got.

Still, this level is really the worst one we encountered so far.

Not in terms of sheer difficulty, since the monsters here are troublesome but not enough to pose a definite threat, but for the floor’s structure and climate.

As we push on, heading toward the central portion, the temperature is quickly dropping, to the point that even breathing the air is starting to hurt.

The layout is even more painful to deal with.

The initial rooms were fine to navigate, but as we continued towards the inner part of this floor it became something like a mirror maze.

The ice walls that delimit each room and corridor have become perfectly smooth surfaces, cut with strange angles that reflect the surroundings like a mirror.

We often lost our direction, ending up visiting the same room twice or thrice before we started to rely only on Navi’s map system to advance.

It would be hell to navigate this level without a mapping skill, almost impossible.

Especially since our situation demands that we clear this level as fast as we can.

In order to traverse it faster, we will not have rest time here. Instead we will endure until we reach this floor’s exit.

As usual, we searched for the quickest route. It does not surprise me anymore that the quick way out of this level is passing through the central chamber, where the Champion resides. It is a pattern of this Dungeon, apparently.

As we go on, we encounter several groups of summoners and summoned creatures.

We simply try to brute force our way through, focusing first on the summoners and then dealing with the creatures they brought forth.

But, as we go on, battles grow tougher and tougher.

The summoners in the inner chambers have a higher level than those in the initial rooms, and they show increased resistance to our attacks.

The most troublesome thing is that they started casting supportive magic on their creatures, strengthening them.

Some would even cast healing spells on their creatures, making it painful to clear our way.

Often, we found ourselves in difficult battles, when one of the summoners just resurrected the summoned creatures that we killed.

That time, Retel got injured, almost losing his hand to the frost attack of a Cryonis.

Different kind of creatures started to appear, all of them with bizarre appearance. Instead of just summoning the jellyfish shaped Cryonis, the summoners in the inner chambers rely on a variety of creatures.

In one room, we fought a group of summoners that brought forth a single, high level creature. It had the appearance of a tall humanoid, with white, wrinkled skin and two sets of arm.

Eyeless, this creature’s face was all mouth, slit vertically and full of jagged teeth.

Navi identified it as a Gug, a level twenty-two summoned creature.

Initially, we were taken back by the sudden appearance of a strong monster.

However, we regained our composure after the initial panic.

Me and Retel dealt with the creature’s attacks, blocking it with Retel’s skill while I used black Fluid to injure the Gug and restrain its movements.

Meanwhile, Dahl and Levia killed the summoners.

Marica also participated in the battle, forced to support us with her weakened offensive spells.

She did not do much in terms of damage, but her spells provided enough distraction to allow Dahl to strike the monsters down.

Still, she was greatly fatigued after, having resorted to her own body’s heat to conjure flames.

<<You’ve been too careless Marica. Let’s stop here, for a moment. We need to rest a bit>>

Reluctantly, I propose a forced stop to our march. Marica is heavily fatigued, and Retel is wounded.

If we push on like this, we will meet a bad end.

<<Half an hour. No more than that>>

I say, taking out some food and water from my storage.

The food that I brought out is already cold after just one minute, and the water freezes my throat as I drink it in small sips.

I desist from drinking it, since it is too cold, and I start preparing a small fire in order to heat it a bit.

I take out a small pot and some leaves of an aromatic plant, that has a taste and effect similar to my world’s coffee.

As I tend to food and beverage, Levia is using her healing skill on Retel.

She had already treated the most serious wounds on her brother, but minor injuries still remained.

Well, since we decided to stop, it’s better to have him in full shape.

I hand small cups of the improvised coffee to the others, giving some sweets to go with the beverage.

Although consuming more nutritious food would be the better thing to do in this kind of climate, those sweets are special.

They were made by Heod, using several alchemical ingredient to make them into some kind of emergency ration.

The sweets give strong stamina and mana restoration effects, thus being more similar to potions that food. The main difference is that, instead of acting immediately like a potion, they release their effect for a prolonged amount of time.

Our reserve of them is limited, so we cannot use them during every meal.

Still, the old man’s cooking is really something else. The sweets taste really good, and they also have restorative properties.

With our stomach filled, and having rested a bit, we resume the march again. The central chamber is still distant, we’re almost halfway through.

To increase our speed in traversing the level, we’ve been neglecting the material deposits and treasures inside this level.

After all, we collected enough in the previous levels, and we could always stop on the way out, after we deal with this trial bullshit.

It pains me a bit to leave all those resources behind, but it’s for the best in this kind of situation.

Again, we delve into the corridors and rooms built in ice.

The number of monsters and summoned creatures is increasing as we continue towards the inner parts of this level.

We’re starting to encounter different kinds of the summoner’s species.

Navi’s analysis now identifies them as members of Rapta race.

It’s troublesome to see how each of them that we fell has a status window with a name and level, reminding me that those things are not animal- like monsters, but intelligent creatures.

To them, we’re the monsters, invading their living place for who knows what kind of reason, and they react as humans would do in the same situation.

By attacking the intruder.

As we encounter more and more members of the Rapta race, we find individuals that specialize in different kind of roles, instead of just summoners.

These new monsters have armor and weapons. Some of them hold long-distance weaponry, like short bows and even crossbows.

I take one of the crossbows that survived our attack and give it to Marica.

The weapon looks simple at first glance, however by examining it a bit I see how it is everything but simple.

This crossbow is built to be used by someone with low arm strength, and has a mechanism to draw the weapon’s string with ease.

So, it is the perfect weapon for someone like Marica, that does not have the necessary strength to use a bow like Levia does.

Well, Levia is a beast-kin, so, beside her appearance, she is stronger than a human girl.

With this, even Marica has some means of attack.

Perhaps it will dissuade her to use some reckless spell like before, now that she has options. At least, I hope so.

The darts that these crossbows use are very peculiar. Instead of a hard, sharp arrowhead, they have some kind of frail crystal on the tip.

The monster did not have any chance to fire it, so we did not see which kind of effect it has. Luckily, for us.

As Marica test-fires one of those darts, it explodes when it impacts with the target, letting out a cloud of white smoke.

The ice pillar that Marica hit becomes encroached into a wide ice crystal.

<<Freezing darts>>

She mutters, looking intensely at the remaining ammunition.

They will be of little use in this floor, but their use and value will be great in every other place. It makes me almost reluctant to use them.

In fact, I store the freezing darts in my inventory, remembering that I had some normal ones from the time that I scavenged the Aldora fort.

I shudder a bit with that memory, the lingering thought of what happened there.

Still, the trauma of that event was less than I thought, still affecting me but not as much as to ruin my sanity.

I hand her the normal darts, and she seems more pleased with them than the freezing ones.

Leaving the room, we proceed inside the level.

A big problem of this place is that these monsters give a really scarce amount of experience.

The loot they give, as in weapons and materials, is pretty valuable, since there are exotic items and weapons that could fetch a high price if sold outside.

Also, the bodies of the Rapta race seem to possess some kind of alchemical quality, especially their glands and organs.

Perhaps old Heod would be pleased if we give him some Rapta materials, but I would prefer to hunt something that gives more experience.

We’re getting near the central chambers. The level’s layout is slowly changed, and now there are even signs of the Rapta’s civilization inside the icy rooms.

Barricades of rock and ice, along with wooden structures can be seen here and there.

We’re also starting to encounter some kind of wildlife monsters, some of them similar to large, hairy cows with long brown fur and immense horns.

Often, we find them inside crude wooden fences, and the Rapta desperately try to protect those fences.

<<They’re farming them. These are their farms>>

Retel mutters, a sad look on his face.

Not only cattle, the Rapta structures also seem to hold some kind of seeds, hoarded like grain or rice.

We’re inside their living territory, trespassers and invaders.

As we push on, we enter into a big chamber. Inside of it, a village, bursting with Rapta.

The creatures jump on the alert as soon as they spot us, sending out some heavy equipped members of their race as others, smaller and defenseless, run inside the wooden houses.

We have no choice but to attack them.

Although they are defending their territory, they will do it by killing us, without any doubt.

After all, would a human let a monster pass inside his village? Or would he kill it on the spot, without even trying to communicate with it?

And the Rapta are doing the same.

They see us, different, unknown, and immediately they consider us as a threat that needs to be crushed.

It pains me a bit, but we need to kill them if we want to advance inside the Dungeon.

And we need to advance.

The Rapta village’s defense force is composed by no more than twenty heavy armored Rapta, while others with improvised weapons are joining the fray.

Some are coming from the near chambers, attracted by a loud sounding horn, probably an alarm of some kind.

If we do not act, we risk to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

And it will be a disaster if some summoner joins with their brethren.

As I look around, I realize that my fear has come true. Several summoners are being shown by Navi’s detection, some of them are already bringing forth their creatures.

More than sixty monsters, including the summoned creatures are now coming to kill us.

Their levels are somewhat low, the strongest of them being a level fourteen warrior clad in a heavy bone armor. Probably their leader, as it is barking orders in their strange, guttural tongue.

We prepare for battle. First we have to deal with the summoners, before they manage to increase further the enemy’s numbers.

Dahl sets out to do that, dashing through the enemy’s lines. I immediately deploy Black Fluid, restraining as many monsters as I can while Retel guards us with his skill.

Since the attackers are mainly resorting to physical attacks, he can fully utilize his Spike Counter against the enemy, taking out a few of them in the process.

Levia and Marica are picking out targets with their arrows and darts, aiming at those that I have not bound with my skill.

The summoners are falling one after the other, taken out by Dahl. Still, some of them managed to bring out a level twenty Gug.

This will be bad…

The white beast is towering above the Rapta, heading out towards us with leaping strides.

I use Black Fluid to restrain it, but I am at my limit with the skill.

I will not be able to produce more, unless I release some of the other monsters that I am holding.

Retel takes action, using his spear to skewer the Rapta bound by Black Fluid.

With this, I am able to release those that have been defeated and trap the ones that are coming towards us.

Still, there’s too many of them, and the level twenty summoned creature is starting to break free from my restraints.

Absorbing it will take too much time, while I cannot dish out too much damage to take it out.

With a sudden realization, I think about how stupid I have been.

Instead of using my skill to full potential, I resorted to it to restrain the monsters, while I could have taken out a large amount of them with less effort.

I could have used poison. Using Beelzebub, the same way I did against the monkey monsters in the sixth floor, would have been the best strategy against this group.

Now we’re into the fray, and releasing Black Fluid to use that attack is not the best move, since the monsters I’ve been restraining could end up injuring me or my comrades.

But I can still use Black Fluid to poison the monsters I have ensnared, taking them out immediately or at least rendering them unable to fight.

I slightly modify Black Fluid, making stingers sprout from the tentacles holding the monsters. It takes a moment to make it produce Serketh’s poison, the strongest venom at my disposal.

The venom taken from the seventh floor’s Champion immediately shows its deadly effects.

The Rapta are dropping dead one after the other, and I move the skill from those defeated to the others that are still attacking.

Quickly, the situation turns to our favor. Dahl joins in the fray, having killed all summoners he’s now free to help us kill the assailing creatures.

With his brethren falling left and right, the leader-looking Rapta begins to flee the scene. Still, it is the only one left standing.

Even the high level Gug has succumbed to the poison, falling down before having its head pierced by Retel’s skill.

Dahl immediately jumps to pursue the leader, but I am quicker with Black Fluid and I catch it, alive.

<<Leave this one to me, please>>

I ask to Dahl. Although the exp would be nice, I am sure that this monster will have some interesting skill to grab.

<<That is a nasty habit you have. Well, it’s all yours>>

Dahl says, sheathing his blades.

Crying in pain, the leader begins dissolving into my skill. Navi’s report gives me information about the acquired skills.

As expected, these are restricted to Rapta race, and I cannot use them immediately.

Cold resistance, Leader’s roar, and even an inferior version of the Leadership skill that I absorbed from the Skeletal Knight.

Leader’s roar sounds like a powerful skill, but all that it does is inflict a fear effect on same members of your species with their level lower than yours.

It is worthless, in short words. Cold resistance would have been incredibly useful to have, but since it is restricted to monsters I doubt I can use it effectively.

Well, I integrate it into Black Fluid anyway. My high luck stat strikes again, as Navi’s report about the successful Integration notes.

As expected, nothing changes. I still feel the cold. That means, Black Fluid became cold resistant.

So, if that is the case…

I activate the skill, and wrap myself into Black Fluid. It really blocks the cold away, but I will need to shape it in a way that does not hinder my movements, or look too hideous.

Right now, I have the appearance of a boy submerged into a pitch black slime.

I focus, trying to shape the skill like something to wear above my armor. However, an intense fatigue immediately assaults my body, and the skill cancels itself, leaving me on my knees, panting heavy breaths.

<<What the hell?>>

Until now, I always used Black Fluid like it was an extension of myself, freely shaping it however I wanted. Following this, it should be the easiest thing in the world to shape it however I want around myself, and yet, it failed.

[Navi: The skill level is still too low to use Armor Mode. Train some more, Master!]

Oh, that’s what happened. Wait, is there an Armor mode? This skill is ever full of surprises…

<<Hey, I get that this “Armor mode” is not yet unlocked, but can I at least use it to make a mantle?>>

I ask Navi, but her answer is disappointing as ever.

[Navi: Silly Master, “Armor Mode” refers to any use of the skill directed to oneself. So, it means “no”. Even someone as dumb as Master should know!]

I am getting fed up with her bipolar personality. Can’t she be professional and efficient like when she talks to the others?

Well, I do not want to bicker further with a voice in my head. I head towards the others, checking out on their conditions.

This time, the battle went without any major injury on our part. Since the number of monsters was pretty high, we ended up raising our levels by one.

Now, all of us are at level eighteen.

I would love to rest a bit and allocate the newly gained stat points, but time is running out, I will do it whenever we reach this floor’s exit.

Around us, the corpses of over sixty Rapta are lying on the ground. I use Black Fluid to clean the surroundings, taking everything. Corpses, weapons, and even their bone armor.

<<Let’s go>>

I say, a cold tone in my voice.

We head towards the Rapta village, feeling cold stares on us as we pass the shabby wooden houses.

Since we displayed our strength, I highly doubt that the remaining Rapta will attack us. After all, judging from Navi’s detection only a few of them remain, all the survivors being elder, women and low level infants.

Still, it’s a weird sensation, walking into this village with stares of hate following our figure.

We leave the survivors alone, there is no point in butchering them.

Past the village, we find a room where thick, brown colored trees are growing. The place where the Rapta take their wood, I assume.

These plants produce a low quality wood, and edible fruits with scarce nutritional value. At least, that’s what Navi’s detection tells.

No point in losing time here.

We pass the room, entering the usual succession of tunnels dug in ice and large, frozen rooms.

In some of them we find remaining Rapta. Few in numbers, we manage to overwhelm them with ease.

We’re getting near the central portion of this floor. Every room we enter seems bigger than the one before, and also the quantity and quality of materials seem to be increasing.

Not just moonstone ore, we’re starting to find rarer materials like ores containing trace amounts of zinc and cadmium.

The rocks here contain too little of the precious metals, so they are rarely mined here in favor of more pure veins that can be found in the surface world.

Still, I take some with us, stopping to hoard some high purity moonstone on the way. It seem I could not resist my compulsion to take everything.

Well, we’ve decided to take a small break, so it’s fine if I indulge in a quick material gathering spree.

In particular, one curious rock formation captured my interest. It is very similar to the Fire Crystal that we found on the fifth level, only, this one has a pure white color and emanates a cold aura.

Unlike the Fire Crystal, I can effectively mine these ones.

Marica stops by, making a comment about my find.

Ice Crystals. That’s how she called these white and freezing stones. Looking them up close, I see that they closely resemble the arrowheads of freezing darts, those that we got from a group of Rapta we killed.

The crystal I harvested is big, roughly reaching the height of my hip from the soil. If we could process it, we could prepare some more freezing darts, or even arrows.

Or we could just sell it to some craftsman able to properly use it.

Nonetheless, it is a good find.

Having emptied this room of resources, and ended our small break, we resume the journey towards this floor’s exit.

As we push further into the inner chambers, we begin to spot some of the elite monsters of this level.

Much to my surprise, it seems that the Rapta are engaging those monsters in battle.

The elite creatures resemble large polar bears, their white fur spotted with blood as they rage on in battle.

The Rapta seem to be losing the fight, being overwhelmed by their opponent’s sheer size and strength.

We decide to swoop in on the fight, taking advance of both Rapta and monsters being too concerned in fighting one another to actually notice us.

Distracted, the summoners are easily taken down by Dahl, while the rest of us focus on the bears and the remaining Rapta.

The small humanoid monsters are easily taken out by Levia and Marica, but the bear-like creatures reveal themselves to be though opponents, even when already wounded.

Their level is higher than the Rapta, although they are in lesser numbers.

Unsurprisingly, Navi identifies them as White Bears. Inside the room, three of them were fighting against the humanoid monsters.

One was taken out by the Rapta, while the other two survived the initial attack and are now charging at us.

Arrows seem to only cause slight injuries on them, even when Levia charges them with her skill.

Beside their sheer strength, these monsters are using a troublesome ability.

Some kind of skill, similar to the ability that the summoned Cryonis possess.

In short, everything around the monster freezes.

They use this ability both defensively and in offense, freezing arrows directed at them and using the skill in combination with strikes of their massive claws, leaving large chunks of frozen ground whenever they hit.

Retel is managing to guard us with his skill, so we suffer no direct damage from the White bears.

Still, their resilience is impressive.

It took a combined effort to take the two monsters down, as the beasts just tanked several hits, shrugging off lethal wounds as if they were nothing.

Fighting these things head on will definitely be too dangerous. To make things worse, there surely will be some White Bears in the same room as the Champion, making the fight against this floor’s strongest monster even more difficult.

Well, that’s only if we fight head on against them.

Much like against the Silverback, I could use the same strategy and turn the lesser monsters against the Champion.

We traverse some more chambers, fighting both Rapta and White Bears on the way.

To be fair, we did not properly fight, since we played it smart.

I used Beelzebub to inject the monsters with different kinds of poison, resorting to the confusing toxin in some instances, and to the Serketh’s lethal venom in others.

Most of the rooms held Rapta and White Bears, challenging each other. It was easy to sneak by, concealing ourselves thanks to Marica’s spell and using my skill to poison the two opposing groups of monsters.

It’s somewhat of a coward tactic, to resort to this kind of means. But, if we can do something without risking our skin, it’s best that we take advantage of it.

Using this trick, we managed to keep our strength in order to challenge the Champion of this level.

We clear out one last room, stopping there to take a moment of respite before the big fight.

The next chamber is the central one, and Navi’s signal has already spotted this floor’s ruler.

Shartu, the White. Level nineteen, Champion of the ninth floor.

Besides his signal, there are a lot of lesser, weaker signals coming from the room.

Many of them are from White Bears, while the vast majority is from monsters of the Rapta race. I shudder when I see the number of them shown by Navi.

More than three hundred, and that’s just counting the Rapta.

I need to see what is going on inside the room.

With that thought in mind, I form an off-shot from Black Fluid, using the old “camera” trick that I used in the past.

By sending it inside the room, I have a clear view of what is happening there.

The large Champion is laying down near the room’s exit.

His form is enormous, enough to make me tremble at the mere sight of it. The Champion is a bear-shaped monster.

His size, however, is almost three times that of the White Bears that we already fought. And those were almost three meters long.

It is gigantic, boasting a size more befitting of an elephant than a bear. His pure white fur is encrusted with long shards of ice, looking like spikes that come out of the creature’s back.

In front of him, the Rapta are dancing and praying in their strange tongue, dragging offerings towards the huge bear, as if they revere it like a god.

The offerings are member of their same race.

Some of the Rapta are bound and wounded, while others lie down lifeless.

Seeing this scene, it makes me perplexed.

We saw the Rapta fighting the bears before, and now I am witnessing the opposite situation.

Perhaps there are various factions of them, with some that fight the White Bears, and others that pray to them like gods.

Maybe, the Rapta that are being sacrificed are prisoners, taken from the other factions and offered to their god as a tribute of some sort.

Still, the reality of things is that there are way too many monsters in there for us to take out.

We will never win against a group of monsters this large, unless we play dirty.

Well, I had that intention from the start.

Using Beelzebub, I summon the fly-like creatures loaded with confusing poison.

Unlike the first time that I used this kind of attack, I immediately can form the tiny insects from my skill, without having to go through the process of filling them with the poison.

It’s like the entire process became automated when it was registered as an attack of my skill.

I’ll have to ask Navi more information about what happened.

With the amount of Black Fluid that I can produce now, I have more than enough flies for each monster in there, except the Champion.

Still, I fear that the little flies will be of little to no effect against the White Bears.

Their thick fur and their massive size would require a large amount of the toxin to work, not to mention that my little creatures could not be strong enough to pierce their skin.

Another obstacle to my plan would be the White Bear’s freezing skill.

Luckily, I absorbed a cold resist skill before, and I fused it with Black Fluid, so my little creatures should be fine even if the bears activate their freezing skill. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Still, I will start by poisoning the Rapta, making them revolt against the monsters they revere.

Next, taking advantage of the following confusion, I will summon bigger flies from Black Fluid, adjusting them to contain more poison and to properly inject it into the White Bears.

There is no need to use the confusing poison on the Champion, since I only need to make the lesser monsters attack it.

For dealing with Shartu, I have another plan.

First, I use the small sized insects to inject the Rapta with my confusing poison.

Since their bodies are small, the effect manifests quickly, spreading chaos among their ranks.

The small Rapta begin to attack the large White Bears, frenzied by the toxin.

Next, taking advantage of the confusion, I produce larger carriers capable of holding a much larger quantity of poison.

These new carriers have also a stronger stinger, capable of piercing the White Bear’s thick skin.

Unlike when I used Beelzebub to produce the already made insects, producing new ones from scratch consumes more energy and requires a longer time.

Still, when the new carriers are complete, a message from Navi informs me that the new carriers are available for production with Beelzebub attack.

Still, who names these things? I remember that Beelzebub was the name of a demon in my world, something related to flies if I correctly recall.

Perhaps the system is taking names from my subconscious? Well, it does not matter much, as long as it does its job.

The new carriers are slower and larger, and could have been easily spotted in normal conditions.

The poison they contain is also slightly different than before.

Mixed with the confusing toxin, I added other compounds capable of enhancing physical strength.

I need the White Bears to do a lot of damage to their bigger cousin, so I have enhanced their prowess a little bit.

If they kill the Champion, it will be fine for us.

The same thing can be said if the Champion manages to wipe out all of them.

It’s our win, no matter which monster comes out victorious from this battle.

Well, the ideal situation would be that only the Champion survives, gravely wounded and unable to fight back.

But I doubt that things will turn out so convenient for us.

I watch the battle unfold, while making preparations for our next move.

After all, I used the confusing poison for two main reason. First, and most obvious, is to take out the small fries.

Second, is to buy us time and allow some preparation before the fight.

Taking advantage of the fray, I’ve been busy preparing poison with Black Fluid and using my Alchemy skill.

I’ve been thinking about a method to deal with the Champion as best as we can. And that includes a way to let Marica use her spells.

In my stay in this world, I’ve been focusing on using this world’s methods to deal with monsters. That means, using skills and such.

But in my world, enemies were dealt with using different methods. In short words, I am preparing something that in my world was pretty popular in warfare.

Incendiary bombs.

By mixing some chemicals I have absorbed from plants, I can use alchemy and compounding skills to produce oils.

And I could use it like some sort of rudimentary incendiary cocktail, tossing it toward the enemies and setting it on fire.

I wanted to make something like an explosive mixture, but it seems I do not yet possess the necessary material or skill proficiency to do so.

Well, using the oil and setting it on fire will give us a tactical advantage.

With this, our plan is in order. All that is left to do is wait.

Of course, I expect the Champion to kill all the smaller monsters.

My expectations are proven correct, sooner than I anticipated.

Swooping down on the battlefield, the giant bear crushes everything in its path, cleaving the ground with every sweep of ts claws and leaving behind frozen bodies.

As it fights its lesser brethren, we’re able to observe the skills that the Champion holds.

Much like the smaller White Bears, Shartu’s attacks have a freezing effect.

The scale of it is, however, far stronger than that of the White Bears.

Another ability of the Champion monster is some kind of frost breath. Bellowing a huge roar, the monster stands on its hind legs, letting out a huge breath attack that sweeps the battlefield with cold wind.

The White Bears withstand it, albeit taking damage, but the attack is devastating against the Rapta.

All of them succumb to the large scale attack of the Champion. I hoped they would last a little bit more, but it seem the Champion was just too strong.

The White Bears are still under control of my poison, and they are swarming on Shartu. The Champion is taking damage, but not too much.

With each of its attacks, one White Bear falls, lifeless.

<<Are you done yet?>>

I ask Marica, looking at her direction.

She’s standing near a large fire, muttering incantations. We’ve figured out a way to use her fire spell.

Since she needs to absorb heat from an external source in order to prepare her highest damage spells , we’ve lit a big fire in the empty room.

It’s not a method we can use in every battle, since she cannot store the absorbed heat and needs to discharge it immediately.

Also, it seems that the incantations she uses are not suited to pull heat from fire or incandescent objects. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, to me.

She blabbered something about heat control being more difficult and dangerous while absorbing heat from high temperature sources when she explained how her spells work.

Well, she’s the one that has knowledge about magic, so we need to follow what she says right now. Still, I have the slight impression that her spells are a bit inefficient.

Looking at her with Navi’s detection, I can see her mana flow from her body to the flames and back to her. She’s showing a good control, the mana flow is steady and unperturbed, but I feel like seeing someone that’s doing a job in a bad way, only because the manager taught them that method.

Although her control is really good, she’s only taking a small fraction of the energy, while the rest is being dispersed in the air.

I could be wrong, of course, and I most likely am, since I do not know the theory and principles behind magic.

But I cannot shake off that feeling.

<<Now, I am ready. Let’s do this>>

Her voice shakes me off my thoughts. It seems Marica has completed her preparations for the spell. Now, all that is left to do is act.

Re:Interference Chapter 16- Safezone

<<So, what are we going to do?>>

Retel asks a question while sipping a small cup of tea. We’re all sitting around a small table in one of the stalls of the safezone, consuming breakfast before we set on march again.

Of course, he’s asking about the battle against this level’s Champion.

We’ve been talking about this since we woke up. After all, if we spare some time to actually fight the monster trapped in this safezone, we will have the opportunity to gain more levels.

On the other hand, time is running out for me. Fighting the beast could take too much time, so it is a decision that we need to carefully think about.

<>

With a serious expression, Retel makes his intention clear.

It’s not like it will be impossible for us. First, the monster is confined in the central portion of this level. So, when we reach it, we will already be halfway through our goal.

Then, if we manage to kill it quickly enough, we could rush our way through the level after the battle, recovering the time we lost fighting it.

The only thing that would hinder us is if the battle drags on for too much time, it will put us in a bad position.

<<So, let’s give ourselves a time limit. If we cannot manage to defeat it in two hours, we will call the keepers to help us and get on with it. Of course, we will gain less experience and materials, but I think it is still better than not getting any experience at all>>

We discuss some more among us, to set the course of action. Retel is the one that most wants to fight the Champion, while Levia is opposed to this.

Marica and Dahl are in a neutral position, telling that it is fine either way for them.

<<Hell, let’s do this. After all, the Champion is alone, there are no other monsters around. If push comes to shove, we can request help from the other adventurers stationed here>>

In the end, we decided to go along with fighting the Champion.

But first, we need to get there. Even if this level is easier to navigate than the others, we still have to cover quite the distance before reaching the room were the monster is confined.

According to the innkeeper’s information, it will take roughly half a day to traverse this level on foot. That is, if we do not fight the Champion.

<<So, let’s say that we take four to five hours to defeat it. We will still be able to traverse this floor in less than twenty four hours>>

What Dahl says makes sense, but it all depends on how much time we will take to traverse the remaining two levels.

After all, we do not know how much time we will spend on the eighth and ninth floors. And even if we reach the tenth floor in time, who knows if we will manage to reach the trial site?

In that aspect, increasing our level here will help us during the battles to come. After all, if we manage to increase our battle potential, it will be easier to deal with the monsters that reside in the floors below.

Before setting off, we contact Heod and report to the Guild.

The old man cheered on us, but his voice carries the sound of his preoccupation. After all, he worries a lot about us.

When we contact the Guild using one of the orbs, I am surprised to hear Telesia herself respond to us.

Dahl is handing the report, and he’s going through everything that happened inside the sixth floor.

From the battle against the Silverback to the spell that was cast to him.

Telesia laughs when she learns about the little trick I did to dispel Alvares’s incantation on both me and Dahl, but she also remind us to be careful.

<>

She parts with those words, closing communication.

Having taken care of those matters, we set off from the stall and head towards this floor’s central portion.

Some adventurers can be seen along the way, going in and out from the small shops built in the remaining stone walls.

Most of them seem to be returning from their Dungeon Dive, using this safezone to replenish their provisions in order to safely reach the surface.
After all, the main purpose of safezones is exactly that.

To allow adventurers to safely acquire provisions, thus permitting them to carry less baggage along the way.

And of course, if each party does not need to occupy too much baggage with provisions, they can carry a higher quantity of materials and resources, thus benefiting the Guild’s economy as a whole.

But, right now we do not have the need to stop there, since most of the shops in this zone only deal with armor and weapons.

Our equipment is still fine, and we have spares in case something breaks during our permanence inside the Dungeon.

Along the way, not too far from the room where the Champion resides, there is a general store that deals with food stocks, and there is also a water reserve in the vicinity.

We will stop there, to restock a bit of food and water. What I have right now should be fine for the time being, but it’s better to buy some more, just in case.

After all, even if we take an excessive amounts of provisions, all the items will safely be stored inside my Inventory, so it’s not like they will go bad.

Still, it’s a long walk before we reach the place.

It’s a bit strange, how this place looks so peaceful if compared to the other floors. Here and there, we can spot some of the people responsible for keeping this safezone.

The Keepers, nicknamed like this for their duties, are a group of mid-level adventurers, responsible for safezone management.

Here, the combined force of twenty adventurers above level thirty is what guarantees the safety of this place.

As we advance inside the floor, a voice calls us from one of the stalls.

<<So, it was really you guys! How is the Dive going?>>

It was Julius, and his party. We encountered them back in the fifth floor, as they were hunting in the same level as us.

Apparently, their group is returning back to the surface, having completed their objective.

<>

Julius ends his sentence with a hearty laughter. Still, they have killed the Champion on the next level.

I ask Julius to share the details of their fight, hoping to learn some information about what expects us on the floor below.

He looks happy to boast about his party’s achievements.

<>

One of Julius’s companions, a girl named Verte, cuts into the discussion, taking the spotlight from her party leader.

Still, undead types…that could be troublesome.

<<Well, the ones you should be really worrying about are the magicians. They are a rare breed, but since they can use magic, they are really troublesome monsters>>

Another component of the other party joins in the discussion. He’s a boy that looks about my age, dressed in a white tunic.

<<Although, it will be definitely easy to deal with them if you can use healing magic or skills. Being undead, if you heal them they just become dust>>

The boy, Marthel, continues his explanation about the undead monsters. Well, it sounds like an old role-playing game cliche, undead being weak to healing magic.

<>

Again, Julius laughs while praising his companion. But, he becomes serious again.

<>

That means that we will not have to fight it, since the monsters re-spawn every forty-eight hours inside each floor.

<<So, what are you guys doing here? Aiming to fight that confined thing over there? Or you’re skipping right into the next floor?>>

Retel answers to Verte’s question. The group grows silent as Retel expresses our desire to reach the tenth floor, but they cheer on us.

From their reaction, I can assume that the road to the tenth level is dangerous enough to make them worry about us.

<>

Following Levia’s remark, Julius asks if they can spectate the fight. Apparently, the place where the Champion monster is confined has some spots for observation.

From there, researchers belonging to the Guild observe the monster when it is idle.

But, when some party of adventurers challenges the Champion, the observation spots are made available to the public, in order to let them spectate the battle.

<<Well, I have nothing against it. Feel free to take a peek, if you want>>

After that, we move towards the grocery store in order to restock our supplies. To my surprise, the shop has fresh fruit and vegetables.

I expected it to be furnished with only preserved goods, but apparently this is not the case here.

Vegetables and fruit are being sold inside small crates that give off a cold feeling to the touch.

As I ask the clerk, an old man with a thick pair of mustache decorating his face, he makes a big smile while boasting about it.

The boxes are a product of his skill, which seem to be some kind of variation of the Inventory type.

It allows him to produce small confined spaces with a set temperatures.

Unlike my own inventory skill, which takes the items into another “space”, the old man’s skill materializes a container around the items.

<>

I end up taking some of the fruit-containing boxes. After all, vitamin intake is important in the situation we’re in.

Also, I would like to try and absorb the boxes with Black Fluid. It’s something that I never tried, to absorb the product of someone else ‘s skill.

I want to see if I can absorb the skill from its product. Of course, that would be the best case scenario, but I will be satisfied even if I only manage to obtain the material properties of this skill.

Although, most likely, I will not obtain anything from it.

Well, that matter will be for a later time, after all.

Right now, we need to head towards the central chamber.

As we come close to it, I realize that the room is way bigger than I thought. It has a rectangular shape, with rock walls that reach the ceiling above.

The walls on each side have some large openings, where a transparent, glass-like material acts as a large window. From there, it is possible to see what happens inside the room.

<<Won’t it break? I mean, just look at this, it’s only glass!>>

Retel is standing in front of the large window, tapping his finger on the transparent surface.

<>

Behind him, a plump, middle aged man answers to Retel’s words.

Retel is a bit surprised by the man’s sudden appearance, but he recomposes himself.

<<So, will you only look, or do you want to take a shot at that?>>

With a large smile, the man asks his question.

He introduces himself. He’s one of the Keepers of this level, and one of the highest level adventurers stationed here.

From his physique, I would have never guessed him as one of the top adventurers here.

According to his words, the old man is the one responsible for creating and maintaining barriers in this level.

And also, he’s the one that regulates entrance inside the Champion’s chamber.

He smiles as we announce our intention to fight the monster trapped in there, looking at us as to evaluate us.

We discuss the fee and terms for taking down the monster; the Keepers will deduct some of the monster’s materials as a fee, and they will keep additional materials if we end up requesting their assistance during the fight.

<>

Before we head in, we decide to gather some more information from the old man.

According to his words, this seventh level was originally a place with a desert environment.

Sand with thin grains covered the floor, while scorpions and snake-like monsters roamed the entire level.

All of them capable of producing deadly venom, and above them all, the Champion of this floor.

Reigning supreme, the Black Scorpion.

While making his explanation, the old man leads us to one of the large windows. From there, we have a clear view of the room.

Levia squirms in horror as she catches a glimpse of the creature, and I must admit, even if I myself do not fear insects, I felt an intense sensation of disgust and fear by gazing upon the monster.

<>

Retel asks to Levia with a preoccupied tone.

Her face became a little pale, but she steels her will and nods with determined eyes.

Parting from the old man, we head towards the room’s entrance. Taking a big breath, I confirm if the others are ready to start this.

<<So, how are we going to do this?>>

Marica asks about the plan to take down this floor’s Champion. Smiling, Retel starts proposing his strategy. It’s a bit unusual for him to be the one dishing out an attack plan, but he seems confident enough in the strategy that he’s proposing.

With a few more suggestions by Dahl, we decide on our course of action. The only thing left to do is to enter the room, and start the fight.

In front of us lies an open space inside the wall. A door frame without a door. In there, we can see a rippling blue light sealing the entrance.

<>

Beckoned by the old man, we proceed towards the rippling light.

Then, we step together inside the room.

Inside, the light is dimmer than in the huge other space, and the air reeks of mold and closed space.

Another smell lingers in the air, faint, carrying the menacing notion of the monster’s presence.

With a body length exceeding four meters, the thing’s black carapace glistens in the dim light, his legs clattering as the clawed tip hits the rock floor.

The beast’s large pincers look like they could easily slice a man in two with a simple movement.

Looming over the black, segmented body, the scorpion’s tail sways lightly in the air, green poison dripping from the stinger.

Composite eyes notice our presence inside the room, and the creature turns, facing our direction.

Without making any sound other that of his large body moving, the beast opens its obscene mouth, revealing uneven rows of sharp teeth dripping with saliva.

Repulsive. That’s the only word that can describe this monster in front of us.

A beast, with power surpassing the Silverback that we recently fought, the named monster prepares to attack.

Serketh, level seventeen.

Although it spotted us, the beast did not charge straight towards our group. Instead, it waits, observing us.

In his natural environment, this monster would surely give us a hard time.

Burrowing deep inside the sand, emerging suddenly to assault the pray with pincers and deadly poison. In a fair fight, it would probably kill us.

But, this is not a fair fight, nor the monster is in his original environment. Here, right now, there is no sand to hide under, only bare rock too hard to burrow in.

Well, it’s not like the monster has lost all of his power. It is still a powerful creature, well capable of killing us all if we underestimate it.

We decide to break this stalling situation, moving to strike the first blow. Using Navi to coordinate our movements, we launch the assault on the creature.

Retel dashes forward, catching the monster’s attention. Instead of charging right to him, Serketh holds its position.

However, the beast does not stay idle. With a quick movement of its tail, it shoots out globes of poison from it.

Green spheres as big as a human head are flying towards all of us.

Retel immediately reacts, deploying his new skill to all of us in order to intercept and guard the incoming attack.

<<Now, taste this!>>

As the scorpion’s attack impacts with the red, translucent shields summoned by Retel’s skill, the boy shouts. Successfully intercept a direct attack. That’s the condition for Retel to be able to activate his strongest skill.

<>

Shouting in high spirits, he lifts the shield equipped on his left hand, pointing it towards the beast.

Retel’s shield glows red for a moment, as the counter-attack skill is activated.

A large spear made of crimson energy shoots out of the shield, its power equal to the total power of each attack successfully intercepted by Retel’s shield skill.

The red, glowing spear crashes into Serketh’s left pincer, destroying the thick exoskeleton and the tender meat inside of it.

With a violent, repulsing screech, the beast wallows in pain, convulsing around while thrashing its amputated pincer wildly.

From it, a thick purple liquid is flowing, being scattered in the air as the beast convulses in pain.

Boasting a confident smile, Retel readies his lance to strike the monster again.

This new technique of him, is only possible since he increased his level after we killed the Silverback. Having his mana increased considerably after the level up, Retel was able to produce this powerful technique.

To think that he came up with this technique all alone, it’s truly worth some praise.

But, there is something that’s worrying me.

It might seem like Retel’s attack was a success.

But the truth is different. The purple liquid that has been scattered around is starting to release some kind of smoke.

As I look at it, Navi’s analysis informs me of that liquid’s composition. A strong, volatile poison is contained inside the scorpion’s blood, and it is now diffusing in the air.

A monster that poisons you each time you wound it. If we’re not careful here, things might go really badly.

Well, that will not be the case here. Expecting some kind of wide-area attack from it, and since the monster itself is poisonous, I scattered Black Fluid in mist form inside the room.

Using it, I am able to absorb the poisonous blood and the venom that has been released in the air.

I will have to do this every time we wound the monster, or we seriously risk being poisoned by it.

Seeing how the poisonous blood has vanished, Serketh charges toward us, ignoring Retel that is standing right in front of him.

It is quick, but not enough to surprise us. Charging straight at Marica, it tries to grab her with the pincers.

However, Serketh’s attack bounces on the red shield materialized by Retel’s skill. Again, he activates the Stab Counter, wounding the monster.

But the scorpion does not falter, using his large tail to strike at Marica.

Before the stinger can strike her, it is skewered by Levia’s arrows. Each arrow, embedded in the thick exoskeleton, explodes damaging the stinger portion.

With the intervention of Retel and Levia, Marica managed to evade a deadly blow. No doubt that the poison contained inside that stinger is definitely deadly.

Serketh prepares again to strike, changing its target from Marica to Levia.

But, as it distracts, I take advantage of the situation.

Concentrating Black Fluid, I form a blade with it and slash the tail.

The initial cut is shallow, however I can modify the skill to enter inside the wound and cut from there, thus severing the stinger portion from the scorpion’s body.

After all, the stinger is the most dangerous weapon for this kind of creature.

Enraged, the monster turns around and charges toward me.

Or at least, it tries to do so.

Converting my skill again, I mold it into Tentacle form, using it to entangle the scorpion’s legs.

The monster comes down crashing before me, making the floor tremble as the huge weight comes down.

Next, I open my Inventory right on top of the monster’s body, letting out some of the water that I had stored in my skill.

At the same time, Marica completes her spell.

Since her mana has increased, and she got a new skill that quickly regenerates the mana that she spends, she’s now able to cast more powerful spells.

I run away from the spot, in order to not be caught by my companion’s spell.

Cold air is coming from there, although, it is better to say that heat is being sucked out from the spot, knowing how Marica’s spells work.

As she shouts the final words of her magic, the water I splashed on the monster quickly becomes ice, freezing the monster’s legs.

Using the water as a primer, she’s now capable of entirely freezing the large monster.

The heat she stole from it, is now being transferred to the tip of her new staff.

Swaying hot air is condensed around the gem, letting off a red light as its temperature rises more and more.

She points the staff towards the creature, muttering strange words as she weaves the spell, transferring the heat stolen from the beast to the air, giving it form, compressing it into a single point.

The red light becomes brighter when the spell is released, and a small fireball flies slowly toward the monster.

I expected some flashy magic being released, instead it looks somewhat weak.

The explosion that comes after makes me forget my previous impression.

Instead of dispersing the heat in all direction, the spells contains it in a precise radius, scorching everything that is inside of it.

I can see the scorpion’s exoskeleton being cracked open by the sudden change of temperature, the shock caused by changing from a freezing cold to scorching heat causes it to crack and break.

As the spell ends, the creature is left charred and wounded, its shell cracked open to reveal the soft meat inside. In the air, a disgusting aroma of burned flesh is making it hard to breathe in here.

However, Serketh still lives. Bleeding poisonous fluids, the beast glares at us with composite eyes.

Again, I convert my skill into gas form to clear the place from both the liquid and gas poison.

The monster is keeping still, wounded by Marica’s scorching attack. It starts shaking, and a thick green aura begins to envelop its body.

The broken exoskeleton is being shed, making a clanking noise as it falls on the ground.

Me, Levia and Marica try to attack the monster from a distance, but the aura repels our attack.

Inside of it, the monster changes shape, twisting as if shaken by an electric current.

Abruptly, it stops moving, dropping to the ground.

<>

Retel mutters with a suspicious expression as he approaches the monster, keeping his shield up.

Suddenly, something erupts from the body, charging at Retel with incredible speed.

He manages to block the sudden attack with his shield, however the strength behind the blow manages to push him back several meters away.

Standing with its right leg up in the air, a humanoid figure.

Although this creature’s silhouette somehow seem human, it’s more like seeing a hybrid between human and insect.

Instead of skin, an armored exoskeleton that covers every inch of its body.

Two legs, with junctures that look unnatural. Two pair of arms, each ending in a small pincer instead of hands.

A short scorpion tail extends from the back of this thing, curving up as it sways in the air, the stinger dancing slightly above the monster’s head.

The monster turns around, looking at us. Within a human-shaped head, large, composite eyes gleaming in red are looking at us.

Its mouth is smiling, looking too human for our comfort.

I thought it impossible, but this monster managed to repulse me even more.

Standing almost two meters tall, the new form of the Champion Serketh begins to attack.

Boasting a speed far superior than its previous form, the monster is brutishly assaulting Retel, pushing him with a consecutive attack from its arms, legs and stinger.

Retel’s shield skill is managing to repel the assault, but some cracks are starting to form on the red barrier made with mana.

He uses the counter-attack skill, Stab Counter, but Serketh evades with a nimble movement.

As it moves away from Retel, the beast is now being targeted by Levia’ arrows. She manages to pierce one of its arms, making the arrow explode as it hits its target.

Without flinching, the monster simply yanks away the half severed arm, and resumes the attack.

This time, I try to catch it with Black Fluid, but every time Serketh manages to evade.

Retel joins me in fighting the monster in close combat. Using Black Fluid to guard from its blow, I am slowly trapping the monster with it.

<>

As I shout so, Retel immediately slashes with his spear.

The weapon’s tip leaves a red afterglow in the air, as the swing powered by Retel’s Raise skill comes down on the monster’s back, severing the tail from it.

High-pressure poisonous blood gushes from the wound, but Retel manages to guard himself from it with his mana shield skill, and I absorb the poisonous liquid.

Enraged by the sudden wound, Serketh begins to thrash around, breaking free from my Black Fluid’s binding.

However, before he can effectively manage to break out, Marica casts another freezing spell.

Combining her effort with my Black Fluid, we manage to keep the monster pinned down. It is not completely immobilized, however, and Serketh is rapidly regaining its freedom.

As it squirms to free itself, the Champion is wounded from behind.

Sensing the attack at the last moment, it avoided the blow that should have decapitated it.

Missing the head, Dahl’s blue blade slashes into the monster’s shoulder, cleaving it deep enough to reach the monster’s chest. A fatal wound, without any doubt.

Or at least, it should have been on a normal opponent.

With a powerful kick, the monster strikes Dahl from point blank range, sending him flying.

He lands on his feet, looking only slightly injured by the blow.

<<Still, for this monster to survive my skill…>>

Dahl mutters in dissatisfaction.

We’ve been preparing his strike all along, with Marica keeping him concealed as he charged his skill, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Although the blow was not lethal, it still did a considerable amount of damage.

I am impressed by this creature, strong enough to survive Dahl’s skill that killed the Silverback with a single hit.

I shudder at the thought of fighting this thing in its natural environment, surrounded by the elite monsters like the Silverback was, with sand to hinder our movements.

Well, that is not the case right now. This monster is in a clear disadvantage here, and we will profit from it.

It lasted long enough, but we need to end this.

Dahl is still grasping the blue blade summoned with his skill. The monster is looking at it, trembling, as if it is struck by fear.

<>

Dahl mutters as he readies himself for the final strike.

Serketh jumps forward, in a desperate effort to stop Dahl from attacking again.

But, its body is wounded beyond repair, and the trump card that this monster held, its poisonous blood, has been neutralized by my skill.

With its body wounded, the monster cannot move as quickly as before, and it is caught by Retel’s attack before it manages to reach Dahl.

Pierced by Retel’s spear, Serketh falls to the ground.

Dahl dashes forward, dealing the finishing blow by severing the monster’s head.

To be sure about its death, I use Black Fluid to impale the severed head and the squirming body.

Navi’s message confirms the Champion’s defeat.

I take a deep breath, relaxed by our victory. Using Black Fluid again, I absorb the corpse before we head out from the room.

Of course, I also take the materials from the charred shell of Serketh’s scorpion form.

As we head out, the old man from the Guild welcomes us with a surprised look on his face.

<>

So, it took roughly twenty minutes to kill this floor’s Champion.

<>

Retel asks to the old man, cleaning his face from sweat with a towel.

<>

I can see his mouth gaping as the old man answers his question.

Still, we can be satisfied about what happened here.

We killed the monster in a timely manner, and we even got a huge amount of experience from the fight. Enough for all of us to raise our levels by two.

Again, all of us leveled up by the same amount.

Baffled by this, I ask the old man if he knows about some special property of experience earned by defeating a Champion.

<<No, I think that it was just some lucky coincidence. And stop with this “old man”, call me Danton>>

His answer disappoints me a bit.

This level up thing cannot be a coincidence, happening twice in a row for us.

And Navi did not give a satisfying answer about it either, spouting her usual nonsensical lines.

Having beaten the champion quicker than I anticipated, we have more time to dedicate to our descent toward the tenth floor.

Although, I would like to allocate my stat points right now, I can do that once we reach the eight floor. We could camp for a moment right at the floor’s entrance, after all.

Julius and his party come around, complimenting us for the battle.

Old man Danton is still around, looking at us with a big smile.

Well, we did not give him the payment for fighting the monster, so I think that he’s just politely waiting.

I open the Inventory, taking out the amount of materials needed to pay the fee.

To my surprise, he does the same gesture, storing the items I gave him inside an Inventory of his own.

After the transaction, we bid farewell to Danton and Julius’s party, making our way towards this floor’s exit.

From the battle, Levia, me and Retel rose to level sixteen.

This time, Levia managed to get a new skill.

When she demonstrates it, I start laughing.

<<Hey, what’s there to laugh about?>>

With a sulking expression, she seems somewhat troubled by my reaction.

<<Nothing, it’s just…I mean, you get an area-healing skill, right when we’re about to enter a floor swarming with undead monsters. The timing of it it’s too perfect. It’s like in those stories, where the protagonists gain a new power right before a major battle, and that power is the key to victory or something like that>>

She still looks at me with a puzzled expression.

Well, perhaps this world’s stories are a bit different, or the authors in this world maybe know better than to resort to such cheap tricks.

Nonetheless, her new skill will be incredibly useful for us.

Dahl and Marica are now at level seventeen.

Marica herself did not get a new skill, but Dahl…well, we do not know, since he’s still keeping mystery about his skills.

Although, judging from his expression, he might have gotten a new one.

I guess I’ll only know during battle, after all.

Not only my companions’ new skills, this battle also gave me a pretty interesting thing.

By absorbing Serketh’s corpse, I did not gain his skills, but…I got plenty of his poison.

Having absorbed it with Black Fluid, it is now possible to replicate it within the skill.

With Retel’s guard and my skill we basically trivialized the poison secreted by Serketh, but looking at it now, this thing is really dangerous.

We were lucky enough this time.

After collecting materials from the monster’s body, I analyzed each different venom that the beast could produce.

The results make me shudder. Even a single scratch from Serketh’s stinger would have meant instant death. Not to mention the cocktail of volatile toxins contained inside the monster’s blood.

Luckily, the volatile poison is weaker than that secreted by Serketh’s stinger, so, even if we were exposed to it a little, we survived still.

Well, for precaution I gave my companions some of the all-purpose antidotes that Heod made for u, and we drank it before and after the battle.

Still, things could have gone really badly in there.

Well, we’re fine now, so it’s useless to wonder about what could have happened. In the end, we survived and won the battle.

The only thing to do now, is to focus on the road ahead of us.

In the next floor, the monsters that await us are undead-types. That means, poison will not be effective against them, since they’re not living beings.

Magical attacks will probably be the best solution against them, and we can also rely on Levia’s healing skills to inflict some heavy damage on the undead monsters.

One nice thing this time is that the eighth floor’s Champion has already been defeated, so we have to not worry about it.

Also, since Julius’s party was hunting in that floor, most of the monsters that they have taken out will not have been re-spawned yet.

That means, less foes for us to worry about.

We still have a long way to walk, however. This seventh floor seems to never end, the stone wall that delimit the level still faraway in the distance.

It would be nice to have some kind of transportation at our disposal.

Even a simple cart dragged by a mule or a horse would be better than just walking with our legs. Instead, we are forced to cover the distance by walking on our feet.

Hours went by, as the distant wall came closer and closer.

Until the exit from this level came into sight, a gaping hole in the rock that signals this level’s end.

Inside of it, the usual descending staircase that leads to the level below.

This time, the staircase feels longer than those we crossed in our way here.

We’re going down and down, spiraling through hundreds of stone steps in the dimly lit staircase.

It makes me wonder how such things have been built here, if they have been a part of this Dungeon all along, molded by some kind of magic.

Or perhaps, it was the handwork of some unknown stonemason of ancient times, tasked with making the Dungeon itself more suitable for human exploration.

My thoughts go to those early explorers of this place, who went in without any proper knowledge about the Dungeon.

Diving into the unknown, without safezones or maps. The true exploration of an unknown place, where no human had set foot before.

From what I remember, this dungeon has been explored only partially.

The deepest floors have not been touched yet, even by the top-tier adventurers belonging to the Guild.

Who knows how deep this place really is? It could be hundreds, or even thousands floors below that this place finally ends.

And, considering the strength of the creatures we met in the top levels, what kind of monster awaits in the lowest portion of the Dungeon?

Even the farthest explorers of this place are facing monsters whose level exceeds eighty, from what I know.

Info about the advanced front are the most popular kind of gossip in the Guild, serving as a beacon for those that aim to reach such places.

I stop spacing out in my thoughts. Before my eyes, the eight floor of this Dungeon. It gives a different feeling than those we already crossed.

The stagnant air carries the stench of mold, and all around us, wall-mounted torches burn in an eerie blue light.

Unlike the levels above, the walls here look man-made. Instead of crude, hard rock, we see constructions made with rectangular shaped bricks, covered in mold and vegetation that rotted away a long time ago.

The walls look cracked and collapsed in several points, with rubble obstructing parts of the large corridors that extend in front of us.

The floor itself looks like marble, consumed by time, covered in who know how many years of dust and debris.

At the end of the staircase that connects the seventh and eighth floor, a large Antechamber awaits us.

Circular in shape, from it three corridors extend in the cardinal directions.

We came from south, and to our left, right and front the corridors extend towards unknown destinations.

Crumbled statues and torn tapestry adorn the chamber, and in the center of it, a broken throne stands tall and ruined.

<>

Levia mutters as she studies the place, her hand lightly touching the crumbling drapery that is hanged on the wall.

The place really gives an abandoned castle vibe.

I wonder how it looked like in the past, when time still had not taken its toll on this place.

Shining marble on the floor, and magnificent statues guarding an empty throne.

Still, this place looks safe enough for us to set up a quick camp.

We need to eat before exploring this place, and I will take the time to level up my stats here.

I leave guard duties to the others, while I try to take a quick nap.

Seriously, having to be asleep in order to increase my strength is really troublesome in times like this.

Well, I am tired enough to fall asleep almost immediately.

That’s one of my quirks. Even in the previous world, I never had any trouble falling asleep, no matter the place or time.

I allocate the ten stat points gained by the last level up.

Four points in luck, the remaining six I split evenly between strength, accuracy and agility, increasing them by two points each.

My intelligence stat has been boosted by the first trial’s result, which gave me fifteen extra points on top of the five I already allocated in it.

So, right now, I am at level sixteen with seventeen points in STR, ACC, AGI

twenty points in INT and finally, twenty-four points in LCK.

I am still increasing my luck in order to have better chances with the Integration process, since that little trick has basically been my saving grace up to this point.

I asked the others to wake me up after thirty minutes, and now Retel is shaking my shoulders.

I would have preferred Levia’s soft voice, opening my eyes to see her beautiful smile…but, oh well, it went like this.

After fixing something to eat, we resume the exploration of this level.

Since the place looks like a closed environment, it would be easy to map it using the sonar mapping skill.

I activate it, closing my eyes to better visualize the map that Navi is building. Using information from the sonar, the Navigator constructs a map of this floor.

This level is built like a proper maze.

There is a small number of large chambers, while most of the layout is composed by corridors that often lead to dead ends.

Using the map, we can define the quickest route to take in order to save time.

As expected, the fastest path towards the exit is the one running through the central chamber, where the Champion monster would reside.

However, that chamber is empty right now, since the Champion has been defeated recently.

From our position, we need to enter the northern corridor. It would be nice to take some time and thoroughly explore this place, since it gives the feeling like it holds some forgotten treasures.

But, we do not have that leisure at the moment.

The north corridor extends in front of us, going straight for roughly two hundred meters.

From it, set at intervals of twenty meters from each other, a number of doors are visible on each side.

Every door connects to a different room.

Some of the doors seem to have been blasted open, revealing what’s inside the room.

Others are still locked, although the wood that they are made with looks rotten and brittle.

Still, we have no time to spare for exploration right now.

The curiosity to peek what lies inside each room is high, but we need to focus on the current objective.

Although the corridor and rooms look empty, Navi’s scan revealed that some enemies are hiding, waiting for us to pass by before ambushing our group from behind.

Well, since we already know their position, it is easy to prevent being ambushed.

Using Levia’s new skill, a wide-area healing power, we trap the undead inside each room and let the skill do its work.

I am using Black Fluid to lock the entrance, while Levia casts the skill.

Since she needs to keep visual contact with the place that she casts her skill on, I am not making a full wall to block the entrance.

It’s more of a net composed by Black Fluid, with enough gaps to let Levia see while keeping the monsters to reach our spot.

Inside the healing field, the bone creatures are slowly melting away, like acid has been poured onto them.

Each monster has the appearance of a human skeleton, with glowing blue lights inside the empty skull’s orbits.

Brandishing rusted metal weapons, these Skeletal Warriors have levels comprised between twelve and fourteen.

To quicken their demise, Marica is using her spells in unison with Levia’s skill. This way, we can effectively clear the monsters hidden inside the room.

Confirming their defeat, I collect the materials from their remains and move on. Luckily, not all rooms have monsters inside, and we can skip the ones that are empty, focusing only on advancing and clearing possible threats.

When we reach the end of the corridor, a small, rectangular room is in front of us. Again, three corridors branch from it.

However, a group of three skeletons stand inside the room. Two of them are similar to those we already fought, but one is different.

Wearing a tattered black coat, the skeleton stands taller than the others.

As soon as it spots us, it points skeletal fingers towards us.

The air around it sparks suddenly, and an arrow made of light flies our way.

A Skeleton Caster, level twelve.

Retel easily guards the magical attack with his skill. Dahl is already on the move to attack the warrior skeletons, but as he slashes his blade, the Caster skeleton weaves an energy shield that repels Dahl’s attack.

<>

Dahl mutters, recovering his stance.

Julius warned us about the monsters capable of using magic in this place. I wonder…what will happen if I absorb it?

I am a bit sorry for the loss of experience, but I cannot let this chance pass.

As Levia starts her healing skill, I grab the Caster with Black Fluid before it can do something.

Using all the matter that I can produce, I envelope the Caster and start absorbing it.

Since the creature is only made of bones, the absorption is way quicker than I expected.

<<Well, since I started this…>>

I use the skill again on the remaining skeletons, eating them up.

During recent battles, I focused more on gaining experience rather than dedicating some time to absorb skills from monsters. I should start to do it more often.

After all, a single monster’s worth of exp will not hurt us a lot, while by absorbing it I could gain some pretty useful skill.

The results from absorbing the three skeletons are a bit disappointing.

From the Caster, I received a skill that enhances the effects of spells.

Not useful to me right now. The Skeleton Warriors gave me two copies of a yellow skill, called Swordsmanship.

To my surprise, this skill that I absorbed from the monster is already usable.

All the others I got from absorbing monsters were not immediately usable for me, being restricted to the Monster race.

Me being able to immediately use this skill only means one thing. That the skill is a human one.

In short words, these remains are not monsters made to look like human bones. They were human, turned into monsters.

This thought gives me the creeps.

There is a high possibility that we’re fighting the remains of long lost adventurers, or the original inhabitants of this place.

It’s a sad thought, that the monsters roaming this place were once humans.

But, it’s not like we can do something about this. Those are monsters now, and they stand in our way.

Using Integration again, I produce an orange skill from the two “Swordsmanship”. I usually do not carry a sword with me, but I can easily make one with Black Fluid if I want so.

Having dealt with the skeletons, we progress inside the maze-like structure, taking the corridor on the left.

Again, a narrow path with several doors opening on each side.

This time, the rooms are empty, while skeletons armed with bows and arrows are waiting on the opposite end of the corridor.

Retel jumps in front of us, activating his shield skill to guard from the incoming arrows.

We advance like this, while I support Retel’s guard by knocking some of the incoming arrows with Black Fluid.

As we finally come into melee range, I use the skill again to bind the skeletal archers.

At the same time, I form a short sword with Black Fluid and dash out. I want to try this new skill I got.

The results are somewhat disappointing.

I managed to destroy one skeleton, but it was weird.

Using the skill, clear movements formed in my mind, as if I knew the exact form and steps to take in order to evade, or to maximize the strength behind each swing of my blade.

However, my body is not accustomed to such movements, and so I could not really attack efficiently.

It’s like I perfectly studied forms and sword art from books, having perfect knowledge about it but my body lacks the proper training to do each action.

It’s frustrating, thinking about doing an action and seeing your body not being able to properly respond.

I guess, this skill will take some time and exercise to properly close the gap between the movements I want to do and those I my body is capable of.

Still, the skeletal archers are no more, and we can advance once again.

This floor goes on and on like this, with winding paths closed off by skeletal warriors and the occasional one that wields magic or longbows.

I took the time to absorb some of them, gaining new combat-related skills.

Namely, I got the Archery, Spearmanship and Shield Proficiency by absorbing warrior-type skeletons.

From the rare ones wielding magic, I gained skills related to enhancing the effect of each spell and shortening cast time.

One of them yielded a useful skill, similar to the one Marica owns.

Named Mana Regen, this skill was red in color, and it allows quick mana regeneration without needing any further action. In short, it’s a passive skill.

Now that I think about it, all the skills I got from the Caster-type skeletons all belong to the passive-skill type.

Well, those skills will be useless to me until I manage to properly learn at least one spell.

Still, gaining Spell Effect up and Quick Chanting from these monsters will surely help me in the future.

After spending more than five hours inside this floor, we are finally starting to encounter some of the elite monsters.

That means, we’re getting close to the central chamber.

Our march has been quicker than expected, since most of the monster that infested the first portion of this level have been dealt with by Julius’s party, and have not yet re-spawned.

When I meet him again, I will have to treat him with some beer in order to thank him for the favor.

Well, he did it unknowingly, but his party’s actions greatly benefit our march in this undead-ridden level.

The elite monsters in this floor are called Skeletal Knight, their level ranging between thirteen and sixteen. Clad in rusted metal armor, they wield their damaged weapon while coordinating and leading their lesser brethren.

When one Skeletal Knight is present in a group of monsters, it leads them into battle, making them more effective and tougher to deal with.

It’s not only a matter of coordination. These elite monsters also possess some kind of skill that strengthens the other monsters.

Still, with support from Levia’s healing skill and Marica’s spells we manage to deal with them.

We kill the lesser skeletons, while I use Black Fluid to absorb the Skeletal Knight.

From it, I obtain different copies of the skills I gained from the other skeletons, although the ones I gained from the elite monsters are of a higher color.

As we advance, we encounter more and more Skeletal Knights. Killing them gives a pretty amount of experience, however I am still taking some for me to absorb.

The reason is…I want that strengthening skill.

Finally, after absorbing more than ten of those monsters, I get the skill from the eleventh one.

Leadership, a red skill.

The effects of it are amazing, almost to make me cry from joy. It is a skill that I can activate or deactivate at will. When it is on, it reduces my total mana by one fourth.

The effects it gives are worth the cost, and even more.

As I turn it on, a black aura envelops my companions.

The skill increases their stat points by one third. But, the most amazing effect is the increase in gained experience.

When under the skill’s effect, my companions will have any experience they gain increased by a third.

And, while I have this skill active, I will gain an experience boost by the same amount.

In short words, it is a very, very good skill to have at my disposal.

Finally, we manage to reach the central chamber of this floor.

The layout is similar to the antechamber that lies at the entrance.

Only, here some of the statues still show their original form, and the large throne located in the center of the room is still intact.

Well, the design is definitely different.

Instead of a throne made with stone, it is a weird structure made with skulls and molten metal. Like the work of some psychopath.

Bones are scattered all around the room, the remains of Julius and his companion’s battle against this level’s Champion monster.

Beside the remains, there is nothing of interest inside this room. Also, with it being clear from monsters, we can safely camp here for a moment of respite.

We’ve been going for eight hours straight, so it’s time to rest a bit.

Thanks to my new skill’s experience boost, we managed to raise our level once again.

This time, however, only me, Retel and Levia managed to level up, and our level only went up by one. Nonetheless, it’s a good result. Right now, all of us are level seventeen.

If we go on with this pace, we may be able to hit level twenty by the time we reach the tenth floor.

Still a long way to go before we reach that place. Right now, we’re halfway through the eighth level.

We plan to rest here for one hour, before rushing forward until we meet this floor’s exit.

To increase our speed in traversing this level, we’re cutting sleep and rest time, pushing ourselves to march onward.

For me, this pace is not really too much, since I can just recover my full energies whenever I absorb a monster with Black Fluid, but the others are showing severe signs of fatigue from the prolonged battles and the constant march.

I would like to make them rest a bit more, but right now we do not have that luxury.

When I finally end this trial thing, I will treat them to a full week vacation.

No Dungeon or monsters for at least one entire week.

This thought makes me smile a bit, before the usual voice within my head adds an “if” to that simple sentence.

In this case, it’s “if we survive, that is”.

Way to spoil my good mood, brain. I am trying, forcing myself to be positive about things.

We will do it, we will win and all will be good. That kind of things.

Because, if I let myself think too much about the huge amount of things that could go badly, I know that it will crush me.

So, it’s better for me to shut those thoughts and focus on hope.

One hour went by so fast that I almost did not notice. Again, it is time to resume our travel inside this level.

Time passes between battles and travel.

At the end of the day, that is, after the hourglass signals that twenty-two hours have been passed since we first started to explore this level, we reached the exit.

The usual spiral staircase is waiting for us, leading down to the ninth floor. In there, we will not have an easy time like in the seventh floor and in this one.

The ninth floor’s Champion is still alive and kicking, for what we know.

And surely, we will need to traverse the chamber where it resides in order to clear the ninth floor as fast as we can.

We still have some time before the countdown imposed on my head ends, and my life with it.

Taking a deep breath, I step towards the descending staircase.

Re:Interference Chapter 15- Silverback (part 2)

All around us the ground bears the scars caused by the Silverbak’s attacks. The strength that this beast is showing is something out of this world.

If we let ourselves be hit by his attacks, it will be the end.

Truly, this monster deserves the title of Champion that it holds. With his massive size and defenses, it is an extremely though opponent to face.

And it is an obstacle that we need to surpass, if we want to proceed inside the Dungeon.

Moving with unexpected nimbleness, the beast relentlessly swings his huge arms around, forcing us to avoid every single attack in order to keep alive.

In order to defeat this unreasonably strong monster, we have revised our usual strategy. Normally, Retel would act like a tank, drawing the monster’s attention to himself while guarding blows with his shield, while me and the others acted as damage dealers and crowd control.

But, against the Silverback, this strategy will not work.

Retel would simply be blown away by even one swing of the beast’s arms, so we cannot risk him to take his attacks head on.

Instead, I am the one restricting the monster and taking his blows. For two main reasons.

First, by using Black Fluid I can effectively guard me and my companions from sudden attacks, preventing any harm to befall on us.

And, even if I get hurt, I can just use Black Fluid to absorb some of the monster corpses laying around us, healing my wounds and regaining strength.

At the same time, I am using Black Fluid to try and restrain the beast’s movement. But every time, the Silverback breaks free from my skill, using sheer strength.

I can keep him restrained for roughly ten seconds before he starts rampaging and wrings himself out of my binding.

During that time, it is difficult to land any effective attack.

Even Marica’s spells are proving to be ineffective against the monster. If she tries to freeze it on the spot, the Silverback simply breaks free without any damage. And the thick fur protects it from her fire based attacks.

The only ones that are successfully inflicting injuries on the monster’s body are Levia, Retel and Dahl.

Although her arrows are dealing a low amount of damage on the muscular body, Levia managed to gouge out one eye of the monster.

Even more, Retel successfully managed to plunge his spear in the Silverback’s throat, leaving behind a gaping wound that profusely bleeds.

Dahl is dancing around the creature, gripping his twin short blades as he attacks the giant ape from his blindspots.

Such short weapons should be ineffective against a monster this size, but Dahl is using them in unison with some kind of skill.

With their sharpness enhanced by the skill, the twin blades are leaving wide and deep cuts on the monster’s hide.

But all of this seems to be useless.

When a certain amount of damage s inflicted on his body, the Silverback simply activates some sort of skill, and it regenerates to full health.

<<Damn, this is troublesome>>

Retel lets out his frustration while he takes a moment of respite. When it activates the regeneration, the Silverback stops for about thirty seconds.

We’ve tried to attack hi during that time, but all damage we managed to inflict was healed.

In order to beat it we have do deal a decisive blow.

But we currently lack such kind of powerful attack. Even when I used Black Fluid earlier, molding the skill into a spear and skewering the beast’s chest, the Silverback simply regenerated back to full health. And that was the strongest attack that I can think of.

I’ve even tried to attack the Silverback using Black Fluid in mist form, hoping to injure the beast from inside.

Somehow, the monster sensed that something was amiss, and released some kind of special attack. Roaring, he produced a shockwave that dispersed my attack.

Basically, we’re in a stalemate situation. We can avoid any damage that the monster tries to inflict on us, but, on the other hand, we cannot inflict a decisive blow against our foe.

If things continue to drag out like this, it will be our loss.

<<We can’t keep up with this! Every thing we do, this monster is just shrugging off any damage like nothing at all happened>>

Marica shouts her disappointment. She’s right, we need to think of something to bring the Silverback down for good.

<<We need to regroup and think of a better strategy>>

Retel proposes a tactical retreat. Perhaps it is the wisest thing to do right now.

Responding to Retel’s suggestion, Marica launches her blinding spell on the monster, giving us an opportunity to retreat into the forest. I’ve also used Black Fluid to ensare the monster, in order to keep it busy for a bit while we make our escape.

Using Marica’s light magic to conceal us, we safely get away from the Silverback’s sight.

A moment of respite. We use this opportunity to catch our breath and use some regeneration potions The monster is still rampaging around, confused by our sudden disappearance.

We might not have much time to rest, and we quickly need to think about bringing him down.

<<I might be able to do something here. But you all need to listen and do exactly as I tell you>>

Dahl shares his plan with a serious expression. Apparently, he noticed that the Silverback cannot use his regeneration skill two times in a row.

<<The beast needs some time to recharge the skill. About two minutes. So, if we could force it to use the skill once, we will have a time window during which he will not be able to heal himself. We only need to strike him during that time>>

Dahl’s plan is fine, in principle, but…

<<Well, the problem is that we do not have any skill or attack that is strong enough. Even if we attack it all at the same time, we are unable to damage him enough in that short amount of time>>

Retel’s observation is on point. As we are now, we definitely lack offensive power, especially against an enemy as big as the Silverback.

<<Do not worry about that. I have an ace up my sleeve. Ok, this is the plan. You lot will work to force the monster to use his healing skill and restrain him on the spot as soon as he uses it. Meanwhile, I will be gathering the necessary mana to use the skill. It will take some time to do so, however>>

<<Then, why didn’t you do this sooner? I mean, we have been going on with this fight for a while, you surely had some chances to use this “ace up your sleeve”>>

Retel retorts to Dahl’s suggested plan. Well, it’s not the time to bicker about what could have been done sooner or such things. Right now, we have a proper course of action, and we need to focus on that.

<<Let’s leave the complaining for when we defeat the monster, shall we?>>

Dahl brushes off Retel’s complaint with a smile.

<<So, shall we go?>>

We head up from our hideout in the forest, heading towards the Silverback again.

The monster raged all around, devastating the area as it was searching for us. Still furious, the monster is roaming the area, bellowing in anger.

To start thing off, Marica launches a series of spell from a distance. The monster escapes the first freezing magic, but is caught in the following fire spell.

The area around him is set ablaze, but the monster slowly emerges from the flames, glaring at us with murderous fury.

I immediately activate Black Fluid. This time, I will need to hold and distract the monster as my companions damage it.

Using Black Fluid in tentacle mode, I wrap the monster’s limbs with it. Before, the Silverback simply tore apart my skill with his brute force, but this time, I have modified it a bit.

Every tentacle has a series of blades, that dig in the Silverback’s flesh as soon as my skill envelops his limbs.

When the beast tries to wring himself free, the blades slice his skin open. The Silverback flinches, roaring in pain as his attempts to wring himself free from my skill only hurts his body more and more.

Keeping him restrained like this is rapidly consuming my energy. But, if we want to succeed, I need to do this.

While I exert myself to keep the monster from moving, the others are raining their attacks on him.

Levia is using her arrows, charging them with mana as she aims for the open wounds in the Silverback’s body.

As they make contact, the arrows explode inside the wounds. I can see the fatigue that this attack is causing on Levia, but she’s keeping up, forcing herself in order for us to win.

Retel is resorting to his spear attack, putting himself in a really dangerous position as he needs to be close to the monster. Just one hit from the Silverback will be his demise, and the risk of him getting hit by friendly fire is also high.

But, thanks to Navi’s communication, we can coordinate our attacks. So, as Marica is ready to unleash her next spell, Retel jumps away, only to resume his attack afterwards.

The Silverback is now bleeding profusely from numerous wounds.

And here it comes. With a bellowing roar, the monster summons his skill. The sheer force of it breaks my Black Fluid, and the gaping wounds on the Silverback’s body close almost instantaneously.

<<Now!>>

Dahl shouts from a distance. During all this time, he was hidden under Marica’s concealing spell, collecting his energy for the skill he’s about to unleash.

Following his signal, I do one last effort to summon Black Fluid and attack the monster in an all-out assault, locking his hind legs in order to not let it evade Dahl’s attack.

Levia and Marica use a combined attack, with Marica applying her magic to Levia’s arrows, enhancing their damage by increasing the arrowhead’s temperature.

Retel is also charging at the monster, using his skill Raise to the limit of his ability, focusing all his power into a single spear strike.

He hits the Silverback on the chest, tearing open the beast’s pectoral muscles. The wound is not enough to kill the monster, as we’ve already experienced before, but it hinder the Silverback’s ability to retaliate and guard from Dahl’s attack.

Clad in a blue light aura that sways like a flame, Dahl extend his right hand in front of him. The aura flows from his body, concentrating into his hand into a pulsing blue light. He molds the light into an elongated shape…a blade, made out of his mana.

Dahl grabs the hilt of the ethereal weapon and assumes a stance. He then disappears from sight, moving so fast that my eyes cannot follow his movement.

He shouts something, a battle cry of some sort, while he slashes at the Silverback.

Following the blade’s movement, a pale blue tray of light flickers in the air, tracing its form down from the Silverback’s head to the ground below.

For a moment, it’s as if nothing happened.

Like a scene from a japanese anime, the monster’s body begins to slide, two halves separated by Dahl’s single slash.

He bisected the monster.

In a single blow. Now I agree with Retel…if Dahl has such amazing power, why didn’t he use it sooner?

<<I wanted to see how good you lot would fare without me doing anything decisive. It was a test of some sort, to see how much you are capable off. And I am pretty disappointed by what I see. Well, this is not the time or place to talk about things. For now, let’s focus on reaching the safezone on the seventh floor. There, we will have to talk about some things>>

Dahl is showing an aura of authority that I never thought possible for someone like him. It seems I really misjudged him, since he was so easily controlled by Alvares. But, this man is strong. And it pisses me off that he was hiding his ability all along, especially during a crucial fight like this one.

Still, it’s only thanks to him that we won. And he’s right about things. We’re still in a hostile place, after all, so we cannot just leisurely talk about things.

What is left to do here is to collect materials from the monsters and move on.

<<Now, it would be nice if we could bring back the Silverback’s corpse to the Guild. But that thing is too big to be transported. Even taking only the head will be difficult for us right now>>

Dahl is muttering his dissatisfaction, shaking his head as he looks at the Silverback’s corpse.

<<Why should we bring it back to the Guild? Is there some reward for killing this thing?>>

Turning his head to Marica, Dahl smiles at her before answering her question.

<<Well, sort of. They do not give money or any material rewards, but you could rank up as a party. Right now, you lot are registered as basic adventurers, “newbies” as those at the Guild nickname parties that just joined the Guild. But, if you show proof that you defeated such formidable monsters, they will consider your party to be ranked up>>

The discussion catches my attention. I wonder what this “rank up” will entitle.

As I ask Dahl about it, he makes a surprised look.

<<So, you really do not know? Not even you, Marica? Well, let me explain then. By ranking up, you will enter the Guild’s list of reliable parties. That means, the Guild will seek you out to accomplish certain tasks in the Dungeon, be it hunting specific monsters or resources, search and rescue missions, or even lower floors exploration. By doing these tasks, the Guild will pay half of the expedition costs and reward you with money upon each task’s completion. And the more you work for them, the more you will rise in the ranks, thus having access to better paying missions and so on>>

<<In short, it’s a way to make extra money?>>

<<Yes Levia. Also, by raising your rank, you will also gain fame in Sendria. Craftsmen and artisans seek high ranked parties, often gifting them with free equipment. They do so for publicity. If a strong adventurer wears their gear or uses the weapon they sell, other adventurers will flock to that shop demanding the same item that the popular adventurers are using>>

Dahl seems a bit carried away in his explanation. It’s almost as if his eyes are sparkling at the thought of money.

Still, he was complaining earlier about the impossibility to take the Silverback’s corpse with us. I think he will be shocked by what I am about to do.

I go near the huge remains of the monster and activate my Inventory skill. I decided to take the whole corpse as a proof, without harvesting the materials. After all, if we sell it whole to the Guild we could even get a pretty sum of money from it.

Dahl is astounded by what just happened.

With a hearty laugh, I explain to him how my Inventory skill works. He seems shocked when he learns that it is basically a limitless storage.

After that little show, there is much to do here before we can leave. First, there are a lot of monster corpses laying around.

The lesser monkey monsters will also prove to be useful to us, since we could sell their materials.

And so, I start collecting the monster corpses scattered around, while my companions take a small break to recover the energies they spent during the fight.

As an aftermath of the battle, we obtained quite a bit of experience points, both from the lesser monkey monsters and from the Silverback itself. It goes without saying that all of us managed to increase our level.

The amount of experience we got from this battle is really something crazy. Well, considering how we basically decimated the population of monsters in the central portion of the map, and also killed a Champion level monster, I should have expected this kind of result.

Still, it’s strange to see how all components of our group managed to gain exactly four levels each.

I do not know if this is a coincidence, or if it is something like a “fixed reward”.

After all, according to the information I have about this world’s level up system, all of my companions have different growth rates, so they should have gained a different amount of levels from this battle.

And yet, what happened is the opposite of it, with us gaining the same amount. Even when I interrogate Navi about what happened, she cannot give me a satisfying answer. Still, although I find it a bit weird, I will not complain about this.

To me, this level up will not yield an immediate stat increase, since I will need to sleep in order to allocate the points I gained, but my companions have already obtained the benefits of the level up.

Marica and Dahl were at level eleven before we started the battle, and now both of them achieved level fifteen. I do not know about Dahl, since he’s still keeping his skill set a mystery, but Marica gained a skill from the level up.

According to what she says, her new skill is something related to mana regeneration. In short, she will be able to cast her spell with an increased frequency, since her mana now regenerates way faster than before.

Me, Retel and Levia are now level fourteen. Unfortunately, Levia did not manage to gain any new skill this round.

Retel, on the other hand…

<<This is so cool!>>

Excited like a baby, it seems like he’s having too much fun with his new ability.

<<Ok, one more time! Levia…go!>>

Shouting in excitement, he signals Levia to start. Sighing deeply, the beast-girl pulls her bowstring and releases the notched arrow, aiming at Retel.

With a loud sound, the arrow directed at Retel bursts into thousand splinters, shattered by a translucent, red-glowing barrier that materialized half a meter in front of Retel’s shield.

<<Now, let’s try the remote version. Hm…hey Roshal! Stay still for a bit!>>

I turn around to his call, only to see Levia pointing her arrow towards me with a wry smile on her face.

Faster than I could react, she fires the arrow.

<<What the hell are you two doing?>>

I shout at them in surprise. The arrow shattered right in front of me and I am unharmed but…this could be dangerous.

Retel is laughing his ass off, while Levia tries to apologize to me, but I can see how she’s trying to suppress laughter herself.

I give the two of them a slight reprimand for this sudden, dangerous joke.

<<Well, I needed a test subject for my new skill>>

Retel makes a straight and serious face as he tells me so. It only lasts for a moment, before he bursts out laughing again.

<<Oh, you should have seen your face, man!>>

<<Is that so? Well, I want to try my new skill too>>

As I say so, I activate Black Fluid, forming various blades with the skill.

Retel freezes with a scared expression painted on his face. Just to mess with him a bit, I chase him around while using Black Fluid. Of course, I am not aiming to injure him or anything, I am just playing around a bit.

<<Like two children playing>>

Marica complains in the distance, while Levia is snickering at the sight of us.

Well, even behaving stupidly like this has its merit. After all, we need to relieve a bit of tension after the battles that we’ve fought, and there is nothing wrong with being a bit silly with my friends.

That word still puts a silly smile on my face. Having lived my previous life without any person that I could consider close to me, here, in this harsh world, I found some people that I can call friends. Life surely is strange. Well, mine seems to be stranger than most.

Still, time is running short, and we cannot just stay idly here having fun.

I go back to collecting materials, while the others are going through the treasure that the Silverback was guarding.

Although, the word “treasure” is not the most appropriate to describe it.

While we were playing around, Dahl was exploring the area around us. Near the rock when we first spotted the Silverback, he found a pile of objects.

Surrounded by bones and skulls from various animals, and even human remains, the objects were most likely the prized possessions of adventurers that challenged this level and met their end here.

Probably, their belongings and corpses were collected by the monkey-like monsters, and collected or discarded there after the monsters feed on the adventurer’s corpses.

<<Hey, come see this!>>

Dahl called us using Navi, sharing the details on his discovery.

Since I was still in the middle of collecting materials, I sent the others in order to sort the objects, hoping to find something that we could use or sell among the pile of objects.

After being done with collecting the remains, I join my companions to see what they have found.

Most of the equipment and weapons seem to be in a bad state, either being damaged or unusable due to their deterioration. Some of them look like they’ve been here, exposed to this level’s weather for ages.

Still, some are recent enough and in good condition. We could use them as spares, or keep them in order to make some profit by selling them.

Among the notable items, we find a staff with a pale green crystal embedded in its tip. According to Marica, that staff is a catalyst, used by magicians to amplify their spells.

Of common accord, we decide that Marica should have the staff, since she’s the only one that can use magic among us.

We found other useful objects, like quivers still full of usable arrows, a well-crafted crossbow and some shields. Even money, kept in a different place. Perhaps the monkeys, attracted by the metallic shine of coins, piled them like treasured objects, offering them to the ruler of this level.

Still, it’s quite a sum. Some of the coins seem old, but most of it is current currency, at least according to Dahl.

No matter, I decide to collect all the items here, even the broken ones. They could still be of some use, after all.

After a few minutes, I basically cleaned the entire place, even taking the scattered bones of animals and monster with me.

It seems like my hoarding compulsion from the time I played RPG games in my world is strongly showing up. After all, loot is loot, no matter how crappy it is.

Well, I took the adventurer’s bones for a good cause, since I will be returning them to the Guild after all. Yes, that is definitely the noble reason that compelled me to take them.

<<You know, I think you might have a small hoarding problem, Roshal>>

Dahl is looking at me with a pity in his eyes. Don’t make that face, it’s all under control, my friend.

We decide to depart again, since we’ve already wasted so much time in here. From now on, we will do a tour de force until we manage to reach the seventh floor’s safezone.

After all, we still have a considerable distance to cross before we reach this floor’s exit. Luckily, the remaining portion of this level seems to be similar to the initial forest area.

It’s still a place filled with monsters, but they are nothing like the Silveback. And, after all, we should have an easier time since we increased our levels.

Again, we delve inside the tropical forest.

Still, we have a long way to go before we reach this floor’s exit.

Fatigue is piling up on us, and we try to avoid as many battles as we can in order to increase our pace. After all, most of the monsters inside the forest can be easily avoided.

The thing that is really hindering our march is the thick vegetation, however.

To clear up a path, we are forced to slice and carve our way into the thick undergrowth. Luckily, I can use Black Fluid to clear the vegetation away to a certain extent, so it is a bit faster than just hacking it away with blades.

From time to time, I stop to collect interesting plants. As the vegetation here shows a wide variety of species, many of them have interesting alchemical properties, useful for concocting several kind of potions and elixirs.

But, I am more interested in another type of plant that grows here. Namely, poisonous plants. As I have learned that my Black Fluid can absorb and reproduce toxins and poison, it would be beneficial to me if I can increase the number of compounds that I can produce with it.

And so, in order to increase my battle potential, I spend some time searching and collecting interesting plants.

I do not know if this ability can also be used with poison belonging to animals or monsters, but I want to test it.

One encounter inside the forest gave me the opportunity to test things. The monsters that came out of the vegetation were some kind of large spider, as big as a dog and with their body closely resembling that of a Black Widow from my world.

Three of them, jumping on us from the trees above. Well, it would have been a perfect ambush from them, if not for my detection skill.

Knowing about their presence beforehand, it was easy to avoid their surprise attack and retaliate, ensnaring them with my skill.

<<Wait, let me kill them>>

I shout as Dahl was about to inflict a deadly blow on the immobilized spider.

He looks at me with a puzzled face, but he sheathes his weapon, waiting to see what I am about to do. As usual, I start the absorption routine with my skill.

The spiders are relatively small, so I am able to consume them quickly. As the skill leveled up, the time it requires to absorb something really has decreased from when I first got it.

From absorbing the spiders, I obtained several skills. Well, to be fair, the skills I got are multiple copies of the same three skills.

It’s the first time something like this happened. As I question Navi about it, she simply said that this kind of monster only possess three skills. Namely, Bite, Poison Production, Web Production.

Although I already possess a “Bite” skill, the one I got from the Red Wolves I fought o the day I first met Retel and Levia, it seems that the skill from the wolves and the spider is the same.

In short, I have acquired multiple copies of the same skills. Now, I possess four “bite” skills, and three copies of “Poison production” and “Web production”.

I wonder what will happen if I integrate two copies of the same skill together.

As we walk, I lose myself a bit in the process. I can take this leisure, since Navi’s detection can also work automatically, so, if something nasty approaches us, I will be able to react.

First, I integrate two copies of Bite. What I get from the process is a stronger version of the same skill. I can tell that something has changed, because the way that the skill is displayed in my status log is different.

That is something I did not notice before. Well, to be fair, I did notice that different skills were written on the log with different colors, but I thought that each skill had a different color, or it was something related to the skill type.

Instead, Navi explained that the different color is something related to the skill’s grade.

Skills represented in white color are the basic ones, the lowest grade existing. For example, the two “Bite” that I combined were white skills.

After integration, the skill I got was still “Bite”, but it was displayed with a yellow color. That means, the skill is a grade higher than before.

According to Navi, the color of each skill can be, from lowest grade to highest, white, yellow, orange, red, purple, green, blue. Blue skills are the equivalent of legendary abilities, on par with heroes or such. Of course, I have none of them. Well, Inventory is a green skill, so its grade is pretty high.

<<Hey Navi, why is Black Fluid displayed in a different color?>>

I ask the question to my Navigator with a curious tone. Because, Black Fluid is displayed in…well, it has a black color.

[Navi: That skill is the special gift from God to Master, so of course it is special! It’s a super rare skill, one that has the…well, it will not be fun if I tell everything about it. So, in order for Master to enjoy the romance of discovery, I will only tell you that black skills are special!]

Again with her nonsense.

I shook my head, and returned to my Integration routine. I integrate the remaining white “Bite” producing another yellow one. Then, I integrate the two yellow and obtain an orange skill.

With this, I understand that I can obtain multiple copies of a low level skill, and increase its grade. One notable thing is that grade and level of a skill are two completely different things. Navi starts her explanation about the skill levels and grades. To increase our understanding of things, I am sharing the explanation with all members of our party. After all, this info could help us in future battles.

According to what Navi says, skill grade (namely, the color) only concerns something like raw damage and basic attributes of the skill, while skill level summarizes the proficiency that you have with the skill. With higher skill level, the skill can gain additional effects, like a piercing attack or the ability to hit multiple times with a single use.

More than that, Navi explains how a skill can naturally increase the grade after reaching a certain mastery of it.

For example, a white skill will become yellow when reaching level ten; a yellow one will become orange when reaching skill level twenty, and so on.

It goes without saying that higher grade skills are more difficult to level up than white ones.

Well, that ends her explanation about skills. I wonder why every single time she does things like this, starting to explain a subject and then withholding some information, only to give it to us later.

It could have been nice to know such things from the start, although I imagine how she will answer if I complain about this, saying something like “it will not be funny if you know everything from the start” or some other bullshit answer like that.

Still, it’s time to go back to the experiments.

Using the two yellow “Bite” I obtain an orange skill. Well, it seems that my high Luck stat is really influencing the Integration process, since I did not have a single failure from it. When I level up, I will surely dump some more points on that stat.

Well, although I got an orange “Bite” skill, I will not integrate it with Black Fluid. And, since the skill itself is not be usable by humans, it’s not like I will be able to use it. In short, I only utilized the skill in order to experiment with it.

What I really want to do is increase the grade of Poison Production, and integrate that into Black Fluid.

By the way, Poison Production is already a yellow skill.

I fuse two of them obtaining an orange Poison Production. Well, to increase the grade further I would need to have other copies of the skill. I could hunt for more spider monsters here, but I do not have the time to do that.

Next, I integrate Poison Production to Black Fluid. The process is a success, and I now have the possibility to produce the spider’s neurotoxin with my main skill, along with the ones I obtained from harvesting plants.

Well, there is a catch to it. In order to produce different kind of poison or toxin, I need to absorb it first. So, in order to increase the number of poisonous substances in my arsenal, I will need to find and absorb several species of both animal and plants.

After gaining this new attack possibility, I searched for a group of monsters to test the skill on.

This forest is pretty packed with several monsters, most of them being large insects with a passive attitude towards humans.

Meaning, they do not attack unless provoked. Well, most of them do, since there are still some aggressive creatures like the spiders we fought before.

As we go ahead, I spot a small group of beetle monsters, the same species that we fought the first time we set foot in this floor.

Immediately, I use this opportunity to test the new poison at my disposal.

Using various combinations of toxins and different forms of Black Fluid to administer the poison itself.

The results were less satisfying than I expected. The spider’s neurotoxin worked greatly against our opponents, but the ways that I can use to effectively introduce the poison in my enemies’ bodies are limited, especially against monsters armored with a thick exoskeleton like these ones.

Namely, the trick that I used against the monkey-like creatures did not work, and I had to resort to mist-form Black Fluid or directly piercing the thick exoskeleton with a strong attack in order to poison these bugs.

Still, I end the experiments there. In the future, I will take some more time to further develop things.

We walked for hours, making our way inside the vegetation. And yet, the exit is nowhere near to be seen.

<<When will this forest end…>>

Marica mutters with a low voice, her face showing the signs of fatigue. After all, we’ve been going on without resting for some time now.

Even Retel and Levia look severely tired. The only one among us that is not showing any sign of fatigue is Dahl.

Seriously, he’s as fresh as if he’s doing a simple stroll in the park. As if he’s not even sweating in this hot, damp air.

<<We still have two to three hours of march before we reach the exit. So, hang on>>

I try to cheer the group up, but they simply drop their shoulders as they learn how much we still have to march.

Seeing them like this, I propose to take a small break. Although time is not on my side, I cannot bear to drive my companions to exhaustion. After all, my stamina is fine, since I can just fully recover my energy by killing a monster or two.

The area around us is relatively safe to rest for a bit, so we quickly consume a small meal while the others recover a bit from fatigue.

<<One hour. After that, we need to move. Is that ok?>>

Dahl concedes to our break, setting a time limit for it.

After eating, the others take a quick nap to let their bodies recover a bit.

<<We’re losing a bit too much time in here>>

Dahl says so with a concerned tone. He’s sitting in front of me, a bit far away from the spot where the others are still resting.

<<Yes, we are. But, you must admit that we cannot continue like this. I mean, look at them. They were exhausted. It’s fine to let them rest for a bit>>

<<That is true. And overexerting ourselves will only take its toll on us, after all. Still…aren’t you worried? About us losing too much time here. After all, you’re the one that is going to die if we do not reach the tenth floor in six days, right?>>

I make a bitter smile to Dahl’s words.

<<In truth, I am worried. Hell, I’m scared shitless about this, the possibility of failure. But, no matter how worried I am, I cannot bring myself to ask too much from them>>

We talked for a bit more, waiting as the others rested. I took the occasion to actually get to know Dahl. More than that, I wanted to ask something to him, a question that has been lingering in my mind since he was appointed to our party.

<<Tell me, why did Telesia choose you to join our group? I mean, besides all that happened with Alvares. She could have sent someone with a higher level, or even several people. And yet, she choose you>>

Dahl ponders a bit before answering my question.

<<I do not know that, Roshal. I mean, Telesia herself does not explain the motives behind her decisions. But, I have my own conclusions about the matter. Yes, she could have sent someone with higher level than me, but at the same time, she could not>>

Dahl’s answer leaves me a bit confused. He pauses for a moment, before starting to explain his point of view on the entire matter.

<<Telesia, and the Guild as a whole, are in a very bad spot right now. Well, to be fair, all of Sendria is on the verge of some nasty situation right now. I suppose you know how Sendria is governed, am I right?>>

I shake my head in denial.

<<I know that you have no king, and the decisions are taken by a council of some sort>>

<<Well, that’s only part of it. Let me explain then>>

According to Dahl’s words, Sendria is an independent city-state, governed by two main powers. First, is the Triumvirate. Radva, who represents the Temple as High Priest. Valtha, elected by the Merchant association as their representative. And finally Alvares, who controls the military.

They hold the executive and legislative power in Sendria.

After the Triumvirate, we have the Council. Composed by notable and influential citizens of Sendria, they have the power to approve or reject laws proposed by the Triumvirate.

<<In short, the Triumvirate proposes laws, and the Council votes if said laws are approved or rejected. Now, things get complicated here. The Triumviri represent three powerful organization in Sendria, namely the army, priests and merchants. Those powers are also represented in the council, but there, another power is also represented. The Guild. Although it does not have an official representation in the Triumvirate, the Guild can influence the decisions taken by the Council>>

Dahl goes on with his explanation.

In recent years, Alvares rose to power in the army, eventually reaching the highest seat and becoming a member of the Triumvirate. He did so by showing a remarkable increase in public order inside Sendria, although there are rumors that he himself made a deal with the local criminal organizations in order to take control of the city.

<<There are even suspicions about him being the leader of Sendria’s underworld. But, these are just speculations without any kind of proof. The only truth here is that Alvares is a very powerful man. Alone, he controls half of the Council’s votes. Some, he controls in a legitimate way, others, he gained by corruption and coercion.>>

I am not surprised that Alvares is revealed to be a shady character after all. Well, I did not imagine how powerful he would be. For him to be the head of Sendria’s army…

<<Well, I understand that the city’s government is a chaotic thing but…how all this relates to our situation right now?>>

As I ask him so, Dahl makes a brief laugh.

<<Yes, it might seem something unrelated but…just bear with me for a bit>>.

He continues the long explanation about what happens in Sendria.

He talks about the power struggle between the Army faction, controlled by Alvares, and the Merchant’s faction.

<<Basically, the Guild and the Merchants share the same political views. After all, most of the business here in Sendria heavily rely on the Guild to prosper, and vice-versa. After Alvares rose to power, he wanted to strip away the Guild’s authority on the Dungeon, allowing the Army to take control of Sendria’s most profitable resource>>

As Dahl goes on with his explanation, the situation that he’s describing is really making me anxious.

Basically, Alvares wants to dismantle the Guild and take over their power. The reason is not only economical, however. According to Dahl, the only power that can rival the Army inside Sendria is the Guild itself. Since the adventurers represent a powerful force, Alvares wants to gain control of them or suppress the ones that do not want to side with him.

<<If he manages to do so, he will basically rule Sendria alone. Who would dare to oppose someone that holds the combined war potential of both adventurers and the Army? To make things worse in this scenario, we have two more things happening at once. First, the matter concerning the “Demon Lords”, namely you and that other Leidus guy. Next, we have evidence that Aldora kingdom is starting to mobilize their army again. Now, the two things are somewhat related>>

As Aldora is beginning to move beyond the border, sending small platoons and the Heroes in order to cause unrest in the territory managed by Sendria, the natural move for Sendria should be to send the army to defend and strengthen borders.

<<But Alvares is not acting this way. Instead, he gathered the army in Sendria’ defensive fortresses, abandoning the remaining territory to fend for themselves. Well, his strategy makes some sense, as dispersing the army to cover the territory will leave Sendria itself defenseless. But, his reasons to do so are not strategic or related to Sendria’s safety. He wants to keep the army close to the city, in order to compel the other factions to do his bidding. To normal citizens, having eighty thousand soldiers near the city only makes them feel more protected, but for those that oppose Alvares, that same army is nothing more than a threatening weapon. He’s used the situation to enact his plan, proposing a law that compels the Guild to send the higher level adventurers to safeguard the border. His proposition passed, and now, every adventurer above level twenty is being employed to strengthen and patrol the border, in anticipation to attacks from Aldora>>

<<His strategy does not make any sense to me. But, if the Guild has been forced to send the capable adventurers to the border, I can see the reason why Telesia did send you to join our party>>

<<Well, I too cannot understand what Alvares is really trying to accomplish here. It’s clear that he managed to weaken the Guild with his move, sending away all capable adventurers save a few hundreds of them that are busy managing the Dungeon, setting up safezones and so on. Also, the recent matter about the attacks inside the Dungeon, all of it was thought in order to disgrace the Guild to the public’s eye. Why else would they target low level adventurers? Perhaps, Alvares is taking advantage of this whole situation to strip away the Dungeon from the Guild. Also, if he will manage to make Leidus a proper Demon Lord, he will gain another powerful piece in his game. The same could be said about the Guild, if they manage to make you gain more power. And that takes us to our situation right now. Telesia was forced to spread her war potential thin, covering the border while keeping management of the Dungeon. So, she could not send any powerful adventurer to ensure your safety, since all of them above level twenty have been forced to leave Sendria for the countryside>>

Dahl’s explanation only managed to confuse me. As he described it, Alvares’s plan seems so convoluted that it is hardly believable. Still, what Dahl said about the Guild sending out most of its high level adventurers seems to be true. After all, I only saw adventurers below level twenty since I first set foot in Sendria. Also, the matter with Aldora’s army starting to move is something that I experienced firsthand. If Alvares is really withholding the army for some stupid power struggle, Sendria will be doomed if Aldora starts to invade.

<<Also, there is another reason why Telesia sent me, a low level adventurer, with you. If she sent someone of a higher caliber, after refusing the one that Alvares himself had suggested, it would have put Alvares on his guard. If she sent someone powerful, Alvares would have made his move by sending someone from the Army to deal with you. She needed someone that Alvares would underestimate, while at the same time she needed someone reliable enough to keep you safe and increase your party’s potential. And, she also needed to send someone that she could trust with her life. And so, she choose me for this mission>>

<<And why would she trust with your life?>>

<<Well, Roshal, I am her nephew>>

His last words almost made me fall to my side. All of this long and nonsensical explanation, when he could just say that. He really could save me a huge headache after all, without making me worry about the impending invasion from Aldora or Sendria’s political struggles on top of my own situation.

I let things go, since there is no point in complaining about it now. After all, it is already time to wake up the others from their nap and resume our march towards the seventh floor.

I call out to them, interrupting their sleep. Rising up like a zombie, Retel has still a pale face with deep bags under his eyes. It seems his resting time was not enough after all.

Still, we need to resume our march.

After two more hours spent walking inside the forest, we can finally see the huge rock wall that signals the end of this level.

Embedded inside the large wall, there is an opening carved in the rock. The exit, leading to the floor below.

We make the final rush to reach the exit, ignoring the monsters that are popping out from the vegetation around us.

Safely running past them, we enter the dark space inside the wall, quickly stepping on the descending ladder sculpted in stone.

More and more, we descend in the dimly lit stairway, headed towards the next floor.

We made it, after all.

Even if we spent too much time in the sixth floor, we should be able to traverse the seventh one relatively quickly. The reason is that this seventh floor is a safezone managed by the Guild.

Inside of it, there is a permanent garrison of high level adventurers, which dedicate themselves to killing each monster that spawns in this level. There is also some non-combatants from the Guild, people that manage small shops that permit the adventurers passing by to restock their supplies of food and other consumables.

<<If you want, we could challenge this floor’s Champion after we get some rest>>

Dahl’s words surprise me a bit.

<<I thought that there was no monster here>>

Marica also sounds fairly surprised by what we just heard.

<<Well, it’s a custom of the safezones. Usually, the keepers leave the Champion monster alive and confined, in order to let the passing adventurers challenge it if they wish to do so. It is a safe way to experience battle against a strong monster in a controlled environment, after all, since if things start to go bad the keepers will intervene. Of course, if you want to challenge it you need to pay a small price, usually taken from the loot after the Champion is defeated. It’s your choice, really, if you want to try and test yourself against the Champion or skip it in order to spare some time>>

We reserved to think about it. A bit of extra experience will be nice, since we will not be gaining any during the time we will traverse this floor.

And, if the Champion will yield as much experience as the Silverback, we will even be able to gain some levels from it.

On the other hand, dealing with the Champion monster will make us waste some time, and it’s not like we have too much of it to spare. After all, we need to traverse three more levels including this one.

The stairway ends, revealing a large and luminous place unlike the other levels that we visited. Here, numerous torches are lit, illuminating every corner of the floor with dancing flames. The seventh floor should have had a layout similar to the first three, with stone walls that enclose hallways and chambers.

But here, most of those walls have been destroyed, revealing a large space where only few chambers are visible on the sides, and a large one lies in the center space.

The smallest chambers have some signs around them, and people can be seen coming in and out of them.

According to Dahl, those are the shops and quarters managed by the Guild. Some offer accommodation to the residing Keepers from the Guild.

Others are shops, or small rooms lent to adventurers in order for them to take a bit of respite from their travel.

The large room in the center is the one where this floor’s Champion is confined, trapped inside it by several barriers.

For now, however, we will ignore the large room.

Instead, we immediately head towards the small chamber that has a visible “inn” sign laid in front of it.

The receptionist behind the desk greets us with a smile, and we purchase the room for a night’s rest.

The price was not so high, and we could afford to rent separate rooms for all our members.

As we pay the price, the receptionist calls one attendant to lead us to the rooms we rented. Before letting us in, the young attendant goes into the room. From outside, I hear the sound of water splashing.

He repeats the same with all the rooms, before parting from us with a large smile.

As I open the door to my room, I smile to the sight of a proper bed.

The room is also furnished with a wooden tub and some soap, and the tub is already filled with hot water.

<<So, that’s what the attendant was doing earlier>>

Well, I will not waste this opportunity to take a warm bath. I undress myself, entering the wooden tub. Although the tub is a bit too small, the water is at the right temperature, enough for me to enjoy this leisure.

After washing myself, I don a spare set of clothes taken from my Inventory, before I begin to wash the dirty ones I had earlier.

With a big yawn, I dry the clothes, using Black Fluid to gather water from them. It is faster than letting them dry to the air, after all.

As soon as I let my body touch the soft bed, I immediately fall asleep. The level up screen immediately floats in my vision, and I start to allocate the points I received from leveling up. Having increased my level by four times, I gained twenty points in total.

This time, I allocate five points each into Strength, Agility, Accuracy and Luck. My Intelligence stat has been boosted by the Trial of Ashes, reaching a value of twenty, so I do not think that I will dump some points in it right now.

After allocating my points, I now have fifteen points in Strength, Agility and Accuracy, while Luck and Intelligence are at twenty points.

I wonder if I am distributing them in a smart way. Well, the Luck skill is serving me well enough, as it hugely helps with the Integration process. And without that, I would basically be powerless, after all.

As soon as I finish point allocation, Navi informs me that Black Fluid has increased to level seven.

The effects are the usual…no, this time it is a bit different.

[Navi: New properties added to the skill! Volume increase- with each successful absorption, the volume of matter produced will be increased by the total mass of the creature absorbed; Special Attacks Unlocked- By increasing Skill Proficiency, it is now possible to unleash devastating Special Attacks with it! 1/?? Unlocked: Beelzebub- Summon a swarm of Poisonous creatures constructed with Black Fluid; Type of poison and shape/size of creatures can be varied]

<<Oh? That seem interesting. So, what I have to do now is just yell “Beelzebub” or something like that, and the same technique I used to beat the monkeys on the sixth floor will materialize?>>

[Navi: It’s easier than that, dumb Master! Just think about the attack, and it will happen!]

One of this days I should scold Navi for her bad manners. Well, I doubt she will listen, thou.

As the level up process ends, the interface slowly fades, leaving place to darkness and proper sleep. I feel myself falling into it, peacefully as if slowly immersing myself in calm waters.

But the peaceful sensation only lasts for some moments. The peaceful dream distorts, and nightmare emerges from it. In a twisted landscape, I find myself running from something that I dare not to see. I can feel it behind my back, the impending sense of danger that compels me to move my legs as fast as I can.

But, no matter the effort, I feel it coming closer and closer. I want to look at it, and, at the same time, I am too scared to do so.

Finally, my escape comes to an end, in front of a huge black wall. Unable to go forward, I reluctantly turn my back to the wall, facing the impending doom that was chasing me.

I suddenly wake up, covered in sweat as the nightmare begins to fade from my mind. The only thing left, is the impression of a snake’s eyes, painted in an ominous purple color.

Re:Interference Chapter 14- Silverback

Unlike the floors above, the sixth floor is basically a huge circular chamber.

Inside it, instead of the usual hallways and rooms that can be found in the upper levels, a lush tropical forest extends as wide as the eye can see.

Colossal trees emerge from the forest, reaching up to a ceiling clouded by a thick mist.

On the ground, the undergrowth looks almost impenetrable, dimly illuminated by the light of some luminescent plants.

The hot, damp air carries the heavy scent of vegetation, so strong that is almost irritating to breathe.

Just walking around is making me sweat profusely, and breathing in this climate is difficult due to the excessive humidity.

<<So, any advice on this level? Marica, Dahl, you are the ones with experience in Dungeon Dives, so, care to share some tips?>>

Marica answers immediately to my question, still stuttering a bit in embarrassment. According to what she says, she came here only two times with her previous party.

<>

So, we will need to take the other route. Well, a safe path is fine, but our time is running short, so we cannot spend too many days in traversing a single floor.

<>

Marica’s suggestion basically offers us two options. Although I would like to take the quickest route, we still need to decide things together.

After few minutes of consultation, we decide to traverse the center portion of the floor.

As we march inside the forest, we are forced to cut our way through the thick undergrowth. The soft soil that we thread on is ridden with small puddles of stagnant waters, looking like a heavy rain had just poured down.

Still, can it even rain inside the Dungeon? The ceiling of this level is covered in something like clouds, but I do not think that something like proper rain can happen here.

But my reasoning immediately proves wrong.

Unexpected, a light rain begins to fall on us, growing in intensity with each passing minute.

Now, a violent downpour is falling from above, changing the terrain into mud and thus making our advance in the forest even more difficult.

The lack of visibility, together with the difficult terrain and restricted movement possibilities will prove to be difficult to deal with, especially if we encounter some aggressive monsters.

So far, we have met none, although the forest around us is resounding in thousands sounds and cries coming from all directions.

Even the signals that I pick up with Navi’s detection are many, all around us.

After one hour of walk, we encounter the first monster.

Looking like a huge beetle with a single, long horn sprouting from its head, the level eight monster is paying no mind to us, focusing on munching some small flowers.

His thick carapace might prove to be difficult to pierce, but this monster here will be the perfect test to see what our new party member can do.

But, as we start attacking the monster, Dahl just stands there, looking at us.

In the end, we managed to bring down the beetle-monster, but our new addition did not even lift a finger.

More than that, after the battle he even started to criticize our strategy and movement during the battle. Especially, he scolded Retel about his amateurish use of the shield.

<<Hey, you could help us instead of standing there doing nothing>>

Retel rebukes him, sounding slightly offended by Dahl’s remark.

<>

Without even paying further attention to Retel, he just spouts one sentence and leaves, threading further into the forest.

I exchange a puzzled look with Retel, lifting my shoulders.

<>

Muttering with himself, Retel lets things slide as we resume our march inside the forest.

Even if we’re walking together, Dahl seems to pay no attention to us.

From time to time, all of us try to engage him in conversation, only to receive annoyed looks or to be blatantly ignored.

<>

Levia seems especially annoyed by Dahl’s attitude.

<<It’s not wise to chitchat in enemy territory>>

Again, he answers with a single sentence. Well, it’s not like he’s wrong, but I think he’s taking things a bit too seriously.

More than an adventurer, he looks like a soldier walking into the battlefield. Perhaps, that’s what he really is after all.

Even Levia decides to just leave him be. Well, you cannot go along with everybody you meet, after all.

Still, I am curious to know why he decided to go with us. I know it was something arranged by the Guild but…why him?

Still, I think it will be a long time before this guy decides to talk a bit with us.

For now, we will have to act mature and just let him be. Perhaps he’s just shy and dislikes conversation.

We go further inside the forest, making our way among strange looking vegetation and a wide variety of monsters.

The rain has stopped, as quickly as it came.

It seems that in this floor rain is a common event, suddenly falling down with great intensity and stopping almost as quickly.

As the rain ceased, several monsters came out of their hiding spots inside the vegetation, in order to hunt for food. Moved by the rain, the soft soil was distrubed by the sudden precipitation, forcing  out small creatures and insects, and the bigger creatures and monsters took advantage of this to hunt their prey.

Since I came into this world, this is the first time I’ve seen so many different creatures.

It’s almost like seeing a documentary from my old world, but this time I’m inside of it.

Most of the monsters prove to be passive creatures, not paying attention to us unless we approach o attack them.

Some, however, reveal their predatory nature and attack us on the spot.

Much to Levia’s discomfort, we’ve been attacked several times by large spider-like monsters.

Dropping down from the trees, they ambush their prey, taking advantage of the vegetation to hide themselves as they wait.

Well, luckily for us, we have the means to spot them before they attack and react accordingly.

Unlike the first time that we fought spider-like monsters, back when we explored the second floor of this Dungeon, Levia is fighting well.

She still has a disgusted expression painted on her face, but it seems she’s managed to conquer her fear of spiders.

After all, we went through things far more terrifying than some eight legged creatures.

The experience we’re getting here is pretty good, and the monsters themselves do not seem to be a huge threat to us.

However, it’s not like this forest is proving to be an easy place.

Since we’ve encountered something more dangerous than monsters.

It seems weird to say so, but what almost managed to kill us all was not a terrible creature of immense power, but a small white flower.

Unknowingly, we walked straight into an area where these little, pretty white flowers were blooming all around.

<<Well, this place seems to be safe enough. We could set camp here for a moment, and have a bit of respite>>

Strangely, it was Dahl that suggested to take a break from our march. Since we were going on for quite some time, we agreed with his suggestion.

It was a splendid view, so peaceful and soothing that we decided to rest there for a moment.

Laying there, we begin to chat a bit among us, but I notice something strange happening.

As time goes by, our discussion begins to steer in a weird way. Retel is starting to insult Marica about what happened with the Guild, while Levia is angrily muttering to herself.

What the hell is going on here?

Before I can calm them down, Retel and Marica start arguing, with Retel even going so far to point his weapon at her.

Levia is starting to cry without any proper reason, rolling on the ground and wailing like a spoiled child.

[Navi: Resisted- Whitestar Poison]

Navi’s message informs me about something sinister. I realize it a bit too late but…these flowers are emanating some kind of poison.

And it’s affecting our group in a bad way, tampering with my companion’s emotions.

It looks like only me and Dahl are unaffected by it.

But I was wrong.

As soon as I try and do something, Dahl attacks me. Without expecting it, I’m caught off guard by his sudden kick.

With just one hit, he sends me flying a few meters away. I do not even have the time to get up on my feet, and he’s already lowering his blades on me.

This situation is too dangerous. I try to block his attack with Black Fluid, but the blades went through, cutting my skill.

Luckily, I managed to deviate his blow with my skill, but things will go badly if he can just cut my Black Fluid like it’s made of thin paper.

Seriously, to be in this kind of situation because of some fucking flower…

I take a quick glance to my other companions, in order to ascertain the situation. Retel is defending himself from Marica’s spells, while trying to skewer her with his weapon.

If I do not end things quickly…

Again, Dahl attacks me right as I was distracted.

This time however I expected him to do something, and I manage to use Black Fluid to trap and disarm him.

Having taken care of Dahl, I only need to stop Marica and Retel from harming themselves.

I use Black Fluid to pin the two of them, and then I go to Levia’s side.

Among all of my companions, she’s the one that got the less dangerous effect from the poison, since instead of attacking someone else, she just broke down in tears.

I lift her and carry her within my arms, while I transport the others outside of the flower field using Black Fluid.

Keeping them restrained is hard enough, and especially Retel is giving me a hard time to keep him pinned down.

As soon as we are outside of the field, I contact Heod using Navi. Being an alchemist, he might be able to suggest a cure for the poison.

Waiting for his answer, I decide to get rid of the flowers, since their poison might still be spreading around. I absorb them using Black Fluid, eradicating every single one of them.

Finally, Heod replies.

He says that the poison from this kind of flowers is not lethal in itself, since it only causes a mild mental effect.

What is dangerous about these plants is the effect that their poison has on the psyche. Basically, it alters the perception, and heightens the sense of conflict.

<>

I reassure Heod about the others’ condition, describing to him the symptoms they’re showing.

<<So, Heod, how fast does this poison act? Can it cause a sudden change of behavior, or does it take some time for it to take effect?>>

<>

So, it is a slow acting poison. But, if that is the case…why did Dahl attack me immediately? It should have gone differently, like between Retel and Marica.

The two of them started bickering against one another before their discussion became a proper fight, due to the poison’s effect. But the same did not happen with Dahl. Could it be…

Some kind of suspicion is starting to form in my mind. For now, Dahl is behaving exactly like a victim of the toxin, but he could be faking it.

Nonetheless, I have to postpone my considerations for now, since the priority is to make my friends recover from the poison.

According to Heod, the antidote to this poison can be concocted by using the roots and flowers of the plant itself, along with some other ingredients.

Otherwise, it is necessary to let the body itself expel the poison, a process that takes a different amount of time for each person, taking usually between three days or a week.

Letting them recover naturally will take too much time, and it’s not like I can afford to leave them be in this state, especially since we’re inside the Dungeon.

So, in order to cure them, I ask Heod to instruct me about how to prepare the antidote.

I have plenty of materials from the flowers, and other ingredients needed to prepare it are already in my possession or can easily be found around in the forest.

After collecting the necessary plants that contain the missing ingredients, I start to make preparations.

First, I need to grind roots and petals of the Whitestar together, being careful not to inhale the pollen or touch the resulting paste.

Usually, you would need thick gloves especially made to manage this kind of plants, since the toxin it contains can effect you even by direct contact with the plant.

Luckily, I can use Black Fluid to do the dirty job, without touching the flowers with my hands.

Next, it comes the most difficult part. I need to distill two separate liquids, using alcohol as a base and boiling it with different plan mixtures.

One will be containing the paste I obtained by grinding the Whitestar parts, the other will have other plants in the mixture.

Since I do not have the correct alchemical equipment, this task could be considered impossible in m conditions.

But, since I have an all purpose skill that can basically make any shape…

I ask Heod to instruct me about the equipment he uses for distillation.

Since Navi’s communication system can transmit images, Heod sends me how the equipment looks.

Using Navi’s calculation abilities I manage to reproduce a version of the apparatus with Black Fluid.

After starting a fire, I load the equipment with the necessary ingredients. Having done this, all that is left is to wait for the distillation to be complete.

In about two hours, I managed to produce the complete antidote to the toxin, in enough quantity to cure all my companions.

I give a dose of the antidote to all of my companions, keeping them bound with my skill. Well, at least until I can see some signs of their condition improving.

To think that a small flower was almost responsible for making us kill ourselves…

I wonder what would have happened if I did not resist the effect.

As a side note, I got several new skills from this sudden misadventure.

Alchemy and Compounding, obtained as I was making the antidote, and Black Fluid itself grew to level six.

Perhaps the skill leveled up from the unusual use I made of it, since I’ve been forced to mimic different structures and materials in order to produce the antidote.

From absorbing the Whitestar flowers, I gained the ability to reproduce their poison with Black Fluid.

It will be useful if I somehow manage to combine it with the gas-form of my skill.

Although, the thought of using the two abilities on a group of enemies is a bit too evil for my taste…perhaps I am really becoming a Demon Lord, after all.

Still, another full hour goes by while I wait for the antidote to work.

Once freed from the poison, my companions look dumbfounded as they ask why I am binding them with my skill. Apparently, they do not remember anything that happened.

After making sure of their well being, I contact Heod again to let him know about the antidote working.

Reassured, he reprimands all of us to be more careful from now on.

He even goes so far as to send a mental image of all the plants and flowers that we should avoid.

[Navi: Image stored and recorded for future reference. Would you like to mark their location on the map?]

Wait what? How the hell is this Navi thing dishing out function after function…and, what was that about a map?

[Navi: A Mental Map is one of the standard, most basic functions of a Dream Navigator. Would you like me to display it?]

I nod in affirmation. After I do so, the image of this level seen from above pops in my field of vision.

According to Navi, I can zoom in, out and rotate the mental map however I want, and even see a three-dimensional representation of it.

<>

[Navi: Well, I wanted Master to properly explore and experience the true romance of a Dungeon! It’s all in order to make a better Demon Lord out of you, since the current you is kinda lame.]

Her response makes me drop my shoulders.

Well, the time spent reasoning with her will only be wasted time, so I leave things as they are, accepting this new feature.

In the end, we lost some precious time because of this little incident with poisonous flowers.

I’m glad that it all resolved in something to laugh about, some story to share around a fire, remembering “that time when we have been almost killed by flowers”.

Still, what happened here is just another proof of our lack of caution and preparation.

After all, I am sure that the Guild has at least some information about the poisonous plants that can be found in this floor.

In short words, we could have easily avoided this with a little preparation.

While considering these thoughts, I start to release my companions, one by one. The last one remaining is Dahl, but I do not plan to let him go.

When Retel, Marica and Levia were under the poison’s effect, their behavior changed slowly, devolving more and more as the toxin exerted its effect.

But Dahl…his behavior was different from the others. Instead of starting a slow, verbal argument against me, he immediately attacked me with his weapons.

And that makes me suspect of his actions.

As I question him about what happened, he feigns ignorance, telling me that he has no idea of what I am talking about.

But, I am not easily convinced by what he is saying.

<<So, if you do not want to answer me honestly…>>

I start exerting more pressure with Black Fluid. Of course, I am not trying to injure or kill him. I am just aiming to scare him a bit, in order to make him talk.

<>

Levia voices her doubts about what I am doing, but I have my motives here.

Dahl himself is protesting, begging me to let him go.

I do not know if he’s faking ignorance, acting like he does not know what I am talking about, or if his reaction is honest and he just acted under the poison’s influence.

<>

Dahl is not answering, looking straight at me with a dumbfounded expression on his face. I will not buy your acting, you know?

I come near him, staring him right in the eyes. Using my best “bad guy” voice, I tell to him what I suspected.

That he was appointed by the Guild to follow our group, reporting our activities and status in order to spy on us. And, at the first occasion when we would show some weakness or be in a dangerous situation, he was ordered to attack and dispose of us.

Since, now that I think about it, it was his suggestion to camp inside the Whitestar field.

He recognized the flowers, and he thought of a simple plan to eliminate our group without much effort.

By leading us into the poisonous flowers, he hoped that we would fight among ourselves under the toxin’s influence, and he would have personally killed whoever was left standing after the infighting.

But his plan went wrong, since I resisted the flower’s poison.

<>

He smiles. It seems that my suspicions were right on point. Still, now that I know that he planned all of this, what the hell do I do?

I could kill him on the spot, but I want to hear something from him, first. Namely, who was the one that ordered him to act like this, and why.

My first suspect would be Alvares, since he openly showed his hostility to me when I was under the Guild’s custody. But matters could be more complicated than that.

Because, if someone just wanted me dead, he could send assassins to do the job instead of infiltrating someone into our party like this.

<<Well, it seems you figured my intentions out. Yes, I planned all this. I lead you lot into a trap, hoping that you would kill each other. Now that you know about this, what will you do?>>

In a situation like this, he has the nerve to taunt me. I do not know why he’s acting like this, since pissing me off will not help him in any way. Or perhaps he just wants to anger me.

<<So, who gave you those orders? Or are you acting on your own initiative?>>

Now Retel is also joining in the interrogation. Marica still seems a bit perplexed by what is going on, and Levia is watching us from a distance, with a stern expression on her face.

I continue questioning Dhal, but he does not answer. This is going nowhere, and we’re wasting precious time here. After all, I have a pretty dangerous time limit on my head.

Still, I wonder what would be the best course here. Killing him on the spot would be the wisest decision, but I feel like something is off.

After all, he could have killed me in so many different occasions. During battles, for example, where me and my companions were focused on the monsters.

It would have been much easier to do, instead of leading us into some kind of trap like he did.

Perhaps, there are some ulterior motives that explain Dahl’s actions.

As I look at him more, I understand the reason why Dahl acted this way. It’s faint, but I can see traces of magic on him.

Strands of an ominous purple mana are barely visible on his skin. I would have not noticed this in normal circumstances. And now that I see them, I recognize what those strand mean.

After all, I had the same kind of magic cast on me not so long ago.

The spell that Alvares used.

If what I see is true, why did that man cast a spell on Dahl?

<<You’re being controlled by a spell. Am I right?>>

Dahl’s expression freezes for a moment. From the look in his eyes, I know I hit the mark. He denies it, however. But, for a moment, before Dahl spoke his answer to me, I saw the purple strands pulse.

So, even as we speak, he’s being controlled. I do not know if the spell that’s affecting him is the same one that Alvares cast on me.

I doubt so, since he did not directly control me, which would have been the best strategy. After all, he could just control me and make me attack my companions. It would have been easier for him to do so.

Unless…maybe he could not cast a complete spell on me, since when he spoke to me Telesia and the other guy from the Triumvirate, Radva, were also there.

<<So, let me get things straight. Someone, and I do know who, cast a spell on you in order to kill me and make it look like an accident. But, somehow you are resisting it. Otherwise you would have attacked me or my companions in different circumstances, instead of going with a plan that had low chances of success>>

Again, as I tell Dahl my conclusions, the light coiled around him flutters, shining for a split second.

It seems that Dahl is resisting it, and that is causing him pain.

As I feared, the situation is really much complicated than what it seems.

Because, if Dahl is being controlled, I cannot just go and kill him. After all, he’s only a person caught into someone else ‘s plot.

So, how could I resolve this predicament? The best solution would be to dispel the magic that’s controlling Dahl, but I do not know how to do this.

Killing Dahl will not solve anything, and now that I know he’s being controlled, I do not feel like hurting someone that brings no ill will towards me.

I cannot just let him free, since most likely, now that I know what is going on, the one who cast the spell will just order Dahl to attack us again.

Well, I could try and do something. The chances of success are pretty small, since it’s something that I thought on the spot.

I ask Marica for assistance in this matter, since she’s the one that has most knowledge about magic in our group.

<>

She answers with a worried face. Well, it’s not like we have any other option right now.

And so, I prepare to act my plan. With Marica’s assistance, I start to pour my own mana into Black Fluid.

After that, I stretch the skill, making thin blades, as thin as I can manage. Keeping the mana flow inside the skill is truly difficult, but, following Marica’s instructions I manage to keep a constant flow.

The reasoning behind what I am trying to do is simple. Basically, I am trying to disrupt Alvares’s spell by using my own mana.

Since I lack the proper mana control needed to accomplish such a feat, I devised a little trick, hoping that it works.

I infuse my mana into Black Fluid, and use the mana infused skill to “cut” Alvares’s mana strands.

To succeed in this I would need to perfectly shape and move my mana, forming thin blades from it in order to “cut” the spell from Dahl’s body.

But, I do not have perfect control of my mana.

What I have, is a skill that I can mold and move as I want. In short, a skill that I can perfectly control.

Combining the skill with mana, by forming Black Fluid into the delicate and precise shape needed, and injecting it with mana in order to cut away the spell, should be a solution for this situation.

At least, I hope so.

And so, I start this crazy attempt, exerting all my willpower and concentration in order to accomplish this.

After one entire hour, it is done.

When I cut the final strand of mana, it evaporates from Dahl’s body, forming a purple smoke that twirls in the air.

Exhausted, I lay on the ground. It was tiresome to do all this.

Dahl himself seems to be fine enough. He thanked me for what just happened, and he told how all of this came to be.

Apparently, before Dahl was appointed by Telesia to join our group, Alvares made it clear that he wanted to dispose of me.

When the Guild Headmaster and the other members of the Triumvirate voted against his proposition, he insisted to place someone into our party.

He even went so far as to personally select candidates, but Telesia strongly opposed his decision.

She appointed Dahl instead, since it was not possible for them to completely negate Alvares’s proposal. In short, Dahl joining us was a necessary compromise to shut up Alvares’s complaints.

It was then that Alvares approached Dahl and put him under his spell.

According to what Dahl is saying, Alvares is being suspected to be the one behind the accidents caused by Leidus inside the Dungeon.

<>

Since Leidus was one of the other Candidate Demon Lords mentioned by Radva, I can start to see why Alvares wanted to dispose of me.

If he’s the one behind Leidus’s actions, I am nothing more than a nuisance, an obstacle to whatever he’s trying to accomplish.

Perhaps, he hopes to make Leidus gain power inside the Dungeon, in order to have a powerful Demon Lord under his own control.

He could have done the same to me, but apparently he was forced to act differently since I was always being watched by Telesia during the time I was captured.

So, instead of applying a spell that could fully control me, he was forced to cast an inferior version in order to not raise suspicion towards himself.

He then resorted to this convoluted plan, controlling Dahl in order to make him kill us inside the Dungeon, far from the Guild’s eyes.

By using Dahl, he could make thing pass as an unfortunate accident inside the Dungeon, instead of a proper assassination.

Or perhaps, his plan was even more convoluted, since Alvares knew of the deadly time limit that I have on me. He could have planned all this in order to slow us down, with Dahl sabotaging our advance here and there in order to consume the little time I have at my disposal.

This way, he could just undo the spell when everything was done, and no one would have suspected him about anything.

Still, no matter what his plan was, now it has failed. Well, we still lost a considerable amount of time in this level, so I do not know how things will go after this.

After all, Alvares could have already achieved his objective here, since even a single day will prove essential to me, and we basically already spent half a day just dealing with things here in the sixth floor.

That leaves me with five days and few hours to reach the tenth floor. And given how we’re still in the outer rim of the sixth floor, I am starting to doubt I will make it in the end.

More than that, Alvares could try and intervene again, this time more directly. He does not even need to send someone that manages to kill me, after all.

He just needs to make us lose more time, and after that…well, I ‘ll be dead.

Just as a precaution, I use the same trick to undo the spell that Alvares cast on me. I doubt that he would use it to take control of me, but safe is better than sorry.

Doing this on myself proves to be more difficult than doing it on another person, and I have to rely on Marica’s mana perception to actually succeed in dispelling myself.

Having done that, we decide to resume our march inside the forest. From now on, we will need to accelerate our schedule, cutting resting time in order to traverse this level in a short time.

We set our route to the center of this level, avoiding as much battles as we can.

But, this route poses a big danger to us.

Since, in the center portion of the sixth floor, there is a peculiar monster.

Dahl, being the one with most experience about the Dungeon between all of us, is the one that puts us on guard about the danger lying ahead.

Unlike the other monsters that inhabit this floor, those that reside in the center are a special category.

Much like among humans there are individuals with superior abilities, like elite soldiers or such, this distinction also applies to monsters.

Depending on the race of the monster, creatures that have the same level can show widely different prowess, in both stats and abilities.

In short, those that we will find in the center are considered elite monsters. And, among them, there exists one that stands above the others, a Champion monster.

From the sixth floor onward, each floor hosts one such monsters, named Champion. These are extremely though monsters, characterized by their gigantic size and incredible abilities, superior to those of the common monster.

A peculiar kind of Champion monster are those called Guardians.

Even superior to the Champions, a Guardian is a special existence that can be encountered every ten floors.

Those kind of monsters often require large groups to be taken down, and pose a large threat to every adventurer that tries to dive deep into the Dungeon.

But, such monsters can also be considered as a test of strength, and adventurers that want to prove themselves often challenge the Champions and Guardians, in order to gain fame and to acquire the rare materials from their bodies or the treasures that these creatures guard.

Most likely, the second trial will pit me against one of these Guardian monsters on the tenth floor. I definitely do not look forward to this.

But, right now, we have not the luxury to avoid battle against the Champion monster in this floor.

One thing that puzzles me is how can these monsters still be around in the Dungeon. Since each floor has been successfully conquered and mapped, it should mean that these monsters have been dealt with by precedent adventurers.

<<Well, it’s simple. Basically, after a set amount of time, the Dungeon regenerates each monster>>

Dahl’s explanation clears my doubt. Apparently, after forty-eight hours, each monster “respawns” in its original position, and that includes Champion and Guardian class monsters.

A troublesome thing, indeed. So, we will be forced to battle against these Champions, after all.

Traversing the forest is taking us to the limits of our resistance. Having cut resting time, we are slowly accumulating fatigue as we thread inside the thick vegetation.

The terrain itself is difficult enough as it is, and hurrying through it is only making things worse.

But, we have to resist and push forward.

Luckily for us, after being dispelled Dahl is now actively participating in battle, making it easier and quicker for us all to advance in this floor.

I have to admit, this guy is seriously strong. I am glad that he did somehow resist Alvares’s control, since, if he attacked me with all his strength, he would surely have won.

Perhaps that’s why Telesia chose him to come with us. Maybe, she expected Alvares to attempt something like this, and appointed Dahl to our group knowing that his strength would have hindered Alvares’s plan.

We marched inside the forest for five hours straight, battle after battle, without even stopping for catching our breath.

Now, the center portion of this level is right in front of us.

The forest is only the outer rim of this level, encircling the central portion of this floor like a ring of trees and vegetation.

The central part looks like an open plain enclosed by the trees. The plain ground is covered in tall green grass, almost reminiscent of the Grasslands that lie on the road to Sendria.

Inside the grass, we can see several shapes moving.

Monsters, and a lot of them. Their appearance is similar to baboons, with a white mane and large, muscular bodies. Their faces are painted in red, and from their open mouths, sharp fangs are protruding.

A single, large rock stands tall inside the exact center of this floor. Sitting atop of it, we see the gigantic form of the Champion monster.

Taking into consideration the distance that separates it from us, the monster should be taller than four meters. Perhaps even more.

With a body similar to a huge gorilla, muscular arms and a thick, silver colored fur, the beast oversees the plains below him, reigning like a king over his domain.

A named monster.

Silverback, level fifteen.

Although his level might not seem much high, I am sure that fighting it will prove to be considerably difficult.

We cannot just jump straight into battle, or we will meet an unpleasant fate. Beside the Champion monster, there are more than one hundred of those monkey-like creatures here in these plains.

The monsters are patrolling the area, moving around in coordinated groups. This could really be bad for us.

If those were isolated creatures, it would have been fine to just advance and attack them one by one.

But, these monsters seem to show some kind of superior intellect.

As we wait and observe them, we see one of the monsters from the forest trespass into the central plain.

Immediately, the monster is spotted by the monkeys, and is immediately attacked.

A coordinated pincer attack from two different groups of monkeys, leaving no hope for the poor forest-dwelling creature. The corpse is rapidly dismembered and eaten on the spot.

What shocked me the most was seeing some of the monkeys use makeshift weapons. By the looks of it, they are just crudely made wooden spears with sharp stones acting as spearheads.

But, if those things can use and craft weapons, they will prove to be a much bigger threat than what we considered in the beginning.

There are too many of them around for us to try and take down small groups of them each time. If we do so, we risk that one of the monsters might alert his brethren, and we would end up swarmed by a large number of them.

Their level is surely no joke, with the lowest of them being level ten, while the highest is a level twelve monkey with several scars on its body.

<>

Dahl warns us about the danger that these creatures pose to us.

We take some time to brainstorm an effective plan, but most of our options seem to be pretty ineffective in this situation.

Marica suggests starting a fire, burning the high grass in order to kill the monsters all at once. But that strategy will not be usable for us, since the terrain and the grass are still wet from the recent rain.

<>

Even if I says so to her, it’s not like I have a plan to deal with the situation.

<<Roshal, did you…absorb some of the plants from before?>>

Levia’s voice resounds from behind. She’s holding a white flower in her hand, a different kind from the Whitestar.

Perhaps…what she is hinting about could really work, after all.

Before, I absorbed some of the toxic flowers, and from that I got the ability to produce the same exact toxic compound with my skill.

By using it with Black Fluid in gas form, I should be able to attack the monkeys without them even realizing what’s happening, and let the poison do the rest.

If this works, the monkeys will start to fight among themselves, thus dwindling their numbers and making it easier for us. If we’re lucky, we could even wipe out a large number of them.

As I propose the plan to the others, Levia corrects me. She makes me note that the targets are too many and too sparse for this to properly work.

<<That’s if we aim to several small targets. But…why do so, when we have one big thing that we can use to our advantage?>>

In short, she’s suggesting that I use the poison on the Champion monster.

If things go well, the Silverback, enraged by the toxin, will start to attack his lesser kin. This way, we could achieve two objectives, simultaneously killing the small monsters while weakening the big one.

It will be difficult, but this might work. There is no wind blowing in this level, so, even if I use my skill at a big distance, it will not be disturbed by the air currents.

Of course, I could also try and use Black Fluid in a different form. Maybe, I could shot a dart containing poison into the monster.

This should prove to be more effective than just controlling a cloud of gas and hoping that the monster inhales all of it.

But, it could also pose a problem. The poison from Whitestar flowers does not act immediately, since it requires some time before the full effect can take place.

During that time, if I just shot a dart to the Silverback it could spot us from the distance and attack us while it is still unaffected by the poison.

Or simply, the poison could not be effective against the monster, after all. There is also that possibility to consider.

In the end, we decide to go with the plan. Still hidden inside the forest, I start to produce the dart that I will shot to the Silverback.

What I need to do is load it with the highest quantity of poison that I can produce.

The dart itself has an hollow point and a simple peristaltic mechanism in order to pump the poison inside the Silverback.

I was thinking about an insect stinger when I started preparing it. And that thought gave me a better idea.

Why use a dart, when I could use something better? After all, I can use Black Fluid to form biological structures, and let Navi control them.

This way, I could prepare some small things carrying the poison, and use Navi to guide them to the monsters, unnoticed.

In short, I will use my skill to make some insect-like things. With this, if I can manage to control them properly, I can attack also some of the smaller monkeys, poisoning them along with the Champion monster.

All that is left now is to properly realize this plan. I start producing the toxin within Black Fluid, using the new Alchemy skill at the same time to speed up the process and produce a higher quantity of poison.

While doing that, I task Navi to produce the small poison carriers. In my mind, I imagined them like small insects, somewhat of an hybrid between mosquitoes and flies.

What Navi produced, however, was definitely different from what I had envisioned.

Large as a chestnut, the “thing” made with Black Fluid has a legless, teardrop shaped body, with three pair of translucent, membranous wings.

On one end there is a long, rigid sting. The thing squirms in my hand, moving its “head” segment restlessly.

The design of it is similar to those biomechanical paintings that I loved in my previous life, with a style and design reminiscent of a famous creature from a science fiction movie set in deep space.

Since I first saw that movie, I had been impressed by that kind of art, and I ended up searching the original artist’s works, fascinated by the design that fused machine and organic matter.

Perhaps, the deep impression that Giger’s style had on me is the reason why Navi chose this kind of design for the “thing”.

Well, I am very pleased by the end result, but my companions seem to be taken back by the look of this thing, and they are looking at me with mixed expressions.

I pay no mind to their reaction and focus on the insect-like construct that lies in my hand.

Six pair of small, composite eyes are on each side of the head portion, and, from them, I can have some kind of visual feedback. With the first “unit” produced, I try to inject the poison inside of it, loading as much as I can.

I cannot be stingy with it, since if the dose is too low, the entire plan might fail. To have better chances of success, I am using a concentrated version of the poison.

Now, having filled it with poison, I test if the loaded thing can properly fly. The results are pretty satisfying, and the insect-like thing moves quickly, silently and it easy to control.

<<Now, it’s time for a test run>>

Muttering to myself, I let the “thing” fly, leading it towards a small group of monkey monsters. My creation moves undetected, approaching rapidly the group until I manage to make it reach one of the monsters.

When near it, the insect automatically latches to the monkey’s fur, sprouting leg-like appendages from the underside of its rear portion.

Once it latches, it stings the soft skin of the monster, injecting the poison contained in the rear portion.

After few minutes, the monkey monster starts behaving strangely, making loud noises and showing aggressiveness towards its kin. It then snaps, and jumps to the throat of a nearby monster.

The two of them fight for a bit, but the other monkeys intervene and kill the poisoned monster.

The plan works. However, for it to be more effective, I need to poison multiple targets at a single time, otherwise the monsters that are not under the toxin’s effect will rapidly single out the one that has been poisoned.

<<Roshal, please stop making that creepy smile>>

Marica’s words bring me back to reality, making me realize about the unsightly expression that I am making. Hell, perhaps I am enjoying this little trick a bit too much.

But, for something this stupidly convoluted to work exactly as I have planned…

Still, now it’s time to fully enact the operation. I prepare as many insect as I can, and then I focus my attention to prepare a larger version of them.

The large ones will be used against the Champion monster, since I will probably need a much higher quantity of toxin to affect him if compared to the lesser monsters.

Once completed, I test run the swarm by making it fly around me for a bit. Buzzing as they fly in circles, dark as coal as they reflect the light on their smooth surface, my creatures are now ready to attack.

I feel like letting out a villainous laughter as I release the swarm. But I keep my composure here.

Using Navi’s detection, I divide the swarm and direct a small number of insects towards different groups of monsters.

Flying undetected, the insects do their job, latching to the monsters and injecting them with poison.

Even if some of the monsters managed to detect the insects and destroy them before being stung by them, the swarm managed to poison a large number of monsters.

More than that, the big ones have successfully poisoned the Silverback.

The Champion monster quickly detected the swarm, and it started to attack them by swaying its large arms, aiming to crush the insect-like constructs.

But, thanks to the quick movement capabilities and the remote control operated with Navi, most of the swarm survived the assault and successfully managed to sting the Silverback, injecting the poison inside the monster’s body.

Having accomplished their function, the constructs made with Black Fluid evaporate into gas for, returning to me unseen by the enemy.

<>

I am pretty pleased by how things are coming together. If this trick works, I could use this same strategy to deal more effectively with enemies now on.

After almost twenty minutes, hell breaks loose in the central portion of the sixth floor.

The monkey monsters start fighting among themselves, making for a pretty gruesome scene.

But things get even more violent as the Silverback joins the fray, attacking his lesser kin under the influence of my poison.

The giant ape crushes the smaller monsters under his mighty blows, grabbing his lesser brethren and hurling them away.

However, the smaller apes are putting up a fight against it, managing to injure the Silverback before being killed by it.

What I see in front of my eyes, is a huge success. Each time a monster was felled by one of his kin, we even received some experience from it.

It must be due to the fact that we initiated the attack, and the monster killing each other is solely a consequence of my initial attack.

In less than an hour, all the monsters in the central plain have been annihilated. The only one left standing is the Silverback himself, wounded and weakened.

<>

Marica complains about my method, her face pale as she looks at me. It makes me want to mess a bit with her, but I will refrain from doing so.

<<Well, I am pleased by the results. With this, we basically wiped out the monsters, and we even managed to seriously wound the Champion>>

Retel stands in my support, while Levia…well, since she has an instinctive disgust towards insects, I think that she especially dislikes my little show.

Dahl is looking at me in wonder.

<>

He praises me a bit, sincerely surprised by the little show I just put on.

<<So, shall we try to bring that thing down?>>

Dahl suggests that we attack the Champion, now that it is weakened. After all, it still stands in our way.

Although it has been wounded by the other monsters, the Silverback could still prove to be a challenge for us.

Still, I want to do it. Without using underhanded tricks this time.

If we manage to bring that thing down in a proper battle, it will be for the best, since we will surely earn some experience from the battle, perhaps even level up from it.

I confirm things with my companions. Taking an unanimous decision, we head into the tall grass, ready to face the Champion of this level.

As soon as we set foot into the grass, the monster notices our presence.

It launches a bellowing roar, beating his muscular chest with his closed fists before charging right at us.

Although the sight of it is truly terrifying, we will not let it intimidate us.

As the monster launches the first attack, slamming his fist into the ground, we scatter in order to avoid the blow.

Waiting his attack, I planted Black Fluid under the ground, letting it burst out as soon as the monster strikes his fist on the floor.

Tentacles formed with my skill entangle the giant ape’s arm, locking it on the spot as Marica and Levia launch a coordinated assault with magic and arrows.

Marica uses her freeze-fire combo spell, while Levia shots mana-charged arrows towards the Silverback’s head, aiming to his eyes.

Then it’s Retel and Dahl’s turn to attack. Taking advanced of the damage caused by Levia’s arrows, they charge the Silverback, hitting his hind legs to make him fall down.

To finish the monster, I concentrate Black Fluid, forming a great spear with it. I launch it towards the monster’s body, piercing his chest.

The Silverback bellows, squirming as my skill tears his flesh. For a moment, I really thought that it was our victory.

However, the monster grabs the black spear piercing his chest and pulls it away, hurling it back at me.

Enraged, the Silverback begins leaking a wild and violent mana.

The air around him ripples in red, and the monster’s fur begins to move as if swayed by a sudden and intense wind.

I see the wounds on his body slowly closing themselves, as the monster heals the wounds we inflicted on him.

This battle might prove to be more difficult than we anticipated.

But, if we do not manage to bring this monster down, it will only mean one thing.

That we are weak.

There is no point for us to avoid this battle, only to end up being defeated in the lower floors.

This is a test that we have to pass, in order to improve, in order to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

Staring at us, the regenerated Silverback roars again, as if he’s challenging us, baring his fangs as he readies his next attack.

Re:Interference Chapter 13- Welcome to the Jungle

After waking up and taking care of my morning routine, I give Heod a call using Navi’s communication system. The old man stays silent as I explain what happened yesterday.

I still feel the absurdity of this, it sounds even more nonsensical if I tell it out loud.

Still, the old man patiently listens, even when I start complaining about all that has happened.

As he sounds really concerned, I reassure him about our well being. I can almost imagine him, nervously smoking his pipe as he listens what we went through. I would not want to make him worry too much, but I feel like he deserves to know what is going on here.

More than that, I need his counsel on what to do next.

He agrees with my decision to not report things to the Guild, since we do not know how they will react to this kind of news.

In the end, he reassures me a bit, telling me to be careful while investigating what this “trial” thing is about.

After speaking with the old man, I reunite with the group.

Marica joins a bit later, as she walked away from the group alone.

Perhaps she was taking care of her womanly business, as she seems really embarrassed whens she comes back.

With our preparations and equipment maintenance done, we abandon our resting spot and resume our journey into the Dungeon.

As we decided yesterday, our Dungeon Dive continues. For now, our aim is set to the seventh floor.

There, a safepoint from the Guild is stationed, so we will decide what to do once we reach it.

Leaving the large room where we spent the night, we end up once again in the succession of corridors and chamber that characterize this floor.

I expected more battles in the rooms we went by, but the monsters became incredibly docile. Populated mostly by Ash Servants, these rooms do not have any useful materials or resources to be harvested.

Moreover, the Ash Servants themselves are behaving so differently from yesterday.

As we spotted the first group, I immediately prepared to receive their attack but…the things did not attack us.

Much to my surprise their reactions varied, with some of them blatantly ignoring us, while others scurried away to hide in the shadows. Hell, we even saw one of them come straight at us, smiling.

Behaving like a pet, it stood there in front of us, making strange noises as if begging for something.

I almost burst out laughing when it jumped to Levia like a puppy, almost begging to be caressed.

It was so different from what we experienced yesterday. Seeing them like this, without any trace of the malice and wilderness they were showing as we fought them, it almost makes me question everything I went through during the trial.

We decide to not mess with the monsters, leaving them be as we walk by.

The Ash Servant Levia befriended is still following us around from a distance.

Still, it’s best to keep wary of them, since I do not completely feel at ease, surrounded by monsters, even if they show a docile attitude.

Without any major battles, besides some encounters with small groups of Ash Wolves, we proceed in the winding tunnels and large chambers that form the fifth floor’s outskirts.

As we come near the center, we encounter some more traces of battle. Perhaps the other adventurers are near.

In the end, we finally meet the other adventurer group that was ahead of us. Inside a large chamber, a group of ten adventurers is taking some time to rest and do some small maintenance on their equipment. As soon as they spot us, they immediately assume a battle formation.

Maybe, they’re still wary of other groups, given the recent attacks that happened in the Dungeon.

We approach them, making sure to signal that we are not hostile.

Reassured, the group’s leader lowers his weapon, and his companions do the same.

A larger formation than ours, comprising seven active members with three baggage carriers. It seems that this kind of formation is the standard party suggested by the Guild, according to what the other party’s leader says.

The man, named Julius, is a level thirteen adventurer. Leading a mixed party of beast-kin and humans, he’s an ex soldier of Sendria who gave up military life to try and gain fortune inside the Dungeon.

At first, I thought that they would be somehow wary of us, even hostile. However, it turns out that they are a pretty nice bunch.

We shared a quick lunch with them, and Julius even gave us some suggestions and tips about hunting and locations in the fifth floor that have useful resources or rare monsters and materials.

The most important thing is that they informed us of their intended hunting route, in order to avoid interfering with their schedule. After all, two parties hunting in the same room will only hinder each other.

As a parting gift, I shared with them some of our provisions and drinking water. It feels good to be generous once in a while, and, since we over-prepared for this journey since our lack of baggage limitation, sharing a bit of provisions will not hurt us in the slightest.

Parting with Julius’s group, we head in the direction they suggested.

As it turns out, the first room we end up in contains some rare materials. Metal, to be precise. Although it is still a resource harvested from the “beginner floors” it is quite valuable.

I thank Julius in my mind, since his tips were really useful.

The monsters that we find in this new section of the fifth floor also prove to be quite the challenge. Not because of the danger they pose, but for their incredible sturdiness.

With charred black bodies, these kind of monsters resemble huge land turtles with rock-hard shells.

Ash Turtles, that’s how they are called.

Moving slowly around the room, these monsters do not flock together, thus making them easy targets.

The problem is their incredible durability.

Arrows and weapons simply bounce off their shells, and the only way to properly inflict damage is to use magic or attack-type skills.

During the fight against the turtles, I decide to experiment a bit with magic.

Basically, I try again and again to convert my mana into some kind of attack.

Since the trial, I got some skills that helped me control my mana flow and handling but…it’s not enough.

The only thing I can do is making my mana do some kind of small explosions.

<>

Marica asks me with a curious expression on her face.

Since our discussion yesterday, she has not spoken to me, keeping some distance as if being wary of me.

Well, it’s not like I don’t understand her behavior, so I don’t blame her at all.

<<That’s how this is called? I was just trying to experiment a bit with magic, but it seems I am failing a lot>>

<<Hm, is that so? It took me three whole years of training before I could get to that level, you know? It seems being a Demon Lord is really convenient>>

Although she’s joking a bit, I can still feel tension in the way she speaks to me.

I fear that after my “reveal”, things will be a bit awkward with her. More than that, Marica being wary of me might be really bad for our party as a whole.

Until now, we’re still cooperating well during battle and exploration.

But, who knows how things will end from now on? She might even decide to leave the group after all.

Sincerely, I do not want that.

She’s been a valuable addition to our group. Hell, she has even saved my life a couple times already! I have to find some way to reassure her about me, but…right now, I don’t know what to say to her.

Hell, I do not even know how all this trial thing will affect me in the end.

Until now, I had the feeling that stuff just happened randomly to me.

Since I got summoned into this world I immediately ran into danger, then I miraculously escaped and even got some sort of “power up” afterwards.

After that, I met with members of the Aldora kingdom, who are supposed to be my enemies in this world.

Again, the routine of extreme danger and escape due to nothing more than sheer luck.

Even against the Hero, the same pattern. But, after coming here in this Dungeon and facing off that trial, I’m starting to think that all I went through, and all the times I survived it, it was not due to mere and random luck.

So many things happened with the perfect timing, too many times to be simple coincidences.

Like I was supposed to be in that precise time and place, to experience what was happening in that situation. In the fort, when the Laughing Man massacred the soldiers, and were I learned about the slavery perpetuated by Aldora Kingdom.

In Nudria, where I faced off the Hero, and I saw his cruelty as he toyed with the minds of monsters and people alike.

And finally here. I came to Sendria to become stronger, and surprise, inside the Dungeon there are trials that are made to test and empower people like me.

It’s like I’m being led into some unknown path.

First, I encounter the “enemies” and learn how dangerous they are, thus taking the decision to become stronger in order to survive.

Then, as I decide out of free will to increase my level in the Dungeon, I randomly find these “trials”here, of all places?

Hell, I did never believe in destiny or such things, but I am really starting to think that all this, all the choices that led me here have not been entirely my own.

And that simple thought scares me, a lot.

Now that I think about it, of all the places where I could be summoned into I just had to appear here, conveniently near to the “bad guys” of Aldora, and a Dungeon that hosts something that has the sole function of “powering up” those who hold that ridiculous Demon Lord title?

The sole thought of all this is making my blood boil. To think that all my decisions were due to a path that has already been set for me, instead of them just being my own.

The illusion of free will.

And, if this kind of thinking is right, what do I need to do? Do I just follow this path until the end, play out my role in the script?

Or do I rebel against it? In that aspect, doing what Marica suggested would be trying to steer from the path.

Avoiding the second trial altogether, going to the Guild and figuring out with them what to do.

It would be so easy to do so.

The truth however, is that although I realize that I’m basically walking into danger, dragging my friends with me…part of me wants to do so.

It’s something I started to realize, battle after battle.

I enjoy winning, the sensation I get when something succumbs to my power.

It’s difficult to admit so, that I find pleasure in the death of something caused by my hands.

More than that, I enjoy power in itself. For all my previous life I’ve always been a wimp, unable to stand up for myself, unable to properly do something.

However, things are now starting to be different. Battles that no more than three weeks ago would have been life or death situations are now simple tasks.

My power grew, and it awakened something deep inside my mind, something that wants more.

Not for the sake of protection or to save my own life, but for the desire of power itself.

And that simple realization is tearing me apart.

One part of me wants to run away, to avoid the unnecessary danger that this “destined path” of mine would surely bring.

On the other hand, I want to pursue this path, to gain new power.

It would be easy to escape all this, to just run away and stick with being an adventurer, or even drop this dangerous life stile and settle, maybe become a farmer or something else.

Leading a quiet, safe life.

But deep down, I want more. I want power.

Hell, now I am starting to sound like a proper Demon Lord, am I?

The silliness of this thought makes me chuckle a bit.

Still, it’s not the time and place to abandon myself into introspection. It’s best to leave this thoughts for later, and focus on what lies ahead of me.

After we get out of the Dungeon again, I will need to have a serious conversation with my companions.

For now on, let’s focus on continuing the Dungeon exploration.

We’re still in the outer rim of the fifth floor, after all. Still a long way to go before we reach the center, even more to the exit.

And this poses another problem. The “marked by ashes” effect that I got after the trial, which basically says “you’re gonna die in ten days unless you reach the second trial”.

Having already wasted one day after the trial, I only have nine days left to reach the second trial.

And I haven’t the slightest idea about where it is or what the hell will happen.

So, I’m on a time limit here, and I’m even unable to leave the Dungeon unless I complete the second trial.

No other choice than to push onward, it seems.

Still, it’s better for me to think about this when we can get a bit of respite. Right now, we’re still in hostile territory, so it’s best for me to focus on the surrounding.

The only good thing that’s happening right now is the slight progress we’re making in this Dungeon level.

Hunting the Ash Turtles, we finally manage to get good EXP and materials. Well, of course all this will be good only if I manage to get out alive from the Dungeon.

And to do that, I need to find out and pass the next trial.

Seriously, way to push some ridiculous burden onto someone. If I ever get hold of that idiot God again, I swear I will punch him in the face.

<<Hey, are you ok? You’re spacing out a bit too much, Roshal>>

Retel’s voice shakes me from my thoughts. He’s standing near to me, with a concerned look on his face. It seems I’ve been too silent for a while, although I feel like he just wants to talk for a bit.

As we walk together, he starts voicing his opinions on what happened yesterday.

<>

<<Yes, I suppose it is, Retel. Look, even I do not know how this whole thing will affect us. Well, I suppose I owe you some apology for keeping it a secret. I didn’t even consider it to be something “real”, you know? That something would happen to me, to us, putting everybody in danger because of this stupid “Demon Lord” nonsense>>

I take a deep breath, dropping my shoulders.

<<It’s something so complicated, and I am starting to feel like I’m dragging you lot along with me on a path that I myself don’t want to take. But, at the same time, part of me wants to go on. Hell, it’s all so confused in my mind that I really cannot decide what the best course of action would be. Should I go on with this “trial” thing, and basically accept a task that has been suddenly forced onto me? Or should I go along with Marica’s suggestion and report all matters to the Guild? And what if things go badly? I mean, I am not doing this alone, you lot are with me and could end up suffering any bad decision or mistake I make>>

I go on and on, venting my doubts about what happened, what we’re doing here. Retel simply walks by my side, as I voice my fears about leading them all into danger.

<>

Retel shakes his head.

<>

His remark makes me snicker a bit. Really, it should not be something to laugh about, you know?

In the end, he really managed to cheer me up a bit. Step after step, he took the conversation from my nervous overthinking to silly jokes and locker room talk.

It was refreshing, and I really needed a good laugh.

More than that, our little chat made me realize how much Retel cares for the people around him.

He’s always there, acting like a jolly guy who jokes around, but he’s clearly feeling the tension that grew within our group, and he’s trying his best to not make our party drift apart.

Seriously, we need to have a big talk about things.

My reasoning is interrupted by a signal from Navi’s detection.

Monsters are approaching. A small group of five, moving fast in our direction.

I alert the others and prepare for the incoming battle.

I wonder how it is to explore this Dungeon without any detection skill, fearing an ambush every step. It truly must be a dreadful experience.

The monsters are now in our field of vision.

They look like large cats, with black fur and brazen eyes. Their levels ranging from eight to eleven, the monsters move swiftly inside the large hallway.

However, we are not their target.

Moving with feline agility, they surround a lone Ash Turtle, attacking it in turns.

A predatory scene. The cat-like monsters slowly whittle down the resilient turtle, who is too slow to keep up with their attack. In a matter of minutes, the turtle lies dead, and the cats start gorging on the carcass.

It seems nature finds its course even inside a Dungeon.

We try to avoid the monsters, distracted by their meal. However, as we come near them they start attacking, perhaps thinking that we’re aiming to steal their prey.

With their agility and swiftness, the monsters prove a bit difficult to deal with. Relentlessly, they evade our attacks and retaliate quickly.

In the end, we manage to emerge victorious, mostly thanks to Retel’s automatic counter-attack skill.

Still, no one raised their level after the battles we fought. I hope that our growth in that regard does not come to an alt due to the incremental EXP needed to level up.

We leave the room, delving into the intricate succession of winding hallways and identical large chambers.

As we progress towards the fifth floor’s center section, the number of hallways and corridors we encounter slowly decreases.

On the other hand, the chambers and rooms we find seem to increase in number, until the layout becomes a succession of chambers connected by short corridors, branching from a single room and connecting several others together.

Most of the corridors lead to chambers with no exit, some of them hosting monsters or some rare materials.

Inside one of such rooms, we find the remains of a long time deceased adventurer.

As we come near the body, Marica suggests us to collect the bones and equipment.

<>

I nod to her suggestion and start to collect the remains. After that, we explored some more rooms before stopping for a quick lunch.

After eliminating all the monsters in the surroundings, we decided to make camp inside one of the dead-end rooms.

As I prepare lunch, I take this occasion to make things clear with the others. I owe it to them, after all.

First, I explain again all my situation. I thin it’s about the third time I do so, but…this time I do not leave anything out of the story.

Every little detail, from my meeting with the God after my death, to my sudden awakening in this world.

No matter how many times I tell this story, it all seems so crazy and nonsensical.

This time, I use Navi to confirm every step of my story. Apparently, the little thing has some kind of limited memory-sharing option, of all things.

It would have been really helpful if she told me from the start…

Still, for good measure, I include even Heod in this discussion. Overusing Navi’s functions is making my head spin a bit, but I will endure.

After all, I need to be completely honest with my companions this time. Previously, I thought about having this discussion outside of the Dungeon, but I changed my mind.

First, because if someone decides to leave the group, this is the best time. Since we’re still in one of the earliest levels it will be easier for them to reach the surface, if that’s what they want.

But the main reason is…because I want to hear what my companions want to do. Even if Retel reassured me of his and Levia’s intentions, I still want to hear them say it to me.

Probably, Marica will be one leaving us behind. I do not know her motives for being an adventurer, but she’s made it clear what she thinks about all this situation.

As I talk, I often take glances to her. She seems more and more nervous as I speak. Although, I still hope that she sticks with us in the end.

Suddenly, I feel a cold touch to my neck.

A blade is grazing my skin. How…

<<We’ve found them. Report to the Guild>>

A gritting voice from behind my back, belonging to the one holding his blade against my neck.

Out of thin air, a man materialized behind my back. I did not sense him, not in the slightest. What the hell is going on here?

On the other side of the room, three more are coming towards us. All of them are clad in light metal armor. I cannot see their faces, since the helms they’re wearing cover their features.

<<Hey, what is the meaning of this?>>

Retel jumps to his feet, brandishing his spear towards the intruders.

<<Relax, boy. We came here in response to your companion’s distress signal. We’re with the Guild>>

As the man says so, I turn my head to Marica.

She’s looking down, trying to avoid my gaze.

<<I’m…I’m sorry, everyone. I was the one that called them>>

So, that’s why she left this morning, and she was behaving oddly all the time. To think that she went and called the Guild on her own, even when we agreed to wait.

Unbelievable. Her words leave me speechless. Not even anger is crossing my mind, just a cold, crushing sense of disappointment.

To think that she would go on her own and call the Guild on me…

<>

I try to get up, but the man behind me pushes me down.

As Retel and Levia try to grab their weapons, the man’s companions move quickly to disarm them.

Holding my companions down on the ground, the two man tie their hands with some sort of shackles.

This is really bad…

<>

As the man holding me speaks, one of his companions pulls out a small blue orb from a pouch that’s hanging on his waist.

The sphere glows, an intense light that paints the world around us in a light shade of blue. As the light grows more and more intense, the surroundings begin to twist and shake, disappearing into the swirling light.

[Navi: Warning- Unauthorized transfer: Unable to Resist. Leaving Dungeon (5th floor) Entering Sendria Guild Headquarters]

The world turns and twists into swirling blue light, until the shape of a room begins to form into view, first translucent then progressively more solid, more real.

After roughly thirty seconds, we are inside the room, far away from the Dungeon.

[Navi: Warning- Roshal left the Dungeon. Marked by Ashes-Effect activated. Intense pain- If Roshal does not return to the Dungeon in the next hour, the effect -Death Penalty will be applied. Hang on, Master!]

As Navi’s message clears from my mind, an intense, burning pain begins to sear my flesh.

I start screaming my lung off, panting for air and shaken by convulsions.

All around me I can feel voices ring in agitation, but the intense pain closes off my senses. I see Retel try to jump to my said, only to be knocked down by one of our captors.

After that, I lost my consciousness.

I do not know how much time passed after that. The only thing I feel is the pain, slowly fading as I regain consciousness.

As I open my eyes again, it takes a few moments before the world comes into focus again.

I am bound by my wrists, chained to the wall.

What the hell is going on? I seem to recognize the surroundings, but…it’s all so confused, so murky in my field of view.

Metal bars are in front of me, and the surroundings are illuminated by the dancing light of a torch. Is this a cage of some sort?

I can feel someone else ‘s presence on the other side of the cage.

<>

My voice comes out weak, almost like a whisper.

<<Oh, it seems he’s awake. You did quite a number there, boy>>

An old woman, donning a dark, long dress is standing right in front of the cell.

<<We’re in the Dungeon. Well, we were supposed to hold you in the Guild’s detention building, but that was impossible due to your…peculiar condition>>

<<So, is this the guy?>>

A man’s voice resounds in the room. As if forming right out of the shadows, he comes towards us. I did not notice him. It’s the second time that Navi’s detection fails today, now that I think about it.

<>

I try to ask them the reason for this kind of treatment. I remember what happened in the Dungeon, we got transported into the Guild after those guys found us, but after that…

<>

As the an shouts, a jolting current runs through my body.

<<Now, now Elith. There is no need to be this harsh with our guest>>

Following the old woman’s sentence, the man, Elith, releases his spell. I take a big, deep breath as the pain from the shock spell fades.

Still shaking, I try to raise my head and look at them.

The old woman is smiling, gazing at me like a child would do with a caged tiger.

<<I’m sorry for this silly man’s rudeness. But, you must understand our circumstances too, boy>>

I snicker to her remark.

<<It’s fine if you don’t feel like talking, boy. After all, we have other ways to achieve the information we want. For example, we could try and question your friends about it. Perhaps we could start with that cute beast-kin girl, what was her name…Levia, am I right?>>

<>

<>

<<Well, you’ve hurt me>>

This time, the old woman laughs to my remark. She shakes her head, letting the cowl that covers her hair sway a little as she moves.

<>

Other candidates. That’s what she said. My eyes widen in surprise after hearing those words.

The old woman’s smile enlarges as she sees my reaction.

<<Oh, you thought to be the only one? Well, sorry to disappoint you. But enough of this talk, already. I want to know your story, before we continue discussing this matter. Would you be so kindly to entertain this old lady here?>>

I have the feeling that her words are not a request, but an order. Besides her, the man named Elith is standing silently, gazing at me with a cold eyes and a harsh expression. It’s almost like those interrogation scenes in movies, where two cops play the nice and bad cop respectively. Only, this is not a movie.

<>

That’s just great. Of course I could not be tied down with simple iron shackles. It got to be some ridiculous thing.

Oh well, let’s play along with this charade.

Again, for the second time today, I go through my story. Every detail, every single fucking step I took in this world. I am already fed up with all of this.

<<Satisfied?>>

I stare at them from within the cage. Although I would gladly beat the shit out of them I feel like even the old granny alone could easily overpower me.

<<Yes, Roshal. I would easily beat you, as you are now>>

The old woman laughs. Is she…

<<Reading your mind? Of course I am. And that’s why I know that you tell the truth, and pose no actual threat to our Guild. But, I was still forced to set up this little show for our audience, since they lack a bit of faith in my words>>

She spoke to me, but her lips did not move. Telepathy, that’s what it is. But I do not understand why she didn’t just tell these things herself instead of resorting to this trick.

As I think so, two more figures emerge from the room. What the hell? Wasn’t my detection ability supposed to work even against skills or magic?

Seeing them, I have the feeling I understand why the old woman used her trick. She does not want them to know of her ability. Although, I might be reading too much into this.

<<Well, time for formal introductions I guess. Roshal, these here are Alvares and Radva, two members of the Triumvirate that governs Sendria. Etiquette would require you to bow before them, but let’s forget that right now. And excuse me if I have not yet introduced myself…>>

She gives a small curtsy, pinching her dress with her fingers and slightly lifting it, like a medieval princess of some sort.

<>

Well, I am not so impressed by the sudden revelation. It was pretty clear to me that the old lady was some sort of big shot. Hell, Headmaster or even president…who cares? They’re still keeping me in chains, for crying out loud!

The other two, Alvares and Radva, are looking straight at me with a stern look on their faces. Feeling their piercing gaze on me, I cower a bit. Their presence is enough to make me understand…these two are dangerous.

I’m unable to even imagine what is going on in their thoughts.

They could be capable of releasing me as well as executing me on the spot, for what I know.

<<Well, now that we’ve made proper introductions, it’s our turn to give a bit of explanation>>

Telesia steps away, as Radva comes near the cage.

He’s a tall man, with a well trained physique despite his age.

With balding gray hair, his look is more befitting of a retired warrior than a politician. Although, perhaps he is both.

His deep voice resounds in the small room, carrying the story he unfolds. About the Dungeon and the trials. And about the people that preceded me in these trials.

He told me about the real purpose behind the Guild. Founded after the Dungeon emerged for the first time, it was an association born by the will of the original Demon Lord that freed Sendria from the invasion of Aldora.

With his dying breath, he ordered the inhabitants of Sendria to protect the Dungeon, as it would be the place where a new Demon Lord would arise and claim power over the Dungeon.

Of course, the people that first founded the Guild kept this as a secret…but not too much.

They left hidden information in documents and stories, hinting at a wonderful possibility.

By conquering the Dungeon, an exceptionally gifted individual could gain unimaginable power. The information was not known to the vast public, but it could be known from old documents and records.

It was all in order to lure those smart enough to find it, to convince them to dive into the Dungeon and attempt to claim the power inside it.

<<That’s how your little magician friend found out about the trials. The information was hidden, but not enough to be buried and never to be found. After all, we needed someone to uncover it>>

All in order to raise a new Demon Lord, the sole existence able to repel the overwhelming power of the Heroes.

But, that plan was too shallow to begin with, and it was abandoned almost immediately for its naivety and inefficacy. Still, the Guild left the information available, since hiding it completely would not have brought any benefit to the Guild itself.

As the first plan was abandoned, they devised a new plan in order to nurture the birth of a new Demon Lord.

Instead of waiting to find someone who could piece together small scraps of information, they decided to let masses of people inside the Dungeon.

This way, some of them could eventually find and pass the trials, thus becoming a full fledged Demon Lord.

And, even if no one managed to succeed in the task, the people that entered the Dungeon could simply raise their levels there, becoming a powerful force in order to oppose the Heroes.

Thus, the Guild became the way it is now, an organization that oversees adventurers.

They built an economy centered around the Dungeon, advertising the wonders and treasures contained inside, waiting for the brave souls who would uncover them.

And so, people flocked to Sendria, following the mirage of richness and fame as they threw themselves inside the Dungeon.

Year after year, numbers of adventurers would fight for their life, growing in power as they advanced inside the Dungeon.

But the Guild’s real purpose was to raise warriors capable of standing their ground against the Aldora kingdom, and, eventually, find some exceptional person who would claim the Demon Lord’s heritage hidden inside the Dungeon.

All in order to oppose the eventual invasion from Aldora Kingdom.

<>

As he speaks, Radva’s voice trembles in anger.

He continues, going on and on about what kind of disaster would be if Aldora conquered these lands, and how dire is this time now that the Heroes and the Aldora Army are moving again.

<<So, all of this, the Guild, the adventurers…all in order to raise a new Demon Lord, bound to help Sendria during times of crisis. If what you say is true…why keep me under arrest? Shouldn’t letting me go be more beneficial to your cause?>>

As I tell him so, Radva’s expression becomes suddenly colder.

<>

He takes a small pause, as if pondering his next words.

<>

The Laughing Man. So…that’s what I will become if I fail the trials. A shiver runs into my spine.

<>

<>

Radva steps away from the cage, nodding to his colleague, Alvares.

The man himself steps towards the cage. Short and fat, with a bald head covered by strange tattoos.

<<So, now you know our motives and intentions. What is left, is to hear your pledge of allegiance>>

His high pitched voice is unpleasant to hear, almost like the disgusted expression painted on his face.

<>

I do not like him, not in the slightest. His mere presence gives a discomforting feeling…

He turns his back to the cage in a pompous motion, lifting his arms up to the ceiling. What the hell is he doing?

<<So, let’s begin>>

Abruptly, he turns his face again to me. His lips move as he’s mumbling something. A weak breeze starts to flow in the small room. Is he about to cast something?

The wind grows stronger, as particles of deep purple light begin to gather around Alvares.

He extend his hands, pointing his index towards me. Translucent snakes leave his hand, glowing purple as they slither in the air, making their way towards me.

I try to move away, struggling against the shackles that bind me. Of course, it is a fruitless effort.

The snakes come close, winding around my legs and arms, biting my flesh as they dissolve into thin air.

It’s not something painful, but my mind is assaulted by an extreme unpleasant sensation. Like being struck by a high fever and nausea at the same time. Cold shivers run through my body, as Alvares’s spell comes to completion.

[Navi: Sigillo di Schiavitù- Unable to resist effect. Effect applied- Bound by the Will]

<<Now, this little spell will ensure your loyal cooperation. First, you will be unable to harm me or the ones inside this room. Just as a precaution, although, with your level, I doubt you will be a threat to any of us. Next, with this little spell of mine, we can track your exact position, everywhere and whenever we want. So, you cannot run, or hide from us. This is just in order to keep you under control. Keep in mind that we could have resorted to other, more unpleasant methods>>

<<Oh, how kind of you all. So kind that it makes me want to puke>>

Alvares laughs at my remark. To him, I must just seem like a caged puppy barking to his master.

<<Well, I do not care how you feel. What I care about is that you do what we request of you. No more, no less>>

He sneers at me with his last sentence. Turning his back, he joins Radva again and the two of them begin to leave the room, beckoning, or perhaps ordering, Telesia to follow them outside.

I can faintly hear their voices as they discuss, however I cannot make what they are saying.

Only me and Elith are left in the room, and I can feel that man’s hostile stare on my skin. And all this is thanks to Marica.

You did a pretty number on me, girl. I feared her doing something like this, perhaps when we reached the safepoint inside the Dungeon.

But instead it was so sudden that it took me by surprise. Hell, I almost died back then, when they forced me to go outside the Dungeon. What the heck was she thinking…

Telesia and the two from the Triumvirate enter the room again. The old lady seems somewhat angry, but her expression shifts into an amiable smile as she starts speaking with Elith.

<<Now, dear, could you release our guest?>>

Did I hear correctly? Are they…letting me go?

<<Madame, are you sure?>>

Elith answers in a gritty and surprised tone.

<<Now, do not question orders, my dear.>>

Shaking his head in disappointment, Elith snaps his fingers. Not only the chains, but the cage also disappears into thin air. Without the restraints to lift me, I fall to the ground, hitting my knees on the rocky floor.

The man himself leaves the room, striding away.

<<So, you’re letting me go>>

She nods, smiling.

Telesia invites me to follow her outside the room. According to what she says, we are inside the first floor. After my fit when I was transported outside of the Dungeon, they had to relocate me in order to not let me die. That happened three days ago. Three whole days I spent in that cell, senseless…and that was from being out of the Dungeon for no more than an hour. And that leaves me with six days to start the second trial. During this time, I will need to traverse the Dungeon again and locate the trial. Things are looking very dire for me…

As we walk, she gives me some more information about what happened with the other “candidates”. It seems that out of the seven, only me and the Laughing Man were otherworlders. The others were just adventurers, strong enough to pass the first trial with their own power. But, in the end, their strength was not enough to let them survive or keep their sanity.

Apparently, that Leidus guy is the reason that compelled them to bind me with a spell. They left him unchecked, following Alvares’s suggestion, and the adventurer lost his sanity, proclaiming himself a Demon Lord and hiding inside the Dungeon. There, he formed a small cult and began attacking and killing other adventurers in his delirium of omnipotence.

<<So, you knew what was happening there all along?>>

Telesia does not answer my question.

Of course they knew…and they acted only when everything was made public. Seriously, there is something really wrong with this organization.

Telesia continues her explanation, telling me about how Alvares proposed to dispose of me. I have the slight feeling that she’s telling me to keep wary of him.

Well, she’s only voicing what I already felt when meeting the man himself. And I fear his little spell may be something more sinister than just a localization spell. I will have to find a way to get rid of it.

Led by the old woman, I traverse the small section of the Dungeon until we enter another small room. There, Heod, Retel and Levia are waiting for me.

I smile when I see them, unharmed.

Marica is not there. I expected so, given that all of this situation is due to her actions.

Telesia waits near the door as I reunite with my companions. Levia hugs me, while Retel smiles from a distance. I feel like his smile is a bit forced, perhaps he’s sad about Marica leaving the group?

Old Man Heod is checking me, asking if I feel well, if I ate enough…hell, he even brought food and drinks for me, fearing that the Guild would leave me to starve inside the cell.

Gladly, I accept the food.

As I am munching on the delicious sandwich Heod prepared, I notice…

Besides my companions, another person is in the room. A plain looking boy with short brown hair and a stern facial expression.

He is sitting in a dark corner of the room, staring at us with a bored expression. Donning a dark brown leather armor, he seems a bit older than me.

Telesia clears her throat to claim attention.

<>

She introduces the boy in the room with us. Apparently, the Guild decided to send one of their most promising young adventurers with us, in order to strengthen our group.

They especially chose an adventurer whose level was near ours, but the individual himself possess some incredible abilities, according to Telesia.

During the introduction, our new “companion” just stood silent.

He’s a level eleven adventurer, specialized in melee combat. His name is Dahl.

<>

Saying so, Telesia hands us a small blue orb. According to her, that is a priced item, called Transfer Orb. Using it, we will be able to travel directly to the sixth floor’s entrance, thus saving time in our exploration.

Inside the room, the Guild prepared all of our equipment and some provisions for the expedition. More than that, they left detailed maps and the supposed location of the second trial.

The tenth floor.

After a brief explanation of the items the Guild left us, Telesia bids us farewell and leaves the room

<<Be wary of Alvares, he is plotting something>>

A voice resounds in my head…

Great, that’s exactly what I needed right now, since having basically a death timer on my head was not enough, I will also have to deal with some sort of conspiracy.

We stay a bit more inside the room, as I go through all that has happened to me while I was imprisoned by the Guild.

The situation we’re in is not so different from before, at first glance. I still need to do this damned trial, but now we have less time at our disposal.

Although, it could all have gone much, much worse for us.

Before going again into the Dungeon I try to contact Marica with Navi’s communication system.

It seems she scurried away as soon as she saw me collapse inside the Guild’s headquarters.

Apparently, she has not contacted the group since, and she’s not answering me either.

Perhaps she’s feeling bad for what she did, and she does not want to face us right now.

Like hell I’m letting things go like this. Although our situation right now is like it is due to her meddling, I do not want to leave her behind.

She’s been a valuable companion, and I want to give her a second chance.

Even if she is not answering me, I can still track her position using Navi…

Since she’s outside the Dungeon, I send Retel to bring her here. Even by force, if necessary.

We wait, almost an hour goes by before Retel comes back with her.

She enters the room, staring down as not to meet my eyes.

An awkward silence falls between us, as the girl fidgets, unable to speak her mind.

I decide to make the first move, and go near her. Lifting her chin with my hands, I force her to look me in the eyes.

<>

I say, with a tired smile.

I could be behaving in a different way, letting myself to be angry at her, driving her away from the group. But, that would not benefit any of us.

Right now, I need all the help and support that I can get. Both for surviving, and for my well being as well. Although we’ve had some bickering, I enjoyed having Marica around.

And I owe her, since she saved our lives in the Dungeon when we were being attacked by Leidus’s group.

So, it’s only natural for me to forgive her.

As she hears my words, she start crying, pouting apology after apology with her voice broken. She tells how badly she felt after the Guild basically kidnapped me, that I was right to not want to involve them.

We go on with our little reunion, as we try to convince Marica to travel with us again.

After resisting a bit, spouting some nonsense like she does not deserve to be with us again or something like that, Retel finally manages to persuade and reassure her.

Her presence is important for us as a whole, but the one that looks more satisfied by her presence is Retel himself.

I smile while looking the two of them clumsily chat. It’s an heartwarming scene, and right now I really need a bit of positive things around me.

After all, the world cannot just be darkness and relentless battles.

We take a bit more leisure before preparing ourselves to head into the Dungeon again. Taking the provisions offered by the Guild, and some more that Heod brought with him, we complete our preparations.

But, we cannot just sit idly here for too long. Time is ticking for me, for us, and so we need to once again dive into the Dungeon.

Bidding farewell to the old man, we activate the Transfer orb as soon as he leaves the room.

The sudden sensation of movement is a bit nauseating, and the blue light swirling around does not make things easier.

In front of our eyes, the room fades into blue light, and from it, the familiar environment of the fifth floor appears.

Once again, we resume our march.

The transfer orb transported us inside a large room. In the farthest wall, there is a circular opening in the rock.

That’s where we’re headed, since from there, we can descend into the sixth floor.

Delving inside the aperture in the wall, we walk down the staircase carved in rock. As we descend, the temperature starts increasing, more and more.

The air is becoming difficult to breathe, and I start sweating profusely.

When the staircase ends, we step foot into the sixth floor’s first room.

According to the guild’s maps, the floors below the fifth one have a similar organization. Right after the entrance, a large chamber, devoid of monsters, awaits. It is called an Antechamber, and it’s the first step into the level.

After the Antechamber, what awaits us is the usual mess of winding paths and small chambers interconnected one to another, leading to the central portion of the floor.

Unlike the floors above, from the sixth floor onward every central portion hosts a large room, where a strong monster, called Champion resides.

In special floors, like the tenth, twentieth and so on every ten levels, the Champion is called Guardian, and is exceptionally strong.

And, according to the info relayed by the Guild, what awaits me in the second trial is exactly the Guardian residing in the tenth floor.

This will be a difficult challenge, without any doubt.

But we need to press on.

The Antechamber is huge, and it takes some time before we actually manage to traverse it. The surrounding environment is so different from the fifth floor.

Instead of a barren, charred landscape, here in the sixth floor we are inside a lush, tropical forest, complete with trees and intricate undergrowth.

All around us, the plants and fruits seem to be useful ingredients for alchemy or other kind of preparations.

But, no monsters in sight. At least, not yet.

We cannot spend too much time collecting materials here, so we need to limit our gathering and just move on from the room.

As we exit the Antechamber, what lies in front of our eyes is beyond comprehension. Instead of the usual succession of narrow hallways and rooms, a proper forest is right in front of us.

The rock walls of this level extend for more than a hundred meters in height, reaching so high that the ceiling is barely visible from down under.

The trees themselves act as walls, barring the way as their erratic growth gives birth to proper corridors and rooms.

From all around us, sounds of wildlife perched inside the vegetation resound in the air.

In this kind of environment, who knows how many beasts are lurking beneath the trees, and the terrain itself will prove to be dangerous, since many plants and trees could be poisonous.

<<So, this is the sixth floor. It’s different from what I imagined>>

Retel mutters to himself as he looks around in wonder.

Still, there’s no time to just sit here and look at the pretty forest.

We need to traverse this level, and fast.

Re:Interference Chapter 12- Ash Guardian

The fifth floor’s entrance is right in front of our eyes.

The first chamber, a large, circular room, is ridden with the charred remains of vegetation, twisted trunks rising up from the blackened ground.

All around us, snow-like particles float in the air, and a the persistent, pungent smell of smoke can be felt in each breath.

I extend my hand to touch the gray flakes that fly around, swept by a hot breeze that comes from the inner chambers of this floor. The flake crumbles in my hand, becoming a thin gray powder.

<<This is cinder>> I mutter, looking around into the charred room.

<<Yes, this fifth floor is called the Ash Field. It’s the natural environment here, a charred wasteland>>

Says Marica, shaking off the ashes from her coat. The falling cinder gives an eerie, sad feeling to this place. Red crystals shine their flame-like light, burning hot in the distance.

<<Fire Crystals…this is…unusual>>

Marica’s remark makes me curious. Emerging from the rocks, small clumps of red crystals are emanating a crimson light around the room, painting the surrounding environment in an eerie atmosphere.

<<Why are these unusual?>>

I ask to the magician, while I kneel down to examine one of the crystal formation.

Although it’s similar in structure to those crystals we found in the upper floor, the resemblance is only superficial. First, the Fire Crystals are emanating heat.

The air above them dances as it is distorted by heat, and I cannot bring my hand to touch them because of the excessive temperature emanating from them.

As I look closer at them, I can see the thin but persistent flow of mana, slowly seeping out of the crystals as it disperses into thin air.

<<These are basically clumps of mana. They are commonly described in the old records about the Dungeon, but…since the Dungeon has been under management, there has been not a single sighting of these things>>

And yet, here they are, right in front of us. Perhaps it is our luck, they surely will be a valuable item to collect and sell outside of the Dungeon…

As I try to harvest them using Black Fluid, the crystals immediately explode. The blast is not enough to inflict damage, but man, it did scare me for good.

<<It’s better to leave them be. Basically, they are clumps of natural mana that take the form of crystals. This makes them highly volatile, prone to explode at the slightest perturbation in the mana near them. To make things worse, it is reported that their instability becomes even worse when exposed to the surface’s air and sunlight. In short words, it’s useless to collect them>>

Following Marica’s remark, I walk away from the crystal’s remains. Useless, but they still make a pretty view…

We continue our advance inside the room. The first part is completely clear, but, as we come near the room’s end, there are recent signs of battle around.

No monsters in sight inside this room, but some stripped remains can be seen. Their bodies already covered in a thin layer of ash, it seems these monster have been killed recently.

<<Perhaps…the group that was ahead of us in the fourth floor?>>

We did take a longer route in order to avoid them, so it is possible that they entered the fifth floor before us.

Still, this new floor is really big, so it should be possible for two groups to hunt without interfering with each other.

As we thread on the ash covered soil, I use my new sonar skill to check the path ahead.

The sole corridor stemming from the large first chamber splits into two pathways, left and right.

From my skill’s signals, it seems that the left path has already been cleared out, as numerous monster corpses lay in that direction. Perhaps, that’s where the other group went.

The right path is still untouched, brimming with monsters whose level ranges between six and ten. It should be easy to deal with them.

So, we decided to start our hunt inside the right path.

Unlike the first four floors, here in the fifth even the corridors and pathways are pretty large, spanning several meters of width with high ceiling of barren, charred rock.

From them, the ash falls down, painting the burned soil with its cinder color.

We engage our first battle in this fifth floor. Against us, a small group of humanoid-like monsters.

Ash Servants, that’s what they are called.

Gaunt, children-like bodies the same color of cinder, with empty eye-sockets in their face, where a red, ember like light burns where the eyes should be.

Their skin is crossed by veins glowing in red, almost like their blood is made with flame.

They crawl on the floor, moving like animals while making a sinister wailing noise.

It’s a sight straight out of a horror movie…

<<Oh! Those are Ash Servants! Don’t worry, they are harmless…>>

Marica does not even manage to end her sentence. As soon as one of the monsters spots us, it lets out a piercing shriek from its tooth less mouth, its jaw gaping to an unnatural angle.

Quickly, they rush to attack us. Unlike the monsters from the floors above, it seems these possess some kind of coordination and intelligence, since they split off and try to flank us.

Although their frame is small, these things are quick and nimble. They jump at us, trying to slash with the long claws on their hands.

Still, we manage to fend off their assault, taking them down one by one. As we kill them, the light burning in their eyes and veins goes off, and the monsters crumble into piles of ash.

<<What the heck just happened here? These are supposed to be tame, for God’s sake!>>

Marica shouts in agitation.

<<Well, it seems they aren’t>>

She scoffs at my remark, crossing her arms while assuming a thoughtful expression.

<<It’s not so simple. I’ve been to this floor before, this path was safe to use. Heck, I’ve even see those type of monsters play with the adventurers, almost like tamed animals. Some even actually tamed the Ash Servants, using them as pets. Never, in all the time I spent being an adventurer, I have heard even the slightest rumor about adventurers attacked by Ash Servants>>

And that’s the second strange thing we encountered…coincidence, perhaps, but a bad feeling starts to linger in my mind.

Still, what is done is done. As the monsters have not left behind anything but ashes, it should be impossible to recover something useful from them.

Or at least, that’s how it looks from a superficial analysis.

As I take a pinch from the ash pile, Navi’s analysis reveals several useful properties of the thin dust.

Checking things with Heod, it seems that this ash can be used to produce and refine several alchemical components.

According to him, these ashes could be considered a high class ingredient, but instead are rarely harvested from the Dungeon.

That’s because you need a lot of it in order to process it, something like ten kilograms of ash to produce five hundred grams of finished reagent.

In short words, the trouble of harvesting enough quantity to make a profit is too much, and so adventurers do not usually bother harvesting this material.

Usually, that is. Since I have no problem concerning the quantity of things I can carry, thanks to my cheat-like inventory skill, we can hoard these ashes and bring them to Heod for processing.

Another troublesome aspect of fighting these monsters is…they did not give any experience as we killed them. So, it is really wasted effort to fight and kill these things.

Well, now I know why the other party avoided this route. It is supposed to be a safer route, but it is longer than the other path, and there is basically no possibility of obtaining good loot or experience here.

But, since we’re here, let’s just continue on our path, maybe we’ll find something as we proceed.

After collecting all the materials, we push on inside the passage, making our way inside the passage. We encounter several other groups of Ash Servants, but they all behave the same way as those before. In short, they attack us.

Although their level is fairly low, these monsters are troublesome to deal with.

It’s because the monsters here possess something dreadful.

Intelligence.

They coordinate their attacks, set up ambushes and traps. Some groups are even smart enough to retreat and regroup with others of their kind as soon as some of them fall.

Luckily, it’s not something that we cannot manage, since we can avoid traps and ambushes by using my detection skill.

But, it gives me something to think about…if here, in a floor that can be considered “beginner level” the monsters already behave like this, what kind of battles await us in the lower levels of this Dungeon?

And to think that these Ash Servants were supposed to be harmless…hell, they attack us every single time…although, from battle to battle, I have the strange feeling that they are attacking me more than the others…perhaps it’s just my imagination. Yes, it must definitely be…

With our current strength we can manage well enough against these monsters, but…is it enough?

Given how the difficulty went straight up from the fourth floor, where the monsters acted alone and without showing any kind of strategy, to here, where they coordinate their attacks and plan properly…perhaps we are underestimating this place a bit?

Still, those are thoughts for a later time. For now, we still overpower the enemies, although with greater effort than before.

Perhaps I am just overthinking things, and we will manage fine even in the lower floors by just being more careful.

I hope so, sincerely.

Letting my troubles aside, I prepare the first strike on a group of monsters nearby.

As we are concealed by Marica’s magic, the group of creatures did not notice our presence.

[Navi: Detected- Ash Wolf x 5 (lvl 8)]

With their gray fur constantly dissolving into cinder, these wolf-like creatures look really intimidating.

Apparently, they are somewhat related to the Red Wolves I fought the first time I met Retel and Levia, as they possess the same skills as the Red Wolves.

Their appearance is also really similar.

It’s like in those games, where some monsters are just the re-skinned version of the same model…

<<Are those too supposed to be harmless?>>

I slightly tease Marica, to ease the tension a bit. In truth, I am bothered by what she said about the Ash Servants…I really have a bad feeling.

<<No, those are nasty dogs. Watch out, they might bite you>>

She replies, sticking out her tongue in a somewhat cute insult.

Still, we cannot take too much leisure and play around…the wolves spot us, launching an attack as they howl.

The enemies are of the fast and nimble type, so our best strategy is to prevent their movement before using the decisive strike.

We basically devised a standard strategy against this kind of enemy.

First, I use Black Fluid to encroach them, making the skill burst from the ground and holding the enemies down with the tentacles.

At the same time, Marica uses her freeze-fireball combo spell on the area. The surviving monsters are dealt by Levia and Retel, if the need arises.

We deal with the wold pack as expected.

The monsters, kept in place by my skill are severely weakened by Marica’s attack and finished off by Levia.

Retel did not even get any action this time. Well, it’s a good thing, even if he seems a bit disappointed by the lack of action…

He immediately regrets it, however. Another group of wolves is charging at us, attracted by the sounds of battle and the wailing cries of the other wolves.

I manage to restrain some of them, however two wolves manage to evade my skill and push through our group.

Marica is still recovering her strength she spent using the spell, so the wolves aim at her, since she’s in a weakened state.

Retel jumps in, intercepting the wolf’s attack with his shield.

While me and Levia deal with the rest of the wolf pack, he single-hand defeats two wolves.

Smiling, he turns his face to Marica, extending a hand to help her up.

I divert my eyes from the two of them flirting lightly.

Well, go for it Retel, I am rooting for your success! Still, I would appreciate if you kept the flirting for another time and place…

We wait enough for Marica to replenish her mana again.

It seems that the spells she uses take a heavy toll on her if used repeatedly like she’s been doing.

<<Please, be more careful. You can rely on us, no need to over exert yourself>>

Levia tells her with a concerned voice.

<<Yeah yeah I know…it’s just…I can’t help to act this way>>

Marica snickers a bit, shaking her head.

<<You scolded me with the same exact words my old party leader used>>

She’s still smiling, but I can see a glint of sadness in her eyes.

<<Well, enough rest for now. Shall we go?>>

Without waiting for our reply, she starts walking towards the corridor’s end. Levia gives a light push to Retel’s back, as if to encourage him to go after Marica.

We follow them, keeping a bit of distance to let the two talk. Seriously, we’re taking too much leisure here…

<<So…it seems our dangerous Dungeon expedition just turned into a nice stroll>>

I say as I walk beside Levia. She laughs a bit, holding her hand in front of her mouth in a cute gesture.

<<But, they are a bit cute, don’t you think? I mean, Retel is a bit too oblivious and clumsy, but I never saw him spend so much time with a girl before…>>

<<Yes he is a bit clumsy…still, you can’t help it…for a boy his age, women are a mystery after all>>

Hell, I am really talking like an old man here…

<<For a guy his age…ah, yes. I sometimes forget all that stuff about you being actually older than us…I mean, it’s a bit confusing with all that “I am from another world” thing and such, also you don’t really act like an older person, it’s so easy to get along you that I always consider you to be same age as us….uhm, I never asked…but how old are you, really?>>

Her question makes me smile a bit. I guess I never really talked with my companions about my previous life…

<<Old enough. I was forty-two years old when I died. Gosh, when I think back about that time, about that world…it surely was different from here>>

And so, I took the leisure to chat a bit with Levia about myself and my previous life.

About the city I lived in, the soft breeze of the ocean that sometimes swept the walkway besides the port.

Of the car, racing on the road, with their light shining in the night as they made way through buildings high enough to reach the sky.

She marveled when I mentioned airplanes, her eyes sparkling at the notion of flight.

We took our sweet time before catching up with Marica and Retel, with me still going on, lost in remembrance.

Eventually, the other two join in our conversation, fascinated by tales of a world they could never imagine. As the room we’re in is relatively safe, we decide to make a small break as I finish my tale.

<<So, a world without magic? I find it hard to believe>>

Marica is a bit skeptic about my tale. But to think that, among all I said, the absence of magic in my world is what is troubling her…

As I voice my thoughts on her reaction, she just lifts her shoulder.

<<I mean, it’s not like I do not believe that you came from another world. After all, magical theory admits the possibility of travel between worlds…there are even the legends about Aldora kingdom’s Heroes coming from other worlds. But I cannot imagine a world where there is no magic. I mean, magic is the law of nature itself, a world without it would be simply…wrong>>

<<But…you do believe me when I say that I come from another world, right?>>

<<Not at all. Don’t get me wrong, I think you’re a nice person and a good comrade. But I also think you’re a slightly touched in the head. No offense>>

She’s really the straightforward honest type uh…well, no matter. It’s not like I have any proof of my claim, really, since I do not posses items or other things that prove the fact that I came from another world.

Hell, I’ll think the same if someone else just came and told me something like this. I decide to let it go, for the moment.

<<So, enough of this talk for today. We’ve taken a bit of leisure, but we need to resume our Dive>>

Clapping her hands together, Marica invites us to resume our march.

She makes a point here… although it was really pleasant, we’ve wasted too much time chatting.

Resuming our exploration routine, we advance inside the long passage. After a while, the passage gives way to another large room.

Almost twice as big as the entrance room, this one is literally bursting with Ash Servants.

Divided into groups of five/ eight individuals, they are roaming around the room, harvesting the Fire Crystals that illuminate the area.

Among them, we can see some taller monsters. Their appearance is that of gaunt humans, with ashen skin and brazen eyes.

They wear pelts, probably from Ash Wolves, and hold crude weapons made with sharpened bones. One in particular is standing out among the others.

Wearing a white mask, it seems he’s giving orders to the other monsters around him.

A long, white staff lies in his hands, giving off a crimson light from the Fire Crystal embedded on the staff’s tip.

My heart skips a beat when the…thing turns towards us. He saw us, even if Marica’s spell should have rendered us invisible.

Roaring furiously, the thing sends his underlings to attack.

More than forty monsters are charging at us…this is too much to deal with!

<<Fuck! There’s too many of them, run!>>

Immediately, we bolt as fast as we can into the passageway that we just came from.

I can hear the monsters’ footsteps coming closer and closer…shit, they are fast!

Fighting them out in the open would be a really, really bad choice. So, it’s better for us to retreat into the tunnel, which looks a bit more defensible.

Although the monsters’ numbers overwhelm us, we might be able to win if we play our cards well.

First, we need to divide them somehow. Dealing with them in small groups will definitely increase our chances of victory.

As we run into the tunnel, I let the front of the monster horde follow us inside. After that, I immediately wall off the tunnel with Black Fluid, thus trapping a small number of monsters inside with us.

Next, it’s all left to my companions. Holding the barrier is taking all my strength away, but I need to endure this.

The small group of Ash Servants immediately start to attack us, but they are easily dealt with by Retel and Levia.

<<Marica, freeze the ground right before the wall!>>

This should help to slow their advance when I release the wall. As the group of monsters has been dealt with, we fall back and prepare for another wave.

I undo the first wall and prepare another, using the same strategy as before. As expected, the frozen and slippery ground slows the monster’s advance, and we can use this opportunity to kill some more of them.

We repeat the same strategy again and again, but there seems to be no end to the constant assault.

A bad feeling begins to take hold of me…

Using Navi, I try to assert the situation outside the tunnel. There are no more monsters coming from the room, however…the ones we took out are being resurrected.

I can even see it happen right besides us. From one of the ash piles left behind by one monster we just killed, another monster emerges.

If it continues like this, we will be tired out and overwhelmed.

Hell, what could we do in this situation…perhaps, if killing them does not solve the problem, we could try something else.

Using Navi, I transmit my plan to my companions.

After dealing with the last Ash Servant in our section of the tunnel, Levia and Retel run away while Marica starts to chant a spell.

The plan is simple. Marica will lock the tunnel by making an ice wall. To do so, I release the water I stored inside my inventory, making it pour on the Black Fluid wall.

Slowly, Marica’s spell forms an ice wall, thick enough to block the monsters’ advance for a bit.

The next step is letting the Black Fluid wall collapse on the monsters, and immediately activate the absorption ability.

It is a success. The struggling monsters make it really hard for me to control the skill, but in the end they succumb to Black Fluid. With this, a considerable number of them is gone.

Just as we thought about having won this battle, the ice wall made by Marica shatters.

Other monsters have pushed through, scaling the walls to avoid the Black Fluid that covers the floor.

The move like spiders, clinging to the vertical wall and even the ceiling.

Among them there are the taller, weapon wielding monsters we saw before.

According to Navi, those are called Ashen Warriors. There are ten of them in total, their levels ranging between eight and ten.

What’s troublesome about them, however, is a skill they possess. By their presence alone, they seem to have some kind of empowering effect on their lesser brethren, buffing their strength and making them more aggressive.

I don’t get it…why are those elite monsters coming out now of all times…they would have had better chances if they led the initial charge…

The battle against the reinforced Ash Servants and Ash Warriors continues, as we whittle them down enough to weaken them. One by one, I use Black Fluid to absorb them, while keeping the others at bay.

It’s strange, but with each monster absorbed I am not getting any skill. Hell, I am not even getting healed from it…what the hell is going on?

It seems like we dealt with all of them. No more monsters are coming from the room, so we just take a moment of respite, crushed by fatigue.

Levia is tending to Marica and Retel’s wounds, while I sit on the ground, catching my breath.

Still, this was…strange.

Not only the way that those things attacked made no sense to me, but…the fact that we did not get any experience from killing them, and also absorbing them with Black Fluid did not yield anything…it leaves me with some doubts in my mind.

After recovering our strength a bit, we decide to enter the large room once again. Previously bursting with monsters, the room is now empty, silent. Only the ash falling down the ceiling moves, dancing eerily into the red light.

Right at the center of the room, we see the tall, masked monster from before. He’s sitting down, his legs crossed. As if he’s waiting…perhaps, for us?

He notices us. This time, there is no piercing screech. The monster simply stares at us, calm in his position.

I widen my eyes in surprise as I see Navi’s information about the monster. It has a name.

Thal, the Ash Guardian.

His level is ten, but, somehow, this monster gives me the feeling of something far stronger than what his level suggests.

<<Come, oh child that walks the path of Daemons>>

Huh? A strange voice rings in my head…what is happening?

<<Come, let us test your worth>>

Suddenly, the monster named Thal rises from his position. Standing tall, he grabs his staff, slamming it into the ground.

As the staff impacts the floor, it releases a shock-wave, hurling me and my friends away. The ash covering the soil starts swirling in the air. From it, the form of Ash Servants and Ashen Warriors emerge.

Quicker than I would expect, they launch themselves towards our group. Ignoring me, they seize my companions, knocking them out on the spot.

They hold them, as the Ashen warriors point their bone spears to them, ready to strike.

I freeze on the spot. If I move, they will be killed right in front of me.

<<Your companions will be killed, unless you manage to defeat me here and now. If you try to free them, they will be killed. If you try to run away, they will be killed. If you do not fight, they will be killed. If you lose…>>

<<Yeah! I get it! Come then!>>

<<Such rudeness…as expected of a candidate Lord. But, will your arrogance be the same, without the gift that has been bestowed unto you?>>

Once again, Thal strikes his staff on the ground. This time, the crystal embedded on the staff’s tip shines red, and a crimson circle ripples on the ground. The ash swirls again, and envelops the entire room .

As if inside a sandstorm, the ash clouds the air, choking my breath…I feel my strength fade away.

It lasts for less than two seconds. The ash-storm subsides, and as the room returns to its normal condition. As I turn around to check my companions, however, I see that a small ring of floating ash is swirling around them.

<<What have you done to them?>>

Shouting in rage, I face the monster.

<<Only a little trick, to ensure no interference happens during our little test>>

What the hell is happening here…still, if all I need to do to get out of this mess is kill the Ash Guardian…

I start my attack, immediately using Black Fluid to quickly finish the monster.

<<Huh?>>

The skill did not activate.

I try again and again but…no response whatsoever.

Not even from Navi…nothing.

The monster laughs behind his white mask.

<<So, without the power bestowed unto you, a simple man against a monster. With the ones you care for bound and in danger, will you steel your hand and fight? Or will you fall…such is the trial that a Lord must face…>>

I must admit, this situation is really becoming too dangerous. No option to run, and my friends are being held hostage…

I do not even have the time to think. The monster named Thal starts attacking me with his staff. I try to avoid the blow but…I am too slow.

Why? It should not be like this…it’s almost like I lost the effect that STATS have on my physical abilities.

As I try to retaliate with a punch, I have the definitive confirmation of my doubt. The punch simply does no damage to the monster. My STATs are really gone!

With a kick, Thal sends me flying. I land on the hard floor, rolling in pain.

Again and again, the monster hits me. I am not able to defend, ending up in a pitiful state.

<<Weak, disappointing. How can someone claim the Lord’s title, when he cannot even defeat a single foe? Where is your will, child of mankind? Perhaps, you need a bit of…encouragement?>>

As he says so, Thal nods to his servants. A scream resounds in the air, as the monster holding Retel pushes his spear between the gaps of his armor.

<<Now, every time you will fall to your knees, those friends of yours will be hurt. Let’s see if you will put up a better show from now on>>

<<Why…why is this happening? What is the point?>>

I shout in rage, but the monster does not answer and resumes his attacks. I need to think, and quickly.

Counting too much on my skill, I do not even have a weapon with me, since I cannot use my inventory where the weapons I possess are stored.

Bleeding, beaten black and blue, I am at my wit’s end. More than that, every time the monster hits me, Retel, Levia and Marica are getting hurt. Tortured because of my incompetence.

Still, what can I do in this situation? No skills, no weapons to attack.

No places to hide either…although, I really doubt that hiding will prove useful in this situation.

There’s only me, barren rock, monsters and those eerie Fire Crystals…

Yes…those things explode if handled poorly.

If I correctly recall, Marica said that the unstable Fire Crystals explode if the mana around them is perturbed. So, in theory, I should be able to use them, somehow.

Of course, I am not able to use my mana from a distance. But, I have been able to control and infuse mana on near objects, like when I was practicing with the small knife.

I smile a little. This plan I am thinking about might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done…hell, I feel like I’ve already said this phrase to myself too much times since I came into this world.

Now, what I need to do is position myself near the crystals.

There is a formation of them big enough, almost twenty meters away from me on the right side. Avoiding Thal’s attacks as best as I can, I try to move towards the crystals.

I need to do this without the monster realizing what I’m trying to do. So, instead of running straight towards the crystals, I am jumping, tumbling and slipping all around, slowly falling back towards the red formation.

We’re near enough. I am at my limits, but I need to endure.

The Fire Crystals are now behind me, few steps away. I can feel the heat coming from them…now, all I need to do is just lure a single attack from Thal. One more.

Of course, the difficult part comes right after…

As the monster lifts his staff in the air, ready to strike down, I try to look as beat up and tired as possible. I need him to underestimate my remaining strength.

It’s the only possibility left to me.

Staggering, holding my belly with my right hand. Letting my eyes close, as if succumbing to pain and fatigue.

<<Pathetic>>

With his insult, Thal jumps to deliver his final blow.

Mustering all the strength left in me, I avoid his blow, evading to the side as I kick his shin, tripping the monster. At the same time, I grabbed his arm, aiming to throw him down into the Fire Crystals.

Surprised by my sudden counter-attack, the monster does not manage to evade in time, and I successfully manage to throw him down on the Crystals.

Surely, a mere clumsy throw is not enough to defeat this monster. As it falls, I immediately jump on his chest, blocking him down with my weight. Even for a single moment.

After all, a moment is all I need.

I push his face down with my right hand, holding it over the crystals while I let my scarce mana pour from me into the air.

As the mana reacts with the Crystals, a blinding light erupts, followed by the blast. A sharp pain burns in my right hand, as the force of the explosion pushes me away, making me land on my back, hitting the hard rock floor.

The pain is unbearable…my arm shakes and twitches, but I cannot bring myself to watch it, to see what became of my hand.

Still, that blast should have been enough to severely injure the monster…

Or at least, that’s what I thought.

From the smoke left by the explosion, the gaunt figure of Thal emerges. His mask lies on the ground, charred and shattered. However, the monster himself seems unhurt.

<<Clever, but useless>>

Raising his staff, he points it at me.

A blinding light follows, and I feel my body tormented by an intense discharge of pain.

I fall to the ground, shaking uncontrollably as the electric current traverses my body, burning the skin and disrupting my nerves.

Hell, this thing can even use electric magic…this is a little too unfair for my taste.

Struggling to get up again, with smoke rising from my body and my vision clouded, I am almost considering to give up, here and now.

It would be so easy…to just let this end.

Close my eyes, and let the monster give the finishing blow.

Too many times already I have been at exactly this point, unable to fight back in front of an impending doom.

It would be so easy to just let everything go…but I cannot bring myself to do it.

Biting the inner side of my cheek, I struggle again and get up on my feet.

I am staggering, swaying and my body aches basically everywhere. But, I will not give up.

Although…that’s easier said than done. The truth is…I don’t know what to do against Thal.

For an instant, I really thought that my trick with the Fire Crystals did actually get him but…that is not the case here.

Since there are more Crystals scattered around, I could try and to the same thing again, but I really doubt it will be effective for a second time.

As if reading my thoughts, the monster launches a spell, destroying the Crystals that are inside the room. Without the Fire Crystals, the surroundings plunge into total darkness.

With the world around me now devoid of light, panic begins to take hold of me.

Before, I could see the attacks, even avoid them in time.

But now, robbed of my sight…I start to shudder, trembling when confronted with an imminent danger that I cannot see.

The only light left in the room comes from the dozen of eyes staring at me, brazing dots of burning red light, coldly gazing at my demise.

<<Now, devoid of sight…how will you fare into the Darkness?>>

Thal speaks again, his eyes burning bright in the darkness around, as he walks, circling me. Suddenly, the lights are gone.

He closed his eyes, disappearing into the surrounding shadow.

The monster even relinquished his staff, leaving it on the ground.

Of course, it is a trap…perhaps he aims to lure me, thinking that I will rush to take the staff while he waits that moment to strike me…

<<Let us see, oh child of man, if your claim to the Lord’s throne has any worth>>

His voice echoes inside the large room, almost as if thousands of monsters are speaking the same sentence over and over, mocking me as they wait in the shadow…

I cannot feel Thal’s presence.

When will he attack? From where? Behind my back, or will it be from my side?

The loud chattering of monsters makes it impossible for me to hear Thal’s footsteps, thus making me unable to react to his moves.

Suddenly, I’m hit on my shoulder, then comes a blow to my stomach. The strength of it makes me fall, spitting blood on the ground while I squirm in pain.

The monster is resorting to hand to hand combat. Still, even without a weapon, his strength is totally no joke.

What the hell can I do in this situation…

Focus, I need to focus. Lead away unnecessary thoughts, clear my mind.

As if something like that is easy! Numbed by pain and fear, and the constant understanding of my own inferiority in this fight…how the hell am I supposed to calm myself?

Angry, I begin to flail my arms around at the slightest sound. Every time I only hit empty air, with my frustration increasing as the monster mocks me.

His blows are strong, but none of them is decisive.

Almost as if he’s playing around…no, he definitely is.

I mean, Thal could just have ended me many times over.

And yet…now that I think of it, he was blabbering some nonsense about testing me.

Child who walks the path of Demons”…that’s how he called me. And all that nonsense about claiming the Lord’s title and so on. Is this shit happening because of that bogus “ Candidate Demon lord” title that I got?

The fight continues, as a one sided beating, that is.

Still, I struggle with all my willpower to not fall again. Because if I do, it will be the end, not only for me but for my friends also.

I am now bleeding profusely from a wound on my forehead. I can feel the blood flowing from it, hot as it runs down to my eyes, flowing down my cheek and staining my clothes as it falls.

Perhaps, I will pass out soon from the beating. I already feel my consciousness wavering, fading as I sway, struggling to stand on my feet.

Life itself is flowing from me…flowing.

Too concerned about what was happening to me, I failed to notice something during the fight.

Something flowing…from me, from Thal.

Mana. It’s faint, but…every time I move, some of it flows from my body.

That’s how Thal is locating me in this darkness. He senses my mana.

Perhaps…

Yes, now it is clear. As Thal moves, a small amount of mana seeps away from him. Faint, almost unnoticeable if you do not pay attention to it…but it’s there.

I clutch my fists, as I prepare for Thal’s next attack.

Thanks to his mana, I have now a general grasp of his position.

The monster is still quicker than me, but I manage to dodge the blow, albeit with a clumsy movement. Failing the first attack, he immediately changes his stance to strike me with a kick.

Again, I manage to evade. More and more, I am getting a grasp of his movement.

It seems that whenever he is about to attack, the monster concentrates a small amount of mana in his fist, or his leg when he’s going to kick.

There is a small gap of time between the mana flow and the actual attack.

Shit, if I noticed it sooner, I could have surely avoided getting injured so much.

Now, I can properly evade but…for how long? I’m already past my limit here, it’s only a matter of time before I make a mistake or I fall to exhaustion.

To end this, I have to find a way to retaliate against him.

I took too much damage to try and attack him with punches and kicks…hell, even if I was at peak condition Thal would still kick my butt.

Simply, his physical strength and overall martial prowess are way superior to mine, an amateur with the undeveloped body of a fifteen year old boy.

Without my STATS to boost me, I cannot do anything in hand to hand combat.

My skills are also out of order…that leaves me with only one option to attack. I have to use my mana.

I do not have nearly enough control to use a spell, hell, I do not even know any spell or the way to use them…but, I can accumulate mana to a certain degree, and perhaps…obviously it’s a desperate, moronic plan.

The monster will surely find out what I’m trying to do. Even if the doesn’t, it’s unlikely that I will manage to pull this off.

Still, it’s the only card I’ve left to play…

Biting the inner part of my cheek, I force myself once again to endure, evading the attacks as best as I can while I try to collect my mana.

It’s more difficult than I thought. Collecting the mana, controlling its flow feels like scooping up water with my bare hands. I manage to keep some, but most of it flows away.

We go on like this for some minutes, as I concentrate my energy while avoiding the monster’s attacks.

But this is it…I don’t think I will be able to resist anymore. So, I stake it all in one attack.

Waiting for Thal’s attack, I avoid it and punch the monster with my left hand, charged with mana.

I don’t know why, but as I hit Thal’s stomach I think about the magic he used on me earlier.

Most of all, I remember the sensation of it, the discharge flowing through my body, making me unable to move, to think.

I bet my life and that of my companions in this single, clumsy attack.

I manage to hit Thal.

Perhaps he’s underestimating me, or I somehow managed to catch him out of guard, my attack connects, and I release the mana I’ve been accumulating in my hand.

A sparkle of light illuminates the surrounding, for a single moment before the darkness takes hold once again.

The “spell” I used failed. I thought about converting my scarce mana into electricity, aiming to shock Thal and disrupt his movements, but I did not manage to produce the result I wanted.

As I hit the monster, my mana that I’ve been accumulating simply burst out, producing a flash.

It could be considered a failure, but…somehow, it played to my favor.

I don’t know exactly what happened, but as I released my mana, it must have caused some kind of interference with Thal’s own mana.

Yes, that must be the case. Otherwise, I’d have to think about some kind of miracle happening here…

Because, right after I hit the monster…I got my skills back.

Yelling out loud, I activated Black Fluid, striking Thal again and again, piercing his body until my anger was spent.

<<Die, bastard…>>

I spit to the ground, kicking the monster’s body who’s laying lifeless on the floor.

Suddenly, a blinding light erupts from Thal’s body.

All around me, the Ash monsters begin to dissolve into cinder, swirling around in the air. Even Thal’s corpse becomes ashes…don’t know why, but I have a really bad feeling about this.

The ashes scattered in the air converge to a point above my head, condensing into a spherical shape.

When will this shit end…

<<Oh, child of man who walks the path of Daemon…>>

A thunderous voice resounds from the ashen sphere floating in the air…but I ignore it, rushing to my companions. I have other priorities rather than listening to the mumbling of this thing right now.

After drinking a healing potion, I hurry to tend to my injured friends.

Marica and Levia are just unconscious, but Retel is heavily wounded.

I splash a bit of potion directly on his wound, before making him drink the rest of it. He’s weak, but the potion’s effect should be enough to heal him.

Next, I go to Levia and Marica’s side. For good measure, I use potions on them too.

As Levia recovers consciousness, I tell her to hurry off to Retel’s side. The potion I gave him should be enough, but with Levia’s assistance he will heal faster.

Now…let’s see what the hell is going on with this ash ball.

<<Ehi! What the hell was this all about? Answer me!>>

In response to my words, the ball compresses and falls to the ground. It takes a humanoid form…hell, don’t tell me I have to fight again!

<<Child of man who walks the path of Daemons, your trial is complete. Receive the Ash’s blessing, and strive to claim the Lord’s crown>>

The figure that emerged from ashes comes near me. I…cannot move, but somehow I got the feeling that whatever that thing is going to do, it will not attack me. At least, I hope so.

Extending a hand, the thing drags his thumb across my forehead.

<<With this, I anoint you with Ashes. The next trial awaits…oh child of man who walks the path of Daemons>>

The form of ashes scatters once again. From the ground where it stood, a large Fire Crystal emerges, illuminating the room in its crimson light.

No trace of monsters left all around us…it seems this madness really ended.

[Navi: Communication routine restored- Success! Trial of Ashes complete (First Trial)! Obtained Blessing of Ashes: for the next ten days (or until completion of Trial by Fire-Second trial) a health regeneration passive ability is awarded; +15 INT stat bonus awarded (permanent); New skill: Mana Perception, Mana Control, Mana infusion awarded (permanent, passive,not compatible with Integration system).

Acquired Status: Marked by Ashes-Effect: For the next 10 days, or until Second Trial (Trial by Fire) is completed, candidate Roshal cannot leave the Dungeon; Unless Second Trial (Trial by Fire) is started in the next 10 days, a lethal effect will be applied.

Acquired: Crown Fragment (Sendria) 1/100. Congratulations on succeeding in your first step in claiming the Demon Lord’s Crown, Master!]

Huh? What the hell is this “trial” nonsense! Sudden developments like this should happen only in crappy novels or poorly inspired games, right? The hell, it’s basically forcing me to do these “trial things” without me even knowing!

<<Roshal!>>

Hearing my name, I turn around, seeing my companions lined up with preoccupied expressions on their faces.

I scurry to their side. First, I need to check out if they are ok.

However, Marica immediately interrupts me.

<<Hey, care to explain what is going on here? What is this nonsense about trials and Demon Lord thing? Is this some kind of stupid joke?>>

She seems wary of me…wait a moment, did she hear what Navi said to me?

[Navi: Yes Master, to celebrate the completion of the Trial, the joyous news has been broadcast to your minions! All hail the next Demon Lord!]

I just…drop my shoulders. I was taking my sweet time to tell them about this thing, hell, I would even kept it a secret from them, since it’s something really…stupid to say out loud.

But, it seems Navi had a different idea.

And wait, I still do not understand this Navi thing…is she alive, taking decisions and such, or is it just a program? Well, I have more pressing things to think about…

Retel and Levia do not seem too concerned with the news, but…Marica seems really scared.

<<Are…are you serious? You? A Demon Lord?>>

I tell her everything I know about this silly sounding title. How I obtained it, the stuff about the God that brought me here, the Laughing man and such.

Shocked, the magician girl drops to her knees.

<<This, this is madness…tell me, I have gone mad, please…to speak of legendary figures like this, Heroes, Demon lord, even the Laughing Man…he’s a damn story told to scare children, for fuc…for God’s sake!>>

She’s holding her head between her hands, shaking her head in denial. Girl, I should be the one doing this all the time since the first moment I set foot in this world.

<<We…we need to go back, report these matters to the Guild. The Ash servants attacking, that…ambush, the…Demon Lord over there. It’s dangerous, too dangerous to let things go unchecked>>.

Retel shakes his head in denial.

<<I think it’s better for us if we keep this between us, for now. I mean, who knows how the Guild will react if we report? They could even go as far as imprisoning Roshal, or even worse, consider him some sort of threat and…>>

Marica gets up on her feet, shaking.

<<You cannot be serious! Look at all that’s happened here! What if it…damn, we do not even know what is going on here…but this, this is definitely not normal! I tell you, we need to go back ad report to the Guild, ask for their assistance>>

<<Well, it’s not so simple, Marica>>.

Interrupting her sentence, I show them my right palm. On it, a gray mark has appeared.

<<You heard it from Navi, this…marked by ashes something…I cannot leave the Dungeon for the next ten days, and if I do not start this second trial shit in the due time…I will die>>

Telling this out loud makes it sound so stupid…and yet, I fear that is exactly how things are right now.

The discussion between us goes on and on, with tones heating up until we end up yelling at each other.

Infighting is the last thing that we need right now, given the situation.

I try to make Marica reason for a bit, calming her down.

Hell, as if I am calm myself.

This sudden development is really troubling me…I am basically locked here until I manage to find this second trial. Given how the first one went, I fear what will happen to me, to us.

In the end, I manage to calm our tones down, convincing Marica to not just run immediately to the surface and report matters to the Guild.

<<We can make a compromise here. There is a safepoint in the seventh floor, right? We can reach there, and report to the Guild personnel stationed in the safepoint. So, I’m just asking you to wait a bit, see how things go instead of just running straight to the surface>>

Still a bit wary, she agrees to my proposal.

Since the day is already gone to shit, we decide to camp in the now empty room.

We consume dinner in silence, all of us avoiding to talk about what just happened.

Hell, we should not behave like this, not at all…but, I myself cannot think about something to say to them.

I do not even know how to process what happened here, so many things without explanation.

First, from what the Laughing man told me, monsters and such were transported in this world by the “enemy God” that is in opposition to the one that transported me here and gave me power, right? But, if that’s the case here, why there are these “trials”in the Dungeon?

It’s something related to the Demon Lords, and, from my limited understanding of things, it should not have anything to do with monsters and Dungeons.

Yet, here we are. Perhaps I am just making the wrong assumptions here, but I cannot wrap my mind around this…

After dinner, I start the first turn of guard duty. Levia and Retel are already in bed, but Marica is staying up late.

I approach her, in order to speak about the discussion we had earlier. Now that we’ve all calmed down a bit, I want to know why she reacted the way she did.

And maybe, since she has more experience than me concerning the Dungeon and all, she could provide me with a different point of view.

<<Look, I am not asking for an apology or anything. I just want to know your honest opinion on this matter. Why does it scare you so much?>>

Taking a big breath, she starts explaining her reasons.

More than that, she gives me some sort of “history lesson” about the Dungeons.

According to what she says, the public information about this Sendria Dungeon is wrong, a story fabricated by the Guild.

To the public, it is told that the Dungeon has always been there, full of monsters ready to burst out and spread calamity.

But it was conquered in the end, by some powerful warriors who later founded the Guild and Sendria city itself. A nice story, inspiring for the common people. But the truth is something different.

<<It’s not a common knowledge, but first reports about the Dungeon started no more than two hundred years ago. During that time, Sendria was at war against the Aldora Holy Kingdom…and it was not going well. Supposedly, the Dungeon appeared right when Aldora ‘s army managed to invade the city, releasing hordes of monsters from its depths and thus driving the army away. From there, the Dungeon grew quiet, and the rulers of Sendria eventually formed the Guild in order to explore and investigate the Dungeon>>

So…if what she’s saying is right, the Dungeon might be related to my old omnipotent friend.

Still…

<<How did you find out about this? If what you say is not common knowledge, I mean, it should be something classified or kept secret by the Guild, don’t you think?>>

She makes a wry smile.

<<It’s thanks to my father. You see, he was a custodian of records in the Guild’s library…and often, he would bring me on the job. Often, I would sneak away from him, burying myself in old volumes and manuscripts. That’s where I found those records>>

She continues with the story. Apparently, the monster army emerged from the Dungeon was led by some sort of ruler…

<<Let me guess, it was a Demon Lord. Am I right?>>

Interrupting her, I voice my question.

<<Yes. So, your sudden claim about being a Demon Lord or such really startled me. Supposedly, the Demon Lord of old got killed in the battle against Aldora, and the Dungeon grew dormant since then. But now that you set foot here…it seems it’s waking up again>>

<<What makes you think so?>>

<<Oh, don’t be like this. I told you before…the Fire Crystals. Those things have been reported only during the first Dungeon expeditions, right after the battle against Aldora ended. After that, no more mention of it. Also, that Ash Guardian you fought…I personally never saw it, but it is known to be one of the floor guardians that appear in the tenth floor. And yet, we found it here on the fifth floor, and it challenged you. It talked to you…yes, I heard something during the battle. It’s just…we do not know what we’re dealing with, Roshal. I mean, I am fine with battles against monsters, but this? I think it’s a little beyond us…for God’s sake we were almost all killed during that trial thing!>>

<<I see your point. I really do…but…it’s me we’re talking about here. What do you think would happen to me if the Guild found out what’s happening here? As Retel said, they could consider me some kind of threat, even kill me…>>

<<Yes, I know…and that’s why I don’t have already called the Guild and reported this matter. But…think about it. Sooner or later, someone will find out about the new, unexplained activity in the Dungeon. The Guild itself is already in alert because of that Leidus guy, so…it’s only a matter of time before someone finds that things are a bit strange down here…don’t you think?>>

She makes a fair point but…I really do not think the Guild will treat me kindly if we report something.

Parting from me, Marica goes to her bedroll to spend the night.

Left alone, I try to ask Navi about what happened, maybe the Navigator has some more information about all this nonsense that’s happening to me.

My guard turn goes like this, with me mumbling about things that I do not understand. As Levia comes to give me the change on guard duty, I go to bed, exhausted.

As I lay down, I try to get some sleep, feeling like a protagonist of some stupidly bad story that does not make any sense.