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.

Re:Interference Chapter 11- Back to Business…

<<So, care to tell me what happened there?>>

Heod asks us while preparing breakfast. He left his shop closed, to take care of us, saying that business could wait.

After all, we have been pretty shaken by what happened yesterday.

As we tell him what we went through, he listens in silence.

Sitting with us as we went through what we did.

The old man takes out his pipe, flickering lightly before stuffing it with the gray herbs he smokes.

As he lights it up, a sweet scent envelops the room.

<<It was a rainy day. I was traveling with a caravan on the highway. Hell, I was roughly your age, when it happened. We were camping on the roadside, in a place that was supposed to be safe. Well, it was not. Bandits attacked us, and I hid inside the cart, trembling among crates and barrels. I heard as those men killed my friends. And when I heard steps coming close to me, when I saw a shadow pass me by…I snapped, and I jumped from my hiding place. I grabbed the first thing near me and I smashed it on his head, again and again. That’s how I killed a person for the first time>>

Heod pauses for a moment, letting out a small cloud of dense, white smoke.

<<My point is…sometimes you need to kill for your own sake, boys. This world is harsh, more than you think. People will not hesitate to hurt you, and to defend yourself, to protect those who you care about, you will need to hurt someone else. And, it is right to do so, it is right to kill to protect your life or that of someone precious to you. Surely, you will feel bad about it. But, you must not let it consume you>>

We spent more time just sitting there, talking out our minds and listening to what counsel Heod had to offer us.

But, talking things out really managed to calm me down a bit. I spent the entire night just turning myself in my sheets, staring at the ceiling as I went through what I did in there, again and again.

Yes, it was all in order to survive…but, I had made clear promises to myself, to not ever use something so gruesome as Black Fluid on other people, and I ended up doing it nonetheless.

And, much to what I care to admit…some part of me enjoyed it. And I hate myself for that…shit, what the hell happened to the meek, non-violent me that lived in my world?

I lived my previous life without even having lifted a finger against another person! Still, that’s where the problem lies.

My moral code is still the same of my world, while the reality here is way harsher. Here, killing someone is…inevitable, sometimes.

Later that day, we were called back to the Guild to be questioned again. Apparently, the Guild launched a proper investigation on what happened, even more, they prohibited entrance into the Dungeon for a whole week.

The entire city was sent into unrest after the announcement.

Both for what happened, the shocking news about adventurers being killed right under the Guild’s nose.

Not only that, the economy in Sendria heavily relies on the Dungeon, both for materials harvested from it and for services catered to adventurers. Stopping Dungeon activities meant hindering business for a lot of people.

Still, it was a proper thing to do for the Guild, to show a swift response and take back control.

Several Sweeping expeditions were sent into the Dungeon, all composed by high-level adventurers especially selected and employed by the Guild to hunt down the criminals.

More than that, the Guild announced about an internal investigation on the employees, after we shared our suspects about an infiltration by Leidus’s group in the Guild’s ranks.

The investigation concluded with the public execution of four employees, accused of manipulating reports, fabricating evidence and leaking sensitive information to external groups.

Most shockingly, one of the persons involved was a higher up in the Guild’s hierarchy.

We were invited to attend the execution. More than an invitation, however, it was an order from the Guild itself.

The entire situation made us somewhat famous in Sendria, attracting both praise and blame to our group.

After the week went by, the Guild resumed normal activity in the Dungeon. They set up stricter regulations, going as far as sending daily search parties in the lowest levels.

<<Still, they did not find that Leidus guy>>

Marica is eating a small apple, sitting at our dining table next to Levia.

<<They found and arrested several members of his group, but the man himself…vanished, without leaving any trace>>

Her words give me a chill.

<<So, that guy may still be prowling around?>>

Retel asks with concern.

<<Well, if he’s smart he probably left the city all along. I mean, the entire guild is hunting for him, so…>>

Still, the fact that he has not been found concerns me, a lot. I have a really bad feeling about this.

The next day we make preparations to enter the Dungeon again. We took a whole week of respite, and it’s something we need to do it in order to grow, not only in strength but also in mentality.

This time however, we make better preparations. First, using funds from Heod’s shop, we bought the materials needed to complete the custom armors we ordered.

We dropped them off to the old lady’s shop on the first day of the Dungeon blockade, and apparently all three sets have been completed.

Baffled by such speed, we head to the shop to see our new equipment.

<<Well well, look who’s here>>

The old lady greets us with a wry smile. She’s smoking a long, thin pipe, keeping it sideways between her lips as she puffs small rings of smoke. Seriously, does every old person I meet smoke a pipe?

I clear my throat and ask her about the new armor.

<<Here, come with me. And stop calling me Madam, I have a name, boy>>

She disappears into the back of her store, leaving the sentence hanging. What is the point of scolding me to call you by your name, if you don’t even tell me what your name is?

Emerging from behind a curtain, she is holding the new equipment.

<<First, this is for the good looking snake boy. Treat it well, I took a long time to enchant it>>

Did I hear it right? Enchanted items?

Retel makes a small laugh, while Levia is distracted by the items on display, but I am looking at the armor with my eyes widened in surprise.

<<Is…is this a magic armor?>>

As I say so, the old woman bursts out a loud laughter.

<<Hm? Are you being serious, boy?>>

Now she’s the one looking at me with widened eyes.

She takes a deep breath and shakes her head.

<<Wow, I was just joking about it, but you’re taking this seriously? I don’t know what tales have you heard, but you should know that such items are impossible, right? I mean, even the Guild has some courses that teaches newbie adventurers to avoid these “magic item” or “enchanted weapon” scams>>

A shocking truth. In a world where magic and skills exist, there are no enchanted items.

Bullshit.

<<Wait, what are you saying here? I mean, enchanted items do exist, like Identity Stones and such, so…>>

She looks at me like I said some kind of profanity.

<<Boy, did you just fall form the sky, without knowing anything about things work?>>

Well…

<<You really are a bit dumb, aren’t ya? Well, those orbs things are made with magic. And that’s it. You can use spells to make small objects and give them some properties, but it’s impossible to give an existing item a magical property. Mana dissipates from non-living things. That’s just common knowledge…>>

<<Granny please, don’t be rude to customers>>

Martha, the shopkeeper’s nephew and assistant, comes in from the back of the store, carrying some items to put on display.

<<Yeah, yeah. I was just teasing the boy a bit>>

Martha looks at us, and a bright smile pops on her face.

<<Ooh! You’re the ones that ordered the custom armors! It was so funny to work on those, thank you!>>

She fidgets for a bit.

<<Well, what was your name again?>>

A bit disappointed, I introduce myself for the second time. The same goes for Retel and Levia.

<<Ah, right right…sorry, I’m not good with names. Well, time to get back to work…see you guys around>>

She scurries away, waving her hand at us.

The old lady clears her throat to claim attention.

<<Now, let’s give the armor a try, boys>>

She helps Retel to don his new equipment. Apparently, the armor must be worn over a specific set of clothes, designed to give extra protection.

Giving the clothes to Retel, she points him to a fitting room hidden by a thick tent.

As he comes out, my friend is donning a set of thick clothes, with some kind of leather jacket worn over them.

<<Hm, it fits you well, boy>>

The old lady says with a nod.

She then helps Retel put on his armor, showing him how to correctly wear and lock each individual piece. The armor itself is a wonderful work, a scale armor made with metal that shows the same shade of red as Retel’s own scales.

The important parts, like pauldrons, arm protectors and breastplate are made with large, tear shaped metal scales.

Retel’s figure completely changes as he wears the full set…hell, this armor is surely wasted on low level adventurers like us…

<<Girl, you’re next. Come here>>

The old lady beckons Levia to follow her into the back of the shop. For some reason, images of the skimpy female armors from games I played start to pop up in my mind…

When she steps out of the fitting room, Levia is clad in a studded leather armor. The design is still feminine, but it offers full protection without leaving any spot uncovered.

The leather parts are reinforced with metal scales, smaller than those of Retel’s armor. She’s also holding a composite bow and a new quiver, decorated with a scale pattern.

Approaching Retel, the shopkeeper presents him with new weapons as well. A polearm and a kite shield, with design similar to the scales on his armor.

Speechless, he clutches the new weapon.

To think that this old lady and her nephew made all these items by themselves, in only a week…

It’s astounding, really. I mean, is it even possible?

<<Boy, stop gaping your mouth and come here. It’s your turn>>

With a fling of her hand, the old shopkeeper orders me to follow her.

As for Retel,she gives me the clothes to keep under my armor. Unlike those she gave to my friend, these are lighter, a simple pair of thick cloth pants and a long sleeved shirt made with thick cloth.

My armor also differs greatly from Retel’s. I requested something sturdy but capable of high mobility, and the old lady delivered splendidly.

A set of composite armor, based on tanned, dark leather with a dense black color, reinforced by metal plaques that shine in silver. The metal is incredibly light, and I can move as if I’m wearing nothing but my own clothes.

<<These…are truly wonderful items, Ma’am.>>

The old lady smiles.

<<Of course they are, I made them. And stop it with this Madam nonsense…my name is Helena>>

I thank her profusely…still, I think that there has been some kind of mistake here. Because, given the quality of these items, I don’t think we can afford their price.

I mean, it will surely be different from what we contracted for in the first place, since the item’s quality is much more high than what we requested from her.

As I voice her my doubts, Helena just scoffs with an irritated look.

<<The items I craft, I do with the best of my ability. And, if I agree on an initial price, that stays the same, understand? Also, this is just a little…investment on my part>>

She brings out some of the items that she requested from us. Most of the materials were simply bought at the marketplace, but some were actually found and harvested by us inside the labyrinth.

<<Now, see the difference between these two little things here?>>

Pushing two identical patches of monster leather on the counter, she beckons me to give an answer.

Of course, the items only look identical at first glance. But, if I look with attention I can see the different specifics that the two patches have. Well, it’s mostly thanks to Navi that I manage to do this…

Telling her what I saw, she nods.

<<See? You are able to tell the difference. Now, this one, the better one, is something made with the monster hide that you guys gave me. You can clearly see the difference, even if the product itself is not completed still>>

She smiles and puts the items away.

<<You have good eyes for resources and materials…while also possessing something like an “harvesting” skill. No way in hell that young punks like you could be so precise and thorough in gathering materials. So, am I right?>>

I still cannot see her point, tho..

<<My point is…I want to put those skills of yours to good use. So, I took the liberty of changing your order a bit, and made you higher quality items. All in order to better persuade you lot to take an exclusive contract with my shop. I will give you those fine armors and weapon, and provide assistance and repair when needed, while in exchange you lucky boys will be my little gathering group for Dungeon materials. Of course, the first shipments will be given to me as thanks for letting you have my wonderful works of art. Understand?>>

Helena makes a wry smile.

In the end, we made a deal with her, signing the papers to make our agreement official. She then gave us a list of the required materials and quantities, and sent us off to our duty.

Donning the new equipment, we head to the Dungeon again. Inside the Gateway building, we meet up with Marica. She’s waiting for us at the reception desk.

We made a formal request to include her in our party in the past days, and now she’s being registered by the Guild into our group.

After compiling the necessary paperwork for Dive approval, we head once again inside the Dungeon.

At the counter, the receptionist gave us extra instructions about new safepoints that the Guild set up inside the Dungeon.

Every adventurer under level 20 needs to report to those safepoints during their permanence inside the Dungeon. After the briefing, the receptionist hands us a small red orb.

<<This thing here is a Communicator. It will allow you to contact the Rescue teams located at the nearest safepoint, in case you find yourself in trouble. By the Guild’s order, you need to report each time you advance in a new floor, and, if you encounter suspicious activity by adventurers or you are attacked, report immediately>>

Bidding farewell to the receptionist, we move towards the Gateway station.

There are considerably less adventurers going to the Dungeon, and most of them are advanced parties with high level members.

It seems that the attacks by Leidus’s group scared off most low level adventurers after the news spread.

Still, once again, we set foot inside the Dungeon.

The first three levels have been completely cleared, with a safepoint being set up on the third floor.

There, a group of level forty adventurers has been set up permanently, to provide assistance and prevent criminal activities.

We greet them and report our intentions and planned schedule.

After that, we head to the fourth floor entrance.

The environment here closely resembles the third floor, with stagnant water hindering each step and strange, green algae sticking to the rock walls.

From the entrance, we immediately enter a long, wide room. Several frog-like monsters are hopping around in the shallow water.

They are not aggressive, and they just stare at us for some moments before resuming their feeding on the small insects that are flying around.

Dragonflies and several other flying insects can be seen buzzing over the stagnant water. These are not monsters, however, just simple animals that found their way inside the Dungeon.

Exiting the large room, we are now inside a narrow passage, winding and turning as it leads away from the entrance room.

Marica is busy guiding us, pointing directions while taking glances at a map that she’s holding. It is a genuine map sold by the Guild, so it should be accurate enough to provide us with knowledge about the layout of this level.

<<Ok, the next room should be a large one>>

Marica instructs us before we step out of the passage.

I nod, and prepare myself to scout the room.

During the last week, I have been wondering about how to effectively detect enemies, even when they possess concealing abilities.

When we fought against Leidus’s group, I used Black Fluid in mist form to detect their movement. It was somewhat effective, but keeping it up for long time was too tiring.

Talking with Marica and some people in the Guild, I learned that most concealing magics only rely on obstructing sight, by refracting light or mimicking the surroundings, so it should be easy to detect someone using such skills if you rely on tactile detection.

And so, I decided to modify a bit my use of Black Fluid. Since the skill itself got leveled up after our last battle…I should be able to pull this off…

<<Ok, let’s do this>>

I release the skill inside the room, letting it expand as to fill the entire air. One of the skill’s properties lets me have tactile input from it, and, combining it with Navi’s detection, I can detect everything that the skill touches.

Without relying on sight. Of course, this method has several flaws…for example, I can effectively use it only inside closed spaces where there are no strong air currents, since the gas will disperse too much and air turbulence will tamper with detection.

Still, it’s useful here, in the closed, cramped Dungeon rooms.

In fact, as a result…

[Navi: Detected- Gray Toad x10 (lvl 4, passive); Gray Toad x4 (lvl 5,passive); Ash Centipede x3 (lvl 5, hostile); Ash Gecko x2 (lvl 7, hostile, hidden)]

The skill successfully detected two concealed monsters.

I could just go and use my skill to kill all enemies here…but, since we all need to gain better battle experience, I will use that as a last resort.

Hell, this skill became overpowered in this kind of environment…

We start our attack, focusing on the hostile monsters first. The centipedes are far away from the hidden monsters, so we plan to kill the hidden ones first.

I launch the first attack towards the reptile-looking monsters, shooting them with Black Fluid. As the skill hits, the splattered blood reveal the monster’s location.

After that, Marica and Levia follow with their combined attack. Marica freezes the two gecko, hindering their movement and making them easy targets for Levia’s arrows.

[Navi: Defeated! Ash Gecko x2! Acquired EXP]

The sounds of battle attract other monsters to our position. The centipedes are rushing towards us, their fangs dripping venom.

Retel intercepts them, guarding with his new shield as he fends off the attack.

He manages to push back one of them, and I hit the flinching monster with Black Fluid, stabbing it until it stops squirming.

Retel himself is dealing with another centipede, thrusting his spear into the hard shell while blocking the monster’s body against the rock wall.

The third one falls prey of Marica’s fire attack. Using the heat she took from the gecko, she forms a fireball and hurls it at the centipede, sending it ablaze.

An unpleasant smell fills the air, coming from the charred insect’s corpse.

[Navi: Defeated- Ash Centipede x3! Acquired EXP]

The toads turn their attention towards us. Or better, towards the insect corpses that are near us. Immediately, they jump to action, aiming to steal the bodies for themselves. Seriously…

They are weak individually, but their high numbers may pose a threat to us.

With their croaking resounding all around us, the monsters launch their attack.

Flickering with great speed, their tongues clad in poison bolt towards us, used like whips by the monsters.

Still, the attacks are easy to deal with. I can fend them off with Black Fluid, using the skill to guard from the blow and then immediately retaliate by extending blades from it.

To deal with the large number of monsters circling us, Retel activates both his skills. With his strength enhanced, and the toads paralyzed by his “Snake eyes”, he takes out several monsters with ease.

To think that no more than one month ago we were struggling against level 2 monsters…

We take a bit of respite after dealing with all the monsters. No one got a level up, yet…but we’re still at the start of our Dive, so it should be expected we struggle a bit more before that.

I am busy collecting the remains along with Marica, while Retel is busy cleaning his weapon and Levia is recovering the arrows she fired.

After making sure that all the bodies have been collected, we push onward.

From the room we’re in, three paths extend into different directions. According to Marica’s map, only the far left path will lead to another section, while the remaining two are dead ends leading into monster nests.

But…those kind of places may yield unexpected things. As I use Black Fluid to explore again…

[Navi: Detected- Ash Crystal (large)]

A rare resource that can be found in the fourth floor. There seems to be some in both the dead ends, and the monsters there are low level ones.

Moreover, there are some rare herbs growing in the passage, that could be useful for Heod’s business.

Since we are not limited by baggage or such, we can basically haul and hoard everything we find, so it’s only natural that we set our course inside the dead end, aiming to collect the rare items.

The first monster nest is inside a small, circular room. There, a big Gray Toad is sitting inside a shallow pool of stagnant water, guarding the juvenile toads that are swimming there. The young monsters are only level one, but the big toad…is level 15.

Several rusted weapons and armor are scattered around the monster, and, visible inside the shallow water, some skeletons lie, broken as if they have been trampled down.

Perhaps, some unlucky adventurers met their end against this monster.

As soon as it spots us, the Gray Toad attacks with lightning speed. I try to guard from the huge tongue, but the strength behind the attack sends me flying backwards. Luckily, I’m not injured…but damn, this thing hits hard!

Yelling to Retel, telling him to get away from the toad, Marica launches two spells in quick succession.

She tries to freeze the monster’s legs, hitting it with a fireball as the first spell manages only to freeze small patches of skin on the beast. Levia’s arrows seem to do no damage, but she manages to stick one inside the toad’s left eye.

Bellowing, the beast recoils backwards, exposing its belly as it squirms in pain.

Retel jumps in, yelling as he impales his spear inside the monster’s soft abdomen.

[Navi: Defeated- Gray Toad! Acquired EXP!]

Next, we collect the resources and items scattered around, ignoring the tadpoles swimming inside the pool.

It takes a while to consume the large toad with my skill, so I leave collecting herbs and the Crystals to my companions.

The harvested items are handed to me and stashed away in my inventory.

We head back to the big room, aiming to explore the second dead end.

There, the path is narrower than what we expected, and it gets even worse as we progress inside the passage. In one point, we are forced to go one by one to pass through.

This is definitely bad…almost like this room is made with the sole purpose of trapping people and preventing their escape.

Inside the room, the monsters all show low levels, with the highest one being level 3. Not something to worry about, or at least it should be.

The room is small and cramped, and these monsters are some kind of semi-moving fungi creatures.

According to Navi, they attack by releasing spores into the air, poisoning their target until it falls unconscious and they can safely eat it.

The problem is, they release the spores even if you hit them, and they possess strong regenerative ability. In short words, hitting them with weapons will only put you in danger.

So, man eating fungi are a thing in this world…

Since I do not want to deal with them, we simply combine attack with Marica and clear the whole room from a distance. Killing this kind of creature from a safe distance is the only safe way to deal with them.

Marica readies her spell, absorbing heat from the surrounding and concentrating it in a fireball, hovering above the monster group.

At the same time, I filled the room with Black Fluid in mist form, sealing the room’s entrance with the liquid form to prevent the spores from leaking in to our position.

Finishing her chant with flicker of her wrist, Marica releases her spell. The fireball falls onto the floor, exploding in a scorching blaze. The monsters start catching fire, squirming as they burn, releasing their poisonous spores into the air.

Using Black Fluid, I start absorbing everything inside the room. Since the skill is in dispersed form, it is severely difficult to control, and it drains my energies quickly.

Of course, for each complete absorption I get my energies back, so it’s not like I cannot pull this strategy off.

Still, it takes so much time before the room is effectively empty. I wonder how things would have gone if we did not weaken those monsters with Marica’s spell before I used my skill. It could have taken hours…

<<Wow, that was a truly amazing spell, Marica>>

I compliment her with my breath still in disarray.

<<Yeah…the only problem is that it’s not that effective in battle. It takes a long time to cast, it is tiresome to control and only works against stationary or trapped targets, since it is really easy to just evade it or run away>>

<<Even if it has some flaws, magic is surely convenient…>>

Levia joins the discussion, sitting beside us while she puts the collected arrows back in their quiver.

<<Well…it has certain advantages, but it’ s surely more difficult to learn and handle than a skill, that’s for sure. Hm, would you like to learn some? I have a few beginner level spell manuals in m home, I will be glad to lend them to you if you want, and even lend a hand if you seriously want to learn>>

Casually, she just offered to teach magic. Of course I jump back in, sparkling after hearing this sudden development.

And so, she agreed to teach the rudiments of magic to all of us.

Even if that thought makes me smile a little, I should focus on the task at hand.

We traced back our way, going into the large room once again before entering the central pathway. According to Marica’s map, this way should lead us into a series of three small caverns connected by a large corridor.

As we progress, the water progressively recedes, and we can walk on dry ground again. Exiting the passageway, we find ourselves into a completely different environment if compared to the room we were before.

The ground is covered in thin soil, almost like sand. From it, pale grass grows in patches, while red bushes can be seen growing sparsely inside the room.

The bushes are slightly glowing, diffusing their red light on the surroundings.

<<So, it completely changes…this means we are getting nearer to the floor’s center room>>

Marica mutters so. Apparently, each Dungeon floor hosts its own micro-climate and environment.

Sometimes, one level can have a sort of hybrid environment, starting with the previous floor’s environment, which slowly changes into a new one inside the inner chambers of the floor.

The fourth floor seems to show this phenomenon.

Of course, the monsters also vary in accordance to the environment.

As we press on, we encounter several snake and lizard-like monsters. It seems that in this part of the level the monsters tend to not flock together, so it is easier to deal with them since they are mostly found alone or in really small groups.

Advancing inside the chambers, we finally manage to get some levels.

Well, me and Levia only went up by one, while Retel is still at level eight. Marica also did not gain any level, but it is expected since her level is higher than ours.

As she leveled up, Levia gained a new skill.

With a smile, she demonstrates her new ability.

This time, it is a skill related to archery.

Basically, she can now charge small amounts of mana into her arrows, increasing the damage and penetration of each shot.

More than that, if she concentrates enough, it seems her arrow can even produce a small explosion when they hit the target.

Way to go, Levia. After resting up a bit inside the room, we decide to make one last push before taking a lunch break.

Since there is no daylight here, we’re measuring time using a small hourglass. It works in a simple way. By toppling it over, the sand takes exactly one day to fill the other half.

Simple signs on the glass signals one hour of time, so when the sand reaches the sign we know that one hour passed.

Still, I would really prefer a watch…

We took a considerably little amount of time to reach the fourth floor, all thanks to the first three floors being cleared of monsters.

Of course, Marica’s maps made it way easier to find the correct way to advance. Still, the fourth floor is more difficult to navigate, for two main reasons.

The first and obvious is the presence of monsters. The second one is related to each floor’s size. Apparently, the floors become bigger and more intricate as you go down inside the Dungeon.

So, this fourth floor is already twice the size of the first one, and so on. It is said that the lowermost floors are as big as Sendria, or even more. A scary thought, basically a city full of high level monsters…

Still, it’s better not to think about it and just go on whit what we’re doing right now.

After shaking off a bit of fatigue, we resume once again our march inside the Dungeon.

We go on for two more hours, walking into winding, narrow paths which often reveal themselves to be dead ends. Luckily, the closer we get to the floor’s center, the more materials we find.

Rare herbs and Crystals, and even rocks containing some rare metal. Of course, these are all low level materials, but they fetch a good amount of money if sold to the Guild, since most of the herbs and metal are used in different crafts and are pretty required.

Although, since we took the contract with old Helena, we will end up giving the metal and monster skins to her, thus cutting our profit for this Dive a bit.

Well, it’s not like we will go bankrupt or anything, since we can count on Heod’s shop for our funds.

Finally, we manage to reach a place suitable to camp. After clearing one of the dead ends, a small circular room with only one entrance, we decide to make our rest spot for the time.

Setting up a small campfire we start to fix us a quick lunch. The room we’re in has a pretty high ceiling, so it’s safe to use fire in here.

Consuming the food I just made, we take this time to reflect a bit about our next moves.

Initially, we planned our Dive to end once we reach the tenth floor, going back without pushing further into the Dungeon.

The main reason that forced us to plan like this is that, beyond the tenth floor, monster levels and numbers increase significantly from what we’ve experienced.

So, it is better for us to take it easy and not push ourselves too much.

Since this Dive we’re making right now is mostly for us to get accustomed to fighting again, and to shake off the bad experience we had against Leidus’s group.

Like that old common saying from my world…if you fall from your horse, you get right back on. Re-entering the Dungeon as soon as we could was something we needed to grow.

Otherwise, we would just be sitting idly, wailing in fear of getting attacked again.

The battles we fought during this Dive managed to reassure us about what we can do, about our strength, lifting the group’s morale as we saw that we’re making a definite progress.

While I am considering these thoughts, the others are making small talks, bonding together. Especially, it seems that Retel and Marica are getting along pretty well…am I about to see some romance bud between them?

Still, it’s nice to see them laugh, it’s truly an heartwarming scene.

Marica seems to be integrating well with our group.

Besides having fought together, we did not have pretty much in common, so I feared that she would be somewhat distant from us.

Instead, she’s really an easygoing person, capable of joking around while being also reliable when it counts. Ins short words, I am happy that she chose to stick with us.

I join their conversation, enjoying a bit of leisure for a while before the time to resume our Dive comes.

We decided our schedule beforehand, agreeing on taking a two hours break for lunch and two smaller, one hour breaks between our march.

Of course, we will also need to consider the time to properly sleep and get rest, roughly seven hours considering the time needed to set up camp and prepare food.

That leaves us with roughly thirteen hours dedicated to hunt and exploration for each day.

It’s not a terribly tight schedule, but we need to stick to it if we want to make proper progress here. To be honest, it is a type of schedule proposed by the Guild.

According to their suggestion, we should be able to reach the tenth floor in about seven days like this, considering the fact that the first three floors have been cleared.

After collecting our things and extinguishing the campfire, we push on again towards the floor’s central chambers.

Tracing back our way from the resting spot, we then embark inside one of the winding paths, marked as a pathway towards the exit in Marica’s map.

As we push forward, we notice the lack of monsters in the way. Several corpses are scattered on the floor, however. All of them stripped of skin and other materials, like teeth and claws.

<<So, someone else is hunting in these chambers>>

Marica mutters her conclusion. Of course, it is expected to find some other parties in the Dungeon.

Usually, the Guild etiquette demands that the first party to find a group of monsters has priority of rights on said monsters.

So, it is good custom to not butt in into another group’s battles, since it could lead to disputes for materials and such, or to experience theft if the monsters attacked by a party are slain by another.

Such disputes are heavily punished by the Guild, and if evidence of incorrect conduct is reported, the culprits can even be expelled from the Guild’s ranks and denied further entry inside the Dungeon.

For most parties, that rely on the Dungeon to earn their livelihood, it is a deterrent big enough to keep them from stealing kills.

The only circumstance where interference is admitted is in the event that the engaging party is in no condition to deal with the monsters. In short, you can butt in only to save someone’s life.

Still, it seems that this is not the case right here.

The monsters have been dealt with splendidly, and it looks like the other party has considerable experience in extracting materials both from monsters and natural Dungeon resources, given the state of the room.

Unanimously, we decided to head another way, without risking to trouble the other party.

To do so, we are forced to take a big deviation from our initial route, skipping several large rooms that could have provided some useful loot.

After a while, we find monsters again.

The same kind that we fought before, snakes and lizard creatures hissing at us whenever we approach.

Well, it’s not like they are difficult to deal with, even more so now that Levia can basically one-shot them with her arrows.

Girl, you’re becoming scary…says the one with a skill that basically eats things alive.

Well, speaking of things eaten alive…

As we enter another large room, almost identical to the ones we set foot in before…

Moving incredibly fast, a shadow is flying right at us.

[Navi: Detected- Ash Bat x 4 (lvl7)]

Following the initial attack, the group of flying monsters circle around us, swirling in the air as they avoid any attack we manage to throw at them.

The environment here plays to their favor, since the room’s ceiling is incredibly high, allowing the bats to just fly over us out of our reach.

Well, their attacks are relatively weak, since they cannot bite or otherwise hit us unless they get close, and they are only resorting to some kind of sonar wave attack that does not do much damage.

More than dangerous they are just…annoying.

Retel cries in frustration as the bat swirls near him, evading his spear with quick turns before going back up.

It’s basically a stalemate, where nether the monsters nor our group can properly inflict damage on the other…

Still, I wonder how they are managing to evade our attacks…I mean, they swiftly avoid even Levia’s arrows and my shots, almost like they’re predicting their trajectory…

Wait, perhaps that’s what they’re doing. Of course, being bats they should have some kind of sonar that allows them to pinpoint whatever we throw at them and allows the monsters to properly react and evade.

So, if we do something to disrupt their sonar…

As I voice my hunch to my companions, Levia immediately finds a solution.

<<Take this, you flying rats!>>

Shouting a nonsensical insult, she shots arrows overcharged with energy. Missing their target, the arrows impact against the stone wall.

However, unlike before, the arrows explode on impact producing a small shock-wave.

<<You missed them!>> says Retel with a disappointed tone.

However, the bats are affected by the explosion. Not damaged, they seem to lose their sense of orientation, swaying in the air and crashing on the rocky wall.

Before, Levia was focusing the mana put in her arrows to enhance their piercing power, but she changed strategy. By putting more mana inside each arrow, she produced less accurate shots that caused small explosions when hitting their target.

The explosions themselves are not enough to cause serious damage, however the shock-wave and noise produced managed to disrupt the bats’ sonar perception, thus confusing them.

It seems they completely lost the ability to maneuver, ending up blindly thrashing around and falling to the floor.

After that, it is easy to deal with them. Retel stabs one of the large bats with his spear, while Marica deals with another.

I am tempted to just kill it and get the EXP, but…

Those things have some kind of sonar, perhaps it’s even a skill they possess. So, if I manage to absorb that skill from the bat…

<<Ah, fuck it!>>

I use Black Fluid and absorb the bat. As the skill finishes the gruesome routine…

[Navi: Success! Ash Bat absorbed! New skills obtained: Ultrasound Emission, Ultrasound Perception, Ultrasound Mapping. New abilities unable to be used (restricted to race: monster). Detected compatibility between new skills and Black Fluid. Would you like to Integrate?]

I choose not to. At least, I do not want to integrate them immediately with Black Fluid. I still start up the routine, in order to test something.

Before, I learned that Luck stat influences the Integration process, so the probability of it failing should be less now that I raised my luck stat.

So, in order to test how much the chance of failure is reduced, I decide to test run Integration with these three new skills first.

To start, I fuse Ultrasound Perception and Ultrasound Mapping. The process fails, spectacularly. Due to the Integration failure, I immediately lose the Ultrasound Mapping ability.

Still, it’s no big deal, since it seems that different groups of Ash Bats can be found in this section of the Dungeon. I just need to absorb them again to regain the skills…or at least, I hope so.

As we push on, we encounter more bats. We kill them with efficiency now that we have a proper way to counter their annoying flight prowess. Of course, I take one of them for myself.

As I suspected, absorbing the bat gives me back the skill I lost before. I do not earn double “copies” of the skills I already possess from it, tho.

Again, I repeat the Integration routine. This time, it’s a success.

I went on like this, losing and regaining the skill until I was satisfied with the result. After dabbling a bit with it, I learned several useful things.

It seems that the Integration process has a rough seventy percent success probability, so, seven times out of ten it should be successful.

However, the chance of failure increases as you try to Integrate three or more skills together at the same time.

I guess I have really, really been lucky when I managed to use it the first time. Also, every time you lose a skill, you end up losing the lowest level one.

For instance, if I would Integrate Black Fluid with a lvl 1 skill, if the process fails I will end up losing the lvl 1 skill, while keeping Black Fluid as it is.

This information reassures me a bit, since I will not lose my important skill even in the event of a failed integration.

In the end, I managed to fuse the three skills obtained from the bats, producing the Sonar skill which holds properties of all three, with increased effectiveness.

Next, I fused the Sonar with Black Fluid. It was successful, and now all the effects of Sonar should be integrated in my Black Fluid.

In short words, since Navi can use and control Black Fluid, I basically have a Sonar scan at my disposal, combined with Navi’s detection property.

And it works splendidly. I just need to form a membrane with Black Fluid and make it vibrate to produce a suitable sound frequency. Of course I can just make Navi do all the process.

The important thing is that this method consumes way less energy than my previous trick with the gas form Black Fluid, has a better detection range and allows me to get information on the layout of the Dungeon other than identifying monsters or materials.

And, more than that, it can be useful even outside.

Well, it seem I got a reliable power up. More than that, I can even use the produced ultrasounds to attack, although the damage I can inflict with this kind of attack seems to be really low.

Still, it’s really useful.

As we proceed inside the Dungeon, the new detection ability proves fantastic, both in enemy detection and in mapping the room and chamber’s layout.

We go on, clearing each chamber until nighttime. Well, until the hourglass signals nighttime, since it is impossible to distinguish night and day otherwise.

After finding a suitable spot to set up our camp, we make the necessary preparations for the night, setting up the usual traps and guard duties.

After today’s hunt, we managed to raise our levels more. Retel is now at level nine, while me and Levia got up to ten. Marica is still the higher level member of our party, since she leveled up to level eleven.

Fatigue is really piling up on us all, and so we just consume dinner before going to sleep, entrusting the camp to Levia since she’s the first on guard duty tonight.

As I sleep, I go through the level up routine once more. This time, I have ten stat points to allocate, since I gained two levels today.

I decide to dump four points into the INT stat, since after this Dive I will start my initiation to magic with Marica. Well, not knowing how well I will fare with magic, I do not plan to raise this stat too much for the moment. In the future…who knows?

Of course, I did not neglect my other stats, distributing the remaining six points into STR, ACC, AGI, two to each stat. This time, the LCK stat will stay as it is.

I manage to get a few hours of good sleep before Levia wakes me up to take her place on guard duty. We organized the shifts, splitting each day among the four members of the party.

So, tonight, guard duty falls on me and Levia, while Marica and Retel get a full night of rest. Tomorrow, it will be the opposite, and so on.

As I sluggishly wake up I send a tired smile to Levia. Her eyes show the signs of fatigue and her hair is a bit of a mess. But, I must admit, she truly is beautiful, even in the dim light from the waning campfire.

Instead of going straight to bed, she stays with me for a while, talking with a low voice, almost whispering while we speak.

She’s cute when she tries to not laugh after a silly joke I made, and my heart flutters a bit as I indulge my eyes on her curves.

We stay like this some more time, just sharing some small talk and jokes, before she heads to her sleeping bag. I have not felt this way since my youth in my previous life.

Well…as an adult man I should not indulge in these little thoughts, since, for all purposes, she’s way younger than me, even if my current body is that of a young boy the same age as her.

Still, it’s not like in my previous life I was popular with women…hell, I spent my adolescence without even having a girlfriend! So I just went with the flow and enjoyed this brief moment with her.

Of course, I am not so desperate as to immediately fall for her after we talked for some time. But, if she perhaps feels the same way…

I try to shake off my overthinking of things. Hell, I did the same even in my previous life, whenever a girl showed a bit of kindness or interest my mind just wandered off, overthinking and misreading simple kindness or friendship as something more.

And it is definitely not the time or place to have such thoughts. Yep, it definitely isn’t.

To distract myself, I try crafting some objects. Focusing on small tasks has always absorbed me, and I often dedicated myself to small hobbies like woodcraft or drawing to distract myself from other thoughts.

Well, obviously I’m not neglecting my guard duties here, since I am using Black Fluid to keep the area under surveillance.

As I focus on crafting, I start to recall what the old lady from the armor shop said. In this world, it is impossible to produce an enchanted item.

Since I raised my INT stat a bit, it seem I have gained a bit of control over my mana. Before, I was barely able to visualize it with the help of skills, like that time against the controlled Dryads, when I was able to see the mana strings produced by the Hero’s brainwashing ability.

After the level up, I can properly see my own mana if I concentrate hard enough. It’s in disarray, flowing with uneven movements from me to the Black Fluid that I scattered around our resting point.

Basically it looks like some kind of smoke leaking out of my body. A lot of it is just getting dispersed around, vanishing in thin air.

Part of it is flowing towards the Black Fluid, but the movement and quantity are not fluid and uniform. One moment the flow is low, the next one faster and more agitated.

It is troublesome to look at. I mean, even if I am ignorant about magic and mana control, it is clear that something is not quite right with the way my mana behaves. I will have to ask Marica about that as soon as she wakes up.

Setting that thought aside, I try to let my own mana flow inside the small knife I just crafted.

It is much more difficult than I thought, as collecting and making the evanescent, smoke-like substance do as I wish is really tiresome.

Often, it ends up just dispersing around, draining my energy. The more I try it, however, the more I get close to actually making it flow inside the knife.

Finally, after two good hours spent trying to do so, I manage to make my mana flow inside the knife.

The sharpened bone I used to make the blade part glows faintly for some second, before the light it emits grows dimmer and dimmer until it vanishes.

Next, I try the same with a metal knife I took from my inventory, but the results are even worse. Inserting the mana in the metal is easy enough, but it just evaporates away in two seconds.

Perhaps metal, while being a good conductor for mana, is also too good in dissipating it.

All this thought about conduction and dissipation is starting to form an idea in my mind. I mean, it is just a rough concept for now, but, if I manage to learn proper mana control, perhaps…

I go on with my experiments until the time comes for me to wake up the others.

After starting the fire again to fix us breakfast, I call to them using Navi.

[Navi: Time to wake up!]

Wow, Navi even added a small ringtone-like jingle to that message…

Laughing a bit as Retell basically jumps out from his bedroll, I start eating my breakfast while the others slowly shake off their drowsiness.

After breakfast, I head to a secluded part of the room to set up a small curtain. The reason is… I want to take a shower.

Experimenting with my Inventory skill, I found out that it is possible to store indefinite amounts of water inside, and, since everything stored in my Inventory keeps its temperature….well, I can have hot water inside the Dungeon.

Just by opening the Inventory slightly above my head, I can make the water fall on me, like a proper shower. Commodities like soap and deodorant are something common in this world, usually produced by alchemists, so I asked old Heod to produce some for our personal use.

Still, it feels a bit weird taking a shower inside the Dungeon.

After drying myself and putting on clean clothes, I let the others take turn to use the improvised refreshment room. Of course, I am still there operating the “shower”.

I must admit, the desire to take a peek when Levia or Marica took their turn was really, really high, but the feeling of snake eyes staring at me with murderous intent made me desist…

Being done with the morning routine, we set up our equipment again and resumed the Dungeon exploration.

This time, we decided to make Retel catch up to our level. So, until he levels up, we disbanded the party and just limited ourselves to support him while he fights and kills the monsters.

I must admit, even without our assistance he is really showing his strength. It seems his proficiency with the spear is better than the first time we met, and, supporting himself with his two skills, he can easily deal with monsters even some level higher than his, if he fights one on one.

We limit ourselves to support role, just making sure that no group of monsters gang up on him, while Levia provides the occasional healing.

Luckily, and mostly thanks to the splendid armor made by old Helena, the injuries he gets are only shallow cuts on the few gaps that the armor possess.

After a series of battles that took almost three hours, he finally manages to get to level ten.

He shouts in joy when he levels up. According to Levia, it was a longtime goal of him to reach level ten.

With overflowing enthusiasm, he starts to show the new skills he got with the level up.

<<Aha! Check this out! I got two new skills…>>

Without even resting a bit, he jumps right back into battle, eager to test his new abilities.

The first skill he got is related to defense. As he activates it, his shield glows in red light. The lizard-like monster that he’s facing starts a sweeping attack with its tail, but, as the tail strikes the shield…

With a high pitched shriek, the lizard recoils in pain, as part of its tail lies on the ground, squirming after being severed.

Apparently, this new skill that Retel owns is some kind of shield counter-attack.

<<Wait! I’m not done with you yet!>>

The snake-boy shouts towards the fleeing lizard, activating his paralyzing skill to keep the monster from running away.

Retel jumps, drawing back his spear arm as he charges the next attack.

This time, the tip of his spear starts giving a red glow.

Retel shouts as he unleashes his attack. The glowing spear pierces the lizard’s head, going through flesh and bone almost as if cutting through water. The monster drops down, dead after a single hit.

Boasting a big smile, Retel comes back to us.

<<So, what do you think about this? Cool, right?>>

I have the slight impression that his eyes are looking at Marica more than me and Levia…but oh well…

Still, it was really impressive. He basically one-shot a level twelve monster, just like that. As we form up the party again, he explains how the two skills are linked together.

Basically, he can use the spear strike only after a successful counter-attack with his shield.

As we march on, he continues boasting in high spirit.

We go on and on, fighting our way inside the inner chambers, stopping from time to time to keep fatigue from piling up.

Fighting in the central part of the fourth floor is not so difficult as I initially thought.

Yes, there are some monsters with their level exceeding ten roaming around, but their number is really scarce and they do not show any kind of cooperation with other monsters.

Hell, we even saw some of the stronger monsters predating on the lower level ones. We observed the scene from a safe distance, waiting for the high level monster to finish off the small fry before making our move.

Huh…small fry…now I am starting to sound too cocky, even for my own tastes. Well, it’s not like anyone can hear my inner monologue, so I do not have to fear anyone’s judgment on the things I think…

At the end of the day, after going through all the central section of the fourth floor, we advanced even more, sacrificing our small breaks to push on in our march.

Once again, the environment is starting to change as we near the floor’s exit. The monsters are the same as the central parts, only the rocks and vegetation start to show some subtle variations.

Finally, we manage to reach the floor’s exit. As usual, it is a hole in the ground. From the edge, we can see a staircase carved into the rock, spiraling down in the darkness. After those stairs, the fifth floor awaits us.

Finishing our report to the Guild, we set our steps into the spiral staircase, setting our course towards the fifth floor.

Re:Interference Chapter 10- Third Floor Hunt

<<This way! Quickly!>>

Retel is making way through a narrow passageway, with us following behind, chasing the noise that beckoned us to haste our march.

A faint voice, distant, weak, pleading for help from the Dungeon’s inner chambers.

We followed the screams, hurrying through the swampy floor as we neared their source.

From the entrance hall hosting the stairs to the second floor, we ran through a series of small corridors, strangely devoid of monsters. The voice grows stronger at every step, along with our hurry to get there.

Finally, we can get a glimpse of the person in distress. It is not some kind of trick by a devious monster, it is a genuine person, waving hands at us and yelling, pleading for help.

We can finally see the person in distress. A beast-man, who promptly waves his hands at us, signaling to come closer.

[Navi: Detected- Leidus, lvl 17 beast-man]

The man is lying inside a chamber, surrounded by the corpses of crab-like monsters. The water around him is painted in red, perhaps from the man himself.

<<Thank you, thank you…oh brave adventurers…my saviors>>

As we approach him, he starts thanking us. His voice, faint and weak before, is now energetic. It could just be my impression, but it does not sound like the voice of an injured man.

Levia immediately goes closer to him, ready to use her skill to heal the man.

With a fast movement, Leidus gets up and tries to stab her with his knife.

The beast-girl manages to dodge the dagger by a hair, jumping backwards to us.

<<Hey, what is the meaning of this?>> Retel yells furiously, weapon ready in his hands.

<<Nice reflexes you got there, girl. Still…>>

Leidus laughs and snaps his finger.

We realize it too late. From behind, the sound of bowstrings being pulled.

<<Drop your weapons>>.

We fell right into a trap. Not by monsters, by humans. Perhaps they are adventurers who though that hunting humans was easier and more remunerative than fighting monsters, or they are just a group of bandits that took residence in the Dungeon.

Still, their weapons are now pointed towards our backs.

Perhaps the group was using some kind of concealing skill, since Navi did not manage to detect them. Damn it, this is really a bad situation!

We do as suggested, letting our weapons hit the floor.

Well, there is a lesson here to learn…never trust strangers, even if they sound in distress…

A bad situation, indeed. We could just leave our weapons, armor and possessions here, but I doubt it will be so easy. After all, they could just kill us all afterwards, and blame it on monsters.

Fighting them could be risky as well, since they will fire their arrows as soon as we make the slightest move.

But, it’s not like I need to move in order to use my skill.

Slowly, I activate Black Fluid, making it crawl along my clothes into the water.

I start with only a small quantity, to test if the group can detect the activation of skills. As they show no response, I produce more, and make it crawl under the shallow water, reaching the enemies below their feet.

Now, it’s just a matter of timing.

As one of them nears Levia with a bad expression on his face, I decide to act. Using the skill, I entangle their feet and pull, making them lose their balance and fall into the water.

<<Run!>> I shout to my friends, as some of our assailants manage to let their arrows loose during the fall.

Still, since their balance is broken, the arrows do not hit the mark.

We try to escape from the narrow corridor, but the exit is blocked by other two members of the gang. Without even giving a warning, they shot their arrows at us.

I manage to guard them using my skill…the situation is looking too dangerous.

<<Watch out for that one, he has a Skill>>

Behind us, the leader shouts at his comrades.

<<Now, we were about to let you go, but you had to make things difficult here, kiddo>>

Leidus pulls out a curved blade, assuming a stance. Behind him, his comrades are already notching their arrows, ready to fire again.

What the hell do we do now…

Not even the time to think, and the leader is on us. He’s charging at Levia, moving at high speed.

She manages to avoid the blade, however…

<<Ahhh!>>

She shouts, falling into the water and holding her leg.

<<You’re not the only one that can use a skill, kiddo…>>

The leader laughs, showing his blade now clad in an ominous purple light. He slashes at Levia again, but Retel jumps at him, managing to divert the blow.

<<Stupid kid…want to die before your girlfriend? Fine>>

Without his weapons, Retel manages to defend for only some seconds before the man cuts him down.

The curved blade slashes his chest, leaving a red trail of blood.

In the meantime, as I try to jump to my companion’s help a volley of arrows is shot at me, from two different directions. I manage to guard some of them with my skill, but it’s not enough.

Gasping in pain, I fall to my knees with an arrow pierced in my lung.

We messed up. Badly. Thinking that we would only need to deal with monsters, we decided to press on with our current, low level defense equipment.

I mean, we managed to beat monsters the same level and even higher than those found here, and we were only wearing normal clothes during our hunts in the Grasslands…

Instead, here we are, facing off against humans. Unexpected, but our situation could have been avoided by just a bit more preparation.

Using Heod’s money, we could have bought better armor. For example, a metal breastplate could have deflected the blow directed to Retel’s chest. A pair of greaves could have prevented Levia’s legs from being injured.

A simple chain mail could have blocked the arrow fired at me.

Instead, we were stupid, and thought “it will be fine like this”.

Bullshit.

This world does not allow for poor decisions. Unpreparedness means certain defeat, and we’re learning that right now on our skin.

I even had the occasion to kill at least some of them with my initial attack…but I did not. Dealing against human opponents, I hesitated at the decisive moment, opting for a non lethal attack instead of going for the killing blow.

I’ve been to soft, reluctant to harm them even if they were pointing their weapons at us. A bad mistake, that I will not repeat again a second time.

Although…

This time it might really be the end for us.

<<Fuck>> I mutter, trying with all my will to muster the strength in order to retaliate against them.

All in vain. One, two, three arrows manage to pierce my flesh again.

<<Well, that’s what you get by angering us, kiddo. Now, let me end your suffering>>

The leader is nearing me, lifting his sword up his head to deliver the final blow.

<<Bagliore!>>

A female voice resounds in the air, followed by a sudden, blinding flash of light.

I can feel a presence besides me, grabbing my hands and pulling me away. Feeling faint from blood loss, I cannot resist, and let it carry me.

<<Retel…Levia>> I mutter, my voice devoid of any strength.

<<Don’t worry about them, just keep silent>>

The mysterious person drags me away from the chamber.

<<I’ll be back…try not to die while I’m gone, ok?>>

Still blinded, I cannot even see where I am right now. My back is resting against a wet stone wall, but as I try to open my eyes I can only see blurry shapes.

My wounds hurt, and I feel myself growing faint each passing second.

I can hear distant sounds, whispered words and some louder, angry cries. The noise of footsteps splashing in the shallow water, running…

I pray for my companion’s safety.

However, a different sound is nearing me. Clicking, bubbling…

Still robbed of my vision, I can only discern a confused shape coming towards me.

The thing moves sideways, making a clicking noise as it comes closer.

[Navi: Detected- Swamp Crab lvl 2]

So, some kind of crab-like monster is coming my way, perhaps drawn by the scent of blood.

Anybody else in my condition would consider this to be a nightmare scenario, being wounded, unable to move and bleeding out as something hungry approaches.

To me, right now…it’s a blessing.

<<Well, today is not your lucky day, little fellow>>

I quickly envelop the crab with my skill, crushing it, absorbing the monster as fast as I can. Right now it’s the only way to heal my wounds.

As I let the skill work, I painfully break the arrows sticking out of my body, extracting them from my wounds. Struggling to not let myself scream.

Enraged, I jump to my feet as the healing effect that comes from Absorption restores my body.

I swear to God, if those fuckers killed my friends…

<<Oh..you’re…ok?>>

A puzzled voice comes out of thin air. Literally, there is nothing in front of me.

As I look around in confusion, the air in front of me ripples,and something emerges from it.

Retel and Levia, wounded but still alive. Carrying them, a girl wearing a dark robe.

A magician? Still, she saved us, apparently. I hurry to her side, helping her to bring my friends to a dry spot.

Levia is still conscious, being only lightly wounded on her leg. Retel however is in more serious danger, as his chest is bleeding profusely and he’s fainted due to the injury he received.

<<Are they gone?>> I ask the magician girl as Levia tends to Retel’s wound.

She’s panting heavily, perhaps fatigued due to the effort of transporting two bodies while maintaining an active spell.

I expected her to retort something like “what, no thank you whatsoever?”, instead she simply makes a gesture with her hand, signaling me to shut my mouth.

As she does so, the sound of someone running around comes close to us…too close.

When the noise fades, she finally talks.

<<Don’t worry, I used magic here to carve us a little safe spot. They won’t find us if we keep silent>>

She whispers with a tired voice. Still, a safe spot? I remember being almost eaten by a monster here…although in the end I ate the monster. Well, sort of.

I take a deep breath, to let rage slip away. It will do us no good, right now.

<<It seems we owe you our lives. We do not have much here, but if we manage to leave this place alive, feel free to ask whatever you like as a reward>>

<<No need. I am sure someone like you would have done the same. Of course, that is the reason that got you in their trap, am I right?>>

She hits the mark. Still, judging from her words…

<<As you may be thinking…yes, I did fall in the same trap as you, some time ago. They ambushed my party and killed them all. I alone managed to escape, thanks to some cheap magic trick. A blinding spell and confusion enchantment can do wonders against small groups>>

Now that I take a better look at her, I recognize her figure. She was in the Gateway building the same day that we did our first exploration in the Dungeon, the girl that caused a commotion at the reception desk.

As I tell her so, she makes a bitter laugh.

<<Yes, that was me indeed. My name is Marica. That day I was demanding the Guild to send a Security Sweep in this level, to hunt down these bastards here. But apparently, they did not deem my request worthy of their time>>

She sighs, deeply, holding her knees as she sits.

<<My name is Roshal, and those there are my companions, Levia and Retel. Again thank you for rescuing us>>

She makes a sign with her hand, as if she’s brushing off my words. Her pale, silver hair slightly cover her eyes, and her small frame is hidden by the large, black robe that she wears.

I am nervously looking around, focusing my attention on the two entrances of the small passageway where we are. It is dangerous to stay here, enemies could find us any second now.

Marica seems to notice my nervousness. She pats my shoulder.

<<Relax, this place is safe, for now. I used a concealing spell, so they will not be able to spot us for some time>>

I exhale a deep breath, relieved. With this, we can safely wait for Levia to heal Retel, instead of running away with Retel still wounded.

<<Still, who are those guys? >>

As I ask her so, I sit besides her.

She shakes her head, clutching her clothes as she starts telling me about our assailants.

<<A group of renegade adventurers, who attack small groups of newbies. Their leader is called Leidus. A vicious bunch of murderers. They act between the fifth and third floor, and are responsible for the disappearance of almost five parties, I believe>>

<<You…believe?>>

<<There could be more. From what I know, however, the Guild does not know about their disappearance. No records about them, nor has ever made any official news about the disappeared adventurers. Apparently the parties that I know to have been wiped out by Leidus’s men were scheduled for long time missions inside the Dungeon, and the Guild simply considers them as if they are still on their mission. Hell, they even showed me the Heartbeat of my companions, and they were beating, almost as if nothing ever happened to my friends. I mean, I watched them die, how could those things not show it? Same thing with the other groups, no evidence whatsoever of them being in danger or worse. Like they are completely fine and just enjoying their permanence in the Dungeon>>

Her words make me shudder. Something bad is going on around here, apparently. And it gets worse…

<<After I survived the initial attack, I went and reported what I saw, right away. But, as I said before, they denied my request, telling me that my group was fine and inviting me to hurry and join them again. Later, as I went home, someone followed me. During the night, I was attacked in my house>>

She clutches her clothes as she speak, her lips trembling in anger.

<< I managed to fend them off, but from that day, I never went home again. Using my magic I sneaked inside the Dungeon, and I only go out to take provisions and pester the Guild to send someone here to investigate. Damn, they even suggested that my friends just went and kicked me out of the party, and that I was just doing commotion in order to sabotage my former party!>>

What she says is really heavy to sink in. Can the Guild really have no clue about what’s going on here?

<<So, the Guild really seem to be in the dark about this whole thing…still, that does not explain what are you ding here…don’t tell me you’re trying to do something like an investigation>>

<<That’s exactly why I am staying here- she interrupts me, raising her voice for a moment- see this? This item here is a Recorder. As the name says, it records and stores visual information. I am trying to collect evidence about the murders and theft inside the Dungeon. If someone attacks me, the images will still be recorded and sent to a second crystal, that I entrusted to someone I can trust. I have already recorded several criminal acts by that group, and I intend to collect more evidence and show it to the Guild. And, if I ever get caught and do not contact my friend in the next three days, the second crystal will be made public>>

She pauses for a moment, almost as if she’s holding back tears.

<<That’s the long story made short. I am here, roaming these levels to spy on them, to capture what that bastard Leidus and his good for nothing gang are doing to poor newcomers. I do know that they have some accomplice in the Guild, although I do not think that ALL the Guild knows about what they are doing here. And, even if they do…I will not relent from my purpose. I will expose them, no matter the cost>>

What she’s doing is really risky. The thing that baffles me here is how can the Guild be in the dark about this? It should go against the organization’s interests if some murderers prowl inside the Dungeon, killing off adventurers. There are two explanations here…perhaps the whole Guild knows what is going on, and they are just covering it up for whatever reason.

Most likely, someone from Leidus’s group has infiltrated the Guild, perhaps in some high position, and is managing information and providing false evidence to protect and conceal his group’s criminal activity.

<<Do you think that this Leidus has some of his men infiltrated in the Guild?>>

<<Most likely…I do not think that the whole Guild is involved, otherwise things would have gone in a different way. I mean, if the Guild was really involved they could just pretend to send a search party, bring me along and straight up kill me. Or something like that…no, this is definitely the work of someone that manipulates information and reports to conceal the group, behind the Guild’s back>>

It really seems that trouble follows me at every corner…

I sat there with Marica, waiting for Levia to finish her treatment of Retel’s wound.

After a while, Retel regains consciousness again. Levia hugs him, and I pat his shoulder while giving a tired smile.

This is too much to bear.

We consume a light meal, sharing it with Marica as we decide our next moves.

The group still prowls the entire floor. We can hear them, searching for us. They probably have some more members, keeping watch at the entrance and exit of this floor.

<<For how I see it, we have two options here. First, we try to sneak away. Keep in mind that this option will not let us avoid battle, since the group is most likely blocking the exit.

The second option is…we engage them. Of course, we do not go straight ahead, charging blindly. We need to outsmart them, engaging our opponents one at the time if we can. We could use monsters to distract them and such. Now, what do you want to do?>>

I leave the decision to my comrades. The enemies out-level and outnumber us, so fighting them could lead to very bad situations for us. Also, they have a better knowledge of the entire place, since it appears that they are used to hunting in this level.

The fact that the group before managed to escape Navi’s detection poses a definite threat to us.

We always fought having the advantage of knowing the number and position of enemies around us, thus avoiding ambushes or sudden attacks.

However, against this group, which has superior knowledge about the floor’s layout and the means to effectively conceal themselves from us, it will be almost impossible to just try and run away while avoiding them, while simply engaging them in battle will be immensely risky.

Still…I want to make them pay. Using such underhanded tricks, abusing our ingenuity as we ran towards someone we thought in danger, only to ambush and hurt us. They almost killed my companions, almost killed ME. Of course I want them to suffer a bit.

But, I cannot decide this by myself. My companions could feel otherwise, maybe they want to hurry to safety as soon as we can.

<<I…don’t know. As you said, just running away does not mean that we will avoid battle against them. Hell, it will probably make thing worse if we are spotted near the exit and all of them converge on us and take us by surprise again. So, I vote to retaliate>>

Says Retel, clutching his fist in anger.

<<They hurt my brother and my friend, right in front of my eyes. I will not forgive them. Ever. I want to hunt them down and…kill them>>

Levia’s voice sounds angered, cold and distant. Such tone is unbefitting of her, who is usually cheerful and positive. Her face is flustered, and her eyes…teary, but burning with fury. Her lips tremble as she tries to contain her emotions, however she’s doing a really bad job of it.

I grab her shoulders, forcing her to look at me.

<<Calm down, please>>  I whisper at her, giving the best smile I can in this situation.

<<I feel the same way, but we cannot lose our tempere here, understand? So, take a big, deep breath, and calm down, Levia>>

She smiles back, and goes to Retel’s side, searching her brother’s embrace.

<<So, we will attack them, right?>>

The two of them nod in response. It will be dangerous, of course, but that’s what we decided.

<<If you want, you’re free to come with us>>

Levia says to Marica, extending a hand to her.

The two girls exchange a long look, before Marica stands up and grabs Levia’s hand.

[Navi: Marica joined the Party!]

Navi’s cheerful voice in this instance is really out of place…

To help us plan a better strategy, Marica starts to share some details about her abilities.

She’s a level 10 magician, capable of using light magic to blind opponents and operate a minor camouflage,while her sound magic can be used to inflict confusion or to produce small distractions.

<<My forte, however…>>

Marica’s hand glow in a silver light, as she freezes a puddle of water. On her other hand, a small flame begins to dance.

<<Heat magic. I can use this spell to transfer heat from my target to another, linking them, like I did now. So, I can take heat from a target, freezing it, and transfer that heat to another place…or.. I can do this!>>

This time, she targets a small mushroom near the wall. As before, the mushroom freezes, but after that, Marica snaps her finger, making the mushroom shatter in a small explosion.

<<Heat shock. By freezing something and giving a huge amount of heat right afterwards, I can shatter them. Of course this spell has many other useful applications, but these are the basics I use more often>>

So, nothing like elemental magic…it’s something more related to physics than what I had imagined.

By manipulating heat, she can freeze a target by taking the heat away from it, and use the absorbed energy to start flames.

Next, we explain to her our abilities in turn. She is fascinated by my skill, it seems.

<<So, how do we proceed?>>

Outside of the safe spot made by Marica’s magic, there are two warriors patrolling the tunnels. It seems they belong to Leidus’ group.

What to do now…I am clearly seeing them, but the simple thought that there could be more enemies hidden, impossible to detect…it makes me hesitate.

We’re still hidden from their view, so no immediate danger is on us. What can we do in this situation…

<<Marica…I need you to do two things>>

Using Navi’s communication function, I instruct Marica on the next moves.

First, I ask her to cast concealing magic on me. The air ripples in front of my body, giving a strange feeling when the spell is complete.

Now I am concealed from sight. Still, this spell will not make me completely invisible, and of course my steps inside the shallow water that covers the floor can still be heard and seen due to the water splashing and rippling.

I decide to try something crazy. Using Black Fluid, I try to cling to the ceiling. The skill manages to support my weight, and I try to advance using the skill. It’s difficult, and tiresome.

Using this method, I come closer to the enemies.

One of them almost seem to notice something, but he just brushes his shoulder as he continues in his path.

My companions are still in the safe spot. I give the signal to Marica, and she casts her blinding spell right in the middle of the room.

I preemptively close my eyes, but the enemies are caught unaware, thus being blinded by the sudden light.

Dropping down from the ceiling, I rush behind one of the enemies, ready to strike him.

My hand trembles, but anger trumps the thought of hurting another person. I plunge the blade made with Black Fluid right into the man’s neck.

These two were the only ones inside the room, otherwise they would have reacted to Marica’s spell, moving from their position after being suddenly blinded, thus revealing their presence. But nothing else besides us and the two enemies we spotted seems to be moving in this room.

As I take out one of them, my companions deal with the other.

Levia’s arrow pierces straight into the other guy’s head, making him fall to his back, his legs twitching as life forfeits him.

We managed to take them out without making too much noise, but, for the good of our plan, we need to dispose of the bodies. We cannot afford to leave them here, risking to alert the rest of their group.

We proceed by taking off the clothes and armor they are wearing. Smeared in blood as they are, we cannot use the items we just stripped off from the bodies.

Now, only one task is left. Corpse disposal.

Disgusted by what I am about to do, I ask my companions to look away.

Reluctant, I activate Black Fluid on the deceased.

I almost vomit by just hearing the sounds that the skill makes while consuming the corpses, knowing that they are humans makes me sick.

Still, it’s something that needs to be done.

I do it again with the second body, leaving the scene as if nothing at all happened here.

I try to not mind the look of disgust in Marica’s eyes.

Of course, we could just leave the bodies here, maybe hidden away. The monsters would have probably eaten them, but, more likely, they would have been discovered by Leidus’s group.

<<Can we use their armor? It would give us some more chances if we could pass for someone of their group>>

Retel suggests so while holding a breastplate that belonged to one of the people we just killed.

That thought itself still lingers in my mind, too heavy to sink in. We killed someone. I killed a human being. It was out of self defense, surely…but still, murder is murder.

I try to shake away that thought, since dwelling on it will only hinder us right now. If I ever survive this, I will ponder about it, even pray for forgiveness. But right now, I need to be as cold as I can, to keep my mind lucid, unclouded.

It’s more difficult than it sounds.

Still, I need to focus on what’s happening here. Retel hands me the breastplate. It’s made with leather, studded with metal to increase protection. It smells badly, of sweat and blood, and the crimson liquid stains the leather, still wet and warm.

Of course, the enemy will be able to spot the bloodstain on the armor immediately. To use it, we need to remove the stain.

Also, I doubt we could just pass for someone belonging to their group even if we don their clothes. Still, our own armor was damaged during the ambush, so we need protective gear. Especially Retel, since his breastplate was sliced open before.

An idea pops up. Perhaps…I could use my skill to remove the blood, absorbing only the blood while leaving the armor intact.

<<Navi, is something like this possible?>>

[Navi: Selective absorption of substance is within the skill’s capabilities. Would you like to proceed?]

Activating the skill again, I let it drain the blood from the item. I try to ignore the message that notifies me of human blood acquisition.

Still, the breastplate is clean now, and we can use it. I hand it to Retel again, as I proceed to clean the other equipment we stripped from those two.

The armor and clothes does not fit neither me nor Retel, since they are tailored for adults. Still, we need them in order to better move around with more protection, replacing our previous equipment and clothes, damaged from the attack earlier.

Donning the new clothes, we move out from the corridor, aiming for the exit. Using Black Fluid in surveillance mode, I scan the area around us, trying to locate possible threats.

Inside a chamber, distant no more than 100 meters from our position, I find a lone member of Leidus’s group.

He’s kneeling besides a corpse, busy as he strips down the equipment from the dead body.

Again, we decide to strike, using the same strategy from before. Marica launches her blinding spell, targeting the man. This time, however…

Movement in the water. Surprised by Marica’s spell, two men lose their balance, slipping in the water and making splashing noises that reveal their position. As they do so, Navi manages to actually detect them, making it possible for me to see their position.

Taking advantage of their momentary blindness, we launch an all- out assault with our skills and Marica’s heat magic.

She manages to freeze one of the renegades on spot, striking another with a condensed fireball.

The man is caught on fire, but he quickly drops and rolls into the shallow water, extinguishing the flames from his body.

The frozen adventurer is being pinned by Levia’s arrows.

A grizzly scene, with the cold flesh being shattered as the arrows impact against the man’s body.

Retel deals with the burned adventurer, impaling his spear into his head.

The third one, however, manages to pull and fire some sort of signal flare. He evades my attack and runs away, avoiding the arrows and attacks from my skill.

This is bad…

We do not even have the leisure of running away. Attracted by the signal flare, more renegade adventurers jump into the chamber, weapons in hand.

Six of them in total, outnumbering us. A group of four comes from the direction where their comrade ran, while two others emerged from a narrow passageway on the side of the chamber.

Only two options…retreat or advance and face them.

We decide to retreat into the tunnel that we came from. The reason is simple…we can lead them to us, using the narrow entrance as a bottleneck. Even place some traps with my skill.

However, the group does not follow us. They split off, with only two people remaining in the room, shooting arrows at us.

<<They’re trying to flank us>>

Retel shouts in panic.

Moving faster than us and having a better knowledge of this place’s layout, they will make a pincer move on us, perhaps gaining reinforcements from other members of their organization.

The two of them remaining into the large chamber are not pursuing, sticking only to make us go further inside the corridor by shooting arrows at us, while keeping the narrow exit under their aim. If we go that direction, their arrows will pierce us immediately.

We can only push into the corridor.

Still, the others will probably come from the side and the gallery’s other end. No escape from the narrow corridor.

Their superior knowledge of this level’s layout will prove decisive in the long run. Not only flanking, they could just easily lead us into some kind of ambush or trap.

I can hear the echoes of approaching footsteps, splashing in the shallow water. They are near.

Quick, I need to think…think…

We had a chance when we had the element of surprise, but now the situation is reversed, as we are trapped into a narrow space, without even enough air to breathe.

Narrow place, without enough air…an idea begins to form in my thoughts. A desperate measure, still…it could be our only chance here.

<<Marica, please, can you use your conceal magic, on all of us?>>

<<Yes, but it will only last for about two minutes. It’s not enough to flee, and they will probably detect us even if I use it…>>

Good. I steel my will for the next move.

<<No matter. Use it, right now. We will stay here, and wait for them>>

Marica looks at me with wide open eyes.

<<Are you insane? They will find us if we stay here, spell or not. Hell, why even bother then? Let’s just walk to them holding out our hands!>>

Enraged, she starts speaking quickly in a high pitched, nervous voice.

I grasp her shoulders, forcing her to look me straight in the eyes.

<<Calm down, breathe. I have a plan, so I need you to trust me here>>

I say to her, perhaps trying to convince myself along with her.

<<You are insane>>

Still, she agrees to do as I say. We band together with Retel and Levia, waiting for Marica’s spell.

My heart is pounding, beating faster, too fast, almost like fear is making it burst away from my chest.

<<Now, get down…and try to keep your breath, as long as you can>>

As I say so, Marica activates her spell, concealing us under a rippling light. Now, only one thing left…

I activate Black Fluid, producing as much as I can. Exerting myself to the limit, I change it into mist form, making it swirl around us, dispersing it into the narrow corridor.

The effort that I am enduring right now is making me sweat profusely, but I need to keep it up, no matter what.

Signals from Navi. The enemies are here.

Three of them in total. The two that were shooting at us from the chamber came into the corridor, stationing near the entrance as to block us any chance of escape.

Those are the only ones shown by Navi. However…there are more.

From the opposite end, four of them are advancing towards our position, threading carefully.

Another pair is coming from a narrow opening in the wall. They are closing in on us, looking around, examining every detail as to not fall into some kind of trap.

Their camouflage is amazing, if I can say so. Even capable of eluding Navi, that should posses some kind of anti-spell property with her detection.

Still, I can feel them, as they move inside the room saturated by the Black Fluid. It’s a weird sensation, feeling them move through my skill.

<<Closer…come closer>> I mutter, while my strength is almost at its limits, spent maintaining the gas form of my skill.

<<No one here>> one of them shouts to his companions after looking around.

Another shakes his head.

<<Impossible…we would have seen them flee. Unless…>>

As he leaves his sentence hanging, he lifts his arm and mutter something.

With a quick movement, he throws his arm down, producing some sort of rippling shock-wave all around him. The wave expands, crashing around Marica’s magic. Ripping it down.

<<Found them! Fire!>> They shout almost at the same time.

Still…

I clutch my hand, changing the Black Fluid again. The same trick I used during the battle against the Hero.

The group came close, and breathed the invisible gas I transformed Black Fluid into. After that, I only need to change the skill back to liquid form, choking them from inside.

No need to make things excessively brutal by making blades extend from the skill.

Well, it could be quicker that way…

My little trick effectively deals with them. The other two at the entrance are quickly disposed off by Marica and Levia’s combined attack.

A moment of respite. I drop to my knees, exhausted, panting with my breath in disarray from the effort.

Controlling my skill so precisely, against this many targets at the same time was so draining that I almost feel myself faint.

<<Hey! Roshal! Are you ok? Drink this, quickly!>>

Retel comes to my side, supporting me as he hands me a small tonic made by Heod. A yellow looking liquid inside a small glass vial.

I gulp the potion entirely, without paying mind to the bitter taste that it leaves in my mouth.

The liquid reinvigorates me, giving back some energy.

A stamina potion, made to recover energy after a prolonged effort.

Still, no time to spare resting here.

This time, I directly absorb the bodies without stripping their equipment first. Just to confirm something…

As I thought, the items they wear are somehow removed and stored in my inventory, without being dismantled by the skill.

[Navi: This function can be toggled off if you want to harvest raw materials from equipment]

Well, good to know. I take out the clothes and armor from my inventory, handing them to Levia and Marica.

<<Wait… I have an idea. Uhm, it could not work, but…we could try like this…>>

Levia suggests her plan.

Basically, she intends to pose as a prisoner, having me and Retel pose as members of Leidus’s gang. This way, we could approach the gang members, pretending to be escorting prisoners.

<<This will not work. Listen…I’ve watched these…beasts for some time now. They don’t take prisoners, understand? As soon as they get their hands on you, they will take your possessions and kill you on the spot. Or, if you are a girl…my point is, this plan will fail without any doubt>>

Marica’s sudden remark makes Levia look down in embarrassment.

<<There is no need to shut her down like this, you know? She just made a suggestion>>

Retel angrily retorts to Marica, defending his sister.

This is bad. We’re all nervous, in a critical situation…the last thing we need is someone overreacting and starting a fight among us.

I try to calm them down, to make them focus on the current situation.

Taking a deep sigh I let my hands run on my face.

<<Listen, all of you. Stay calm. We’ve already lost if we cannot manage our heads here. The enemies outnumber us, they have better knowledge about this place. Our only possibility of getting out of here with our lives comes from us being calm and collected. Ok?>>

I try to sound firm and confident, but deep down I am so scared that I just want to run away. Still, for our sake, I, We, cannot lose our heads.

We need to think, and fast.

<<Marica, do you know how many of them are here? How many people work under this Leidus?>>

<<Roughly fifty people are in his gang, including Leidus himself. Not all of them are active in the Dungeon…they usually hole out in their hideout, located in the fifth level. They send out hunting parties, usually twenty or twenty-five members each time, to hunt and rob adventurers. There could be more roaming around, but I’d wager we have to deal with twenty-five of them, at most>>

Still a lot of them left…

<<Now. We took out fifteen of them, two when we were hidden, other two inside the chamber, and eleven right here. This means that more than forty-five people are still looking for us, in the worst case scenario, or, if we’ve been really lucky, we need to deal with ten more of them. So, what do we do now?>>

I try with all my might to not let that thought sink in, keeping it at bay. But it’s still there, emerging, clawing from the deep of my psyche.

We killed fifteen people. We murdered them. We-are-murderers.

I bite my lip to regain focus, but it does not work…that thought still lingers.

<<First, we need to get away from here. Staying still into one spot will only make us easy to surround. We could try and force the exit, since their numbers have dwindled a bit>>

This time, Levia’s suggestion gains a nod of approval from Marica.

<<I will take the lead, since you lot probably don’t know the way there>> says the magician, walking ahead of us.

<<No, we cannot just walk around like this>>

Retel suggests to walk in formation, in order to be ready for possible ambush by the enemies.

And so, we switch our positions.

I walk in front of the group, acting as a scout. Since the last battle, I am constantly using Black Fluid in mist form. The detection range is significantly low than Navi’s, however with this method I can perceive if something moves, no matter if they are using skills or magic. It takes a heavy toll, but I will endure.

The magician and Levia follow in the middle, while Retel takes rearguard position.

Marica will give instructions about the way out using Navi.

Having decided our organization, we depart from the spot.

Just to be sure, I deployed some off-shots with camera-like surveillance around us, to avoid any kind of sudden attack from behind or our flanks.

We move as fast as we can, sticking to Marica’s instructions.

<<Next corridor, on the left. There is a hidden path…it’s narrow, but we can squeeze in>>

Reaching the path, I let Marica and Levia travel through, after making sure that no enemies are on the other side.

Next comes Retel’s turn. He’s a bit too big for the passage, and he almost got stuck a few times before managing to squeeze himself out.

My turn comes last. The passage is really tight, and I am crawling inside the rock fissure, with the moss covered stone grazing my face as I push my way in.

Finally, I emerge from the passage.

It led us on a rocky ledge, overlooking the chamber that holds the floor’s exit.

In front of the rock-sculpted stairs, six people are keeping watch. From our position, I can clearly see them. Perhaps there are even more at the stair’s entrance, on the second floor, blocking any adventurer party that wants to come down.

Still…how are they managing to do so without any complaints whatsoever from the other adventurers? Someone would surely report this matter to the Guild, for God’s sake!

Well, that is something to think about when we finally manage to get out of this floor. For now, we need to focus on them.

It seems that another group of men is dividing a pile of objects…perhaps loot from another, less fortunate party of adventurers. As I turn around, I spot the lifeless bodies, being piled up on some kind of cart.

Hell, they really managed to kill another group of people here.

<<That’s how they work. They lock down an entire floor from the top exit, keeping any new party to come in and trapping the ones that are already in. I don’t know how, but they always manage to avoid high-level party or official Guild missions. Hell, they even know when the Army sends people here! That is one of the main proofs that someone in the Guild is involved with them>>

Marica whispers to us.

So, by knowing the schedules in advance, they know how many people will enter the Dungeon each day, and between them, how many aim to do a Dive or just plan to stay in one specific floor. From that info, they build their strategy, striking low level parties.

<<But…why? I mean, they could earn high quality items if they attack stronger parties, instead of just targeting newcomers and stripping their cheap equipment…>>

This whole thing smells, badly.

<<Not only that, in Sendria there is high law enforcement, especially against illegal markets and such. So, for them, selling the items and equipment pillaged from their victims is outright impossible. It’s…I don’t know what to think about them. It all seems so illogical, what they are doing and why. One thing is for sure: they are not doing this to gain profit or such>>

Marica continues explaining her thoughts about this whole deal. So, even she noted that something is really amiss with this group.

<<Another thing…their equipment is good. Too good to be just something that they stripped from dead adventurers. I mean, most newcomers cannot afford this kind of equipment right away, and these guys, not only they have basically high class armor for each member, but…look, look here. The armor we stole from them, even the weapons…perfectly maintained. And you said their base is inside the Dungeon, so they either have some skilled weapon-smith or such in their camp, or they’re getting resources from outside>>

Again, what I cannot understand is the reason behind all this. What the hell are they doing here…

An arrow flies straight over our heads.

<<Shit! They spotted us!>>

Even when we were under Marica’s spell, they managed to locate our position. More and more arrows are coming towards us…

Going back into the passage seems too risky, since we will need to enter it one by one, and the enemies are closing on our position. We could try and fight, using the high ground to our advantage.

First thing to do is deal with those archers. Three men are using longbows to strike at us from distance. The arrows travel at high speed, and guarding against them is really, really difficult.

Luckily I manage to repel them using Black Fluid, turning it into some kind of shield deployed in front of us.

Still…

A loud sound booms in the air, as one strange arrow flies towards us, hitting the rock wall behind our back.

As soon as the arrow impacts the rock, it explodes, letting out a shock-wave that flings us away from the elevated ledge. We scatter in all directions, falling down into the shallow water.

I can hear metal clashing from all directions around me.

It seems they properly managed to divide us, aiming to pick our group one by one.

Behind me, something moves at quick speed.

Barely, I manage to block an axe slashing at me from the side. As I use Black Fluid to retaliate, the assailant simply evades my counterattack, knocking me on a wall with a shoulder blow.

The assailant laughs, as he cancels his camouflage. He materializes out of thin air, like an alien hunter from a movie I loved in my previous world…

Wielding two short axes, the man standing in front of me resumes his attack. Barely, I manage to avoid his quick attacks, but I do not have the time to retaliate, as the flurry of slashes continues to rain on me.

The man is definitely more skilled than me in close quarter combat…

My only chance here is to keep my distance and use ranged attacks with my skill. If this becomes close quarter combat, I am dead.

Too distracted by the opponent in front of me, I fail to notice another man creeping up on me from my blindside.

He manages to plunge his dagger in my back, leaving a red stain in my armor and a sharp pain in my mind.

At the same time, the axe wielding man lands two hits on me. The first is shallow, deflected by my armor…but it still hurts like hell.

The second one however digs deep into my shoulder, making me fall and roll in pain. As he closes in for the kill, I manage to pierce him with Black Fluid.

The dagger wielding guy…lies dead, floating in the shallow water with an arrow sticking out of the back of his head. It seems Levia and Marica managed to shake off their assailant.

<<Retel…we need to find him>>

<<Wait…We need to do something with your wound, first>>

Marica says while looking at me with concern.

I shake my head.

<<No, go to him and help him out. I can manage here>>

Still looking a bit doubtful, the magician follows Levia as the run to Retel’s side.

<<I’m starting to rely too much on this>> I mutter as I consume the axe wielding man’s corpse, healing myself.

As soon as I am done, I run to my companions’ side.

The three of them are already engaging against the archer group. It seems that one of them has a powerful skill, capable of shooting arrows that explode into shock-waves.

Being faster than spells, their attacks prevent Marica from summoning any kind of magic, forcing my friends to hide behind cover, lacking any proper offense means.

<<Finally! How long did that take you?>>

Retel shouts at me.

<<Go, now!>>

Without letting me reply, he signals to Marica.

<<This spell is really a last resort. It is difficult to pull off, does not last long and it will have a heavy toll on me. Still, it’s our safest bet. Now, here is the plan.

As soon as I finish casting this, we need to run. I will use it in combination with my concealing spell to give us a better chance. Due to the effort, I will not be able to move, so either Retel or Roshal will have to carry me. Understood?>>

Marica starts chanting something, muttering strange words as she holds her hands near her chest.

Yelling the last part of the litany she’s been muttering, Marica plunges her hand into the shallow water.

<<Velo di Nebbia!>>

Nothing happens.

<<Now, give it a moment…>>

Suddenly, mist begins to rise from the water, covering the entire room

<<Let’s go! Straight to the exit!>>

As we leave our cover, Marica chants another spell, concealing us within the mist with her light magic. Keeping the two magics active at the same time is taking a big toll on her.

Her face is so pale, and I can see her small frame shuddering, trembling as she struggles to keep the magic under control. Retel grabs her and carries her on his shoulder as we run.

Confused, with their vision clouded, the enemies do not seem to spot us. I can hear them yelling, blindly shooting their arrows in the thick mist.

We’re close now…I can see the enemies searching for us, their vision hindered by the mist.

Arrows are flying above our heads, and the skill-holder archer is repeatedly trying to blow away the mist with his skill, unsuccessfully.

Slipping past them, we manage to reach the stairs.

We cannot be soft here. As we pass near the archers, I attack the with my skill. No time to show mercy.

Near the stairway, only one of them remains.

<<You’re coming with us>>

I whisper at him, after immobilizing him with Black Fluid and dragging him close. He tries to struggle, attempting to free himself, but I just need to squeeze harder with my skill, breaking a few bones to keep the man from resisting.

Running up the stone staircase, I drag the prisoner, now completely bound by my skill. I intend to bring him to the Guild, to expose what his group is doing right here.

The gateway connecting the staircase to the second floor is not guarded, luckily.

Just to be safe, I place some traps behind us, in case someone decides to pursue us upstairs…although I doubt that something like that will happen.

After some time spent navigating our way through the second and first floor, we finally emerge from the Dungeon.

We drag the prisoner with us, right in the middle of the Gateway Building. The surrounding adventurers are looking at us with a mix of confusion and fear.

In all consideration, we just barged in dragging a bound man.

The receptionists immediately call security, demanding that we release the prisoner.

After properly explaining the situation for too many times, they finally accept our story. The prisoner is taken in custody by security, and one of the receptionists immediately scurries of to his superiors, to organize a search and capture party inside the Dungeon.

One by one, me and my companions are accompanied inside one of the security offices of the Guild, being questioned for who knows how much time about what just happened to us.

I just want to go home and brush off this day from me. I feel sick, nauseated by what we have been forced to do in order to survive there.

I mean, fighting monsters is fine, but I cannot stomach the thought of having killed other people, even in self defense.

By all means, even if our actions were due to self defense, we are murderers now. According to the security officer that spoke with us, we could even be charged or detained for our behavior.

Still, I do not care about that kind of consequence, I am just glad to be still alive and in one piece.

Using Navi, I contact Heod, informing him about our situation, and persuading the old man to just wait for us at home, instead of running here like he was about to do as soon as he heard what we went through.

We remain in the security room for hours, until late night.

In the end, they decide to let us go, after collecting a signed testimony from the four of us.

I demand several times to be informed about any kind of development concerning the search expedition inside the Dungeon. Although the officer accepted my plea, I doubt that they will go out of their way to let me know.

In the middle of the night, we finally leave the Gateway Building, escorted by some Security officers right to our home.

We took Marica home with us, offering her to stay the night. She accepted, coming along.

Without even having dinner, everybody just went straight into their rooms.

Old man Heod immediately understood, just looking at our faces, how heavy was our day. He let us go, without saying a word.

Tomorrow, we will surely take the day and talk to him.

For now, I just lay on my bed and pray for sleep to come.

Re:interference Chapter 9- Sendria

We went on with our training until Retel managed to reach level 8. After that, we abandoned our hunts, following Heod’s suggestion, and focused to just walk our way towards Sendria.

Sticking to the main road, we encountered more and more fellow travelers as we neared the city’s outskirts.

Merchant caravans followed by guards, simple carts pulled by donkeys and mules led by farmers, brimming with products destined to the city’s bazaar.

The scenery around us changed, as the wild green sea slowly receded, until the whole landscape became covered in cultivated fields and farmlands.

From time to time, even small clusters of houses began to appear on the side of the road, some of them belonging to local farmers or used as lodgings to accommodate weary travelers.

Before entering the city, we decided to rest into one of such buildings, a rural inn on the roadside.

The reason…because we’re in tatters. From the days we spent hunting in the Grasslands, our clothes became tattered and ragged, and no proper guard would let someone with such ragged appearance as us enter their precious city. So, in order to fix our appearance and tidy ourselves, we decided to spend a night in the inn.

Of course, the possibility of sleeping in a proper bed after so many days spent under the stars is really, really appealing.

We depart from the inn with the first light of the new day, donning clean and proper clothes taken from my inventory. I scavenged them from the Fort before, with the intention of selling them. Instead, I ended up wasting my entire wardrobe after the many battles that we fought in the Grasslands. It seems we will be forced to do some proper shopping once we get into the city.

The road is busy even during early morning hours. And, this time, we are walking on a proper road, wide and made by smooth, paved stones.

In the distance, the walls of Sendria can be seen. Perspective is tricky, so I cannot properly judge their size from my position, still…they are impressive. Wonder how I’ll feel right beside them…

The city itself seems to be pretty huge. According to Heod, Sendria has a population of about 250000 inhabitants, holding the largest concentration of people in this region. The high population is due to two reasons: the presence of the Dungeons, a place that attracts thousands of people to the city, both for the Dungeon itself and for the manufacturing and service business that bloomed around it. Next, but not least important, Sendria has a fluvial port.

Well, it’s more of a lakeside port, since the city itself is situated between a lake and the mountain range that contains the Dungeon. Still, the lake, called Indora Lake, is born from the Indora river, a huge river that crosses a long distance, touching several countries in its way to the Sea. The river and lake offer calm waters for circulation of goods, and transporting goods from the lake to other cities seems to be one of the most important activities in Sendria.

The lake is located west of Sendria. The west wall is open, as it hosts the harbor facilities and docks. On the North side, the mountain range called Dohara Mountains act as a natural barrier for the city. Sendria itself looks almost like it’s coming out from the mountains, like some sort of growth from the rocks.

<> says Heod while pointing out at the black, huge structures that are near the foot of the mountain range.

<>

Heod’ s explanation about the city continues with anecdotes and various stories…

It seems the old man is really knowledgeable about Sendria, since, according to him, he spent there some years during his youth.

Well, we still have a long walk to do before we reach the city.

As we go towards the main road, the countryside ends abruptly, devolving into a mess of wooden barracks and tents. The air smells terribly, since there seems to be an open-air, rudimentary sewage system, with waste flowing near the houses and dirt-track roads.

It’s like seeing a scene from a third-world country, with scrawny children playing in the dirt, while old people watch on them from their shabby houses.

Truly a difficult thing to see and just pass by.

According to Heod, these slums accommodate those that are denied entry in the city. Poor people without any possibility to pay the entrance fee, workers employed illegally in the near farmlands.

<>

Of course, situations like the one in front of me should be a common sight in this world, where society is basically a medieval one. Where the noble and rich trample the poor and so on.

Seeing it with my own eyes is unpleasant. It’s not like I can do anything for this people, aside from making small donations that would help my ego more than them.

Perhaps, if I find some kind of association or church that tends to the poor I could give a helping hand, but for now the only thing I can do is look at them, and walk away.

The slums extend almost to the outer walls of Sendria. Almost like another city grew up around the main one.

Small alleys branch from the main road, woven around the wooden sheds like a web. Losing the sense of direction would be too easy if one were to venture into that intricate maze.

Well, we only need to stick to the main road, since for now we have no business in the slums.

More and more people crowd the road as we get near to the city’s walls.

<> mutters Retel, while Levia looks around with sparkling eyes, captivated by the huge walls adorned with statues.

The wall is about 7 or even 8 meters tall, with battlements and archer towers on the top. It is still manned, with guards patrolling on the walkways and even some stationed at the battlements.

The craftsmanship behind this construction is really incredible…

It truly is a magnificent sight, the polished white surface of the walls engraved with bas relief motif, white marble warriors locked into an eternal battle against their enemies of stone.

Still, the stark contrast between the Southern and Northern wall is astounding. The Southern wall is white, finely decorated, build more to appease the eye than to be a proper defense barrier. The North wall, however, is built with black stone, towering on the rest of the city. Without any kind of decoration, it hosts several guard towers, clearly visible even from below and at such distance. It is built with function in mind, without any frills for aesthetics or such.

The white, sculpted wall in front of us opens with a large gate, located under an Arc opening in the wall. Inside the Arc, a sturdy looking wooden gate stands tall and locked.

Guards are stationed in front of the gate, and it looks like they are inspecting the merchants’ carts before letting them into the city.

Someone is making a small commotion, but is quickly being captured and reprimanded by some of the guards…perhaps it was someone incapable of paying the entrance tax?

We stand in line along with the crowd, waiting for our turn to enter the city.

Standing in line for more than an hour, we slowly advance, one step at a time.

Finally, our turn came.

A bored guard signals us to go his way. Wearing a bowl-shaped helmet that leaves his face exposed, the guard is sitting beside a small wooden desk. His red uniform’s shirt is swollen on his belly portion, showing a physique more suited to desk work than guard duty.

A lush pair of mustaches crown the guard’s lips, swaying as he mutters something disrespectful about his superiors.

<> he shouts while ringing a small brass bell.

The first to have his identity checked is Retel, followed by Levia and Heod.

Although the guard scoffs at them, it seems to be more because he hates his duty than for him being displeased by their race. Now that I think of it, no one did any kind of disrespectful remark towards my friends since we left the village.

My turn comes last. I don’t know why, but I always get nervous with this kind of situations. I remember in my old life, I felt the same way as I was forced to go through ID check at airports. Of course, I did not have anything to hide, nor I have it now…it’s just…stressing for me.

Hell, I feel more comfortable while fighting monsters than dealing with authorities…

He looks at me a few times, while he hands the Identity Stone I just gave him to one of his colleagues. It seems that the verification is not made in front of me, but inside a room built in the wall. I wonder if magic is involved…no, it definitely is.

<> he tells while handing me back my stone. He scribbles something on a parchment and hands it to me. It looks like some sort of receipt of payment, with the sum written on it.

I hand the money to the guard. He inspects the coins for a moment, before nodding with his head.

<<Please, sign the document here>>

The signed document is collected again by the guard, who then peels off the surface of the parchment. It looks like the carbon copy papers of my world, where the things written on the sheet would be copied on a second sheet below. The guard hands me the original document, while he keeps the copied part.

This simple thing about the paper makes me wonder how advanced this civilization really is. Since things around look pretty medieval, I expected paper or parchment to be scarce commodities, used only by nobles and such…instead it seems like paper is produced properly in this city, and is not even regarded as something uncommon, instead being widely used…

<<Well, Mr Roshal, welcome to Sindria. Stroll along. Next!>> says the guard while suppressing a yawn.

After sighing in relief, I join my comrades again. On one side of the big wooden gate a small door is opened by a tall guardsman. He signals us to go through, gesturing quickly with his free hand. Once we get inside, the door is closed on our backs.

Finally, we are past Sendria’s walls.

The atmosphere inside the walls is completely different from the slums around the city. Paved roads, houses built in stone and wood. Alleys brimming with people and merchants selling their products from wooden stalls or in-house built stores.

A proper city, with a tidy and beautiful appearance.

We walk along the main road, gazing with wonder all around us.

<>

Heod asks for our opinion about the destination.

<<Hm, I would like to tour around a bit before going to Guild…maybe we could go and do a bit of shopping?>>

Levia’s suggestion is not bad. Since we need to buy some stuff, we could just do it while touring the city a bit…

<>

Well…Retel makes a point here.

<>

And so we decided on our course of action.

Following the main street, we end up in the main square. A huge open space, decorated with trees and statues, and a magnificent marble fountain located right in the middle.

<>

Levia is running around with sparkling eyes, captivated by the beauty that the city offers. The fountain itself is really a work of art, with statues comparable to the old greek masterpieces from my world.

It’s almost like the figures cast in white marble were alive, locked in a movement that lasted for hundreds of years.

Some tourist groups are touring around the square, lead by young women that explain with enthusiasm the story behind each monument.

It will be nice to have a proper tour of the city…but, right now, we have other priorities.

We leave the square behind, heading towards the West district. As we leave the main square, the scenery slowly changes. The residential buildings that characterize the mains street give way to commercial buildings, taverns and artisan shops. Elaborate clothes and fancy armors and weapons are exposed inside the shops, without any kind of price tag being shown. Perhaps, this area is reserved for high-class stores and such…

As we move towards the West district, the quality of the shops becomes more and more inclined towards common goods instead of luxury items.

Finally, we reach another plaza, smaller than the main square but still quite big. It’s packed with people and merchant stalls, selling all kinds of items from simple groceries to strange looking apparatus and herbs.

<>

Heod is acting almost like a tourist guide, giving advice and explanation whenever we encounter a notable place.

Still, we decide to postpone our visit to the Bazaar, heading straight to the Estate office.

Holding out the reference paper that the kind merchant gave us, we enter the two-story building. Inside, a receptionist with a kind smile greets us from her desk.

Wait, is this some kind of high-class estate business?

We present our introduction paper to the female receptionist. She examines it for a moment, before inviting us to take a seat in the room.

<<Sorry, the Manager here is a busy man, you will have to wait a while before meeting him>>

She says with a kind and professional tone.

The waiting room where she leads us is furnished by sofas and a table. As we sit there, she comes back bringing refreshments.

<<So, these are the people that my good for nothing friend sent here, am I right?>>

A tall, bearded man makes his entrance in the room. His clothes are…shabby, and his appearance disarrayed. Long, unkempt air and a face that looks like the man isn’t getting enough sleep.

All of us stand up and greet the man, but he simply gestures us to sit down again.

<>

Maxim sits down with us. Although he has an unkempt appearance, his eyes brim with intelligence.

I cannot believe how random this meeting is…does his friend just give recommendation papers to anyone he meets on the road?

Still, we’re here, so…

After properly introducing ourselves, Heod starts to explain the type of building we’re looking for. I leave the job to him, since it would be strange if negotiations for renting a house are conducted by a teenager like me, right?

<<So, let me get this straight, mr Heod. You are looking for a house for you and your apprentices, that has a small basement or other room where it is possible to conduct your alchemy. As a matter of facts, my business has some houses that fit your description. Now, would you like to visit them?>>

As we agree, he leaves the room, appointing one of his employees to guide us to the houses he mentioned.

Following the employee, we tour around several housing quarters. Some of the buildings he shows us have prohibitive prices, so we immediately rule them out, much to the employee’s dissatisfaction.

Still, after spending almost the whole day house hunting, we finally find a suitable place.

Located on the edge between West and North districts, it’s equally distant from the marketplace and the Guild buildings. A one story house with a small basement.

According to our guide, it belonged to an herborist, so the basement is already predisposed to be furnished with alchemical equipment.

The house itself is small, with a kitchen, a bathroom and three rooms. The furniture provided with the house seems to be in good conditions, although it’s not like it’s composed by high class items or such.

Still, it’s a plain looking house, without anything that makes it stand out in the neighborhood.

The price for each month’s rent is 800 Sendria Crowns. Luckily, they accept foreign currency here, since my funds are in Aldora money. The exchange value is roughly equivalent, so it’s not like I will lose money due to change rates.

The price is sill too high for us, tho.

As soon as he hears the cost, Heod rages out.

<<Eight-hundred? For this third-rate place? Unbelievable!>>

I look at him with eyes wide in surprise…is he going senile here?

Apparently…it is how things work here. Goods do not have a set price, instead buyer and seller haggle the price, often vigorously, until a compromise is reached.

<<It’s like a delicate dance…the seller starts with an unreasonable price, way higher than what he really wants for what he’s selling. The buyer then proposes another price, significantly lower, and so on, until a price that satisfies both is reached. And people enjoy doing so here, so the more angry negotiations sounds, the more it will be “entertaining” for the seller…well, it’s a weird custom, but that’s how it goes in this part of the world>>

Heod explains the negotiations to us once we decided on the final price. He managed to haggle down the monthly rent to 600 Crowns, making it a bit easier for our pockets. Still, between the deposit fee and advanced payment for the month, we’ve already lost more than half of our combined funds.

We immediately signed the contract and paid the necessary expenses. As the employee scurries away to deposit the contract and our payment, we start accommodating ourselves in the new house.

<<It’s fine, it’s fine…also, it’s not like we could find any place cheaper than this, you know? Trust me, we made a good deal here. If I ever find that merchant again, I will have to buy him a beer or two>>

Laughing, Heod shifts his attention again to the basement. Although the house is properly furnished, the basement is still stripped bare, since the previous owner took away all equipment and furniture from it.

<<Well, let’s get to work, shall we?>>

Following Heod’s remark, I start to pull out some objects from my inventory. Equipment, taken from Heod’s laboratory in Nudria village.

The building was badly damaged during the battles and the subsequent attack by the Hero, however we managed to recuperate some of Heod’s equipment, stashing it away for future use.

<>

Bossed around by the old man, we arrange the equipment following his directions. He even makes me and Retel drag a bed to the basement, since, as the old man said, he would be sleeping there.

A true scientist…

The lab is up and running in a few hours, exhausted, we go upstairs to fix us some dinner, since we ended up working until dark.

<<Well, tomorrow will be a busy day. It’s best if we split up, so that we manage to get everything in order. I will go to get permissions for my little shop here, while you guys will go to the adventurer guild>>

Munching on a piece of bread, the old man talks about the plans for the next day.

<>

After discussing about it some more, we decided the tasks for the next day.

As he said, Heod will take care of documents and permits to start his alchemy business, while me, Retel and Levia will head to the marketplace. We decided to postpone our registration at the guild, in order to go there with proper equipment.

Calling it a day, we each head to our own room. Since the house has three separate rooms, and the old man decided to sleep in his new laboratory, we can have a single room for each of us.

It’s good to have some privacy, after all.

The next morning, we head out after consuming a quick breakfast. We leave Heod the sum required to get authorizations, and an extra for the unavoidable bribes he will need to pay. For a total amount of 600 crowns. Apparently, authorization papers for a new business cost almost the same as one month of rent. Well, it’s not like I have any kind of grasp about the economy here, so I’ m just praying that our funds are enough for everything we wanted to accomplish here…

Heading out from the house, we head towards the marketplace. It should be easy, since we just need to follow the main road…

And of course, we get lost. Confused by the roads and masses of people just walking around, we end up losing our sense of direction, wandering among back alleys and small roads that look too similar one to another.

I remember finding the same food stall almost four times, as we try to reach the marketplace.

In the end, we manage to regain a sense of direction, mainly by bothering a lot of people in search of directions.

We spent two precious hours doing so…

Still, the marketplace, or better, the Bazaar, like it’s called by locals, is truly chaotic. Merchants shout from their stalls, inviting passersby to browse their goods and even insulting other merchants, competing to attract more clients towards their goods.

People strolling through the stalls happily chatter between themselves, while other are haggling prices with merchants to obtain a good bargain.

The section we came in seems to be dedicated to food, however, and food it’s not what we came here to buy right now.

We need equipment, and armor, specifically.

During our hunts, the lack of defense gear made it really risky. If we want to survive in the Dungeon, we need to find proper defensive equipment.

Giving up all pretenses about finding the way by ourselves, we ask for directions to the weapon and armor section of the Bazaar.

As before, some people blatantly ignore our plea, while other provide false direction. One guy even tries to hit on Levia, in a bad, arrogant way. Well, let’s just say that he managed to learn how heavy a beastkin girl’s fists can be.

Nonetheless, after scurrying around in the marketplace, we finally managed to find the weapon and armor stalls.

All around us, marvelous looking weapons and grandiose armor are shown, with merchants shouting their lungs off as they promote the legendary blacksmith’s armor, or the swords enchanted by a royal magician or such…

Of course, most of those claims are false, and the items shown not only do not possess any kind of magical properties, but are also plain average in terms of manufacture and performance.

At least, that’s what Navi’s analysis shows. No special properties, no rare materials used. The only info shown about each item displayed is the term “common” before the item’s name. So, lots of “common swords”, “common spear” and such, sold at prices way higher than their actual value, apparently.

We move on, browsing the stalls on our way.

It seems that the good items are not in plain view here. The central stalls, the ones with flamboyant merchants and extravagant weapon designs where those gaining the most attention from common folks and curious people. However, a different kind of crowd was strolling around the more hidden stalls, those located into the back alleys of the market place. There, no shopkeeper raised his voice to attract customers, as the exposed merchandise spoke for itself.

Solid weapons, without any kind of aesthetic design that would hinder function, and armor with crude looks made to be sturdy and protective, not for show. Of course, there were some ornate pieces, but made with actual taste, without any excessive ornaments or components without any practical purpose.

The clients browsing the stalls were also of a different kind from those at the central stalls. Hardened looks, physiques shaped by battle. These people were warriors, professionals that knew their way with weapons and armor, and could discern a properly crafted item from a cheap piece of equipment.

Of course, the quality of the items varies also from stall to stall, from the works of very famous blacksmiths in the city, accompanied by impossible price tags, to works from minor artisans and even apprentices, with lower price but also more imperfect.

We’re drawn to one of such stalls. It’ s basically just a rug with some items placed upon, not even a proper stall, and no one seems to give the items exposed more than a simple look. The young girl attending the business has a bored look on her face, as she stares the back of passing people who ignore her stall.

As we approach her, her expression changes into a big and wide smile

<<Welcome, welcome! Here you will find the marvelous works by Levandri, the true master blacksmith of Sendria! Please, dear customer, feel free to browse through such marvelous goods!>>

She says with her arms wide open.

Although her selection of items is limited to only some piece of equipment and few weapons, the quality seems good, with some of the weapons labeled “superior” by Navi’s analysis. More than so, the prices are…cheap.

We make proper introductions, as we try some of the items she has on display. The girl happily goes through each piece of equipment, describing the function and helping us to put it on. Still…it’s not enough for our needs. I would have preferred to have at least a complete set of armor for the three of us, instead she only has separate pieces, like pauldrons, chestpiece and gauntlets, without selling proper sets.

<<Well, these are the only items I have for display right now…but, if you visit our workshop, I might be able to make proper sets for the three of you. It will take some time, tho, and I need proper materials to do so>>

After her remark, we agree to follow her to the workshop. The idea of getting custom equipment made for us is appealing, although the cost could be prohibitive…still, giving a look wouldn’t hurt us.

The girl, Martha, leads us into one of the back alleys from the marketplace. She just took the items on display and dismounted her stall before telling us to follow her.

Martha’s shop is inside an old, shabby building. The sound of metal being hammered resounds in the air, as this alley is ridden with blacksmith workshops and forges.

As we enter inside the old building, a bell sounds as Martha opens the door.

<<Granny, I’m home! Come out, we have clients today!>>

Martha scurries into the back of the shop, calling someone while giving us a big smile.

<<Please, feel free to look around>>

An array of swords, axes and polearms are on display, along with shields, bows and even a complex arbalest with an elegant design. Some of them have prices that are not affordable for us right now, but the vast majority of items have good prices in relation for their quality. By the looks of it, however, it seems that the items here have been on display for long time, since dust seems to have piled on them.

Perhaps business is not going well for them?

As I think so, an old woman emerges from the back of the shop.

<<Oh, so we really have some customers here…well brat, it seems yer not so useless after all>>

The old woman comes to greet us. Apparently, she’s the shop’ s owner and main artisan.

<<Well, boys tell old Letha what yer looking for. Is it a shiny armor? Or a pretty sword to impress girls?>>

Her laughter resounds in the old shop. By the looks of it, it seems she’s making fun of us.

Well, we do look like an inexperienced bunch of brats…

<>

As I say so, the old shopkeeper gives us a wry smile.

<>

<>

The old woman laughs again at my remark.

<<Well, planning to earn big money in the future eh? Let me tell ya, the Dungeon isn’t a pretty place, and it surely doesn’t make newcomers rich. Oh, get that look off your face…of course anyone with a bit of brain in their head can see right through you. A group of youngsters shopping for weapons and gear…what else could it be if not the latest group of dumb kids dreaming to become rich in that awful place?>>

She goes on and on about how dumb it is for youngsters to follow pointless dreams instead of getting a proper job, and as she talks, Martha’s smile fades with every word.

Well, here’s the reason why the business is going bad…the owner makes excellent items, but her toxic personality drives clients away. Her aversion towards young adventurers makes it even worse, in a city where adventurers are the majority of those who buy weapons and armor…

Still, I will not let her behavior intimidate me.

Of course, we could just go away and buy items some other place…but something tells me that sticking with her shop might be worth it. Maybe a hunch, maybe I just feel like bickering a bit with an old lady…

In the end, after taking so much verbal abuse from the old hag, we manage to get her to agree. She will make custom equipment for me and my companions, provided that we procure her materials from the Dungeon, for both her shop and to build our equipment.

After that, she takes our measurements for the custom equipment.

<>the old lady mutters to herself while cackling about it…

Being done with measurements, we browse the items on display once again. Since the custom equipment will take a while to be made, we need some cheap protection to use in the meantime.

Trying out various pieces of gear, we ended up buying leather equipment.

Not full sets, since those would be a little too expensive right now, but we at least got leather protectors for arms and chest. It will be enough, for now.

We also bought a proper spear for Retel and a metal buckler, while Levia got a new, composite short-bow and a proper quiver.

Luckily, the shopkeeper was in dire need of monster materials for her craft, so we managed to save a bit of money by trading some of our monster materials to her. She particularly appreciated the materials from Razor Beaks and Longhorns…it seems the pelts, horns and feathers from those beasts are widely used in her craft.

<>

She asked, giving us a curious look.

<>

Her eyes widened for a moment as she heard Retel’s response.

<<Well, not to be rude or anything…but…uhm, could you please sign some kind of contract about our agreement, perhaps?>>

Levia, who remained silent for most of the conversation between me and the old shopkeeper, actually saves us some trouble since we almost left with only a verbal agreement with her.

The old lady scoffs, but she sends her attendant to fetch parchment and ink and writes down the contract.

As me and my companions sign it, she hands a copy to us while keeping the other.

In the end, we left the shop with our new equipment. We spent most of our remaining funds for the new gear and the deposit for the custom armor contract. Still, we’re left with enough money to pay the registration fee in the guild.

We return home, getting lost only a few times before we actually made it there.

As we open the door, Heod greets us with a big smile on his face. A small, slim man is with him inside the house.

Apparently, he met one of his old acquaintances while he was going to get the documents for his shop. And, even more randomly, it turns out that the man himself was working in the authorization and authentication office, and so old Heod managed to obtain an authorization license even fatser thanks to his old acquaintance, and it seems they are in the middle of celebrating their reunion with conspicuous quantities of alcohol.

<<Just…don’t get too much drunk, old man>>

Retel mutters as we head out again.

Having donned our new equipment over clothes that are easier to move in, we decide to finally head to the Guild.

Located on the North district, the Guild’s main building is…nothing impressive. No fancy decoration or grandiose palace, it’s just a normal, plain looking building with a billboard stating “guild” on the entrance. That’s it. A bit underwhelming…

Inside, a row of reception desks are set up, each with a long line of people. All of them are young adventurers to be, since this building is reserved to new registrations, according to the billboard inside.

The line is managed with a number system. From a big basket near the entrance, you take a small piece of wood with a number carved on it. It seems that, this way, people do not try and jump the line causing some ruckus.

Still, no incident of that type happens, and we simply wait our turn in line.

When the receptionist calls our number, we move from the line to the suggested desk. A middle aged woman with a kind smile greets us.

<<Greetings, and welcome to the Adventurer Guild. My name is Marion, and I will be in charge of your registration. Please, lend me your Identity Stones>>

We follow the woman’s instructions.

She inserts each stone in some kind of cylindrical device.

<<See, this device here is a special tool used by the Guild. It confirms the information on your stone, while at the same time it will be able to overwrite it with some new functions after your registration. See this green light? It means that the information in your stone is genuine, and we can proceed with the registration>>

After the explanation, she proceeds to collect the registration fee from us and some information not written into the Identity Stone, like our current equipment, preferred weapons and such. Next, she asked us about our experience with monsters, recommending some classes to follow before going straight into the Dungeon.

Then she handed us the cylinders.

<<Now, put your thumb here on the top, and press it. You will feel a little prick, don’t worry, it’s the tool that requires a drop of your blood to finish updating the stones>>

As we do what she says, the cylinders glow after receiving the drop of blood. The tool opens, revealing the Identity stones immersed into some kind of liquid, which rapidly solidifies into another, darker colored stone, almost identical to the original one.

Marion collects the cylinders again, opening them and handing us the original stones.

She then picks up the newly made stones.

<>

She then hands us another document, which contains our Party Identification Number and several other information. According to Marion, this document must be given to the receptionist at the Dungeon Gateway before entering the Dungeon itself, as it is needed to properly accept requests from the Guild and during the formal paperwork needed before each expedition inside the Dungeon.

She then sends us off to the Dungeon Gateway.

A detached building from the main office, located at the North Wall.

After all, the main building in the city is only destined to registration of newcomers. The real Guild business, like commerce of monster materials and Dungeon deployment schedules and authorizations are managed at the Gateway, which also hosts the entrance gateway to the dungeon itself.

We decided to head directly there, and start our first exploration of the Dungeon.

From the main building, the Guild organizes a carriage service to the Gateway. The price for the service is comprised into the registration fee, so we decide to spare us the long walk and use the transport service.

The small carriage is being drawn by horses, and it reaches the North Wall in almost twenty minutes from the main building.

As we reach the North Wall, the huge scale of the building leaves us speechless. It could be several hundreds of meters high, built with black stones that shine as daylight touches them.

The stone is smooth to the touch, and feels almost like glass, cold and without the slightest hint of curvature or imperfection.

The Gateway Building’s entrance opens up inside the black wall. A simple gate with sturdy looking metal doors, without any kind of decoration.

The doors are open, and we can get inside without any kind of control.

It seems that this spot is also used as a touristic attraction, since most of the people around look like commoners, while the adventurers can easily be spotted since they carry their weapons and armor around.

We spend some time looking at the attractions here, ranging from monster replicas (which probably are just stuffed monsters corpses) to weapons of famous adventurers of the past. In the center of the entrance hall stands a huge monolith, with names carved on the entire surface. A small plaque identifies the monument as a memorial to the fallen soldiers during the last monster invasion. Since then, the Dungeon has been under strict control, with the population of monsters being hunted down by adventurers and even dedicated expeditions by the Sendria Army. Apparently, the regular army uses some of the lower levels as a training ground for their troops.

Eavesdropping on the tour guides should be bad…still, I can’t help it if they speak out loud and say interesting things, can’t I?

Well, we will leave the touristic attractions for another time…for now, it’s better to focus ourselves to the task at hand…

We head to the adventurer-reserved part of the building. After examining our Identity stones, the guard lets us in.

Inside, it looks like the main building, with receptionist desks and people waiting in line. A huge billboard stands in one of the corners, with the word “Material Requests” written on it. Several fliers are stapled to the board, perhaps written on them are the materials that the guild needs from the dungeon.

To accept a specific mission for materials, you only need to take the flier and bring it to the reception desk, apparently.

As we wait for our turn in line, we watch a lone girl make some commotion to one of the receptionists. She scurries away angrily, muttering some harsh words as she strolls away from the room.

Finally, the receptionist calls our number. With my heart racing in my chest, I approach the desk. A lifelong dream…the adventure of a lifetime inside a real Dungeon…

The receptionist, a kind, middle aged beast man informs us about the Material Requests. It seems that each party can only take one request at the time, in order to prevent some parties hoarding all requests.

Currently, the only requests posted are for high level monster materials, so we will not take any of those, as the target monsters will surely be too tough to deal with for us.

We simply ask for permission to enter and explore the Dungeon, handing out our Party ID to the receptionist and filling out the necessary paperwork.

It takes a while, but we finally manage to obtain our first authorization.

After doing so, we head to the Dungeon Gateway.

It’s nothing more than a carriage station, where automated carriages take adventurers to the Dungeon’s entrance.

It seems the carriages here are moved by magic, traveling along a metal rail to reach their destination. We board one of the carriages, letting it carry us to destination.

The railway goes straight inside the mountain, traveling inside a huge tunnel through the rock.

After almost an hour, we finally reach the real Dungeon entrance.

We dismount the carriage and head out of the station. The entrance is nothing more than a tunnel in the rocks, leading down with a steep stone ladder.

[Navi: Leaving Sendria City- Entering Mahal Dungeon (first floor)]

The first level of the Dungeon is a big cave, illuminated by some crystals that emit a cold, blue light. The rock surface is covered in white moss, while mushrooms are growing between the rocks, in places where the light does not reach.

Several low level parties are around us, marveling at the structure. Newcomers, like us.

We decide to push on.

As we exit the main hallway, the passage becomes a narrow gallery, almost four meters wide. Limestone-like structures can be seen on the ceiling and rock floor, and the air around us is damp and heavy to breathe.

We are advancing in formation, with Retel as the vanguard and Levia in the rear, while I take center position.

A party of three…the receptionist at the desk made a displeased face when we explained our party composition. He said that it would be ok for the first five levels, however it would be risky after reaching the sixth level. The reason is…the monsters could easily outnumber us, and even a group of low level monster can pose a significant threat if they swarm on you.

Still, it should be fine for today, since we don’t aim to go too deep during our first exploration.

Of course, I don’t expect this floor to be bursting with enemies or rare treasures. Just by looking at the entrance, we could see a lot of people, and more are surely in the inner parts. This being the very first level, is probably used for newcomers to practice and train, and so, the number of monsters and possible materials to be found here is probably very low. I hope that the situation changes in the next levels, but it’s realistic to think that the levels from one to ten are most likely very exploited and devoid of anything useful.

According to the guild receptionist, this Dungeon has more than 200 levels, with some of them being still unexplored. Levels are grouped in numbers of ten, and each 10th level of a group has a special being overseeing it. In short words, a real life Boss Monster.

As one might expect, monster’s levels rise as you go down. For instance, level 1-2 monsters inhabit this floor, while the second floor hosts monsters whose level range between 2 and 5. And so on.

The highest level recorded for the first section is 20, and it was a rare Boss Monster that appeared only once since the Dungeon has been managed by the Guild. Usually, the 10th floor Boss is around level 15.

I smiled a bit when the receptionist shared this info…we held our ground fairly even against higher level monsters during our hunts in the Grasslands, so we should be totally fine in the first section. If we manage to be careful, that is.

We explore further and further inside. The only time I manage to detect a monster, it was already being engaged by another party, so we left the scene and headed further away.

It’s not good to swoop in and kill someone else ‘s prey.

Finally, after almost one entire hour of us just walking around, we manage to find something.

Not a monster, but a vein of material. A mineral, to be more precise. It glows with green light, hanging out of the Dungeon’s rock wall.

[Navi: Detected Material- Agathite (small clump) x1. Material properties: Mana charge (low), Brittle, Emit light (green)]

Agathite…it seems to be some kind of low quality magical stone.

<<Hey, old man, can you hear me?>>

I use Navi to try and contact Heod. As no reply comes by, I almost give up on this…

<<Oh? Roshal? Where are you?>>

It seems Navi’s communication can work even underground, and at such distance…good work, Navi!

I inform Heod about our find, asking him if the material is worth taking back with us.

<>

Heod’s advice is a bit depressing…still, I decide to take it with me. Transporting it will not be a problem thanks to my Inventory, and even extraction is easy since I can just harvest it with Black Fluid.

Hm?

[Navi: Material Property Gained- Emit light (green)]

Apparently, I can now make my Black Fluid emit some kind of fluorescence green light. It’s…I don’t know how to feel about this. Maybe it could be useful if I go fishing at night, using my skill to produce a fluorescent bait…

I shake my head and press on.

After a while, we engage a group of low level monsters. It’s our first Dungeon Battle! My heart pounds in excitement, as I savor this lifelong dream come true…

It does not even last for a single minute.

The three rat-like monsters charge at us, and a single strike from Retel’s spear is enough to kill two of them. Levia shots the remaining one with her bow, and that’s it.

Underwhelming.

I sigh and collect the monster materials. This time I did not even have the chance to do something beside collecting the remains.

In the end, we decide to conclude our first Dungeon Exploration. After a streak of easy-to win battles, we head to the surface again.

It was…a bit disappointing. The only kind of materials we found on the first level were different kinds of Agathite, varying only in color from the first one we gathered. The monsters were all low levels, and the materials they yielded were of low quality.

As expected, the Guild Market did not buy any of the things we brought back from the Dungeon.

We head home, silent along the way.

As come near…

A huge line of men is waiting outside the house, shouting in disappointment in front of the closed doors.

We approach the group, and they start protesting us, thinking that we are cutting the line in front of them.

<<No, no…we live here, it’s our house, you see?>>

As Levia says so, the crowd pesters her, yelling her to let them inside the shop, shouting some nonsense like they will pay extra…

Old man, what have you done here…

We manage to avoid the crowd and enter our home.

Inside, the old man sits at the table, grinning as he’s counting a huge pile of golden coins.

He does not even notice us when we call him.

Could it be…

<<Wait, you earned all this money on the first day?>>

Retel shouts as he touches the pile of coins.

<>

Heod laughs out loud. He then takes a small vial from his pouch, keeping it between his fingers.

<>

Wait…don’t tell me…is that money all due to the “helping tonic for adult stuff” that can be made from the mushrooms?

<<E-x-a-c-t-l-y! It’s the miracle potion made by the Genius Alchemist, the Secret of Beastkin vigor in the bedroom!>>

The old man bellows in laughter again…

<<Hey, are you scamming them, old man?>>

Heod’s smile turns serious as he hears my remark. He points his finger at me…

<>

He laughs again…the old man sure loves his money.

The next morning we head out to the Dungeon again. This time, we will do a proper Dive.

A Dive is a long expedition, usually lasting more than a week. To do so, we head first to the marketplace to stock up on groceries and water. Normally, you would need to hire baggage carriers to haul provisions with you, but we can avoid those kind of things, thanks to my skill.

Our plan this time is to head straight to the fifth floor, without losing time in the first four. The reason is that from the fifth floor and beyond, the size of each floor increases and there are more monsters. Also, the number of adventurers that dwell in those floors is significantly lower.

The receptionist seems perplexed when I make the request for this type of mission, since he sees us without any kind of luggage.

To prevent him from denying access, I show him my Inventory skill.

<<Well, that’s some rare thing you got, boy>>

He compliments me, handing the papers to my group.

And so, we start a proper exploration.

In accordance to our plan, we try to hurry through the first floor. Luckily, the layout of chambers and corridors is not too confusing, and we manage to avoid losing much time inside the first floor, avoiding battles and without stopping to collect materials.

The second floor, however…

Narrow passageways, blind turns and twisting paths. Confused, we end up losing our sense of direction several times, even finding ourselves walk the same spot over and over.

<>

Retel mutters in dissatisfaction, drinking a bit of water as we lay down for a moment of respite.

<>

Enraged, I cast away the map from my hands.

It seems that the maps I bought from the marketplace are false. That serves me well…next time, I will buy them from the Guild instead, no matter how much they cost.

We decide to resume our exploration. This time, Levia starts marking the walls with a chalk sign, pointed in the direction we went in. It should help us to not get lost, hopefully.

The monsters in this level are annoying. Basically, they are just big insects, like spiders and wasps, but we did not consider something…

Phobia.

Even normal-sized spiders can induce a paralyzing fear in certain people, so it’s only natural that seeing a dog-sized giant spider will be terrifying to a phobic person, right?

Their appearance is indeed repulsing…even I shudder in front of them, and I had quite a fascination for spiders in my previous world, even kept one as a pet for some time…

Still, there is someone that is having it worse than me.

Unfortunately, Levia seems to have a serious fear of spiders and insects.

She was paralyzed by fear the first time we encountered the monsters, and got almost bit by a spider monster as she was laying on the ground, screaming, unable to shake it off.

Me and Retel were both dealing with other monsters, and it’s just by luck that we managed to get to her side fast enough to prevent injury.

This is too bothersome…we have some antidotes and potions with us, but our progress will be severely hindered if a core member of our party, the only one with healing skills, cannot fight effectively.

In tears, Levia hangs to Retel. Her breathing is still in disarray…

<>

I come close, stroking her hair to reassure her a bit.

She’s shaking, taking heavy breaths while trying to get a hold of her fear.

Still, she looks at me with determination. Shaking her head, she pulls on her feet and strolls in front of us.

I admire her determination, I sure do. Still, I would have been ok even if she did not want to go further.

Being mindful of her condition, me and Retel try to deal with each insect monster as fast as we can.

I even end up injured, taking a sting on my arm from a flying wasp-like monster. It’s my fault for being too careless, still Levia makes a sad face as she treats my wound.

<<It’s not your fault, I just made a stupid mistake here>>

<>

She tries to smile, but somehow her expression does not seem too sincere.

Still, she tries, hard, to overcome her fear.

Again, it’s admirable of her, how much effort she puts into forcing her body to move, to act, in order to protect us.

But, it’s not something that will go away after just some battles…we will need to be wary of this, in the future.

Luckily, we manage to find the floor exit after some hours. Leaving the dreadful second floor behind us, we press on to the third.

The scenery is completely different, with large passages whose floor is covered in ankle deep water.

<<So, a swamp floor. Great>>

Wading through the shallow water, we advance in the long corridor. Big mushrooms seem to grow on the rocks, while a moss like substance extend on almost everything that is near the water.

A faint mist clouds the air, not enough to hinder the visibility, but it surely gives the entire area a creepy atmosphere.

We do not even manage to take two steps into the new level, that something resounds in the air.

A scream, in the distance.

Re:Interference Chapter 8- Leveling Up

The battle at Nudria village was hard for us, and we barely managed to survive. The village itself suffered severe damage due to the Hero’s attack, and most buildings were completely destroyed.

Thanks to sheer luck, and the help of the surviving Dryads’ healing magic, most of the injured villagers managed to recover. Although, there were some losses, still.

During the week we spent there, I simply laid down on a soft bed, being nursed back to health by Levia and Heod with the Dryads’ help.

My injuries should have been lethal.

That’s what Heod told me with a serious face.

Still, the Dryad’s intervention saved me from certain death. The forest creatures worked all day and night to atone for the destruction their controlled brethren caused, or so they told.

It seems that some monsters also posses some kind of honor…

The Dryad also suffered a major blow from this situation. Between the Hero’s initial attack in the forest and the remaining struggle against the villagers, only a few Dryads survived.

I feel some guilt, since three of them met their end against me and my companions.

Still, it’s not like the events in the village only led to negative consequences for us.

We managed to gain two rewards from this battle.

First, the villagers offered us some material rewards, in the form of money and goods. But neither me nor my companions wanted to accept goods or money from the village, given their condition. And so, I asked the village head to provide me with some kind of authorization to enter the city of Sendria.

Instead, the chief offered me an Identity Stone. It works like some kind of ID, recording name, nationality and other info about their possessor. According to the chief, this kind of item is an absolute necessity if you want to enter the cities like Sendria, since their immigration policy is really strict.

Normally, obtaining such item would require a lot of paperwork and permissions from the local authorities, but he made an exception for me and my companions. And so, I formally became a citizen of Nudria village and acquired a proper identity in this world, and the means to prove it.

The second reward is less…material than the other. Still, it’s something more related to my survival in this world.

Since, after the battle, me, Retel and Levia managed to gain some levels.

After my recovery time, we left the village behind.

[Navi: Leaving Nudria Village- Entering Sendria Grasslands]

Our course is set to Nudria city. According to the villagers, it should take us four full days to walk there.

They even offered us a cart and some horses, but we preferred to leave such valuable resources to them.

According to Heod and the villagers, this region was once part of the Aldora Holy Kingdom, but gained independence after internal struggle. It is now administered by Sendria city, an independent city-state that rules the surrounding villages like Nudria and several others. Of course, the customs and traditions of the people in this region still resemble those of Aldora kingdom, although the discrimination of beast-kin and skill-holders is less persistent than in Aldora.

We decided to go to Sendria for one main reason. The city of Sendria, the biggest in this region, is famous for a peculiar structure hosted inside it. A cave of some sort, that develops several hundreds of meters down in the earth, and hosts thousands of monsters inside it. In short words, the city holds and manages a Monster Dungeon.

Monster Dungeons are rare in this world, and even more rare are those that are effectively managed and controlled by humans.

The Dungeon in Sendria is one of such places, being managed by the city as to offer both a steady source of rare materials harvested from monsters and a reliable training ground for troops and adventurers. According to the villagers, it is possible to be registered to the Guild that manages the dungeon after paying a sum of money. It is not an enormous feed, and after registration it is possible to sell monster materials and materials harvested from the Dungeon directly to the Guild.

The Guilds itself offers accommodation for registered people. In short words, by going to Sendria we will manage to gain a place to live in, a proper income of money and the possibility to raise our level.

There is also one more reason that makes Sendria advantageous to us.

It is a large city with an elite army, good public order and a good disposition towards beast-kin, so it will definitely be the best place for us to settle down, at least for some time.

Still, my real goal in this world should be to oppose the Heroes, right? According to the Laughing Man, the God picked me for this reason, in the end.

Although, the Laughing Man was a bit vague… he just told me to do what I please, as long as I can kill a Hero or two in the meantime.

And also… I don’t completely trust his version of the story. After all, he could be just manipulating me to his ends…

What is clear here is that, in this world, there is an ongoing conflict between the Hero faction, based in Aldora Holy kingdom, and the Laughing Man’s faction. Perhaps I should just avoid both, and live my life here with a low profile…yes, that would be nice.

And, according to the villagers and from what I saw in the Marsh, it seems the Empire is mobilizing the Army to conquer new territories.

Maybe…that could be the reason for the Hero’s sudden apparition in the village. Was he sent there to spread chaos and facilitate the Army’s advance? Still, it seems like a waste of war potential, so there could be other reasons there…

Well,having just met one of those so called Heroes, I know that, as I am now, I certainly cannot win. And, more importantly… I kinda don’t want to risk my life against them.

This is too troublesome for me, I almost miss my old life…

<<So, we’re gonna stay in the city for a bit, right?>> Retel’s voice interrupts my thoughts.

<<We’re gonna need quite a bit of money to rent a place there>>

Well, he makes a point.

Considering our total belongings, we have enough for paying the entrance tax and the registration fee, but after that…we will need a steady income if we want to properly live there.

<<Well, the first month will be a bit rough, since we need to spend some of our money for new equipment and such. We will use the Guild’s lodgings, but after we manage to earn some money, we will be able to rent a proper place for us.>>

Heod shakes his head, showing some concern.

<<Hm, I don’t think it will be our best option. From what I remember, there is a beast-kin district in the north part of the city. The rent there should be cheap, and so we will manage to afford a proper place. My point is…I could prepare and sell my alchemical products if I can have a proper place to do my work without curious eyes around, and the Guild’s lodgings will not grant us much privacy, I fear>>

In the end, after reasoning a bit about what to do, we decided to follow Heod’s idea.

I really hope that the old man’s potions will sell well…

Although the more concerning matter for me should be our monetary situation, I cannot bring myself to stop thinking about what I said in the village.

While I was recuperating from my injuries, I made some pretty big talk about my goal of getting stronger…but, now that my head is a bit more clear, I realize that I don’t actually know how.

For starters, I do not even properly understand this whole”level up” system that this world relies on.

I…we cannot just go on with half-assed information, after all.

So, I try to ask my companions what do they know about the level up system.

<<What do you mean “how”? You beat up monsters, and bam! Level up. It’s as simple as it sounds>>. Retel’s response to my doubts was straightforward.

<<Yeah…but, how does it really works? What are the conditions needed to level up, are there other methods besides killing monsters? That’s what I would like to know. I mean, if some less dangerous method exists…>>

[Navi: There is no such thing! Only hard work and harder battles!]

Navi’s remark is somewhat depressing.

So, only battles huh? Or, maybe, you could obtain EXP by performing special actions, like saving a princess or such…

[Navi: Well…no.]

Again, a negative answer. Still, is it my imagination, or Navi’s personality somehow got worse after her upgrade?

As I voiced my doubts, we spent the entire time talking about the “level system”.

Heod seems to be the most informed about this process, since being older than us he experienced the level up many times.

According to him, the only way to increase your level is by fighting and defeating monsters. Different kind of creatures yield different amounts of EXP.

<<For example, common monsters like the Red Wolves give small amounts of experience, while rare and powerful beings like Griffins or the mythical Dragons will grant a higher amount of EXP. Of course, the rarest monsters are also more troublesome, so in my opinion it is best to hunt a large amount of common monsters than challenging a single rare one>> he said.

Navi also confirmed it. The only way to obtain experience is to kill something. That’s why the Dryad that I freed from the Hero’s spell did not yield any experience, and for the same reason, the Hero did not grant me any EXP at all, since all I did was inflicting him some wounds, without properly killing him.

Soon, her explanation went into so much detail it became a proper info dump…most of it was just a more technical explanation of the same things that Heod said, but she added some interesting notions to that.

According to her explanation, there isn’t an upper limit for levels. Or, to put it in gaming terms, there is no level cap.

It could be a good news, but, on the other hand, just thinking about fighting against a level 100+ or stronger enemy gives me the chill…hell, I’ve been struggling to defeat enemies under level 10!

Also in this world there are three categories of people, in relation to their level up speed.

The first category consists of people that grow fast, requiring few EXP to increase their level. In contrast, it is more difficult for them to acquire new skills.

As a middle ground, the second category of people require more EXP than the first, but they manage to acquire more skills more quickly if compared to the first.

The last one is comprised of people that require lots of experience for a single level, however they compensate the slow growth rate with the acquisition of powerful skills.

It also seems that the amount of experience needed to increase your level is incremental. So, for example, if you need 10 EXP to get from level 1 to level 2, you will need 30 to go from level 2 to 3 and so on. The increment needed depends on the growth category.

After that , her explanation turned into some sort of mathematical nonsense, with complicated formulas and graphics that, according to Navi, should have helped me to have a better understanding of the system.

Of course, all the formulas only managed to give me headache.

[Navi: Hm…it seems Master is a bit…too dumb to understand my wonderful explanation]

No…her personality definitely grew worse after the upgrade…

Still, she confirmed that only killing monsters will yield experience.

Although…

<<Navi, is it possible to gain experience by killing humans?>> I mutter.

[Navi: Negative. No experience is awarded by killing a member of the humanoid races, like beast-kin, humans, elves and such. It is possible, for you, to acquire their skills by Absorption, Master]

No, thank you…that is something I will never do…

So, it is impossible to obtain EXP by murder. Well, it’s not like I would kill someone just to get stronger, of course. It seems like this rules makes sense,it’s like a system implemented to prevent murder spree among the human population…

<<Hey Roshal, can I ask you a question? You mutter to yourself a lot, is there something wrong?>>

Levia’s concerned voice distracts me from my thoughts.

<<Huh? Oh, I’m just consulting my Dream Navigator>> I answer nonchalantly.

Retel bursts into laughter as he hears my sentence. Levia also is looking like she’s struggling to not laugh right in my face. Did I say something wrong?

<<Ohi ,why are you laughing?>> My voice sounds irritated. I hate being made fun of.

<<Oh, it’s just…you can’t possibly be serious, right? I mean, things like Dream Navigators and such are the stuff you find in stories for children, where a benevolent magical spirit helps the Prince against the Dragon or something like that…>> Retel says while giving me a wry smile.

<<I mean, something like that is really absurd. What’s next, a Demon Lord?>> his laughter continues without interruption.

Oh, if you only knew…

<<Still, you lot did not make this uproar when I told you I came from another world? Well…it’s not important. I thought that everyone had a Dream Navigator in this world, but according to your reaction it seems to be a rare thing>>

No point in bickering with them about this.

I even ask Navi if she can make herself to be heard by them, just to see Retel’s reaction.

[Navi: Affirmative! Initiate Party Communication Routine!]

Oh, the faces they are making now…that will teach you lot to not mock me.

Retel is speechless, while Levia suddenly became incredibly polite and began a formal introduction with Navi.

But…this thing here could be really useful.

<<Navi…can you do this even when we are separated?>>I ask.

[Navi: Uhm…perhaps you wanted to know if it is possible to use me to communicate at distance, am I right Master? Well, the new me can do this without any effort!]

I want the old Navi back…

And so, after sharing the existence of Navi with the group, I made her go through the level system explanation again.

It’s a good thing to share information with your companions, right?

Well, it seems that most of the things she told me are just common knowledge, like the different categories based on growth rates and such, or the knowledge about how to obtain your experience.

Still, according to Navi’s explanation, Levia should belong to the first growth category, while Retel to the second or even third, given the fact that their level is different although they fought and won the same battles against the same enemies.

But then, Retel who belongs to the slowest categories should possess more skills than Levia, and that is not the case here, since Levia holds two skills and Retel only possess one.

<<Well, I got one skill since birth>> answers Levia to my doubts.

So…something like this is possible?

[Navi: Special circumstances can occur, like skills being inherited at birth or gained by performing special actions or after meeting certain requirements]

That makes it all more confusing…

<<But still…without a Dream Navigator…how do you distribute your stats for the level up?>> As I ask this question to my friends, their perplexed expressions confirm that me and them use a completely different system to level up.

According to Retel and Levia, the Level Up they have is something that happens in a moment, and completely automatic, without any possibility of control on the skill point distribution or skill acquisition.

<<Huh…that surely is different. Is it something related to their race being different than mine?>> I ask to Navi.

[Navi: Negative. The Level Up system is the same for every humanoid race. Only subjects of different GODS have access to peculiar, one-of-a-kind system. Like Master, for example, or the Heroes]

Well, it seems that I’m the anomaly here…

There are more subtle differences between my system and my companions’.

As a matter of fact, none of them possess the Luck stat, and they only get 4 points per level, instead of getting 5 points like me.

And also, they do not get any Skill point, and can only acquire skills in two ways: by doing certain actions or, rarely, as they level up. The skill gained by level up is usually related to skill they already possess, like Levia’s two healing skills.

This part of the system seems to be shared with the one I use, since I also have been capable of obtaining skills by performing certain actions.

Although, my situation about skills is even more complicated, since I can just acquire new ones by absorbing enemies.

It also seems that none of my companions ever heard about the Skill Integration.

So, to summarize, I learned several important things that I will have to keep in mind.

In the end, I personally got three levels from the battle against the Dryads, reaching level 5. I allocated the 15 STAT points during my recovery period…since during that week the only thing I did was lay on the bed and sleep. Well, it’s almost a joke, the fact that I became stronger after spending a whole week in bed.

To allocate the stats, I followed the same distribution of points from my first level up, and now I have 5 points in STR, AGI, ACC, one point in INT (since it is a bit worthless to spend point in this stat until I learn some kind of spell) and I ended up boosting my Luck to 9.

There is a reason that compels me to dump points into this stat…although, it’s still nothing more than a hunch…

Still, after the “upgrade” to Navi, it looks like I did not gain any Skill point from level up.

As a matter of fact, it seems that several things have changed after that, with some of my skills being converted into “functions” integrated to Navi instead of being proper skills like before.

Still, the upgrade gave me more benefits than demerits, in the end…also, I think that my skills are fine like they are, for now, and I can always absorb some more if the need arises.

Also after the battle I managed to upgrade Black Fluid to level 3.

Retel gained two levels, reaching level 4, while Levia only got one, reaching level 5. It seems they got less EXP than me, since they only managed to defeat one Dryad.

Well, that poses a little problem for us all.

Because, according to the information we have about the Guild, the minimal level needed to gain access to the Dungeon is level 6.

It looks like we will need a bit more training…well, we will think about that when we reach the city.

We’ve been marching since morning, so we decide to stop on the side of the road for a quick lunch.

As usual, the road here is just a big dirt track. I wonder if things will change near the city.

Thankfully, there are some side areas that are used to provide a parking space for caravans and such, and we decide to stop there.

The place is even furnished with a wooden table and stools, and so we are able to properly sit around a table while we consume our lunch.

Heod once again provides us with his cooking. As we consume our lunch, we continue discussing about our current situation and on the course ahead.

We set on march again after our lunch.

After a few hours, however, we encountered one of the most annoying enemies for travelers.

Rain.

A proper squall began without any kind of notice. It seems that this kind of sudden heavy rain happens a lot in this region…but still, walking on foot under the squall is surely unpleasant.

I really hope to not catch some kind of flu…

Our salvation came unexpected. On the side of the road, we encountered an encamped caravan. It seems that the group of merchants decided to wait for the squall to pass, and stopped the caravan on the side of the road.

We reached out to them, asking to let us take shelter under their carriage’s roof.

There was a high possibility that they would turn us down, instead the caravan leader gave us a big smile and let us join them.

Their group too is traveling to Sendria city. Apparently, they are a group of traveling merchants that deal transport of goods between Sendria and the village of Tritia.

A joyous bunch, they gave us a warm welcome, especially to Levia. It seems beast-kin girls are really popular in Sendria…

Still, this encounter is really convenient. I manage to exchange some of my possessions with the merchant, and gain proper information about Sendria economy.

According to the caravan leader, it seems that the prices for weapons and equipment in Sendria is really high, due to the constant demand from adventurers and such. Well, it is within expectations.

Also, it could be beneficial to us, since I could craft some equipment with my crafting skill and earn more money by selling it. Good to know.

The price for food and everyday goods is not prohibitive, since the farmlands around the city produce almost all kinds of vegetables and diary products.

Meat is more abundant than in the villages, thanks to the dedicated farms that properly specialize into farming animals for human consumption.

And, most important of all, the city is in dire need of alchemical preparations, like health potions, antivenom and such. As he heard so, Heod produced a wry smile…I can almost see his eyes become dollar-shaped…

The main problem seems to be gaining a permit to sell goods in the city. You need to obtain a proper authorization from the authorities, and normally it requires several months to obtain one.

If you follow normal means, that is. In other words, it is possible to bribe the officials to speed up the bureaucratic process. It will cost us a bit more money, but it will be a necessary expense if we want to secure a proper income.

We wait with the merchants for the squall to pass. However, the sudden downpour lasts for almost all day, and the heavy rain only stops after sunset.

The merchant offer us to spend the night in their camp, lending us some places on one of the carriages. Of course, we reward their generosity with some money, since it would be too uncomfortable for us to abuse their hospitality.

As they share dinner with us, we tell them about the recent events in Nudria village.

It seems the news had already reached them. As a matter of fact, they themselves feared this kind of scenario would have happened, sooner or later.

Although, they reassure us about the possibility of an attack on Sendria. According to them, the city is protected by an elite army, and, beside the army, there is also a very powerful group of sorcerers that reside in Sendria. In short words, it is unlikely that the Aldora Army would end up attacking Sendria head on.

Again, this kind of sentence is exactly what an NPC would say before a large attack on the city…

As the sun dawns, we prepare ourselves to resume our travel. The merchants even offer us passage on their carriage…what a nice bunch of people.

After consulting with my companions, we decide to decline, however. The reason is simple…there are monsters on the road.

The safest thing to do would be to accept the merchants’ offer, of course, but, since our situation is a bit peculiar, we decided to go on and travel by ourselves.

Because we need to fight those monsters. Not only for the sake of raising our level some more, since we still need to meet the requirement for entering the Guild, but also to hone our cooperation and coordination in battle. After all, we will be fighting more and more from now on.

And so, we bid farewell to the merchants and proceeded to walk again on the road.

Of course, going with the caravan would have been much faster…

As the caravan passes us on the road, I almost regret this decision we took.

Well, what is done is done…and so, we continue our march towards the city.

The landscape around us is composed by large fields, lush with tall green grass and without any kind of trees.

The roadside is safe, however small monsters hide in the tall grass, keeping their distance from the road.

It seems the monsters here are not aggressive until provoked, and prefer to flee when they spot humans. Almost resembling a deer, with large ears and a single, jagged horn on the forehead.

[Navi: Detected! Longhorn x4 (lvl 2)]

The Longhorns travel in small groups, and their heads frequently pop up from the tall grass as they keep lookout for possible threats.

We decided to test our strength against them.

As Heod waits in the distance, me, Retel and Levia approach the group of monsters.

We decided to split, leaving Levia behind as me and Retel circle around the monsters. If we are careful enough, we should manage to properly do so without being detected.

Thanks to Navi, we can communicate at distance, and so we use her useful feature to coordinate our movements.

Our attack plan is simple. First, I will immobilize the Longhorns by using Black Fluid. Next, Levia will shoot her arrows and Retel will finish off the monsters.

Or, at least, that’s what it should have happened. Instead, we messed up. The monsters managed to detect me and Retel, and scurried away in the distance. A complete and epic fail…so much for our winning strategy.

[Navi: Well, Master’s plan was bad anyways…]

Seriously, what is wrong with her?

We tried and tried again, ending up further and further away from the road. A stupid mistake.

As we got away from the safe roadside, the grass grew even taller, and strange noises began to emerge from the surroundings.

[Navi: Detected: Razor Beak -lvl 6]

It seems that predator-like monsters also inhabit these lands…still, since the monster is of the aggressive type, this time we will not have to pursue it…

With the appearance of a big bird, the Razor Beak shrieked at us before charging. It’s fast, and the huge talons on his hind legs seems to be very dangerous. Luckily, it’s not a flying monster, or it would be really troublesome to deal with it.

The monster charges at Retel, trying to kick him with his talons.

<<Too slow>> he boasts while avoiding the attack.

As the giant bird is focused on Retel, I ensnare it with Black Fluid. It seems that after leveling the skill to level 3, the amount of Black Fluid I can produce is almost doubled, and I can extend it ten meters away from me without straining myself.

As I restrain the monster, Levia pierces his eyes with a volley of arrows. Blinded and wounded, the Razor Beak tries frantically to free himself.

However, Retel’s spear pierces the monster’s chest, ending the battle.

<<Still, it would be better if I Rosie didn’t break…>> he mutters to himself, looking at the blood-stained spear in his hand.

Thinking about it, our equipment is a mess. During the battle against the Hero, we lost the items we used at the time. Retel’s favorite polearm was broken, his leather armor torn to shreds. The same happened to Levia’s bow.

Basically, we are trying to fight monsters while dressed in common clothes, without any protection, and using weapons made with my crafting skill.

The performance is not that bad, but of course a spear made of monster bone cannot do as much damage as a polearm with a proper steel tip.

Still, our equipment, although shabby, is enough to deal with low level enemies.

After collecting the Razor Beak’s body with my skill, we contact Heod using Navi, to reassure him about our position.

We ignore his outburst of bad words, as he complains about our lack of sense in pushing so far away from the road.

Levia manages to calm him down, however, assuring him about our safety.

After that, we continue our hunting session. The main goal here is to make Retel gain a level.

The ideal situation would be to find groups of low level enemies, and deal with them without putting us in danger.

But, in the end, we only manage to fight aggressive monsters. The others, like Longhorns, just scurry away before we can attack them…perhaps we are making too much noise, or they are just smelling our scent from afar.

The tall grass around us hinders visibility, and makes us vulnerable to sudden surprise attacks. The surrounding sounds are loud, and it is impossible to now if that rustle in the grass belongs to something fleeing from us, or to something that is about to pounce on us.

It’s a frightening situation. Of course, we could use Navi to detect enemies around us, but we chose not to.

It’s useless if we just rely on the detection skill all the time. We will never grow in battle experience like this.

And so, we went on.

As we thread carefully in the tall grass, a shadow jumps on Retel and quickly takes him down.

He barely manages to protect his vitals during the surprise attack. It seems that another Razor Beak marked us as prey, and ambushed us.

Still, this one’s level is 3. A small fry.

After a bit of initial surprise, Retel quickly regains his composure. Activating his skill, he kicks the monster away, finishing it off with a single spear jab.

<<Good job>> I say to him, while he poses with a cocky smile near the fallen prey.

We go on like this, pushing our way through the tall grass. After few surprise attacks, it seems that the Razor Beaks in the area gave up on attacking us.

It should be something to be glad about in a normal situation, but since we are here to fight monsters, it’s an unfavorable situation if they just flee every time we encounter one.

In the end, we decide to give up hunting for today.

We contact Heod once again, and head to his position.

The first day of hunt was a bit of a failure on our part. First, we need to properly learn how to hide ourselves, to avoid detection in order to sneak to our prey.

Especially when the terrain offers low visibility, and we cannot just use ranged attacks on distant enemies, making our presence less detectable will be vital for us.

Next, our coordination is still lacking, and our attack plans are not so effective. After all, we are all amateurs here, not battle hardened veterans or expert monster hunters. Man, it is harsh to face your own limits…

Meeting up with Heod, we continue our march on the road while discussing our recent hunting experience with him.

He instructed us about some of the rare herbs that grow in these fields, so we will also aim to obtain some during the next hunt.

Still, he scolded us a lot for scurrying away like that, without telling him first.
In the end, he made us promise to stick to the road, and only hunt monsters that are near the roadside, without threading into the Grasslands.

We decide to call it a day, and make preparations for our camp on the roadside. The sun is setting on the horizon, and as night falls the Grasslands begin to glow with thousands of small lights.

Fireflies. Their flickering lights dance on the green sea around us, making for a pretty captivating show.

As usual, Heod is busy cooking us dinner. The main course will be meat from the Razor Beaks, since, according to the old beast-kin, it is a true delicacy.

This time, the meat slowly roasted on the campfire will be served with vegetables and bread that we got from the merchants before.

The Razor Beak meat is truly delicious. Although, I never thought that monster meat could be eaten like this… I almost expected it to be dangerous, or something like that…

<<Of course, there are some monsters that taste bad or have poison in their meat…but most of them can be eaten. And, as a matter of fact, there are some that are true delicacies. Well, of course it’s only thanks to my cooking prowess that this meal is so delicious!>>the old man praises himself while laughing out loud.

After dinner, we make our usual preparations for the night on the road. The sky is clear, so there should not be any risk of a sudden downpour of rain. At least, I hope so.

This time, I take the first guard turn, letting the other three rest. While my companions soundly sleep, I take out some monster materials from my inventory to practice crafting.

Well, it’s not like I am neglecting my guard duties here…simply, before starting my crafting session, I made wires of Black Fluid and spread them all around us. This way, if something approaches us, I will be alerted immediately. Well, I could also rely on Navi’s detection, but it’s better to be cautious after all.

I tied to produce accessories from leather, with the final goal of practicing my skill in order to produce leather armor for all of us.

Still, although I know the “recipes” for creating leather items, it seems that I lack the means to properly make them.

Basically, I made a conceptual mistake. I thought to be able to produce leather goods by using simple monster skin, without giving proper thought on the process.

Because, to produce leather, you first need to treat the skin properly, using chemicals and complicated manufacturing processes to transform the soft skin into a though material.

Perhaps Heod knows how to produce leather, or at least part of the process. I need to remember to ask him about it.

I abandoned my project about leather goods and focused on making arrows for Levia and spare weapons for me and Retel.

Using splinters obtained from monster bones fr the spear-heads, and the feathers of Razor Beaks for the arrow tail, I managed to produce several arrows.

Next, I fixed up a new spear for Retel, and a new buckler shield made of monster bones. I wonder why…shouldn’t bone materials be harder to produce than leather? I swear, the way that these skills work leave me perplexed…

[Navi: Success! Crafting Skill level up! Lvl 3lvl 4! New recipes added!]

Oh! A level up! Although…the new recipes require some advanced materials, like smelted metal and such…

It seems we will be forced to buy metal equipment, after all. Still, it would have been nice if I could craft it myself, but oh well…

I spent my whole guard shift like this, continuing my practice with crafting.

Yawning, I stop and put away the materials and finished products, and head to Retel’s side to wake him up.

<<Hey, it’s your turn now>> I say to him while shaking his shoulder.

He opens his eyes and gets up, still drowsy and with his hair messed up.

<<Well, guard duty is on you right now>>

He doesn’t even answer me, still taken in sleep’s embrace. Still, he manages to scurry away from his sleeping bag. I hope he doesn’t fall asleep again…

The night went on without any kind of unpleasant event, and I even managed to get a few hours of proper sleep. As the new day dawns, we consume a quick breakfast and then resume our march toward Sendria city.

This time, we ask for proper permission from Heod before we head into the tall grass. I can almost feel his concerned gaze on our back…

We decided to stick to the roadside, without delving too much into the Grassland.

After a bit, we encounter a group of low level Longhorns. As we spot them, we decide to try and hunt them again.

<<It seems that the beasts did not notice us>> I say to Retel and Levia.

We stop in our position. From previous experience, we know that we cannot approach them directly.

<<I have an idea. Stay still>>.

As I inform my companion to hold position, I activate Navi’s detection. There are six Longhorns in total, their level ranging from 2 to 4.

Next, I try to calculate if my Black Fluid can reach their position.

[Navi: It is possible, Master. However, the skill’s offensive power will not be enough to eliminate the monsters]

Well, that’s not my goal here. What I want to do is to use Black Fluid to trap them and prevent their escape.

I activate the skill, making two thin tendrils and slowly extending them towards the Longhorn pack.

Using Navi to keep the monster’s position under control, I try to move the Black Fluid as quietly as I can. Basically, I am making the tendrils crawl on the soft soil.

Unnoticed, the skill slowly circles around the group of monsters. Of course, this kind of control would be impossible without Navi, since the tall grass blocks our vision.

As the two extremities of the skill connect, making a loop around the Longhorn pack, I begin to reduce the loop’s width and pull it toward me, at the same time.

And, as the loop comes close enough to the Longhorns…

<<Now!>>

I activate Black Fluid again, pulling with all my strength. The Longhorns are taken by surprise by the sudden assault from my skill. As the Black Fluid comes into contact with their legs, it changes shape, entangling the beasts and preventing their escape.

At the same time, Retel and Levia begin their attack. Both of them rush toward the Longhorns, weapon ready in hands.

The two beast-kin make short work of the monsters.

It seems our hunt was a success, this time.

After taking a bit of time to properly harvest the monster’s materials, we continue to thread into the grasslands.

We stopped from time to time to pick up the herbs that Heod wanted. It seems that this kind of herb is widely common in the Grasslands, growing as a kind of parasite plant to the tall grass.

According to Heod, it is the base used to produce some kind of high quality solvent, making it a staple ingredient in alchemical preparations.

Better stock up on them.

Still, even after the battle against the Longhorns, Retel did not reach level 6. He’s really the slow-growing type, huh?

It seems we will need more battles…

Right as I was thinking so, we end up being attacked by a monster. A serpentine body, with shining green scales. Two tiny, underdeveloped arms are visible on the monster’s chest, and the snake’s head is crowned by a red mane.

[Navi: Detected- Grassland Snake lvl 10]

So, our first level 10 enemy…

The snake’s attack is really quick, and it almost catches Retel’s arm. His bite is probably poisonous, so it’s a good thing that Retel managed to avoid it.

Still, we cannot let our guard down.

Levia shots a volley of arrows, while I try to restrain the monster’s movement with Black Fluid.

The monsters however slithers away from our attacks, delving into the tall grass to attack us again.

Probably aiming for our blind spot, being sure that his shape is hidden by the grass.

Still, we can track his position thanks to Navi.

Again, I try to use Black Fluid to restrain it. This time, I make the tendrils bury into the ground. I am trying to imitate the same technique the Dryads used with their roots.

Well, I could probably have obtained the skill itself if I properly absorbed the Dryads’ bodies after the village battle.

But, since the remaining Dryads helped us and the villagers, we ended up returning the bodies of their fallen brethren to them, to give them proper burial.

The imitation however works well enough. Traveling underground, the tendrils work their way to the snake, while the monster was lying in ambush planning his next assault on our group.

As the Black Fluid burst out of the ground, it takes the creature by surprise, restraining it.

With his movements locked, the snake cannot evade Retel’s spear.

Or at least, that’s how it should have been.

The snake’s eyes light up with a sinister shimmer, and Retel’s body freezes on spot.

[Navi: Retel- Status inflicted: Paralysis]

That is troublesome…

As the snake manages to paralyze Retel, it spews a thick, purple colored ball of liquid venom at him.

Luckily, I manage to shield him with Black Fluid.

This snake is too dangerous, we need to be more careful with our moves.

Levia manages to hit the snake’s left eye with an arrow, making the beast flinch in pain.

As it does so, Retel is released from the snake’s skill, and he quickly regains his composure. Activating his skill, he jumps and plunges his spear inside the snake’s body.

Still, it’s not enough. Enraged by the wounds, the snake frees himself from my skill and knocks Retel away with a sweep of his long tail.

The beast hisses at us, and his green scales begin to glow and shake, producing a rattling sound.

The sound envelops us, growing stronger and stronger.

<<I feel…strange, my head, spinning>>

Levia’s words come across weak, as I see her figure swaying. My vision starts to blur, and I feel like I’m loosing my balance…is it some kind of a mind attack?

[Navi: Status inflicted- Confusion! Beware!]

The snake retaliates after his confusion-attack. His tail smashes against Levia, throwing her away before smashing her body to the ground two times.

I try to stand, and use Black Fluid to at least lessen the snake’s assault on her, but I cannot muster any concentration to activate the skill.

This could end really badly…

After dealing with Levia, the snake point his gaze on me. His remaining eye glows, and I feel my body becoming stiff.

The snake opens his jaws, showing two long teeth dripping with venom. His head bolts towards me, and a burning pain bursts in my chest as his jaws close around my shoulders.

Perhaps because of the pain, or the effect just happen to end, but as the snake bites me, my head clears from confusion.

Crying in pain, I use all my power to activate Black Fluid.

With my free hand, I form a blade from my skill and plunge it inside the snake’s remaining eye.

The monsters quickly pulls away from me, leaving a gaping wound on my shoulder as he writhes in pain. Still, the Black Fluid blade is embedded in his eye.

All that I need now is to activate the skill again. As I do so, the blade extends and pierces the snake’s head from side to side. Falling on the ground, the monster exhales his last breath.

We won, but our situation is bad. Levia and Retel are injured, and, although I can cure myself by absorbing the snake’s body, I need to do it quickly and tend to them.

The snake’s poison starts affecting me, but I manage to absorb the monster’s body and have a last second full recovery.

Taking a big sigh of relief, I hurry to Levia’s side.

Her injuries are not so bad.

Quickly, I take a healing potion from my inventory. Before we left the village, Heod stocked us with some potions for emergency use.

After a few minutes, Levia ‘s injuries are healed. It seems that the old man’s potions really are reliable…

As I am tending to Levia, Retel comes running towards us.

He’s…ok?

As I check him, I notice that his level finally got to 6.

Wait, does leveling up give you a full heal?

[Navi: During normal level up, the body is ridden from any injury. That is not the case for individuals who use a different level up system, like Master, for example]

Of course, I am relieved to see that Retel does not need healing.

And…

<<Look at this! Snake Eye!>> he shouts, and his eyes light up like those of the snake we just fought.

Of course, I am dumb, and I look straight into his eyes.

[Navi: Roshal- Status: Paralysis]

Well, I could certainly avoid this kind of event…

After laughing his ass off, Retel graces me by releasing his skill.

<<Thank you>> I mutter, slightly offended.

Still, this new skill he gained seems useful. But the most important thing right now is that he finally managed to catch up to level six.

That means…we can stop dicking around in the tall grass, and we can spend the rest of our journey to Sendria avoiding any kind of troublesome battles.

After making sure of Levia’s conditions, we prepare to go back to Heod. It seems neither me nor Levia gained any level with the exp from the battles we fought in the grasslands.

<<So, what should we do now? We could continue like this, and try to increase our level some more before reaching the city, or we could just leave things as they are and try to reach Sendria without further battles, now that Retel has reached level 6>>

I ask for my party’s opinions on the matter. Well…I would prefer to spend some time without any danger around, but I will stick to their decision if Retel and Levia want to continue our hunts here.

<<Hm…well, the only thing here that gave us some trouble was the snake…the other monsters around are easy, I mean, we can deal with them just fine. I would like to continue, since the higher our level gets, the easier our battles will be, no?>>

It seems Levia wants to push on with the battles here. Retel just nods at Levia’s words. Well, it seems it’s decided like this.

<<Ok, we will continue our little hunts in the tall grass>>

Abiding to the group’s will, I follow them into the grasslands. We continue on for some time, without encountering any enemy. Deciding to call it a day, we head back to Heod.

After regrouping with the old man, we discuss with him our decision to continue hunting in the Grasslands.

<<Have you thought it thoroughly? Yes, you will gain a few levels by doing so, but keep in mind that we will end up making a three days trip into a week long journey, or even more…>> he said to us.

<< Maybe it should be better if you set a goal, like reaching level eight or such, and after that we go straight to the city>>

His suggestion is good. We discuss it together while having dinner, and decide to agree to the old man’s suggestion. After all, we already spent two days and we barely made a third of the distance.

As usual, we set guard turns for the night.

This time, I had the last guard shift. Again, nothing troublesome came up during the night, and as morning rises, I wake up the group.

Once again, we resume our hunt in the grasslands while Heod travels along the road. This time, he gave us some sort of necklace with a small pouch of tissue hanging from it.

<<This here contains a special mash of herbs. The scent from this pouch will cover yours, making it easier for you lot to sneak around without being smelled by monsters from a hundred meters away>> He made it during his guard turn last night, from herbs we collected in our previous hunting trip.

As we bid him farewell for the day, we wear the necklaces and head into the tall grass.

It seems that his little preparation is really useful. We manage to sneak close to a group of Longhorns without being detected. Of course, our movements grew better since our first, clumsy attempt on the first hunt.

We even repeated the same strategy, with me and Retel circling around the Longhorns, while Levia held position in the distance.

As me and Retel launched the first attack, Levia’s arrows supported us from the distance.

One of the monsters managed to get away, but this time the hunt was a success. Still, the Longhorns of this group were only level one and two, so the exp we gathered was a bit lacking.

Spending the entire day in our hunts, me and Levia managed to reach level 7 after several battles. The last one was against a level 8 Razor Beak.

The monster was a bit troublesome to deal with, and it managed to injure Retel’s right arm before we could take it down.

We did not use any healing potion this time, since we could rely on Levia’s healing skill.

The healing effect from her skill is way faster than Heod’s potions…although she cannot use it too much times in one day.

Still, it’s a good skill to have at our disposal.

This time we went on until dusk. Heod scolded us when we emerged from the tall grass, since we told him that we would be back before sunset.

To punish us, he even threatened to leave us without dinner, but his threats crumbled after Levia gave him a single, sad look.

That did not stop his scolding, however. He went on and on until bedtime, and I could even hear him mutter to himself while he was laying in his sleeping bag.

Using sleep-time to raise my stats, I followed the same pattern as before, dumping one point each in STR, AGI, ACC and two points to LCK.

The third day we encountered rain again. This time it lasted for almost half an hour, and it was a light rain capable only of being a mild annoyance.

The ground around us quickly dried under the sun, and it returned like no rain at all had fallen that day.

As we continue our hunting in the grass, we stumble upon an unusual sight.

A lone rock stands in our way, emerging from the green sea of grass. We reached it while following a lone Longhorn.

But, as the monster came near the rock…

The rock changed shape and swallowed the Longhorn whole.

With my eyes gaping wide for the sudden attack, I signal Retel and Levia to stop.

<<That rock…is dangerous>> I mutter.

[Navi: Detected- Mimic lvl 15. After skill analysis, I strongly suggest that you absorb the Mimic, Master!]

Oh, what an interesting suggestion…

The Mimic’s level is pretty high if compared to ours. It will probably be a tough battle against it. First, I instruct Levia to shoot some arrows at it. Maybe the monster is just posing as a rock, and his body is tender like normal meat…

As the arrows collide with the Mimic, they broke without even grazing the surface. Following Levia’s attack, I launch a ranged attack with Black Fluid, but the result is the same.

<<So, it truly is a rock>> I mutter.

Noticing our attack, the Mimic rises from his position and turns towards us. From the rock-shaped body, four eyes appear around a vertical mouth ridden with large, jagged teeth.

The thing bellows, a deep and reverberating sound.

Crab-like legs are sprouting from the bottom side of the creature, and it starts moving slowly towards us.

But, as soon as we assume our stance to attack it…

The Mimic changes shape, becoming an elongated, snake-like form. It charges at us so quickly, knocking me down with incredible strength.

Retel manages to avoid the initial attack and activates his new skill, but the Mimic is unaffected by it.

<<Damn monster!>> he shouts, charging at the Mimic with his spear in hand. His attack connects…

The spear-head flies away after a loud, clinking sound. The monster’s part that Retel attacked changed back to rock, breaking his spear.

The Mimic retaliates, slashing Retel with his crab-like legs.

He manages to avoid the brunt of the attack, however the sharp-pointed leg grazed his leg.

I try to use Black Fluid to restrain the Mimic’s movements, but as I almost manage to wrap the monster it changes form again, reducing his size and managing to escape my grasp.

<<Crafty little thing, aren’t you?>>

Again and again we attack the monster, but our attacks are either repelled by the rock transformation or avoided when the monster reduces his size.

This is frustrating…

Luckily, the thing does not seem to have powerful offensive abilities…probably the Mimic usually relies on surprise to attack weaker prey, instead of hunting it down with powerful attacks.

Still, it’s a difficult battle for us.

After using almost all of my tricks with Black Fluid, I decide to try one last card from my deck.

<<Retel, Levia…stay away from the Mimic…stick to ranged attacks only!>> I shout to my companions, while activating Black Fluid once again.

The Mimic managed to avoid each of my attacks…so, this time, I decided to use the same trick I used against the Hero.

Mustering all my will, I change the skill into gas-form. Although this time it takes less energy to maintain and control this form, it still is difficult to do so.

I envelop the gas around the Mimic, while it is distracted by Levia’s arrows. It seems that the monster is not that smart, since he does not notice the black fog swirling around him, and just changes back into rock form to repel Levia’s arrows.

It seems I was too hasty in praising the Mimic’s craftiness before…

Well, thank God for stupid opponents.

After enclosing the Mimic inside the mist-form Black Fluid, I turn it back to fluid form. This time the mimic is fully enveloped by it, and I start the absorption.

It’s a bit of a waste, since it could have earned us a lot of exp, but I want to go along with Navi’s suggestion this time.

The Mimic struggles from within my skill, and almost manages to get out a few times.

In the end, it succumbed to Black Fluid’s Absorption.

[Navi: Success! Mimic Absorbed! New skills obtained: Perfect Form Control, Perfect Mimicry! New skills restricted to race: Monster. Detected affinity between new skills and Black Fluid, would you like to Integrate the skills? (Suggestion: proceed with integration)]

Well, I did all this following Navi’s suggestion so…I will commit to it.

Hoping for the best, I start the Integration process. If my hunch is correct…this time the success rate should be higher. From what I manage to understand, this Integration thing is a random process, which means…it should work, if you get some luck. Following this dumb train of thought, I put some of my hard earned stat points into the Luck stat. Only for this.

[Navi: Integration Success (result modified thanks to LCK stat)! Perfect Form Control+Perfect Mimicry+ Black FluidBlack Fluid! New skill attributes: Mimic (can reproduce anything absorbed by the skill- two categories: Bio, Mineral- increase the number of structures that can be mimicked by absorbing more structures and materials with the skill)]

It seems that my hunch was correct…so, those points were not wasted after all…

After giving my excuses to Retel and Levia for the lack of EXP from this battle, I explain to them how I acquired the Mimic’s abilities. And, of course, I try them out right away.

I can select what kind of structure I want to mimic with Black Fluid. First, I try the mineral category, changing my skill into stone and even metal.

It’s useful, since like this I can produce stronger blades when attacking with Black Fluid (the blades I could produce before were more like bones or claws).

Then, I try out the Bio category…it is definitely weird. I can reproduce any kind of bodily part that I have absorbed, from the Mars Worms to the Grassland Snake… the most curious thing is that I can choose even specific organs, like nervous system or even…eyes and mouth.

[Navi: Suggestion-it is possible to acquire tactile and visual input with Black Fluid using this skill attribute]

Oh, so that’s how it is…

I try to produce an eye with Black Fluid, and close mine. As the mimicked eye is complete, I can properly see from it.

<<That is definitely…gross>> Retel and Levia almost say the same line at the same time.

Well, I too am thinking the same thing, although I don’t deny that this new skill attribute could be useful for scouting ahead.

To test things even further, I produce an offshot with Black Fluid and form an eye on it.

Even when separated from me, the eye properly functions, relaying visual information directly to my mind.

In short words, I produced a reliable security camera with my skill. Well, it is more of a gross security camera, but let’s ignore that for now…

I spend some more time experimenting with the new mode. It seems that, by adding nerves to the Black Fluid, I can obtain a better control of it, and also it seems that Navi can move the offshots independently if I dote them with a nerve circuit of some sort.

Being done with experiments, we decide to hunt some more since there is still daylight. After five battles, me and Levia manage to reach level 8, while Retel grows to level 7.

This time, we only fought monsters whose level was equal or above ours. It seem that this way we manage to get more experience, but of course the risk is definitely bigger than dealing with lower level monsters.

One thing that I noticed is the carefree attitude that we are beginning to take while fighting monsters. And that is a negative thing, by all means.

We need to keep our tension high, at all costs, since a moment’s distraction could lead us to serious injury if not even death.

It took a battle against a level 12 Razor Beak to keep us in line again. Being carefree, Retel made a wrong movement while attacking the monster, and ended up having his throat slashed by the thing’s sharp talons. Panicked, we almost fell into confusion as both me and Levia rushed to his side neglecting the monster.

I ended up taking a big injury on my back, as the Razor Beak sunk his claws into me. Luckily Levia managed to regain composure and kill the wounded monster with her arrows.

Still, a moment’s distraction almost costed us our lives. I healed myself by absorbing the Razor Beak’s corpse, but Retel needed both Levia’s skill and a healing potion before he could stand up again.

After that, I made them sit for a bit and reflect about what we did wrong during that battle. Of course, I too took my share of the blame, since I was at fault, too.

After that, we unanimously decided to head back to Heod. Everyone was immersed in his own silence, pondering about the potentially lethal situation that we just escaped.

More than that, we reflected about how a stupid behavior almost costed us our lives.

As we rejoin with Heod, we share with him the details about our hunt of the day. This time we made sure to come back before sunset…since we cannot make the old man worry too much.

And, following that thought, we decided to not tell him about the last battle against the Razor Beak. The old man’s heart would not stand something like this again.

As usual, we share our dinner under the stars.

I send off the others, volunteering for the first guard shift. This time, I intend to use my newly acquired ability to make surveillance-camera around our group. It works, although the excessive visual feedback makes my head hurt a bit.

[Navi: Suggestion…since Master’s brain seems to be too slow, perhaps I could help process all the info? This mode will be available even when Master is enjoying his sleep-time]

Seriously…stop being so toxic…

Still, by leaving the visual-data processing part to Navi, my head stops hurting, and I can just enjoy looking at our surroundings from ten different points of view. I bet that in my old world some pervert would pay a pretty sum of money for this kind of ability…

In the end, I spend my guard duty time by playing around with the surveillance-camera mode.

As Levia comes to start her turn of guard duty, I leave the entire apparatus on, just in case.

After allocating the STAT points I just acquired today, I drift into sleep’s embrace.

Re:Interference Chapter 7: A Quiet Night

We march slowly through the woods, taking our leisure since the sleepless night that we spent. Around us, the scenery slowly changed, from small, sparse thickets of young trees to a proper meadow, with old, big trees pointing towards the sky.

<<So…what was your world like, Roshal?>> asks Retel.

I have already told them about my circumstances, but I did not share any proper detail about my past life with them.

<<Well, it was…really, really different. For starters, people do not possess level in my world. No magic or skills, either.>>

My reply takes them by surprise.

<<No…level? How…I mean, what if monsters, or worse, demons came>> Levia shouts.

Her concern makes me smile. Of course, they think monsters and even demons to be the norm.

<<None of those things exist from where I came from. Sure, there are dangerous animals…but they really don’t pose a big threat to humans>> I reply.

The two of them continue asking me questions about my previous life, and I happily share the rough details.

<<So…this “technology” you spoke of…is it some kind of advanced alchemy?>> asks Heod. He was silent for most of my explanation, but his interest sparked as I started talking about computers and other marvels of my world.

<<Well…yes, it can be considered as such. I remember from my studies…most of the very first scientists in the ancient past called were alchemists or philosophers…although they did not have any kind of supernatural power, they discovered things using their intelligence and trial-and-error methods. Some of their mathematical theories were still used even during my time>>.

Heod seems satisfied by my answer.

<<When we have some time, I want you to tell me all the details that you can remember about your world’s science>> he says with a resolute expression.

I smile at him and nod…but old man, you should not expect much knowledge from me, since I never really understood any complicated science theory and just learned the basic things at school.

<<I wanted to ask you…how fare the beast-kin in your world? Are they…treated equally as humans, or…>> Levia’s voice is a bit uncertain.

<<…or are they discriminated, like here?>>

I sigh, thinking about the proper words to use.

<<You see…my world is vastly different from this one. No magic, no skills or monsters. And…we…humans, are the only race there>>

The group stopped. Retel looks down, while Levia brings her hand to her mouth, her eyes widening with sudden surprise and sadness.

Perhaps…did they misunderstand?

<<So…they were wiped out>> Heod mutters.

Not you too, old man!

<<No no no-I quickly try to explain- it’s not like they got exterminated or something like that…they simply…never existed in my world. Only humans>>

Still, it does not seem my words give them any comfort. More than that, the simple thought of a world were only human exist seem to give them a lot to think about.

<<Well, a world like that would be a paradise for those of the Holy Kingdom. Enough about this for now…let’s have lunch and a less serious conversation, shall we? Tell me, Roshal…what about the food there?>>Heod breaks the mood, suggesting us to stop.

Judging from the sun’s position, although it is barely visible from under the trees, it should be around noon.

And so, camping on the soft soil under the old pine trees, I recalled and shared the joys of my world’s food.

Well, Heod’s food tastes delicious, and I am not a picky eater, so I don’t think that reproducing my world’s recipes will be something I will focus on. I’m not some kind of Japanese light novel’s main character.

Still, it was pleasant to share my memories with the group. Although the mood got a bit heavy when we spoke before, now we’re back to the carefree conversations that started the day.

We rest there for some time after lunch, since no immediate threats are around. Well…to be fair…there seems to be nothing around us, as far as my skill can see. Only the trees. No birds, no small animals. I didn’t notice it immediately, since I was immersed in my conversation, but…it surely feels weird.

<<See anything?>> says Heod, approaching me.

<<Nothing…no monsters, no animals…it’s weird>>

Heod nods, as he sits besides me.

<<Look, right there. Do you see that group of tall trees? That’s the Old Meadow. And we are right into its outskirts. Wildlife doesn’t approach that place, and neither do monsters>>

He’s pointing towards a group of trees, slightly in the distance. They seem way taller than the other around us, and have a darker color.

<<The village is right after the Old Meadow. Straight ahead, almost three hours away by walking distance. But…we will not enter there. Instead, we will circle around, walking in that direction>>.

Heod stares towards the distant trees.

<<But, we could go through the meadow and save some time, right?>> asks Levia.

Heod shakes his head.

<<No. It’s best to avoid that place. You see, among the old trees, Dryads make their nests. They are fierce beings, very territorial, and attack anything that violates their grounds. That’s why there are no monsters here in the Meadow’s outskirts. They dare not to approach that place, not even coming close to the outskirts. If we stay here, and keep circling the meadow without venturing inside, we will avoid monsters without angering the Dryads, and have a safer, albeit longer, way to the village>>

Heod says so with a serious look on his face.

<<So…is it ok to rest here? No chance of sudden attacks from the Dryads?>> asks Retel , a bit concerned.

<<Yes…in all my years, I have not even heard about Dryads leaving their meadows. So, we will be safe here. Let’s rest here for today, and we will resume marching on at dawn.>>

Please, don’t say something like this…it’s after such sentences that everything goes in a bad way.

Instead, the day goes on without anything unpleasant.

At night-time, Retel volunteers for the first turn of guard duty, boasting that he can see during the night almost as if the sun is shining. Well, whatever. As long as he does a proper job.

Wrapping myself up in my sleep bag, I immediately fall asleep.

[Navi: Welcome to the Dream Interface! Congratulations for your recent Level Up! Here, you will be able to allocate your hard earned STAT points and SKILL however you desire! Would you like to start?]

I see myself, almost like an out of body experience…no, this is definitely one of those things.

My body floats in a dark, empty place.

The only other thing here is Navi’s voice.

Sighing deeply, I say “yes” to her question.

[Navi: Wonderful! Let’s start. Here you can see your current Statistics, a representation of several aspects of you physical prowess and magical power.]

A panel now floats in front of my body. Written on it, I see 5 categories, each one followed by a pitiful number: 1.

<<Right…they were this lame from the start, huh?>> I mutter.

[Navi: Here, these abbreviations correspond to several aspects: STR stands for strength, a measure of muscular power and resistance. Boosting this stat will increase attack power and defense. Next, we ave AGI, short for agility. Upgrading this stat will lead to quicker movements and faster reflexes. INT stands for intelligence, increasing this stats will improve detection abilities and amplify the effect of spells and magic resistances (it will not make you smarter, however). ACC is accuracy, and, as it sounds, it influences the precision of each action and the possibility of landing critical hits. Next, but not last, we have LCK…a mysterious stat, with no effect on standard actions. Or is it? Choose wisely!]

Navi’s explanation is a bit long, but it showed me some useful info. This decision should not be made lightly, since I need to properly think about my strong points and boost them. Or should I put some points into things that I currently lack? Ahhh! This is the thing that I always got wrong in games! I always end up making mixed characters, with well rounded stats but without any proper strong points.

Should I become a strong warrior? Or boost my agility and become a ninja?

Well, I have five points at my disposal here. It seems health and mana, although they are shown in my info, are not directly related to these five stats, and instead grow by a fixed amount with each level up.

Since I do not have access to magic, this time I will not put any points into INT stat. That leaves me with five points to distribute into four stats.

Well, raw damage and defense are always good, so I put one point into STR. Next, one point each to ACC and AGI. Faster movements and attacks, and more precision.

Looks like I’ m building a quality build…the difficulty in this world is also similar to that game, it seems. I wonder if some Giant Dads roam this world…

Chuckling about myself, I return my attention to the task at hand.

I ‘m left with two points. My eyes wander to the LCK stat. The description was a bit unclear, but…it’s tempting.

Finally, I give in. Two points to LCK. I hope it’s worth it.

[Navi: STAT allocation complete. Confirm?]

I nod my head.

[Navi: Next, SKILL point allocation! This can be used to level up one of the existing skills, or to acquire a new one from the SKILL TREE! Would you like to proceed?]

Again, I say yes to my immaterial companion.

Immediately, the dark space around my body illuminates. Tree-like branches are expanding from my body, shining with different colors. On each branch, several spheres can be seen.

It’s…huge! There could be more than thousands of those!

By the looks of it, it seems each sphere represents a skill. I can move to every part of the SKILL TREE in an instant.

I immediately find the skills that I possess.

They are the closest to my body, each embedded in the proper branch.

Each branch seems to represent a category.

The “crafting” and “cooking” skills, for example, lie on the “common life” branch, while Inquisitive Eye stands on the “recon” branch. There are several other branches, with titles like “combat”, “language” and so on.

My best bet here would be to use it on one of the skills I rely upon, like Black Fluid or Inquisitive Eye.

As I search for those, an unexpected sound booms in the air.

[Navi: Danger! D&nG%! UNK2o\N iNt€rf]

Not this shit again!

The skill tree crumbles with a sound of broken glass.

<<What is happening now?!>> I shout at the black, empty space.

A familiar sound surrounds me.

His laughter.

From the darkness, the Laughing Man emerges.

<<You, again?>> I shout towards my old acquaintance.

<<Long time no see, boy from another world.>> he says.

What the hell…

<<Why…what do you want from me?>>

The man shrugs his shoulders.

<<Well, sorry for this sudden intrusion. But I could not bear myself to let you do some stupid mistake, here>> he said with a concerned look.

<<What are you talking about?>>

He sighs, deeply.

<<It seems I owe you some explanations, then. Well, since HE doesn’t like to talk, the task falls on my shoulders>>

The scenery around us changes and becomes a pleasant grass field, with the sky burning in the colors of sunset.

<<Here, boy. Sit with me and let me tell you a story>>

Without properly realizing what is going on, I comply with the Laughing Man’s request.

<<Once upon a time, the GODS made the Universe. It was all laughs and fun, until some of them decided to step up things. And so, each GOD, in their own part of the cosmos, chose some planet and started playing with them. Slowly, they created life, and watched it grow and evolve. Just for fun>>

In the sky, stars and planet unfold as the Laughing Man explains his story.

<<And life grew, more and more complex as time went by. Eventually, the creatures started to show some interesting things…a spark of comprehension about the world and the laws that governed it…in short words, intelligent beings began to evolve>>

Images of humans and other creatures were now around us. Vast empires, armies clashing and monuments reaching up to the sky itself.

<<Of course, each GOD reacted in a different way to this. Some were pleased, and cherished their creations…gifting magic and granting prayers to their little pets. Others were indifferent, and left the worlds they created. Your world was one of the ones abandoned, for example. And…some of the GODS, who did not participate in any kind of creation, grew jealous of the others. They began to covet for the attention, for the worship their brothers received from their respective creations.

And so, the jealous GODS moved to the abandoned worlds, claiming them for themselves. At first. But then, they wanted more praise, more worshipers, and began to turn their interest towards other worlds ruled by their brothers>>

He makes a dramatic pause, as the images in the sky shift into a black, starless night.

<<And that takes us to our situation here. Your world, abandoned by the original creator, became another GOD’s possession. But the new GOD there was not satisfied with only one world…he wanted more. And so, he devised a little strategy. By sending souls from his new world, he aims to slowly spread his name in the other worlds, by making his followers perform miracles and such. It would be nice, if only the world he set his eyes on were not already “ruled” by their respective creators.>>

So, that’s how it is…some sort of turf war between omnipotent beings.

<<But…why me? I mean, I did not even believe in any kind of god in my previous life>>

The man laughs.

<<Well, it does not matter. I think he prefers to choose some huge losers and trick them with empty promises, like power or fame, or whatever the hell the chosen person desires. In exchange, they MUST obey the GOD’s commands once they reincarnate in the new world.>>

His expression turns serious.

<<And there’s the catch. From the moment that the reincarnated person uses his power for the first time, they lose their ego, and become simple puppets for the GOD to use however he wants. People calls them “Heroes”, but they are just glorified puppets, pawns used to build a nation based on his power. There is one of such nations here in this world. Can you guess which one?>>

Of course, there can be only one answer…

<<Aldora>> I mutter.

<<Correct, my young friend. To build a nation in his image, the “foreign GOD“persecutes the people that possess blessing from the original GOD of this place, namely magicians and skill-holders. Also…there were no humans in this world, originally. They were sent here as a first attempt of “colonization”. But that failed, as the humans sent here accepted magic and skills, thus becoming “subjects” of this world’s GOD. And so, the foreign GOD resorted to other means. He sent monsters, to kill and spread dread among this world’s inhabitants. And he sent his Heroes, to mislead this world’s population into worshiping him>>

It’s a bit difficult to accept what he is saying, but…if he’s right…I should have been one of those so-called Heroes…

<<So, what you are saying is… I was about to become a Hero, sent from this “foreign GOD” to reinforce the Holy Empire. But, this world’s own GOD interfered and freed me. Am I right?>>

My head hurts from all this nonsense talk.

<<Not quite right. The GOD of this world is young, and cannot oppose the foreign one, who is older and more powerful. It was another one who found you, who found me…you see, some of the GODS without creations only tried to snatch them from their brethren. But others, wise and powerful, grew fond of their brother’s creations and swore to protect them. One of them is my master, the one who granted power to us both>>

Wonderful, a game of chess between three gods. Lucky me.

<<Well. Even if I accept what you are saying. Why are you here, now? I mean, you interfered with my level up, it kinda seems against your GOD’s interest>>

My question leaves him puzzled for a bit. He then breaks into a wide smile.

<<Oh no, boy. You see…this process, works by the power of this world’s original GOD. Level, stats, magic and skills…even your Dream Navigator. But, as I said before…this world’s GOD is weak. And so, his power can easily be tampered with by other GODS. In your case, the “foreign GOD” who was about to make you a Hero managed to modify your Dream Navigator before my GOD could intervene. If you had used that single skill point, he would have won you back. And so, before you could complete the process, my GOD made me intervene>>

I swear, if I hear the word “GOD” one more time…

<<Well, enough with the exposition. To summarize, we saved your ass. And, the big guy will make a gift to you>>

<<Oh, how thoughtful of him. But tell me, couldn’t he do it immediately? Or send you sooner, and give me a proper explanation right at the start?>> I say with a fed up tone.

<<But…it’s more fun this way. And also…he wanted to see how you would react to this world, to put a bit of pressure on you. In short words, he wanted to make a “little test “to your worth. And you passed…barely, but you did. So, congratulations!>> says the Laughing Man while clapping his hands.

<<Wow…so, risking my life from the get go, struggling inside a foul smelling swamp ridden with monsters…finding myself right into a slaughter-fest that YOU perpetrated, was just a “little test” from this fucking GOD you speak about?Are you kidding me?>> I jump to my feet, grabbing the man’s collar as I shout right into his face.

His expression turns sour, and he pushes me away.

He rises, darkness swirling around as his face twists in anger.

<<Down, puppy…do not try to bark at the big, bad wolf>> his voice sounds like thunder.

<<Do you think your treatment was unfair? Think about it…you were to be a pawn of his enemy, a worthless, spineless person that got nothing right on his life. HE saved you from slavery under powers far bigger than what your feeble mind can imagine…HE gave you the means to fight, and a new occasion to actually accomplish something with your worthless existence. HE acted this way while HE could just erase you without any kind of effort. Measure your words wisely, when you speak about HIM>>.

Quick as it came, the anger fades from his face. It left me trembling, as I felt the fury of his power.

<<He did all that, to measure your worth. If, by chance, you would have been as incompetent as in your previous life,you would simply be dead. The enemy would have lost his pawn either way. But, if somehow you turned out to be someone with the will and smarts, or even the plain luck, to survive and even grow during that time, it would prove your worth. And since you did, the enemy lost his pawn, and WE gained one. As simple as it sounds. So, little boy. Enough with this talk, already. Accept his gift>>

He extend his hand towards me. Still shaken, I am conflicted about what to do. He could be lying to me…and yet, something deep inside me feels like he’s telling the truth.

<<Ah! Fuck it!>> I shout as I grab his hand.

<<Good boy>> he says with a wide smile.

My head hurts, like it’s being split right in two…I feel something being torn from me. It’s painful, more than everything I have ever experienced. More than death.

I see light leaving my body. It’s pretty, sparkling in thousands of colors…but I feel a ominous sensation from it.

The lights dissolve, imploding with a loud, crackling sound.

I fall to my knees, gasping for air as I hold my chest.

Shadows flow towards me, condensing into vein-looking things that creep up on my arms and legs, entering MY veins, staining them black.

The blackness rises, up on my arms, to my chest, my neck, and finally my head.

It ends, and a familiar voice resounds in my head.

[Navi: Hello, Roshal! This is your new, improved Dream Navigator, offered by the almighty Azatoth! I’ll be in your care from now on!]

What is that ominous sounding name?

<<A…Azatoth?>> I mutter.

<<Oh, that’s just one of the names he likes to use. I think he picked it up from a story in your world, if I properly recall>>.

<<What…what has he done to me?>> I ask while trembling.

<<Well…he gave you a gift. He loves drama, you see…and he is especially fond of conflicting characters. So, in order to oppose Heroes, he made you into their polar opposite. Of course, it’s still too early for you to claim that title, and right now you’re much, much weaker than the weakest hero…but still, as a proof of good will by his side, he gave you his mark and blessing. Well, you can see for yourself>>

He invites me so.

Abiding to his words, I activate the Status Window from the new Navi.

As I see what is written there, I burst out laughing.

My level, name and stats…and even the skills are all the same as before. There is only one, tiny line added to the Status Menu under my name.

It reads “Title”.

And, as my freshly gained titled, three words are listed.

Candidate Demon Lord.

I burst out in laughter again. This is too much! And what the hell means “Candidate”? Am I a devil in training? Do I need to make an internship before I become a proper one? Will I get a paycheck raise?

<<What the hell…seriously? Demon Lord?>> I say while crying from laughter.

<<Candidate- says the Laughing Man, pointing his finger upwards- you still need to grow a lot before becoming a proper Demon Lord. Well, the title in itself does not mean anything, it’s not like we will require you to open Hell’s gates or destroy all humans. Just killing one Hero or two will be enough, and you can do whatever the hell you want in the meantime>>

His voice sounds a bit patronizing, though.

<<Yes but…still, Demon Lord? Could you not choose something less evil sounding? What could be worse than that?>> I retort.

A sad smile pops up on the Laughing Man’s face.

<<Well, you could become like me. Roam the world with insanity as your companion>> he says.

Patting my shoulder, he starts smiling again.

<<Now, Roshal. It’s time to wake up, or your new friends will die>>

As he says so, I immediately wake up.

The night still paints the sky with blackness and stars, and the fading campfire near us only emits a dim, weak light.

A thick fog is all around, shifting the world into gray shadows.

<<What is going on?>> I mutter, slowly rising to my feet.

Besides me, Levia and Heod are still asleep.

Retel however, is missing. He should have been on guard duty tonight, maybe he left to relieve himself?

But something does not look right here…I grab a torch from my inventory, lighting it on the waning campfire’s coals, and activate my detection skill. It…doesn’t work? What the hell?

[Navi: All skill functions besides Black Fluid are integrated in the New Me! Isn’t it wonderful, Master?]

What is this development here!
<<Yes, whatever! Hurry up and let me see!>>

As I say so, a sound rings in my head. Now I can properly see, even with the darkness and mist around us. More importantly, the skill seems to not deactivate like before.

In the distance, I spot Retel

<<Damn! Levia! Heod! Wake up, quickly!>> I shout.

Retel is standing in front of something. Shapes move in the mist around us, and a chilling sound starts resounding in the air.

Like a child’s cry.

<<Huh? What? Are we under attack? Is breakfast ready?>> Levia ‘s voice is still sleepy.

Heod springs up, with a concerned look on his tired face.

<<Roshal, what is happening?>>

<<We are under attack. Levia, ready your arrow and fire, right where I tell you.>> I whisper.

She nods, shaking off her sleepiness. Her little hands grab the bow lying besides her, and she notches and arrow, aiming right where I point my finger.

Retel is still approaching the thing. Although their shapes should be hidden by the mist, I can see them clearly with my skill.

In front of my friend, a child-like silhouette is sitting on the ground, sobbing with a child-like voice,cradling its own knees.

Like a child lost in the woods.

<<Levia, now!>> I mutter.

Following my command, the arrow flies inside the mist.

Retel screams in surprise. He falls on his back, and starts tumbling away from the creature before managing to get up and run towards us.

<<Retel! What is happening?>> Levia’s voice is full of concern.

He’s uninjured, luckily enough.

As the arrow hit the mark, the mist dissolves.

Now, all four of us are staring at the little thing.

It really looks like a child. Easy to mistake for one in the dark, even more when the mist is around.

The arrow sticking out of the small head makes for a ghastly view.

I can see Levia reaching her hands to her mouth.

<<Oh my god…what have I done>> she mutters, her voice already broken.

The child slowly turns his head towards us.

As the moonlight illuminates our surroundings, we can clearly see the face staring back at us.

Empty eyes, and a smile that is too big for a human face. The child’s mouth gapes even further, revealing a set of long, thorn-like teeth dripping with saliva.

<<That is no child, Levia>> Heod remarks while trembling.

The thing abruptly turns its neck to the side, making a loud, cracking sound as the little head turns upside down. The same thing it does to shoulders and arms, and now it starts moving towards us.

It reminds me of how a little girl descended some stairs in a iconic horror movie…

Instead, that thing is not a little girl. Not even a human.

[Navi: Detected-Dryad lvl 8-Suggested Extreme Caution]

Weren’t those things supposed to just stay inside their home?

Whatever…we need to defend ourselves, right now.

I grab Retel’s arm, shaking it to make him regain his composure.

<<We need to be focused here, or it will end badly>> I shout to him.

He shakes his head, and look at me with a resolute expression.

As we are talking, I hear the Dryad’s shriek. A bone-chilling sound…

Roots burst out from under our feet, entangling me and Retel. As I look towards Levia and Heod, I see that they met the same fate.

We are trapped.

Struggling with all my might, I cannot resist the crushing strength that these roots possess. As they bind and strangle, I fall to my knees.

The Dryad is coming closer to us.

From the monster’s mouth comes a weird, clicking noise…I don’t know why, but it seems I can almost…understand it.

<<Help…me…Stop…this…Pain>>

Is it some kind of mental attack?

[Navi: Negative- The Dryad is only communicating via telepathy]

Huh? It looks like I’ m the only one who can understand it.

I try to shout to it, but it does not react to my words. It only repeats the same sentence, over and over.

Something is weird in the way the Dryad moves. And, it could have easily killed at least one of us, but…it did not do it.

Why? It’s almost like…the Dryad is struggling against something. I have a bad feeling about this…

I focus my attention on the Dryad. It looks like…something is tied around the child-like body, thin threads of golden light that flicker, pulsing…the threads extends toward the Meadows.

Is it being…controlled?

[Navi: Enemy Dryad- Status: Mana Possession]

So…it is being controlled.

Perhaps the Dryad never wanted to hurt us, but instead is being forced to do so. For now, it’s resisting…but how much will it hold?

Right as I think so, the Dryad shrieks again. A painful cry, full of sorrow. The thread of light around it now are fully visible, and the monsters starts rushing towards Levia.

I need to do something.

Mustering all my will, I use Black Fluid. I need to quickly cut the roots that restrain me and my companions.

As I manifest the skill…

[Navi: Combat Assist- Form control Assist. Would you like to activate?]

Of course, yes! This is a critical moment!

A sound rings in my head.

Black Fluid twirls around me, changing into claw-like blades and shredding the roots to pieces.

I am free now, but the Dryad is almost on Levia. It jumps towards her, raising its clawed arm to slash at the beast-girl.

Desperate, I focus all my will into a single shot from Black Fluid.

Hopefully I will hit the thing before it attacks.

Levia’s scream resounds in the air. The Dryad stabs her thorn-like claws in her belly, gushing out blood from my companion’s body.

My attack connects at the same time, hitting the Dryad’s flank and shredding the thing’s body as it expands blades of Black fluid.

<<Levia!>> I shout, running towards her small figure, hoping that it’s not too late.

Meanwhile, the Dryad collapses to the ground.

The wound I gave her is shallow, but my attack somehow destroyed the golden threads, freeing the Dryad from whatever was controlling her.

<<Thank you>>

A faint whisper in my mind. The roots binding my companions are now retreating inside the ground, and the other two are rushing to our side.

I grab Levia before her body hits the soil.

The wound is bad…

My hands tremble, as I mutter incoherent words.

It cannot be…

Retel shouts, and he jumps towards the Dryad with his spear in hands. He stabs, again and again, shouting all his fury as he tries to hit the monster.

The thing stops his assault, blocking the spear with a single hand.

She…smiles at Retel. Not the terrifying expression she gave us before, but a kind, generous smile.

Green light is wrapping around the Dryad, and her figure warps, changes.

Her monstrous features are gone, and now a beautiful young woman stands between us.

<<Thank you, o kind stranger, for freeing me>>

She extends her hand towards Levia.

Green light ripples from her fingers, wrapping on the wounded beast-girl’s body.

Levia gasps in pain, but her face relaxes.

I can see the wound on her belly recede, as the gaping skin slowly becomes whole again.

The girl open her eyes again, as I hold her in my arms.

Retel jumps to us, crying.

<< I’m sorry for the pain I inflicted you, little ones>>the Dryad’s voice is now calm, almost soothing in her kind tone.

I check her again, to ascertain if the mind control is properly gone. As Navi confirms so, I try to speak with the Dryad.

<<You were…being controlled. By whom? And why attack us?>> I try to ask gently, but my voice still holds anger.

I truly thought to have lost my friend here.

<< I do not know so. It came into our home, and poisoned me and my sisters. To what ends, I do not know. He compelled me to come here, to taint myself into killing without reason. I tried to resist, as much as I could. But, in the end, I ended up spilling innocent blood>>

She says as she strokes Levia’s hair.

Retel still looks at her with hateful eyes, while Heod has a sorrowful expression.

He clears his throat.

<<This is bad…if something able to overpower and control the Dryads is behind this…i fear for the village. Tell me, oh Maiden of the Woods…how many of your sister did fall into this stranger’s hands?>>

A moment of silence follows Heod’s question, as the Dryad lifts her head with her eyes closed. Almost as if she’s listening to something.

<< Many fought, and some fell to never rise again…few fled, and lay weak outside of our ancient home. I and six others were prey to his madness. And yes, I feel them move towards the human’s nest>>

Heod strikes his fist to a nearby tree.

<<Dammit!>> he shouts.

What to do now…it seems that the news about the village being attacked left the group in disarray. Although they were mistreated by the inhabitants, it’s still their home. Of course they would feel like this.

<<Please…we need to do something>>

Levia’s voice carries sorrow, but her eyes show determination.

I shake my head.

<<I know that you lived there. I understand, it’s your home…but…think about it. What could we do? If someone capable enough to defeat, and even control the Dryads is our opponent…it will be our loss, no matter how hard we try>>.

My words are harsh, I know. But, it’s the truth. We barely managed to wound a single Dryad, and almost lost Levia here. Against six of them, and the mysterious person controlling them, we have no hope.

<<Still…I…we…cannot just sit idly here, dammit!>>

This time Retel gives voice to his desire to rush to the village.

Heod stays silent. He surely understands how it would be suicide to go there. Still, I can feel his unrest.

The same sensation I felt during the attack on the fort. To be unable to do anything.

<<I am against it. You understand this would be suicide right? >>

I catch myself shouting at them. I admire their resolution, but I don’t want them to lose their life.

<<Then go away. I will go there>>

Levia’s reply leaves me speechless.

Retel too is silent, but I can see it in his eyes. He will go, no matter what I say or do to stop him.

<<No…I will not let you throw away your life like this!>>

Why…why must they behave so stubbornly like this.

We bicker more, and more. I even pull out my weapon and point it towards Retel

<<I’ll hurt you if you don’t stop>> I shout to him, trying to sound as menacing as I can.

But my hand trembles.

<<Do it. No matter what, I will go there. It’s my home! Even if there are some people who treated me badly, mocked and bullied me…there are still people that I cherish! I do not want to be the one that walks away, knowing that they are in pain. And so, strike if you will. Hurt me. But I will go there, crawling and bleeding>>

Retel’s eyes burn with determination.

I let my weapon fall and hit his face with my fist.

Retel simply takes the hit, without even flinching.

A small stream of blood flows from his nose.

He turns his back on me, and leaves with Levia toward the woods.

Heod calls their name with a desperate voice.

But the two don’t turn their back, and disappear among the threes.

<<What are you doing here? Stop them, I beg you!>>

The old man grabs my collar, as he cries bitter tears.

His broken voice is painful to hear, but I cannot bring myself to chase them.

I just look away, like the coward I am.

I stay there clutching my fist in anger.

Enraged, I hit a nearby tree, again, and again, until my hand hurts.

Falling on my knees, I just stay there. Letting time slip by as my friends rush into the night towards a certain death.

Even Heod gives up on me, and he sits in desperation, cradling his head.

I feel a light touch on my shoulder. As I look behind me, the Dryad smiles at me.

<<Have you calmed down, little one? Anger will not help your friends>>

Her gentle voice feels more painful than harsh words.

<<I cannot help them either way>>.

She slaps me.

As I hold my cheek in surprise, she takes my hand into hers.

<<Leave doubt behind, little one. You hold a great power into you, I can feel it. Be confident about yourself, about them. The only way to see a miracle, is by making it happen by your own hands>>

Her words only make me feel more miserable. Am I really leaving them alone, facing certain death? I swore to myself to never behave like this again, letting others die as I hide cowardly. And yet here I am, acting selfishly in self preservation.

Taking a deep breath, I rise.

Clutching her hand, I mutter a simple sentence.

<<Look after the old man>>.

As the Dryad nods with a smile, I rush towards the trees.

Run. Only this thought occupies my mind, as I spend every energy in me to run, faster than I ever had.

How stupid of me, to just stay there.

We could have thought of something, perhaps build a plan.

Properly prepared and together, we would have stood a chance.

Instead, I let my fears hold me…I let my comrades go alone.

They are faster than me, so I will probably reach them after they enter the village, after they start fighting.

If we will survive this, I will be glad to spend my time apologizing to those two. I swear.

Please, if you are listening…Azatoth, God or whoever you are…let them be safe!

For the first time in my two lives, I prayed.

As I exit the woods, exhausted, a blazing fire is in front of me. Sounds of metal clashing rise from the destroyed village.

I rush inside, screaming my companion’s names.

Corpses of villagers are scattered in the road, crushed and maimed. Some of them are still tangles by roots that seem to pierce the deceased bodies.

I try to not puke while looking at this macabre show.

As I push on into the burning village, I come across a Dryad’s dead body.

In the distance, about fifty meters away from me, I can see a group of humans fight two Dryads.

I rush to their side, hoping that Retel and Levia are there.

The human are struggling against the Dryads, but thanks to that the monsters did not notice me as I approached them.

[Navi: Detected-Dryad lvl 6 (x2). Status-Full Mana Possession/ Unable to dispel. Advised elimination of target]

So, defeating them is the only option…

Using Black Fluid, I shot them down. Again and again. I bind them changing the shot’s shape as they connect, pinning them into the ground as I shot more and more.

The Dryads retaliate, and manage to hurt me with shallow wounds…perhaps these too are holding back, like the one in the forest?

Seeing the Dryads being attacked, the villagers rally and strike at them, defeating the Dryads together with me.

<<Thank you…>> a voice whispers into my mind.

<<Retel! Levia!>> I shout with all my breath.

Frantically, I ask each villager if they saw the two beast-kin.

<<They were fighting those things…around the main square>>one of the villagers point into the direction with his finger.

I can see something moving in the shadows.

[Navi: Found them ♪ Right ahead!]

Navi’s cheerful voice reassures me. It seems they are injured, but still alive.

I recover my Black Fluid and rush to their side, not even caring about my wounds.

The small square is covered in debris, and here and there the bodies of fallen villagers lie upon their blood.

In the center, Retel is fending a Dryad’s attack. His spear lies embedded in the Dryad’s shoulder, and he’s using his pole-arm to block the incoming blows. Levia is behind him, injured on her leg. She is straining herself using her skill to heal herself and Retel

I shot the Dryad, changing the Black Fluid to tentacle form as the first shot connects. The tentacles block the Dryad’s movements, and Retel uses this opportunity to decapitate the monster.

He looks at me.

I expected anger, his furious words thrown at me for letting them go like this, without supporting their decision.

<<I knew you would come>> he simply says with a smug smile.

Don’t make me cry here…

<<Sorry…I acted like a coward, before>> I say to them.

<<Oh, what a heart warming reunion>>

The sudden voice leaves us speechless. Sitting on the roof of a nearby house, a small child, no more than ten years old, is watching the scene.

His pure-white,curly unkempt hair covers his eyes, and a wry smile is painted on his face, warping his beautiful features into an arrogant expression befitting an adult more than a child.

Wearing a light blue tunic, he sits there, dangling his leg from the roof.

As I turn toward him, his figure disappears.

<<Hello, Apostle of The False God>>.

In a split second, he is now behind me. A sudden feeling of danger grasps my thoughts, and I jump away from him.

The boy laughs.

[Navi: Resisted-Full Mana Possession]

What? So, is this boy the one causing this mayhem?

As I focus on him, my eyes widen in surprise.

[Navi: Detected- Damien (Human) lvl 75]

It was not his level that surprised me, but the title shown beside his name.

Hero.

This is too soon…fighting an enemy like a Hero, right from the start?

Suddenly, I feel a sharp pain in my shoulder. An arrow, shot from behind, pierced my flesh.

As I turn to the shot’s direction…

<<Roshal>> Levia’s voice is broken, as she stands with her hands still gripping the bow. A crown of golden treads circles her head, and tears run from her eyes.

<<No>> I mutter as she notches another arrow.

<<What…what is happening to us? Please, make it stop, it hurts!>> Retel shouts as he struggles against his own body.

The same light is wrapped around his head.

[Navi: Retel lvl2- Levia lvl4- Status: Full Mana Possession]

Another arrow flies from Levia’s bow.

The boy…Damian laughs. He kicks me, sending me flying. Landing on my back, I shout in pain.

<<Pathetic…and to think that you would be a threats to us. Seriously, what is that demented False God of yours thinking? Has he gone senile, sending weak guys like you to do his bidding?>> the boy says while shaking his head patronizingly.

<<Hell, it’s not even fun to fight you! But, I still need to take you out here. So, since killing you with my hands sounds so boring, I will make a little play instead.>>

Pointing at my friends, he starts moving his fingers in the air. In response, Retel and Levia begin to dance, following the movement of his fingers.

They cry in pain with every movement they are forced to do.

<<I will use these two to kill you. They are your friends, right? It will be nice to watch them hurt you with their own hands…or will you fight back, and kill your friends?>>

His childish laugh resounds in the air.

<<Now, dance, little puppets>> he says with malice in his voice.

Retel rushes towards me, his pole-arm ready to strike. I barely manage to avoid the blow, only to be hurt by Levia’s arrow.

Retel jumps back at me, and I barely manage to parry his blow by pulling out a spear from my inventory.

He pushes me back, making me fall on my knees as he relentlessly trusts his weapon to hit me.

And with each strike, his voice…

<<Please, make it stop! Forgive me, Roshal>> again and again.

This is beyond sadism. This is pure madness…

Damian seems entertained by what he sees. Clapping his hands, he cheers for my companions as they try to kill me.

The battle goes on, as I desperately try to evade the attacks.

Still, it’s not like I am able to retaliate here…

Only using my weapon to defend myself, I am being cornered.

The wounds on my leg and shoulders are in constant pain, and I barely can move enough to avoid or repel Retel’s attack.

But, the most terrible thing is their plea…as they maintain their consciousness, unable to stop their hand as Damien’s spell forces them to hurt me.

<<Booriing! Come on! Don’t just evade! Use your powers! Kill them! They’re only beast-kin, you know? It’s not like they’re humans!>> the child Hero complains with a fed up tone.

<<Fuck you!>> I shout in anger.

I swear to kill him, no matter what it takes.

The boy laughs, mockingly.

Distracted by him, I receive a kick from Retel.

This is bad…I will die if I do not something about this situation.

I cannot use Black Fluid in a lethal way…but perhaps I could restrain the two of them?

Resolved, I activate the skill with Navi’s support.

Using the Navigator to assist me in shaping the Fluid, I form several ropes as I try to entangle Retel with them. He manages to cut free from the skill, initially, but I manage to keep him still in the end.

<<Oh, restraining them? Boring…Go for the kill, please?>>

Damned brat…

I shot Black Fluid at him, but the attack simply bounces off him.

He starts laughing, amused.

<<Come on! Throw me some more of those things! You will never manage to pierce my defense! No one can!>>

I attack him once more. This time, he does not even move to defend himself.

The child laughs again.

<<See? My God granted me an invincible skin…no attack can hurt me, not even leave a scratch>>

Ignoring him, I focus on keeping Retel tangled as I try to reach Levia.

I am at my limit here…

She is fast, however. I’ve been using Black Fluid to defend myself from her arrows while I dealt with Retel…luckily, the remodeled Navi can even assist me by automatically moving my skill to intercept incoming attacks.

This mode takes a huge toll on me, as I feel more and more tired every second.

I need to end this quickly.

Still, Levia evades every single attack I unleash at her.

Closing in on me, she abandons the bow and simply attacks with fists and kicks.

Good. Scattering Black fluid around, I avoid and parry her blows.

Each punch is so heavy, and she manages to hurt me with her nails.

As we fight, I jump away from her and activate the scattered Black Fluid.

The tentacles wrap around her slender figure, attacking from multiple directions all around her. She struggles, but in the end I manage to pin her to the ground.

<<I’m sorry >> I mutter, as I end up using too much strength to restrain her, breaking her arm in the process.

The Hero’s childish voice resounds in the air.

<<What a huge disappointment you are. Not even a drop of blood? Are you serious?>> the boy shouts to me.

I shot Black fluid at him, again and again. Every time he just swats the attack on the side, using a single hand.

I try to restrain him with the same technique I used on Retel and Levia, but he simply breaks the restraints, without even putting any effort in doing so.

Think…I need to think…every attack just bounces on his skin, and I cannot use something like magic since I do not possess any.

It’s like his body is impervious to injury…or is he?

If you cannot strike from outside…

A reckless, hopeless, and probably really stupid plan pops into my mind.

I attack him once again. This time, the shot I fire explodes into a black smoke right in front of Damian’s face.

He takes a deep sigh.

<<Even your attacks are pathetic >>.

As he says so, he points his finger at me.

A burning sensation explodes in my guts. From his finger, a golden laser-like light is fired, piercing my stomach and leaving me bleeding.

I cough out blood, as a second, and third attack pierce both my arms and my chest.

It’s almost as if he’s toying with me…no, he definitely is.

His mocking laughter…I will make him choke on it.

Damian comes closer and kicks my face.

From his blow, I tumble backwards, ending up sprawling with my back on the ground.

My vision is starting to fade…

Still, I need to do resist.

The Hero is now on me, pinning my chest down with his foot, pushing me to the ground as he grovels in delight.

<<Well, enough with the fun. It’s my win, Fake God’s apostle>>.

His triumphant expression fades…as he sees my smile.

<<What are you smiling for? Have you lost your mind, facing death?>> he mutters, perplexed.

<<It’s…your…loss…fucking brat!>> with my last breath, I spit out those words, and activate Black Fluid for the last time.

My skill’s original form was a black mist. Since the skill I hold now is an upgraded version of that original one, I should be able to revert it back to the mist form, right?

On that thought alone I based this stupid, reckless and hopeless strategy.

I tested it on him with my first shot. As he repelled it, I quickly transformed the Black Fluid projectile into thin mist, exerting myself to make it as scarce as I could.

Of course, this action required difficult calculations and extreme control and precision, and only thanks to the assist by the new Navi I could manage to do so.

Basically, I turned my Black Fluid into gas.

It worked, and the boy did not seem to notice the gas-form skill in the air around him.

Without noticing, he stood into the gas, and he breathed it.

That means…Black Fluid is now into his lungs.

And, as I activate it again…

The sound he makes is revolting, choking on his own blood.

I repeat the activation, again and again, as the Black Fluid inside his lungs reverts to liquid form and explodes into spear-shaped protrusions, piercing his body from within.

His face twists in pain…good.

It seems his skin really cannot be pierced…but his insides are just like those of any other human being. Soft, defenseless…vulnerable.

<<How…this, this is not possible>> the Hero mutters as his voice breaks into bubbling sounds.

The child collapses into the ground.

It is not the end, however.

Golden light swirls around him…and it explodes, bursting into a flame like aura, raging all around him.

He coughs, and spits out the Black Fluid from his body.

It seems all damage on him has been healed.

<<You low-life…how did you DARE hurt this body gifted to my by the GOD himself!>>

Enraged, the boy jumps high into the sky.

<<Now, perish!>>

His shout echoes all around, as he lifts his arm and gathers energy into his hand.

A golden sphere pulses in his grasp, for one moment before he launches it towards the ground.

With my last effort, I wrap my companions with my skill.

Maybe it will not be enough, but it is the only thing I can do to protect them.

After that, the world faded into light.

[Navi: Warning! Critical conditions! Warning!]

Just…shut up…let me fade away.

Voices are around me, they seem to call my name.

I hear a faint sound in the distance…is it a siren? An ambulance?

I slowly open my eyes again.

<<Sir? Are you ok? Sir?>>

The voices are distant, confused.

I try to speak, but nothing comes out of my mouth. I feel the hard texture of asphalt with my hands…the air smell like burnt rubber.

What is going on? A woman cries and sobs, she says she’s sorry, that I popped out in front of her at the last second.

I try to move my legs but they don’t budge. Panic rises and takes hold.

Move…move… I am stuck, locked into my own body.

I can feel myself being lifted by strong hands. Unknown persons strip my clothes, pierce my skin with needles…I feel the world bleeding out from me.

And my name is being called…but, what is my name? I don’t recall it. And that damn smell doesn’t leave my nose, it’s unpleasant.

A light shines before my eyes, and someone puts some kind of mask upon my mouth. I feel the air, pure, rushing into my lungs.

Breathing feels heavy, so heavy and painful.

<<Roshal>> mutters a female voice, but no woman is around me, only two men busy doing something, rubbing two things together and pushing them on my chest…it looks so silly.

The female voice again…who is this Roshal she is calling.

Just leave me be…I want to fade into the light.

Now I am alone, floating into a dark space. It…feels so wrong. A golden light shines in front of me, but I see something moving inside it, something so unpleasant that it makes me want to puke.

It speaks, he tells me an absurd promise, but I know he lies…I feel it in my chest.

I try to flee, but moving is hard into this space. And the thing is closing in, spewing lies and insults.

I extend my hand and hope that someone grabs it…

It is all a dream, memories mixed up by my own mind. This is not real, as I am dead and fading away. How silly of me to think such things, of other worlds and magic and Gods.

There is no such thing. I just need to fade away.

And I almost do so. Only a feeling keeps me here, and makes me turn towards the light. It is that voice, calling that name that only few moments ago I did not recognize. There are other voices with hers, calling me, begging me to wake up.

I did already experience something like this. The first time I died. Only, there were no voices to call me then, and I faded from the world, alone.

But here, the voices call me back. I am not faded away, yet.

I am still here.

I shout to them, again and again. They cannot hear me, it seems, but that does not stop me.

And so, I struggle…I run towards the voice, and as I do so, they grow stronger, they become REAL again.

I become real, as my memory becomes clearer with every step.

The illusion breaks, like shattered glass, and I am whole again.

One last trick from my old friend, it seems. But I will not let myself to be fooled so easily. This time, I open my eyes again, my real eyes.

As the world takes shapes again, a familiar face is in front of me.

Her expression is twisted, as tears run from her eyes into her beautiful cheeks.

She shouts, and someone else comes rushing. They shout my name, and cry, but their voice sounds happy.

They mutter my name, and then they shout it.

Levia hugs me with all her might, while Retel stands besides her, holding my hand as he tries to do a tough face, failing miserably.

Hell, I only met them few days ago, and yet they show more affection to me than the people from my previous life that I knew for years.

I try to move, but my body refuses so.

[Navi: Critical Damage, impossible to move- Permanent Damaged absent- Healing Magic applied-estimated recovery time: 1 week]

Even Navi’s voice is soothing to me.

It seems that, in the end, we managed to survive this predicament.

We are still in the ruined village.

The Hero, Damian, disappeared right after his attack. He probably thought to have killed us for sure.

Well, we will probably have to fight him again.

After the explosion, we were blown away. I managed to protect Retel and Levia with my skill, absorbing a bit of damage and thus saving their life.

When the explosion subsided, they searched for me into the debris.

It was thanks to the Dryads that I am still alive. After my attack on Damian, the shock of him being hurt broke his spell, releasing the Dryads and my companions from his control.

As the Hero fled, they rushed to our side, saving my life with their healing magic.

Still, why the hell did the Hero appear here…it’s like trouble follows every step I take in this world.

And his attack…what was his purpose here?

Too many things are still unknown to me. The only thing I know is that, as I am now, I am pitifully weak compared to them.

Even with the wounds that I inflicted him, he did not die and healed almost immediately.

Overwhelming power…so that’s the existence called “Hero”.

To beat them, to survive, I only have one thing to do. Become stronger than them.

This time, I used an underhanded tactic, but the next time a cheap trick like that will not be enough.

I need to become stronger, and fast.

With those thoughts in mind, I fell asleep once again.

The next week went by, with me being unable to even lift a finger. Still, I have been nursed by Levia and old Heod….the poor girl even cooked for me.

According to Heod, he rushed here as soon as he heard the explosion in the village. When he found me, collapsed on the ground, he thought the worst had happened.

He stood there as the Dryads used their magic, walking restless like a parent outside of his child’s hospital room.

During my recovery, he mixed his potions with my food.

<<With this, you will get up again in no time>> he said with his usual smile. But I could see the concern behind those words.

He too realized that me, Levia and Heod are safe by pure and sheer luck.

He even told me, in a moment where we were alone in the room. It’s sad to see a man his age cry in frustration, but I understand what he felt, seeing us in this sorry state.

<<Never do something like that again>> I heard him scold Retel and Levia.

Still, it could end much, much worse than this.

We could have been dead, the three of us. Instead, we ended up with only some scars to remind us of what happened.

As my injuries are now healed, I share my resolution with the group.

I tell them everything…besides the Demon Lord thing…that feels a little embarrassing.

Still, they made their will to follow me pretty clear. Even after knowing how strong will the enemy be. Not only monsters, but also Heroes will be on my, on our path. Even knowing so, they decided to come with me, to get stronger with me.

Still, as the day dawns, we leave the village behind, heading out into the road again.

Re: Interference Chapter 6: The Road Ahead

It took me some time to calm down, gradually shaking off the unpleasantness of recent happenings.

An entire day I spent on the roadside.

Mostly, I just kept myself occupied enough, focusing my attention on the surrounding scenery, or doing handwork during resting time.

I need to admit, the scenery here is soothing. Unlike the unpleasantness of the marsh, these hills are covered in lush, green fields, and the road is safe.

After spending the night relatively close to the ruined forth, sleeping under the stars in a small thicket off the road’s side, I resume my trip towards Nudria village.

The road ahead is still long, after all.

As I walk along the road, I have much time to think.

About my goals, and what I really want to do here.

I could just settle, find a work and live in a village or even with the former slaves in their new settlement. But…I don’t really want to do that.

Although this world is harsh, and I experienced first hand how violent it can get, I still have this desire, this need to travel and explore. After all, I spent my previous life sheltered, doing a menial work day after day, without allowing myself to get out of my comfort zone, and relying on games to escape that stagnating reality.

I will not do that again, now that I have a second chance at life.

I will live to the fullest! And now I sound like a shonen manga protagonist.

Chuckling a bit for this silly thought, I stare at the road ahead.

My problems still remain, though. The real, material problems, like the need to assert some kind of income…namely, I need to get money.

And also, since I was simply dragged into existence here in this world, I do not possess a proper identity, like I.D. Papers or a passport to prove who I am.

It should not be a problem if I visit small villages or settlement, but it could hinder me, or put me in trouble if I attempt to enter large cities.

Simply using a false backstory will not cut it, as it could be exposed and accused of being some kind of spy or criminal with bad intent.

And so, I need to settle these two pressing matters. The most difficult thing to get will probably be the second one, some kind of confirmation about who I am.

Money is not an immediate problem, since I found some in the ruined fort, and I could even resort to selling the items that I scavenged from there. It will only last for a bit, thou.

Well, first things first. I still have a long walk before reaching Nudria village.

With the Sun high in the morning sky, I walk on the north-bound road.

Winding through the hills, the “road” is nothing more than a dirt track . No signposts or milestones yet, maybe this road is not much used or still being built.

Although, judging from the patches of grass growing in the middle of the road, I think this road is simply not often used.

From time to time, small thickets can be seen at the road’s side. There, the trees resemble pines, with scaly-looking brown bark and needle shaped leafs.

I even saw a small fox-like monsters popping out of the vegetation. With big ears, the little thing scurried away as soon as it saw me.

It’s hot under the intense sunlight, but the occasional, gentle breeze makes it almost pleasant. I even removed my mantle, tucking it away in my inventory, and now I am walking in a short-sleeved cloth shirt and blue pants made of a cotton-like cloth.

I really hope to not get sunburn here, walking around without protection.

Still no sight of fellow travelers on the road. I feel a bit lonely.

I go on until noon, judging the time by the Sun’s position.

Taking a small break, I climb a hill overlooking the road. It’s high, covered in vegetation and rocks popping out of the ground. The climb to the top is a bit tiring, but I manage. Sitting on the hill’s top, I consume my lunch there.

It seems food does not expire inside my inventory, and objects even keep their temperature inside it. This must be my most overpowered skill, huh?

It’s like a combination of spacial and time magic.

I wonder about how useful this skill would have been in my previous life.

I let my gaze wander to the scenery around me. From the hill, I overlook the road ahead and even manage to see my destination.

Of course, I am using Inquisitive Eye to enhance my vision here…it seems the skill got this new effect when it got leveled up.

Still faraway…but I can see it in the distance.

Between two wooden thickets, on the side of a small lake. On the north side of the village, a small river flows down from a lone mountain, forming the lake and flowing away. Perhaps it connects to the large river from the forest?

The mountain is not so high…it’s more a big hill than a proper mountain, covered in green trees all around.

The village below seems so small, like those toy cities that I played with in my childhood.

After eating my lunch, I stretch my limbs and get up, preparing to climb down the hill and resume my trip.

But…something catches my hear. It was faint, but I clearly heard someone scream.

The sound came from the east side of the hill, in the opposite direction from the road. I turn that way, and activate Inquisitive Eye again.

I can see a group of people struggling, fighting against something.

It seems a group of low-leveled monsters attacked them. Five in total, the information about them reads “Red Wolves”, their level ranging between 1 and 3.

After taking a deep breath, I decide to make a small deviation from my way and help them.

I rush down the hill, running towards their direction while monitoring the situation with my skill.

The best course here would be a surprise attack to distract the monsters and give the group a chance to retaliate or flee.

After running with all my strength, I now am at the edge of the thicket.

I pull out a small bow and some arrow. With this, I will be able to test this bow, that I made using materials taken from the fort and assembled with my crafting skill.

I activate Inquisitive Eye and draw the bow. It’s harder than I thought, and my arm is twitching from the effort.

<> I mutter to myself, putting all my will to steel my hand before letting the arrow loose.

I manage to hold my hand steel, and I take aim.

The arrow flies with a whistling sound, hitting one of the monster, a level one Red wolf.

Right on mark. The arrow sinks in the monster’s left eye, and the creature drops down with a wailing sound, its leg twitching in the air.

[Navi: Defeated Red Wolf lvl 1! Acquired EXP]

<<Finally!>> I speak out loud. I was getting worried before, as I noticed that the monsters I fought and killed did not give me any experience points. But, this time, I got some. Could it be because I killed them with my weapon instead of using a skill?

It seems weird, tho.

Still, I need to focus. I ready a second arrow on my bow, and let it loose.

This time the monster manages to avoid a lethal hit, the arrow barely grazes the furry red skin.

With a growl, the thing turns toward my direction, and charges.

<<Good, now they should fare better>>.

I brace myself for the upcoming attack. Luckily, only one of the wolves responded to my attack, the remaining three still focused on attacking the other group. Two people are actively fighting against them, protecting a third person that lies on the ground, injured.

The wolf is now near, and it jumps straight at me.

I put my bow away and pull out my spear.

Avoiding the first attack, I retaliate with a thrust of my weapon, aiming at the wolf’s head.

It evades however, with quick and nimble movements, immediately jumping to a safe distance.

It starts circling me around, growling as he glares at me.

It seems…cautious, almost like it is studying me before making a move.

But…it doesn’t seem the wolf noticed my trap. Immediately after my first attack, when I fired the arrow, I set up Black Fluid. I made several offshots, planting them in the ground.

In short, I made landmines with my skill.

As the wolf circles around, it is now right on top of one of the mines.

I just activate the skill again, using the “form control” effect to make spear-like protrusions burst out of the ground.

The wolf realizes my trap and tries to jump away. It is too late, however, as the sharp ends pierce its hind legs, leaving the wolf on wounded on the ground. I close in toward it.

This time, I want to test if my theory is correct. I use Black Fluid again, changing it into Blade mode and slash at the wolf.

[Navi: Defeated Red Wolf lvl 2! Acquired EXP!]

So…it’s not like using the skill to kill prevents exp acquisition…so, it must be related to absorption? Now that I recall, I used Black Fluid to absorb the monsters before…

Leaving the wolf’s corpse behind, I hurry towards the group.

As I run, I recover the scattered Black Fluid. Aiming with my hand pointed towards the wolves, I use Black Fluid again, shooting small darts made from it.

It only distracts the wolves, but this action is enough to allow one of the fighters to strike and kill one wolf with his polearm.

Only two of them left.

The fighter yells, perhaps trying to scare them away.

Instead, the remaining wolves howl at us, and attack.

Charging, they switch their position while running at high speed.

[Navi: Detected! Red Wolf (lvl 2)-Red Wolf (lvl3)-Skills: Bite, Overspeed (activated)]

It seems the two wolves activated their overspeed skill, some sort of speed-buffing ability. Their movements grow faster indeed, and now they encircle us…am I seeing their after-images?

Taken back by this sudden development, I hesitate for a moment. One of the wolves attacks the fighter, wounding his arm and resuming the high speed movement.

Troublesome.

Simple attacks will not work here…but I can use a dirty method. When facing something quicker than you…it’s your win if you mess up the terrain.

Shooting with Black Fluid, I scatter the darts all around.

<<Focus! You’re not hitting them!>> frustrated, the fighter yells at me. Although his voice still has a lot of energy, the man himself looks really worn out. He’s a level 2…beast-man?

So, those kind of people exist here…I hope they are not victim of discrimination for their race, like in most fantasy setting.

Feeling a bit challenged from his remark, I activate Black Fluid again, making the darts explode like before.

The high-speed wolves cannot react quickly enough, surprised by the sudden objects popping out in their tracks.

Like their comrade before, they fall on the ground with severe leg wounds, unable to move.

Now…let’s test the final part of my theory.

Using Black Fluid in tentacle mode, I grab one of the wolves, the level 2 one, and absorb it.

The beastman looks away in disgust. As he understands that the injured wolves pose no more threat, he scurries to his friend’s side.

With crunching and gnashing sounds, I absorb the wolf.

I am a bit troubled by the sight of it, remembering what the same skill used by the Laughing Man did to the soldiers. Of course, I swore to never use the absorption on humans or human-like beings.

[Navi: Absorption Success! Red Wolf lvl2 successfully absorbed! Gained new skill- Bite (restricted to race: Monster. Detected compatibility between Black fluid-Bite skill! Would you like to integrate the skill?]

This time, I select “no”. Spamming Integration could be dangerous, since failure in integration leads to skill loss. Maybe I will use it again once I know more about the process, but for now, I will leave my skills as they are.

Like I thought, absorbed monsters do not yield EXP.

Troublesome indeed.

The other wolf is wailing, frantically trying to rise on his maimed legs.

I approach it, and it starts growling and barking furiously.

With my spear, I put it out of misery.

[Navi: Defeated Red Wolf lvl 3! Obtained EXP!]

This time, I use Black Fluid to absorb the wolf’s corpse. I only get materials from it, thou. I really wonder what are the exact conditions here. I think about the other battles that I fought.

Against the slime, I did not get any exp, although the skill I used that time was not the same as the one I possess now.

When I fought the worms, I used Black Fluid, so the conditions should be the same. In that circumstance, I absorbed monsters while they were still alive.

Perhaps there is some kind of “balance” concerning the benefits I can get from Black Fluid. If I absorb a living monster, I have a bigger chance of obtaining skills…but I do not get any experience.

If I kill a monster with weapons or Black Fluid, I get exp and absorb the corpse later, but doing that will decrease, if not completely eliminate, any possibility of getting the monster’s skills.

At least, that’s what I can surmise from the information I have. I’ll need to check Navi later, and see if I can obtain more info.

As I think about the skill, I start feeling uneasy. My head hurts, and I feel nauseated.

A sudden sensation, like energy rushing into me. I start shaking, and my vision blurs and distorts.

I can hear my heartbeat growing fast, faster every passing second…a feeling so intense suddenly rushes in my spine, tingling almost as if something is about to break.

This sensation grows stronger, and stronger… I want to scream!

And then…

[Navi: Level UP! Congratulations, Roshal! Your level is now 2! Obtained 5 STAT points, 1 SKILL point! You will be able to allocate your points by activating me, your Dream Navigator, during your sleep! Keep up the good work, strive to get stronger!]

That was…intense. My first level up. Although the benefits do not seem to be immediate, I need to sleep it over it seems.

I completely forgot, but Navi did explain this during her first introduction…

I hold my hand to my chest, panting with my breath in disarray.

<> the voice came from one the beastman that was fighting the wolves.

<<Don’t worry. What about your wounds? Your companion there, he also looks pretty injured…need some help?>>

I ask as I walk towards the group.

The beastman is a level 2 warrior, clad in a worn leather armor. His arms are exposed up to the shoulders, and they look…covered in scales.

A deep, bleeding bite mark gapes on his left arm, and several other minor wounds cover his leg and thighs.From his forehead, thick, red scales point upwards, growing thinner as they reach the hairline.

Unkempt, red spiky hair, and a sharp look in his yellow eyes. His face gives somewhat of a reptilian feeling, with a small nose and half-closed eyelids.

He’s taller than me, and looks a bit older.

I extend my hand, introducing myself.

<>.

The beast-man looks a bit puzzled at first, but then he grasps my hand and firmly shakes it.

<<Sorry…it’s just…your kind doesn’t exactly shake hands with the likes of us, you know?>>

He laughs a bit. It seems that beast-man ARE discriminated by humans in this world. What a clichè.

<>

As he introduces himself, something is swaying behind his back. A red tail, almost as long as his leg. How did I not notice it immediately?

<> a voice comes from the two people beside us.

One of them, an old beast-man, is lying on the ground, with a sever injury on his leg. The voice belongs to a girl.

Her small figure is sitting beside the wounded man, and she is holding her hands out. Light is flowing from her palms toward the wounded, and I can see his skin slowly closing. In a matter of seconds, the wound is completely gone.

She looks severely fatigued after that, and her bronze, tan skin glistens with sweat.

Her small body trembles under her thin cloth tunic. I can see small black scales covering the upper part of her arm and her exposed shoulders, while two pair of black short horns, slightly curved backwards and emerging from her wavy black hair.

She turns towards us, on her face a tired smile.

My heart skips a beat. Her facial features are delicate, with her slightly closed eyes that give her somewhat of a sleepy expression.

Although she also has some kind of a reptilian feeling in her lineaments, she’s a real beauty. I try to not glance at her breasts, swaying unrestrained under the thin cloth…

I feel a sharp glare from behind, as if a snake is about to attack…

Retel clasps my shoulder. Turning around, I can see an unpleasant smile in his face.

<<So, you must be our mysterious savior, am I right?>> the old man’s voice interrupts a dangerous situation.

<>

The man laughs.

<> his voice sounds tired, but a kind smile brightens his face, still pale from blood loss.

He adjusts his position, resting his back on the trunk of a small tree.

His long, white hair contours his face, and a lush beard paired with long mustaches of the same color give him a dignified aura, similar to the stereotypical appearance of an old Chinese martial art master.

A single, golden horn extends from his forehead, surrounded by golden scales that almost look like a small crown. His clothes are torn, but look expensive and well made. Perhaps he’s a rich person?

He bows his head to me.

<>

He said, waving his hand towards Levia to introduce her.

<>.

Saying so, Heod starts rummaging in his pockets. He takes out a small, wooden pipe and a cloth wrapping. Pouring some sort of minced, gray herb inside the pipe, lighting it with a flick of his fingers.

Taking a long, heavy puff, he exhales white smoke with a satisfied look on his face.

<<Manager, you should drop that habit!>> says Retel with a fed-up tone.

<<Oh, shut up brat…we’ve escaped a dire situation here, and I need a bit of celebration. Ah, if only I had some wine…>>.

After Heod’s remark, I decide to surprise him a bit, providing a wine bottle straight from my inventory. I found it in the fort, among the belongings of a merchant.

<> I say after noticing that the small group does not seem to possess any belonging aside their weapons and clothes.

<> says the old beast-man with a laugh.

Still, it may not be safe to stay here, as there could be more wolves lurking among the trees. And so, we move closer to the road.

We walk slowly, matching Heod’s pace.

As we finally arrive near the road, I share some of my provisions with them. They seem curious when I take out food from my Inventory.

But, as I noticed before, it seems the beast-men do not discriminate against skill-holders.

In facts, the three of them possess Skills themselves.

Of course, having used Inquisitive Eye on them, I know. I kinda feel bad about doing so, almost like violating their privacy.

Sitting on a cloth sheet laid on the ground, the three enjoy their meal while sharing their story with me.

<<So, you know…it was really scary! And that…coward! He took our bags and fled away, leaving us to fend for ourselves! Even knowing that Manager was badly injured! Oh, you’ll see what I will do to him once I catch him with my hands…>>

With a flurry of words so fast to make me dizzy, Levia starts plotting murderd against their companion who abandoned them.

Judging from her behavior from few minutes ago, I would have thought her the cool, taciturn type…but man, I was so wrong.

Retel and Heod show an embarrassed smile while Levia goes on and on with a detailed description of physical torture that she will inflict to the unfortunate soul.

<> I ask.

This time, Heod answers me.

<< We were procuring ingredients…I am an alchemist, and I need several rare ingredients for my studies and craft. These two freeloaders are my bodyguards, along with that rascal that left us to the wolves>>.

I nod to the explanation.

<> asks Retel, munching an apple.

I told them. From when I woke up after fleeing the slimes to the slaughter inside the fort. Of course, I kept my “suspicious summoning” here to myself, but…the rest was pretty much accurate.

I felt my voice breaking when I shared my memories about the fort, and I have to admit, talking it out gave me a bit of sanctuary from the uneasiness of that memory.

Although I’ve been forcing myself to not dwell on that memory, it is still too recent and shocking. Maybe with time…

<> Heod says after I share my story.

<> he mutters with a serious expression.

Levia and Retel have been quiet during my story, they just listened and smiled with sympathy as I shared.

<> I say with a smile.

<>.

<<Nudria…I’m heading there, too. Perhaps we could travel together?>> I ask. Moving as a group will be safer, and having someone to talk with will surely be better than walking this road by myself.

<<And, if you want, I could even help you find those herbs you need>>.

Heod watches me silently. With a deep nod, he accepts my offer.

He showed me what kind of herbs they were looking for, while Levia tended to Retel’s injuries.

<<So, this herb here. It’s called Muguet, and has white, bell shaped flowers, each with five petals. Only the bloomed ones will have their healing properties, so keep your eyes open for those>>.

As Heod instructed me, I recalled the mushrooms and herbs I collected inside the marsh.

Taking a sample of each, I show them to the alchemist. Not of good-will, since I plan to sell them to him if he deems them useful.

The beast-man’s eyes widen as he sees the mushrooms.

With a wry smile, he takes the mushroom and smells it.

<<Ahh, what a nice find you have here, Roshal!>> he dingles the mushroom from his fingers.

<> Heod’s smile grows even larger, as he makes a dramatic pause. Perhaps this mushroom is some ultra-rare ingredient?

Will it yield a legendary-class healing potion, capable of miracles?

<> he says, winking his eye.

Still, it seems the final product can earn you a lot of money. Luckily, I have stockpiled the mushrooms in my inventory.

<<Well, I was thinking about how to repay you for the trouble here>> says the old man.

As I was about to decline any kind of payment, he made a tempting offer.

<>

Of course, I accepted.

After resting for about one hour, and assuring that Heod could properly walk, we move from the roadside, heading to the woods again.

<<So, before we move…it’s better to do a little briefing>> suggests Heod.

<<Well, I guess it’s the best choice, since we could end up battling some nasty things in there, we need to know what each of us can do in battle>> continued Retel.

Taking a pose with his polearm resting on his right shoulder, Retel started his explanation.

<> he says with a boasting smile.

Taking a proper stance, his carefree expression shifts into a serious one.

Red light ripples around his body and his weapon.

<<Raise!>>.

As he shouts, he slashes a tree, cleaving the trunk in a single strike.

<> strangely, I have the impression Retel said the final part of that sentence with a lower tone.

<<Well, I’m next. Uhm, you know…I like to use blunt weapons, although right now the one I had with me has been stolen. Ugh! That damned…So, right now I cannot be of much use, unless you have a spare weapon with you, I mean, I could use a crude club, but it won’t be stylish…>>

Levia’s stream of words makes me chuckle. Retel makes an angry face at her.

<> he says in a rude voice.

I don’t exactly know what happened, but now Retel is squirming on the ground, holding his head in pain.

With an innocent smile, Levia trows away a big tree branch and continues her explanation.

<>.

She extends her hand toward Retel, muttering something.

<>.

A gentle, white light ripples from her hand, encroaching Retel. The snake boy stops squirming in pain. So, it’s a healing skill.

<> she says while pointing her finger to Retel.

<> says Heod to them.

<<Ah, right!- Retel suddenly remarks with a loud voice- levels! Ahem…my level is 2, while our Levia here is level 4. The old man is level 12…a bit lame for his age, but he can’t help it since he never fights…now, Roshal…show us what you can do!>>

And so, I show them Black Fluid.

<> says Retel.

<<It’s sooo cooool! It can transform! Can you make a shield? And a sword? Oooh, can you make a giant bear-shaped golem?>> Levia shows a better opinion about my skill.

<<No…wait, why bear-shaped…never-mind>> I sigh while holding my head.

<<Well, thank you for your honest opinion…next, I’ll show you my other two skills. First one, is called Inventory. Just as it sounds…it’s a storage ability>> I demonstrate the skill by taking out some things from the inventory and storing them again.

Levia claps her hand…maybe I should take out a small rabbit from a cylinder, next time.

<>

Heod nods with satisfaction.

<>.

<> says Heod after clapping his hands.

Retel nods, and he extend his hands. Levia does the same.

I look at them, puzzled.

<> asks Retel with a perplexed face.

<>. Seriously, what are you doing?

Retel sighs.

<<Ok, Roshal. Extend your hand, like we are doing>>.

<> I answer to Retel’s instruction.

<<Now, close your eyes>>.

I hold out my hand towards them. And suddenly…a sound rings in my head.

[Navi: Party Request- Retel, lvl 2/ Levia, lvl 4 (leader). Would you like to accept? Y/N]

Of course, I said yes.

[Navi: Congratulations! Roshal joined Levia’s party! Band together, fight evil with the power of friendship (important notice: friendship does not actually provide any combat bonus)]

Was that closing remark really necessary, Navi?

Nevertheless, it looks like in this world you can actually band together. I wonder if armies here are just very big parties?

Setting aside those silly considerations, we head towards the trees. It seems the Muguet herbs only grow beneath these trees here.

<<Now, beware of incoming monsters>> says Heod, reminding us to be careful.

We move in formation, according to our abilities.

At least, that’s what this formation should be.

Retel takes point position, acting as vanguard. Levia is not actively participating, and I’m the rearguard.

As we enter the first battle, we begin to realize…we don’t work well as a group.

Retel is reckless, he jumps into the fray, frantically trying to get the enemy’s attention on him. Maybe he does so to protect everyone, but, doing so, he neglects his safety and always needs to rely on Levia’s curative skill after battles.

Levia, on the other hand, is forced to spend her energies healing, and cannot actively participate in battling the enemies.

It seems they fought like this for a long time, with Retel keeping the monster’s attention on himself, Levia healing him constantly and the other guy acting as a damage dealer.

And that’s why they were in trouble before. After their companion fled and left them alone to face the wolves, they had no proper means to deal with the enemies.

Retel could not focus on just one wolf, since neglecting the other enemies would have exposed Levia and Heod to danger.

But…the two are not the only ones at fault here. I myself am not used to fight, moreover, the only times I fought I was alone.

I almost injured Retel several times, as I used my skill without properly grasping his movements, and, although in the end we successfully killed the monsters, we ended up with severe damage on our group.

<> I apologize to the wounded Retel.

Tending to his wounds, Levia has a concerned expression.

<> she says, lightly punching the boy’s shoulder.

Not only his reckless behavior during battles, Retel shows another limit in combat. His weapon.

The polearm he uses is too long to fight inside the vegetation.

Although he can use his skill to mow down obstacles, he cannot use it repeatedly and often ends up with his mobility severely hindered by the surroundings.

We could use a different strategy, luring the enemies on open terrain…but what will we do if the enemies ambush us?

We decide to rest a bit, and rework our strategy here.

Following Heod’s advice, we start from scrap, focusing on what we did wrong in the first battle.

<>.

Although the old man is not a fighter himself, it seems he is a keen observer.

<> I suggest.

Although, heavier armor is out of our possibilities right now, I should be able to provide him with a shorter spear and a crude buckler.

Retel seems immersed in his thoughts. As Heod said before, the boy is really fond of his polearm.

With a deep sigh, he takes the weapon in his hands, looking at it with sad eyes.

<>.

And so, he agrees to change equipment. It seems he was taught about to fight with this kind of setup, so he should be proficient in using spear and shield.

I proceed to fix him a spear and buckler, crafting them from wood and Red Wolf’s materials.

[Navi: Crafting Success! Short Spear (Red Wolf Bone Spear) x 1! Wooden Shield (Red Wolf Shield)x1!]

Using the “crafting” skill, I thought about reinforcing a wooden shaft with the bones of Red Wolves, but instead, the skill fused several bones together producing a proper spear out of it.

The spear-head is a sharp-pointed bone, and a bit of the wolf’s red fur is used as decoration for the spear-head. I’m pleased with the results.

For the shield, I made several attempts starting from simple wooden sticks tied together, until I acquired the “wooden shield” recipe from my attempts.

Using the recipe, I obtained a solid plank by combining several wooden branches, and reinforced it with wolf pelt. With this, Retel’s defenses should be more effective.

He himself seems pleased, and he accepts the new equipment. I also give him a short sword, one of those I took with me from the camp. With this, he should be fine even if his primary weapon is broken or non effective.

Next, we focus on Levia.

Since Retel should get less injuries and fight more effectively with this new setup, she could start participating more actively during battles. Her light attire is not suited to direct combat, tho.

<> I ask her, handing my short bow and some arrows.

With a nod, she takes the weapon from me and springs on her feet.

With a quick movement, she notches an arrow and points her bow to the sky. The arrow flies with a whistling sound.

[Navi: Defeated Sparrow (wildlife)!]

<<Well, I guess this counts as a “yes”>> I say, while looking at the poor unfortunate bird that lies on the distant ground.

Levia smiles in satisfaction.

<<Now, Roshal-she says- what will you do?>>

That’s a fine question. The problem is…i don’t really know how to use my abilities properly when fighting in a group. I need to thoroughly think about this.

<> Heod and Retel agree with a nod of their head.

<>.

<<So, the second option. It seems the more suitable one, and…you can use effectively your detection skill too, and give us head ups if something dangerous is approaching while staying with the group>> says Heod.

<> says Retel, stretching his arms.

And so, we end our strategy break.

As we move towards the trees, I activate Inquisitive Eye.

<> I whisper, pointing towards some tall bushes in the distance.

Retel nods, and we start moving towards the point.

It seems sneaking to them is impossible, since the beasts have already spotted us. Did they smell us from afar?

No matter, the wolves start their attack. One of them immediately falls prey to Levia’s arrow, tumbling on the ground.

The other wolf tries to run away, but Retel blocks his path. Forced to fight, the wolf is being kept at bay by Retel’s shield, while being injured by rapid spear jabs.

Focused on Retel, the wolf does not notice me until it is too late. It jumps in attempt to avoid my attack, but I still manage to pierce him with my blades.

Of course, I am not using normal weapons. Indulging with my fantasy, I activate my Back Fluid with both hands, making two dagger-like blades.

I have not the slightest amount of combat proficiency to effectively dual wield a weapon, and my clumsy attack misses the wolf’s vitals while the blade I hold with my left hand completely misses the wolf. Still, it does not matter.

Feeling a bit unfair for what I am about to do…I simply use an underhanded trick, making spear-like extension burst out of the blade when it sinks in the wolf’s body.

And so, a slight wound from a failed attack becomes a fatal injury. Truly, this skill I posses is pure evil. Or maybe…I am the nasty one, using it in a mean way? No, no, this power is definitely devious. I’m a nice guy after all.

This time, the battle went smoother. I am no longer using attacks that could be damaging my allies, and Retel properly focuses on defending himself while drawing the monster’s attention. Levia’s support fire is incredibly accurate…perhaps she’s a natural archer?

Still, I noticed that the EXP I got while fighting in a party with them is the same I got when fighting the wolves alone. I would have loved to have some kind of group EXP boost, you know?

We proceed to collect materials from the bodies. According to Heod, you can sell fur and even bones and teeth to peddlers in the village, although the monster’s meat has no proper use.

Before, Retel was in charge of dismantling and skinning the corpses, but, since I possess my all-purpose skill for that, that role fell to me. Well, it’s much quicker with my skill, and, as a side bonus, I do not need to get dirty using Black Fluid.

As I focus on gathering the monster’s materials, Levia and Heod are gathering the herbs scattered beneath the trees.

We go on until sunset, having two more battles against small groups of wolves. We even spotted a huge boar-like monster, but the thing did not pay any attention to us. Since it had a high level, we did not bother it either.

Although…it would be interesting to see how we fare against a tough opponent.

We decide to set camp in the small woods. First, I use the trick I learned from Emilia’s group, and set up alarm wires all around us.

<<Huh, that’s smart>> comments Retel. Perhaps they never used these kind of tricks? Although i’m not one to judge, having only learned this recently.

<> says Levia.

<> retorts Retel with a fed up tone.

The two continue their bickering, abruptly ending their quarrel when Levia’s fist collides with Retel’s head.

It seem they get along like this all the time.

Still, they’re a refreshing sight. It’s good to have company.

Meanwhile, I help Heod prepare dinner. He already has a campfire going, and I am peeling and slicing some roots, putting them inside a metal pot taken from my inventory.

<<Now, add these herbs here-says Heod- and the rabbit’s meat. Then, it only needs to boil for a bit>> It seems the old man has a passion for cooking.

<> he remarks with a loud laugh.

We consume dinner together, making small talks around the fire.

I share with them a few scary stories that I know…of course, they are just the plot of the horror movies I loved to watch in my previous life.

Still, it’s nice. Sharing stories around a campfire.

We decide guard duty. I offer for the first shift, while Retel and Levia will do the others.

They quickly fall asleep, perhaps exhausted by the intense day we had. Next to me, Heod is smoking his pipe.

<> he says with a sad tone.

<

every time>> puffing out his smoke, Heod looks in the distance.

I simply stay silent, and listen.

<>

He shakes his head, tapping on his pipe to let the ashes fall down.

<>

He smiles and pats my shoulder, before returning a serious expression.

<>.

Heod pauses again, re-igniting his pipe.

<>

I smile to the old man. His words are true, as their company is soothing to me. And they really seem a reliable bunch.

<<Still, I am not asking you to just stop your travels and live in the village. Hell, I was about to move out myself, take the boys away to see the world. You see, I was a traveling peddler before, but I settled in the village when I found the boys. Life on the road is difficult, especially so for small children. But, I have been thinking about moving out and resume my traveling business now that Retel and Levia are old enough. So, we could travel together with you>>.

After a pause, I turn towards Heod.

<> I answer.

We continue speaking, sharing a bottle of wine. We just sit there, talking, without even waking up Retel and Levia when their time for guard duty came.

Until dawn, we just talked. I just talked, this time telling him everything, about my world, about what I had gone through since I woke up here.

Heod did not say a single word. I even had some doubts about his reaction to my tale, perhaps he would have considered me mad…instead he just listened to me.

At the end, with daylight painting the sky above, he simply patted my head.

<>

Taken by the mood, I even forgot to allocate the points I got from my level up…well, I ended up not having any sleep, spending the entire night awake. Well, I’ll do that next time, for sure.

We stood from our seatings, moving towards Retel and Levia. It seems they too were awake all night, pretending to sleep while listening to us.

Retel had his cocky smile, holding the short spear across his shoulders, Levia hugged me and smiled.

We went on, leaving our resting spot behind and facing the road ahead.