“Are we there yet?”
Tiera asked after about 30 minutes of continuous diving.
“Looks like it’s deeper than expected.”
Shin also felt that they had already been descending for a long time, but not knowing how deep the sea was in that area, he could not give Tiera a clear answer.
The depth of their current position was 6000 mels.
Thanks to the enchantments attached to it and the unique materials it was made with, the hybrid magic-powered vessel could dive at high speed, but nothing resembling the “Seafloor Sanctuary” could be seen yet.
Arno still lead the way without any signs of indecision however, so they kept following behind her.
Thirty more minutes passed.
Finally, something began to shine in the distance. It was the building Shin’s group was looking for. There were no light sources visible, but its surroundings were strangely bright.
“So that’s the Seafloor Sanctuary. The official name is ‘Castle of the Depths’? Wait, ‘Seafloor Sanctuary’ is there too. They’re mixed together?”
Shin thought that ‘Seafloor Sanctuary’ was the building’s official name, but when he looked at it, another name was displayed. If he moved his gaze just a little, however, the “Seafloor Sanctuary” name also appeared.
“I see, so that’s why Ishkar is here.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Ishkar I knew used to dwell in the royal chambers deep inside an underground dungeon masquerading as a castle. So when Arno said the word “Sanctuary”, I thought it had changed locations, but now I see how it is. The building probably moved when the crust did.”
Shin answered Tiera’s question with a hypothesis.
Upon closer inspection, the group noticed the broken down remains of a building scattered around the Sanctuary. It had probably been destroyed by the natural disasters. The main building was the “Castle of the Depths”, with the “Seafloor Sanctuary” around it.
When Shin mentioned this to Arno, she was very surprised. Apparently she did not know about this bizarre occurrence.
“In that case, the interior of the dungeon could have changed too. Hopefully the path isn’t blocked.”
Schnee commented while looking at the Castle of the Depths. That possibility wasn’t far-fetched at all.
In the game area, such a phenomenon was impossible. In any dungeon there was a path leading to the boss. Now, however, even such an obvious reality could have changed.
“We can only go and check.”
Shin guided the ship until it was close to the Castle of the Depths, then anchored it to the seafloor. As the whole group had left the ship, their equipment changed to its underwater mode, and Shin turned the ship into a card.
Tiera, who did not have the 【Dive】 skill, equipped an earring with the same effects.
Arno was surprised to see the massive ship instantly turn into a card, but then nodded to herself. She now knew that Shin was a High Human, which was enough of an explanation.
“The entrance is over here”
Led by Arno, the group reached the Castle of the Depths’ gate. Even though it was called a castle, the exterior looked like a cardboard cutout. The dungeon itself extended underground, so it wasn’t possible to use shortcuts to the lower floors or similar tricks.
There were treasure chests and such in the above ground part of the castle, but the group had no time to go look for them, so Shin went straight towards the gate.
“This is as far as I can guide you.”
Arno stopped about 10 mels from the gate: a semi-transparent barrier had appeared before her. It apparently stopped all intruders with stats lower than a certain amount.
In the game era, the Castle of the Depths was a high difficulty dungeon, fitting as Ishkar’s abode, a boss monster of level 1000.
All monsters that appeared within it had high levels too, so players used it to train low level players: it was a so-called power leveling area.
The game’s management did not appreciate such a usage however, and entry into dungeons with a certain number of high-level monsters became restricted.
The restriction placed that time was apparently still active, even in this world. Shin tried to get closer and was able to pass through without problems. Schnee and the rest of the party followed him, until only Tiera remained outside the barrier.
She extended a hand towards the barrier, a nervous look on her face. Just as she was about to touch it, Tiera’s hand passed through.
“Wheew…I was so nervous…”
There seemed to be a good chance that Tiera would be repelled, so she was really relieved to have been able to pass through the barrier.
(If she’s able to enter here, it means that her average stats are over 450. Even factoring in equipment bonuses, that’s not a number you can reach without resurrection bonuses…)
So thought Shin while looking at Tiera coming towards them.
Tiera was a Priestess of the World Tree, a special existence, but it was confirmed that she was not a Chosen One.
In the game, no matter what bonuses were granted by equipment, she couldn’t have entered in the Castle of the Depths or the Seafloor Sanctuary.
Just now, before Shin’s eyes, Tiera had overcome the barrier though.
In this world, players without resurrection bonuses could raise their base stats only by leveling up or using rare items.
Just like Schnee and the others, Tiera had received a stat bonus from the Ley Lines; as a denizen of this world, however, she was starting to become an impossible existence.
“….? Is something wrong?”
Thinking wouldn’t solve the problem. Tiera was a bit puzzled by Shin’s silence, but he waved at her not to mind and looked at Arno.
“Do be careful.”
Shin didn’t know how long it would take, so he had Arno go back first. Being a mermaid, she could go back to Celciutos even without boarding a ship.
Shin’s group watched Arno go, then looked up at the Castle of the Depths’ gate.
The gate had three depressions, the same size as item cards.
“Just like how it was set up in the game, I guess?”
“Yeah, you need to offer the Three Sea Beasts’ materials to enter Ishkar’s Castle of the Depths.”
Shin answered Schnee’s question while taking items out of his Item Box.
A fragment of Mascurda’s pearls, Keseldran’s fang, and Eolios’ needle. To enter, they had to be turned into cards and placed in the gate’s depressions.
In this world they had just briefly met Keseldran, but the materials gathered in the game era were still in Shin’s item box.
Shin took the three cards and placed each in the depression where the corresponding Sea Beast was depicted.
The response was immediate as two of the three cards were rejected. Only Keseldran’s card stayed in place, glowing faintly.
“…whatever could this mean?”
“This happens when the wrong card is put in. The gate’s functions are still active I see.”
Shin answered Schnee’s confused question while touching the gate. There was no response, it didn’t look like it would open anytime soon.
Normally, the cards would stay in and the gate would open.
“The materials are the right ones, though. Why did only Keseldran’s stay in, anyway?”
In the game era too, item cards received by others would be rejected. The cards in Shin’s item box were originally from the game era, they could be seen as having been received from someone else.
“Keseldran was that snake monster with the pincers, right? Maybe we have to come in contact…or at least be seen by them?”
“Looks like that’s the only possibility.”
Shin could only agree with Tiera’s opinion.
Shin was thinking about the reason behind the rejection of the materials, when Yuzuha poked his forehead.
“Hm? What’s up, Yuzuha?”
“When we met Kesel, its magic power went into you, Shin. That’s it, maybe.”
“Its magic power came into me?”
According to Yuzuha, when Keseldran attacked the barrier a small part of its magic power flowed into Shin. It was such a minimal amount that Shin didn’t realize it, but the magic power emanated from the cards was similar to that, apparently.
“Meaning, as long as we get close to them, we don’t need to fight.”
Shin wasn’t sure if the same thing would happen with the other two Beasts too, but there was nothing else they could do.
“Okay, let’s start from Mascurda then.”
Since they just needed to get close to the monster, Shin decided to try from the one easier to escape from: among the Three Sea Beasts, Mascurda had the lowest movement speed.
Shin materialized the magic-powered vessel from the Item Box, deactivated underwater mode, and boarded it with the rest of the party. The direction they set for was north-west.
“Let’s hope we can find it quickly though.”
“Keseldran had come right next to Celciutos, I guess it had perceived our presence?”
Shin had also considered the possibility that Shibaid mentioned.
Despite being in the heart of Kuwain, Keseldran had attacked when the group had neared Celciutos’ barrier. They didn’t know if it came for Shin’s party or the merpeople, but the timing was too good.
Based on what they knew and what Arno had told them, Keseldran had roamed very far from its territory. It wouldn’t have made it in time if it didn’t start chasing Shin’s ship as soon as it entered the Kuwain area.
“If it will come to us, then it’s even better. First we’ll go somewhat closer, set a marker and go back. If getting closer is enough, then great. If not, we’ll think of something else.”
Among all magic skills, there was one that allowed someone to place a marker to know where a particular target was, for a limited period of time. If just getting closer wasn’t enough, Shin planned to use it to locate Mascurda.
Moving at high speed underwater was dangerous, so Shin brought the ship near the surface. If they emerged completely they would be subject to the stormy sea and tall waves, so he stopped the ship’s ascension to a depth that didn’t hinder the ship’s sailing.
After a while, a large number of jellyfish-type monsters appeared in front of Shin’s ship. Their levels ranged wildly from low to high and they floated really close to each other, leaving almost no space in between.
“Let’s take a detour.”
There was no need to force their way through the monsters. Jellyfish monsters rarely attacked first, so they would probably let the ship go as long as they weren’t attacked.
Shin had heard that the monsters had turned violent, but this type didn’t seem to be affected.
The group of jellyfish monsters floated at a depth where light just barely penetrated into the sea, so Shin decided to pass below them.
The ship was proceeding slowly, when Shin noticed a half transparent red marker on the map. It symbolized the presence of a monster that was using 【Hiding】.
The jellyfish swarm also slowly moved, as to block the ship’s path.
“It came out earlier than expected, huh.”
“So it looks like.”
Schnee had also perceived the monster’s presence and looked under the ship.
Shibaid and Filma realized it too.
Tiera understood that a monster was approaching, but she couldn’t detect concealed enemies, apparently.
“There’s a concealed monster below us. If we go a bit lower, it’ll probably attack.”
Shin’s group was trying to go through what could be called the entrance to the sea depths, a place where light couldn’t reach.
Below that, without light sources or night vision skills, it was impossible to see anything.
The jellyfish monsters were just decoys. The ship would be attacked while it tried to dodge them, or so Shin thought the monster’s plan was.
“Shouldn’t we change course, then?”
“If we do that it might not attack though. We’ll dodge and escape.”
“Escape? Wait, you mean that the monster trying to ambush us is—”
“It’s coming! Grab hold of something, everyone!”
Before Tiera could finish her sentence, Shin sharply turned the control lever and stepped on the pedal. The ship’s course changed diagonally and accelerated.
“Bingo! I knew it!”
Shin turned the ship around, shining its lights on the spot it had recently vacated. There they found six squid-like tentacles with suckers, squirming around in search for the ship.
Tiera backed away at such a sight, holding her own body with her arms and shaking. It was her first time seeing a squid’s tentacles that were this large: more than being surprised, she was hit by a wave of disgust.
“Those are Mascurda’s tentacles. If they grab you, you’ll be dragged straight into its mouth.”
The monster’s main body was somewhere deeper, so the group could only see its huge tentacles sprouting from the darkness. Because of this, it looked even more creepy.
“What will you do now?”
“I’m afraid it won’t work with just the tentacles, so I’ll get closer to the main body. Sorry guys, but the ship is going to shake some more!”
Realizing that it couldn’t catch anything by trying to grasp with those tentacles, Mascurda’s body emerged from the darkness.
Its main body, larger than Shin’s magic-powered vessel, was armed with shells and gems, fitting for one of the monsters called a Sea Beast. Large, sharp claws adorned the tips of its tentacles: in spite of its similarity to normal squids, its appearance clearly indicated the creature was a monster.
Additional tentacles it had not used before stretched out towards the ship, but Shin avoided them by moving the ship horizontally. The tentacles, missing their target, crashed into the jellyfish swarm, wrapping themselves around several of them.
“Shin…I don’t think I’ll be able to eat squid anymore…”
“Yeah, if you’re not used to it this can be a pretty shocking sight.”
Tiera and Shin were watching Mascurda as it feasted on the jellyfish monsters it had caught. The monster’s round mouth on the lower part of its body ripped apart the jellyfish and swallowed them.
Rows of saw-like teeth could be seen within the monster’s mouth. The fate of the jellyfish demonstrated clearly what would happen to anything that ended up in the monster’s maw.
“So those jellyfish weren’t Mascurda’s servants, then.”
“If we’re getting closer to the main body, I’ll put up a barrier.”
The ship was enchanted with protective magic, but for added safety, Shibaid took out his
『Great Shell Shield of Collision』.
Shin directed the ship towards Mascurda’s body, keeping the monster in his field of vision.
“We might be attacked, so make sure you don’t lose your balance!”
Shin shouted while stepping harder on the pedal. The magic engine roared, attracting Mascurda’s attention, its eyes glaring at the ship.
“Well, now it found us for sure.”
”Underwater, detection via sound is the basic method. Of course it would.”
During Filma and Schnee’s exchange, Mascurda’s tentacles were already shooting for the ship. The ship accelerated away faster than they could reach, however.
“Shin!! Shin!!! We’re tilting!! The ship’s tilting!!”
The ship sped through the tentacles at a speed unthinkable for underwater travel. The ship, tilted at 90 degrees, barely managed to dodge the tentacles, so the surprised Tiera called Shin’s name.
“We’re going to go straight like this and pass next to Mascurda! It’s going to shoot magic at us, brace for impact!”
Just as Shin said, the two mels wide gemstone on Mascurda’s forehead started glowing. Also due to its status as an underwater monster, the magic it used was mainly water-based.
As the gemstone’s light grew stronger, the seawater in front of Mascurda’s eyes started whirling.
The newly formed whirlpool quickly became larger and larger, big enough to swallow Shin’s ship whole.
Water-type Magic skill 【Maelstrom】.
Using it underwater gave bonuses such as a boost in offensive power and a larger area of effect. With Mascurda as its caster, the resulting whirlpool reached a size that few players could create.
“Not so fast!”
In the ship, facing the whirlpool, Shin shouted and hit the control panel. He chose an armament and pulled the trigger without hesitation.
The side of the ship opened with a psssht-like sound and two torpedoes shot towards the whirlpool, leaving a trail of bubbles behind them.
The torpedoes shot straight into the heart of the whirlpool: once they reached it, the spell inside them was activated. After an explosion, a 【Maelstrom】 spinning in the opposite direction as Mascurda’s was generated, and the two whirlpools canceled each other.
One instant before the whirlpools disappeared, Shin moved the ship forward.
Maybe because the clashing whirlpools obstructed its sight, Mascurda could not react quickly to the ship that forced its way through the two half vanished 【Maelstrom】.
Shin’s magic-powered vessel passed right next to Mascurda’s body. At that moment, Shin shot a marker, which simply acted as a beacon of magical power, so Mascurda did not even notice being hit with it.
After passing, the ship accelerated and sped away from the monster.
Mascurda tried to chase after it, but right then Shin’s parting gift was activated.
What had been released from the back of the ship was a load of barrels. Their objective was to create a smokescreen underwater: rather than actual smoke, they released an ink-like liquid all around. Touching the liquid also made it impossible to detect the player and inflicted negative statuses. It was the underwater version of the item used to escape after encountering monsters too different from one’s level.
Leaving behind Mascurda, who emitted shrill screams out of anger, or pain, Shin’s group returned to the Castle of the Depths.
There they again tried to place the item card of Mascurda’s parts in the matching depression of the gate. This time, the card started glowing properly.
“Good! Now we know that we don’t need to fight.”
It would be a problem to weaken one of the Sea Beasts, for one of the other two to ultimately defeat them. If they just had to go near them, it was much easier than fighting them. Yuzuha confirmed that, just like what had happened with Keseldran, Mascurda’s magic power had flowed into Shin.
“Our next destination is the southeast, then?”
“Yes, Eolios is the only one left, let’s make sure we can get this done today.”
Shin nodded to Schnee and returned to the ship.
The current time was a little past three in the afternoon. Considering how long it would take to come back, it would probably be dusk when they did.
If they started exploring the dungeon then, it could take until late at night to clear it.
The dungeon the group was going to enter was an unknown one, where they would find sources of miasma. It surely wasn’t a place to spend the night in.
In the depths of the sea, the presence or absence of sunlight did not make a difference, but because of the lack of sunlight it was easy to lose track of time and be active for long hours, thus impacting one’s own performance.
Knowing this, Shin had decided to take sufficient rest before facing the dungeon.
“What? We’re not going to leave right away?”
“I have to stock up on items first. Eolios is a fast swimmer too, so I wanted to pick up some items to take care of that.”
Eolios was the sea monster that boasted the highest swimming speed. It could even dodge the item the group had used against Mascurda.
Shin was changing the ship’s equipment, looking at a diagram of the vessel displayed on a screen. Next to him, Tiera looked impressed.
“Pictures and text floating in midair…it’s really strange, no matter how many times I see them. Besides, just moving them around changes things in reality too…”
The screen that Shin was manipulating was a function loaded onto the ship and visible to anyone, unlike each person’s status screen.
“Once you get used to it, it’s really convenient.”
After answering Tiera, Shin chose an item to equip on the bottom of the hull: as he did the image on the screen changed, now showing a sort of nozzle.
Shin went outside the ship to make sure that it had changed as the diagram had shown. Part of the changes had been executed on the bottom of the ship, so he had to change to underwater mode and dive to check.
“It’s really changed. I wonder how this works…”
Tiera was interested and joined Shin in the inspection: when they returned, she expressed her amazement while deactivating underwater mode. She had looked very closely at the changed parts, but couldn’t understand how it had happened.
“Magically, I guess.”
Shin couldn’t say that it was a game mechanic, so he decided to rely on the always convenient answer that magic did it.
“That’s the most convincing answer, I guess. That…magic-powered engine, was it? The magic flow when it activates is really something else too.”
What Yuzuha called magic flow was visible to Tiera too; like in this case, though, it was apparently possible to see the magic flow coming from items too.
“What do you see, Tiera?”
“I see a thin, sparkling purple light coming out of the engine and spreading throughout the ship. It’s really beautiful, so it’s a bit of a shame that I’m the only one that can see it.”
After completely spreading, the flow vanishes away. Hearing Tiera talk about it, Shin thought that he wanted to see it too, but there were no skills to make magic flow visible, so he gave up.
With their preparations done, Shin’s group departed again, this time for Eolios’ territory.
The area ruled by Eolios looked extremely different from Mascurda’s.
“This is bad!”
Shin cursed under his breath while carefully handling the ship’s controls.
Soon after entering Eolios’ territory, the ship was attacked by monsters. Their quantity and species also increased minute by minute.
“Why is it so different from the other areas here?”
“Indeed, this is incomprehensible.”
Filma and Shibaid voiced their perplexion too, looking at the monsters that attacked them like an avalanche.
Shibaid erected a barrier to repel the attack of a swarm of mackerel pike-like monsters, while Shin made the ship spin to shake off a group of octopus-type monsters that had attached to it.
For a ship, the action was getting a bit too exciting.
“I might end up knocked-out even before we find the boss…”
The ship’s sudden accelerations, decelerations, and rotations were proving to be too much for Tiera, even though she had drunk the anti-seasickness medicine.
Just as Shin began to realize that they couldn’t go on like that, he noticed a response far larger than the surrounding monsters heading in their direction at extremely high speed.
The real identity of the response blasting towards the ship, bulldozing through the monsters, was, of course, Eolios.
A massive shark-like monster, with its head and part of its fins hardened as protection. Its whole body was also covered by one-mel long stake-like needles, which could diffuse magic and were also used as powerful weapons. Even if the monsters that could not dodge Eolios’ passing got stuck on them, the Sea Beast did not seem to notice or care.
During the game era, Eolios had pierced many players to death. For the surrounding monsters, being pierced meant instant death. Due to Eolios’ tremendous swimming speed, they would be cruelly ripped apart.
“Just as expected from the fastest among the Three Sea Beasts. That speed is on a whole other level.”
Shin got rid of the surrounding monsters with the ship’s anti-attacker magic and forcefully steered the vessel out of Eolios’ path.
Even if they had turned feral, the monsters could probably still realize danger to a degree. The ones surrounding the ship seemed to be shaken by Eolios’ arrival.
“It’d be easy if we could just pass by, like we did with Mascurda, huh.”
Shin said so to Schnee, but did not attempt this maneuver. Eolios’ mobility was at its apex when it attacked, but it could also change direction vertically or horizontally very easily.
Because of this, to avoid its charge they would need to gain a large distance very quickly. Just moving to the side would not suffice.
Even if, by chance, they managed to avoid the collision, Eolios could shoot its needles, thus piercing the ship just after it was thought to be safe.
With the ship’s protective plating and Shibaid’s barriers, the ship would probably be able to withstand one attack, but if it didn’t work they would be unable to recover, so Shin decided not to test it.
“Yuzuha! Is the magic here yet?”
The distance between the ship and Eolios was around 300 mels. In Mascurda’s case, they had passed less than 10 mels from the monster’s body, while with Keseldran the distance was about 100 mels: considering this, Eolios was still too far.
“How do you like this then!”
Shin moved the ship right in front of Eolios’ path and slowed down.
Maybe thinking that its prey had weakened, Eolios came closer slowly, its jaws wide open.
From the bridge it wasn’t possible to see behind the ship. Tiera, however, had felt Eolios’ pressure and was holding her chest with a frown.
“I’m sorry, please bear with it a little longer!”
—Distance to Eolios, 280 mels.
Shin looked at the map and measured the distance. The monster could accelerate suddenly, so his finger was ready on the emergency acceleration switch.
Yuzuha’s signal wasn’t coming yet. She was gazing intently at something, towards the back of the ship.
Shin felt something creeping up his shoulders. Probably the pressure that Eolios emanated.
Yuzuha’s voice echoed through the bridge.
“Alright, we’re off!!”
As soon as he heard that the magic power had arrived, Shin activated the ship’s emergency acceleration. At the same time, he released an item to facilitate their escape from the stern – a different one than what he used against Mascurda.
A few seconds after the release, an inhuman shriek could be heard from behind them.
What Shin had thrown to Eolios was a barrel filled to the brim with crystals, each one imbued with the Wind-type magic skill 【Shock Pulse】. The skill was used to release an extremely loud noise, to disperse pursuing monsters. What would happen if 10, 20, or more were activated underwater, where sound propagated at a faster rate?
“Seems like we managed to escape, somehow.”
Shin breathed a sigh of relief while looking at the responses disappearing outside the map’s detection range.
The crystals emitted a physical shockwave as well, so Eolios had more important things to deal with than chasing Shin’s group. Looking at the marker moving left and right, Shin guessed that it was probably fairly confused now.
Being a shark-based monster, it would have been a problem if it followed them via smell, so Shin had launched a barrel producing a foul smell too.
The monsters that had attacked the ship seemed even more confused than Eolios. Some were bumping into each other or wandered off randomly. The situation was utter chaos. Others, possibly having lost consciousness, did not move at all.
“Looks like the area of effect was pretty wide.”
“We even managed to surprise a boss monster, after all. Though, it must have been because it was activated underwater.”
Shin replied to Schnee’s comment while operating the ship’s controls. Unlike before, when they had just arrived in the area, they managed to proceed without serious obstacles.
They were attacked again by monsters on their way back, but probably because of 【Shock Pulse】’s effects, the monsters were much less fierce than before, so the group could return to the Castle of the Depths relatively smoothly.