“Let’s melt the ice first. Shibaid, put up a barrier, just in case.”
Shin stood in front of the frozen gate and activated a basic Flame-type Magic skill 【Fireball】. Instead of releasing it as an attack, he held it in front of the door to melt the ice.
Shattering the ice by force was also an option, but accidentally hitting the door might cause something unexpected to happen, so Shin decided to proceed with caution.
Keeping a ball of fire alive deep underwater was in itself a strange thing, nevertheless that was but a type of miracle granted by the mysterious power of magic.
Little by little, the heat emitted by the fireball melted the ice, which covered the door as if to seal it.
“I expected as much…this isn’t normal ice.”
Shin’s 【Fireball】 was easily over 1000 degrees, so ordinary ice would have completely disappeared in a flash.
The ice covering the door, however, melted extremely slowly even with the ball of fire touching it. At this rate, it would take hours to completely vanish.
“It might have something to do with the miasma…let’s try 【Purification】.”
Shin stopped 【Fireball】 and activated 【Purification】, but there was no visible change to the situation.
“The surroundings are filled with miasma, but only this door isn’t? I guess I just have to increase the firepower then.”
Shin activated one of the most powerful Flame skills he possessed, the Flame-type Magic skill 【Flare Wall】. This high-level flame skill created a wall of fire in one spot. It couldn’t be moved, but emanated enough heat that the target would suffer damage even wearing fire-resistant equipment.
Shin created 【Flare Wall】 right in front of the door, so its heat was in direct contact with the ice. Maybe because of the higher temperature, the ice started melting much faster than when it was subjected to 【Fireball】’s heat. Even so, it would still take considerable time.
“Let me do it too.”
Schnee created a 【Flare Wall】 herself. While not at Shin’s level, Schnee too had reached high proficiency in martial and magic skills.
Wall-type skills became more powerful if cast in multiples, so Schnee added hers to Shin’s.
“The melting speed isn’t changing.”
“We definitely have more firepower now, though”
Despite the clear increase in firepower, the ice wasn’t melting any faster than when only Shin was casting the skill.
“Try using some other skill.”
Following Shin’s proposal, Schnee tried casting other Flame-type skills. None of them seemed to be effective, however.
“What could this mean?”
“Since I’m apparently connected somehow to this place, only my magic works? Tiera, could you try too, just to be sure?”
Tiera said that she felt pulled by something, so Shin thought that her magic could have some effect.
All of Tiera’s Flame-type magic spells were Arts. Their power was far lower than Skills, so it was hardly likely for them to have a significant effect on the ice that not even Shin’s magic power could melt quickly. Shin asked her to try, nonetheless, to be sure.
“Here goes nothing!”
Tiera held a hand towards the ice cover and casted 【Fire Wall】, right next to the door, just like Shin had done. Being the same Flame-type magic skill, firepower should increase, if only slightly.
Tiera’s 【Fire Wall】, however, instead of merging with Shin’s 【Flare Wall】, was repelled by it and vanished.
“It should be possible to use Skills and Arts together, though…”
Schnee had successfully attempted it before, so she was puzzled by this development.
“Should I try putting out my 【Flare Wall】?”
“I don’t think we should. Even if my Art was effective then, there’s too much of a difference in firepower between us. I think that our abilities are just too different.”
Tiera’s supposition was very plausible. It would take too much time to test every little possibility, so they decided to simply wait for Shin’s skill to do its work.
“It’s taking more time than expected, huh.”
“Anyone or anything inside has already noticed us, that’s for sure. I only hope that Ishkar is still holding on.”
Filma and Shibaid exchanged words while watching Shin melt the frozen door.
There was the chance, as it had happened with Trypophobia, for miasma to suddenly burst from beyond the door, so they kept alert.
“Doesn’t look like we can be too hopeful.”
“Do you feel anything, Tiera?”
“I feel all my senses overwhelmed by the presence of miasma. But…it feels strange, somehow.”
Tiera replied that she couldn’t tell what was inside the room, because of the miasma’s thickness.
Maybe because she already had several encounters with miasma, however, she felt that the miasma tainting this dungeon was different than her other experiences.
“In what way is it different?”
“It’s hard to put into words…the miasma I sensed until now felt like it was a fusion of many kinds of malice and ill will. Not a firm conscience like a person might have, but something ambiguous and indefinite, like it was hollow inside.”
That was the reason why miasma had different effects on different people, she added.
“Hmm…thus do monsters become more feral under its influence because they are affected by its more aggressive side?”
“Probably. I don’t know how it is with Chimeras and Demons, though.”
Tiera concurred with Shibaid’s theory, though she wasn’t absolutely sure.
“Hearing you that say that makes me think that what they say is actually true…as long as there is a man, there will be miasma.”
There were creatures with high intellect even among monsters, but their numbers could not be compared with humans’. It was natural to think that man was the source of malice.
“Negative emotions are born easily, it’s true. They can be also reduced, however. Man does not possess only negative emotions.”
Shibaid voiced a somewhat grand-sounding rebuttal to Filma’s words.
Among the party members present, Shibaid was the one who had participated in the greatest number of battles to the death, so he was well acquainted with the malice and hostility that men could harbor. Maybe because of this, he wanted to believe in the goodwill that man could also possess.
“If monsters are born from ill will, it would be nice if something like a protector was born from goodwill…”
Filma complained that if there were creatures opposite to Demons, things could be very different. Next to her, Shibaid replied, completely serious:
“I agree with you, but I suppose it means that we have to do something about that ourselves.”
“I guess we got a bit off topic…anyway, Tiera, you said the miasma here feels different, but what makes you think that?”
“It’s only something I feel, so I can’t say for sure, but the miasma corrupting this dungeon feels like it has a strong will. I don’t know what exactly that is, though.”
“Could it be that a Demon is about to be born? A will born from malice could be an even stronger mass of ill will.”
Shibaid tried to guess what the cause could be, his guard always up. Filma nodded as well.
“I agree, this can’t be good…what do you think, Tiera?”
“I don’t know…it’s only something I feel, after all. But it seems different from malice. At least, I don’t think it’s a Demon.”
Tiera added that she had sensed something different in the presence of Demons.
Shin thought about Tiera’s words, while continuing to cast 【Flare Wall】.
“Something other than a Demon…”
“Could Ishkar have turned into an Invader because of the miasma?”
“The possibility is there. Ishkar was never the type of monster to go on a rampage. Like Yuzuha and the merpeople said, it was like the guardian of these parts too. It probably has a bad affinity with miasma…if it’s resisting it, the emotions it projects would not be only born from malice, I suppose.”
Shin’s prediction was born also from his wish for Ishkar to be still resisting.
“Well then, we’ve made all sorts of theories, but now it’s time to find out the truth.”
Shin’s 【Flare Wall】 had melted away most of the ice. There were no locks or traps. All that was left was to push the door open.
“Shibaid and I will open the door first. The rest depends on the situation inside.”
Shin had already formulated a basic strategy, estimating the situation inside. Everyone nodded to his words.
“Here we go!”
Shin pushed the door open.
Differently from the royal chambers where the group fought Trypophobia, there was no sudden blast of miasma this time.
“First off, 【Purification】.”
The interior of the room was abnormally dark: even with 【Night Vision】, it was barely possible to see anything.
Behind Shibaid, who cautiously held his shield high, Shin and Schnee activated 【Purification】. The lights born from their palms vanished in the darkness.
An exclamation of surprise and confusion escaped Tiera’s lips.
The reason was clear enough. In the space where the miasma cleared, something she had not expected appeared.
“That must be Ishkar.”
“Yes. Judging from its appearance, it has not turned into an Invader.”
Shin and Schnee understood right away that the giant creature they saw beyond the door was Ishkar.
Ishkar’s torso was as much as 5-mels thick in the part nearest to its head. Because of this, looking at it from Tiera’s position — a few steps away from the door — it looked like there was a wall just beyond the door.
Shin and Schnee reacted calmly. Behind them though, Tiera audibly swallowed.
Ishkar, one of the monsters who had reached the apex, level 1000.
With an appearance similar to an eastern dragon, it moved through the water by twisting its long and narrow body.
Two pairs of blue eyes gleamed on its head, while crystal-like horns sprouted from its sides. The claws on its limbs could easily tear through steel. Its rock hard scales, colored blue, would be difficult to damage with average weapons.
Its enormous body, however, was its most dangerous characteristic. There were countless reports of it swallowing several players in one fell swoop.
Also because of the treacherous underwater field, it was the first monster that usually came to mind first when thinking about bosses difficult to defeat.
“Let’s go closer to its face. Keep your guard up.”
The part of the monster’s torso before Shin and the party seemed to be the upper one, the part closest to its head.
Beyond the previously frozen door was not a throne room, but a bizarrely vast expanse. Its depth seemed to extend even farther than 100 or 200 mels.
If such a large room, without a single pillar, was built above ground, it would surely crumble. Considering that it had to allow Ishkar to move, however, made it seem small somehow.
Making sure to be ready to cast defense skills whenever needed, Shin and his party kept rising up. Ishkar’s face was more or less 100 mels from the ceiling.
Shin could only see the side of the monster’s face, but it looked just like he remembered.
As the party was slowly nearing the monster’s head, Ishkar’s eyes suddenly moved. It was difficult to tell due to their lack of irises, but the deep blue orbs were definitely focused on Shin’s party.
Shin noticed that Tiera, behind him, stiffened up.
(Okay, what are you going to do now…?)
Shin whispered to himself, without speaking a word aloud.
Ishkar’s level being as high as 1000, he could tell that not only Tiera, but also Schnee and the others were tense.
They were prepared. If Shin fought with his limiters removed, it would be difficult for them to lose.
But even then, the possibility of one of the members dying was not zero. That’s how much of an opponent Ishkar could be.
As the group carefully observed Ishkar’s movements, a voice like the sound of a gong reverberated through the room.
Yes, a voice. The echo made it difficult to understand it, but the sound that reached the ears of Shin and his party clearly showed signs of intelligence.
“To tHinK…tHaT oNe wOuLd aPpEaR bEFoRe mE. WHaT I feLT wHeN sEAlinG tHE MiASma…wAs YOuR poWEr.”
Ishkar did not answer Shin’s question. It continued its monologue, as if it couldn’t hear Shin’s words.
“ReMovE tHE dOLls. I sHaLl dO No HaRm to THoSe bORn In THis wOrLD. OnLy pLAyeRS cAN Be mY eNEmY.”
“What are you saying? Hey! Can’t you hear me?”
“ThE pOWeR tHAt DeVouRS eVEn mIaSMa…NoT eVEn I cAN bESt iT. ——-hIGh HuMan. If YoU oPPoSe A rETuRn aGAinSt YouR WiLl…sLAy Me.”
Ishkar did not answer Shin, until the end.
Shin found the mention of an existence other than miasma especially puzzling. The words lastly spoken by Ishkar, however, made him forget everything about that.
“Hey!! What do you mean by—”
As if in answer to Shin’s half-spoken question, the door slammed shut. At the same time, Ishkar’s body started emanating energy — enough to make the very atmosphere tremble.
“Nngh, as expected of a monster standing above all others…what pressure…!”
Shibaid, who was standing in front of the group as the shield, frowned. The energy, released in all directions, was Ishkar’s 【Wave of the Monster Lord】, the skill it unleashed at the start of each battle.
Shibaid managed to block it with an attack-mitigating barrier, but if he hadn’t used the barrier, it was likely that all members except Shin would have been unable to move for a while.
Monsters above level 950 could use attacks that blew through the defenses of status immunity accessories. In that case, whether the wearer is affected by negative statuses depends on their stats, the accessory’s rank and the rank of the skill cast.
“Even with Shibaid’s barrier, that gave me goosebumps.”
Filma’s grip tightened on her 『Red Moon』 as she looked at Ishkar.
“Are you frightened?”
“Not a chance! My blood’s burning!”
Schnee and Filma encouraged each other.
Ishkar was slowly turning towards Shin’s group, showing clear hostility. Its pressure was powerful enough than even Schnee and others would be slowed down if they didn’t focus.
Next to Tiera, Yuzuha and Kagerou were also in a battle-ready stance. The opponent was above them in rank, but even so they had not lost the will to fight.
Tiera, standing between them, looked straight at Ishkar, her expression stiff.
“Schnee, everyone, focus on support. The rest is as we planned!”
Shin gave his directions and leapt in the middle of 【Wave of the Monster Lord】.
【Wave of the Monster Lord】 lasted 20 seconds. In the game, Ishkar would not attack during that time. It was not something they could absolutely count on, however.
With every 【Limiter】 removed, Shin exceeded in stats any other creature in that world; it was not currently possible for him to be affected by negative statuses.
He was still wary of the possibility that the enemy could attack during those 20 seconds.
Something close to, but slightly different than a roar came out of Ishkar’s mouth. It was a type of chant, which could not be heard as intelligible words to the group’s ears.
Before the eyes of Shin and his party, the seawater filling the room started to change. It was compressed in an instant, then shot at a speed invisible to human eyes.
In one second, countless blades of water were formed and shot at the party, each one sharp enough to slice Legend-grade equipment in one slash.
“【Ice Maelstrom】! ”
“【Vortex Slash】! ”
Schnee and Filma countered the water blades targeting the party with their own skills.
A whirlpool of ice shards extended from Schnee’s palm. Then electricity drawn by 『Red Moon』’s slash ran through the water, as if chasing after the whirlpool. Filma’s thunderbolts combined with Schnee’s ice whirlpool, amplifying its power and area of effect.
Ishkar’s water blades clashed head on against the giant whirlpool formed by the combination of Filma and Schnee’s skills.
The water blades ground and cracked, as did the ice crackling with electricity. After several seconds of clashing, Filma and Schnee’s combination attack emerged victorious.
Schnee and Filma had not destroyed all water blades, but only those directed at them. The result was thus not mutual destruction, but more like a breakthrough.
“Good thing we prepared in advance.”
“Yes, now we can be more versatile strategically.”
The skill used by Schnee and Filma did not have a particular name as a combination skill.
Even so, combining two skills boosted their power and effectiveness.
In the game, even if two skills not meant to be combined were used together, there was no change in their effects.
In this world, however, it was impossible for skills not to influence each other.
Despite being created by the mysterious force called magic, skills manifested as physical phenomena. Some thought that they had to affect each other someway, and the effects of such combinations had been researched and proven.
There were few opportunities of testing it in combat, but Shin’s group had tried all sorts of combinations whenever they had the chance.
The whirlpool of ice and electricity broke through the barrage of water blades and collided with Ishkar’s torso. The ice shards shattered the monster’s scales, the electricity enveloping them seared its flesh.
The whirlpool had lost power after breaking through the water blades, but still managed to inflict damage.
The problem was that, because of Ishkar’s massive body, the wound was simply a small singed area. It would have been different if the attack was powerful enough to pierce the sea dragon’s body, but a superficial burn could not slow down its movements.
“As expected, an attack like that can only scratch its skin.”
“Well, let’s leave that to Shin.”
Their goal was to deflect Ishkar’s attack in the first place. To hope to do more against Ishkar would have been arrogant, even for Schnee and the others.
Shin mustered his fighting spirit and swung 『Moonless』. For him, Ishkar’s large body was a huge target impossible to miss.
『Moonless』’ blade drew an arc, which extended in a 6-mels long crimson blade. It was the first step of a skill that unleashed slashes with seven blades, one for each element.
Octa-elemental composite skill, 【Seven Radiant Blades】.
The deep red blade that tore through 【Wave of the Monster Lord】 as it advanced was the incandescent Flame-elemental slash. Now that Shin had removed the upper limiter on his stats, his slashes could cut through Ishkar’s scales and flesh in one stroke, leaving a deep wound on the monster’s torso.
Shin readied his weapon again, to perform the next slash.The blade was now formed by a large mass of sand. The katana, now a light brown color, was swung as if tracing the burning wound on the monster’s body.
Ishkar, however, would not allow itself to be attacked without dodging or defending.
The seawater rumbled and covered the surface of Ishkar’s twisting and winding body.
A blade of sand and an armor of seawater. The clash of the two ended with the blade emerging victorious.
An attack made of sand might not sound too dangerous normally, but the sand forming Shin’s blade was anything but normal. It could vibrate and move at high speed. Thanks to the power of magic, its movements defied the laws of physics, boosting its cutting power higher than a mere saw blade, but also any Ancient-grade weapon.
The sand blade thus sliced through the seawater armor as if through butter, carving many more wounds on Ishkar’s body. With each slash, the sand also attached to the monster’s body, enlarging the wounds.
This attack’s gradually increasing damage made it even nastier than being burned by fire.
Ishkar had twisted its body to avoid the slashes, so it had only suffered flesh wounds until now. Shin’s offensive, however, was far from over.
“You won’t let me have my way, huh?”
As if the battle until now was nothing but a warm-up, Ishkar moved away from Shin at extremely high speed. The monster’s huge body did not mean that its movements were sluggish. If it moved at high speed in water, the generated currents would affect even the movements of Shin’s party.
“If I use my full abilities, I get this weird feeling of omnipotence…”
Shin focused strength on his legs and kicked the water. His body then accelerated forward, as if he had kicked a solid object.
The water currents generated by Ishkar would make it difficult to swim straight even for a Chosen One, but Shin advanced as if slicing through them with his body.
The third slash, a blade of ice covered by white mist, was ready to be swung at Shin’s side.
Ishkar blasted a burning hot beam towards the approaching Shin. It was a massive heat barrage, large enough to completely engulf Shin’s body.
Shin countered it head on, swinging the Skill-boosted 『Moonless』 right on the middle.
His explosive advance was halted, but his body remained unscathed.
The monster’s burning beam was cleanly cut in two halves by the white mist on Shin’s katana, changing directions to his left and right sides.
“Haha, that was easy!”
Shin cheered, his hands powerfully gripping the blade’s hilt.
『Moonless』 once again drew an arc, freezing the surrounding seawater. The following instant, a freezing storm started blowing towards Ishkar, like a waterfall ready to devour the monster’s burning beam.
Ishkar saw the incoming attack and stopped releasing the heat beam, twisting its body away from Shin’s attack. The monster emitted lightning attacks from its horns in retaliation, but Shin swept them away with his now lightning-clad 『Moonless』.
A low growl escaped Ishkar’s mouth. Shin had learned the dragon’s attack patterns, but it could have new strategies in this world. Shin realized this and decided to observe what the monster would do next.
The wary Shin was then attacked from all directions.
The seawater around him started moving, all at the same time. It changed into 1-mel spheres, occupying a 50 mels radius all around Shin.
It was one of Ishkar’s skills, 【Aqua Cage】.
The 【Aqua Cage】 water spheres, completely filling Shin’s field of view, were then struck by Ishkar’s lightning attack.
It was not the same yellow lightning that Shin had swept away before, but light blue bolts that came in contact with the spheres and changed directions, just like rays of light deflected by water.
The sphere-shaped seawater served not only to trap Shin, but also to conduct the lightning bolts.
The bolts, passing through several spheres, arrived very close to Shin’s position.
“Now this is something I’ve never seen before.”
The lightning split in two in front of Shin’s eyes and passed by him. Several seconds later, some of the spheres were cleaved in two as well, turning back to seawater.
The bolts had been sliced by the invisible blade extending from 『Moonless』, a blade of wind. Someone with good eyesight could probably see that, near 『Moonless』’ tip, part of the scenery appeared distorted.
【Aqua Cage】 was a skill that affected the target’s surroundings, but causing no damage itself. It was thus obviously possible to move.
After 『Moonless』 was swung, the wind blade disappeared and was replaced by a pitch black one. Shin confirmed the change with a glance and held the sword high.
The darkness-colored katana swung down. The sixth blade’s effect was to negate all magic, causing all the water spheres in the blade’s path to vanish.
【Aqua Cage】, an attack meant to gradually shave the target’s life down to nothing, was powerless before the black blade’s negation of magic. This result affected the surroundings as well. The 【Aqua Cage】 in front of Shin too had completely disappeared.
Lastly, 『Moonless』 morphed into the skill’s final slash, a blade of light. Shin held it firmly and quickly moved through the now open space.
Ishkar too had probably noticed the opening carved into 【Aqua Cage】.
Even with Shin’s high magic resistance, however, he could not simply break through the 【Aqua Cage】 released by a level 1000 monster. He went on forward, however, despite the danger.
Shin couldn’t see past 【Aqua Cage】’s spheres, so he used the map and presence detection to proceed while avoiding them.
As soon as he finally managed to exit 【Aqua Cage】’s area of effect, Ishkar’s claws were brought down towards him.
Shin drew 『Moonless』 closer and used it to protect the left side of his body.
Ishkar’s attack sent Shin flying. Witnessing this, Schnee and the rest of the party each inhaled sharply. In the game, a direct attack like that would surely drop the target’s HP gauge to the red zone.
“Just as expected…guess I really have to thank these cheat-like Gifts I got!!”
Because of Shin’s boosted stats and the bonuses provided by his equipment, however, his HP decreased by less than 10%. One reason was the small damage received, but his total HP was also more than double the original amount. As long as he properly defended, it would be no problem even if he received several attacks.
Before Shin shouted, the light blade from his katana pierced Ishkar’s eyes.
The greatest characteristic of the blade of light was its length, extending over 100 mels. It could not affect its surroundings like the blade of darkness, so it could be said that the blade just literally grew longer.
Most players took advantage of this to perform a wide-range sweep, but its greatest power was drawn out when thrusting.
The tip of the blade was aimed straight forward. An attack a few cemels wide, very few mels high, that covered an extreme distance in an instant. Even for Shin and the party, avoiding it would be a very difficult feat.
Naturally, Ishkar could not, since its eyes were one of the monster’s very few weak points. The blade of light stabbed them, extending as far as it could, finally piercing through Ishkar’s skull.
Even Ishkar could not help bellowing in pain after being gouged by the blade. The result was just a scream of pain because, thanks to its massive body, the blade was too small to cause instant death.
Not unleashing an attack in all directions immediately, however, was a fatal mistake for Ishkar.
In the small timeframe of its pained scream, it lost sight of Shin.
The piercing blade of light disappeared. When Ishkar’s eyes caught Shin again, he was now wielding 『Moonless』 with his left hand, while his right was clenched in a fist.
Ishkar noticed that Shin’s silhouette was enveloped in a faint purple light, different from the aura of physical boosts.
“Let’s see if you can survive even with your head blown off?”
Shin hadn’t noticed his physical change. His fist crashed into Ishkar’s lightless eyes.
Barehanded-type Martial skill,【Shiden – Zekka】.
One of the most powerful barehanded skills erupted from Shin’s right fist.
Ishkar’s eye, already pierced by the blade of light, ruptured and burst. An instant later, the monster’s cranium swelled.
The sheer power unleashed in Ishkar’s head ravaged its insides and took the dragon’s life. Ishkar’s HP gauge hit zero instantly.
The power let loose by Shin’s fist, however, was not content with simply destroying the dragon’s head.
A few seconds after Ishkar’s head started swelling, the monster’s skull could not withstand the damage anymore and exploded. The released power traveled through the seawater and reached as far as Schnee and the rest of the party.
Having lost everything above its neck, Ishkar’s massive body gradually lost its strength. From the wound supposed to be spraying blood, a blue vapor-like substance emanated instead.