Shin mumbled to himself, still in a fighting stance, while looking at the blue vapor-like substance exuding from Ishkar’s neck.
The exploded skull vanished as if melting away.
It ended all too easily. That was the reason why Shin hadn’t lowered his guard yet.
Shiden’s offensive power was high. With Shin’s stats, it was probably possible to KO even Ishkar in one blow.
And yet,…even considering this, there was no challenge. It felt “boring”.
“!? Wait, what was I thinking just now!?”
Shin felt his fighting spirit boiling, as he was facing a powerful opponent. However, he felt that his last thought had come from a completely different source.
As if someone other than him was inside his mind.
“….as I thought, you aren’t down yet.”
Before the frowning Shin, several ice pillars sprouted from Ishkar’s neck. In the blink of an eye, the pillars fused into one and rebuilt Ishkar’s head.
It was not completely made of ice: the horns and eyes were a deep blue. Shin felt some sort of will behind the eyes gazing at him.
“If you’ve revived, all I have to do is defeat you one more time.”
Shin forgot what he was thinking about for the moment and kicked the water, moving toward Ishkar, the explosive propulsion letting him close in on the dragon instantly.
Ishkar, however, blocked his advance by freezing the seawater around Shin.
Shin immediately cast magic to destroy the ice. However…
“I can’t break it? I’ll just smash it then!”
Magic should have been able to weaken the binding’s effects, but it failed. Shin guessed it was probably because of a particular skill Ishkar possessed, so he decided to force his way out of his bonds.
Half of his body was already frozen, but he could still swing his arms and legs to break free. Maybe thanks to the effects of his resistances, only the surface of his body was frozen.
As soon as Shin broke free, Ishkar’s arms swung down towards him. Shin noticed, but before performing an evasive maneuver he swung 『Moonless』 around him.
While swinging 『Moonless』, in a sweeping motion, Shin heard cracking noises from the katana’s tip. The sources of the sound were Ishkar’s scales, which had changed color to blend in with the seawater.
It was 【Dead Fragment Drops】, one of Ishkar’s attacks which had claimed the lives of many a player in the past. The scales were very difficult to see, extremely sturdy and numerous, characteristics which made them extremely troublesome to deal with. They caused the players to separate and attacked them individually.
Shin knew how sturdy the scales were, so he activated the Katana-type Martial skill 【Blade Breaker】 to destroy the scales as they headed towards him. While Shin was busy dealing with the scales, Ishkar’s claws bore down upon him too.
Against the sharply gleaming claws, Shin chose not to defend or dodge, but to attack.
He turned his back to Ishkar and spun once in place. His right leg kicked the water and the left leg, taking advantage of centrifugal force, countered the claws with a roundhouse kick.
Barehanded-type Martial skill 【Rolling Wave Strike】.
The kick, unleashed with a burst of white foam, released a controllable shockwave when it clashed against Ishkar’s claws. Focusing the impact on one point allowed Shin to crush Ishkar’s claws, like a raging wave.
“With this difference in size, it sure isn’t easy.”
Shin had crushed Ishkar’s claws, but also because of their difference in mass, he couldn’t maintain his position just by using the seawater as a foothold. He suffered no damage, but was pushed back and forced to withdraw.
That instant, a familiar voice reached his ears.
“Tch, who’s getting in the way now…in…the way? No, I…wait, that’s…?”
Every time he thought, he felt something unfamiliar creeping in his mind. He shook his head to get rid of it, and then he noticed what Tiera was riding on.
While not as large as Ishkar, it was a silhouette of much greater size than Shin or his party. Eyes concealing intellect, powerful limbs, and its greatest characteristic: nine tails.
“Yuzuha, is that you?”
Thanks to the contract bound with Yuzuha, Shin quickly realized that Tiera was approaching him while riding on her.
Yuzuha arrived next to Shin in the blink of an eye, stopped as if screeching to a halt, pushing Tiera out with her back, then turned towards Ishkar.
“I shall hold him back.”
With Yuzuha’s words echoing behind her, Tiera headed towards Shin. Moving at a speed she couldn’t reach by herself, Tiera opened her arms and legs wide.
She probably meant for Shin to catch her. Slightly confused, Shin opened his arms wide too.
Just before they could touch, Tiera used her arms to change direction.
She only moved a few cemels: from a course that would have led her to embrace Shin, she changed to a head hugging course.
Shin would have never expected Tiera to change course: the surprise, added to his initial confusion, prevented him from dodging.
As a result, Shin’s head ended up firmly planted in Tiera’s chest.
“Begone, evil! Be purified!”
Tiera shouted, still holding Shin’s head tightly.
Divine-type Skill 【Purification Verse】.
When Tiera was still a Priestess of the World Tree, she used this skill to purify the surroundings before invoking the spirits. The skill removed and prevented status ailments from the user in a set radius around them; however, she was supposed to have lost it along with her Priestess job.
The aura that enveloped Shin’s body dissipated. After making sure that it was really gone, Tiera let go of Shin.
“Ah….had I turned nasty or something?”
The aura disappeared thanks to 【Purification Verse】, and Shin felt that the unusual presence inside his mind was gone.
While fighting he would instantly forget about it: now that it was gone, Shin clearly grasped that unusual feeling and was shocked.
“You had an aura around you that master and the others said they had never seen before. Your way of fighting was violent too. Don’t…make us worry like that.”
Tiera talked with a very serious expression. Shin thanked her honestly.
“Where are Schnee and the others?”
“Some sort of invisible wall won’t let them through. I don’t know the reason, but only me, Yuzuha, and Kagerou could pass through it.”
Shin looked towards Schnee and the others and found them shooting skills towards an apparently empty space. As Tiera had said, their skills stopped and disappeared abruptly after traveling to a certain point.
“I don’t get what’s going on either, but we better wrap this up quickly. You stand back, Tiera. Yuzuha and I are going to end this now!”
Tiera nodded and withdrew, while Shin again faced Ishkar. His eyes now showed a light that was not present before.
—–Boundary Guardian level 1000
The name displayed by 【Analyze】 was not Ishkar’s.
Shin recalled Ishkar’s mention of a “power that devours even miasma”. Ishkar’s consciousness was probably not present anymore in the monster.
The boundary guardian-turned Ishkar unleashed its lethal breath, which Yuzuha neutralized with five types of magic. Shin advanced under her massive body.
The two contenders exchanged attacks that would definitely inflict great damage if not blocked, so Shin was able to prepare to strike without Ishkar noticing.
Shin was now about 10 mels under the guardian’s chin. For the monster, it was a complete blind spot.
“(I’m going to attack too. Please keep it busy a little more)”
Shin was reminded of how adult-like Yuzuha’s original voice sounded, while he held
『Moonless』 with the opposite hand.
He aimed at the guardian’s jaws and activated a skill.
Katana and Darkness combination skill 【Hollow Shackles】.
Shin threw『Moonless』, wrapped in a dark aura, with all his might. The katana turned into a pitch black flash and stabbed the monster’s jaw, without being hindered by its scales, then released its effects.
Forced to face upwards because of 『Moonless』’s stabbing impact, the Guardian’s head was wrapped tightly by black bands extending from the katana.
The black bands covered most of the monster’s head, then gained even more momentum and proceeded to wrap around the Guardian’s entire body.
The monster tried resisting, but Shin’s boosted stats had also reinforced the bands’ binding power.
Because of this, the Guardian couldn’t tear through the bands fast enough: new ones would be generated and tie it down again before it could gain any freedom. It was impossible to completely seal the monster’s movements, but now the Guardian couldn’t move as freely as before.
“Yuzuha! Maximum firepower!”
“Leave it to me!”
In response to Shin’s words, a globe of golden light formed in Yuzuha’s mouth.
Shin cast a magic spell alongside her.
Globes containing magic power of each of the seven elements appeared around Shin. Red, blue, brown, green, yellow, white, black: all seven spheres were around one mel wide.
Shin then extended his right arm forward and all globes gathered in one spot. The seven globes fused together and started glowing in the same golden color as Yuzuha’s.
Hepta-Elemental Composite Skill 【Elemental Order】 .
The two-mels golden sphere, capable of striking the weak point of all elements, merged with Yuzuha’s breath, a unique skill named 【Supreme Catastrophe】, and pierced the Guardian’s head.
“Off with you!”
Shin and Yuzuha kept releasing their skills, while changing their directions. The golden spheres of light moved from the monster’s head to its torso, tearing through its body.
Blue vapor was released from the monster’s severed torso, but that too was consumed by the golden light and disappeared.
“We destroyed all we could see, but…”
The opponent was capable of regenerating its head. For added safety, Shin and Yuzuha cautiously studied their surroundings.
As they were doing so, Schnee and the others approached them. The barrier that had been blocking them had disappeared apparently.
“Sorry for making you worry.”
“No..if you are all right, then it’s enough.”
Relieved, Schnee put a hand on her chest.
“So, what are we going to do now? Differently from outside, there’s no miasma in here.”
“Ishkar’s transformation was bizarre as well. It wasn’t supposed to have regenerative abilities like that.”
Filma and Shibaid voiced their doubts, while looking at the space where the recently disappeared Ishkar used to be.
“It turns out there was something else inside it. The name displayed was Boundary Guardian.”
“Never heard that name before.”
All members present nodded to Schnee’s words. Yuzuha — still in her adult form — also said that she didn’t know about it.
“What could have happened here…? It looks like I changed too…it could be tied to the reason why I was brought here.”
Ishkar had mentioned a “return against your will”. It could mean that, had Shin not resisted, he could have returned to his original world.
It was just a possibility, so he had no intention of trying. More than that, Shin was intrigued by the word “Boundary”.
The real world and the game world. Maybe it was guarding the boundary between the two?
That would generate another series of questions, but being a game’s world, it was not too strange for such a creature to exist.
Supposing that the players dead in the other world lived here. That normally, the boundary could not be crossed without dying, but Shin had crossed over without dying…
(Could it have had a reason for wanting to get rid of me?)
To go all the way of taking over Ishkar’s body to attack me…could maybe mean that I can be the cause of some disaster? Or maybe it was just trying to remove an extraneous object?
“….I just don’t understand.”
Shin sighed while looking at the space Ishkar used to occupy. He pondered for a while, but in the end it was all his imagination, his delusions. He had no idea about how things could actually be.
“….the stopgap keeping miasma in check is gone, so it’s flowing out?”
Shin looked in the direction Tiera pointed at and saw a black mist appearing in the previously empty space. In its center there was a sort of rectangular object.
Because of the mist only its silhouette was visible, but it was just as Shin remembered.
After defeating Ishkar, the certificate proving victory over a level 1000 monster, materials, gear, and other item cards appeared. Apparently, most of the miasma was housed by these items.
“Yes, leave it to me.”
Shin and the others kept the miasma from spreading, while Tiera purified the main mass. Maybe because the Guardian was gone, the miasma vanished with an ease that surprised even Tiera.
“Eh? This is…”
Tiera looked at the stack of purified item cards. The illustration on the top card made her react, surprised.
Shin became curious and took a peek in Tiera’s hands. The top card of the stack had the picture of a crystal glowing in rainbow colors.
The item name was 『Divine Beast Crystal』.
“Seriously…? This is the item that lets you summon a divine beast!”
Monsters called divine beasts, like Element Tails and Gruefagos, could not be tamed normally. But with the item that Tiera was now holding, the Divine Beast Crystal, they could be called temporarily as an ally unit.
Divine Beast Crystals appeared as rare drops after defeating divine beasts and allowed the summon of a monster just like the defeated one as an ally.
It was a one-time use item, but if used against boss monsters as a trump card, it was powerful enough to change the flow of battle.
Depending on the monsters they could summon, Divine Beast Crystals could have the same value as Ancient-grade equipment.
“…hey, if I use this, won’t Ishkar be able to resurrect?”
“Summoned monsters usually disappear after a set time…I wonder, though. In this battle against Ishkar some unknown force interfered after all.”
No one knew what could happen to this area of the sea, were Ishkar to disappear. The sea dragon’s resurrection would be the most favorable outcome.
“Do try. If I can use my power on it, I shall lend you my aid.”
“Are you sure? Your power hasn’t returned completely, has it?”
“That is of no concern. The absence of this area’s master is a much more pressing matter.”
Yuzuha, who did not know how long she could keep her current form, urged Shin to use the item, so he agreed to.
Tiera held the Divine Beast Crystal high and pronounced the keyword. The crystal then shattered, emanating a rainbow light.
The light gradually took shape: after five seconds, it had formed Ishkar’s silhouette. When the light eventually disappeared, before the group was Ishkar, looking exactly the same as when they had entered the room.
“Hmm, I see.”
The summoned Ishkar did nothing, simply floating in place. It was waiting for orders from its summoner.
“Do you think you can do anything?”
“Be patient for a while.”
Yuzuha then extended one of her nine tails towards Ishkar. She placed the tip of the tail on the dragon’s jaw, then stopped.
A few seconds later, Ishkar and Yuzuha’s bodies started glowing. They continued to do so for about 10 seconds, then the light dimmed and disappeared.
“This shall be enough.”
Yuzuha then changed back to small fox mode. She still had nine tails though.
“I’m slightly tired. Hold me.”
“Hm? Ah, sure. Thanks.”
Yuzuha floated lightly in the water and cuddled up in Shin’s bosom. Her small fox face looked somewhat satisfied.
“It appears you have won”
Just as the group relaxed a little, Ishkar’s voice reached their ears.
“Do you remember?”
“That maiden used my soul’s crystal. Would you understand if I said ‘back-up’?”
“Well, I would have never expected a divine beast to say ‘backup’…”
“It’s just a fragment embedded in my memories. Now that the Ley Lines are free of contamination, my servants above should quiet down too. You have my gratitude.”
Ishkar had already taken care of the Three Sea Beasts apparently. The merpeople and fishpeople were not in immediate danger anymore at least.
“I wish to express my gratitude, but that fox has already taken away part of my power. I cannot do much.”
“Hey, Yuzuha! What tricks are you pulling, taking advantage of a situation like this?”
“I made it possible for him to stay here and connected him to the Ley Lines. As you know, the Ley Line was already shut where I used to be. Let me have that much.”
The power that Yuzuha took from Ishkar would return over time, so Ishkar did not want to seriously find fault with her.
“Well, we didn’t come here looking for something anyway, and it looks like Yuzuha got closer to returning to her original form, so that’d be enough for me.”
Shin looked at Schnee and the others, but they all shared the same sentiment.
“Just one thing, then. Do you know anything about whatever possessed you?”
“Hmm…I remember that you were its target. That its objective was to remove you from this world. Only these two things.”
“For what reason?”
“I could not say. But it was something that even miasma cannot affect. It wiped the miasma I was holding in check as if it was mere smoke.”
An existence superior to miasma. Shin had no idea what it could be, nor did Schnee and the others, who all shook their heads.
“It was an utterly unknown existence. Do be on your guard.”
“Yes, I got it.”
Shin finished talking with Ishkar. As Yuzuha had turned back too, they left the royal chambers.
Events other than their initial goal of helping the merpeople had happened, but Shin thought that, all in all, the result was positive. He could not be sure, but he felt that the power within him was not something negative either.
The party proceeded through the now miasma-free corridors.
Ishkar had resurrected, the merpeople and fishpeople avoided destruction.
Tiera and Yuzuha powered up, the party’s overall power increased.
Not all results were to rejoice about, though. Something had definitely been proved in the battle against the Guardian.
Those stopped by the barrier, and those allowed in by the barrier. Their hearts were clearly divided.
Schnee’s heart, especially, was riddled with thousands of small ripples.
With each member holding different thoughts in their hearts, the party left the dungeon.
At the same time as Shin concluded his battle against Ishkar, one man arrived in Barbatos.
At the moment no one knew, naturally, that he would bring a great trial to Schnee…