“Hey, Tiera. You don’t look too well, is everything alright?”
“I’m fine, I just had some trouble sleeping.”
The next morning, Shin and Tiera bumped into each other as they left their respective rooms, and Shin inquired about Tiera, who looked less lively than usual.
Her answer also felt less energetic than normal.
Shin thought she might have been sick, but Kagerou, ever present at Tiera’s feet, did not seem to be worried.
【Analyze】 would not display small changes in one’s condition, but, if Tiera had been pushing herself, Kagerou would have reacted in some way, so Shin chose not to pursue the matter any further.
Tiera headed to the bathroom before breakfast. When she came back, she looked the same as always.
“And…you’re here in the morning too.”
Shin’s eyes were pointed at the fluffy, red ball of feathers, baby Kagutsuchi, as he spoke. Roasted fish just out of the oven lay on the plate before the bird.
As Shin and the others started eating, baby Kagutsuchi started pecking away at the fish too.
The fish was much more than baby Kagutsuchi’s size seemed to allow, but baby Kagutsuchi ate until the fishbones had been picked clean.
Baby Kagutsuchi gave a small cry while patting its stomach, which had become rounder than before.
“Truly a delicacy, he says.”
Mitsuyo translated Kagutsuchi’s cry while she was eating in a slower, more polite manner.
“Kuu, ball of feathers, acting so high and mighty.”
Maybe because she didn’t appreciate Kagutsuchi’s attitude, fox-mode Yuzuha tried to push down its head with her paws.
Surprised, Kagutsuchi dodged the sudden attack at the last second and raised its small wings to intimidate the opponent.
A bizarre battle had broken out in the middle of the table.
“What are those two doing?”
“Who knows? Playing with each other as entities related to the Ley lines?”
Watching the fight out of the corner of their eyes, the group continued eating their meal.
The bout between Kagutsuchi and Yuzuha was concluded with a lightning bolt from Schnee.
“By the way, Mitsuyo, are you Kagutsuchi’s caretaker?”
“I’d love to say no, but yes, I pretty much am. In theory, it’s a task that rotates between Munechika, Tsunetsugu, and me. But rather than that, that’s a rather familiar way of addressing me, without honorifics or anything. It is true that we requested for your help, but it’s quite irritating to be treated as inferior.”
“Ah…I’m sorry. A long time ago, when I was discussing battle strategies with my comrades, we called you without honorifics, so…”
Having been programmed with the movements of martial arts masters, the Five Supreme Blades were not opponents beginners or players with just some experience could hope to handle. But as they were ultimately programs, even their refined movements contained patterns.
At the time, Shin studied these movements and snatched victory by a hair. As they had met and fought many times, he ended up talking to her with familiarity.
“You look younger than the other two, so maybe he felt closer to you?”
Shin reprimanded Filma because Mitsuyo seemed to be sensitive about her appearance. But Mitsuyo herself did not seem to care much.
“…..well, that’s fine. I remembered you after all, so I’ll let you call me as you like. I’ll address you the same way though. That’s fine, right?”
“Yeah. call me what you want.”
“By the way, there was something I wanted to confirm, may I?”
“Hm? What’s that?”
“What you did to Munechika yesterday, can you do it to other Supreme Blades too?”
Mitsuya probably referred to Shin’s reinforcing of the 『Mikazuki Munechika』he possessed.
“I can do the reinforcement itself. But in regards to 『Juzumaru Tsunetsugu』, I acquired it in a slightly different way, so I don’t know if the consciousness transfer can be done.”
“I see. If you can, then it’s alright.”
Mitsuyo did not add anything after that. “Lend me your reinforced 『Oodenta Mitsuyo』”, or “I will be coming with you”…Shin was expecting a development like this, so he was a little taken aback.
After breakfast, Shin and his group headed to the shrine. At the entrance, Munechika and Tsunetsugu were already waiting.
“Sorry, did we make you wait?”
“No, we just arrived as well. Then let’s enter the dungeon immediately. I shall show you to the entrance. Follow me.”
The group followed Munechika inside the shrine.
When they arrived in front of the crystallized Kagutsuchi, Munechika turned around.
“We will be transported to the dungeon from here. Are you ready?”
“No problem. Anytime you want.”
Shin nodded firmly to Munechika’s final confirmation.
As they had little information about the dungeon, they could not prepare for specific situations. Shin’s item box, however, included enough supplies to handle any kind of situation.
Concerning recovery items, each member’s item box had been provided with a sufficient quantity.
Tiera couldn’t use the item box, so she carried items in card form in a pouch at her waist.
“I’m counting on you.”
“Kagutsuchi wishes you fortune in battle too. Come back in one piece, you hear.”
Munechika replied in a clear, powerful tone to Tsunetsugu and Mitsuyo, who would stay in the shrine to protect it, and baby Kagutsuchi, who couldn’t fight for itself.
“Leave it to me.”
Her answer did not contain the slightest hint of worry.
“I’m sorry Yuzuha. You’re the only one that can help with Ley lines right now.”
Because of Shin’s group’s entrance into the dungeon, the miasma that had swallowed Dojigiri Yasutsuna could have had unfathomable effects on the Ley lines inside the dungeon.
Because of that Yuzuha, who, like Kagutsuchi was capable of influencing Ley lines, would stay outside.
Influencing Ley lines was also possible inside the dungeon, but rather than inside a warped dungeon, staying in Kagutsuchi’s shrine would allow them to influence the Ley lines from a safe location.
Shin promised the unhappy Yuzuha to brush her after coming back, then walked towards Munechika.
“I shall start the transfer then.”
As Munechika’s spoke, the scenery before Shin and his group blurred.
Compared to teleportation using the crystal stone or the one at Bayreuth, the transfer was completed after a slight feeling of intoxication.
The instant after they transferred, a sauna-like heat attacked the party. Sweat would start trickling even without doing anything in particular.
For a dungeon located in a natural cave, its insides were extremely wide. 2 parties could be formed within it without problems.
Thanks to the wide space, it was not necessary to pay special care to the fumes of hot steam spouting from the walls, boulders, and ceiling.
Because of the white steam generated in the already humid cave, the temperature was very high. The steam could also come from the floor too, so they had to proceed with care.
Shin was protected by powerful gear, but he didn’t feel like trying to see what would happen if he was hit.
“Uuh, I feel sick…”
Different from Shin, who was disconcerted by the heat and humidity, Tiera was holding her hands over her mouth, unsteady on her feet.
Shin had just felt a slight disorientation from the transfer, but the effects appeared to have been greater on Tiera. The sweat on her forehead was not just from the heat.
Next to Tiera, Kagerou was crying out, worried.
Schnee cast 【Heal】 on the pale Tiera and gently rubbed her back.
“I too felt a kind of intoxication. Let’s take a small break, just in case. Tiera, are you alright?”
“Yes, I feel much better already.”
Her complexion seemed to look a bit better, perhaps because of Schnee’s 【Heal】.
After generating a barrier skill to guarantee their safety, all party members took a relaxed posture.
“We didn’t feel like that when we used the crystal stone. Munechika, do you know what the reason could be?”
“I don’t know for sure, but it could be the miasma. Even a weapon like me felt a little uneasy. I imagine that human types like you are more heavily affected.”
Everyone thought that the cause could be the miasma, but no one knew why Tiera was the only one to show such a strong negative response.
For 15 minutes they talked while waiting for Tiera to recover.
Tiera announced that she felt better, and Schnee also confirmed that she had recovered enough, so the group resumed the exploration of the dungeon.
Fuji’s secret dungeon was officially named “Depths of Hellfire”.
According to Munechika, as the name suggests many fire-elemental monsters dwell in it; without resistance to fire, just being inside the dungeon would gradually sap one’s energy.
“We could cut off the heat with a barrier, but moving will be troublesome.”
Dungeons where simply walking makes your HP decrease are truly harsh.
As Shin’s experience told him, item usage increased and in some cases, MP management became more difficult too. There were possible countermeasures, but if one wasn’t of high enough level struggling was inevitable.
“We don’t know what could happen, better be fully ready.”
Shin took 7 cards out of the item box. They were all the same: when materialized, a bracelet adorned with red gems appeared. It was the 『Enra Bracelet』, an accessory that nullified fire-elemental damage.
“To think that it would affect even me.”
“You’re in human form, so I suppose the item identifies you as human too?”
Shin answered to the surprised Munechika. It was possible to apply external options to weapons, so that might be the reason why this was possible.
“It’s fantastic that not only it stops damage, but blocks the heat too. If our hands slipped because of the sweat it would be a problem.”
Filma spoke while lightly wielding her sword. In the game, sweat wouldn’t weaken the weapon’s grip, but now that was a factor to think about.
“But isn’t it a bit of shame for you, Shin?”
Filma seemed to have come up with something and whispered it into Shin’s ear.
“If the heat continued, the sweat would have made Schnee’s clothes see-through…right?”
“That’s ridic….wait, they don’t work like that, probably.”
In the game, armor would not get ripped or broken even if drenched or attacked. But things were different now.
Schnee was now wearing Ancient-grade gear hand-made by Shin, the 『Moonlight Silver Maid Uniform』. Whether it would become see-through or not was unknown, but it wouldn’t be strange if it stuck to her skin and accentuated her curves.
“Anyway, jokes at a time like this?”
“This much wouldn’t shake you, would it Shin? Besides it helped you relax, right?”
“Even if I had been nervous, I don’t think this would have helped.”
“Filma, don’t trouble Shin too much.”
Maybe tired of the exchange, Shibaid lightly rebuked Filma.
Even while joking, neither Shin nor Filma neglected to be wary of their surroundings.
“You’re surprisingly relaxed even in this situation. No, I suppose it’s normal for Shin’s party to be like this.”
“Having a sense of tension is important, though. We just entered into the dungeon. If we were tense all the time, we wouldn’t last until the end.”
After the start of the Death Game, Shin explored dungeons alone most of the time.
Compared to that, having Schnee and the others with him made the current situation much easier to handle. At the very least, he felt relaxed enough to roll his eyes at Filma’s jokes.
“Okay then, looks like we have to welcome our first guest soon.”
Shin detected an enemy presence and announced it to Munechika and the others. The simple map displayed 5 red markers.
Parts of the cave’s walls and ceiling were red hot, so illumination was guaranteed to a degree, but they could not at all say that there was enough visibility.
Shin used a magic skill for lighting and prepared to confront the enemy.
“As expected, they’re fire-elemental.”
Appearing before Shin’s party was a group of large monsters and smaller ones.
The first type were 2 roughly 4-mel tall golems which looked like they had been made with the cave’s boulders, named Sledge Heat. The second, 3 large spiders about 1-mel large, with hair like flames, were called Molten Spider.
The Sledge Heats were walking closer, shaking the ground with their steps. Above them, the Molten Spiders were looking down at Shin’s group while crawling on the ceiling.
The Sledge Heats’ levels were 434 and 422, the Molten Spiders 369, 366 and 361.
“A small test to start with I guess. Let’s do it!”
Following Shin’s call, Shibaid, Filma, and Munechika stepped forward.
The all-rounders Shin and Schnee could have gone forward too, but the frontlines would have become too crowded, so this time they stayed with Tiera in the rear guard, which lacked numbers. Kagerou was Tiera’s exclusive protector.
“We’re going to suppress them first. Shibaid, everyone, take care of any monster that sneaks through!”
After giving his commands, Shin used the water-type magic skill 【Ice Bullet】.
The magic skill caused several ice shards the size of a fist to appear around Shin and Schnee.
Using the shards, floating thanks to their emissions of cold air, Shin aimed at the Heat Sledges, while Schnee sniped the Molten Spiders.
The shards, flying at a speed exceeding Tiera’s arrows, pelted the Heat Sledges and Molten Spiders like bullets from a machine gun.
Their offensive power was too high for the monsters: the Sledge Heats broke down in pieces, while the Molten Spiders retained little of their original form.
“….listen, you two. If you don’t hold back a little, we won’t have anything to do here.”
“No wait, they were too frail, seriously. I thought that monsters in a secret dungeon would have a bit more backbone.”
“Well, I guess this is the obvious result though.”
“Master’s and Shin’s magic power is so high that the monsters became nothing but shooting targets. Normally 【Ice Bullet】 doesn’t have this kind of power either…”
Tiera put away the arrows she had prepared and commented while looking at the frozen and shattered monsters.
Once squeezed, the fragments broke down in small crystals. They were completely frozen and became brittle too.
“Anyway, did it have the effect of freezing the opponent?”
“It should have, at least a little. High magic power can amplify added effects. Depending on the opponent, wouldn’t it be the same even if Filma or I had shot them?”
“Shin and Schnee’s stats are high all around, after all. As we just saw very clearly.”
Shibaid suggested an answer to Tiera’s doubts about the magic’s power.
In the end, that result had been caused by the difference in stats with the opponents. Golems like the Sledge Heats have low resistance to magic. The Molten Spiders were just completely inferior opponents for Shin and Schnee.
Inversely, it would have been absurd if a clean hit from Shin and Schnee didn’t kill them on the spot.
“How very reliable.”
Witnessing the group proceeding while instantly sweeping away any monster they came across, Munechika laughed wryly.
Maybe because the rule of “weaker monsters appear in the beginning of the dungeon” remained, all monsters appearing were under level 500.
Monsters of that level would fall after one hit of Shin and Schnee’s magic.
Rarely, some monsters would escape their magic attacks, albeit never unscathed: they would then fall prey to Tiera’s arrows.
“I don’t even feel like I’m fighting, but my level keeps going up…”
“They’re all low-level units for us after all. By the way, how are your stats?”
Shin inquired to the surprised Tiera.
Schnee and Filma had already reached the upper limit and their levels wouldn’t increase anymore.
But Tiera was different. Leveling up increased her stats further.
Her parameters’ values did not increase greatly, but she was undoubtedly growing stronger.
“Hmm, when I absorbed that light I told you that each parameter grew by about 200, right? Since then, I grew 11 levels, my status’…decks? (DEX) and…ants? (INT) grew by about 40, the rest by about 20. I also learned some skills. But is it normal to learn them so easily…?”
In the mysterious place where Shin’s party reunited with Filma, Schnee and everyone else received a stat increase. On the other hand, only Tiera can level up.
“Seriously? Your growth rate increased too. Your skills as well.”
Apart from the boost granted by the resurrection bonus, level up boosts were not as big as players believed. The increases Tiera reported, however, were much larger than what Shin knew.
In addition, Tiera had received the largest among the boosts granted by the light all members had absorbed.
“That’s true. I wonder if we have been influenced somehow as well.”
“Schnee and the others can’t level up anymore after all. It’s not a bad effect though, so isn’t it fine like this? To become stronger at a faster rate than normal is a good thing, I think.”
Shin did not absorb the light, but he felt that Tiera’s absorption of one of the lights, despite her not being one of his support characters, must have had some meaning.
The world was infested with powerful monsters. There was nothing to lose in becoming stronger.
“Well, becoming stronger is a good thing, of course. It’s just a little scary that we don’t know what that was. I know it sounds ungrateful since I’m enjoying the bonuses that light granted me.”
“Hmm, judging from your words, haven’t you simply received the Ley lines’ blessing?”
Munechika, who had been silent until now, suddenly voiced her opinion.
“The Ley lines’ blessing?”
“Yes. Their size may vary, but Ley lines are spread throughout most of the world. People, monsters, plants, animals, all sorts of creatures…their magic power and things like fragments of their consciousness seep into those Ley lines. Maybe because of this, the so-called heroes or saviors of each species sometimes are granted boons by the Ley lines. We call that “Blessing of the Ley lines”.”
“Who knew something like that existed…but looking at Schnee and Shibaid, I can see that.”
Shin was surprised to learn something completely new to him. But he could agree with part of the explanation.
“I can see why too, related to master and the others, who are in a High Human’s service. I don’t understand why I would be blessed, though.”
“I do not know that either. As Kagutsuchi said, blessings are not given only following people’s will. Tiera, your species is Elf, thus animals’ and plants’ will might be related as well. It is not something bad. It is a precious blessing, it will not hurt you to accept it.”
“I understand. But in that case, I’d think Shin would have been blessed too.”
“In my case, being someone from the distant past, maybe I was grouped together with the other players?”
Shin knew that High Humans were partly treated as a myth, so the thought that he hadn’t been treated as an individual, or was outside the circle eligible for blessings. The definition of blessing was ambiguous too, so he decided not to think too deeply about it.
“OK, looks like we can’t take it easy anymore.”
Shin spoke looking forward, as to signal the end of the conversation. Tiera followed him, raised her head, then, dumbfounded, whispered.
Before Tiera’s eyes flowed a stream of lava. The cave was wider still, so a path was present, but an even fiercer heat awaited Tiera and the party.
“If Shin hadn’t given us those bracelets…I get cold sweats just thinking about it.”
“Without fire resistance, just going closer to this would kill you.”
Tiera swallowed her breath, and Shin agreed with her statement. In the game era HP would just decrease at fixed intervals, something that seemed an extremely small obstacle now.
Around Shin and the group the temperature was kept at the level that would make one sweat a bit after doing some exercise.
Though, that was all due to the 『Enra Bracelet』. The temperature reached by hot steam was nothing compared to lava.
Shin knew well that they were proceeding at a distance that, in reality, would be prohibitive without heat-resisting clothing.
Once again, Shin felt how incredible items were.
“By the way, what would happen if we fell into the lava?”
The doubt suddenly surfaced in Shin’s mind. In the game, status permitting, it was possible to dive in poisonous swamps or lava pools, something absolutely impossible in reality.
“If we equipped gear protecting the whole body, we could move freely until the endurance points last, I think.”
“Wait a second, don’t tell me that someone tried it?”
Shin had just mumbled his doubt, but Schnee heard and replied about what would happen. Hearing the answer, Shin couldn’t help but being surprised at the recklessness of whoever provided this piece of information.
“That person was wearing full-body Legend-grade armor. Maybe because of the magic power, no lava penetrated inside the armor, apparently. It started melting after 30 minutes or so though.”
“Was that person alright?”
“It was a Chosen One with high defensive power, if I recall correctly. In your case, Shin, you’ll be OK even if it touches your skin, I think. After all, you have higher defense than a dragon with its scales.”
“Even if I know that it’d be OK, I definitely don’t want to try it.”
Shin shook his head firmly: touching lava with his bare hands was something he would never want to do.
At the same time, he thought that he was well beyond human limits. It wasn’t just a matter of high defense.
“Does that mean that Chosen Ones like us wouldn’t be cut even if sliced by a blade?”
Shin asked the question to Schnee as they were crossing the lava stream.
Ever since coming into that world, Shin hadn’t received any real damage. Even when he faced Girard, an attack pierced his armor and caused damage, but he hadn’t sustained any actual wounds.
“It depends, but generally that’s correct. Even if a blade is pressed against the skin, people of our level wouldn’t be injured by a normal blade. It wouldn’t even cut a little. If we did so with the intent of cutting, we would be able to, though.”
“Oh, so that’s why the needle pierced when I made the guild card.”
Shin remembered when he bled in order to create his guild card. If his high defensive power prevented him from being injured, a powerful weapon would be needed to make him spill blood.
“Well, let’s continue this conversation later. Looks like there’s a monster inside the lava.”
Shin detected a presence while walking over the lava and directed the party’s attention to it.
“Eh, are you serious…?”
Tiera’s question was born out of her difficulty of believing Shin’s words, as nothing but molten rocks floated before her.
“It’s probably protecting its body with magic power, or something similar. Monsters don’t always fit the “animal” definition, after all.”
Creatures that would never exist in reality or defy the laws of physics often appear in games. These monsters are born from the mysterious energy called “magic”.
Shin and Schnee are used to such beings, and did not show any particular surprise. The less knowledgeable and experienced Munechika and Tiera couldn’t help being somewhat nervous.