“A monster dwelling in a liquid that melts even iron. I heard about such creatures from Kagutsuchi, but it is curious indeed.”
“This is nothing special, pay attention to the lava and it’s the same as any other monster out there. Besides, if it’s a fish type it’ll be really delicious.”
“Heh, I am relieved to hear that. I shall make sure to cut it ready to be served, then.”
With a small laugh, Munechika readied her blade.
Each party member proceeded forward, their weapons at the ready. After about 5 minutes, a fish fin-looking object emerged from the molten stream.
The object, which emitted a metal-like glimmer, was about 1 mel long.
“A Kiral Laava, huh. Judging from the fin, it’s probably 4 mels long. If it jumps in the air, it will shoot 【Fireball】 from its mouth, so be careful!”
Kiral Laava was an orca-type monster.
It attacked in mainly 3 patterns: tackles using its massive body, fang attacks, or fireballs. As it dwelt within lava, fire-elemental attacks had little effect and it was also resistant to physical attacks.
What made it most troublesome was the fact that it attacked in groups.
“There are 4 of them, I see. I’m going to lure them out, attack them then!”
Shibaid, the tank, swiftly attracted the Kiral Laavas’ attention with taunt skills.
2 of the 4 Kiral Laavas jumped in midair, while the other 2 charged towards Shibaid.
The 2 that jumped in midair, uncaring of the possibility of hitting their fellow monsters, shot 【Fireball】 at Shibaid.
“This much is nothing!”
Shibaid held the 『Great Shell Shield of Collision』 in front and ran forward towards the 【Fireball】 attacks and the Kiral Laavas. The very instant before clashing against the monsters, he activated the Shield-type martial skill 【Eclipse Fall】.
An emerald green, 3-mels wide transparent shield was formed with 『Great Shell Shield of Collision』 at its center and blew away the charging Kiral Laavas as well as the fireballs.
Shibaid had the lowest AGI among all the support characters, but he was still faster than the average Chosen One. As the one tasked with stopping enemies, his STR was very high.
His body’s build was good and, in addition, his main job was Holy Knight. No matter how huge the Kiral Laavas were, Shibaid would never lose in a clash against them.
The orca monsters were thus blown back, their boulder-like scales shattered to pieces.
The 2 monsters that had shot 【Fireball】 attacks were still descending and couldn’t assist their companions.
“Yes, as expected.”
Being blown in midair, the monsters were completely open except the front, from where they could shoot 【Fireball】. Not missing this opportunity to strike, Filma closed in to cut down the monsters still floating in midair.
Moments later, Munechika flashed the blade of the katana she wielded and, like Filma, cleaved the Kiral Laava in two with one slash.
The monsters sliced in two squirmed for a few seconds, but quickly stopped moving.
“The rest are fleeing, I see.”
Probably judging that they had no chances of winning against Shin’s party after seeing their companions defeated so easily, the other 2 Kiral Laava disappeared into the lava stream.
Shin looked at their markers on the map: they were moving away, as to go far from the river.
“This river doesn’t have only one course then?”
“What do you mean?”
“The two monsters that fled just now were swimming in a place that clearly wasn’t this river. There’s probably a passage leading to some other location hidden by this lava stream.”
Shin answered Tiera’s question by explaining the Kiral Laavas’ movements.
“So that’s why they don’t come out. Swimming away inside that makes them really hard to chase down…not that I want to fight them.”
“After all, the monsters are usually hard to fight. I thought we would have to battle them until the end, but I guess that even at that level they run, huh.”
The Kiral Laava’s level was 500 on average.
At that level, as far as Shin knew, most monsters fought until the bitter end. He thought they would attack again, so their escape caught him by surprise.
“The less fighting, the better. We’re almost in the middle of the dungeon, the miasma’s effect is getting stronger too. Be careful everyone.”
“Yes, the real thing is starting now.”
After Munechika’s remark, Shin and the others focused anew.
They had all noticed how their surroundings changed as they proceeded through the dungeon. Unnatural black dots had started appearing on the rocks.
When Shin tried throwing a pebble at them, the pebble turned black the instant it struck the black dot, then shattered.
“They’re clearly tainted.”
“Yes, this aura is miasma, without a doubt.”
Munechika agreed to Shin’s assertion. Part of the dungeon turning black was one of the game’s unchanged features.
As they proceeded towards the depths of the dungeon, Shin’s detection picked up monster presences yet again. The detected units were 6, but their movements were clearly erratic.
“There are monsters up ahead, but there’s something odd about them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Their presences get closer, then get farther again. I think that the monsters might be fighting among themselves.”
“Hmm, monsters fighting monsters over territory is not that unusual, though.”
Munechika casted her doubts after hearing Shin’s explanation. Monsters also had enemies among their own, and sometimes would fight each other while ignoring the players.
“That is true, but…”
“No, monsters inside dungeons never fight among themselves, do they? The monsters that dwell inside dungeons, even if their forms are different, are said to be of the same tribe.”
Schnee answered Munechika in place of Shin, who was at a loss for words.
Monsters only fought each other in the field outside. Monsters inside dungeons, different from the ones scouring the fields, were not hostile to other monsters.
Shin’s knowledge, however, was limited to the game mechanics; he could not give a definite answer.
“Even species that battle each other outside cooperate inside dungeons. Considering this, that is an unusual phenomenon indeed.”
“In any case, we will encounter them if we go on like this. Let’s go see with our own eyes.”
Shin’s party proceeded while erasing their presence and gradually came to hear clashing noises. There was a boulder ideal to use as hiding spot, so they peeked forward from behind it.
What they saw was a giant scorpion-like monster, with half of its body painted black, named Schuberc, and a creature that looked like several monsters forcefully fused together.
“That’s a Chimera Invader.”
The aberration born from monsters corrupted by miasma was the Chimera Invader.
Created from the fusion of monsters tainted by miasma, its horrific appearance was disliked by female players.
“What is that…supposed to be?”
“You know that monsters transform because of miasma, right?”
“Yes, I have heard as much from Kagutsuchi. It is my first time to see one in the flesh though.”
“That’s the fusion of such monsters. Though, I have no idea why it turned into a form that makes it harder to move.”
Chimera Invaders did not have a fixed form, but changed based on the fused monsters.
The Chimera Invader fighting against the Schuberc was mainly formed of Kiral Laavas; from the right side of its abdomen sprouted a Golem-like arm, next to its dorsal fin there was the face of a dog-like monster, snake tails poked out next to its mouth, 8 spider-like legs from the left side of its abdomen.
Its fusion was so chaotic it was almost impossible to describe.
The creature’s fighting style did not possess the slightest regularity.
It deftly jumped using the golem arm and spider legs, struck the Schuberc with the snake tails, spewed fire from the dog-like face, faked a tackle then punched with the golem arm…it was completely unpredictable.
The biggest problem was that every time the Chimera Invader struck, the miasma’s corruption on the Schuberc’s carapace increased in intensity. If things continued like this, the Schuberc would also turn into an Invader and would be assimilated by the Chimera Invader.
“The more monsters it assimilates, the more the level and fighting power of the Chimera Invader increase.”
“Let’s get rid of it before it assimilates the Schuberc.”
The whole party nodded to Shin’s words and stepped forward.
First, Shibaid activated 【Eclipse Fall】 and charged towards the monsters.
The two beasts, which were locked in a clinch, were blown away together and forcefully separated.
“I’m going to suppress their movements. Munechika, the Schuberc is yours. Let’s take down the Chimera!”
As Shin gave his instructions, globes of light appeared around him. The light bullets shot at high speed crushed the Chimera Invader’s golem arm and ripped through its spider legs.
Twisting its body, the monster tried to distance itself from the group, but the light bullets that had initially missed performed sharp turns in midair and shot the beast down.
The Light-type magic skill Shin had unleashed, 【Ray Stinger】, was originally anti-air magic. Hitting the Chimera Invader, which only flailed in one direction, was not difficult.
Munechika’s battle against the Schuberc was completely one-sided too.
There was a difference in level and stats between them, but more than anything the sharpness of the 『Mikazuki Munechika – Shinuchi』, as tempered by Shin, was something to behold.
Schuberc swung down its massive pincers, only to see them cut off by 『Mikazuki Munechika – Shinuchi』. The katana’s cuts were so sharply clean, it was even possible to see the cross-sections of the monster’s insides.
“If I get used to this, I’ll probably find my original weapon lacking.”
Cleaving through the tail that had attempted a surprise strike from above, Munechika closed in on the Schuberc.
Insect-type monsters had high lifeforce. Simply cutting away parts of their body was not enough to weaken them.
The Schuberc came charging at Munechika, trying to blow her away.
Before its sturdy carapace-clad body could clash with Munechika’s body however, her blade -unsheathed as she leaped in the air- sliced through the monster’s head.
The Schuberc, now with half of its body cleaved in two, stopped completely after twitching for a few instants.
“Shin’s group has finished too I see.”
As Munechika turned around, Filma’s 『Red Moon』slashed through the Chimera Invader, pinned to the ground by the light bullets shot by Shin and Schnee.
Even if torn apart, however, the Chimera Invader did not die. Its abdomen, now split in two, squirmed forward and attacked Shin’s group again.
“I was ready for this!”
Tiera had been warned that the Chimera wouldn’t die easily and quickly struck down the right abdomen with a thunderclad arrow, as it leapt through the air avoiding the light bullets.
Her arrows, expressing how much stronger they had become since Balmel, caused the abdomen to explode as soon as they pierced it.
The remaining left abdomen was burned to cinders by Filma’s follow-up attack.
As the Chimera Invader turned to dark dust in the air, the tension within Shin’s group slightly eased.
“Still as tough to kill as always I see. Anyway, your arrows’ power sure is something, Tiera. Its weak points should be only Light magic and Divine magic, I thought…?”
“Even if you ask me…for the record, I am barely capable of attaching skills to my shots. The lightning before was thanks to the bow you gave me, and Kagerou.”
Thanks to the boost granted by the light she absorbed, or maybe because of level-up bonuses, Tiera had learned several skills. However, her ability to attach magic power to her bow had not grown so conveniently.
The mystery of her high damage remained, but it was useful nonetheless.
“Anyway, from here onwards it will probably be infested with Invader-type monsters.”
“There are a lot of those, then…honestly speaking, they are pretty disgusting.”
Shin nodded to Tiera’s clear dislike of Invader-type monsters.
“Some change their forms even without being Chimeras. Plus, they become stronger and cause weapons to become worn more quickly…a bonus we really don’t need.”
While it was harder to notice with Ancient-grade weapons such as the ones Shin and his group had, Legend-grade weapons risked being consumed if these monsters were engaged in long battles.
“Munechika, do you know how far Yasutsuna still is?”
“There’s still some distance. Definitely in the lower area though.”
Kagutsuchi had told them how many floors the dungeon was supposed to have. Shin’s group was now in the floor acting as a border between the middle and lower area.
The miasma’s effects were apparently stronger in the lower area: as Shin’s group proceeded, all the monsters they faced were of the Invader type.
In some cases Chimera monsters appeared in groups, making their pace slower than what it was in the middle area.
“If we go on like this, it’ll be night when we arrive in the lower area. It might be dangerous to spend the night in an area where Chimeras appear frequently, so how about we return to the slightly safer middle area and rest there?”
“Agreed, our pace is extremely fast already. We don’t need to fret.”
Shin proposed to rest in the middle area, where the miasma’s influence was smaller; Munechika was the first to agree followed by everyone else.
The area that wasn’t subject to visible effects of the miasma was the upper one, but going all the way back there would consume too much time, so they decided to take a brief rest, with someone standing guard.
Even if physical abilities increase through level up, the mental side is different. Going without rest for extended periods of time would decrease concentration.
“I’ll activate 【Wall】 and 【Barrier】 just in case, so I think we will be alright. If anything happens, wake me up.”
“Understood. Take a good rest.”
“Unless something extraordinary happens, Shibaid and I can take care of anything in seconds.”
The shifts would be 2 hours long, with the first one being Shibaid and Filma. The next would be Shin and Schnee, then the last Munechika and Tiera.
Shin laid out some simple tents within the barrier skill’s area, where they would rest.
Munechika, being a weapon, did not particularly need to rest, but said she would contact Kagutsuchi during her rest time.
It happened 4 hours after the rest time started, during Munechika and Tiera’s shift.
“Lady Tiera, there is something I would like to ask you, if that is alright with you.”
“Me? Ehm, what is it?”
Munechika talked to Tiera after making sure that Shin and the others were sleeping.
Tiera had not the slightest clue about what Munechika would want to ask her, so she could only tilt her head with curiosity.
“Lady Tiera, you are not just a normal Elf, are you?”
Tiera found herself unable to answer Munechika’s question, as her body stiffened. Her reaction clearly showed that she felt those words could be true.
“From you, I feel energies different than your partner’s, the Gruefago Kagerou. One of those is something I know well, something close to the power of the Ley lines. I would assume that you are some sort of priestess? One with very high ability too.”
Tiera remained silent to Munechika’s questions. What that silence meant was assent.
“To avoid any misunderstandings, let me say that I do not mean to interrogate you. I simply wanted to tell you that those like me, familiar with the power of the Ley lines, could detect that in you, that is all.”
“No, that’s all right. You asked when we were alone so that Shin and the others wouldn’t hear, right?”
“Correct. All I know about priestesses is what I heard from Kagutsuchi. But I understand that priestesses are worthy of admiration and respect, as I know that their existence is kept hidden.”
“…..thank you very much. Outside my family, only master knows that I am a priestess.”
Tiera answered in a feeble voice, holding Kagerou -now in wolf cub mode- in her arms. In answer to his worried cries, Tiera caressed him gently.
“Well, I suppose you have your reasons and circumstances. For a priestess to leave the place where she should be and participate in battle is unthinkable, after all.”
“I do possess the abilities of a priestess, but strictly speaking am not one anymore. Even using the 【Analyze】 Shin gave me to see my status, the Priestess job is not displayed anymore.”
Tiera spoke with a mixture of sadness and loneliness in her voice.
“Besides, someone else took my place. In the village, they probably think I’m already dead.”
“….I see. I apologize for making you recall such painful things.”
“No, I also thought I should say it. But I can’t just come out with it…”
Tiera herself thought that Shin and the others probably thought something was off with her. Her high growth at level up, skill acquisition, absorption of the Ley lines’ energy, the miasma-purifying effect attached to her arrows.
More than anything else, the fact that she controlled a Divine Beast, a creature which would collaborate with people, but never form a contract with them.
Someone legendary like Shin was an exception, but Tiera thought that she didn’t possess much power herself.
Kagerou said he wanted to repay her for the kindness received in his younger days, but Tiera felt that there was something else to it.
“I will keep what we talked about tonight within my heart. I understand it is not my place to say, but please do not torment yourself too much.”
“Yes, thank you very much.”
After Tiera’s words of gratitude, silence filled the surroundings. They exchanged small talk every now and then, until their shift ended too.