The next morning, when all members were awake they ate a small meal and resumed their exploration of the dungeon. As they knew the route to take already, they quickly arrived at the point they had stopped at the previous day.
Maybe because they had slain all monsters they had encountered the day before, they did not find many this time.
“Good, we’re going to finish this today.”
Everyone nodded in agreement to Shin’s words.
Shin’s 【Magic Sonar】, the same skill he had used during the exploration of the Summit Faction’s base, gradually filled the unexplored spots of the map. The skill’s range was reduced because of the miasma’s effects, but its waves of magical power did their job effectively.
The group proceeded while making sure that the map was being updated. Naturally, the Invader-type monsters roaming the dungeon would sometimes attack.
They were, however, struck down by Shin, Schnee, and Tiera’s magic and finished by Filma, Shibaid, and Munechika’s attacks: before this simple but overwhelming power, they were all crushed with barely any chance to resist.
As their opponents were often close to level 600, Tiera’s level increased in an interesting way today too.
“To think that I’d reach level 200…I’m starting to feel sorry towards the people that level up seriously…”
“Really? Yes, this looks a bit like power leveling, but you’re not leeching off us by any means, so I don’t think you should worry about it. You’re damaging the Chimeras without a doubt too, I mean you even felled one in one blow just now. This might sound weird, but this is a good hunting area for you, Tiera.”
As Shin said, Tiera’s arrows were extremely effective against miasma-tainted monsters. The damage was considerable too, but also the fact that Invader-type monsters were paralyzed after Tiera’s arrows struck them, making their movements duller.
Against Chimeras and their unpredictable movements, Tiera’s arrows were incredibly useful.
Even Shibaid, who had not talked much since they entered dungeon, mentioned how she was a true asset to their fighting capabilities.
“As Shin said, we are having an easier time thanks to lady Tiera. There is nothing you need to be concerned about.”
“Er, thank you, very much.”
As they descended further through the dungeon’s lower area, the space became gradually narrower.
“Looks like Yasutsuna will be in the lower area’s boss room, right?”
“Indeed. As we said before leaving, we also think that the possibility of Yasutsuna being in the deepest part of the dungeon is high. Even now that we are in the lower area, I feel its presence coming from below. I do think that prediction is correct.”
Munechika agreed with Shin’s thoughts as they walked on through a corridor.
The “Depths of Hellfire” were structured like a reverse pyramid: the lowest floor consisted of just the boss’ chamber.
Yasutsuna was far stronger than the dungeon’s boss, so it would not be strange for it to be in place of the boss.
“Doesn’t it feel like the miasma is growing thicker? I’m starting to feel kind of sick.”
On their way down, only Tiera seemed to perceive a change in the miasma in the atmosphere.
“I can’t feel any particular difference. But Tiera is sensitive to miasma, better use some countermeasure. Materialize this card from the ones I gave you.”
During their exploration of the Summit Faction base too, Tiera had shown to be sensitive to things difficult to determine and identify, such as miasma and the voices of the dead.
Considering this, Shin pulled out a card from the item box and showed it to Tiera.
“Schnee and everyone else as well, please materialize one of these and swallow it. I don’t know if it will affect you Munechika, but try just in case. This allows you to act even within thick miasma for one hour. We don’t know what awaits us down here, so let’s take it regularly.”
What was materialized was a round white pill less than 1 cemel in size.
Named ”Miracle Drug of Holy Skies”, it was an essential item when exploring areas infected with miasma for an extended time.
Swallowing the pill prevents miasma-caused status ailments for 1 hour. Depending on its usage, it could also serve as a means of attack.
Shin had prepared it for added safety when he heard that the miasma was powerful enough to swallow even an Ancient-grade weapon.
“It’s incredible, I feel better already. Is this what you were throwing at the Chimeras?”
“Yeah. In case of emergency, just throw one of these at the enemy. If it’s an Invader-type, this pill alone can cause serious damage.”
Shin had prioritized making a large quantity of them, so he did not have time to test their effectiveness before: that’s why he tested them directly on Invader-type monsters.
Shin had a natural high resistance to miasma, so swallowing the Miracle Drug of Holy Skies wouldn’t change his condition much. But he confirmed with Schnee that the pill was effective, so he told Tiera to swallow it right away.
“This too is effective even on me. As lady Tiera said, incredible indeed.”
Munechika was even more surprised than Tiera. Her true form was a weapon, but she was subjected to the effects of miasma like any other person.
Swallowing the pill, however, allowed her to suppress such symptoms, just like the other members of the group.
“It is truly helpful to be able to fight without worrying about miasma after all.”
Munechika thought that depending on the situation she might not have been able to assist them in fighting, so she was relieved.
“I didn’t expect for it to affect you too, Munechika. Oh, looks like we reached our destination.”
Normally, Shin’s group would find stairs leading to the lower floor at this point.
The corridor they were following though, led to a giant door decorated with a painting of a large bird-type monster, probably Kagutsuchi.
Two candle stands were erected at the sides of the door: they had surely been burning for a long time, but black flames still danced on them.
Large gates were always found before boss chambers, like a sort of landmark. In game terms, it was a way to show that a powerful enemy awaited.
In the current real world though, it intimidated and pressured any visitors. It silently warned them that they needed to be prepared to die if they wanted to go past it.
“OK, I’m opening it.”
After making sure that everyone else nodded in response, Shin pushed the doors.
The thick door had some resistance at first, but after moving it a little it naturally opened completely. The scenery inside, accompanied by the doors’ metallic creaking sounds, slowly showed itself to the eyes of Shin and his group.
“What an impressive welcome.”
Before he activated 【Analyze】, Shin noticed several shadows.
A pack of Ogres, all with bodies mostly painted black. Their appearances showed that they were not regular Ogres, but a mix of different species, such as High Ogres and Warrior Ogres.
Behind all the Ogres stood a unit completely different from the rest.
The first thing that came to Shin’s mind after seeing it was Black Oni.
It was twice the size of the other Ogres. Its torso was naked and adorned with powerful muscles which were like an armor protecting the monster.
Its body was fully tainted black with miasma: only its eyes shone bright red.
From the forehead of a face which could be described with the word Oni, the demon of Japanese folklore fame, sprouted a pair of horns.
The lower half of its body was covered by a yellow and black striped cloth.
The beast’s single piece of clothing, reaching until its ankles, was ragged and ripped, maybe because of the miasma.
“….Shin, it’s holding Yasutsuna in its right hand.”
Munechika spoke while keeping her feelings suppressed, looking at the katana the monster was wielding in its right hand, swirling with a black aura.
Shin’s eyes opened wide one instant, then his look became even sharper.
The katana’s blade was severely damaged, even cracked in parts. Rust could be seen in the joint between the blade and the hilt, its decorations-which surely were a work of art-discolored and indistinguishable anymore.
Its state was so horrible that one wouldn’t even wonder if it still cuts or not. Could it even be called a weapon now?
It was as good as dead as a katana. Its Ancient grade was the only thing that kept it from breaking completely.
“What is that….!? What the hell is that!?”
Deep, menacing words, very different from the usual, came out of Shin’s mouth. He felt clearly what Munechika was feeling, as one of the Supreme Blades herself.
The hand holding Munechika’s sword was slightly trembling.
Seeing her companion being treated that way would undoubtedly rouse her anger.
—— “Ogre Invader – Level 723”
【Analyze】 displayed the “Invader” word. Shin wasn’t really concerned with it until now, but this time it really grated his nerves.
Maybe it was because Shin knew that the katana had a consciousness, or maybe because of his contact with Munechika and the others. Shin himself was surprised at how much the sight of the ravaged 『Dojigiri Yasutsuna』 made him furious.
In the current world, It was the first time for Shin to see a weapon corrupted by miasma at this point.
He couldn’t explain why, however, the scenery before his eyes disgusted him so much.
As Shin’s party entered the room, the doors behind them closed. But neither Shin nor Munechika, nor anyone else, cared about something like that.
“I will kill the Ogre without breaking 『Yasutsuna』. I’ve been in the rear guard until now, but I’m going forward this time.”
“Understood. I find that repugnant as well.”
“Definitely, it’s just disgusting.”
Shibaid and Filma replied to Shin’s announcement, spoken in an unusual tone of voice because of his anger.
Munechika, Tiera, and Schnee did not speak, but all shared the same sentiment.
“….I am thankful.”
“Don’t mention it. As a blacksmith, I cannot allow something like that. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disgusted.”
As if corresponding to Shin’s thoughts, the blade of the katana he was wielding, 『Moonless』, emitted a dull glow.
“We’re going to take care of the other Ogres. Shin, lady Munechika, the boss is yours.”
Schnee told Shin and Munechika to go forward.
If it was just about defeating the boss, Schnee, Shibaid, Filma, anyone of them would have sufficed. Tiera too, with Kagerou’s support, would have been able to damage it.
But that was not the most important part.
Defeating it was just a prerequisite. More importantly, facing that boss here and now was something Shin and Munechika had to do, as a blacksmith and as a sword, or so judged Schnee.
“Help it as soon as you can.”
“Leave it to me!! Let’s go, Munechika!”
“Yes! You shall taste the blade of Mikazuki Munechika!”
Shin and Munechika kicked the ground to jump high in the air towards the boss, which was standing idly behind the monsters’ group.
They ignored the pack of Ogres in the middle of the room and attacked the boss right away.
“I don’t know the state the weapon is in. Even if the boss attacks with it, don’t clash with it too hard!”
The very moment they landed, Shin attacked the monster’s upper body, Munechika the lower body.
A simultaneous strike coming from both right and left.
An average Ogre would have been sliced in three without even being able to react, but this Ogre was the secret dungeon’s boss.
The boss naturally reacted, parried Shin’s 『Moonless』with Yasutsuna while retreating, then dodged Munechika’s 『Mikazuki Munechika – Shinuchi』 by raising its legs in the air.
Parrying Shin’s blow in that state, however, was not a good idea.
『Yasutsuna』 was pushed back, knocking the monster off balance, easy prey for 『Mikazuki Munechika – Shinuchi』’s following attack.
The blade, aimed at the monster’s legs, changed direction in a sharp angle and cut through the Ogre’s left arm.
The boss’ left hand had been cut off, forcing it to retreat further while screaming in pain. Its right hand, though, still gripped 『Yasutsuna』 firmly.
Even if it was an Ancient-grade weapon, Shin didn’t know how much durability remained in it. Because of this, when the boss took a stance to parry with 『Yasutsuna』 Shin held back on his attack.
He had not inflicted great damage, but instead noticed something.
“This response…it still has some durability left.”
Maybe because of his blacksmith skills, Shin understood indirectly that 『Yasutsuna』 retained more durability than what its appearance suggested.
While its appearance made it seem like less than 10% remained, actually the katana still retained at least 30% of its durability.
“You can tell?”
“Yes, it’s still at around 30%. At the very least, it won’t break after just parrying an attack. If it’s necessary, we can cross swords with it without worrying.”
“It is a relief to hear that. But attacks from an enemy of this level will not hit, and I have no intention of spending time on fighting it.”
After understanding that 『Yasutsuna』’s durability, their greatest concern, was not at risk, Shin and Munechika’s movements improved.
Even if they defeated the boss, but 『Yasutsuna』 broke, they didn’t know if they could fix it. They could not be cautious enough.
But things were different if the katana’s durability was not in danger.
The Ogre Invader became much more vigilant towards the two as it distanced itself from them. Was it because it felt that Shin and Munechika’s hesitation had disappeared?
Shin and Munechika spoke at the same time.
Thanks to the Movement-type Martial skill 【Ground Shrink】, the two warriors stepped right next to the boss in a flash.
Even if powered up by miasma, for Shin and Munechika, the Ogre Invader was a clearly inferior opponent. Without any reason to hesitate to attack, they would never struggle against it.
Shin’s blade struck the monster’s left arm and leg…
Munechika’s slash cut through the monster’s right arm; all its limbs were thus cut off and blown away.
『Yasutsuna』, finally freed, was still in midair when Munechika safely caught it.
“We have no use for you anymore. Die already!”
Its left leg cut off, the monster collapsed on the ground, but Shin’s blade struck relentlessly.
A white visual effect signaled the activation of a skill: three blade streaks were drawn in midair.
Katana-type Martial skill “Continuous Flower Wheel”.
An upward slash, a downward slash, another upward slash. The first slash originally served to knock the opponent’s weapon upwards, while the other two would strike directly. The boss was already off balance even before receiving the first blow, so it had no way of dodging any of Shin’s blows.
Shin’s slashes cut the monster’s head and torso in two.
No matter how much its Invader transformation progressed, being cut into so many pieces prevented it from recovering or resurrecting. As its HP reached 0, the monster’s body crumbled away in dust.
“The others are already finished I suppose?”
Even if they were fighting the boss, Shin and Munechika were not attacked by its Ogre minions. The reason was that Schnee and the others had already done away with all of them.
The floor of the boss’ chamber was littered with the rods and great swords previously held by the Ogre monsters.
“I see you have finished too. How is Yasutsuna’s condition?”
“Its durability is alright at least. But it’s corrupted by miasma, so I have to take a closer look before I can say if it’s safe or not.”
Shin answered Schnee and looked at 『Yasutsuna』in Munechika’s arms. It happened the next instant.
“Kh…looks like it was too early to relax”
“!? Hey, what’s going on!?”
『Yasutsuna』, now held by Munechika, emitted a turbid aura. The tainted substance wrapped around Munechika’s arm, as if it possessed a will of its own.
Munechika grimaced, as if she had received damage, and 『Yasutsuna』 fell from her hands.
“Ggh…the source of the miasma that corrupted the cave was Yasutsuna itself it seems.”
After these words, Munechika fell to her knees. Even if 『Yasutsuna』 was no longer in her hands, the miasma did not leave her arm.
“Wait just a second. I’ll dispel it right away.”
Shin took Munechika’s hand and activated the skill 【Dispel Omen】. It was a skill to purify miasma, necessary when facing Demons or visiting locations affected by miasma.
The transparent light that appeared at the same time of the skill’s activation caused the miasma enveloping Munechika’s arm to vanish. Even so, Munechika’s complexion was as sickly as before.
“How do you feel?”
“I apologize. I did not think that Yasutsuna had been so…”
Munechika was looking at 『Yasutsuna』, stabbing the ground before her. Its appearance was nothing but a katana on the verge of breaking.
As Shin touched 『Yasutsuna』’s hilt, the turbid aura that attacked Munechika appeared again. Yet as it touched upon the gauntlets equipped by Shin, it disappeared as if blown away.
It was a secondary effect of the 『Hades Gauntlets』 Shin had equipped.
Powerful Ancient-grade equipment would not be tainted easily, even if it came into contact with miasma.
Ancient-grade gear, especially if crafted by a high-level blacksmith like Shin, could dispel miasma via simple contact if it was in perfect condition.
That is the reason why Shin could hold 『Yasutsuna』 without being affected in any way.
“As I expected, this equipment prevents it from affecting me. Then, how about this?”
Shin activated 【Dispel Omen】 on the 『Yasutsuna』 he was now holding. Doing so dispelled the miasma lingering in the katana’s blade.
Yet as Shin deactivated the skill, miasma started creeping out of the blade again.
The only part of the katana that did not leak miasma was where Shin was holding it, as it was under the effect of Shin’s 『Hades Gauntlets』.
If Shin released 『Yasutsuna』, the hilt would also probably start leaking miasma.
“It won’t work even if you keep casting skills? Is destroying it the only way out?”
“I don’t know. Either I keep casting 【Dispel Omen】 and the miasma disappears or we have to destroy 『Yasutsuna』 itself. Honestly speaking, I cannot decide.”
Even under Munechika’s imploring gaze, Shin did not answer with hopeful predictions or change the subject.
Different from blade and weapon analysis, miasma was a field he knew very little about. Shin had no idea about what move he could make.
Schnee was the same: the only way she could think of was purifying the miasma.
In the case that miasma kept appearing even if 【Dispel Omen】 was cast, they always stopped it by destroying the source of the miasma.
“Ehm, could I?”
Among the silence the group had fallen into, Tiera timidly raised her hand and spoke.
“Well, first I would like to confirm something with lady Munechika…this room is directly above a Ley line, correct?”
“Hmm? Why do you…no, let us set that aside. Yes, we are above a Ley line, no mistake about it.”
“Then it might be possible. I cannot say for sure though.”
Tiera, after receiving Munechika’s confirmation, moved closer to Shin and put her hand over his and 『Yasutsuna』.
“In my village, there is a method of purifying miasma handed down through the generations. Shin, please keep casting the skill, I’ll try doing most of the work.”
“Will you be okay?”
“Leave it to me….don’t worry, this isn’t my first time.”
With a calm expression, Tiera nodded, a tinge of sadness in her eyes.
Her eyes looked straight at Shin.
“…..got it. I believe in you. Munechika, what do you say?”
“She is trying to save one of my companions. There is no other way.”
“Then it’s decided. Schnee, everyone, please stay alert of the surroundings just in case.”
Schnee and the other members readied their weapons and focused on the surroundings. Miasma could sometimes give birth to demons, so they could not afford to lower their guard.
“I’ll start now.”
Tiera whispered softly.
『Yasutsuna』’s purification thus began.
What Shin heard was a clear and serene melody, a chant not spelt with words, rising from Tiera’s lips.
Its echo had a mysterious charm to it, enough to make Shin almost forget that they were in the depths of a dungeon.
As the melody started, Tiera’s body started glowing. Her black hair flowed as if blown by a breeze, brimming in a transparent light.
The light emanating from Tiera’s body affected Shin too, as she had put her hands over his. The transparent light started enveloping Shin’s body as well.
Shin let out a small exclamation. Something warm and cold at the same time, an indescribable sensation, permeated him.
There was no change to his status, and excluding that curious sensation, nothing was happening to him.
What changed was 『Yasutsuna』. The miasma leaking from the blade started squirming and writhing.
It really looked as if it was suffering, so Shin became more alert.
Coursing through Tiera and Shin’s hands, the light came into contact with the miasma.
It was rejected once, as if their contact caused a violent reaction, but the second time it overcame the miasma and enveloped the whole blade.
As the light and the miasma clashed, the rhythm of the melody sang by Tiera was disturbed. Large sweatdrops formed on her forehead and her expression was twisted in pain.
But even so, Tiera continued to sing the melody.
Shin was thinking of a way he could help Tiera.
Then suddenly, his eyesight shook violently.
A human-like silhouette, collapsed on the ground.
Someone kneeling down next to it.
Ple……se………..! ………An……!!!………se!! I’m…….don’……..ave….me……..one!!
Broken images appeared before Shin’s eyes, a voice of someone not present reached his ears.
The visions that appeared before his eyes were out of focus, the silhouettes that appeared in them dark and blurry.
The voice was disturbed by noises, all he could make out were broken pieces of words.
Shin was still confused by what was happening when, as abruptly as they began, the visions and sounds ended.
Before he realized, the light had disappeared and Tiera collapsed.
Shin held her body from falling, instinctively.
Tiera, breathing heavily, slowly stood back up, supported by Shin’s arms.
“Now it, should be alright, I think.”
“….so it looks like.”
The purification seemed to have been successful: even if Shin released 『Yasutsuna』, its blade did not exude miasma anymore.
Shin looked at Schnee and the others, wondering if they had experienced the same thing he did, but their expressions did not show any confusion. Did only he and Tiera see those visions?
“First of all, let’s grab Yasutsuna and exit the dungeon. We can’t talk at leisure here.”
“Ah, yes, no objections here. Will Yasutsuna be alright?”
“I cannot say anything before I take a closer look. It’s not broken and it doesn’t look like its durability decreased, so I want to say that it’s OK, but…I can’t yet.”
Munechika looked at 『Yasutsuna』with concern.
Their objective was nonetheless achieved, so after making sure that there were no other sources of miasma in the boss’ chambers, Shin’s group exited the Depths of Hellfire.