Vol. 9 Chapter 3 – Part 3

“Wow, so fast.”

Tiera couldn’t help but voice her thoughts about Mitsuyo’s impressive speed. She was simply amazed that there was someone else capable of attaining a speed on Shin and Schnee’s levels.

Munechika was fast too, but very few in the current world were capable of such movements.

“It’s not a speed humans can achieve.”

Suzune, who was next to Tiera, spoke her opinion too, but her voice contained more concern than awe.

Suzune’s sister, Kotone, was in possession of Onimaru. She was afraid that because of this, she would be able to move like Mitsuyo.

Mitsuyo’s current abilities were the result of Shin’s reinforcement, but as Suzune did not know this, she couldn’t help but look sour.

“As expected of a Supreme Blade. These monsters mean nothing to her.”

Unaware of Suzune’s feelings, Shin swung his 『Moonless』. He wasn’t using his full power, but nevertheless unleashed sword slices on par with Mitsuyo’s, which cut effortlessly through the Skullfaces.

When Shin had battled a Jack-grade unique monster with a rather low-grade type of katana, he had spent considerable time on a single unit. Now that his weapon was an Ancient-grade one, even Kings could be defeated with one or two sword strokes.

The monsters could have tried to parry with their weapons, or rely on their armor, but Shin’s sword could not be stopped.

“Shah!”

Shin cut down a Queen as he stepped next to her, then sliced through another as he returned his blade to the sheath.

A King unleashed a slash attack from behind the Queens, caring little about hitting its companions in the process, but Shin repelled it and even knocked away the monster’s katana.

Shin’s blade then pierced the monster’s wide-open abdomen; its core was still disappearing when the katana moved to the next foe as if dancing.

Thanks to the guidance received from Karin, Shin’s swordsmanship had improved greatly. Because of this, the speed at which he defeated the monsters was not inferior to Mitsuyo, who had spent her life pursuing the path of the blade.

Suzune rubbed her eyes while looking at Shin, as if she had seen something incredible.

“This is weird…Shin’s movements seem like a blur…”

Shin’s group had been routing the monsters until now, but with the emergence of a group of Skullfaces, Suzune thought that the rear guard’s turn had finally come and took a fighting stance.

Compared to Shin’s party, the Skullfaces were not high-level monsters. Suzune was wary of the additional power the Black Lacquer gear could have given to the monsters.

As the monsters’ grade increased, their gear’s stats would too, as would their skill with their weapons.

They were not monsters one could look down on as mere Undead anymore.

The way to fight them was radically different than the beast monsters who normally appeared in the area.

Despite all this, Mitsuyo and Shin were exterminating the Skullfaces with inhuman speed. It was a cakewalk not unlike all their previous encounters.

The monsters’ armor turned to shreds like paper. Their spears and blades snapped and blew away like twigs. Levels and grades meant nothing. Ending each battle unscathed was the norm. Shin and Mitsuyo continued to bury one Skullface after another, as if they were racing to see who defeated more.

Less than 10 minutes after the battle started, all Skullfaces had been brought down.

“Close combat battles take more time after all. I guess I’ll blow them away with magic next time.”

“I think that’s best, yes. They were so pathetic, I feel even less satisfied after fighting.”

“Ah, er, you two, that’s enough.”

Tiera couldn’t help a wry laugh as she saw Suzune looking flabbergasted at Shin and Mitsuyo’s exchange.

Tiera had witnessed Shin and Schnee’s battle styles, so she understood well how Suzune had to be feeling.

“I finally understand the reason why Lady Kuchinashi was not worried at all…”

Suzune let out an exhausted comment. As a Chosen One herself, she was baffled to see movements far exceeding what Chosen Ones could do.

“Don’t tell that you can move like that too?”

“Master probably can, but it’s impossible for me.”

Tiera firmly shook her head at the thought of being compared to them. Kagerou, the divine beast lying as always in Tiera’s shadow, would be a challenging fight for Shin. In comparison to Shin, though, Tiera was like an average person.

“Shin’s power is far beyond our reach. This is still far from him fighting seriously.”

“You mean that he’s holding back….?”

To Schnee’s answer and smile, Suzune could only react with a long sigh. At the same time, a sort of feeling of security spread in her chest.

If people as strong as Shin and Mitsuyo were available, it was highly likely that they could restrain Kotone even if she went on a rampage.

“Let’s keep going. Different types of monsters will start appearing on the next floor, so be careful.”

After Shin’s words of warning, the party advanced through the dungeon.

Their exploration of “Depths of Hellfire” required mapping the whole dungeon, so it took a long time, but this time they had the map provided by Black Priestess Shrine’s scouts. They knew that both Onimaru and Kotone were in the deepest part of the dungeon, so as soon as they found stairs or passageways leading further down the dungeon, they took them without hesitation.

“Hm? Everybody stop!”

As they were walking down a corridor, Shin suddenly told the party to stop.

Mitsuyo had apparently predicted Shin’s order, so she stopped right way. Suzune and Tiera stopped after a few moments.

“What’s wrong?”

“There are monsters right in front of the exit of this corridor.”

Shin had detected the monsters’ presence clearly. Mitsuyo simply nodded in agreement, without showing any particular reactions.

“They’re not many, maybe 3 at most.”

“Exactly. There’s a high chance to be ambushed. Schnee and I will take the lead this time while concealing our presence. Mitsuyo, everyone, please come later.”

Shin left Tiera and Suzune in Mitsuyo’s care, then alongside Schnee concealed his presence with 【Hiding】. As they carefully proceeded through the corridor and into the following hall, 2 monsters appeared before them.

“Nues, huh. The monsters are all Japanese-style because we’re in Hinomoto?”

Shin recognized the monsters even before using 【Analyze】.

Monkey head, tiger body, a snake as a tail; that was the monster Nue. It was a dangerous opponent, known for its venomous claws and tail snake, high attack power and speed.

“The ones in front are a decoy it seems.”

“Perfect for an ambush, I guess.”

Above the entrance connecting the corridor and the hall, hidden from view of whoever entered the hall, another Nue was lying in wait. It was a mystery how it had sensed their arrival, but it was apparently ready to stage a surprise attack on Shin’s party.

It probably planned to take out the rear guard or give them status effects via surprise attacks, probably to defend itself against its weakness, long-range attacks like magic spells.

“Schnee, please take out the one above. I’ll handle the ones in front.”

“Understood.”

As per Shin’s orders, Schnee ran up the hall’s wall.

Many monsters were difficult to ambush while using 【Hiding】, but Nue was not one of them.

In addition, Schnee’s main job was Kunoichi. She enjoyed added bonuses from concealment-type skills, preventing her from being noticed even by monsters with high detection abilities.

Schnee moved behind the Nue, which was waiting immobile, its claws firmly grasping the wall. Her 『Blue Moon』 struck swiftly, without hesitation.

The blade, clad in blue light, cut through the Nue’s neck without delay. The monster’s head fell shortly after.

Schnee confirmed the disappearance of the monster’s body and turned her eyes to Shin, in the exact moment when 『Moonless』 sliced through the other two Nue’s bodies, cutting them cleanly in half.

The Nues’ monkey faces showed how they had failed to understand what just happened.

As the two monsters disappeared, fur and fang-like items remained in their place.

“Anyway…did Nues always plan ambushes like this in dungeons?”

Monsters never positioned themselves near the entrance of corridors or halls. It was a fact, ever since the game era.

“They were originally monsters skilled in ambushes, so I do not think it is too strange.”

“That’s true too. I still can’t completely shake off the feeling I had in the game era.”

Suzune, who only knew the current world, remarked with a slightly pungent tone that it was normal to expect attacks from any direction in dungeons.

“I have barely explored any dungeon you know.”

While replying with what sounded like just an excuse, Shin wondered if he shouldn’t pick a random dungeon to explore at leisure.

There were many differences from the game era that he hadn’t felt yet. Even though he had Schnee to ask for confirmation, like this time in some cases the game’s experience still influenced his thoughts.

“By the way, your first dungeon was “Depths of Hellfire”, wasn’t it.”

“That was a hidden dungeon, so it didn’t have many floors and it was also completely corrupted by miasma. Instead, here the effects of the miasma might be strong in the deepest floor, but around here it’s like a normal dungeon, so this might be my actual first time.”

“Cadaver Realm”, however, did not possess many floors either. Shin predicted that the area still resembling a normal dungeon would be over soon.

As if to confirm his prediction, the monsters around floor 20 and beyond stopped producing item drops.

“So the area under the effects of the miasma starts here.”

“The appearance is the same, but the atmosphere here does feel ominous.”

Tiera looked at the surroundings, a grimace on her face. Shin also felt his skin tingling.

“I feel the same. Let’s proceed with caution.”

As they started noticing traces of miasma corruption on the walls and ceiling, suddenly Kagerou jumped out of Tiera’s shadow and started howling loudly.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know exactly what, but looks like there’s something lurking ahead.”

Kagerou went as far as showing himself to warn them. Shin and the party advanced with extreme caution, knowing that the possibility of danger was high.

After around 10 minutes, Shin’s nose picked up a smell he had never felt before then.

“….hey, could it be that Kagerou warned us about this smell?”

“Looks like it. We should still be far, but it’s a really foul stench.”

Tiera answered Shin’s question, her face again distorted in a grimace, but for different reasons than before.

Near the stairs in front of Shin’s group, which were leading to the lower floor, a terrible stench filled the air. It was different from the smell of rot, but in the same way it caused nausea and vertigo to the party.

“I didn’t hear anything about foul odors like this.”

“This is weird. I never heard anything either.”

Schnee commented on the situation, her eyes semi-closed in disgust. Suzune answered her, tears in her eyes.

Shin was barely affected because of his high resistance, but it seemed that the extent of the effects varied from person to person.

“Let’s retreat for now. There’s not only the awful smell in the air, but also poison, I think.”

Shin stopped in his tracks to talk.

Maybe because they had only breathed a little quantity, or there was just a small quantity of poison in the air, no one had been affected by status abnormalities yet.

“Poison you say!?”

Suzune covered her mouth with the sleeve of her priestess robes and stepped back.

Even among Chosen Ones, few possessed resistances as high as Shin and Schnee. If they ended up being paralyzed, they would be at the monsters’ mercy, so they were much more wary of status effects than Shin and the others.

“It’ll be okay if we are this far. I’m going to do some countermeasures now, so calm down.”

After reassuring Suzune, Shin pulled out 3 cards from the item box and gave one each to Suzune, Tiera, and Mitsuyo.

What materialized was a rhombus-shaped pendant the color of amber.

“This is 『World Tree’s Amber』 and 『Granite Ring』, I gave them to you to increase your resistance to all status effects, but not by much. But with this you can have strong resistance against poison and paralysis.”

He could have given them an item that nullified status effects, but Suzune wouldn’t be able to equip it.

Tiera was the same; if the reason was thought in game terms, it was because they lacked the stats to do so.

When Shin was in Balmel he tried the same thing with Hibineko and Shadow, but they couldn’t equip it either. Shin knew more or less the extent of their status, so Shin thought that the reason had to be insufficient stats.

Before entering “Depths of Hellfire”, Shin had given Schnee an 『Excelsior Ring』 which, like his 『Hades Ring』, prevented status ailments.

A certain “trouble” happened when he gave her the ring, but now the silver jewel, decorated in blue, hung from Schnee’s neck, dancing on her chest, tied to a thin white chain.  

“For some reason, the smell doesn’t bother me as much either.”

Saying so, Suzune slowly stepped forward. Thanks to the pendant, her expression changed from crying to only slightly grimacing.

After completing the countermeasures, the party proceeded towards the depths of the corridor.

What they found next was a hall where several swamps of a forbidding poison-like liquid were formed. Purple smoke rose from the swamps, which was thought to be the source of the awful stench.

“Growl…”

Kagerou, who was next to Tiera, growled faintly and submerged again in her shadow. Even if he would not be affected by status ailments thanks to the item, the foul odor must have been too much for his sensitive nose.

He would be out again right away in case of battle, so Shin decided to proceed.

The party proceeded by making use of the small space available between the poison swamps.

At the same time, they detected the presence of something within the swamps.

“There are monsters inside the swamps. They’re scattered all over. Stay on your toes, just in case.”

Tiera reacted.

“Yes, I bet there are. But what do you mean, just in case?”

“Well, situations like these are when Schnee shines. Am I right?”

“Yes, leave it to me.”

Smiling in response to Shin’s proud statement, Schnee stepped forward.

“I will use a magic spell with a wide area of effect, so please do not move unless necessary.”

After warning Suzune and the others, who had no idea about what she was going to do, Schnee slowly raised her right hand.

“Ooh, you sure are something too.”

Mitsuyo commented, impressed, about the quantity of magic power that was being gathered. She didn’t know about Schnee’s fighting ability yet.

Behind her, Suzune whispered her honest thoughts, her face tense.

“…..we have another monster here. What’s up with this party, seriously?”

After several seconds, Schnee lowered her right hand and a crackling sound, like breaking glass, resounded at her feet.

Suzune looked at the ground and noticed a white mist arising from the terrain, which had changed color because of the poison swamps. From the cold sensation arising from the ground, she understood that it was chilled air.

The crackling sound was produced by the freezing of the ground and the swamps.

The whole hall was being enveloped in extremely cold air, with Schnee at its center.

“With this there should be no risk of being attacked from the swamps.”

The freezing reached deep within the swamps, so the presences Shin had felt seemed to have been frozen too. The map still displayed them, but their hostility markers had disappeared.

“From here, we might encounter things we have no information about.”

“I wonder if they detected our presence and are changing the dungeon’s interior because they feel in danger? We are a presence that puts their survival at risk after all, so it wouldn’t be weird for them to react, I guess?”

It couldn’t be said that miasma possessed a will of its own, but if presences that could purify it, like Shin and Tiera, were close, it was possible that it tried to resist. Because of its corruption of Kotone, it was also possible that it acquired some degree of intellect, or so continued Mitsuyo.

“Another possibility is the presence of someone else acting as the brain.”

If thick miasma was present, there was always a possibility that it had given birth to a demon.

Shin mentioned that it was worth considering that someone could stand in their way as they tried to rescue Kotone.

With renewed caution, the party proceeded through the hall to the floor below.

The following hall was also riddled with poison swamps, which Schnee froze before they passed.

“Hey, we haven’t encountered a single monster for a while, is this normal?”

After they passed the 7th hall, Mitsuyo asked her question while looking around.

As Mitsuyo had stated, the party had not encountered any monsters since the poison swamps. Shin’s detection field did not register any monster presences either.

“No, monsters always prowl in dungeons. Even if their numbers are reduced, they start appearing from the walls, from the ceiling, even from nothing. Even if they are all exterminated, after awhile they start appearing again.”

Shin answered while glancing at the walls and the ceiling.

This was something he had already verified. Even if all the monsters in a dungeon were defeated, they would either break in through the walls, the ceiling, or even the floor, or magic power would concentrate in one point and create one. It was the same in “Depths of Hellfire” too, so it had to be one of the world’s rules.

“Could they be gathered somewhere?”

“They could have formed a train, as a trap or something. Or maybe something is attracting the monsters on purpose.”

The word “train” refers to the situation when a player flees, drawing more and more monsters which eventually become a pack. The large group of monsters chasing the player is reminiscent of a train, hence the term.

Trains were usually caused by players’ actions, but in THE NEW GATE they also happened for other reasons.

Monsters that called upon reinforcements when receiving damage, because of traps or other causes, received damage and called for help. The summoned monsters would also receive damage from the trap and call for help themselves, increasing the numbers more and more.

Even outside on the field, rival groups of monsters could continually call for help while fighting, thus causing a train.

This “automatic train” phenomenon was thought to be a bug at first, but was then found out to be intentional. In a dungeon, where escape routes are limited, it wasn’t any different from a monster house.

Monster groups prowl through the dungeon, attacking players on sight. Even if it looked like there weren’t any monsters in the surroundings, lowering one’s guard would be a huge risk.

“The dungeon is changing, so both are possible. If we find a train, isn’t it better to retreat for a time?”

“No problem. Even if we find a train, all we have to do is take them all down. Considering the level of the monsters around here, our killing speed is higher than whatever momentum they might have.”

The dungeon indeed lacked in escape routes, but that also meant that the directions the monsters would attack from were limited too.

With party members like Shin and Schnee, clearly stronger than the monsters, trains were nothing more than a way to accumulate experience points.

“We’ll have to pay special attention whenever we arrive in a place with many entrances and exits.”

Halls not only had stairs leading to the lower floor, but were also connected to many big and small corridors. In halls with many corridors, there was the risk of being attacked from all directions, thus the party had to be especially careful.

Shin’s group proceeded through several more halls.

According to the information provided by Kuchinashi, they were supposed to be less than 3 floors away from the bottom, but even then monsters were still nowhere to be seen. There were only a few units acting on their own; even the monsters which usually appeared in groups were on their own, apparently separated from the herd.

“They’re all packed together one step before the last floor, huh.”

Shin stated this observation, with a tone both jaded and annoyed, on the floor above the boss’ chamber. He had picked up a large number of monster responses at the edge of his perception field.

“It’s really a pain if there are so many.”

Mitsuyo agreed, her shoulders dropping in dejection.

The floor where the monsters were lying in wait, being the last floor before the final one, was rather small and narrow. It was surely filled with monsters to the point of barely leaving any room to stand.

Shin thought that it would be great if they just fought and defeated each other like that.

“This is…pretty incredible.”

Schnee’s perception field also detected the monsters, and the High Elf’s brow furrowed at their numbers.

“They’re way too many for a skirmish before the boss, seriously. It would take forever if we knocked them down little by little in close combat…Schnee and I will blow them away with a large-scale spell, you snipe any survivors Tiera. Mitsuyo, Suzune, I want you to watch our backs and be wary of any surprise attacks.”

“I doubt I’ll have much to do, but leave it to me.”

Tiera knew that dodging Shin and Schnee’s magic barrage was no easy feat. She nodded as she pulled an arrow from the quiver.

“Not having many long-range attack methods is something this party has to work on, I guess. I’ll take the rear this time too, but rest assured that anyone ambushing us will be cut in half.”

“Going overboard like that is kind of concerning too…but I’ll make sure I fulfill my role.”

Mitsuyo and Suzune also had their weapons at the ready.

After making sure that everyone was prepared, Shin stepped into the corridor leading to the floor below.

Maybe because of the high-density monster group awaiting them, a foul stench, a mix of blood and beastly odors, leaked from the other end of the passage.

“Okay then, let’s show them.”

“Understood.”

Monsters were closing in on the group like a torrent of water breaking through a dam.

Quick four-legged monsters led the pack, insect-types crawled on the ceiling, and flying types swooped through the space between floor and ceiling.

Behind them, monsters such as Ogres and Nues could be spotted too.

Towards the phenomenon that could be aptly described with the words “monster wave”, Shin and Schnee calmly raised a hand, their palms facing the horde.

Magic power focused on their hands through their arms, and a bluish-white globe started forming in the center point between their palms.

“【White Cannon】!”

Shin and Schnee’s voices resounded at the same time. The moment they pronounced the spell’s name, the globe accelerated instantly, flying towards the monsters.

Leaving after-images as it shot forward, the white globe sped through the center of the corridor.

The flying-type monsters probably thought they could easily dodge it, and just tilted their bodies slightly as they kept flying.

After the globe’s passage, however, even apparently untouched monsters burst into flames, instantly turning into ashes.

The burning speed was so fast that rather than “going up in flames”, it looked like they were crumbling from the edges.

“Whoa…”

Suzune couldn’t help but voice her surprise and incredulousness at the extent of the spell’s power. It wasn’t only the monsters flying close to the globe that had disappeared.

The combination-only skill 【White Cannon】 was a white globe of light with an invisible damaging aura all around it. An aura of scorching, searing hellfire.

The aura normally had a small area of effect, but the two casters’ magic power had expanded it to an extremely wide range.

The invisible flames had filled the whole corridor, not leaving any room for escape, not even on the floor nor on the ceiling.

The monsters had fallen in utter confusion, as some tried to avoid the impending destruction as others kept pressing forward.

“I’m starting to feel sorry for the monsters…”

“Growl…”

Tiera and Kagerou looked at the screaming monsters with mixed feelings.

“Tiera, Suzune, close your eyes.”

“Eh?”

The light globe continued onwards, incinerating the monsters in its wake. As it reached the end of the corridor and the hall, Shin gave this order to Tiera and Suzune.

They didn’t understand what Shin meant, but both had a bad feeling about it and immediately closed their eyes.

It happened the next instant.

Upon reaching the hall, the globe unleashed all the energy compressed within itself.

A pure white flame blazed through the hall, reaching all the way to the corridors. The magic barrier Shin put up in protection turned completely white, and then not a single monster was in sight anymore.

As the flames died down, Shin released the barrier. As he did, the heat wave he had blocked blew past him, towards the rear.

“Let’s cool down a bit.”

Shin used a water spell to bring down the temperature in the burning hot corridor and hall.

After the torrid air had changed to a cool breeze, Shin and Schnee proceeded forward.

“What’s wrong? Let’s go.”

“Eh, yes, okay.”

Still affected by witnessing 【White Cannon】 and its power, Suzune replied with a shrill tone of voice.

When the flames had begun to decrease, Suzune opened her eyes a little; even after witnessing the party’s fighting style throughout the dungeon, the scenery before her eyes left her completely speechless.

“For Shin and the others, that’s just normal…”

Tiera had felt Suzune’s shock and tried to calm her down, putting a hand on her shoulder. She then added “I got used to it already”, and Suzune felt again that Tiera was a person on “her side” of the world.

“Let’s focus on our goal, together.”

Behind Shin and Schnee, the two girls felt a curious sense of community between each other.

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