Shin's party spent the night in the ship. After making the necessary preparations, they stood before the dungeon's gate.
Shin placed the last remaining card in the gate's depression and all the cards started glowing brightly. With creaking, scratching sounds, the gate to the Castle of the Depths finally opened.
"Shin…there's the possibility that we might be too late."
"Yeah, even I can tell. This time it's really bad."
Shin could only agree with what Tiera said after the gate opened.
The Castle of the Depths had been swallowed by terribly thick miasma.
"Just to be safe, let's all use these."
Shin spoke while looking at the miasma oozing from beyond the gate. The situation was worse than expected, so he decided that it was too risky to just charge in without preparing proper countermeasures. He then handed some 『Miracle Drug of Holy Skies』, which they had used when exploring Fuji's dungeon, to all the party members. To prepare for anything unexpected, he gave a stack of the item's cards to everyone.
"Tiera, take this."
"This is…er, goggles?"
Together with the item cards, Shin gave Tiera a pair of underwater goggles enchanted with bonus effects such as 【Night Sight】 and 【Far Sight】. The goggles were large, similar to the ones used when diving.
In dungeons where visibility was poor due to miasma, visual assistance skills -【Night Sight】 above all- were a necessity. Tiera had learned 【Far Sight】, but did not know 【Night Sight】yet.
"When I equipped them, the water inside the goggles disappeared…is this okay?"
"It's okay…I guess?"
The goggles did not change form even if the wearer's equipment turned to underwater mode.
If the goggles were equipped underwater, seawater would normally seep inside, but there was supposed to be no effect on the skills attached to them. For some reason, however, the water inside had disappeared. It could have been a difference between the game and reality.
"No use thinking about it, I guess. The goggles' effects are still there, so I'll make good use of them."
Tiera knew that it wasn't something they needed to talk about then and there, so she wrapped up the topic. Shin nodded and turned again towards the gate.
"First, I should make sure the miasma doesn't spread any more than it has already…okay, let's go."
Shin stopped the miasma from spreading beyond the gate, then entered into the Castle of the Depths, with Schnee and the others in tow.
"I wouldn't have expected the castle to be corrupted this much, though. Was the outer appearance just an illusion?"
"If I remember well, its appearance didn't change even if players destroyed it. Maybe it's to prevent seeing the interior of the dungeon from outside."
While advancing through the water, Shin answered Schnee's question, recalling his memories of the game era.
The Castle of the Depths' castle part was just a facade, like a cardboard cutout placed in front of the actual dungeon. If one wanted to, it was possible to turn it into a pile of rubble.
Doing so would not have achieved anything, though, so most players did not bother to destroy it.
Shin was looking for the path leading underground, when he picked up several responses within his detection range.
"The castle is supposed to be deserted, but it turns out there's something here."
"With this much miasma around, that wouldn't be strange."
Shin replied to Shibaid's warning while drawing his sword, 『Moonless』.
"They're ghost types! They're going to come from the front, left, and right, through the walls!"
Shin looked at the map and noticed hostile markers moving towards them passing through rooms and corridors, so he notified the rest of the party.
A few seconds later ethereal, eerie monsters appeared in front of Shin's group, from the ceiling and the walls on their right and left sides.
"Shibaid, Filma, the Skullfaces in front are yours. Schnee and I will take the Phantoms on the left and right. Tiera, deal with the Baby Hollow on the ceiling!"
Shin gave orders to the party, then activated the skill 【Pure Holy】 with Schnee.
The half-invisible human-like monsters who had passed through the walls, draped in capes that concealed their features, were High Phantoms: Ghost-type monsters with levels around 400.
Being capable of using magic of every element, they were rather nasty opponents.
Knowing that it was coming, however, Shin and Schnee could prepare to attack as soon as the Phantoms phased through the walls. The light they emitted from their palms caused the High Phantoms to simply vanish before they could do anything.
"I'm done here too."
At about the same time of Shin and Schnee's defeat of the High Phantoms, Tiera had dealt with the infant-shaped fireball monsters called Baby Hollow.
There were only a few of them, so they didn't stand a chance against a shot from Tiera's bow, armed with the arrows Shin had given her, which had both anti-miasma Light element and【Purification】 bonuses attached.
As the battlefield was now underwater, Tiera had changed her equipped bow to the 『Emerald Whirltide Bow』, a lower Legend-grade bow that increased in offensive power and accuracy underwater.
Shin didn't think that she could use it, but Tiera proved to be able to handle it without penalties.
"Looks like they're about done too."
Shin watched Shibaid and Filma sweeping through the Skullfaces. The corridor they were in was fairly wide, but still not enough for many Skullfaces to stand side by side. No matter how many there were, the only ones who could swing their weapons were the three, maybe four in front.
In terms of stats and equipment, there was no way they could match Shibaid and Filma. Even the King class Skullfaces were felled in a single blow. It was just a matter of time until the entire pack, composed of Skullfaces of various classes, was annihilated.
"They've got numbers, but their levels are nothing to worry about."
"That's right. Anyway, High Phantoms were a monster that appeared in the Seafloor Sanctuary, right?"
The Castle of the Depths was a den of high-level monsters. Thinking about the game's standards, High Phantoms were too low-leveled to appear there.
"Meaning that the Seafloor Sanctuary monsters are dwelling in the castle too? That can be a bit of a pain."
"Judging from the current situation, that appears to be the only explanation. Surely they couldn't be the vengeful spirits of people who died at sea."
Filma looked annoyed, her shoulders dropping, but Shibaid answered her seriously.
Defeating the monsters wouldn't be difficult at all, but speed was of the essence this time, so having their progress slowed down wasn't a good prospect.
Shin's group decided to focus more on enemy detection and proceed while avoiding encounters as much as possible.
"If the structure is the same as before, the path leading to the dungeon should be in the throne room."
The interior of the castle looked very similar to what Shin remembered. He decided to head for the throne room, as he had in the game. Located in the center of the castle, it would have taken about 15 minutes of walking to reach it.
The most ideal path would be to head straight towards it, destroying the walls blocking the way, but it would have, without a doubt, attracted monsters towards them, so they discarded the idea.
Knowing that there were monsters around, the group proceeded in silence thanks to Shin and Schnee's 【Silent Domain】. Unlike sound on land, at sea, even the smallest whisper could attract a monster's attention.
"Isn't it…really cold?"
The throne room was still a few minutes away when Tiera mumbled to herself. Even in underwater mode the effects of the original equipment were still active, so there were environmental changes that only she could notice.
"I don't feel anything in particular, how about everyone else?"
Filma, Shibaid, and Schnee answered Shin's question in the same way, they had not picked up anything either.
Yuzuha and Kagerou had different opinions, however.
"My tail feels chilly!"
Kagerou growled in agreement to Yuzuha's words.
"There's something up ahead."
"Considering who detected this, I have a bad feeling about what awaits.."
A cold chill that could not be detected by any usual means. The cause was apparently in the throne room.
"It's not just miasma. It's probably also dragging the souls of the people who died at sea here. There are so many too…"
Tiera, blessed with spiritual detection abilities, spoke while trembling, her face pale.
"Are you alright? If it's too tough, we can deal with whatever's inside ourselves."
"I won't be able to join in the fighting if I do, but there is something I'd like to try. Yuzuha, could you help me?"
Tiera restrained her body from shaking and looked at Shin. Her eyes shone with the light of a very strong resolve.
"…got it. Yuzuha, take care of Tiera."
Yuzuha cried as to say "leave it to me!" and paddled to Tiera's shoulder. Being underwater, it felt like she did not weigh anything at all. At Tiera's feet, Kagerou stood proud, as if saying "I'm by your side too!".
"Good, let's go."
Shin proceeded forward, ever focused on detecting any threats. Walls and such were meaningless to Ghost-type monsters, so whenever they came close, Shin and Schnee blew them away with magic.
"This must be it."
Shin's group quickly reached the throne room, successfully avoiding as many encounters as possible.
Beyond the door Shin detected three presences, all larger than the monsters wandering the castle corridors.
"Looks like there are bosses stationed here."
"Originally there wasn't supposed to be anything here, so…I suppose they are monsters from Seafloor Sanctuary?"
"I wonder…that place mainly had fish-type monsters, after all. I think the situation now is different."
The monsters appearing in Seafloor Sanctuary were mainly based on sea creatures, such as fish or crustaceans. Based on the fact that Undead-type monsters like Skullfaces and Phantoms now prowled in the castle, Shin doubted that marine monsters would appear as bosses.
"We can only be alert and proceed."
Shin nodded to Shibaid. Passing through the throne room was the only way to go underground, so they could not avoid this boss confrontation.
Even though they resolved themselves to confront the bosses, they still wondered whether the dungeon entrance was still in the throne room. However, there was no way to clear their doubt at this moment.
"Are you ready, everyone? I'm opening the door."
Shin had Schnee and the rest of the group take one step back, then pushed the door open. The doors did not offer much resistance and slowly opened.
The very instant the inside of the room became visible, a black spurt of miasma shot through the opening of the doors directly towards Shin's party.
The miasma had been shot violently, with an explosive power similar to backdraft. The level of danger was much higher than that of the miasma that had been oozing from the castle.
As soon as he saw it, Shin put up a miasma barrier and stepped back. Stopped by the barrier, the miasma's momentum grew temporarily weaker. Tainted, the barrier vanished quickly, but it was enough to gain some distance.
Shin's group was at peak alertness when they opened the door, so their response had been immediate.
The new miasma barrier put up by Shibaid opened a gap between Shin's group and the miasma.
Shin then unleashed his skill towards the miasma that was swallowing Shibaid's barrier.
Struck by the light emitted by Shin's palms, the erupting miasma vanished like smoke.
"Well well. That was quite the welcome."
"I don't suppose we can expect courtesy from a host made of miasma."
Exchanging banter with Shibaid, Shin enlarged the range of 【Purification】. Ignoring his decreasing MP, he got rid of all miasma in the throne room at once.
The room had originally appeared dimly lit even through 【Night Vision】, because of the miasma, but now 【Purification】's light showed its original appearance.
If intruders entered it, the throne room became lit with flames that did not go out even underwater, ensuring visibility.
"So that's the source of the response. The miasma wave was just the beginning, I guess."
Shin's group had torn apart the veil of miasma and could clearly see what the room looked like. What appeared before them were giant skeletons, made of countless small and large bones. The massive creatures were covered by a pale blue skin-like substance.
The skeletons' insides were faintly visible, making the eye cavities of the many skulls embedded in them stand out even more: it was as if countless holes had been opened on the creatures' bodies.
The appearance of the bosses was enough to inspire disgust to whoever laid eyes on them.
In addition, the robe that shrouded the skeletons was a problem as well. At first glance it looked like a dirty blue robe, but looking at it closely, one would realize that the robes were made of transparent human-like figures.
The "robe" had actually been made by stitching together the souls of the dead: even such a wild theory sounded plausible.
The faces of those souls, that Shin could see, were wailing and filled with desperation, or overtaken by other negative emotions.
——- Try%op&ob$a – Le#el 8?9
"【Analyze】 isn't working right?"
"Based on its looks and the readable part, I'd say it's Trypophobia. This size and ominous aura though…they turned way too violent, seriously."
Schnee became alert because of the bizarre way the monster's name and level were displayed, then Shin replied while putting a hand on her shoulder.
The Trypophobia that Shin knew was a monster about three mels tall with strong magic resistance. Its physical defense was not high, so as long the player could get within striking distance, it wasn't a fearsome opponent. The only thing to pay attention to was its sweeping attack, performed by its four clawed arms.
The Trypophobias now standing before Shin's party, however, had six arms and bluish flames resembling will-o'-wisps burning on the ends of each of their claws.
Fighting them while assuming that they were the same as the game era's Trypophobia would definitely give birth to painful regret.
In their originally hollow eye cavities now burned golden flames.
—-■■■■■■■■■■■■■■――!! (T/N: Black squares, unintelligible roar)
As if synchronized with the rekindled flames, the twisted, inhuman roar rising from the Trypophobias' mouths echoed through the throne room. It was 【Deadman's Howl】, a skill used by many advanced Undead-type monsters.
The monsters' screams were incomprehensible gibberish. They were supposed to inflict negative statuses to whoever heard it, but to Shin's party it sounded like a desperate request for help.
Help us, end our suffering…the wails of the souls, shackled even beyond death, caressed the ears of Shin's party and vanished behind them.
The 【Deadman's Howl】 had the power of three monsters behind it, but even so it failed to affect Shin's party with any negative status.
Tiera however, because of her spiritual detection abilities, grimaced. Thanks to the equipment Shin had given her, she avoided any negative statuses, but her mental burden grew heavier.
The party was still a fair distance from the Trypophobias.
No matter how they fought, she knew she had to bear with it a little longer, but as to dispel such concerns on Shin's part, Tiera shook her head lightly, breathed deeply and looked straight ahead.
"Can you make it?"
"Yes, this isn't enough to take me down. Besides, I want to free those people."
Tiera spoke while looking at the Trypophobias. In her expression, the fear of facing a powerful monster was nowhere to be found.
"Should we just weaken them and not defeat them yet?"
"No, take them down without holding anything back. It probably doesn't matter how many times we defeat them, if we don't do something about the trapped souls first though."
Tiera said that the monsters would probably revive even if they were defeated.
"Okay, then leave the normal fighting to us. Yuzuha, Kagerou, I leave Tiera with you."
Their cries behind him, Shin and the party wielded their weapons. Only Tiera clasped her hands on her chest, as if praying.
"Looks like they noticed that their skill had no effect."
Shin looked at the Trypophobias, which had raised their arms high. They had some time to talk because the monsters hadn't been moving.
The Trypophobias did not seem to have any particular intelligence, but being high-level monsters, they could probably at least realize if the skills they used were effective or not.
Seeing that Shin's party was not affected, they probably decided to go with physical attacks next.
"I shall take the first attack."
At the same time as the Trypophobias started moving, Shibaid leapt. Despite the water resistance, he charged in even faster than usual with his shield at the ready.
Because of how its body was structured, Trypophobia could not move by itself. Because of this, it possessed skills to force enemies to come towards itself. Shibaid was moving faster than usual because of the effects of the skill that one of the Trypophobia used to lure him closer, 【Darkness Beckons】.
The Trypophobia raised its flaming arms, ready to strike the approaching Shibaid. The monster swung down when Shibaid was within range, its arms drawing a bluish arc in midair before clashing with Shibaid's shield. A loud sound of clashing metal resounded, then Shibaid stopped moving.
The boss had swung its three right arms. Shibaid couldn't stop them with only his shield, so he also erected a defensive barrier, ultimately blocking 15 claws.
As a testimony to the monster's offensive power, Shibaid's greaves dug into the floor, cracking the stone tiles.
"I thought it would be fire, but I feel no heat. Is this cold air?"
What Shibaid felt through the barrier was not searing heat, but freezing cold air.
The flames probably looked like fire because of the way the seawater continually froze and shattered. It was likely due to an effect of the monster's magic or an unique skill it possessed.
"If it really is cold air, then have a taste of this!"
Filma cut down another one of the Trypophobias. Flames blazed from her 『Red Moon』: the instant they touched the monster's swinging claws, they shattered them from the wrists down, with the sound of breaking glass.
"It's weak to fire, no doubt about it!"
Filma twisted her body while shouting, then shattered the monster's other arm.
At the same time, Schnee stepped to the side of the last remaining Trypophobia. After moving behind the monster, she spun around, ready to counterattack. The monster, however, had just received a blow that had cut into half of its body, so its arms could not reach Schnee.
It was like they were communicating telepathically. Without the need for more precise orders, Shibaid activated the Shield-type Martial skill 【Knock Move】 and shook off Trypophobia's right arm. This skill allowed the user to erect a barrier with the same defensive power as the shield they had equipped and use it as a decoy as they retreated, often fast enough to leave behind after-images. It was usually used by the party's shield to gain distance from the enemies or when they needed an emergency exit.
Taking the place of the retreating Shibaid, Schnee released a magic spell.
Ten cemels long rays of light extended to each of the monster's arms: three seconds later, fire erupted from the arms and exploded.
Fire-type Magic skill 【Materia Bomber】.
This skill, quite unusual among all Flame-type spells, instantly changed the targeted body part to a bomb. Only non-living matter could be turned into an explosive however.
"For a monster over level 800, it's a bit too frail…"
The monster's arms were powerful enough to force Shibaid's greaves to carve the ground, but after finding its weak point it was going down too easily, so Schnee was growing suspicious.
Before the wary Schnee, Shin gripped his 『Moonless』 at his waist, preparing to strike.
The now armless Trypophobia roared again, probably to attempt a last resort attack. That very instant, as if triggered by the roar, tentacles made of bones extended from the bones supporting the monster's upper body and the foundation-like base part of the monster, mixed with the souls. At the same time, the blue flames burning on the monster's claws appeared in midair.
"Time for the trump card, is it?"
Attacks never seen in the game era were coming up one after another. Even so, Shin did not falter.
From a videogame perspective, it was completely normal for bosses to perform unexpected attacks. That was far from enough to stop Shin's attacks though.
The tentacles, as fast and sharp as arrows, were parried by Shibaid, while the flames were swept away by Filma and Schnee.
All three then jumped out of the attack range, at the same timing.
In the space they previously occupied Shin unleashed his attack.
Tentacles and flames had appeared again, but could not offer meaningful resistance as they were torn apart. Trypophobia tried to use its arms and claws as a shield at first, to little or no effect: along with the monster's torso, they were cleaved in two.
The following sharp slash severed the skull, formed by countless bones, in two clean halves.
Katana and Divine Combination Skill 【Scourge Divide】.
A slash that caused additional damage to Undead types and miasma, this skill could not be resisted by Trypophobia.
It was not the end of Shin's party's offensive, though: Schnee, Filma, and Shibaid each followed up by attacking with their own weapons.
Schnee's 『Blue Moon』, Filma's 『Red Moon』, and Shibaid's 『Placid Moon』 struck the skeleton's skull and torso, already cut in horizontal halves, and cut it vertically this time.
Several seconds after Shin's attack, the Trypophobia — to be precise, the four parts it had been severed into — slowly collapsed.
The golden flames in its eye cavities flickered out and the masses of bones forming it came apart. It was almost like the Trypophobias had turned into sand.
"Tiera, how's the situation?"
"The binding is coming loose. I'm going to start now, but just in case, please defend me."
Tiera's hands, held over her chest in prayer until then, were now released and she spread her arms wide. Her lips then moved and started intoning a melody.
It was a requiem, meant to free the trapped souls and send them to a place where light shines.
It was a song with no words, a melody formed only by sounds higher and lower, stronger and weaker.
Tiera's chant resounded through the miasmtainted waters.
Changes started manifesting seconds after Tiera had started singing. A bright, pure light started to fill the throne room. It was brighter and warmer than the automatic fires that had lit up the room until then.
Shin's party swallowed their breath at the scenery. It was almost like Tiera herself was shining and illuminating the room.
The two beasts next to Tiera also cried in unison with her singing.
Yuzuha spread her tails in a fan-like shape, Kagerou's horn lit up intermittently. Both of them also emitted a pale light from their bodies.
There was someone else, however, who could not simply stay quiet while they watched.
"—this is no time to be noisy."
Shin turned around and saw the defeated Trypophobia start reforming, much like video footage played backwards. The bones were forming a skull, which the robe of the wailing ones covered. Only one of the three Trypophobias had started reforming.
If it was left alone like this, the monster would have completely reformed after only 10 seconds or so. Shin wouldn't just watch and not do anything.
Shin pointed at the Trypophobia, and the gradually recovering body suddenly burst into flames.
The Trypophobia had been burned up by a magic skill of the Ignition series, which struck the area the player pointed in with the element of the player's choosing.
Red meant flame magic, Blue water magic, etcetera. The name changed according to the element.
Underwater, fire — the element Undead types were weak to — was not as effective, but with Shin's stats, it was possible to keep the same amount of firepower as if the skill was used above ground.
The recovering skull turned into ashes, the arms it was trying to raise scorched and fell.
The flames did not lose momentum and spread to the foundation of bones supporting Trypophobia, then the mass of souls.
The monster's alleged source of energy was being burnt by Shin's flames. What remained was just a small mound of ashes.
Every time it was annihilated, Trypophobia's bones started to form again from nothingness. No matter how high its recovery power was, if it was defeated before reforming, it was all meaningless.
Shin was forced to shoot 【Ignition Red】 over and over again, but his automatic MP recovery ratio exceeded the quantity he used for the spell, so there was no risk of running out.
After several instances of burning bones down, Shin noticed that the monster's recovery speed was slowing down.
"It's started acting differently."
The quantity of rising bones was decreasing and the spiritual veil covering them was getting thinner, as Schnee noticed too.
"Yes, besides, something's leaking out of its body."
Upon closer inspection, a small light was leaking out and disappearing like steam from Trypophobia's body and the foundation part.
Thanks to Tiera's power, two-thirds of the throne room were now illuminated. Maybe because of the light's effects, the monster's recovery had considerably slowed down.
Maybe it had understood that it was going to disappear, as Trypophobia opened its maw as much as it could, as if screaming, bending its forming body backwards.
Only the left half of the skull had formed, but the golden light in its eye cavity burned fiercely.
Tiera was purifying the miasma, while Shin was shooting 【Ignition Red】 spells. The other party members were currently free and would not just stand by and watch.
Shibaid stood in front of Tiera and reinforced his guard. Schnee and Filma rushed towards Trypophobia.
Using the Movement-type Martial skill 【Waterbolt】, the two could move underwater with extreme speed, barely feeling the water resistance, and arrived close to the monster in no time.
"It's too late to get desperate."
"Give up already!"
Schnee's left hand softly held the hilt of her 『Blue Moon』, its blade now wrapped in what looked like a platinum snowstorm, while Filma held her 『Red Moon』, burning brightly in golden flames, over her shoulder.
Schnee and Filma spoke at the same time.
As they did, Trypophobia's body was cut apart by countless slashes, colored platinum and gold. A small snowstorm that could freeze even miasma and searing flames to burn it to cinders. These two opposites became one within Trypophobia.
Tetrtype composite skill, 【Divine Flame – Royal Frost Blade】.
This unique skill was activated by using Katana/Water and Flame/Sword combination skills at the same time. It was often used as finisher when battling bosses or powerful monsters.
Trypophobia, slashed again in four parts by the attack, fell to the ground, immobile. It was like time had stopped for the monster.
It was difficult to notice because of Trypophobia's originally white color, but its whole body was now frozen. A few seconds after it touched the ground, golden flames erupted from its body. Divine flames with miasma purification properties enveloped the frozen Trypophobia.
Different from 【Ignitior Red】, which only burned its target, 【Divine Flame – Royal Frost Blade】's flames did not leave even a speck of ash.
When the fire had vanished, leaving nothing in its wake, Tiera's chant became louder.
In response, light started appearing from the spots where the Trypophobias were. They were larger than the ones that had leaked from the monsters' bodies during the fighting.
The globes of light were initially very few, but quickly increased in quantity. They formed a sort of river of light in the air, which started flowing upwards, towards the surface of the water.
"Hah…now…it should be…okay…"
"Those were the freed souls?"
"Yes. There's no one left here anymore."
Shin waited for Tiera to recover her breath, looking at the lights floating away.
The lights passed through the ceiling of the Castle of the Depths and were not visible anymore.
"So that is…how souls shine?"
"Yes, exactly. But their true glow is much stronger."
Tiera said that after being imprisoned for so long, they had probably grown weaker.
The brilliance of the ancestors' souls, which Tiera had felt during her service as Priestess of the World Tree, was much warmer and brighter than what Shin's party had just witnessed.
"Okay, we've taken care of the bosses and all, but is the entrance to the dungeon still there?"
While they waited for Tiera to recover, Shin inspected the location that the Trypophobias were guarding.
【Analyze】 had displayed the monsters' names in an unusual way, so he thought that there might be something left.
"Is that a gem?"
The first thing he noticed was a gem the same size as the one of the non-standard monster he had fought in Bayreuth, the Skullface Lord.
The gem's color, a very deep blue, showed that it belonged to the water element. Even after appraising it, he could only learn that it belonged to the highest Unique grade, and nothing else.
"Did you learn anything?"
"No, it doesn't seem to be unusual in any way. This gem too, as material it's something that I've seen before."
Shin couldn't find any drops besides the gem where the Trypophobias were. Different from the game era, they did not drop any weapons or materials. Just in case, he inspected the floor too, but could not find anything of note.
Shin decided to inspect the throne with Schnee. If it was still as he remembered, the entrance to the dungeon should have been there.
"There should be a switch behind the throne….here it is."
Shin found a small gap in a part of the throne. He checked if there were any traps, then pushed the gap deeper inside.
With the sound of stones grinding against each other, the throne and a part of the floor began moving to the side, revealing stairs going downwards. The passage was so narrow that Shibaid could barely fit in it.
"We found the path leading underground. Are you ready?"
"Yes, I didn't use that much energy anyway, I'm okay."
Tiera's HP and MP had both completely recovered. Her complexion wasn't bad either, so Shin concluded that she wasn't faking it.
"OK then, let's go."
The party finally set foot in the Castle of the Depths' dungeon.
Schnee led the formation, followed by Shibaid, Filma, Tiera, and Shin. Yuzuha and Kagerou walked alongside Tiera.
After 5 minutes of descending the narrow stairs, the group arrived in what resembled a natural cave. The width of the corridor increased enough to make it possible for 3 members to fight side by side.
"Without 【Night Vision】, we wouldn't be able to see even one mel ahead here."
Tiera spoke while looking at the corridor. She had removed her goggles to see how much would be normally visible.
The miasma underground was thicker than above. To be safe, the group took another dose of the miracle drug.
"There are less monsters than expected, but is that normal when the miasma infection progresses?"
Filma wondered out loud after the group had repelled several monster attacks.
"Dungeon monsters can't exactly reproduce, after all. Either new ones aren't born, or they turned into Chimeras, I guess?"
Shin answered while searching the surroundings for any presence. It was just a theory, as there was the possibility for the monsters to be gathered in the lower floors, but Shin felt that it wasn't too different from normal dungeons.
"In any case, let's not lower our guards."
Shibaid spoke as he raised his shield and halberd to repel monsters that had charged towards the group.
The path had reached a crossroads and the monsters had attempted a pincer attack on the party.
The monsters that Shibaid knocked away were mackerel pike-like monsters with heads morphed into iron lumps, called Magnum Fish. Its level ranged from 600 to 650 and its greatest characteristic was its high speed. Many players had experienced receiving large damage by their charge attacks the first time they fought this monster.
Magnum Fish had low defenses on all body parts other than their heads, so if the first strike was dodged or blocked, they became easy to neutralize. If the charge attack struck, however, rear guard Jobs with low defenses, such as Mages or Hunters, risked being knocked out in one blow.
"I-I didn't even see them…"
"That's what they call a trap for first timers."
Shin had also been hit and sent spinning in mid-water his first time.
"With the skill 【Insight】, you can get a hunch that it's coming though."
"I barely have any skills that reinforce the senses…"
Tiera had learned several skills, but they still counted up to less than a dozen. In order to avoid Magnum Fish attacks, she would have to somehow guess their trajectory or take cover in a place with many objects to use as protection. If such methods didn't work, she could only rely on her intuition.
"Do not fret. As long as we stand, no monster will ever touch you."
"That's right, you know you're in good hands with us around."
In a narrow corridor like the one the group was exploring, attacks could only come from determined directions. Shibaid and Filma, the front guard, would not let anything pass them in such a situation.
"I will take the lead then."
Schnee, using her trap detection skills, examined the surroundings as she led the party forward.
They were still in the upper floors, but Castle of the Depths was still a high-level dungeon. Because it was located underwater as well, the group had to proceed with caution.
The biggest difference between dungeons above ground and underwater ones was the type of traps present.
The whole passageway was filled with water, so it was difficult to dodge if the ceiling opened, sucking the players in, or poisonous liquids were scattered all around. Sometimes it was also necessary to use the traps to go forward, so underwater dungeons had generally higher levels of difficulty than their above ground counterparts.
"No problem, it seems. Let's go."
Shin talked to Schnee via Mind Chat. On the way, they found a trap that would freeze the water in the passageway for a set time, and Tiera groaned "How are you supposed to dodge that…?"
Any attacking monsters were crushed by Shibaid and Filma, as they had said they would. Usually Shibaid would attract the monsters' attention, luring them in one location, where Filma would cut them down all together.
『Red Moon』's flames did not lose any power even underwater, thanks to 【Enchant – Mana Fire】.
What appeared to be roaring flames actually functioned just as a visual scare. They became effective only when they hit the opponent, slashing and scorching them.
Its effectiveness did not disappear after a set time, but after a certain number of uses, a condition perfect for Filma, who could K.O. any monster in a single stroke.
"Looks like it's a dead end ahead."
Schnee had returned from her inspection and mapping, shaking her head.
Most high level or high profile dungeons had already been considerably mapped in the game era, but here, Castle of the Depths' map was -as expected- completely blank.
Because of that, the group was forced to re-do the mapping all over again.
The Castle of the Depths was a wide dungeon, so even 【Magic Sonar】 could only scan half of one floor.
When the path split, Shin and Schnee parted ways to explore both ways but, even then, it took time.
"Looks like it'll be impossible to clear this in one sitting."
"Yeah…well, normally it takes a few days to map a dungeon, so doing it as quickly as we did in Hinomoto is actually unusual."
Shin remembered how tough things were in the game era and reassured Filma, mentioning that things had gone almost too smoothly until now.
In the last dungeons cleared by the party, Depths of Hellfire and Cadaver Realm, they had achieved their goals in one day, but those dungeons usually required several days to clear them.
"Should we set up a proper camp somewhere? In a place like this, I wouldn't want to just sleep in a tent, honestly."
"I understand all too well not wanting to rest in a place filled with miasma like this. If we could teleport and leave it'd be very different, but…"
Shin had attempted before, but both mid-level teleport crystals used to escape dungeons and high-level ones used to leave from special areas, such as event fields, did not work at all.
Shin had always tried in dungeons tainted by miasma, but was not sure if miasma was the reason or there was something else.
"Guess it wouldn't hurt to try. Gather here, everybody."
Teleport crystals transported all players and monsters in a five mels radius from the user. In order to prevent the player from fleeing via teleport when they were in a pinch, monsters were transported too.
Even if a player was registered in the party but was outside the range when the teleport crystal was used, they would be left behind.
Shin made sure that everyone was within range and activated the teleport. The destination was the entrance to the Castle of the Depths, before the gate where he had placed the Three Sea Beasts' cards.