I wasn’t entirely sure how many days we had been down in this dungeon, but if I were to guess, I would say it’s been about a week. It wasn’t as if the dungeon was so massive that it took seven days for us to reach the fourth floor. The dungeon was indeed massive, but it was the constant fighting, exploring, and the need to rest which was time consuming.
By now I would imagine that the first two floors had been entirely swept of monsters and we had worked with ‘Iron Will’ to wipe out a large portion on the third floor. I didn’t think there were many monsters left above the fourth floor but there could always be some hiding in a corner of the dungeon. Either way that wasn’t our concern. There were adventuring parties assigned to ‘sweeping’, and we weren’t one of them.
Our party spent about a day exploring the fourth floor. We were trying to locate the passageway leading down to the fifth floor and we were also trying to clear out some of the monsters in case we needed to escape. Surprisingly, we found no traces of monsters on the fourth floor while exploring for a whole day, and we decided to camp relatively nearby the entrance to the fifth floor.
I call it a camp, but it wasn’t anything special. We had a small fire going and we laid out furs to sleep on. It wasn’t wise to bring a lot of junk when exploring a dungeon so we could only carry the bare essentials. Since none of us wanted to eat monster lizard meat, we carried quite a bit of dried and salted strips of meat. There wasn’t a whole lot of variety, but it was enough to keep us going.
While sitting around the fire, there was a solemn atmosphere around our group. We weren’t physically tired, but the dungeon was beginning to wear on our minds. In order to brighten up the mood a bit I decided to engage the others in conversation.
“Do you think there are no monsters on this floor because they were that large group we fought on the third floor?”
One of the thoughts I had about dungeons was whether or not monsters would move from one floor to another. If an invasion force was able to be sent out of the dungeon, then I figured they must be able to move between floors. The fact that there seemed to be no monsters on the fourth floor might prove that point.
“It’s possible. We haven’t seen a single monster on this floor since we got here.” Tris was still somewhat lively as she answered me.
“Not many adventurers in the Northern Kingdoms have explored dungeons so there isn’t much information about monster behavior in them,” said Reia.
I nodded thoughtfully and rubbed my chin, “It’s a shame that the Northern Kingdoms are so backwards when it comes to dungeon exploration and adventuring in general. I heard the Empire is much more efficient and knowledgeable in this area.”
“If you ask me, the Northern Kingdoms are backwards in every area. The Kingdom of La’gun is nothing but a kingdom of filthy Humans sleeping in their own waste. They can barely feed their own people and that Human town, Enrain, is a dump!” Allein’s words were harsh, but not far from the truth.
“Like the Demihumans live any better! They live in tents out in the dirt. They barely have anything you could call a civilization!” Tris responded to Allein angrily.
“Tch, don’t compare me with those Demihumans, I am a princ….”
“Eh, that’s enough!” I cut Allein off before she said something she couldn’t take back.
“Hmph, fine.” Allein realized her mistake and shut up.
Tris looked at Allein with interest. She’s probably curious about what Allein was going to say, I thought to myself.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Tris, she was an important member of my party and my first Human friend in this world. There was still much I didn’t know about her, or Allein for that matter, but there were some secrets which should not be shared. Tris didn’t like Demihumans very much either, and of course Allein and her brother hated Humans. I wasn’t too happy about it, but I tried to keep the peace as best I could between them.
Reia quietly watched them argue without participating. Reia was a little unique among Demihumans because she had some of the hatred towards Humanity that other Demihumans had, but she also wished to be accepted by Humans.
I decided to divert the conversation back to the original point, “Anyway, in the Empire, they put a lot of resources and manpower into conquering dungeons. It seems that they give their adventurers a lot more support and they are much better organized. I heard they even build temporary villages outside the dungeons until they are completely cleared out. The government also issues requests with significant monetary rewards to adventurers willing to explore those dungeons.”
“Hmm, the Northern Kingdoms just can’t compete economically with the Empire, not alone anyway. Some of the Kingdoms do organize expeditions like the one we are on now, but it is mostly done through enterprising individuals rather than through the government. This expedition was almost entirely organized by Orban. He told me he invited merchants from all over the kingdom and only a handful were willing to sign up. The risks are greater but the rewards are also greater.”
Since Reia was close with Orban, she usually had inside information regarding the running of the Guild in Enrain. She must have spoke with Orban about the expedition when I wasn’t around. I knew it was difficult organizing the expedition and of course there was talk on the trip here, but I didn’t realize that Orban had organized things to that extent. I figured there would be some support from the government or the local lord. Well, perhaps the local lord did provide support to Orban in return for compensation later.
“I can see the benefit that this expedition will bring to those involved once we conquer the dungeon, but I can’t help but feel that it is woefully inefficient. How many times has Enrain been invaded in the past before they finally put this together? How many small villages or even towns have been raided or destroyed by these monster invasions? I guess there is no point in complaining about it, but the Kingdoms really are run poorly.”
I couldn’t help but voice my criticism about the kingdoms. I wasn’t much of a fan of monarchies and feudal lords, unless I was the one in power that is.
“There’s nothing that can be done about it.”
Tris was right of course, unless things significantly changed in the north, there wasn’t much that could be done. We continued to talk as we ate for a while longer, but we eventually put out the fire and slept. We had already decided on an order for the watch and we were able to sleep peacefully. No monsters disturbed our rest and the dungeon was eerily quiet.
Once we all woke from our sleep, we made our way down to the passageway leading to the fifth floor. According to the information received from the Diviner, this was the last floor of the dungeon.
“This floor is strange.”
Reia was the first to point it out, but I had been feeling the same way.
“My sentiments exactly Reia.”
The stairs leading down to the fifth floor led to a wide-open expanse of ruins and at the center was an enormous temple which reminded me of a Mayan temple from back on Earth. The walls and floor looked to me as if they were radiating power and the dungeon felt almost as if it were alive.
After a quick survey of the area around the stairway leading up to the fourth floor, I called out to Tris.
“It looks like one giant battlefield. Tris, can you quickly scout the area around the temple? The rest of us will wait here until you return.” She nodded and headed out to scout.
“I have been feeling a familiar feeling since we came into the dungeon, but on this floor, it is even stronger. Allein, what do you think?”
For some reason Allein looked uncomfortable.
“I am not sure Fayde, I have never explored a dungeon, but it feels familiar to me too. It’s similar to the feeling I get from you.”
That got me thinking. I noticed that the ceiling of this floor was brighter than the previous one. There was a strange luminescence to the floor which seemed to be radiating off of the dungeon walls.
“Allein, do you see anything strange about the walls of the dungeon?”
“No. I feel a strange energy, but I don’t see anything.”
I nodded, I didn’t expect her to see anything. It looked almost like the black mist I absorbed from monsters but it was more translucent. It was as if it was not as concentrated. Since none of them could see the black mist I absorbed from monsters, I wasn’t surprised they couldn’t see this either.
“Reia, how about you? Do you feel anything?” She looked around and answered after a few seconds.
“I do feel something, but it isn’t a strong feeling. I wasn’t sure if it was just my imagination.”
It seemed that Reia could feel the energy that was in the dungeon, but not to the extent of Allein and Nes, and only I could see the black translucent mist. Is there some kind of strange relationship between monsters, dungeons and the black mist which I absorbed? I had been feeling strange for a while now so I was curious if this strange atmosphere in the dungeon was doing something to me. Maybe my body was absorbing this energy too? It was a little scary, but so far it didn’t seem like the energy was causing me any harm.
While I was engrossed in my thoughts, Tris returned.
“There is a large group of lizardmen at the base of the temple. I think that is where the dungeon boss is most likely hiding. It’s probably in the temple. It was difficult for me to get too close so I don’t know exact numbers. It is most likely as many or more than we faced the last time. I couldn’t catch a glimpse of the dungeon boss either.”
That would have to do, we couldn’t be careless.
“Don’t worry about it Tris, you did good. Let’s rest for a bit and then we need to come up with some sort of plan.”
This was going to be a difficult battle, but at least we would have the element of surprise if they hadn’t been alerted to our presence here on the floor yet.
“Do you think they are aware of our presence? We have been pushing our way up to this point, I wonder if they communicated with any of the lizardmen who were on the floors above?” I asked Tris her thoughts on this.
“They didn’t seem to be on high alert so I don’t think they know yet.”
“That’s a relief then. It looks like the monsters on the fourth floor must have heard the horns from the lizardmen we fought on the third floor and quickly responded to the alarm. I guess they didn’t think to communicate with any other lizardmen. It’s a good thing the monsters aren’t that intelligent.”
While I was thinking up a plan I had Tris give me a general idea of the terrain she saw while scouting. From what she saw, there was the large temple in the center of the floor and it was surrounded by ruins as far as she could see. There were many twisting paths and lots of cover so she felt it would be simple to evade the lizardmen even if they gave chase. She couldn’t do an extensive search of the floor in such a short time. However, the area we were currently in looked much like what she described from what she saw further in.
“Okay, then hit and run tactics will work well here I think. There are a lot of places to hide on this floor and since it is the last floor, we shouldn’t have to worry too much about running into additional monsters. From what Tris said, it seems like all the lizardmen are around the temple. We have to think we are fighting at least as many as were on the third floor. We had help that time, but this is a better situation for us. We don’t need to fight the monsters in a pitched battle and this terrain will actually work in our favor. We have enough magic casters to cause significant damage to them at range so we don’t need to stay in one place. We will break up into three groups, Nes and Allein will be one group. Tris, you will work alone. Reia and I will be the third group.”
I looked around before continuing to make sure there were no objections. Since no one voiced any complaints, I continued.
“Nes and Allein, find a spot on the west side of the temple, Reia and I will head to the east side of the temple. Tris, your job is going to be to draw their attention after Reia and Allein bombard their base with fireballs. They will only know the general direction of the fireballs so they shouldn’t be able to pinpoint our hiding spots right away. That is where you come in Tris, you are to hit them right from the front, fire as many arrows as you can and then run, draw them towards the stairs to the fourth floor and don’t let them catch you. Allein once you fire off the fireball, head back to the stairs of the fourth floor with Nes. Reia and I will do the same. If all goes well, the enemy will be forced to search in three different directions, if the five of us converge on the same place, we can take out however many follow Tris and then move to take out each group of pursuers individually. The lizardmen aren’t that intelligent, so they should fall for it. Also, if you see a commander, aim for them. The priority for this, though, is getting back to the fourth-floor stairs as quickly as possible.”
I looked at each of my companions in turn to make sure they fully understood the plan.
“I understand the plan, but why is it a priority to make it back to the fourth floor stairs?”
“That’s a good question Allein. Since we will be outnumbered by quite a bit, we need to make sure to have a means of retreat if things don’t go as planned. If we can make it back to the stairs, we can retreat to the fourth floor if necessary. Also, the stairs leading up to the fourth floor are narrow, so if we need to, we can hold our own there for a time. If we fall back to the fourth floor, we can always try again and if the lizardmen chase us, we can keep falling back as much as we need to.”
“Anyone else have a question?”
They all shook their heads.
“Then, good luck. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. If you are in danger, quickly retreat.”
We all immediately split up and went to the positions we had discussed. Reia and I moved quickly towards the eastern side of the temple, making sure to first go around as far as possible away from the temple to avoid detection. We weren’t able to find a good position which oversaw their base, but we were able to find some ruins to hide behind.
I thanked the dungeon for creating such an advantageous battlefield for us! If this had been an open plain or some other type of open terrain, it probably would have been impossible to win against so many by ourselves. We might have had to try to bombard and run several times before we could thin their numbers enough. I don’t know if that would have worked though.
“Reia, are you okay? You ready to do this?”
I didn’t really need to ask, Reia had been an adventurer much longer than I had, but I was still concerned.
“You don’t need to worry about me. Just make sure you don’t do anything reckless.”
I really hate when people say that. This was clearly a dangerous situation where worrying was justified! I didn’t want anything to happen to her. Reia had become an indispensable part of my life. I couldn’t imagine what I would do without her in this strange world.
“Just be careful okay?”
She chuckled happily at that, “If something happens to me, what would you do?”
“What kind of question is that to ask.…”
I didn’t really know how to answer when she put me on the spot like that.
She suddenly had a forlorn expression on her face. I was not expecting her to make that kind of expression.
“Fayde, if we make it out of here… no, once we make it out of here, there is something I want to talk to you about…”
I tilted my head to look at her carefully and thought, shit! This is one of those flag moments isn’t it? Why did she have to go and say something like that….
“You’re worrying me more by talking like that. We will get out of here and when we do, you can tell me anything you want. Okay? You preparing your magic?”
“Yes, I will start chanting soon.”
My thoughts were in a bit of turmoil from her words, but I pushed them to the back of my head. I was certainly concerned, but I was also somewhat hopeful. Maybe she will finally fully open up to me, were my last thoughts before I focused my full attention on the fight ahead.