[Arc 3] Chapter 25: Chaos Forge: The First Day
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The next day, and we were waiting for the doors to the Forge to open. Several other groups of adventurers stood and waited with us, mostly guys that live in this region. The opening of the Forge's inner areas is a popular event, but it's limited to this region. Not to mention you need to register your team with special tickets which are only obtained from this "village". Just how did Blot obtain these?

All the entries are supposedly filled, meaning 60 parties are participating in this event, so it should be at most 354 other participants, but it's probably around 300 or less.

Among those Parties, there's no one that I'll say that's a direct threat to us. Most of them are people that can handle D-rank monsters at most. It seems that the local high-ranking adventurers team up with them to teach the low-rankers how to act as true adventurers. Let's not get in their way.

Some idiots are, from the look on their faces, blinded by greed and the treasures promised to those that can fell one of the seven Djiins, but honestly, they're gonna end up dead before they reach Area 4 at most.

The ones I'm concerned about are a few groups that originate from Wakoku. We're not too far from the port town that's connected to the kingdom through the seaway, but there's no reason for so many pure Wakoku-Parties to participate in the event. Let's hope that they're not after trouble...

And the last Party that's giving me a bad feeling is a group from the Dragon Kingdom Loitan. How do I know? Because the whole group's made outta Dragons! They've disguised themselves to look human, but as someone that's encountered the real deal, I can recognize that "aura" or whatever they have.

...Let's leave them, and the problems they come with, alone.

"Garami, the gates opened." - Iron

"Just let the riff-raff go first. Those herbs aren't that much sought after, not to mention that people aren't gonna reach the fourth Area on the first day." - Garami

"So you say, but the real reason is that you hate the crowd." - Alf

It's around 150 people entering that Forge! Who wouldn't hate that!? And why's there only one entrance!?

After a while, the large crowd had squeezed itself into the Forge so we followed after them. 

The Forge is... not as I expected. It looks more like a castle than a Forge at the moment, with the only abnormalities being the carpets that are a little burned and the strange pipes we sometimes see.

"This place is bigger than what you would have thought." - Alf

He's right. This "palace-part" alone is so big that we've lost sight of the large group of adventurers who entered before us.

"The owner is god Chaos." - Iron

...Now I see. That makes kinda sense... somewhat.

We continued into the Dungeon without meeting any monsters. That is, until two survivors of the stampede of adventurers.

"Slimes?" - Garami

"Looks like it. A Fire Slime and a Metal Slime." - Alf

The Fire Slime looks like a fist-sized, red gel that emits sparks of flames from time to time. The Metal Slime, despite its popular reputation as a rare monster with high defense and EXP when defeated, is simply a dark-grey Slime with chunks of metal inside it in this world. What a shame~.

I was about to pull out a Dark Bullet to finish off the physically-attack resisting Slimes when Alf stopped me and used a move of his own. From the shadows in the corner merged two black hammers and smashed the Slimes before they even had a chance to-, now, wait a sec!!

"What was that!?" - Garami

"That's [Shadow Hammer], one of my new skills. It has magical properties, so I wondered if it would be useful against the likes of Slimes." - Alf

One of those "Elemental Weapon" skills? Mira has quite a few of them, and it seems that Alf's started to walk the same road. The "Bullet Series" that I've taken some skills from are considered as the same kinda skills, but the difference is that the other "EW-skills" need a weapon proficiency skill to be available in the Skill Shop. The Bullet skills can be bought right away. They're weaker than the other EW-skills, but their costs reflect the decrease in power.

As for the Slimes... they've become red- and grey spots on the floor. None of the Slime Cores withstood the impact, nor did the Slime Scrap Metal from the Metal Slime. And since they're F-ranked monsters, the EXP is as good as 0. There's no profit from this encounter!! Well, the opponents are simple Slimes, so...

We then encountered some Guardian Automatas, meaning mechanical armors that have been granted a soul. Looks kinda knight-ish, compared to the samurai-ish Ronin Automata that Flint likes to make. 

Not that it helped against our real ghost knight. When Iron saw the walking armors, his competitive spirit must have been lit, as he charged at the three armors and did an Art similar to a shield-swing... and crushed the three to bits. 

So this is the power of [Starbreaker]. The shield that Iron used glowed in black colors with white spots, like the night sky, and the "aura" or whatever created such an impact that the sound almost made me deaf.

...I think Iron got first place for "the most destructive single attack" in our Guild. Not counting the Dungeon monsters, but even then, only a handful could hope to compete against that. He did get pretty exhausted from that single attack, so it's not a move we can spam. Better think about it as a last resort.

The last remaining monsters who had hidden from the first batch of adventurers were attracted by the noise. A group of Molted Metal Slime. A Fire/Metal evolution of the Slime-line. After their attribute-based F-rank evolution, they can gain more attributes, strengthen the one they already have, or focus on a special task with their E-rank evolution. This guy is from the first category, while the Clean Slime we have back home is of the third kind.

Anyway, those Slimes? Didn't last a moment. I just glared at them and they turned to Slime Cores.

No kidding! The combo of my two Evil Eyes, Poisonous and Grudge, is minted! The magically-weak Slimes got all their stats weakened by Grudge, then Poisonous, who don't care if you can be poisoned or not, slapped the status ailments on the two poor Slimes.

It started as Poison (4). Then, as their resistances grew weaker due to Grudge, the continuous effect of Poisonous increased the Poison stack to (10), then (18), and so on, all under the span of less than a second, until all of the Slimes' HP got eroded by the poison.  

...This combo's too wacky. Against stronger opponents, or those with countermeasures against poison, I can't expect the same result, but if I increase the strength of my Evil Eyes with reinforcement skills and the likes, this could be one heck of a killer move.

And since Poisonous's MP-costs are so low, I can keep on using both eyes forever since the Auto-Recovery skills have grown so much that they neutralize said MP-loss!

Yeah, I'm turning more and more dangerous by the day. Yikes...

As we entered deeper into the first Area, we came across crossroads more than a few times. Many of them also looked like they were shut closed with bunker-like doors normally, so this place must be Area 2 then?

"...You two, I think we took the wrong turn." - Iron

At the end of the road, we were met with... the end of the road. The path we had taken led to a dead end. One that was decorated with an impressive carpet painting. What's this? A fountain?

"Garami, mind if I ask the girls outside for something?" - Alf

Sure, be my guest. But if you try to invite them on a date, then say your prayers!

...

["So, we need to find this fountain with the drawing of a giant on it?"] - Mira

"Precisely. Try to see if there is some switch by the fountain's base. A flame-mark should be the clue." - Alf

["Roger! We'll contact you when we find it."] - Mira

Half an hour later, and the walls opened up themselves by the middle, revealing a path further in.

"Great work. Try to be ready in case there's another road blocker that we need help with." - Alf

...Now I've never... he actually solved the puzzle. 

After recalling the Shadow Familiars and the undead sent out to scout the area while we were waiting, we could finally start exploring the second floor of this place... is what I wanna say, but honestly, as we had prepared several days to reach only the fourth floor, we're going at this with rocket-speed. Something smells funny...

The passage that the hidden door had kept us from led to a larger room with the staircase at the opposite side...

"This gotta be a trap." - Garami

"Yeah. No way it's that easy." - Alf

"Too simple." - Iron

And to prove us right, a large flame appeared in the middle of the room as the Lesser Skeleton I created stepped into the room as a guinea pig. The flame started to take on a human appearance, with a fiery upper-body, dark horns, and a lower body that ended in a lamp that had appeared from a hole in the ground.

A Flare Djinn. D-rank demonic spirit. Should be easy. Iron's got rough defense against flames, and while Ice may be weak to Fire, the opposite holds as... well...

"You two, don't piss this guy off." - Garami

"Something's wrong?" - Alf

"I wish it was. This guy's HP, MP, and SP are all over 10,000." - Garami

"OVER TEN THOUSAND!?" - Alf & Iron

Even the stoic Iron had to break his character after hearing that. I mean, that's one more digit than even Filyn! His other stats are more normal-looking for a D-rank, but with that fuel tank, I doubt we can win...

"Halt, challenger of this Forge. If you wish to pass, you need to answer my trials." - Flare Djinn

......Oh, so, he's an NPC we aren't supposed to defeat? Better than having to fight something that broken...

"Question; what are the rules and how many tries do we have?" - Garami

"I was getting to that. You have three questions, one that each of you has to clear. Two or more correct answers will allow you to pass, and you can continue to use this stairway for the rest of the event. Clear all three trials, and you will be granted a map and a key that reveals a secret treasure hidden within the next area. Fail, and you will be banished from the Dungeon until the night has passed." - Flare Djinn

Meaning, the reason the event is seven days-long is so that people will have a chance to retry if they fail the quiz...

(Hey, did the documents from Blot say anything about a quiz?) - Garami

(No, it was supposed to be a Sub Boss battle. They must have changed the rules of the event this time around.) - Alf

Tch, typical. Just my luck.

"Then, who dares to be the first challenger?" - Flare Djinn

Before the two of us could do anything, Iron had stepped forward and faced the Djinn.

"Very well, knight of the undead. Here is your question." - Flare Djinn

Iron!? Let us take some time to think about a plan-

"What came first? The chicken, or the egg?" - Flare Djinn

*Collapse!*

Wha-wha-what kinda question is that!? Don't use a paradox as a trial! It took us so much by surprise that both I and Alf crashed onto the floor outta pure surprise! No one can answer-

"The egg." - Iron

"Correct!" - Flare Djinn

"WHAT!?" - Garami & Alf

"Many moons ago, the great god, Chaos, created the first egg, which hatched into the first hen-creature that walked on this planet. For an undead like you to know of such sacred texts, I must honestly say that I am impressed." - Flare Djinn

......Sorry to say, but I think the real reason Iron chose that answer was to make some lame egg-pun afterward. He does look a little down due to there being no chance for him to say it after the Djinn's praise(?).

"...Guess I'm the next on the line." - Alf

Good luck. I'm doubting whenever these "trials" follow the laws of logic...

"Then, for your next trial... vampiric True Ancestor, answer me this; what is the name of the item that allows even mortals to become your kind?" - Flare Djinn

......Did he mistake Alf for a natural-born vampire?

"...It's called 'Tepes’ Fangs'." - Alf

"C-correct! Y-you are allowed passage..." - Flare Djinn

Oh, boy. Definitely not following the laws of logic. As expected of a Dungeon monster that works for the god of Chaos.

"Th-then, here is the third trial..." - Flare Djinn

Come at me! Since the path to the second floor's already secured by this, let's go for broke and get that treasure as well!

"In Wakoku, many creatures known as Youkais exist. One of them is a lady whose heart and soul are covered in a veil of cold and frost, longing for the touch of a living human's heat. However, these elegant demons have a natural nemesis-" - Flare Djinn

"Higoromo-Onna." - Garami

".........I wasn't finished yet!" - Flare Djinn (crying)

"But it's the answer." - Garami (nonchalant)

"......FINE! Take the map and the key and get lost! Don't expect the next trials to be this easy!" - Flare Djinn

And with that, the Djinn returned to the hole in the ground, which was closed by a moving panel.

...There are more trials? Give me a break...

"...How did you know the answer? And what's a... whatever you answered?" - Alf

"It's a Yokai that takes the appearance of a woman, but the inside is a mass of flames. Essentially the opposite of a Yuki-Onna, which is a mass of cold with the shape of a woman." - Garami

"..Okay, that sounds like a 'nemesis'... but how did you know about it? I've heard about the Yuki-Onna, but Higoromo..." - Alf

Now I get it. The reason why that Djinn asked that. The Higoromo-Onna haven't debuted to the world yet then. What a pity. And here I splendidly cleared the order of a natural rival to the Yuki-Onna back before I reincarnated~.

After taking the map and a key with a huge, ruby-like piece of glass attached to it from the Gremlin that seems to be the janitors and caretakers of the Forge, we walked down the stairway to the second floor, always keeping an eye out for potential traps.

"? There's nothing on the floors above?" - Garami

The thought struck me as we descended downward. This place is a huge temple, so obviously there's gonna be more than just the ground floor and these underground floors. 

"Maybe they're filled with empty rooms?" - Alf

"Treasures?" - Iron

Oh, that's tempting. If we get the plants with time to spare, we can try that lead to see if we find something. Better than having to face some bosses~.

After walking for a while... isn't this staircase longer than the one in Damavand? In any case, the scenery around us changed after we reached the bottom of the staircase. Instead of an Arabian castle with fire-motives, now we're in a real, steam-punk-inspired factory. Though, it's more fire than steam and smoke here. The heat's getting close to the first floor of [Volcano - Damavand]!

Is there gonna be any herbs growing here, I thought for myself. We looked around a little, encountered some Guardian Automatas led by a Metal Goblin, a D-rank evolution restricted to the D.Goblin line, plus some D-ranked Smelt Slimes and the E-rank Lesser Flare Djinn. 

The results of the battles? Well... disappointing? 

The Automata/Goblin party wasn't that hard to beat. While the Automata's aren't weak per see, the Goblin would have it easier to command a group of other Goblins. The difference between the species made it difficult for the Automatas to follow the Goblin's orders, making the battle damn easy. I could even snipe at the Goblin with my Evil Eyes, but that would actually make it easier for the Automatas to fight, so I saved him for last.

The Smelt Slimes? Looks like the Molted Metal Slime, but with a smoother body. They're weak to magic, but the Evil Eyes weren't good enough alone, so I threw some magic at it as well. It wasn't that difficult, but I prefer the Molted Metal Slime. The Slime Cores of the Smelt-variant gets so easily damage after being struck by the magic blasts~.

The Lesser Flare Djinns looks like smaller, child-like versions of the "gatekeeper"-Djinn we encountered before. They look like flames that's taken a human-shape, with horns and sharp limbs. They were some of the more difficult to face, mostly due to Alf lacking any decent long-range Ice attacks. Though, thanks to Iron's defense and splendid tanking-maneuvers, we didn't take much damage.

We could advance further, but we decided to quit there and retreat. Better stock up on provisions and make plans on how to proceed on this floor. That's the basic of adventuring after all. And I wanna let Mira gain some proficiency in her class. Treasure Hunters needs to be the one going after treasures after all~.

Kigal-Note/Demons/Yokai: Higoromo-Onna

Name: Higoromo-Onna
Rank: D+
Type: Demon (various)
Lifespan: 330 Years
Attribute: Fire
Traits: Yokai (Humanoid)
Description:

A natural enemy of the Yuki-Onna. The Higoromo-Onna is a Yokai that takes the appearance of a human woman dressed in crimson garments, often yukatas to show its origin from the regions of Wakoku. They have a beautiful appearance and elegant personalities. 

However, hidden beneath this graceful package is a creature made solely of fire. If a man (or woman) tries to court these Yokais, they will be invited to the Higoromo-Onna's home where the guests will be tested by the Yokai.

If the guest is just and honorable enough to stop themselves from laying a hand on the Higoromo-Onna despite them showing a more vulnerable side of themselves, then the Higoromo-Onna will accept the guest's proposal. If they are crooks that would assault the Yokai, the Higoromo-Onna will turn the tables and transform into a living wildfire and consume the offender and use them as kindling to further enhance the demonic powers of the Yokai.

These creatures are considered a natural counterpart to the Yuki-Onna. However, no sightings of these creatures have been reported as of yet, with all facts about them originating from the data located in the World System.

Appearance:

The Higoromo-Onna lives up to their name and takes an appearance similar to a beautiful woman from Wakoku. They have fair skin and hair-colors of black, reddish-brown, and in rare cases, even crimson colors similar to blood. Their eye-colors will always be a shade of red. They all wear crimson clothing that is the source of their name. 

This is all a mimicry created by the Yokai, as their true form is that of a living wildfire. The crimson clothing is also part of their bodies, and they can command them at will despite not wearing them. From the data extracted from the World System, it is believed that the more people the Higoromo-Onna has consumed, the deeper the crimson color becomes...

Abilities:

Average HP: E+ Average MP: D+ Average SP: E+
Average STR: E Average VIT: E Average MAG: D+
Average RES: D+ Average SPD: E+ Average DEX: D-
Average INT: C Rarity: S+ Danger Rank: ?

As a Yokai, the Higoromo-Onna commands demonic energies that allow them to perform vicious magic. As a Fire Yokai, they are especially talented with their attribute, but how much is yet to be recorded. 

The Higoromo-Onna is also believed to be a master of mimicry, similar to the Yuki-Onna and the other Yokais related to them. It may not be possible to discover one even if they mingle with others in human cities, with only their crimson clothing that can be used as a clue.

Garami's comment: Hmm, they sound useful as spies, but Fire is a little...

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