Fortunately, their opponent wasn’t into sneaky tactics and announced its presence shortly after the party took a few steps into the chamber. Following the guttural and gnarly shout, they noticed a greenish humanoid on the other side of the room, surrounded by around a dozen much smaller ones.
“Ghelrgh vor svatu! Khraak fhurl!”
It screamed at the small silhouettes while standing up from sitting on the ground. The weird sounds were clearly meant as words of command as the rest of its entourage started hastily getting up too, picking various weapons lying on the floor around the place where the group of monsters was resting.
“Vor svatu! Vor svatu!” The little ones kept repeating to each other.
Rudy exhaled in relief. “Thank gods it’s just Goblins this time.”
“Don’t forget the Hobgoblin Warlord,” Asterios added while looking at the tall figure donning an ominous-looking, dark leather armour with many spikes and claw-like protrusions rising from many parts of it. “It looks like we have a full squad here. Archers, Warriors, Shamans and the big guy seems to be a defender type.” He looked through all the enemies, noticing the humongous, wooden tower shield the leader of the goblins picked up. It was as high and wide as the monster, which looked to be over two meters tall.
“Thirteen versus four. Six fighters, three of archers and mages,” Selene counted the enemies. “Individual strength may be low, but their diversity is definitely going to be an issue. Besides the hobgoblin, they aren’t equipped too well.”
Asterios nodded. “The Core wouldn’t waste its resources on every single Goblin. That guy’s armour looks decent. If we can take him down without damaging it too much, we might earn some money. But it will be tricky…”
“Why didn’t we attack them instantly while they were gathering?” Miria asked.
“If it was just a group of Goblins then that would have been the best move, but we have a Hobgoblin Warlord here, and one specialized in ordering and defending it seems. Look at how good their formation is for mere Goblins. From the back: mages, archers, hobgoblin and the warriors. If we jumped straight at them, I’m sure the big guy would have been able to command them and initiate a counterattack,” Asterios answered.
“What do we do then?” she inquired again.
Ast took a quick glance around to check for any obvious traps and then pondered briefly. “Do we want to take it easy or try to get as much as we can from this encounter? To a reasonable degree of course,” he asked and looked at the others.
“If Master thinks we can do it, then let’s try the second option. That’s the main reason people go into the dungeon, right?” Miria was first to answer.
“I vote for the latter too, my Lord. We’ve been going safe up until now. Let us earn our keep properly this time,” Selene smiled and squinted her eyes in the direction of their enemies.
Rudy chuckled. “I like your girls, they don’t lack the drive. Let’s make the first move before they start throwing spells and cover us with a rain of arrows.”
“Got it. We’ll split then. Fighting that huge shielder while avoiding all other attacks will be too annoying. Rudy, go play with him a bit. Selene, cover her from incoming hits and throw a fist or two at him when you can,” Asterios issued his orders and quickly drew the Steel Skin sigil on the foxgirl’s back so that she could control its power without him having to pay attention to her.
A wide smirk appeared on Rudy’s face. “Great. My sword was itching for a bigger target,” she said and dashed forward while drawing her weapon. Selene made a quick nod towards the remaining duo and followed after the woman.
Miria glanced at Ast’s face, ready to receive her task. He smiled and scratched behind her ears. “Do you think we can finish off the small fries before the other girls destroy the boss?”
Her eyes sparkled and she too showed a brilliant smile. “Without breaking a sweat, Master!”
He then gave her the Haste rune, activated the Steel Skin one by attaching it to his glove and deepened their connection. “Go and create chaos in their backline. Focus mages first.”
“What about you, Master? No one will be protecting you.”
“If you do a good job, there will be no one to attack me either. Don’t worry, I’ll try to stick relatively close so that you can jump back to me. Let’s not stall it any longer, they are engaging.”
Miria moved her gaze to the front and saw Rudy sending four of the six Goblin Warriors flying with a wide swing, her blade glowing in a brownish hue. Selene blocked the incoming arrows with her spiritual energy and kicked the remaining two grunts out of their way, nothing was stopping the duo from reaching their target now. She had to join them and take care of the backline before the two girls got hit by a pincer attack from warriors and long-range attackers.
Seeing her friends busy with their own battles, she hastily stepped closer to Ast and left a very quick peck on his cheek while blushing slightly. Miria then turned around and took a few steps before lunging forward with Haste, disappearing from his sight. He chuckled and shook his head at her shyness.
To not linger behind for too long, Asterios started running in a wide arc while observing the battlefield until he reached the position he was aiming for. He crouched down on the side of the ongoing battle and drew the magical circle that allowed him to borrow some of Miria’s senses, aiming for her reflexes and sight first and foremost. With these being active, he fully focused on supporting his party with all he had.
“Haaaaa!” Rudy shouted while activating one of her abilities. A strong upwards slash grazed over the whole tower shield and launched her into the air. Reaching the highest point, slightly above the hobgoblin, she followed with the rest of the move and brought down a forceful overhead attack, which again was stopped by the enormous shield, but was heavy enough to bring her enemy to its knees.
She pushed herself off the angled shield and landed on the ground. “Who would have thought it was this tough. Tsch,” Rudy commented and clicked her tongue.
“It’s definitely reinforced with mana,” Selene said as she blocked an axe from one of the goblins with one hand and parried an arrow coming from the opposite side with the other. “Let me try.”
Rudy deflected a swing of the hobgoblin’s longsword and made a pirouette backwards, changing spots with the foxgirl as their backs brushed against each other. She used the gathered force to instantly stab a surprised goblin right into its guts and got rid of it.
At the same time, Selene was already throwing a spiritually boosted punch after they separated from their short, spinning dance. It connected with the wooden plate with a loud bang and pushed the monster two meters backwards. But besides a few cracks at the point of impact, the shield seemed fine.
With the hobgoblin not covering most of their vision with its huge equipment, she noticed the mages finishing chanting some kind of a spell together. Soon, the head of one of them went flying as a gust of wind passed by their positions. But the magic activated nevertheless.
~Jump into the air!~ She heard Ast's voice in her head and instantly followed his advice.
Shortly after she jumped, a stone spike arose from the ground where she stood previously. Asterios urged her to keep dodging so she created footholds in the air and started pushing herself back towards Rudy. Many more earthen spears shot from the ground following after her, but fortunately, all of them missed.
Selene’s ear twitched and she quickly recognized three arrows coming at them, two at Rudy and one at her. The human woman was too busy dealing with the now four remaining goblin fighters to block them. She hastily created two discs out of spiritual energy and threw them towards her comrade while still midair. The arrow aimed at Selene flew by her face and the other two bounced off the flying plates just as she landed beside Rudy, squashing the head of one of the monsters with her foot.
“I’m just doing my job,” Selene smiled. “And you should return to yours now. I’ll deal with those. It looks like Miria got the attention of the backline,” she said after seeing all of the archers turn around to help the mages.
The hobgoblin slammed its shield into the ground and shouted something. The three warriors which were faring against Rudy stepped back and ran around the duo towards their leader. They hid behind the wide, wooden pillar and the boss began charging towards the two women.
“He really does know tactics,” Rudy commented while preparing to dodge.
“I think it’s time for a change of plans. Let’s attack him together,” Selene suggested and moved in front of her temporary partner. “I’ll stop it, you attack after.”
She hastily traced a wavy circle with some patterns with her left hand and cocked back her right fist. Shortly before the rushing boss hit her with its towering shield, she punched the patterns and a burst of spiritual energy countered the impact, not only stopping the charge but also pushing the oversized buckler to the side, revealing three goblins behind it.
The initial attack might have failed, but the little greenskins didn’t waste the chance and lunged at Selene the moment they got her in their sight.
Rudy, fully prepared to attack, ran under her companion’s extended arm and cleaved the first enemy in half with a mighty horizontal swing. Retaining her momentum, she spun around and made a diagonal, upwards cut, slicing through the second one with ease too. Before she managed to finish the last remaining goblin by bringing her sword down with a third strike, the boss regained enough balance to move its longsword and her own weapon slid over it, cutting off only the tip of the smaller opponent’s ear before getting stuck in the ground.
Something touched her shoulders and she glanced upwards just in time to notice Selene making a round off1 above her while using her body as a base. She then came crashing down without letting go of Rudy’s shoulders and with one leg extended, leaving a bluish trail behind it. The last goblin was hit straight into its head from above and the sheer force of the kick slammed it into the ground so hard its body splattered.
Selene stood right in front of Rudy with her hands on her shoulders after her acrobatics, smiling at the other woman. The latter snickered. “I guess this works too.” They both turned their focus back to the hobgoblin which roared at them while hitting its shield with the weapon.
At the same time as Rudy and Selene were fighting, Miria was taking care of the backline with Ast’s help. It was mostly warnings and instructions through their bond as the Haste rune and her own agility were enough for her to jump around the mages and the archers without getting injured.
She smartly kept herself close to at least one enemy so that she could use them as a shield in case she was caught by one of the arrows or spells. The latter wasn’t anything impressive. Without longer chanting and preparations, which the goblins definitely weren’t able to conduct while under attack, they could only fire very basic magic at her, like Firebolt, Lightning Spark, Water Sickle and such.
A few arrows grazed Miria’s skin while she was dancing around the battlefield looking for openings, but thanks to the Steel Skin glyph and his heightened reflexes, Asterios was able to increase its toughness just before the impact, making the arrowheads ricochet off the surface, leaving only a bruise at the spot. She could fully focus on utilizing Haste to speed up her dashes while leaving protection to her master.
With how ferociously the goblins were assaulted, they didn’t have a hint of a chance to even turn towards Asterios. The moment one of them tried to do so, it was met with a sudden figure of Miria in front of its face, which usually ended with it getting beheaded, disarmed, mutilated or else.
Just as she finished the last living archer and was wiping Goblin blood off her face, the loud roar of the boss monster spread throughout the chamber. Selene and Rudy dealt with the grunts and were now to face the big guy alone.
~Perfect timing. If we can deal with it while it’s distracted, the armour will be mostly intact,~ Ast conveyed through her mind.
~Leave it to us, Master!~ she responded and then mentally asked Selene for cooperation.
The person in question smiled and tapped the shoulder of the warrior woman by her side. “Step back. It’s my turn to have some fun now.”
Rudy raised one brow at the foxkin, but didn’t question her and withdrew, still having her greatsword in her hands, ready for action if the need would arise. Miria and Selene started exchanging thoughts and both rushed at their enemy from opposite sides.
Using an attack supported by Haste could potentially damage the armour, due to it mostly following a straight line of the lunge, so Miria decided against trying that and chose to deal with the monster alongside her new companion. They already had some experience fighting together and they even practised a bit in their world when they weren’t by Ast’s side. It was a good opportunity to show their mutual master that they can fight without his support too.
Selene was much closer to the hobgoblin so she naturally arrived in front of it much faster. Her opponent, aware of the powerful attacks she previously threw at him, focused his all on holding the huge shield in place, putting even his other fist, which held the longsword, against the wooden wall.
It was the correct decision, allowing it to withstand the incoming barrage of increasingly stronger punches. It still was pushed back with each one and its shield scraped over the stone pavement with a loud screeching noise. Unfortunately, that decision was right in the presence of only one opponent, or with them only in front of the defender.
Miria reached the back of their enemy and started to swing her sharpened shortsword aiming for the neck, but somehow, the hobgoblin sensed or heard her approaching and slashed horizontally towards the back with its longsword. She stopped her attempt and bent backwards into a back walkover2, timing it perfectly with the incoming blade. Her foot, enhanced by Physical Strengthening, struck the monster’s wrist and kicked its weapon out of its hand so hard it went flying and pierced the ceiling.
The hobgoblin snarled at Miria and tried to instantly spin around with its shield to bash her, but it only jerked and released a grunt of surprise. When it glanced to the front again, its shield was being held in place by some weird, bluish, spiritual claws at the sides, and it wasn't even budging.
On the other side of the shield, Selene was down on one knee with her left arm extended and supported by the other one. The external circuits on her upper limbs were glowing through the material and a ghostly arm was clutching the huge tower shield. With a bit of practice, she was able to use those spiritual lines to call upon this phantasmal appendage without entering the Awakened state, but naturally, only for a moment.
That short moment was more than enough for Miria to quickly step between the hobgoblin and its shield and cut its other wrist off with one precise strike. The monster roared while stumbling back since it was still trying to pull its shield as everything happened almost in a flash.
While clutching its injured stump, the hobgoblin opened its jaws wide to shout at its opponents with rage but stopped and its eyes widened. The last thing it saw was a ferociously spinning ball of spiritual energy flying straight at its face, and a moment later, that orb drilled through its skull without much resistance, crashing into a wall at the back of the cavern. It’s limp body soon fell backwards and slammed onto the ground.
Miria glanced at the dead monster once more and walked up to Selene. They high-fived each other while smiling. Asterios and Rudy soon joined them and they all bumped fists together in a victorious manner. The latter sighed and punched the only man in the team in the shoulder.
“Damned lucker, having not one but two powerful girls at your beck and call. Are you aware of how much some groups would pay to get their hands on at least one of them? Were you born under a lucky star or something?” Rudy said with a smirk.
Asterios chuckled. “To be completely honest, it was under two.” She raised her brows confusedly, making him laugh again. “Anyway, are you fine?”
Rudy waved her hand. “Yeah, these greenskins just grazed me here and there. That shield was tough though. I wouldn’t be able to find an opening if I was the only vanguard. Hell, not like I did much here. Everything was handled by your girls, pssht.”
“It would have been much more difficult with one person less and you know it. Your greatsword was a great help.”
“Yeah, yeah. You could have had the pretty lady over here smash the guy into a paste with her uber state if you wanted.”
“In the short run, maybe, but we were aiming for a different goal than quick extermination and our cooperation was what allowed it to succeed.”
“Alright. I can’t wait to get back to Tesser and Douhlim so I can actually matter for the team,” she said in a sarcastic tone and hit Ast again.
Selene walked closer to his side and gazed at the woman with her usual, stoic smile. “You seem really into punching my Lord. If it's so fun then maybe I should try it with you too?”
Rudy instantly stepped back and threw her arms to the front. “Oh, no, no, no. Thanks, but I’d like to use these for a day or two longer.”
The foxgirl chuckled and everyone laughed, already used to this kind of bickering from the days they spent together. They started taking all the weapons, armour and equipment off the goblins and piled them up in one spot. Asterios took care of the magical cores from the monsters. They stood together while glancing down at the huge shield.
“Normally, there would be almost no way to bring this massive slab of wood back to the surface with just us, but…” Asterios said and then watched as Miria and Selene activated their Physical Strengthening and lobbed the shield together through the portal the former opened beforehand.
The panthergirl ostentatiously dusted her hands off and smiled at her master. He smirked.
“Where did you throw it?”
“In front of my house. I obviously wouldn’t drop it into my room. What if it damaged some furniture?”
“What if your mother was just taking a stroll there?”
Miria’s eyes widened to the brim and she lunged through the portal, to everyone’s amusement. She soon came back with a relieved expression while sighing.
“Check the other side first before throwing things there, okay?” Asterios lectured his partner with a chuckle and she nodded her head embarrassingly.
The two beastfolk transferred all their loot to the other side in no time and the party decided to leave the chamber through the entrance. They achieved their goal and everyone was content with going back to the surface.
After walking out, Miria realized that they would have to go through the 5th-floor boss room again and asked Asterios how that would work since people coming down would be challenging it too.
Noticing the curious gaze of her and Selene, Asterios decided to explain while they were heading up.
“After someone opens the gate leading further into the dungeon, it stays open for a moment and people from the other side can go inside then. And since the Core already knows they are quite strong, it usually allows them to exit the chamber when the entrance opens to let the new guys in. Of course, it could also not do that and just spawn the monster with them inside and they would have to defeat it before opening the door. So, it all comes up to your luck. And of course, the people waiting for the boss would need to wait a bit longer before the door opens.”
Miria nodded, noticing some logic behind the inner workings of the dungeons, and they continued climbing back up while chatting more about them.