Chapter 93 – Crushing Some Skulls
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“How deep do you think this dungeon runs, Master?” Miria asked while they were resting.

Suanori spoke before he could answer the question. “If I’m not mistaken, the lowest delve has been registered as forty-seventh floor in the interguild system. This dungeon is quite old but I don’t think it reaches lower than a bit over fifty or sixty floors.”

“I see. And after we reach the end, will the Core be waiting there?”

“Waiting is a good way to phrase it, but in a different meaning than you might think. The Core definitely won’t be just floating in some chamber, defenselessly waiting for us to come there after dealing with all of its security mechanisms. If we even manage to find the entrance to the Core Chamber, it will be waiting for us with its strongest defenses for sure.”

“Ah. Right.”

Asterios brushed through Miria’s hair. “While the Core itself shouldn’t be able to do much, we’ll be most likely faring against its strongest Guardian or Guardians, in a room full of deadly traps. But, as Suanori already said, we first have to find it as it won’t be just hanging out in the open after we reach the lowest floor. It can actually hide on a higher one. But, its spiritual energy and essence should be extremely powerful and condensed so we’ll be relying on Selene and Umbra to notice it.”

The foxkin nodded with a smile. “Leave it to us, my Lord.”

~I definitely won’t miss it,~ Umbra added.

Miria pondered over something before turning her curious gaze to Asterios. “What will happen to the dungeon after we destroy the Core? Will it start crumbling with it? Do we have to quickly escape then? Is it even possible from so deep?”

Asterios noticed Suanori preparing to speak after taking a sip of water so he let the Guildmaster answer again. It was possible that she knew better than him anyway, with his knowledge coming mostly from books, while hers certainly was gathered through various experiences.

“Honestly, it’s never certain what will happen after the Core disappears. But, it's extremely rare for a dungeon to collapse. Usually, everything just stays like it was at the moment of its death. All the connections the Core had with the monsters, traps, and the structure are cut off, but the already spawned entities and mechanisms still work until they are triggered if they are single-use, or destroyed.”

As she finished, he joined in to add his two cents. “Countless ruins of dead dungeons exist throughout this realm. And same as with monsters or traps, the treasures and rewards are also left behind after the Core is gone. Such dungeons are prime targets for explorers and archeologists interested in studying and learning about these structures since they are much safer, especially after adventurers have their turn at them first. And don’t forget that dungeons assimilate parts of underground remains on their path of expansion, so they also accumulate lots of interesting stuff.”

“It’s exactly as Asterios said. A lot can be learned from dead dungeons so they are much more popular amongst scholars and researchers than functioning ones. They are still not completely safe and danger can lurk behind every unexplored corner, but in the eyes of those who pursue the knowledge or other things, they are a much safer and cheaper alternative. There’s no more Stupor inside those, for one.”

Selene finally decided to join in. “Isn’t it possible for a new Core to form in the remains of an old dungeon, taking control over it? There should still be plenty of contaminated essence in the whole structure for that to happen at some point.”

Suanori nodded. “Yes, that’s a valid possibility and it naturally happened a few times in the past. But, let’s not forget that it takes years or decades for a Core to be born and gain partial sentience, so the process isn’t that fast. And it’s even slower since the contaminated essence is much more dispersed than when the first core spawned in its condensed hub.”

“And it’s not like we can do a lot to prevent that from happening,” Asterios continued after her. “Even if a kingdom, the guild, or some other organization expended enough resources to collapse the whole dungeon from the bottom to the top, which is already an unimaginable expedition of insane cost, it wouldn’t guarantee that a new Core wouldn’t spawn somewhere there anyway. The only sure-fire way would be to get rid of all the contaminated essence, and that could take decades with a sizable force of magicians wielding the Holy element and Spiritualists.”

“So, there really is not much that people can do,” Miria commented.

“Yes, there isn’t. But, pretty much every dead dungeon is being monitored by the Adventurer’s Guild to make a quick report if something starts changing inside, judged as the first signs of a new Core taking over. Killing a freshly created Core is way easier than dealing with an old one. Many retired high-rank adventurers take these patrolling jobs in hopes of it actually happening, allowing them to rake in some good money for their retirement.”

“And we’ll be facing an old one, right?”

“Most likely the oldest from the three present in this area,” Asterios answered. “It certainly will be tough, but I think it is doable with your strength. Without you girls though, and you Umbra, it definitely wouldn’t be possible for us to even reach that far.”

“Asterios is right. We would have to send out a huge raiding group or a few of them in turns to deal with this situation if you weren’t here to help. I’m really grateful for it. Thank you for lending us your power.” Suanori bowed her head lightly.

Miria quickly shook her hands. “It’s fine! Really! We are just following Master!”

Selene chuckled. “That is true. Wherever my Lord goes, I follow.”

She leaned in and pecked Ast’s cheek from her side, gazing at him lovingly until the shy pantherkin appeared by his face too, rubbing herself into him. Asterios chuckled and petted their ears.

“Alright, alright. Tone down all this affection in front of the Guildmaster. We are really making her uncomfortable.” He gave each of them a peck and stood up with their help. “Let’s wrap it up. The goal is to reach the half-point before we tire out, if possible.”

They collected everything and moved it back to Miria’s and Selene’s realm, readying up to continue the journey down the undead dungeon. While the fox lady prepared a key to the door, Umbra squeezed through the almost non-existent gaps to check ahead.

~A lot of flying skulls right from the start.~

“Are they on fire?” Asterios asked.

~Yes, dark blue one.~

“Ignituls then. Weak alone but annoying in a flock. Don’t let them bite you, it will burn like hell and sting like the coldest frost at the same time. Pure force is the easiest way of dealing with them.”

Everyone nodded and prepared their own means to fend off the flying skulls. Suanori chanted a few lines in Elvish and her wooden staff thickened, also making up the shape of a double-edged hammer at its tip.

Miria didn’t bring out her swords but covered her fists and feet with a similar Mana Coating as she used for her blades, but focused on increasing the pressure instead of sharpening the edges.

Asterios revealed his black armblade and slotted a Runic Chip in it before retracting it back and cracking his knuckles too. Asked what that token would do, he just answered with “You’ll see soon,” and smiled.

Selene nodded after everyone finished their preparations and obliterated the wooden door into splinters. A loud wave of chattering created by tens of bony jaws hitting each other repeatedly instantly reached their ears.

Spotting a few flashes of blue flames through the kicked-up dust, Suanori made the first move and dug her heel into the floor. A slab of stone got launched into the air and she hit it with her wooden hammer, sending the huge brick forward, clearing the obstruction, and crushing a few enemies behind it.

No one else wasted any time and they all jumped forward into the grey corridor. Miria and Selene took the lead while Umbra stayed near Asterios and Suanori. They started pushing through groups of flying skulls, shattering each of them with a punch or kick. Or a hammer strike in Suanori’s case.

Asterios didn’t even have to activate his stored spell until much later on the floor since Umbra kept puncturing every Ignitul that managed to slip past the beastfolk duo with his sharp spikes of hardened shadow, surging out of Ast’s body like some reactive armor.

But, at one point, the numbers of the skulls grew so much that they formed almost a solid wall when they flew together at the party. That was when Asterios finally fed the prepared crystal his fiery mana and colorless rings appeared around both of his forearms.

“Miria! Selene! Get back!” He recalled his companions and extended his arms to the sides.

The beastfolk duo jumped back in a flash and Asterios made a powerful clap in front of him. A thundering wave of pressure strong enough to bend and shake the air as it traveled was shot forward, turning all of their opponents in a twenty-meter-long path ahead into bone dust. One ring disappeared from both of his arms, leaving three more pairs to be used.

“That was awesome!” Miria shouted as she jumped to him with a big smile.

“Was Seismic Burst always this strong?” Suanori asked.

Asterios shook his head as they began moving again. “It was Dissonant Echo. It’s mostly used to deafen the enemies while pushing them back, but while that’s the intended use in the open air, here, it’s much more condensed and controlled instead of shooting in every direction. And well, my energy and this Spellslinger do play a role in its power too. But it’s mostly because I’m forcing it to go in a straight line and it then bounces from all the walls, increasing the vibrations even more.”

“From the weakest to the strongest in about two months… If you keep this up, you might accidentally create an unrealistic image of Summoners, you know?”

He only chuckled and shook his head. Asterios was starting to be quite powerful with his repertoire of spells and the scorching energy supporting him, but a talented frontline Summoner like Tina could easily reach the same level. 

But, Suanori was right. No one would expect a Summoner to be this strong in both paths—direct and indirect fighting. Even the legendary figures always focused on one of them, achieving incredible feats by either commanding mystical beasts or using their powers to turn themselves into walking calamities. 

He might be the first person to achieve mastery in both, if one would accept using external means to fill in the direct path instead of only using techniques that boosted and enhanced his body through his summon’s abilities and skills. In the end, his direct approach was currently much weaker than the indirect one if he threw away the Spellslinger. He should start working on that more after reaching the Demon Continent.

Before they found the stairs to the twelfth floor, Asterios had to use Dissonant Echo two more times to clear up the path ahead. He could imagine how annoying this floor would be for people specializing in single-target attacks. It would literally be hell.

After catching their breath, the party moved on. They didn’t encounter a swarm of enemies this time and traveled the twelfth floor at a decent pace. Besides small groups of a few Ignituls, only one different kind of enemy they haven’t met yet crossed their path. They stumbled on some Skeletons or Ghouls from the previous floors sporadically.

But, the new opponent seemed to be a ghost-type. They were slightly surprised at first that the monster density on the twelfth floor was extremely low when compared to all the earlier levels, especially the previous one. But, the reason became clear after around twenty minutes of wandering.

As they were moving through a wide, seemingly empty corridor, something ethereal quickly flew from one side to the other right in front of Miria’s face, spooking her greatly and causing the panthergirl to step back right into the pressure plate they had previously avoided thanks to Umbra’s scouting.

Selene was able to shield her with ease from the triggered trap that shot a wall of metal needles at Miria, causing the panthergirl to blush slightly and giggle at her mistake. After that, they were often assaulted by some ethereal beings that would only reveal themselves to surprise them and push them into some trap.

Even knowing about the triggers and the mischievous enemies, it wasn’t completely possible to avoid getting spooked. Due to them trying out various new actions and strategies and such, the party had to tread very carefully, especially while fighting other monsters. 

But, in the end, there was nothing that would stop them from reaching the thirteenth floor. Although, that’s where things turned really weird. They could barely spot a single monster here and there and the traps weren’t anything special, thanks to Umbra being able to squeeze into almost every possible crack.

It wouldn’t be surprising to even not meet a single enemy if the whole floor was designed to be a trap stage with nothing but elaborate devices of death, each deadlier and more unusual than the previous one, but even Umbra would have some issues with those. And, he didn’t yet.

The level was just too empty and easy. They used that opportunity to rest a little while traveling through it. After around fifteen minutes of looking for the exit, the whole structure shook, causing everyone to falter slightly. It didn’t seem like a normal occurrence.

They decided to check it out and followed the tremor since Umbra was able to catch the direction. As they were heading to where the shadowy familiar was leading them, another tremble passed through the dungeon, slightly stronger this time, most likely due to them getting closer.

And soon, everyone realized why the floor seemed so empty and what were the weird tremors. Behind one of the corners, they found a huge hole in the stone wall. A few Dagons could be spotted walking out of it and engaging some Ghouls and Zombies. Dagons were humanoid-looking monsters covered in fish-like scales and with various aquatic heads, closely resembling creatures of water.

But, judging by a couple of bodies lying here and there, this hole wasn’t the most recent one, and another huge wave of shaking confirmed their guess. Suanori asked them to follow the explosions to check on the party that was creating them since it looked like they luckily stumbled on each other on this floor.

The monsters fighting at the opening were left to their own fun and the party kept following after Umbra. They passed two more holes as they ran, with the last one not having any monsters around yet, being quite fresh. But, they arrived too late to catch the demolitionists.

Umbra informed Asterios that he could see a pattern to the explosions and was asked to guide them to the place that he assumed would be next. When they reached the area in which he was expecting another explosion, they noticed a swarm of various enemies gathering around.

Amongst many Skeletons, Ghouls, Ignituls, and Cheekies—the mischievous ghosts—they spotted a single Draugr Knight, which was two tiers above a Ghoul and a Zombie. It was around two-and-a-half meters tall and donned full copper armor with all the pieces present. In its hands, an iron claymore, ready to attack or defend.

Before Ast’s group decided on what to do, another huge explosion took place right in front of the gathered monsters, blasting a few of them into the opposite wall while killing a bunch. The rest started immediately going into the hole or shooting spells and arrows inside.

“What the fuck?! How come there are so many monsters on the other side!” A voice none of them recognized came from the opening.

“Hahahaha! Finally! You can’t say we have to avoid going in with this one anymore! I was getting bored! It’s time to dance, baby!” A different voice soon followed, clearly belonging to a certain very enthusiastic adventurer they’d met before.

“Let’s help them out a little,” Suanori suggested with a faint smile.

“On it,” Asterios replied and fueled with mana the last pair of circles around his forearms he was keeping for an emergency situation.

Making a quick and powerful clap to send the attack before Darlick jumped out of the hole, Asterios spent the last charge of Dissonant Echo and the immense wave of pressure and vibrations washed over the group of monsters, deleting all Skeletons and Ignituls from existence. The Ghouls got partially deformed while the Draugr looked only a bit shook and shot them an angry glare with its glowing eyeballs.

“Oi! Who is interrupting my fu—”

Suanori rotated her staff a few times and drove its bottom end into the stone floor, causing a surging wave of tree roots to emerge and head towards the monsters, effectively knocking over those that didn’t fall from Ast’s spell, and pinning them to the ground. Only the Draugr remained standing.

Miria and Selene rushed ahead at the same time as the wooden tendrils and started decimating the Ghouls lying on the floor as it toppled them. Reaching the Draugr, they stepped to the side as it made a powerful vertical swing between them, easily dodging the wide attack.

The panthergirl didn’t stop moving and kept slashing her magically elongated shortswords at the fallen Ghouls while Selene focused on the Draugr. She parried its second slash with a quickly created spiritual disc and punched the monster right in the chest, denting the armor a lot and sending it stumbling a few steps backward.

She boosted her limbs with spiritual energy and followed with a set of precise strikes into every single joint of the wannabe Death Knight, disabling almost all of its motoric abilities. The Draugr did the only thing it could at that point and fell towards her to try and bite its opponent but Selene spun around and launched it flying backward with a powerful kick.

The monster didn’t get to fly too far as something crashed into its back with enormous friction and drilled through the middle of its body while releasing sparks and heating up its armor to almost glowing levels. It split the Draugr into two halves, heavily shredded at the edges, and sent the pieces into the ceiling and floor.

Miria stopped her Spiralling Lunge and landed in front of Selene on all fours with her back to the foxkin, scraping over the floor as she came to a halt. As far as the two of them could see, a long trench of ripped and torn monsters spanned through the middle of the corridor, also damaging the floor a little. She had mutilated all the remaining monsters on that side of the tunnel with her offensive movement technique while returning to Selene.

To the right side of the girls, a lone, burly man stood with his mouth agape and his two big curved swords in his hands, hanging down by his sides, watching as the two women sighed contentedly and proceeded to high-five each other, unable to utter a word.

 

Teamwork goes brrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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