Miria turned to the side and spotted the adventurer, with the rest of his party a distance behind him. She waved at them with a beaming smile.
“Hello, Mister Darlick!”
Her voice brought him from his stupor and Darlick shook his head to regain his composure.
“What the hell are you guys doing here?”
Miria tilted her head at him. “Heading down to the Core?”
“But, you were supposed to start a few hours after us, weren’t you?”
“And we did.” Suanori walked closer to the gap with Asterios by her side.
“What?” Darlick couldn’t believe what he heard. “And you have already caught up to us?”
“As you can see,” she replied with a smile. “We would most likely be walking down to the fourteenth floor now if we haven't decided to check the weird rumbling.”
He kept blinking at her with both eyebrows raised. Tishnera showed up by the big man’s side and glanced at them.
“Amazing. We weren’t moving that slow. And we got lucky with the Guardians too. I guess you did too, huh?”
Asterios sighed. “Well, the first one was a Skeletal Centaur so it was done in a few seconds, but the tenth floor’s boss was a Flesh Golem, and finding the Queen Ghoul wasted quite a bit of our time, like ten minutes or so.”
Tishnera’s eyes widened. “How did you deal with a Flesh Golem this fast with your team composition? Did you make it split and searched for the right one? That’s so dangerous.”
He waved his hand. “No, no, no. I froze the whole thing and Selene shattered it.” The dwarf furrowed her brows so he revealed his black blade, which instantly launched the previously spent token into the air with a loud whizz. “Permafrost, ever heard of that?”
She was once more overtaken by shock. “Then… That thing that obliterated every bone monster…”
“Dissonant Echo. Its remains were just sent out of the runic slot.”
“There’s no way a lure spell can be this destructive,” she retorted.
“And yet it is,” Suanori joined in. “Asterios said it’s because he compressed it and directed it in one way thanks to the area being an underground tunnel. Something about crashing waves of vibrations. Anyway, how is the operation going?”
While Tishnera and Darlick remained stunned, a female demon stepped closer from behind them, also a member of their distraction party.
“Reporting to the Guildmaster. The situation seems to be under control. Both squads are proceeding according to the schedule with no bigger issues. This swarm of enemies was the first setback.”
“You need to diversify your breaches a little,” Asterios commented, bringing the duo’s attention back to them. “This wasn’t a swarm but an ambush. You were creating holes at around the same distance from each other, right?”
Tishnera nodded. “Yes, it was fairly easy to judge from our side.”
“This Core seems somewhat smart and experienced. It must have noticed the pattern and prepared a welcome party for you. We’ve also arrived here after my familiar’s calculations related to the two previous explosions.”
“Well, at least they made this floor easy for us, my Lord, by bringing most of the monsters to the openings, so there are some positive points to that,” Selene commented with a chuckle.
“Asterios is right,” Suanori agreed. “Change things up a little to be less predictable. Your safety and well-being are quite important for this operation.”
The three adventurers nodded in agreement and Suanori continued.
“It would be good if we could inform the other team about this too.”
“Umbra?” Asterios glanced to the side and the shadowy raven formed in the air after seeping down from the ceiling.
~Give me five to ten minutes. I can’t directly move there since we are below the tenth floor and I need to find them.~
Then, he flew into Ast’s shadow and disappeared.
“Thank you.” Suanori nodded at him.
“No problem.” He smiled and turned to the other party. “How are your supplies? Need something to drink or eat? Potions?”
“You will be going much deeper than us so you should save as much as you can,” Darlick replied.
“It’s fine. We have access to almost unlimited amounts of food and drinks, and to a warehouse of various potions by our side at all times.”
Miria jumped out of a dark crimson portal with a tray in her hands, containing a bunch of glasses and a big jug with lemonade. Her mom prepared a lot of stuff for them when she had told her that she would be most likely spending a long time in a dungeon in Ast’s realm. And she was making more and more snacks and drinks for them even right now.
While Umbra was gone to complete his task, Tishnera’s party refreshed themselves a little with the soothing drink, amazed at the fact that they could have a sip of such a thing while deep in the dungeon. Who would normally bring a special artifact that could keep things like that cool and ready while they could reduce the burden and just pick up normal, bottled water? Or rely on magic?
Before his familiar returned, Asterios let Tishnera examine his Spellslinger a little while they chatted casually, and Miria was approached by Darlick to talk about her combat experience and fighting style. She was clearly not used to being the one under heavy praise and to receiving so much curious attention. Even the people back in her realm had never gotten interested in her moves this hard. She slightly understood how she looked to Asterios when she revered him for every curious thing he did in front of her and blushed a little.
Then, after the short break, they bid farewell and returned to their respective missions. Umbra was back and started scouting for them again, checking for the enemies and traps present ahead, as much as he could. His information gathering was making it so much easier for them.
Since most monsters were busy going through or defending the breaches, they had an easy time reaching the fifteenth floor, with just a little bit of combat on the passage leading down from the fourteenth one, as a few packs of monsters were moving up.
They expected Draugrs on the next level or two, but it looked like the one they had met recently had been moved by the Core from slightly more below as floors fourteen and fifteen consisted mostly of the same monsters as usual, with the addition of Necrotic Slimes, Wisps of Death and Plagueshrooms.
Already used to the tricks of Cheekies and the behavior of the other enemies, they bulldozed through the floors at a breakneck speed, slowing down only when met with the Plagueshrooms, which weren’t that much of a challenge, but a clear annoyance.
Plagueshrooms released a lot of different toxins and diseases as their form of attack. Additionally, they would release all of their accumulated spores, dust, and toxic mists on death, pretty much blocking the path ahead for quite some time. Ast’s party often had to find a route around them or to wait since they didn’t want to risk going through the clouds of poison even with protection from Selene.
Fortunately, Wisps of Death weren’t that much of a problem as the fox lady could easily disintegrate them with her spiritual energy from a distance since they were pure energy themselves. If one would fly through or graze a normal humanoid, their flesh would quickly start rotting, requiring fast application of specific medicines to stop it. Or proper Healing Magic.
After around forty minutes, Ast’s party arrived in front of the boss room on the fifteenth floor. As usual, the Gate was locked. Umbra squeezed himself inside to check on their upcoming opponent.
~Weird. There’s nothing really there.~
Asterios furrowed his brows. “Are you sure?”
“Maybe it’s camouflaged, like that Deathscythe Grasshopper we fought in the past?” Miria suggested.
~Except for a wide bloodstain covering over half of the chamber’s floor, there’s nothing else that’s noticeable. Some blood is also on the walls and the ceiling, dripping down into the big flat puddle.~
“Some vampiric monster that can perfectly conceal its aura? Maybe through invisibility?” Suanori pondered.
“I don’t think there are any Elites like that amongst the mobs we’ve encountered. But then, it’s also possible that the dungeon is shuffling things a little due to everything that is happening and we just haven't encountered that type since it was ordered to move somewhere else,” Asterios replied.
“What now then, my Lord?”
Asterios changed the Runic Chip in his Spellslinger for a different one, a crystal of light yellow color, and hid the blade.
“We go in like usual. Keep your guards up and focus on defense until we figure out what we are up against. Let’s keep some distance between us but not split too much. Selene in the center so that she can react towards everyone. Clear the dust as soon as possible please, Suanori.”
Everyone nodded and readied themselves as much as possible. Selene destroyed the entrance and Suanori blew the obstruction away. They gathered up together and walked inside, looking all around the cave-like chamber.
They paced through the room by moving near the walls, wary of the blood-red puddle in the very middle. Nothing happened for a whole minute. Then two. Then three. No one was able to find anything resembling a monster in the boss chamber. If it was camouflaged, it was waiting for a perfect opportunity to strike.
Wanting to try and break this stalemate, Suanori picked up a stone and threw it at the puddle after glancing at the others for confirmation. It landed in the middle of the bloodstain with a soft plop and a low splash.
Just a moment later, a whirlwind appeared in the scarlet liquid and the puddle began rising up; numerous streams of blood trailed over the walls and dripped from the ceiling, connecting to the main reservoir, making it bigger and bigger.
After around ten seconds, it stopped growing and formed a gigantic blob of blood, around three times as tall as Asterios and something like five meters wide. The only thing that protruded from the huge mass of liquid was a clear shape of a small crown of the same tissue at the very top of the red mountain.
“Ah, shit…” Asterios cursed. “I should have figured out it would be a Monarch of Blood…”
“We might not come out unscathed from this encounter,” Suanori commented with a sigh.
“Is it that dangerous?” Miria asked, taking a defensive stance.
“Much worse than the Flesh Golem with our setup. You will see soon.”
He quickly drew two sigils and slotted them onto his left glove. Miria and Selene noticed a faint barrier appearing over their skin. Suanori wasted no time and covered herself in Barkskin, even creating a full face mask to maximize the coverage.
The girls quickly realized that the living blood might be a problem.
“What about you, Master?” Miria glanced at him with concern.
Asterios briefly closed his eyes and his clothes fluttered as a crimson aura enveloped his body. He started condensing his spiritual energy around himself as tightly as possible. His control over it wasn’t as great as Selene’s, but the sheer amount and power behind his mana coming from the second source allowed him to brute force the process without losing that much.
He then opened his eyes, now glowing quite brightly. “We have to end it as quickly as possible. Miria, you are first.”
She was suddenly pulled into a hug and Asterios sealed Miria’s lips without any warning. Surprised at first, she was fast to understand and focused on drawing on Ast’s fiery energy as much as she could while his hands roamed over her back, creating scorching hot marks. Miria didn’t stop herself from fully enjoying the wild kiss as their tongues danced together.
Meanwhile, numerous tendrils shot out of the huge blob of blood and rushed at them, only to get stopped by Selene, who created a spiritual wall in front of them. They started assaulting it from every angle and direction, but the foxkin kept her defenses impenetrable; not without some struggle though.
Asterios finished up with Miria and she burst in crimson flames as they separated. She smiled at him and jumped outside of the barrier after leaving a quick peck on Ast’s cheek. The flaming panthergirl filled her blades with his mana and they lit up too. Pairing it with her Mana Coating, extended into a longsword’s length, she now wielded two long flaming blades.
A bunch of tentacles rushed at her but Miria gracefully stepped aside and cut through all of them. The blood that she separated lost its density and fell onto the ground with a sizzling sound, starting to slowly flow back to the Monarch of Blood.
“Vaporize as much of it as you can,” Asterios commanded her and pulled Selene towards him next.
“My Lord, the barrier—”
“Leave it to Miria. Your turn now.”
She nodded and dropped the spiritual wall, hastily embracing Asterios and diving in for a deep kiss. Savoring the taste of his tongue, she shivered when Ast’s fingers snuck under her dress from below and moved to her back, showing off her black panties to everyone who would glance their way. But, she didn’t care about it in the slightest.
Miria jumped around and decimated countless scarlet tendrils that aimed at her or the others with perfectly timed slashes that left flaming trails after themselves. When some of the tentacles tried to pass her by moving out of her reach, she sent an arc of crimson fire in their direction, cutting off their path instantly.
Even though Asterios was focusing on Selene now, he was also partially supporting her with Sensory Boost while observing her movements from Umbra’s perspective. It was truly a test of his capabilities, but they had no time to waste and no mistake to make. They had to prepare themselves as much as possible before the monster began using more serious attacks.
Selene backed away from the kiss after Asterios finished with the formation on her back and exhaled pleasurably into his face. Surprisingly, a whitish mist escaped her mouth as she breathed out, causing Asterios to shiver a little.
“My Lord? I feel… weird.”
He smiled wryly. “This is not what I expected… but I guess it works too.”
She suddenly saw her figure through his eyes and her own pupils narrowed from the shock. Similar to Miria, Selene’s hair and fur was now literally on fire. But, there was one small difference. Hers was sapphire blue. And she could tell it wasn’t all. As stupid as it sounded, her fire was cold.
“I must have messed something up. Or this is your natural affinity. Either way, go. This changes our plans only a little.”
Still slightly in awe of the change and the newfound power that was coursing through her spiritual circuits, Selene nodded and left a frosty peck on Ast’s lips before jumping in to join Miria on the front. With a wave of her hand, she created a wall of blue fire that cut the tentacles and froze the separated ends solid, preventing them from crawling back to their source.
She chuckled after hearing Miria’s amazed voice.
“I’ve caught up to you now. It’s time for a change in the first mate’s position.” With a wink, she lunged forward.
“In your dreams!” Miria grinned to herself and rushed after her.
With most of the monster’s attention directed at the two beastgirls, only a few tendrils reached the rest of their party, and they were swiftly dealt with by Suanori’s Wind Blades and Umbra’s shadows.
She stepped closer to Asterios while he was fiddling with some glyphs in the air, with one of his eyes closed.
“I’m starting to get a little jealous.”
“Of the kiss?” he asked with a faint smile.
She shook her head with a soft chuckle. “Of the variety of things they can receive from you. It’s truly amazing. Where were all the Summoners like this when I was an active adventurer?”
“Half of the techniques I use end up with a different result from what I have learned. I don’t think that’s safe to be jealous of.” He chuckled too, squeezing one of the floating runes that helped Miria condense a lance of spiraling fire with her two weapons joined together, which then pierced into the gigantic blob of blood.
“The other half seems to be working fine though,” she commented.
“Thankfully,” he replied while watching two huge rectangular slabs of blood form from the Monarch of Blood’s body and fall onto the girls attacking it. With a snap from each of his hands, they both disappeared before the impact.
“Is this not extremely draining?”
“I still haven’t found out my limits after getting accustomed to the new energy and I feel like it also keeps growing over time. But yes, what I’m currently attempting is quite mentally taxing. Fortunately, Umbra is here to support me with his mastery over the mind and was training me in the past too.”
While observing how Selene created three giant blue flaming greatswords and hurled them at the scarlet blob with a wave of her hand, Suanori cast Rejuvenate and Forest’s Respite on Asterios to relieve him a little. He took a relaxing breath as a pleasant smell of the forest moments after a morning rain filled his nostrils.
The fire-ice projectiles started freezing the enemy but it separated itself from the affected parts quickly, without losing too much of its body. It was truly a formidable opponent that could withstand Miria’s vaporizing strikes and Selene’s freezing blows while attacking them back relentlessly with various forms of its bloody body.
Miria suddenly showed up in front of Asterios and Suanori, cutting a few tentacles during her arrival.
“Does this thing even have a core or something, Master? We’ve been destroying chunks of its body for a few minutes and nothing has changed. Even Umbra can’t pinpoint it,” she asked.
“Technically, yes. But it can be very small and constantly moving.”
“Let me have a try.”
Suanori finished tracing an array on the ground with her staff and hit it with its bottom end. The lines illuminated with an orange glow and they heard a loud thud from ahead. Similar to the time when they had been showing off their abilities, two pieces of stone crashed into each other with the Monarch of Blood in the middle.
Its body got squeezed with enough force to send the scarlet liquid flying in a vertical arc created by the two rectangles hugging each other. Selene returned to them in time and erected a tall wall of blue flames that protected them from the splash.
After retracting it back, they glanced around the cavern completely dyed in red. No more liquid was moving around, except for the one dripping slowly from the walls or the ceiling.
“Was it really that easy?” Asterios raised his brow.