Chapter 97 – A Floating Arsenal
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Around fifteen to twenty minutes after Asterios and Selene entered the tent, he walked out of it alone, without his dark brown coat this time. Miria smiled at him brightly as he approached the trio and sat down by their side with a long sigh.

“How is Selene, Master?”

“She’s gone to refresh herself a little back at home. I also advised her to rest there instead of here since we can avoid the dungeon’s influence with that. You should do the same.”

With slightly flushed cheeks, she snuggled to his side. “Okay. I’ll go in a bit.”

Asterios began patting her head, scratching behind those adorable round ears of hers, making Miria purr quietly. He glanced up at the Guildmaster and smiled wryly.

“I apologize.”

“What for?” She raised her brow at him.

“Well, everything. This certainly isn’t a typical delve, considering my party and its peculiarities.”

Suanori chuckled softly. “Harem parties aren’t that unheard of. It’s not my first time joining a quest with one. And trust me, you are nowhere close to the most flirty and open ones I’ve met back in the day. You are actually a quite tame person. Travels with such parties often involve lots of groping, squealing, giggling, and dirty jokes pointing out certain things or body parts of the male leader.”

He sighed and shook his head. What kind of a man would act so playful in a dungeon or other dangerous place with his lovers where uncertainty lurked behind every single corner. Such actions would be clearly distracting, not to mention awkward for the bystanders.

“And naturally, with this kind of relationship between the members, it’s unavoidable for them to want to embrace each other from time to time, sometimes in the dungeon too. In the end, it does kind of serve as a morale boost for the included parties,” she continued.

Miria giggled. “Certainly, it does, but I don’t think the others around would appreciate it as much.”

“I agree.” Asterios nodded, scratching under Miria’s chin now. “That’s why I wanted to apologize.”

“As I said, it’s fine with me. You are much more mindful than I would think. Most others I've seen wouldn’t even bother with setting up a tent or placing a silencing barrier around themselves and I appreciate it. Honestly, one time the harem even tried to rope me into a five-girl orgy with their lover while I kept watch over them as they enjoyed themselves quite rambunctiously. No tent, of course.”

“Demons?” Asterios chuckled and she nodded with a wry smile. “Don’t worry. An ever-growing harem is not my life goal. I never thought about a normal one even, until this precious lady here insisted on me not holding back when some feelings develop between a nice girl and myself, or the other way around. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, not even talking about aiming for you, Guildmaster. I’m already insanely lucky to earn the affection of three amazing women.”

Miria shyly hid her face in Ast’s neck as her tail danced timidly behind her back, causing him to chuckle again. Suanori smiled at the duo. All of them were truly unusual individuals. Many men courted her over the ages, be it due to her dazzling beauty, earned fame, personal strength, or achieved rank and position, but he desired none of these and just treated her with respect and understanding even when she was the one intruding on their time.

One thing caught her attention though. “Three? Isn’t Umbra kind of genderless? Of course, I’m not saying that it’s an issue; people hold feelings not just for members of humanoid races. I’m just curious since you seemed like someone more favorable towards women. I apologize for sounding rude.”

An ancient-sounding chuckle reverberated in their heads.

~There’s no such relationship between me and Master. I’m not really interested in these matters as I don’t possess a desire for pleasure or love. Although, I admit that the pure essence I receive through the pact does provide me some satisfaction.~

Asterios shook his head with a wry smile. “There’s a friend who is still staying back at the academy in Rosewind. It turns out that she had been silently supporting me from the shadows, taking quite a liking to me even before Miria showed up. I’ve decided to answer her feelings not that long ago.”

“Oh. I see. She must be very happy then if she doesn’t mind being part of your harem.”

“Very!” Miria butted in with a cheerful smile.

“Alright. Go get some rest. We’ll call the two of you before heading out,” Asterios said to her.

She purred obediently. But, before standing up, Miria glanced timidly towards Suanori with slightly rosy cheeks and the Guildmaster nodded at her with a gentle smile. With her face turning a shade redder, she pulled herself up and joined her lips with Ast’s in a loving kiss. They exchanged a few tender pecks while he shared some of his mana with her in the meantime.

Having enough of his sweet mouth, Miria giggled silently and walked through the portal after bowing to them. Umbra chose his shoulder to perch on this time.

“You should rest too. You are the pillar of this party. One night without sleep won’t really affect me,” Suanori suggested shortly after Miria left.

~I think you are forgetting that I do not need such things at all,~ Umbra spoke to them in their minds. ~Feel free to leave the guarding duty to me.~

“Is what he says.” Asterios smiled at the Guildmaster. “I’ll grab a mat and something to cover ourselves with if you don’t mind me staying around. I would like to be close, in case of an emergency.”

“Of course not. I’ll be obliged.”

Thus, Asterios walked up to the tent and brought back a wide and comfortable mat that they unrolled together and two sheets of warm material for the covers. Selene had transferred them from her realm shortly before she jumped back to take a bath. With Umbra watching over them, the duo took a short nap, drinking a regenerative potion beforehand.

Their rest time passed uneventfully and everyone shared a filling meal together, that wasn't too heavy on their stomachs. They tidied up after themselves, collected all the equipment, and prepared to resume the journey through the dungeon.

“Okay. We are now not only quite deep but also gave the Core some time to rearrange stuff. While I would appreciate it if we were able to collect some valuable parts or cores from the monsters we stumble onto, let’s not take it too far and prioritize safety. And I’m not sure I will be able to recognize all of them so there’s that too,” Asterios briefed everyone and they all nodded.

“I did destroy a Dungeon Core in the past, but it was a quite young one so it might be a bit harder here. I’m afraid we’ll have to burn through a decent amount of your supplies, Asterios,” Suanori responded.

“It’s a bummer like half of them are poisons and toxins that usually don’t work on undead. It would have been so much easier if the middle dungeon was any of the other two.” He sighed.

“I’ll make sure the reward is proper after we return, so please, use whatever you can.”

“You don’t need to ask. What’s the point in hoarding all the stuff if you don’t use it when the need arises? No pile of treasure will be of help to the dead.”

Asterios reached for his fiery energy and they set off towards the passage to the lower floor, which Umbra had located during their breakfast. He and Selene kept their senses spread to watch for any signs of the Core since its presence was much clearer now, announcing that they weren’t that far from its chamber.

The one good side of them being so deep and the monsters being much stronger and tougher at this level was the fact that the Core couldn’t easily replenish or give birth to a high number of them. Therefore, the floors from now on would rarely consist of swarms of enemies.

Naturally, when they would get close to the Core Chamber, it could be very different as it was only logical to save a lot of strong defenses and monsters for its own protection. Until then though, they had to fare against a single opponent at a time or a small number of them, which lowered the danger only a little bit considering the threat of each entity at this level.

Selene permanently stayed in the first stage of her Awakening while having her external circuits connected to the internal lines, awaiting quick activation when necessary. Miria had a Sensory Boost sigil engraved on her skin for her own use since she was the one the furthest in the front.

While traversing through the floor, they clearly noticed the increased number of traps. And they were much, much deadlier. Even with Umbra’s scouting, it wasn’t possible to find a route completely safe and without any dangerous mechanisms. It was clear that the Core riddled their path with these. They even stumbled on a few that hadn't yet finished forming.

As for the style and design of the corridors, rooms, and chambers they were moving through, while the ones much higher were clearly in the form of spooky stone structures you could find in most underground places, now they switched into much more detailed ones.

The alleys took the form of decorated passages with regularly placed artistic pillars in the walls, creating an image of hallways present in sacred temples or cathedrals. And the rooms did also support that observation and often had their ceiling in the form of cylindrical cupolas with myriads of decorations. Torches with green flames hung on the walls at even intervals.

They were starting to understand where the whole undead theme of the dungeon came from. It was possible that some sanctuary had existed deep down under the ground centuries ago, or it had been buried due to tectonic movements or other events. 

“I just really hope the last Guardian isn’t a powerful Lich…” Suanori spoke quietly as they were traversing a corridor with various stone carvings.

“There weren't that many magic users amongst the monsters we have encountered so far so I hope not too. This floor is mostly Death Knights, Death Marauders, and Skeletal Sharkenbears. But, who knows what we have skipped,” Asterios responded.

And, before they reached the passage leading lower, a group of different enemies blocked their path with no other available routes. A few flying weapons made of bones and with various gems embedded into them floated in the air, surrounded by auras of different colors. There were swords, axes, shields, bows, magical staves and foci, and other shapes.

“Shit… I had to jinx us…” Asterios smiled wryly.

“This might feel like we are against a party of experienced adventurers. Are you all ready?” Suanori asked.

Miria and Selene nodded. Asterios activated Steel Skin for both of them and Umbra perched on his shoulder.

“Miria and I will keep the melee weapons busy. You three will aim to get rid of the casters with Umbra assisting me whenever necessary,” he suggested.

“Good thinking. Let’s move then.” 

Suanori began chanting and Selene shaped a katana out of her spiritual energy, sending a vertical slash of blue mana into the cloud of weapons and revealing their position to them. Miria jumped to the front and ran to meet them before the enemies reached their party, with Selene following soon after her.

Miria let two simple swords pass her and swung her weapons at a greataxe to stop its approach. Her blows barely scratched the tough bone but managed to send it away. Selene shielded Miria with spiritual discs from two arrows aimed at her knees, making them ricochet to the sides, and lunged further, noticing one of the staves preparing some kind of a spell.

Asterios unsheathed his black blade and intercepted the two enemies Miria intentionally missed before they decided to stab her in the back or reach Suanori. They did seem to prioritize magicians just like they decided to. 

He had borrowed Miria’s instincts and reaction speed before engaging and could somehow keep up with the barrage of blows from two opponents trying to slash him at the same time, feeling quite confident.

Of course, he was still far from what Miria could do. She nimbly danced and jumped around under the assault of six various enemies without letting them even graze her fur. Not without breaking a sweat, of course, but she valiantly held her ground while often striking back.

But, even she couldn’t completely avoid the attacks of both the opponents surrounding her and the ones in the back, thus Selene focused her efforts on pushing all the arrows heading her way off the path as she closed onto the enemy’s backline.

One of the magical staves managed to finish casting before she got to it and a hail of ice spikes surged at her, covering the whole corridor. Not wanting it to reach the others, she stopped abruptly and poured mana into the external circuits on her arms, and also into her eyes, taking a drawing stance.

When she gripped the ethereal hilt harder and focused her senses, time seemed to slow down for her. Not as much as when she was supported by Ast’s Sensory Boost, but just enough to be able to spot every icicle coming her way with no issue.

Her expression tensed as she began cutting them one by one as they came, swinging her spiritual katana barely in time to intercept the ice projectiles thanks to the demonic apparitions wrapped around her arms like gauntlets, allowing her to move her arms much faster than she normally could at this stage of Awakening.

To the others, it looked like Selene leaned forward a little bit and the storm of little ice javelins began turning into white dust the moment it reached her position. Neither Asterios nor Miria could perceive her movements, accompanied by continuous whizz of air. It was all a smudge to them.

At that point, Suanori finished setting up her spell and numerous magical circles of a light brown hue appeared on both walls throughout the corridor. A pillar of hardened earth surged from each of them and slammed into the ranged weapons in the backline, pinning them into the opposite walls and interrupting their casting or shooting.

Meanwhile, Miria’s counterattack hit one of the crystals embedded into a flying shield that accompanied a longsword and it fell to the ground after the gem shattered. She instantly realized what happened.

“One of the crystals is the core!”

Catching Miria’s shout before she lunged forward, Selene smiled to herself and located a few gems protruding from the weapons clasped between the walls and Suanori’s horizontal pillars. She stabbed whichever ones she could while passing them and reached the last one in a flash.

Out of the five weapons she had damaged, three lost their colorful auras while the other two seemed to have their cores in a different gem. Even entrapped, one of the magical orbs managed to cast a spell and Selene’s ear twitched. 

A lightning bolt shot towards her back but she managed to turn around in time, taking it onto her katana. The force was much stronger than she expected after repelling the ice spell earlier and the electricity shattered her weapon, traversing into her arms with the leftover energy, causing her to groan and stumble, semi-paralyzed in her upper limbs.

Something whizzed by her ear and she heard a shattering sound behind her. Turning her head to the back, she noticed a bony staff held in the air by brown vines and with a needle in all three of its gems. It must have somehow snuck out of its hold and swung down at her.

Glancing forward, she found Asterios aiming his hand with the Poison Fang at her while blocking a dual slash from above with his other arm, not even looking her way. She smiled to herself and thanked him through their bond, quickly spreading spiritual energy through her arms to regain control of them. She destroyed the remaining magical orb before it tried anything else and started heading back to the party.

In the meantime, Miria managed to get rid of three more weapons after noticing their weakness. Asterios, unfortunately, wasn’t that lucky and destroyed only one, all with Umbra’s help, who pierced the correct gem during one of Ast’s parries.

With just three remaining enemies in total, the rest of the battle wasn’t that dangerous. One of the greatswords did attempt to send a flaming arc at Miria while its scythe partner assaulted her, but was quickly stopped by Selene, who grabbed it and slammed it into a wall.

Suanori tied the sword to it and allowed the fox lady to easily shatter all the crystals to fully disable their opponent. With just the scythe in front of her, Miria unleashed a flurry of blows until the correct core got damaged enough to get rid of her flying enemy too.

It seemed that the magical bone weapons possessed some intelligence as the last remaining one stopped trying to hack Asterios after all of its comrades fell to the ground. It just hovered in the air while turning towards each of them with its guard up. Unfortunately, it was surrounded, with no escape path available.

“Sorry, little guy. No hard feelings, okay?”

Asterios managed to land a hit on the last remaining crystal in the sword’s blade while it was distracted and finished the encounter. He quickly approached Selene to check on her arms, asking her to roll down her sleeves.

“I’m fine, my Lord. It was just a little tingly for a moment.”

Seeing no real damage on her skin and no internal ruptures after checking it out with his spiritual sense, he sighed in relief.

“We shouldn’t underestimate any attack or spell down here. You’ve seen for yourself how tough the enemies are.”

“Yes, I apologize for worrying you.”

He shook his head. “It’s obvious we won’t be able to avoid getting hurt now. I’m glad it wasn’t anything serious. Drink this. You are still feeling the aftereffects, right?”

She nodded and obediently emptied the yellow potion, even though it tasted awful. But, she immediately noticed her muscles relaxing a little and the remaining discomfort began fading away.

Suanori quickly treated their cuts and bruises while they collected the weapons and gems. They should earn them some decent coin even with just the crystals that weren’t shattered in their attempts to find the true core. And who knows, maybe someone fancied some creepy bone coffin shield.

Wrapping up, they descended to the next floor before the sounds of battle could lure something else to their position.

 

Time to get serious ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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Enormous gratitude towards our EX-rank Guild Member - Michael S.! And naturally towards all the S-rank Guild Members - Magiwarrior, Chicken Adobo, Soen Kigi, Fandley, Skyell, Vincent S., William J., The Skittering One, and Jonathan C.! We wouldn't be able to have such epic adventures without your support! This Guild Master is greatly honored by your presence!

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