The jaws of the <<Giant Ant>> clashed against Gorin’s shield, generating a sound reminiscent of metal striking metal.
“You are denied passage! <<Indomitable Barricade>>!”
A light green light began to glow from Gorin’s body from the use of his <<Skill>>. <<Skills>> were the structured manifestation of magic within the world. While it was possible to use magic in its raw form, <<Skills>> were specific uses of magic which had been experimented with and adjusted for maximal efficiency or efficacy. They were mostly developed through trial and error, then taught to others to be passed down the generations. Most formal education in regards to magic involved the teaching of the existing <<Skills>> to the students, and <<Skills>> were the most utilised form of magic in combat due to their elimination of the vagueness and uncertainty which otherwise inherently came with magic usage.
Most <<Skills>> required a chant of some sort to focus the mind and shape the power, with more complicated <<Skills>> requiring longer chants. Then there were those, such as Gorin’s <<Indomitable Barricade>>, which were simple enough to be used chantless.
<<Indomitable Barricade>> was a basic skill belonging to the <<Reinforcement>> catagory. It simply infused the outer layer of skin or one’s armor with magic, causing it to be far harder and resilient. It could be said to be the most basic of the basic for defensive <<Skills>>, but it was marvelous in its simplicity. Gorin caught the attacking jaws of the <<Giant Ants>> which swarmed them on his forearms without flinching, then threw them off, suffering no damage.
“Gorin! Back away now!”
At Hina’s warning, Gorin immediately disengaged and retreated, allowing the swarming ants to group up and face the party of 6. In the meantime, Hina was standing in a ready stance with her right hand on the handle of the sheathed Katana at her side, her body bent low and forward.
“Oh sinner, gaze with fear upon the fury of the heavenly emperor. With a blade sheathed in the wrath of divinity, rejoice in thy demise, <<Lightning Arc Flash>>!”
Within a single second, a giant arc of lightning had surged forth from Hina’s position and obliterated the swarm of <<Giant Ants>>, leaving behind a mass of charred, blackened bodies.
<<Lightning Arc Flash>> was a Hina original skill, a <<Compound Skill>> that drew upon magic from the three systems of <<Accel>>, <<Lightning>> and <<Compression>>. Using <<Compression>>, magical <<Lightning>> was compressed and condensed along the edge of the blade of her still-sheathed katana, which was then drawn, slashed and re-sheathed in a single motion under a second, aided by the speed boost from <<Accel>>. This resulted in a wave of lightning that followed the arc of the sword, mowing down enemies in the way.
It was a simple, 2-line-chant skill that relied on the path of the sword to guide the movement of the lightning, which was an otherwise uncontrollable force of nature, and more importantly, it fit Hina’s style of swordsmanship perfectly.
“Whew, impressive as always, Hina.”
Christopher tossed Hina a compliment as he walked forward to examine the charred corpses.
“It’s a pity that you didn’t leave any of it unsmoked enough to harvest though. We won’t be getting anything from these bodies, for certain.”
“Uhhh, more importantly, shouldn’t we keep moving? It’s getting dark, and I at least want to reach the 33rd floor by dayfall.”
As Lily mentioned, the 31st floor that the party was on was slowly getting darker, with more shadows being cast on the stark white walls. Even though it was technically nighttime, the maze-like structure that was the <<Labyrinth of Azoria>> started the evening extremely well-lit, and gradually became darker as morning approached. About two hours after sunrise, the labyrinth would be completely dark and impossible to navigate.
“Hmmm… I’d say it’s been about 6 hours since we entered, so… At our current pace, we should be able to hit the 33rd floor with two hours to spare. Thank the gods for milestone circles! Now let’s gogogogogo!”
Enya chirped out her assessment based on the very reliable Elven sense of innate time, and urged the party forth. Milestone Circles were a series of very convenient Transfer Circles built into the <<Dungeon>> itself which allowed for transfer between each other. It was unknown as to why they were a part of the Dungeon, but it was well known that they were safe to use and extremely useful. Within the <<Labyrinth of Azoria>>, two had been found: one on the 1st floor, and one on the 25th floor.
As they walked onward, navigating the maze, Lily got to see the spectacular teamwork of <<Battleforged>> in action. Gorin would attract the attention of the enemies, relying on his reportoire of defensive skills to withstand their attacks, while Hina waited for an opening to strike, with the aim of eliminating as many of the enemies at one go. Meanwhile, Anya and Enya would keep a careful watch on the situation, healing or erecting protective barriers when necessary, and Christopher would pick off the enemies from a distance, while staying on the lookout for any attacks from the rear of the formation. It was a strategy almost textbook in its balance, creating a well-rounded battle formation capable of responding to a wide variety of situations. That they were capable of working so well together was a testament to their battle experience and their trust and each other.
In truth, it made Lily a little envious of the life of an adventurer.
While they advanced, the party casually spoke, making small talk to ease the tension.
“So Lily, why are you specifically going to the 33rd floor just to get materials? It seems a bit excessive to me.”
So asked Christopher while he walked at the back of the party, cat ears twitching, alert for any foreign sounds.
“Ah, well, it’s because there might be new, undiscovered materials, and I thought this might be my chance to make a major discovery and invention, since this is the first newly discovered floor in about a year.”
It was true. The <<Floor Boss>> of the 32nd floor had given the adventurers quite some trouble for some time, as the <<Academic City Azoria>> had a dearth of high-ranked adventurers, having a higher population of academics and researchers.
“Ah, but what makes you so sure that you’ll find a new material on the 33rd floor? There’s always the chance that this might be a futile trip.”
“Well… I’m not sure at all, to be honest. In fact, it’s more likely that I won’t find anything, considering that the last time a new material was discovered in Azoria was <<Resound Jewels>> on the 8th floor. But… I felt like I needed to try, nonetheless. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?”
“Well, there’s a philosophy I can live by. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, indeed.”
Christopher ended their conversation with a smile, then started to frown a bit.
“Oi, Enya. I don’t recognise this place. Are you sure we’re going the right way?”
The elf who was in charge of navigation turned to Christopher with a puzzled look.
“Hm? Yeah. See, look. according to the map, there’s a fork right… here… huh. That’s weird.”
Enya spread a map wide on the ground, then started trying to trace their path with her finger. Gorin and Hina, who noticed the commotion, turned around and started to crowd around the map. Meanwhile, Enya had gone white, and her finger was trembling. Lily voiced her concern.
“Er… Miss Enya? Is something the matter?”
Enya lifted her head and looked at Lily with eyes on the verge of tearing.
“…I took a wrong turn.”
At that moment, five voices resounded throughout the rapidly darkening dungeon.
“””””Enya, you massive idiot!!!!”””””