Chapter 40 – Miria’s First Boss Spoiler: Chapter The fourth floor’s monsters were mainly insects, similar to the starting level. That was one of the signs that the floor with the boss was close. Usually, it ended up being the one where the frequency of those monsters looped again, or the next one after, but exceptions from that rule could exist. With some decent experience and understanding of fighting together, Ast’s group didn’t have too many problems with pushing through the various opponents. They already spent some time in the dungeon, something around six hours, and they were heading straight for the stairs leading down and then for the boss chamber. The goal was to finish it all up in no more than two hours from now, for them to still have time and energy to return to the surface. They could spend a night in the fifth or sixth safe zone if the party deemed taking the fight to be too dangerous with the accumulated fatigue, but sleeping in a dungeon always left a weird effect on people, making them feel more sluggish and drained with each passing day. For those strong physically the ‘curse’ was weaker, and because mages were experiencing it way harder than the other professions, people quickly realized it had to do with the whole mechanic of the dungeon absorbing spiritual energy and essence. Half of Ast’s party relied on that force, so if they would be able to reach the boss without getting too tired, they wanted to challenge it without the weird sensation present, being pretty much in their peak ability. Asterios read that the very first night in the dungeon had this effect amplified, and at least he and Miria hadn’t been subjected to it yet. He preferred to take it safely with the boss. So, in their usual formation, they made their way through all the bugs on the way to the fifth floor. With just Miria and Selene, it was pretty easy. Amongst all the enemies they met, which included previously appearing Murder Hornets or newly encountered Blaze Ants, Spore Beetles, Dreamland Moths, Sword-legged Grasshoppers and some Goblins here and there, only the moths required the use of more advanced tactics and abilities. As their name suggested, those flying, less-pleasant to the eye cousins of butterflies, were able to utilize various attacks that had a high chance of making their target fall asleep. And it wasn’t just your light, mid-day nap, but a state from which it was almost impossible to bring the person out with conventional means. A strong-smelling solution would work, and Ast certainly had at least few of them on himself, but it would be great to avoid having to make your teammates sick for a few hours just to wake them up. That was why the groups of monsters that consisted of Dreamland Moths took them a lot more time than any other combination of enemies. Besides the Trial near the beginning, Asterios’s squad didn’t come across any other challenging situations and they reached the fifth’s level safe zone in a bit over half an hour after they beat the pillars. They took only a quick break to catch a breather, drink a bit of water and snack on some jerky. Not too much to not affect their movements. Asterios checked the correct path to the boss and they left the resting area. After around twenty minutes, the earthen corridor they were moving through started getting more spacious. A brownish structure blocking the passage could be seen from a distance, with a few silhouettes near it. “Is that… a huge door? Why would it be there?” Miria squinted her eyes. “We’ve most likely reached the boss chamber or it’s another Trial. The latter has a chance for them to appear and the former is locked behind what adventurers call a Gate most of the time. Why? As our Mister Know-it-all mentioned before, the main purpose of the monsters in there is to be a stopping force for adventurers that bulldoze through upper floors. It would be pointless if you could just like, distract them or sneak around. That’s why the room is locked after someone enters. With all this, people started calling these structures Gates, because they restrict access or something,” Rudy took the question on herself while the party slowly arrived closer to the blockade. They could now clearly see the group waiting in front of the Gate. Five people in total. Four men and one woman. From a quick glance, they seemed like a well-balanced party. A male Human defender in a heavy, metal armour, using a sword with a shield. A male Elf in leather clothes with a bow in hand. A male Human dressed in priestly robes, and a duo of Demons, male and female, both in leather armours, one equipped with two shortswords and the other with twin axes. Asterios approached the group with his party and nodded his head when they moved their gazes onto him and his companions. The adventurers answered with the same motion. With that, they pretty much notified Ast’s team that they don’t mind them here and completed the wordless greetings. Knowing now that they didn’t mind their presence, Asterios stepped closer and got straight to the point. “How long?” he asked. The red-skinned Demon woman waved her hand nonchalantly to capture his attention, signalling that she was the leader. “Around forty since we came here.” “So, you didn’t see them?” “Nope.” He rubbed his chin. “Should be anytime now then.” “My thoughts exactly. They must be weak or underprepared and struggling to the very las—” While she was speaking, the place rumbled a bit and the wooden doors began opening, accompanied by creaking and screeching of wood scraping over the earthen floor. Who was sitting in that party got up and they all turned towards the Gate. “Good luck,” Asterios threw as they were walking inside. “Thanks, you too.” The woman waved her hand without looking back. The structure closed again and they were left alone in front of it. “That was… stiff,” Miria commented. “Most seasoned adventurers prefer to keep things short and simple. They seemed like a party with some history together, so I assumed they wouldn’t be wanting to get all chatty and friendly. Anyway, we have at least twenty minutes of break time,” Asterios said and patted Miria’s head as he moved past her and closer to a wall and slid down it. “How do you know that, Master? And you asked that woman about time too.” She went after him and plopped by his side, looking at Ast with curiosity. “After being defeated, the boss monster should reappear in around fifteen minutes. I wanted to know if someone just went in or if they were waiting for a while. Since the forty-minute mark means the other group has been fighting for almost half an hour, we both concluded that the doors should soon open. If they were strong, they would have finished it quickly, so they must have been weak like that woman said, and kept struggling, either perishing or finally making it through.” “And now we wait for them to finish. They didn’t look like complete newbies so they should be done in less than ten minutes,” Rudy added from the other side of the passage. Everyone besides Selene, who walked up to the Gate and started examining it, sat down somewhere on the ground and took a sip of water. Observing the foxkin glancing all around the wooden doors, Miria began wondering about them. “Can’t people just destroy these?” she asked. Asterios glanced up. “Selene?” “There’s a lot of spiritual essence present in close proximity. Contaminated of course,” she spoke with eyes closed and one hand on the door. “Part of it flows into the wood, most likely reinforcing it. I’m not sure about the rest.” “The other part is gathered there to hasten the process of giving birth to the boss monster. Strong people can make their way through the barricade and a Gate without its Guardian is nothing more than just a slightly hard door. I’m pretty sure both you and Miria would be able to break it down if you gave your all into a single, strongest strike,” Asterios answered the panthergirl’s question and smiled at her. “But that can be considered rude towards the other challengers. And could help as much as distract them. Everyone knows what they are getting into when walking in there. Well, most people do.” Selene finished satiating her curiosity and joined the duo by sitting on Ast’s other, free side. Miria squinted her eyes at her and hugged Asterios’s arm, making the foxgirl chuckle, all while Rudy stared daggers at the man from the opposite side. It didn’t seem that Selene was as close to him as Miria, but Rudy was still jealous of him just having her by his side. Noticing that he saw her gaze, she sighed and showed a wry smile to which Asterios shrugged with the same. “Do we know what’s inside?” Miria continued to rain questions on others. “To some extent, yes. I told you it can be any monster we met before but stronger and usually bigger, perhaps evolved. We can’t know which one exactly, as a different enemy can spawn after the previous one is killed,” Asterios answered and waited for more, but it looked like they have dealt with Miria’s thirst for knowledge for now. Rudy was keeping track of time and was really surprised to see the Gate opening again before even eighteen minutes had passed. The party dealt with the boss in less than three minutes. They either were lucky and got one of the weaker monsters or they were just that strong. It didn’t really matter to her and the rest of Ast’s team anyway. Checking their equipment for the last time, they stepped into the chamber. The entrance closed itself behind their backs and they found themselves in the biggest cave Ast’s party had seen up to this point. The ceiling was very high, something like twenty meters above their heads, and the diameter of this uneven cavern was at least two times that distance. Besides the wooden exit on the other side, it was empty. They attentively scanned their surroundings, but there was no sight of a single enemy. “Let’s walk around in the third formation. Keep your distances, but stay close enough to help others. We have to confirm what we are dealing with first,” Asterios used two slots of his gloves for Steel Skin spell for his summons and conveyed his orders. Everyone spread evenly, creating two and a half meter gaps between each other, with Miria in the front, Rudy in the back and Ast with Selene in the middle. She was readying up her mana to cast protective shields at a moment's notice and the rest of the squad was also keeping their guards up while looking around the seemingly empty room. “Can there be no boss?” Miria asked. “Impossible,” Rudy instantly answered. “Selene, cancel the ability and try using your spiritual sense to check if there’s anything here,” Asterios suggested. “As you wish, my Lord.” She quickly moved her hands to the front, creating a circle with her left palm turned down and right up, without them touching together, and closed her eyes, creating a small whirlpool of mana in that space. Everyone else noticed faint waves of spiritual energy passing through their bodies with Selene as their epicentre. “There’s something weird… 87 degrees from my front…” she announced. Everyone glanced that way. Just a stone wall of a cavern. Irregular and seemingly naturally shaped. “Doesn’t that part look a bit too smooth? Like a… pillar?” Miria asked and everyone finally noticed a big, vertical chunk of what they assumed was stone. It did seem a little out of the place with how much it was sticking out now that they could differentiate it from the rest of the surface. Suddenly, Selene’s eyes shot open after she sensed a change in spiritual energy at that spot. “Dodge!” she shouted and threw herself at Asterios. Everyone else quickly sidestepped in anticipation of something happening from the place they were all looking at, and less than a second later, the supposed pillar broke off the wall and flew towards the only man in the group with an incredible speed. Fortunately, Selene managed to push him out of its path, falling to the ground together. *SHHIIIIIIIINNNGGG* The mysterious attacker passed them with a loud whistle of air and whizz of stone flooring being cut. It left a shallow but long line in the ground, from one side of the chamber to the other, where it landed after its lunge. The fallen duo hastily got up. “Damn bastard camouflaged itself with the surroundings!” Rudy cursed. “It’s a Deathscythe Grasshopper! Group up now! Don’t let it catch you in the open!” Asterios shouted and everyone quickly ran to him and Selene. “Like Sword-legged Grasshoppers, it will mainly attack with its insanely sharp hind legs, trying to split up its prey and take us down one by one. These guys move much faster than the smaller ones and their top is tough. Miria, Rudy, we rely on you blocking its charges. I and Selene have to find an opening to stagger it. Move as a group. If somebody gets pushed away, we instantly run to them!” “Yes, Master!” “Understood.” “Got it!” They all replied and shuffled their formation. Miria extended her Mana Coating to the length of a longsword and stepped to the front. Rudy joined her, positioning her greatsword in a way that would allow her to instantly lodge it into the ground to parry strong attacks. Selene was closely behind then, condensing her spiritual energy in her hands, and Asterios took a spot at the very back, trying to figure out which techniques could be useful in this fight. Finally having recognized the enemy, all the girls examined their opponent with more attention. It was a grey-coloured grasshopper, something around five meters long and two high. That explained how it managed to blend with the environment, also hiding its presence with spiritual energy. As Asterios mentioned, its hind legs were visibly much sharper than its smaller cousins, and they were slightly curved, almost like a scythe. Since this time everyone was ready, the sudden jump the enemy made seemed not as quick as before and the front guard was able to see the attack coming at them. The grey block flew at them with a still impressive speed and force. Both Miria and Rudy decided that the best option would be to launch a counterattack aiming at its main weapons and they succeeded with clashing their swords against the monster’s scythed legs at their own sides. The force of the clash pushed them back a bit, into Ast and Selene who supported them, and the grasshopper went above their heads after the girls altered its trajectory, landing on the other side, close to the ceiling. “Shit… That one packs a punch!” Rudy swung her greatsword which was almost ripped out of her hand with the enemy’s attack. “How is your Awakening?” Asterios asked the foxgirl. “I’ll be a bit sore afterwards, but I can use it.” “Just our luck… It had to be an enemy that preys on groups without a dedicated defender… Let’s deal with it quickly, before we start gathering injuries.” “Should I go all out then?” “No, save it for the moment things go south.” He patted Selene’s shoulder and she nodded. “Miria, it’s all yours. I’ll prepare some nice buffs for you. The moment Selene manages to throw it off-balance with her attack, rip it into shreds.” She instantly let go of all the limiters she was putting around her mind and deepened her connection with Asterios as much as they could do, linking her mana pool straight to his fiery reserves too. She wanted to have her own at the max and mentally asked Ast for a quick transfer, which would be much faster than her drawing his mana out by herself. Surprising Rudy a little, Ast’s face suddenly appeared to her right and he shared a kiss with Miria, who turned her head to the left, without dropping her guard she kept in the front. She watched them intensely pursue each other’s lips with wide eyes. The passionate exchange was very short and quick, and the two returned to their position. “Thank you, Master. Let’s do this.” Miria refocused her attention on the enemy. “Can you do it?” he asked Selene. “Consider it done, my Lord. The next time that bug tries cutting us again, it will go flying, but not where it wants.” Fortunately, or unfortunately, the grasshopper had some intelligence and didn’t seem to be that eager to repeat its attacks pointlessly after they didn’t work two times in a row. That gave them time to properly prepare themselves for as long as it didn’t sense a chance or grew bored of waiting. “I can see all its legs tensing up! It might be trying to hit us harder!” Miria informed the rest. Selene just finished gathering a huge amount of spiritual energy and drawing some weird pattern with her foot over the floor. She started doing that the moment Asterios finished talking to her. Asterios also prepared his techniques. Doing it as fast as possible, he attached Haste, Wind Infusion, Sensory Boost and Air Dance to his gloves. The last one allowed him to create footholds under his summon's feet, similar to the platforms Selene weaved out of spiritual energy earlier that day. With his mind deeply connected to Miria's, they shared their ideas and thoughts faster than sound could travel. Everyone was more than ready for the monster’s next charge, but it was unmoving, only releasing some cricketing noises from time to time. Not that much of it passed. With everyone carrying out preparations at their own discretion, it took them ten seconds to complete everything after the last word was spoken. Confirming it mentally with Asterios, Miria tried to act like she was slowly moving her crossed shortswords away to lure the big insect into attacking them. When they reached her sides, the monster finally made its move. But, her weapons were now exactly in the position she needed them at. The grasshopper pushed itself off the wall with a loud thump and lunged at the party. Asterios snapped fingers of his left hand and Miria received the benefit of Sensory Boost. Even without direct contact, it allowed her to watch the monster fly at them around thirty or forty percent slower than usual. She filled her blades with the wind mana from Ast’s enhancement and carefully traced upwards with them, timing their trajectory to perfectly catch the sharp leg of her enemy with a cross-shaped slash. While Miria sliced its limb off and injured the monster’s body a little, Rudy crouched and leaned to the back, letting the other scythe scrape over her blade as the force of Miria’s upwards attack set the insect into a vertical spinning motion. As it passed above the warrior woman and continued flying past the vanguard, Selene was more than ready to receive the opponent that was turned upside down. She drove her heel into the patterns she created earlier and a massive amount of spiritual energy, in the form of tall, bluish tongues of flames, burst out from them, heading upwards. It wasn’t an actual fire so it didn’t burn anyone present, and she made sure to guide the patterns all around her teammates to avoid pushing them off-balance because the sheer force of the released energy sent the giant bug flying towards the ceiling the moment it was unleashed. Asterios sent Miria a mental signal and activated Sensory Boost for her again. She hastily crouched down and gathered mana in her legs, using her Physical Strengthening. He snapped the fingers of his right hand this time and Miria launched herself off the ground with a perfectly timed Haste activation from him. With their minds joined pretty much into one, their cooperation was almost without imperfections. Miria caught up to the monster’s body still flying upwards and Asterios snapped the fingers of his left hand, creating a foothold with Air Dance just the moment she rotated herself to receive it. Abruptly stopping in the air with the use of the platform, she closed her eyes and entrusted the vision to her master, focusing her all on the upcoming technique. Others just barely noticed the disappearance of Miria, which was accompanied by a loud thump and two almost instantaneous snapping sounds, when she came crashing down with another snap and an insanely sharp whistle. Instantly after landing, she was gone again with another snap, and a whistle followed. This repeated ten more times, with the number of snaps alternating between one and two each jump. Everything took less than four seconds. Thirteen sharp whizzes, eighteen snaps and thirteen explosions of air later, Miria appeared in front of the group kneeling on one knee with both arms extended horizontally to the sides, her blades covered in greenish blood. Before anyone uttered a single word, a rain of mutilated flesh chunks fell down all around them. The Deathscythe Grasshopper was no more. Miria quivered and Asterios quickly jumped to his knees to catch her into his arms before she fell forwards. They both were panting heavily. “What the hell… was that?” Rudy sheathed her sword and glanced around at all the carnage. She noticed numerous deep cuts in the walls, ceiling and flooring. There were thirteen in total. “Haaah… A technique… haaah… I just came up with… Master…” Miria spoke in between breaths. “Just came up with? Are you crazy? You pretty much disintegrated this thing!” “It’s not completely new… hoooh… We just changed it a bit and added some verticality to one of our previous moves…” Asterios tried to explain. “She basically jumped fourteen times with my Haste… slashed with her blades infused with wind energy… using footholds I created in the air to fly in various directions… and cut the monster into pieces…” “Because of course, she did! Dude! Who can defend against that?!” Rudy threw her arms into the air and shouted, glancing then to the side at Selene who chuckled at her reaction. “Well… She’s most compatible with the speed and agility type of techniques… That’s pretty much it... I’ve never activated this many spells in such a short time frame and in quick succession...” “It was amazing… Although my head is now really dizzy… Too many changes of direction… We need to practice it more, ehehe~.” Rudy just waved her hand at the kneeling and smiling duo and turned around to guard them with Selene while Asterios and Miria were catching their breaths after their insane performance.