By the end of the 14th floor, it had finally returned to a normal temperature. We were moving very rapidly now. Of course, Map had also been extended this far through the use of provided dungeon maps. If we had to stumble around without a map, the floors would likely take four times as long to navigate. Even when it came to fighting, I couldn’t stress how valuable a map was. You could plan your encounters, and when mixed with Sense Life, I could avoid things like getting trapped in an area without an escape.
In this respect, you had to think of dungeons less like in a video game. For example, when I reached an intersection, and one direction went to a dead-end, while the other continued on deeper, which direction should I go? The gamer in me would say that I should head the direction of the dead end. There is probably a treasure down there and at the very least, you want to complete as much as possible.
However, a dungeon is filled with living creatures, and it even has a will of its own. You could travel down that dead-end path, and then find all of the creatures on the level have blocked off your path and trapped you against a wall. It was rare, but dungeons can even set up traps over spots you had just walked by. That’s why it was important to always be vigilant.
The more threatened a dungeon felt by your presence, the more violently it could react. Incidents like the flood I had experienced when I entered my first dungeon, Mina’s Dungeon, still can happen. Mina’s Dungeon was young and was pushed into panic mode. I eventually found out that Tibult had been trying to use a method similar to Terra’s Dungeon. That is to say, he was setting up a barrier that was going to strangle the dungeon and drain it of mana.
For a weakling like him, it wasn’t a bad strategy. He put up special mana invocations he had prepared for himself around and inside the dungeon. Then, give it a year to desiccate, and then come in to save the day. The problem was that the dungeon had reacted violently to his presence, which led to it attacking the city of Chalm. He realized that Chalm was going to send out a request for a Dungeon Diver to resolve the dungeon, destroying his chance. So, he first came to town declaring he’d defeat it, and then he tried to forcefully close the dungeon.
To do that, he had to set up something on the fifth floor, but the dungeon attacked him, and the result was Lydia was abandoned and my party was attacked viciously on the first floor. Interestingly enough, while dungeons will react violently to those who wish to destroy them, they seem to welcome those that they believe with complete the lore. Mina’s Dungeon saw my relationship with Lydia and ultimately stopped hindering our progress. One could even say that it helped us reach the bottom.
This was the event that ultimately led to me becoming a Dungeon Diver. Of course, I didn’t find out any of this from Lord Tibult himself. The Princess had dropped this information to me during one of our conversations.
That led to the question: did this dungeon see us as a threat or an ally? As we got closer to the 30th and final floor, we’d know the answer. It would either act violently, trying to repel us through any means necessary, or it would go easy on us. Either way, we could only remain vigilant, because, by the time we were certain of that answer, it could be too late.
This was the life of a Dungeon Diver. We continued on through the ivy-walled labyrinth, getting ever closer to the bottom, and the location of the King.
“We should take a break here,” Lydia recommended as we reached the stairway to the 15th floor.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“The next level contains the free-roaming boss,” she explained. “And Raissa said that the 15th floor was extremely challenging. Her party was wiped out on this floor and she only barely made it to the kiosk and escaped.”
“That’s right, she did say something like that.” I scratched my chin. “Plus, if Lord Reign did come up with something to get in our way, he’d definitely put it on this floor.”
Upon thinking about it for a moment, a deep frown ended up on my forehead. The rather simple task of heading down suddenly became a lot more menacing. I wouldn’t normally be worried we couldn’t handle a level fifteen boss, but given the unusual nature of the level ten boss, it left me feeling a little worried. If this boss was just as unconventional, it could seriously be a challenge.
“Alright, let’s stop for a bit.”
We stop and take another break, setting up a fire. I end up cooking again, and the girls all make noises of happiness as they eat my meals. Most of the meals I make are rather simple. Meat, bread, and vegetables are about the limits. Even then, it turns out most people eat bready gruels with maybe just a hint of vegetables and meat on occasions. I’m definitely interested in coming out with more complicated stuff. I’m certain the answer lies within dungeons. Once I finished up here, I was hoping to head back to Chalm and start reading up on dungeons. I had books now, but I didn’t have time to read more than the base level for most of them.
The real trick was learning about the mega-dungeons, and what items could be acquired on what floors. That’s when I could start truly farming from home. However, as long as I had to work on destroying dungeons, I was always venturing into the unknown.
While the girls were eating and I was preparing my own serving, I glanced through the progress we had made since I last checked. I hadn’t done anything amazing. Lydia made it to 23 as a Scout. Miki made it to 23 as a Basic Magician. Celeste hadn’t leveled. Terra was at level 3 for Earth Summoner. Shao was unchanged, the same as me. I had left White Mage, True Dungeon Diver, and Slave Master on for the most part, and all of those were up to past level 25. I occasionally switched to Hero or Basic Magician if I needed something, but it wasn’t enough to level them yet either.
Simply put, we were in a need to grind if we wanted to become more powerful than we are now in a short amount of time. The reason I was thinking about that was because of the next level. We were going to fight a boss and possibly some Knights. Although our strength now and when we last fought the Knights is different, it would still be dangerous if we faced them head-on. I didn’t like to take risks if I didn’t have to.
I stood up and looked down at the girls. They all looked up at me, their banter quieting down.
“Let’s clear out this level. I want to do some power leveling.”
Power leveling, or the term I started to use for when we summoned a large horde of enemies to fight at once, was the quickest way to level. Unfortunately, it was a catch-22. It was the fastest way to level, but it also usually meant we had to equip our best jobs if we wanted to survive. I was developing a plan to get around that.
The 14th level contained golems, not unlike the ones we had challenged as the level 5 mini-boss. They weren’t quite as large, but what they lacked in stature, they made up for in number. Actually, given the freak occurrence on level 5, they were probably not that much different. That was the terrifying part of all this. In the end, we had lost and had to run from the mini-boss horde. We had only survived by bringing down the entire mine to crush them.
At this point, we wouldn’t be able to replicate those results. Instead, we’d have to use the map and our smarts so that we don’t get overwhelmed. They were clearly designed to be exhausting. After defeating the siren, being tempted by treasure, becoming soaked, and then frozen, you then had to fight your way through a deadly horde of slow, aggravating enemies designed to make you waste whatever energy you had left before reaching level 15 and hoping you get to the safe zone before the miniboss finds you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this was a really insidious dungeon.
However, they were slow, and we had experience fighting their mini-boss brothers. They came in two types, a shield type which just tried to block you and force you back, and a spear type which tried to impale you. Four or five of them grouped together and coming at you was about as hard as it could get, and it was exactly the test I was planning on putting all of us through. The girls understood my decision though.
We were pressed for time, and we needed to get stronger. It was better to fight what we could handle now, rather than become overwhelmed and risk our lives later. Besides, we still had the ability to escape with a portal, so there was no issue.
“Are you sure about this, Master?” Shao asked as she helped me fill up water skins.
“It’s the best way,” I responded, filling up everything I could find with Water of Life.
I used a bunch of the fairy dust to make enough for everyone in the party. I was going to drop White Mage for this one, so the girls needed to depend on water to keep themselves healed.
If there really was an emergency, it only takes a few seconds to switch back to White Mage, but seconds can be life or death in a battle like this. As for my jobs, Slave Master, Monster Tamer, and True Hero. Although True Hero sounded powerful, I have never equipped it up until this point. The first skill it gave me was something called Danger Sense. The hope was that the levels I gained would make it worth it.
After using their abilities to set up traps whenever possible, the girls were similarly nerfed. For Lydia, I switched to Thief for her second job. Miki was switched to Alchemist. Celeste kept Magic Singer, Terra had Mineral Appraiser, and Shao had Pugilist.
“Alright, everyone ready?” I asked.
The girls all nodded in turn.
“Let’s do it!”
I released the monster lure, and the rumbling sound began.