The endpoint that they arrived at was a circular, stone room bounded by multiple ring-like layers of rough granite. The brackish water, their companion for the last hour, glided swiftly through the center of the room to collect in a large pool, leaving barely any space to walk.
Unnatural, green flames flickered from torches dotting the curved walls; he half-expected a group of necromancers to rise from the floor and begin chanting in Latin. At the opposite end of the room were two badly-chiselled doors… no, they were more like boulders.
It appeared that they’d reached their destination.
“Finally here. You guys took your time – don’t tell me you thought this was a haunted house or something?”
“Only you would treat a dungeon like an amusement park.”
They moved over to Reeds; the assassin was leaning against the doors as if he were a part of the surroundings. Blood dripped from his sleeves; his black clothes were drenched in blood. Only he knew how many wandering monsters they would’ve encountered if he hadn’t dealt with them first.
“There aren’t any traps or monsters remaining around here,” he continued, completely unconcerned with how unpresentable he appeared. “Also, these doors have no keyholes. No locks to pick.”
Kenjin scratched his head in puzzlement. If they’d taken a wrong turn somewhere… no, that was impossible. He hadn’t heard about needing a key or anything along those lines, so maybe there was some other condition that they hadn’t met.
“Open. Open sesame. Alohomora,” he said, pressing his hand against the doors. Wasn’t this the part where it should’ve opened with an ominous creak? He began to feel increasingly stupid as the cold granite rejected his presence.
Elyria immediately began to move strings over the surface of the doors. Searching for access conditions required considerable amounts of mana, so it was a role usually given to the spellcasters of a party.
“It seems like the gates will open when we defeat some kind of boss monster…” she said, looking around the room nervously. As expected, that was how these kinds of scenarios always went – but there weren’t any enemies nearby.
All eyes turned to the pool, the only place an enemy could possibly emerge from. Their target was hiding.
A jade-green, serpentine mass flickered through the water for a brief moment, leaving behind a rustling sound as large waves billowed in its wake. The pool was so murky that nobody could tell how deep it was, and the light only penetrated a few feet before vanishing.
“Formation 6, as usual. Let’s test the waters,” said Kenjin while unsheathing the holy sword once more. It was a delicate white longsword with somewhat low durability, but he believed that it would be enough… as long as he used its ability sparingly.
He held his shield before him, ready to intercept any attack. Behind him, Elyria could support at a moment’s notice, while Reeds sneaked away to do his own thing. The formation lacked firepower, trading for tremendous defensive potential. They weren’t taking any chances.
He clenched his fist tightly, his pulse quickening as the noxious liquid swirled and spilled across the floor, swamping their feet. They all waited with bated breath as the surface of the water bubbled, frothed, and became as quiescent as the surface of a mirror.
“…It’s not attacking.”
A sinister gurgle drifted up from underwater, and golden pupils shone in the depths of the blackish water. It was mocking them! This wasn’t the first time that they’d met a boss monster which was unwilling to fight, but it was the first time that they’d seen one which openly taunted them.
“It’s a coward. It didn’t attack me while I was waiting, either,” Reeds warned from a nearby ledge. Kenjin and Elyria exchanged grim smiles; naturally, they had ways of dealing with these kinds of troublesome enemies.
Multiple steel wires pierced the surface of the lake – Kenjin gripped them tightly, channelling mana through them.
Sacred Arts: Retribution. It was a makeshift taser! Shocking electricity surged through the wires – incredibly debilitating divine lightning, exclusive to players who used holy magic. The still waters rippled as the monster underneath squirmed in annoyance.
“—Still not enough?” He frowned and gradually increased the voltage of the electricity flowing through the wires. Large waves appeared on the surface, and the monster began to writhe underneath the surface, evidently in intense discomfort.
After two minutes, finally, its irritation peaked. The surface of the lake swelled as if struck from below by a giant! Their enemy surged upwards, drenching them with chilling water as it unleashed a shrill, piercing shriek.
Glistening scales covered its body like plates of cold steel. Sinuous coils slapped against the ground as it slithered from the pool, and its voice lowered to a slow, menacing hiss. Rows upon rows of jagged fangs protruded from its mouth like those of a shark, and it bared its forked tongue in a savage snarl.
The snake was forty-feet long and slender, with a belly around three times as thick as his forearm, and green webbing protruded from the back of its head – a trait inherent to water monsters.
However, its regal appearance was completely lost on him – no, not just him, but Elyria and Reeds too. Every monster in Tiandi was well-designed, so a giant snake was nothing special. Rather than that –
“–Really…?” giggled Elyria lightly. The snake’s eyes were covered with pink, translucent swimming goggles which looked incredibly out of place. He eyed the goggles like a predator; if she liked them that much, then he had no choice but to grab them!
He started wordlessly bashing against the front of his shield, creating a jarring, grating screech in the direction he was facing. The disruptive sound waves cascaded over the snake’s form! This was an ability to attract monster aggression, naturally a core skill for any tank.
…He then remembered that snakes couldn’t hear.
A streak of green shot forward with surprising ferocity. The snake was like a ballista bolt; its head drew dangerously close in less than a second. Fangs flashed and glinted as it charged at Reeds with meteoric speed…!
“Do your job properly,” Reeds cursed after barely dodging the incredibly fast strike. The snake’s head constantly jabbed back and forth with erratic movements, leaving the assassin with no chances to strike back.
Reeds was playing it cool, but Kenjin could see beads of sweat flying from his head and a slight, panicked look in his eyes. Their fight had only been a few seconds long, but Reeds was already exhausted – he wouldn’t escape for much longer.
“Fall back for a moment!” he yelled; Reeds released a sack from his belt, which exploded into a black cloud of dust, and made an inelegant retreat. With its sight restricted, it hissed in displeasure and fell silent. A harsh light streamed from within the cloud, and the basilisk released a menacing hiss…!
His mind was filled with the sudden vision of a rabbit caught in the headlights of an onrushing car! All the muscles in his body seized up in paralysis, and he felt something wet trickle down his leg which he hoped was sweat.
Their enemy was no snake. It was –
Elyria was worried for good reason. This was a monster so rare that its appearance was comparable to finding a fifty-dollar note lying on the ground. More importantly, a Dark Lord owning a basilisk? Where had he read this one before?
The basilisk lunged again with explosive acceleration, this time clearly aiming for him! He heaved his shield forward – it easily stopped just short with a sinuous, winding turn. Its slippery movements reminded him of water; it could take advantage of the slightest crack.
Strength, speed, and intelligence! He raised his shield in a daze; the snout flashed before his eyes like a boxer’s jab, causing an unprecedented sense of crisis. Blood erupted from his mouth and his bones felt as if they were being crushed by an incredible weight –
He left the ground. Scalding-hot liquid painted his cheeks and the scent of cooking flesh saturate the air. The world spun wildly, smashing him to and fro, pulling him apart as if he were a leaf caught in a raging torrent –
Something tore into his back. His arm was crushed. His waist was fractured. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth, and a crippling numbness spread through his left side.
He hadn’t defended in time.
His arm was left completely useless. The surface of his armour smoked as powerful venom ate through its durability, and he roughly pushed against the floor with his uninjured arm to reach a sitting position.
A plain, cloth pouch hurtled into the ground beside him. He untied it quickly and removed numerous pills from within; it was Elyria’s special delivery service! She lacked true support spells, so they always had to make do with various poultices, herbs, potions and so forth.
One pill after another cracked under his teeth, flooding his mouth with a minty, sweet taste. These tic-tac-like pills were created with a detoxification effect! A weak sense of clarity pervaded his head – he frowned as he threw several in his mouth at a time.
The basilisk’s petrification was incredibly potent.
Shivers inadvertently ran down his spine; it wasn’t difficult to imagine what would’ve happened if he’d actually met its eyes. Would he have shattered like stone? Basilisks were known for their terrifying eyes, after all.
Sacred Arts: Light Cure. His wounds immediately started stitching together, and all broken bones began to re-assemble. Healing was an essential ability for any holy magic user, but it had its limits – it was next to impossible to fight while your body was itching this badly!
“Leave it to us for now,” said Elyria, stepping forward in his place. The basilisk had blown him across the room, pushing him out of its attack range… and Elyria was neither as durable nor as agile as he was.
“Yeah… my bad.”
The thought of her pulverized body briefly numbed his mind. No… it wouldn’t happen.
He had full faith in her abilities.
Without warning, a shadowy figure lobbed a glittering object and swiftly retreated to the basilisk’s blind spot. Reeds had made a perfect surprise attack, but his target simply flexed its tail to meet it; even without looking, the attack was too simple to repel.
A shattering noise rang out as the projectile, a glass flask, struck the basilisk’s scales – sickening white fumes immediately rose from the site of impact. In the real world, this was known as tear gas!
Because of the goggles its eyes didn’t redden in the least, but nevertheless it was overcome by hacking coughs! With a displeased snarl, it began to rampage indiscriminately around the room. No matter how vigorously it shook its head, the burning pain remained.
Now that the basilisk’s movements were hindered, they’d created a chance to attack. However, its frenzied reaction meant that it was far too dangerous for either Reeds or him to approach. It was Elyria’s turn.
Hundreds of silver threads exploded from her pouch and gathered in the air around her, quickly knitting themselves into long, fibrous whips. Each lash scattered blood, rent flesh and crushed scales!
“Force it away from the water,” called Reeds; rinsing action could mitigate the effect of the gas, and it could even escape to deep underwater in an instant if it so chose to. The only reason why it hadn’t yet left was because it didn’t fear them at all.
The basilisk continued to whirl about, flailing within the storm of cables in visible frustration. At the same time, Reeds constantly threw daggers at its soft underside, but the basilisk’s erratic movements and thick hide meant that it was next to impossible to achieve a direct hit.
Fortunately, it was still working!
Elyria’s attacks, while setting a grisly sight, were still barely enough to harm the basilisk. However, with each thin gash torn into its body, its health was being whittled away steadily. Its pride wouldn’t allow it to continue receiving such one-sided punishment.
Golden eyes flared with rage as it endured the pain. It was finally revealing all of its cards…! Bones and muscles contorted along its jaw; its mouth unhinged, and it ignored the pain in its throat to unleash a deep, enraged roar!