26. Dungeon ‘Diving’

    About half an hour later, the group made it to a room shaped like a bowl. The bottom was filled with dark water, and above it was a walkway shaped like a cross with a circular platform in the center. The room was illuminated by the soft glow of Light runes that were lined all around the walls, which only served to make the dark bottom all the more ominous.

    “We’re finally here!” Q placed her hands on her hips in a triumphant pose. “Do you think there’ll be another grimoire in here? It’d be great if we could learn another rune or two from it.”

    “I think you’ve learned more than enough runes.” Kukis was practically dragging her body forward. Similar to the previous dungeon, the entire place was filled with traps, all of which she activated willingly in order to train her skill. Although Sunflower was here to heal her when her health fell too low, her armor was left in tatters and looked ready to break at any moment.

    “Yes, we’ve learned Gather, Hold, Release and Surround.” Sunflower was currently preparing some more leaves with her runes. “I hope that we can find ones like Repair or Heal.”

    “Especially repair.” Q snickered at Kukis’ current state.

    “Need I remind you that you were in a similar state just a few days ago?” Kukis snapped. “Now let’s get this finished so I can get out and fix it.”

    Q and the others walked towards the center of the walkway. As she moved, Q tried peering into the waters to get a glimpse of what lurked underneath but couldn’t find anything due to the light of the runes reflecting off the surface and blocking her view. For a moment she was half-tempted to stick her head in the water to look, but quickly judged it as a bad idea. Not only because there could be something in the water, but also because it would be rude to Pomelo who had completely settled on her head.

    Speaking of the small creature, he seemed to hold quite a bit of intelligence as he could actually hold a conversation with Q. Although she treated it like it was nothing special, it wasn’t until Kukis and Sunflower had pointed out her behavior that she realized how abnormal it was to have an actual conversation with an animal. Wondering why she could talk to it, Q thought back to the fact that she was actually ordering around the Squibble army earlier, and that she was able to understand the Squibble King’s looks. The group theorized that Wildlings had some sort of inherent ability to talk to animals; or that Q was just weird.

    While Q thought about her pet, they finally made it to the center of the room. Once they all stepped on the center platform the runes on the walls intensified, filling the dim room with a bright light. The four connecting walkways retreated, leaving them stranded atop the dark waters. 

    “That’s not good.” Q brought out her weapons and Pomelo vanished, leaving her head feeling slightly empty.

    “Please don’t make us fight in the water…” Kukis pleaded under her breath.

    “I’m going to set up a wall!” Sunflower threw down a leaf at their feet and activated a set of runes. “Earth, Barrier, Surround, activate!” 

    A waist-high wall of earth sprung up around the girls – just in time as well, as it was almost immediately impacted by something on the other side. Q caught a glimpse of what hit the wall, and what she saw surprised her.

    [Rune Eel] – Level 13

    Although the system called it an eel, it looked more like a rocky snake with funky patterns on it. Before it slithered away, the patterns brightened and then it discharged electricity which hit the barrier. Thanks to the barrier being made of earth, it had little to no effect and only left a small scorch mark.

No wait, those aren’t patterns, those are runes! Q’s eyes flashed as she activated [Analyze], and managed to understand that the Eel was covered in Lightning runes. At the same time she learned the Lightning rune, but had no leeway to celebrate about that.

“Keep up the barriers Sunflower! Cookie, can you grab your stuff from the water?”

“Only one way to find out.” Kukis hurled one of her hammers down into the depths below and made a grabbing motion. There was a slight delay, and just as Kukis began to frown the hammer suddenly flew back up, carrying an Eel!

Q was quick on the draw and used her staff to smack down the hammer before it could reach Kukis. The Eel fell down on the platform, recklessly discharging electricity. Q waited for it to stop throwing electricity (which thankfully was only a few seconds), and a few good smacks later it crumbled into dust. Before anyone could feel good about that, the waters surrounding them started to light up, and they could catch brief glimpses of the Eels that were still in the water.

“Okay, no fishing. Got it.” Kukis tightly gripped her hammers.

“Is it an endurance round, or a gimmick?” Q scanned the walls for any sort of hint or clue, but couldn’t find anything.

“Whatever it is, get ready! They’re coming!” Kukis spun one of her hammers and hit an Eel going straight for her face. This attack actually killed the Eel in one hit, but before it died it sent a jolt of electricity down Kukis’ arm, causing her to wince in pain.

“Should I be hitting these things?” Sunflower clenched her hands equipped with brass knuckles. “Big sis, what should I do?”

“Keep up the barrier,” Q smacked down another Eel and frowned. The pain wasn’t something she couldn’t endure, but it reminded her of an unpleasant sensation from the past. “And save your spirit for some heals. We might be here a while.”

Alright, think! How do I deal with these things constantly throwing out electricity? Q’s mind kicked into high gear as she thought of a plan. We’ll be too exhausted to do anything if this goes on for too long. Earth seems like it’ll be good for blocking the electricity but we can’t be passive here. I need some way to gather all these guys up in one fell swoop… Oh wait, duh!

“Sunflower, make a Gather rune on the platform. Make it big!” Q took out two leaves and hastily drew a set of runes on them. Throwing one to Kukis, she shouted, “Lightning, Barrier, Self, activate!” A faint layer of light settled on their bodies, but it looked unstable and ready to break at any moment. 

“Thanks, but this doesn’t look like it’ll last long!” Kukis found dealing with the Eels a lot easier now that she was feeling less pain. 

“It’s why making them in the heat of battle sucks! We got fifteen seconds on it!” Q jumped up on top of the earth barrier and ran around it, hitting any Eel that jumped up towards her. Kukis followed suit, and they made a circle of protection while Sunflower went about drawing a Gather rune.

“This is taking up a lot of spirit!” Sunflower shouted. The rune she was making took up one third of the platform, and creating it was draining her spirit rapidly. “If I continue I won’t have enough spirit to heal anyone!”

Q looked at the half-finished rune, then at Kukis. “Cookie, keep them occupied! …Please.”

“If my armor breaks you’re paying for it.” Kukis took a deep breath, then activated an Art and shouted, “COME GET SOME!” 

All of the Eels were immediately attracted to Kukis and began leaping towards her with reckless abandon. Kukis’ hands then became a blur as she rapidly struck down each and every single one that charged at her. Despite her ferocity her health quickly drained under the constant barrage of electricity, and it only got worse as the lightning barrier wore off. 

“Go help her Sunflower, I’ll finish this.” Q’s fingers began to move rapidly as she traced out the shape of the Gather rune and added a Lightning rune on top. At the same time she took out a prepared set of runes and ran towards Sunflower who was currently healing Kukis. 

“Get ready!” Q grabbed Kukis’ and Sunflower’s hands as she dragged them to the center of the platform. Q kept running until she was sure that they were no longer standing on the runes. The Eels followed suit, and the moment that they passed over the rune formation Q activated it, causing the electricity the Eels were emitting to get sucked into the center. 

All of the Eels fell powerlessly on the platform, wriggling about. “I’m feeling hungry for a bit of charred Eel, how about you two?” Q grinned and threw the prepared runes into the air. Soon a group of fireballs began raining on the platform, making short work of the remaining Eels. For a moment, all was silent. Then, the girls burst out into cheer.

“Woohoo! Nothing feels better than gathering up mobs and sweeping them in one go.” Q felt gratified that her strategy worked out.

“Yay! We beat them!” Sunflower clapped and flapped her wings excitedly.

“We sure did but… Q, are those runes supposed to keep glowing?” Kukis pointed to the gathered lightning that was giving out a dangerous light.

“Oh shoot! I forgot to add a Release!” Q instinctively knew that the runes would explode from being unable to handle all that energy, and decisively chose to pull the other two into the water.

The instant they plunged into the dark depths, the surface above was covered in a bright light as the collected electricity burst out into the open air. Although she had lost her voice, Q tugged on the other two and swam downwards. The dark waters were once again illuminated by electricity, as sparks entered the water and spread out. Luckily thanks to Q’s warning they were able to get deep enough to the point that the electricity had mostly dispersed – although they still did take a bit of damage.

Q wanted to breathe out a sigh of relief, but couldn’t for two reasons. One: she was underwater. Two: There was something else in the water with her.

[Rune Shark] – Level 20

I knew this wouldn’t be that easy! Q internally screamed. She had a feeling that there was more to this dungeon than the Eels, as their battle state hadn’t ended after defeating them.

The Shark’s body looked far more like a real shark, in contrast to the rocky Eels, but there was a noticeable difference, as it’s fins glowed with the power of a rune. Q instinctively activated [Analyze] and came up with the surprising result of a Blade Rune. Wait, if it’s a blade then…

Before Q could react, the Shark charged forward with ferocious speed. The Shark’s fins weren’t anywhere close to touching their bodies, but as it passed by they were sliced by an invisible force. Seeing her health go down by a quarter, Q felt alarmed. She began to swim upwards, but then noticed that Sunflower was struggling due to her wings weighing her down. 

Shit. Guess I have to bite the bullet. Q got Kukis’ attention and pointed towards Sunflower. Then, she pointed towards herself and the Shark. Kukis nodded in understanding and swam down in order to help Sunflower.

The Shark turned around and seemed to judge Sunflower as the weakest member, as it prepared to charge towards her. Suddenly, a bright flash of light entered its vision, making it flinch. Slightly above the Shark, Q floated with sparks of lightning coming out of her hand. Though she may have changed her class to a Rune Meister, she never lost her basic [Spark] spell. Thankfully she could cast it without speaking by thinking ‘Spark’ in her head, otherwise her hands would be tied.

Perceiving this as a threat, the Shark attacked Q by once again using its fins. This time Q was prepared and brought out her staff to intercept the attack. Tightening her grip, she braced herself for impact. Once again the fins didn’t make contact but she still felt a tangible force push her and dragged her alongside the Shark. With a glint in her eye, Q dispelled the staff and swapped out to her Knives, then stabbed them into the Shark!

Spark Spark Spark Spark! Q casted the spell with reckless abandon, doing all she could to keep the Shark’s attention. The Shark let out a cry of pain, and then began to rotate as it swam.

At first Q was confused at this action, but then realized that the waters surrounding them were becoming more and more turbulent. Soon it became like a mini-cyclone, and just being around it quickly shaved away Q’s health – and that wasn’t even mentioning her motion sickness from being spun around so much.

Feeling dizzy and short of breath, Q had no choice but to let go. The Shark sped away while continuing its cyclone, while Q tried to reorient herself in the water. Luckily it seemed her efforts paid off as she saw Kukis pull Sunflower onto the center platform. Q swam up, but was suddenly dragged down by her leg! She suddenly lost her breath as she screamed out in pain, and saw what caught her.

The Shark had made a circle around the water and came back with a vengeance, biting down on Q’s leg, once again pulling her along. Q instinctively cast [Spark], but she had spent too much time in the water, and couldn’t endure any more. Not long after, her vision went dark…

*****

“Sunflower, are you alright!?” Kukis spat out a mouthful of water.

“*Cough* I’m okay…” Sunflower felt shaken from that experience. “Where’s Q?”

“She’s still down there.” Kukis checked the party screen and saw that Q’s health was draining rapidly. “Damn. I’m going back in to help her. Be careful okay?” Pausing for a moment, she gritted her teeth and unequipped her armor, then dove back into the water, leaving a disheartened Sunflower behind.

Kukis scanned the area for Q and quickly found her, but not in a state she’d ever want to see. Q was unconscious, floating listlessly in the water, while the Shark had half of her leg in its mouth and appeared to be… chewing. The water around them was red with blood, and Kukis felt a surge of heat come from her chest. 

Get off of her you bastard! She immediately threw a hammer at it, but the water slowed its speed and it hit with less force than she was expecting. This was enough to get the Shark’s attention though, as it stopped gnawing on Q and changed targets immediately. The Shark charged towards Kukis, and she simply glared at it with a cold look in her eyes.

It was approaching slightly from her left, so Kukis maneuvered herself so that she would be directly in front of it. The Shark didn’t seem to mind as it instead opened its mouth instead of trying to use its fins, but Kukis extended her hand and recalled her hammer, which hit the Shark from behind. With that temporary distraction Kukis made an upwards swing with her other hammer, making the Shark pass over her head.

As it missed its target, Kukis looked towards Q who was still quite a distance away from her. She’s in a critical state right now… I really hope this works. She then extended her hand towards Q and focused on the crown.

According to the description of her myth Kukis could recall anything she owned, but it never specified what was considered her property. Though it was a bit of a stretch, technically the crown was her own property at first, so focusing on those thoughts she tried to recall it. Come on… what’s mine is yours, and yours is mine! 

Miraculously, Q slowly began drifting towards Kukis, but the crown was starting to slip off of her head. This was enough to get her close though, so Kukis shot forth with a burst of speed and hugged Q in her arms. Seeing her pale face caused Kukis’ heart to hurt, but she had no time to think about it as the Shark came back for seconds.

By this point Kukis had enough of this thing and directly punched it, channeling all of her anger into an Art. Her attack, [Stunning Blow], was able to stun it for a while, which gave her enough time to get back up to the surface. As her head submerged she saw Sunflower pointing a set of runes at her. 

Upon seeing a familiar face, Sunflower relaxed and helped to pull both Kukis and Q up onto the platform. At first she felt relief, but then it turned into panic upon looking at Q’s leg which was bloody and covered in holes. 

“Sunflower, please calm down and heal her, okay?” Kukis’ tone was kind, yet her face was anything but. She recalled her hammer, and not a moment later the Shark jumped out of the water, intent on biting off her head. A harsh and icy gaze only reserved for people she hates appeared on her face. 

Kukis wasn’t a very emotional person, but at this moment she felt like giving in completely to the anger inside her. “[Rage]!” At her shout a red aura covered her body, and it appeared like the world was covered in a bloody filter. The surroundings were a dark, almost black red, while the Shark was bright but its features indistinguishable. 

Kukis moved with astonishing speed, directly meeting the Shark’s charge and not only countered it, but overpowered it and sent it back into the water. Without hesitation she jumped in after it and activated another art. “[Heavy Blow]!” She couldn’t even hear her own voice anymore, but the sensation from her arms told her that she hit something solid.

Unbeknownst to her, she managed to hit the daggers which Q had left embedded in the Shark, driving them even deeper into it. The Shark screamed, but Kukis screamed louder. She continued to hit the same place over and over again, making the Shark retreat with each blow. 

At some point the Shark spun in the water and escaped from Kukis’ grasp. It then made rapid circles around Kukis, trapping her in a whirlpool of sharp, cutting streams of water. The current Kukis cared little for this, as she directly swam into the whirlpool and intercepted the Shark. Finally feeling something she could hit again, Kukis dropped her hammers and began pounding it with her fists. 

At some point she felt something hard and grabbed onto it. Using all of her strength, she began to slowly tear it off the Shark, feeling it shudder with each inch that was taken out. A spray of red liquid covered her vision and increased the intensity of the bloody world. Though she could no longer clearly see the Shark, Kukis instinctively felt that it was about to die. 

Using the thing in her hands, she drove it deep into the Shark’s head. The Shark jolted and resisted for a short moment, but Kukis twisted the thing in her hands, and it finally floated listlessly in the water, dead. It was at that moment that the endless energy in her body dissipated, and Kukis felt an intense urge to fall asleep. Just as she was about to lose consciousness, she felt a pair of hands reach under her arms and dragged her upwards. 

Kukis raised her head with great difficulty, and saw a different kind of red that completely washed over the bloody world.  Instead of anger and rage, she felt safety and comfort. Basking in this feeling, Kukis finally closed her eyes.






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