Chapter 168: Down the Well

 

“Ready!? 3…2…1… Begin!”

War breaks out on three small floating islands above the clouds.  A small castle with large walls drops its drawbridge, bridging the gap between islands as hordes of water-type pour across it. On the other side of the central island hordes of fire-type monsters cross fallen pillars and a single rickety bridge that joins the islands together.

The small cave nestled between a quaint village made from buildings that have been restored from ruins, starts spewing forth its own horde of vicious wind-type monsters. The three groups of monsters barrel across the central island until they crashing into one another like waves in the open meadow.

Gusts of wind, balls of fire, and icy blasts fill the battle field as the monsters able to cast magic let loose their destructive wrath. Other monsters attempt to bite, claw, or peck their way to the top as they clash in melee combat.

The battle is full of carnage, but very few of the monsters actually fall, most of them retreat once they become weak enough that they cannot continue, and no attempts are made by the rival monsters to attack the fleeing easy targets.

After a period of time the water like monsters from the small castle seem to hold the advantage as they begin to gain ground. At the edge of the small village quite a few onlookers have come to watch the battle.

Among them there is a teenaged girl with fiery red hair, a tall young woman who’s only rival in height is the third woman of the group, a large bird with brilliant blue feathers. The two human women look to each other with a smirk and a nod.

The remaining fire and wind creatures on the battlefield then regroup facing off against the larger water like monsters. The large bird woman’s tongue clicks in her beak, but she doesn’t seem the least bit worried, as were it not for her beak the others would notice she would be smirking as well.

The regrouped fire and wind monsters seem to be gaining an advantage, as they start pushing back the water creatures. The battle is still pretty evenly matched but the water monsters quickly begin to fall back towards the castle.

This pleases the human women as they watch the fiery and wind monsters pushing the water monsters all the way back to the castle. Their elation is however short lived, because before they make it to the drawbridge a horn rings out from the other side of the island as a blue spark shoots into the air over the island with the small ruins.

Dawn: “But how?!”

As the fire monsters start to retreat leaving the wind monsters to fend for themselves ,Twilight then says. “You should know not to put all your eggs in one basket.”

Maeve: “Don’t think this is over, you still have me to deal with.”

“Are you sure about that?” Twilight says as another horn blows and a blue spark shoots out from the cave on the central island.

Maeve then curses as the wind monsters retreat from the castle as well. She then says “Fine, you win, again. We need an earth sister, because you have an advantage over Dawn, Dawn has an advantage over me, and yet you don’t have a weakness.”

Twilight: “That’s not my fault. You are the one that came up with this idea.”

Dawn: “It just isn’t fair, Twilight! You have won five in a row now, so for the next one we are going to have to give you a handicap!”

Twilight: “Element had nothing to do with you both leaving your fake crystals completely unguarded. I thought at least Maeve would have known better, but I guess not.”

Maeve: “I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a sneak attack, but I won’t be making that mistake again.”

Twilight: “After four consecutive losses I figured you would try something, so I decided to send a small group to each of your dungeons as a backup plan, and it seemed to pay off. Just because we don’t have to worry about adventurers up here doesn’t mean you can slack off.”

Maeve: “I will get you next week, now how many monsters did everyone lose? I lost 7.”

Dawn: “10…”

Twilight: “You need to be more careful! Losing that many monsters during these mock battles is costing you more xp then it is worth!”

Dawn: “I’m sorry, but I really thought we had you this time, so I was pushing them to their limits.”

Twilight: “If you keep making mistakes like that we are going to quit covering for you. Now, let’s see 10 and 7, so…” –She says while accessing her [Menu]. Soon several of the water monsters that retreated to the castle leave separating between the central island and the island with the ruins.- “That should do it for my end.”

The other two then access their own [Menu]. Maeve sends about the same amount of monsters to Dawn’s dungeon, but they both send a massive amount of monsters to Twilight’s.

Maeve: “I agree that it was our own fault we lost, but if you keep winning like this we might have to do something different or you will gain enough xp that we won’t be able to beat you.”

Twilight: “I have been spending all the extra xp on the castle itself, so it isn’t like it is putting me at an advantage during the battle.”

Dawn: “I think it is about time for me to summon a boss monster, Twilight and I should each have 3 we could summon, so even if this one doesn’t turn out we will know for sure. Nothing else it should be able to help in the mock battles.”

Twilight: “You already lose more monsters than anyone else in these battles, so are you sure you want to risk losing a boss monster too?”

Dawn: “I have to do something to offset the advantage you have over me…”

Twilight: “I’ll make a deal, I will start using higher quantities of the non-elemental monsters during the battle, but since I get a discount on the water monsters I would like to raise the max amount of xp I can use to make up the difference.”

Maeve: “How about this we each get a max of 1000xp for elemental monsters, and 2000xp for non-elemental monsters.”

Twilight: “I can deal with that.”

The sisters then continue to bond while talking about their plans, and such enjoying their day.

 

○○○○○○

 

After unwrapping the head of the dead woman we found that the villagers living inside one of the corrupt dungeons, we were met with quite a shock. The corpse is that of an Oni, but among all the ones I have ever seen in Shima I have never seen a female before.

Inari: “This is definitely a first. Not only is she a female, but her age, I have never seen one this old either.”

Takeshi: “It looks as though she might have died of natural causes as well, I was worried if a body showing up meant the dungeon was no longer protecting them, but it might have just been the traveling that was just too much on her.”

“I think it is fair to assume that if she is an Oni the rest of the villagers are as well.”

Inari: “Where does that leave us? By the actions they have taken, they are obviously sentient, and with their requirements of food they can’t be bound to the dungeon, so the question is what do we do when we find them?”

“The Oni are only a problem because they attack, now others might not be so understanding, but we all know better, so as long as they don’t attack it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Inari: “But if they are not humans would they even be willing to help us?”

“We won’t know until we run into them. It doesn’t look like we have any other options at the moment though.”

Inari: “I understand… What should we do with this one? It looks like they did some kind of ritual, but we know what can happen when a body is left behind in this dungeon.”

“We haven’t seen any of those monstrosities in a long time, but if we want to get help from the village, disturbing their dead loved ones is far from the message we want to send.” –I say while rewrapping the woman’s head trying to take care in putting it back the way it was.-

We then set back out making our way down the tunnels. It takes us another day and a half, but we start to hear sounds that may be the villagers ahead, but we are soon swamped by a huge group of monsters. They are not particularly tough monsters, but the sheer number of them is going to slow us down.

With the amount of resistance we have been facing it is now clear more than ever that the dungeon does not want us to catch up to the villagers. It has heard our conversations so it would know we don’t mean them any harm.

Maybe that is just it. The dungeon is keeping us away from the villagers because the dungeon thinks that the villagers might help us. If that is the case we really need to find them.

The battle continues and we finally manage to deal with the groups of monsters, but by that time the sounds of the villagers up ahead have disappeared, and we are met with a wall. Met with a dead end we have no choice but to turn back, but it isn’t long until that path dead ends as well. That would leave us closed off, but a path has opened to the side that wasn’t there before.

“At this point I don’t think the dungeon is even trying to kill us anymore, just delay us as much as possible. If it wants to keep us away from the Oni villagers, then why doesn’t it just lead us to an exit? If it did that it wouldn’t have to worry about the villagers…”

Inari: “Maybe it isn’t even the village that it is worried about. Maybe it is just enjoys tormenting us.”

“Well there is nothing for us to do except go down the path it has given us, so standing around talking about it isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

We then set out yet again. This path seems to be making us back track, and sure enough after a few days we arrive back at the abandoned village.

“Why here again…? If anything it should have allowed the villagers to come back and sent us moving in circles, and yet it sent us here again instead.”

Inari: “Instead of just taking another path, maybe we should give the village another once over.”

“It isn’t like we have a better plan.”

We then start searching through the village again, I don’t know exactly what we are looking for, but just something that would be the cause for the dungeon to keep leading us back here. We decide to split up to try to cover more ground faster, but we still don’t manage to find anything.

When we regroup Inari has a look on her face like she is trying to piece something together, so I ask her. “Did you figure something out?”

Inari: “I’m not sure… There is running water that flows almost directly through the center of the village, and yet there is still a well. You would only dig a well to get a closer source of water, but it practically stands on the bank of the stream. They also wouldn’t be able to dig a well in the dungeon, so why is it there?”

“What are you thinking?”

Inari: “Well my actual dungeon is hidden in the well back at my place, so I was just thinking…”

“It won’t hurt to check it out.”

We then investigate the well. There is water in the well, but it is deep, deep enough that it would be far easier to draw water from the stream then the well. Saki is pretty small, but she is no elf, and besides Azami has her “friends” to help her in cause something happens so we send her down the well on the end of a rope.

Azami reaches the water, but there doesn’t seem to be anything down the well. She then dives under the water and after an extended amount of time in which I begin to worry she pops back up pulling on the rope to indicate to us to pull her back up.

Once she makes it out of the well she says. “Inari was right, there is something down there.”

Inari: “What do you mean something?”

Azami: “Just under the surface there is a path, after 30 or 40 feet under the water the path opens up leading to an air pocket. I didn’t stick around, but I heard a lot of movement going on before I returned.”

“Does that path open up enough for all of us to enter?”

Azami: “As much as any of the other tunnels.”

“Well we should check it out then.”

We tie the rope off and one by one start making our way down the well. It’s a pretty tight squeeze for us, but especially for Lynx, but all eventually make it as we poke our heads above the water. The [Light] runic magic stones we are holding light up the water, but the tunnel leading from the water is pitch black. Like Azami said however there is the sound of movement, and lots of it.

As soon as we start to exit the water we are swiftly attacked by several hulking monstrosities. It has been quite a while since we encountered any of these things, and we have come a long way since then, but the sheer number of them makes for a difficult fight.

To cut down on the numbers I try to use my special skill, but doesn’t work on these things. For all the times I have used it this is the first time it has failed, but with the appearance of these monstrosities, I can’t say that I am disappointed.

The toughest monstrosities we faced before were the scorpions, but now it isn’t only insects the monstrosities are mimicking, but other creatures as well. Some of them we can’t even be entirely sure what they are trying to mimic.

They seemingly attack us one after another, but at least that means it isn’t all at once. We don’t have time to rest in between them, but every time we defeat one the time in which it takes for another to appear is getting longer and longer.

Inari’s sword allows her to gather magic so she has been able to use her special skill several times, but only a few of the others like Takeshi have used theirs. Mine doesn’t seem to work against these things so I just focus on saving my magic for healing.

Inari: “We are not getting anywhere this way! We seem to be making a dent in them, but just how long are we going to be able to hold out like this?”

Chika: “Don’t worry Mistress, we are doing fine!”

“We are, but if we continue that way depends on just how many of these things we run into. We need to find a way to hold them off for a while, but they go right through our walls.”

Inari: “I got an idea!” –She says while casting a [Stone Wall]-

Her stone wall doesn’t block off the monstrosities, but instead shoves the corpses of the dead ones around. She keeps casting the spell until she starts piling the corpses up using them to block the path. I now see what she is doing so I start using [Stone Pillar] and [Stone Wall] to block off the path with the corpses of the dead monstrosities.

That doesn’t stop them from coming through the gaps, but that just slowly leaves us with more bodies to fill in the gaps. I start to run low on magic but the monstrosities that squeeze through the corpses now are becoming easier targets and filling the gaps themselves, as they die.

Inari: “We did the same thing with the Oni in the last corrupt dungeon, so I thought it might just work with these abominations as well.”

They still push through the heap of corpses, but it gives us a bit of a break between the fights, and we are able to deal with them with a smaller group allowing the others to gather their magic back.

We are able to recover ourselves quite a bit, but the corpses soon start disappearing making our blockade disappear with it.

“The dungeon is clearing the corpses!”

Battle quickly ensues again, so we are going to have to come up with another plan. After dealing with a group of several of the monstrosities at once, the numbers start to decrease again, enough that we are able to start pushing forward a bit.

We have been at it for several hours now, and we have only made it a few hundred feet, I don’t know how many of the monstrosities we have defeated but it has to be close to 30 of them. The difficulty we had with them weeks ago seems like a distant memory, but even still at these numbers we are eventually going to run out of magic and then we will really be in trouble.

We soon however catch a break when we see one of the monstrosities appear directly in front of us and after dealing with it we see something that gives us hope. Just past the area the monstrosity appeared in the tunnel beings to fill with vines.

Inari tosses a fire spell down the tunnel lighting the way until it hits a wall causing a loud screeching sound and causing the vines to retract. The light gives us the view of a large black orb covered in cracks and fissures bound by vines.

Inari: “Is that the crystal…?”

“If it is we don’t have time to waste!”

The vines start lashing out at us, as well as another monstrosity appearing out of thin air to attack us.

“The corrupt dungeon is your thing, so we will deal with the monstrosities, you get to the crystal!”

Inari: “Understood”

While Inari’s group moves forward fighting their way through the vines my group attacks the monstrosity. We manage to take out the monstrosity, but another quickly takes its place, then another, then another.

There doesn’t seem to be an end to them, and Inari and her group doesn’t appear to be doing much better. The vines are keeping them from making much progress towards the crystal, and even as they throw spells directly at it, vines quickly create a wall blocking the spells.

They are slowly gaining ground though, so the only question is if we are able to hold out long enough for Inari’s group to reach the crystal. The closer they get to reaching the crystal, the faster the monstrosities seem to appear.

Even though Inari’s group seems to be gaining ground we are slowly beginning to lose it as another monstrosity appears before we drop the previous one. Ignoring us the new monstrosity quickly targets Inari’s group.

We manage to defeat the monstrosity we are fighting, but not before the new one manages to cover enough ground to enter among the vines. We quickly try to pursue it, but the vines quickly block our path, as it tries to keep our groups separated.

We start cutting and blasting through the vines, but another two monstrosities appear behind us and we have no choice but leave the one to Inari’s group while we try to hold our ground. These two monstrosities look a bit different from the one that appeared previously and like Inari described in the previous corrupt dungeon they almost seem incomplete.

One seems to be mimicking a four legged creature like a bear, or a wolf, but it is hard to tell due to sections of the creature that are missing.  The other looks more like the scorpions then the spiders, but it lacks the scorpion’s tail.

The missing pieces don’t stop them from quickly rushing us to attack however. The vines are preventing us to see what is happening to Inari’s group, but we can only hope they are doing better than we are.

 

○○○○○○

 

The path behind us has been blocked off by vines, and one of the giant lizard looking abominations made it through before Daddy’s group got blocked off from us. We are doing everything we can to keep the vines from wrapping around us as we push forward, so the lizard abomination is going to be quite difficult to deal with.

Chika: “Mistress, you take Satoshi, Saki, and Takeshi and get to that crystal. Rin, Hotaru, Akihiro, and I will deal with the lizard.”

“You can’t deal with the lizard and the vines!”

Rin: “It won’t matter if we don’t get rid of the crystal, she is right this is our best chance!”

“Saki they will need your healing, you and Satoshi help them Takeshi and I will take care of the crystal.”

Saki: “Mistress, are you sure?”

“There is no time, and I have a plan!”

Saki: “I understand…”

The group holds their ground while fighting off the vines and Takeshi and I push forward.

Takeshi: “Are you sure this is for the best?”

“I can count on you to protect me right?”

Takeshi: “Of course.”

“Then I have a plan. [Blessings of the Fox God]!”

Wings spread from my back, and I wrap my arms around Takeshi.

Takeshi: “Inari! What are you doing?!”

“Keep the vines off us!” –I say while kicking off the ground launching us both towards the crystal.-

This tunnel is narrow enough it is hard to fly through, but even more so while trying to carry Takeshi as he flails his sword about trying to keep the vines shooting from the walls from grabbing ahold of us. We cover most of the distance between where we started and the crystal, but wall of vines appears in front of us forcing me to land.

The vines quickly wrap our feet when we land, but I last bit of time I have with my special skill active to cast a fire spell spreading out burning every vine in sight, and my body then returns to normal

“That isn’t going to hold it back long, we have no time to waste!”

The vines blocking our path wither to the flames of my spell revealing the crystal before us, but not for long as a large flower like I dealt with the last time descends to block us.

“We almost have it! Don’t let up, and don’t wait for me, if you get the chance destroy the crystal yourself.”

My magic as far from max so after using my special skill along with a fire spell while it was active I am running quite low on magic, regardless I have Takeshi with me this time, so I don’t let up as I begin pelting the flower with fire spells. Takeshi meanwhile tries to keep the other vines at bay that continue to try to entangle us.

I hear the voices from the other call out in panic but I can’t worry about that right now while I continue to focus on getting to the crystal. I pull my sword using it to slash at the vines to recover my magic to continue attacking the flower.

Abominations quickly begin to spawn around us in incomplete forms but not before I hit the flower with a powerful spell causing it to reel while I call out to Takeshi. “Now!” Takeshi  launches himself forward severing the vines holding the crystal with his sword causing it to break apart.

Before the pieces hit the floor they launch through the air entering Takeshi’s body, and he quickly turns as says. “I’m sorry!”

“I told you if you had the chance to take it, so it is not your fault.” –I say while quickly wrapping my arms around Takeshi.-

The vines start to wreathe and shrivel up, much like the last one however there are two larger vines that refract themselves disappearing through the dungeons wall. Takeshi then rubs one of his hands through my hair while embracing me with the other.

Takeshi: “We should check on the others.”

“The monsters should have disappeared as well, they should be fine now.”

Takeshi: “Then we need to get out of here. It won’t be long till everything starts collapsing.” –He says as his face is starting to get red.-

“How can you possibly still be embarrassed by just hugging me?”

Takeshi: “I have told you, in public…”

“We are in the depths of a dungeon! That is hardly public!”

Takeshi: “But Father, and the others could see us.”

“Fine, but once we are home, I plan on spending the next few weeks in bed!” –I say finally turning loose of Takeshi.-

The dungeon has begun to shake now, while Takeshi collects himself and we start making our way back towards the others. Once she sees us Saki wipes tears from her face and stands from a body lying on the ground and quickly moves towards me.

Saki: “I’m sorry Mistress, we tried, we really did, but Hotaru…”

“You did your best. Was she the only one? What about Daddy and his group?”

Saki: “Yes Hotaru was the only one of us that fell, but we haven’t seen your father.”

“We need to find him.”

Rin: “What about Hotaru?”

“The dungeon is gone, and with it so should be the thing that is blocking our ability to use [Communication] or to teleport, so once we find Daddy we can take her home.”

Rin, Akihiro, Satoshi, and Chika all grab Hotaru and we start making our way back towards where we left Daddy’s group.

 

○○○○○○

One after another we fight the monstrosities, but each time they become easier because they seem less and less completely until the time in which the one we are fighting collapses on its own. Then the vines are begin to wither.

From what Inari said about that last one that means Inari must have taken care of the crystal, and after a few seconds it is confirmed by the ground beginning to shake under our feet. I quickly open [Menu] and try sending a message to Belinda.

I don’t receive a replay so I try to use [Blink] but the spell doesn’t work. It seems our block in [Communication] and teleportation hasn’t ended with the death of the corrupt dungeon. That isn’t the only bad news after a few minutes we see Inari’s group approaching while carrying the body of Hotaru.

Inari quickly runs up to me and gives me a hug. “You made it Daddy, I was worried. We lost Hotaru, but at least we can get out of here now!”

“Well about that…”

Inari: “What is it…?”

“Teleport spells still don’t seem to work, and I tried sending a message to Belinda, but she hasn’t replied either.”

Inari: “It’s dead, how is that possible?”

“I don’t know…”

Inari: “What do we do now?”

“You said these dungeons don’t break down the same way as a normal dungeon, so we can only hope to find a path out of here. At least the dungeon isn’t still around to block our paths any longer.”

Inari: “What about Hotaru, I promised the others we would take her home?”

“I’m sorry, but we will have to go back out through the well, so I don’t know if that would be possible.”

Rin: “It’s ok Mistress… Hotaru would understand.” –She says as the group starts to lay Hotaru back down on the ground.-

“I’m sorry…”

Inari: “It’s not your fault… But I just don’t understand how your teleportation spell is still blocked.”

“I don’t understand it either, but we should get a move on.”

Inari nods, and the group gathers around Hotaru’s body. After saying a few things we decide that even though the dungeon should be dead we burn the body just to be on the safe side. By the time we finish with Hotaru’s body chunks of the wall and ceiling have begun to fall.

I lead the way back out and after diving into the water and making it back to the well I start to pull myself up the rope. I exit the well to notice everything has seemed to quit shaking, but the village isn’t any less of a ghost town as it was before.

I begin helping the others as they exit the well as well, and once we are back on solid ground a sound rings out behind us.

*Clap…Clap…Clap*

A tall man in Shima style clothing albeit they are closer to a type of robe made from very high quality material and lavish beyond what you would expect to see even on a king or emperor. His hair is long and dark, but glows with a  blue hue that reminds me a bit of Twilight’s feathers, and his serious looking face with sunken in eyes seems betrayed by the smile across his face.

The man’s sudden appearance startles us and we quickly ready our weapons, but he quits clapping and waves his hand the force of which pulls us all to our knees.

The man then speaks with a cold icy voice and the words from his lips are that of the language of Shima. Inari’s ears quickly twitch and she says. “Who are you?”

The man then clears his throat and speaks in the language of the mainland. “I will admit Inari is far more partial to my sister, but to not even know my name? Very well then, you shall call me Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto.

 

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