50. Hardest Hurdle
For the next few weeks, I continued testing out my new Skills while exploring the Dungeon with Helen, Jaakko, and Zack. We mostly encountered Giant Spiders alongside the stray Ground Cravers or surviving Shade Swarmer, but other than that we found no Centinels or anything else at least 10 levels above me.
As such, I only leveled once. My Stats was split as I had already planned, but as for my Skill Points, I finally made my decision. With 16 points total, I first spent 2 on [Self Haste], 2 on [Charge of Embers], 2 on [Ignition], and 2 on [Passive - Deadly Instincts]. Then I split 6 points between [Advanced Fire Creation] and [Scorching Wave], leaving 2 Skill Points for me to save.
Salvos (Death of the Destroyer)
Species: [Greater Demon] (Mortal Form - Human)
Subspecies: [Midday Changeling] - Lvl. 44
[Advanced Mana Manipulation] - Lvl. 1
[Identification] - Lvl. 4
[Racial Skill: Universal Language Comprehension] - Lvl. 1
[Racial Skill: Mortal Form] - Lvl. 1
[Rest] - Lvl. 2
[Title Skill: Zealous Call] - Lvl. 1
[Available Stat Points: 0]
[Vitality]: 42 (+5) (-7)
[Strength]: 28 (+5) (-7)
[Endurance]: 63 (+5) (-7)
[Wisdom]: 63 (+5) (-2)
[Agility]: 96 (+5) (-7)
[Available Skill Points: 2]
[Advanced Fire Creation] - Lvl. 8
[Charge of Embers] - Lvl. 3
[Fire Strike] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)
[Ignition] - Lvl. 3
[Scorching Wave] - Lvl. 5
[Self Haste] - Lvl. 5
[Passive - Blue Flames] - Lvl. 5
[Passive - Deadly Instincts] - Lvl. 3
[Passive - Weapon Mastery] - Lvl. 1
For now, I left [Passive - Weapon Mastery] alone, seeing no reason why I needed to improve it. Perhaps if I managed to create a kusarigama, I would need it. But my [Advanced Fire Creation] was too low leveled to successfully do it.
Or perhaps it’s my [Advanced Mana Manipulation], I mused to myself as I followed the three Gold Ranks out of Silkfall’s Crevice.
As per Edithe’s advice, I had to pretend I was a Human; I couldn’t just wander around the Dungeon aimlessly by myself else I would arouse suspicion. She had been adamant I prioritize my safety— and I was rather invested in my own survival as well. So I had to occasionally go up with Jaakko and his companions.
Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the horrors that awaited me above.
“Uh… do I have to eat this?”
I stared down at the bowl of soup and into my own reflection. I was wide eyed, mouth open, and more or less in shock from being handed the food by Helen. The Human woman blinked.
“Is something wrong with it?”
I looked up at her, then at Zack who was giving me an intense stare. I hesitated, chewing my lower lip.
“N-no. It’s fine.”
I slowly lifted up the spoon. This is for your own sake, I tried lying to myself. Somehow, someway, I managed to down the entire bowl. I was grimacing the entire time, and I heard Zack mutter to himself at one point.
“...she’s definitely a noble…”
Helen bonked him on the head with the wooden ladle before smiling widely at me as I finished the soup. I handed the empty bowl back to her, mustering up a smile in return.
“I-I finished it.”
I relaxed as I saw her take the bowl away. Then immediately tensed up when she brought over a plate full of meat.
“I know that appetizer wasn’t too appetizing, so I made sure to choose some of the fresher cuts of meat for the main course.”
The blonde Human nodded.
“Yep. Just a single bowl of soup isn’t enough to fill anybody. Especially after spending a whole day down in the Dungeon. Don’t worry about manners and all that— eat up. I promise you it’s good.”
I glanced at Helen, then at Zack and Jaakko both digging into their own individual plates. I sighed.
Later that night, I snuck out of the camp and hurled everything I ate.
“So, if you don’t mind me asking, where are you from… Miss Salvos?”
“Just Salvos is fine.”
I nodded at Zack with a smile. The [Mage] was sitting on a rock, wiping some sweat off his brows while Jaakko and Helen were sifting through the six Human corpses we had found in this small cave room. Apparently a group of Silver Ranked adventurers must have thought this was a good alcove to rest, not expecting to be attacked by a dozen [Drop Spiders] at once.
The four of us took care of the monsters fairly easily, especially since we were prepared for an ambush when we came into the room; I could have taken them all on my own, but I decided to share some experience instead.
“I came from Hazelbury. It’s somewhere… north from here?”
I tested my memory, and it seemed it was right since the [Mage] didn’t visibly react.
“Hazelbury, huh? We’ll have to pass through it eventually. Last I heard, it was an average sized city. Not too big, so I guess there could be a few nobles living there.”
He seemed to be talking to himself more than to me.
“And you were born there— and not Neros, the Capital?”
I shook my head.
“I was born neither in Neros nor Hazelbury. I was born somewhere… else.”
I cringed, realizing I should have just gone along with it. Zack however, seemed to accept this.
“An illegitimate child then. I see, I see. And you managed to take out a [Queen Howre] on your own, or so you claimed. Interesting.”
Helen called over to us. She walked over, holding a handful of badges on her hand. Behind her, Jaakko had some crests with him too.
“These guys were definitely the adventurers we spoke to a few weeks ago. They’re from the Iron Champions Company— we’ll need to report it to the next Adventurers Guild we pass through.”
The Cyclops man nodded.
“It is truly an unfortunate end. I wish their souls rest well.”
He closed his eyes, bowing his head in the direction of the corpses. Zack got up and brushed off his robes. He opened his mouth but before he could say anything, Helen spoke over him.
“Don’t say anything insensitive, Zack.”
“I was not going to.”
He sighed, shaking his head. He glanced over at the corpses, his lips twisting before turning away.
“I was going to say that since we can’t give them a proper burial, closure for their families is the best we can do. I’m glad we found them, at least. I thought they’d have been eaten up by Centinels.”
“It’s quite odd, actually. We haven’t run into any Centinels since we came here. Maybe the rumors really weren’t true.”
I cocked my head. Helen nodded.
“The Adventurers Guild supplied us with information about this Dungeon— that it might have a Lair of Centinels in it. It was nothing confirmed, but it gave the people of Bouldergarde enough of a scare that we decided to investigate it ourselves.”
“If there really are Centinels in this Dungeon… well, let’s just say the Iron Champions Company will be coming out of this with more than just a slap on the wrist from King Hale. He gives them a lot of passes, but Centinels? They’re dangerous.”
“Are they really that bad?”
I gave Zack an inquisitive look. The [Mage] coughed into the palm of his hand.
“Yes. They’re one of the few swarm monsters around the central continent that aren’t just weak. They’re like the Exodutae that plague the Dwarves off the eastern coast of the continent. Each Centinel is strong, and it is not unusual for one to reach above Level 70. They’re rare, sure. But it’s common enough that cities have been wiped out because they’re unknowingly built near a Centinel Lair.”
I considered this for a moment, tilting my head up. Then I looked back over at the three Gold Ranks.
“Well, it is not a rumor.”
“The Centinels— they’re actually in this Dungeon.”
Zack and Helen exchanged a glance.
“What do you mean, Miss— uh, Salvos?”
“I mean that I’ve seen them myself. I saw them coming— dropping onto the Giant Spiders.”
“You’ve been to this Dungeon before?”
The [Archer] gave me a worried look. I simply smiled.
“That’s why I returned here. To fight the Centinels. They were Level 50 to 60— I don’t know if they got up to over 70. But they definitely were here.”
Zack furrowed his brows.
“Didn’t you say you just reached Level 40? You mean to tell me you fought Level 60 monsters while you were Level 30?”
I nodded eagerly.
He sighed, rubbing at his temples.
“Well, I guess I should’ve expected it.”
Jaakko stepped forward, frowning.
“You said the Centinels were attacking the Giant Spiders— did you mean they were invading their Lair?”
“That’s what they were doing. Why?”
The Cyclops man scratched his oversized chin and folded one hand across his chest.
“I see. So it’s a Lair war?”
“A Lair war?”
I cocked my head and he nodded.
“Yes. That’s what happens when multiple monster Lairs are formed too close to each other. They will encroach on each other’s territory. And when that happens, they’ll get into a Lair war.”
“If this is true, then that means the only thing that has been stopping the Centinels from spreading out and leaving the Dungeon are the Giant Spiders. However, this is also an opportunity for us.”
Helen glanced over at me, an idea written on her face. I blinked, realizing what she was thinking. I stood up raising a hand.
“You want us to help the Giant Spiders!”
I got a blank stare from the three of them.
“I mean, in a way? I just thought about using them as bait.”
I scowled, crossing my arms.
We didn’t immediately head to the Giant Spiders Lair. Jaakko told us we not only needed to prepare, but we also had to return the badges they found. I decided to follow them to the city, resolving on buying myself a few healing potions of my own.
Daniel had given me some gold before I left. I looked down at the 30 glimmering yellow coins, then at the cost of a potion. Huh, that’s expensive.
I ended up only leaving with three before I met up with Helen by the city gates. She had a grim look on her face as Jaakko was talking to a man in armor— a city guard that looked vaguely familiar. The Human man broke down, crying, as Jaakko patted his shoulder.
I spoke to her, breaking her from her stupor. She blinked a few times, then shook her head.
“He’s getting some extra protection. The local temple gives [Blessings of Lesser Protection] for a 25 gold, and we've got some extra coins from the Dungeon so…”
“He wants to increase his chance of survival.”
Eventually, Zack returned and we were ready to leave. We went back to the Dungeon and crossed through the camp with only a simple warning to the Silvers there: we were going to face Centinels. It was a warning for them just in case Centinels broke out— so they would be prepared to fight.
Then we entered the Dungeon and came up close to the Lair of the Giant Spiders. There were no sounds of fighting— instead, all we heard were the usual clicking of the monsters. We then set up a small camp and a barricade behind us, with a way for us to quickly pass through, before lying in wait.
We waited, listening. Each of us took turns watching the hole in the wall, just in case a Giant Spider or Centinel came out, but none came. A whole entire day went by with nothing happening, until suddenly, we heard the sounds of clicking rapidly increase in the Lair.
I slowly approached the entrance to the Lair and peered over. Then just as before, the walls of the Lair— the ceiling, the sides, the ground— burst open. Centinels came pouring down on the Giant Spiders, swarming them from every possible angle.
The Centinels were back.