Beta: Worldbringer of Joseun
The forest was as crowded as ever. There were trees at every possible turn, vines linking to each from the canopy to the forest floor. Actually, it was less a forest and more of a veritable jungle. There was little space to actually maneuver, which surfaced a few irritating memories. Illya remembered getting lost here countless times.
That alone made the Feral Jungle a location that she always avoided. However, that wasn't the only reason– seriously, it wasn't!
The location was notoriously a death trap for newbie players. In addition to the hard-to-navigate landscape, the vines that entangle and damage you as soon as you walk into them, and the occasional Assassin seeking to kill newbies… the actual local monsters are dangerous due to their above-average tactics.
Now, to say that a monster had tactics that were better than normal was basically saying that they were doing more than just making a beeline to their next target. This was true, even if it was severely understating the danger of the local monsters.
"Do you have a visual on the target? Over," Illya called via voice communication.
"Sword-1, do you have visual on the target, or do you not? Over."
A hefty exhale could be heard. "Sword-1 has visual on the target. Permission to engage? Over."
"Permission granted, over."
Illya suppressed the snicker threatening to crawl out of her. She eyed the three other members in her party as seen via her party list; Shirou, Sakura, and Rin. There was room for one more member, but Illya decided that it would be redundant if one of the two level-ninety members joined them. There would be no benefit for them, which they thankfully realized.
Exactly how long it took for one of them to realize, Illya wouldn't say. What she would say was that it took one tantrum, before seeing reason – from someone undergoing a mid-life crisis.
Instead of accompanying them, Lord El-Melloi II– Illya mentally reminded herself to call him Waver, decided it would be best if he continued working on their joint solution to dwindling adventurer blood stocks. Illya had to give him a little of the Einzbern research she remembered, which her dear old grandfather would have had a heart attack at if he learned. She suppressed yet another chuckle, one out of malicious intent instead of mischief.
Well, he might make less progress than he'd like. Especially since their other high-level player decided to drag him along for no reason.
Speaking of Fujimura-sensei… Illya had no idea what she planned to do in the city. However, Illya could tell that she at least had an idea of what to do. The former teacher said something about an eye-opening discussion with their resident Tohsaka but left it at that. Seeing no reason to pry, Illya did so as well.
"Target neutralized, over."
"Splendid job, Sword-1!"
"Illya, can we stop with the code names and military role-play? It's starting to get old."
Illya rolled her eyes with a humph, despite her dear brother being unable to see it.
"Fine~" she drawled. Her dear brother just had to be the party-pooper sometimes. "But be careful out there. That was likely a patrol group you took out, so after a minute or so, the main attack force should converge to their last location. Set up an ambush or relocate."
"I'll let Rin handle the defense," Shirou replied. "Might as well take care of them all at once."
"Rin, huh?" Illya mused. "Are you setting up a bounded field to keep them from escaping and limit their entry to a specific yet manageable number?"
"That's what she says we're doing, so yes," Shirou replied. "I'll cut off here and help Rin out with setting it up. Also, Sakura's dog is eating the corpses. Should we do anything about it?"
"Did you loot the corpses before it started gorging itself?"
"Not really. Why?"
"Do it before the drops get hypothetically destroyed. We might be richer because of the potions, but that's no reason to let good drops go to waste. We could always use them for later projects."
"Got it. Take care, Illya."
And with that, Shirou cut off their link. Oh well, it was nice having her brother's voice ringing in her head, but it was time to focus on the matter at hand.
To sum it up, the monsters in the forest are demonic chimpanzees. Yes, chimpanzees, but they wore primitive wooden armor to protect their chests and little else. Like all social animals, they move in groups. This forest was their territory, so taking out one patrol group should alert the others.
This was the main reason the forest was considered a newbie trap. Experienced players would know to just ignore the patrol parties, but the new players would just kill a patrol group and loot their drops, which wasn't much. Then they'd be besieged on all sides by angry monkeys, a veritably endless horde of level thirty monsters.
In other words, high risk with low rewards. Only a full party of Sorcerers can feasibly farm the area, but even then, it was far too risky.
As such, this location would have been an issue for her low-level party, but with their unique tricks, it should be relatively easy to supersede the odds.
They were all equipped with specialized amulets, handcrafted by Tohsaka herself, but they mostly boosted their mana regeneration. That was fine because it allowed Shirou to spam his regular swords for a solid minute before running out of mana. By then, Shirou would've leveled up and refreshed his HP and mana pools. So he can theoretically keep on going endlessly until the experience per minute wasn't enough.
To help achieve this, Shirou had been given one of their specialized EXP potions. The Caster's EXP Potion.
It didn't fit his class, but it certainly fit his play style. The potion increased the healing received, damage dealt, experience gained, and most importantly, mana regenerated, by 200%. A clear upgrade to the mere 50% boost in attack-damage and health-recovery that a normal EXP potion could achieve, even if the EXP gain rate was more or less the same.
She noted how Shirou's mana started to dwindle slowly but surely. Rin's own mana was at the halfway mark and didn't seem to be regenerating, which hinted at the bounded field being set up. Illya had no idea why the system decided that would be the maintenance cost for upholding a bounded field, but she supposed that she'd dwell on it later.
Their current levels seem to be nearing thirty, which meant that both Rin and Sakura had also drunk the EXP potions and leeched the experience from Shirou's kills. So long as she and her party were in the same zone the experience from the kill would be shared, so there was little point in her being so far away, but that was beside the point. Standing there alongside them served no purpose. Being farther from them had its own merits.
Of course, Illya had also reduced her level to a mere 60, so that the teacher system could prevent her from gaining any experience.
The level drop was mostly pointless, but in this zone, there was a rare spawn that was level 65, which she would be able to gain experience from if she were her regular level.
She wasn't worried about them harming her guild, although, she did have a contingency in place. It counted as her kill, which meant that she would've gained exp had she not lowered her level.
At her current strength, she didn't need the exp, as she was more than prepared to deal with a horde of goblins, which was why they were here in the first place.
The possibility of an upcoming goblin invasion was what caused her to be worried about these three. They might have the strength to kill swathes of goblins, but one good hit from a level 70 rider or elite could completely knock them out in one hit, especially with their subpar equipment… which she should probably see to upgrading soon, possibly after the Gathering of Lords.
MMORPGs. Nothing more than a game of who had the bigger numbers, at least until late-game, where cooperation between players was practically required.
Illya put away those thoughts as she continued to observe her party's mana and location on the mini-map.
Speaking of mini-map, or rather her current location atop a hill overseeing their battle from miles away, she wasn't fighting alongside them like the past few times. There was a reason for this.
Quite simply, they requested that she stayed out of it.
Apparently, they didn't see the need for a tank-class like her when dealing with these monsters. Normally she'd berate them for being dumb as hell, but Illya did acknowledge that they had their own way of gathering aggro.
The druid's Summon Companion spell basically summoned whatever the party was lacking– if they were lucky. Sakura had to have summoned a companion to be their main aggro tanker. Illya had no idea what it looked like, mostly because she never saw a druid summon one when she was their main tank. However, she assumed it was doing the task effectively.
There was also the Rider's EXP Potion that helped Sakura out, doubling her summons stats so that it could compete with a regular level thirty player.
Although, Illya noted how strange it was for the monsters to only attack Sakura's summon and not Shirou. He was surely accumulating obscene amounts of aggro, so the monsters should, as per the laws of the world, shift focus from the tanky summon towards the damage dealer.
Seeing no reason not to, Illya dialed up Rin and called her.
"What is it?"
"How come they're not targeting Shirou? Are you guys doing something?"
"Ah…" Rin stopped in thought. "Right, that aggro thing. I decided it was best to just add a function to the bounded field that set the player with the highest aggro to be treated as zero."
"Wouldn't that cause a loop and swap between the highest and second-highest aggro holders?" Illya asked as she ignored her guildmate being able to remove one of the aspects of 'skilled gameplay' that a tank can have. Sure, you can just completely ignore the intricacies of managing aggro. Go ahead.
She wasn't irritated. Not at all.
Rin snorted. "I'm no amateur, thank you very much. Even if it treats Shirou's aggro as zero, he still has the highest actual aggro. So the bounded field keeps treating him as zero. There are two values, the actual aggro and the aggro that these monkeys notice. That means the bear is taking the damage and not us."
So Sakura's tankiest summon was a bear? How cliche.
"Alright, good job," she said as she put her mild irritation behind her.
"What, no random cry about how it's broken?"
"I've just accepted it," Illya nodded to herself. "Until later. Happy grinding."
"See you later, midget."
Illya snorted at the old moniker.
At least this gives her more time to look into… other matters.
"Yes, I'm awake! I haven't fallen into a slumber. Although, my current self is most certainly in an eternal one."
Illya rolled her eyes. He better not be sleeping, especially on the job. "How many Baboon elites did you take out?"
"Around five," he admitted. "They were certainly unruly. I can see why thou wisheth to cull thy numbers."
Yeah, she could too. The problem with those elites wasn't their numbers, but their skills. All they needed to do was throw their infected baboon turd, and everyone in a large radius loses almost half their mana. They would only be able to get it back if they were killed, which would be hard with the absolute horde of apes attacking them.
"What about the others?" Illya asked. "Are there any goblins in the vicinity? Any Brigandia members?"
If there were, they'd have to cut this training short.
"Not presently," the old knight replied, much to her relief. "Although, I find it odd that thou requirest my services for a task such as this."
"You have a point," Illya said but shrugged. "That being said, there is a limit to how many Storch-Ritter I can have. An additional set of eyes like yours greatly helps."
A second passed before he gave a considering nod. "Very well."
Within seconds, the ghost disappeared, yet Illya could still technically feel where he was. A side effect of being his mana-battery for so long, she supposed.
The main reason she was here wasn't to help her lower leveled members level up, but to act as surveillance for if any of their enemies showed up.
Her ibis-shaped familiars flew in every corner of the forest and circled the perimeter. If anything got in, she would know and alert her party members to retreat. It was merely a precaution, but she knew it was best to be thorough in protecting her family.
Again, she eyed their levels… They were nearing level 35, having just broken the level 30 threshold. As soon as they did, Illya would tell them to pack up and move deeper into the forest.
After all, they came here to dungeon dive.
"Is there a reason we're here at the guild building?"
"Relax, relax!" The ever irritating voice of his companion cried out. "I'm just here to meet with a few people. Don't get your panties in a twist… or whatever you're wearing down there."
Waver simply sighed as he ignored the unintentional crass remark.
How this woman became a teacher, he'd never know.
After the original members of the Emiya Family left on their impromptu grinding, the fringe members were left to do whatever they want. Honestly, if it were up to him, he'd be back in their warehouse perfecting the solution to the adventurer blood.
Instead, this inane woman had barged into his workshop, in violation of all the laws he had imparted to her, and dragged him out on an errand.
Every second he was with her was a precious second of progress out the window. Yet, she had promised him that it was worth his while, as unbelievable as it was.
"I still fail to see why we are here."
"And you'll see! Just wait a bit," she replied as she scrolled through her UI. "Alright, this way!"
She turned and hurried down one corridor. The Clocktower Lord saw no reason to do so and simply walked. He noticed that she stopped in front of one door in particular, tapping her foot against the floor impatiently as she waited for him.
"You know," she started. "With all the whining you were doing, you'd think that you'd want to hurry up."
As if denying her any semblance of satisfaction, Waver simply took out a smoking pipe and inhaled. Upon reaching her, he exhaled. The childish act made a small part of him smile, but with the obscene number of politically tenuous situations he's gone through since his inception as a Clocktower Lord, he suppressed it quite easily.
"Ignoring the fact that it was you who dragged me here, and therefore forfeit any right to complain about my tardiness," Waver decided to say. "What possessed you to come here, right outside the Crescent Moon Alliance's door?"
It was incredibly hard to miss the label right in front of the door.
"You and Illya-chan weren't the only ones busy for a whole week!" Taiga said. "You see, I've been making plans!"
Waver merely hummed.
"And those plans are?"
The fact she didn't outright spill the beans was somewhat concerning.
"Look, it's nothing as big as what you and the other magi are doing," she said. "However, I'm certain it'd knock your socks off!"
Confidence. Waver supposed he felt more than enough of it during their month-long journey, but somehow, it felt different. Not overtly so, but different enough that his internal warning signs start ringing.
"Fine," he sighed. "However, whatever you concoct with the Crescent Moon guild leader better have been sanctioned by our own guild leader. I, for one, am unwilling to explain it to the Einzbern if this blows up in your face."
"Don't worry about it~" she waved his concern off like a flag, like a dimwit. "Illya-chan said it was fine. I even got that glasses guy to say it was alright. In fact, they personally picked me to help out!"
Glasses guy… Log Horizon's guild leader?
"I find that highly unlikely."
"Bah, you'll see."
A knock on the door later, a familiar blonde came to view.
"Ah! You're that Samurai that Illyasviel told us about, right?" Marielle asked. Though, why it was her answering the door instead of one of her members, Waver didn't know. "Oh, who's the Enchanter? A friend of yours? Like, is he…?"
"Yeah, I'm getting his help for this," the inane woman replied. "Are the others here yet?"
"Yep," she answered. "I was just about to start serving drinks, you know? I'd get Shouryuu to do it, but he's off in the market on a 'food trip' with some– but when I say some I mean like a lot, of the new members. Anyways, come in and make yourself at home. The third room down the hall is the meeting room, so like, just wait in there with the other two. Sorry about the mess, though."
"No worries," Taiga waved the apology off.
Seeing the laid-back attitude shared by the two of them, Waver couldn't help but think this venture was less interesting than he initially thought.
It took a minute, mostly with the Samurai getting lost a bit, but they found and entered the room.
"Heyo~" Taiga greeted the occupants. "Everyone here?"
"Yes, but I believe that you are one of the last to arrive," someone in a dark blue uniform berated. Takayama Misa was what her username displayed. "It is… distasteful that you are so late, but I should have expected this."
"Greetings, Takayama…-san. Ignore my username and just call me Waver," the lord of the Clocktower greeted. He saw no reason to deprive her of respect, especially as she was one of the higher-ups in the largest guild of Akihabara. Perhaps this meeting had more worth after all? "I see that the two of you have met before?"
"Not Japanese, are you? You can just call me Takayama if you find it hard. Honorifics are unnecessary, especially in this world," she said. For once, Waver was thankful for the consideration. "And yes, Taiga and I have met several times this week. I assume you are unaware as to the purpose of this gathering?"
"Yep, he knows nothing," Taiga deigned it necessary to answer for him. "Heyo Woody~"
"For the tenth time, it is Woodstock, not Woody," the Dwarven Assassin berated. It would appear that there were more high-profile persons in this gathering than he initially thought.
The fact that it was sanctioned by both Shiroe and Illya probably factored into that.
"As unprofessional as it is to be this late…" Takayama replied. "It is ultimately inconsequential. What isn't as inconsequential, is the arrival of sir Waver. Is he essential for the plan moving forward?"
"Eh, kind of. I just wanted his input," Taiga flippantly replied. "We hit a brick wall recently, right? I wanted to make some progress so one extra head should do the trick."
"I suppose that is valid," Takayama nodded. "Seeing as I will be leaving tomorrow to accompany milord in his journey, more progress would be welcome."
"I do not envy you in the slightest," Woodstock muttered as he shook his head. "Shall we get started, or wait on Marielle?"
As they agreed on waiting, Waver suppressed a sigh as he took a seat. Marielle returned moments later with a tray of empty glasses and a jug of iced tea. He was more of a coffee person, but he wasn't going to reject a free drink when offered.
Anything was better than water, even if it is unhealthier than water… did unhealthy food actually matter? Probably not. He could name a few of his students who would've loved not worrying about what they ate.
"So, allow me to get straight to the point," Waver decided to start. "Why have you brought me here, woman?"
"Yes, do tell," Takayama muttered.
"Alright, chill! Sheesh," Taiga said in faux exasperation. "Look, let me give you the short story. There was going to be a training camp in a few days, but now there's no training camp. You know about the upcoming goblin attacks, those Brigandia stooges doing whatever, and whatever is going on over at the League of Free Cities. Those reasons, added together, make it too dangerous to risk the wellbeing of the training camp's potential participants. Well, mental wellbeing, seeing as we can't die."
Waver nodded along as he sipped the iced tea.
"I was basically working with everyone here to make sure the training camp would be successful. You know, power-level the kiddies up and make sure they know how to fight in a party," she continued. "Can't do that now, but now I have a solution!"
"You do?" Woodstock said with interest.
"I find it highly unlikely," Waver muttered with skepticism. "However, go ahead."
"You see, we can't teach those kids what we initially wanted to with a real dungeon-diving experience, even though they were just low-level dungeons," Taiga went on. "However, what we can teach them– here in this city, can be taught in a classroom!"
"That is a horrible idea."
"H-Hold on now! She might have a point, maybe," Marielle said with a frown. "On second thought, maybe not."
"Come on! It's not that bad of an idea, right?"
"You intend to hold a class, with children who've been given powers beyond their wildest imagination, and expect them to sit down and listen?" Woodstock said. "You do realize that they would sooner leave the city and 'train' on their own?"
"Which is what we don't want, if I might remind you all," Takayama said. "With the threats that we face outside the city, I do not want the children to be subjected to them. Their lives aren't what we are safeguarding."
True, it was pointless trying to protect them when they couldn't even die. Waver mused. The only protection they could offer was for their mental wellbeing. In that regard, the goblins won't be a problem, as they were simply monsters, and killing them was a suitable solution for any adventurer.
The adventurers from Brigandia? Who was prowling outside the cities? Conflict between them was going to be a given. Should their lower leveled players get captured… They wouldn't be able to shelter them from what depraved things could happen.
Even if they were immortal, they still felt pain.
Not to say Brigandia was heartless enough to torture them, but it was a risk that none of those in the Round Table would want to take.
Just by telling the children that they planned to teach them in a school would send them running for the hills. After all, no child willingly came to school, not unless they truly wanted to learn…
So that is why she brought him here.
"Look, I got it all figured out," Taiga said. "There's that starting area near the outskirts of the city, that's still protected by the Royal Guard system by the way, which has a bunch of buildings out of order. A little renovation and we can have an actual school there."
"This is not a solution, Taiga," Woodstock sighed. "Outright replacing the training camp, which is a singular event, with a school, which is a daily event, is not feasible. Even if I put aside my doubts, there's nothing to enforce them to keep attending. And on the off chance that you were to try to teach them party tactics, they'd soon forget it if they don't actually put it to practice, as we have done for years."
Very well, let us see how far this can go, woman.
"As painful as that is to admit, he speaks the truth," Takayama also sighed. "I was kindergarten teacher back in our world, but even at that age, kids barely pay attention. I imagine it would be the same as they get older. The only way that those kids would even listen were–"
"–to make it seem like it is worth their time," Waver concluded. It brought a few stares his way, but he was used to those by being a Lord. "You do not intend to teach regular lessons on party tactics, do you?"
Taiga smiled. "See, I knew you'd get it!"
"Just because I get it, doesn't mean I don't see the flaws with it," he berated, to which the woman dramatically grasped her heart. "Considering our demographic, children who only just started playing Elder Tale, who do not know the deeper intricacies of the gameplay, or how it translates into real-life combat… The ideal scenario would be to attract them with such details. How spacious is the location you have in mind?"
"Pretty big," Taiga replied with a smile. "There are three buildings in total, so I want one to be the teacher's place to grade tests and one for in-door lectures, but I don't know what to do with the last one."
"Perhaps make it into a dorm," Waver said. He was familiar with those, as the Clocktower offered them to potential students. "If we cannot enforce them through the standard educational sanctions, then we need complementary dorms. The city's inns are crowded enough as it is."
"Are you actually humoring this idea?" Woodstock asked with a raised brow. "And if anything, wouldn't students abhor the idea of dorms?"
"Not necessarily," Waver began. "The original training camp had a fee to attend, did it not? This implies that there is worth in attending. If we do the same for this hypothetical school, with the complementary dorms and facilities granted to them, I'd wager that students would want to attend."
That, and not have the actual fee– or tuition, be exorbitantly superfluous.
"Not very convincing," Takayama sighed. "However, it is honestly better than doing nothing for them. Who knows how long this conflict with Susukino and the Eastal Lords will continue. We can't simply wait for it to end."
"Aggravatingly true. As such, it makes me wonder if it will even work, but on the off chance that it does, it still leaves the issue of the curriculum–" Woodstock continued. "While it is possible to repurpose our original training camp activities, those activities require a dungeon."
"You can leave the curriculum to me," Taiga said with a smile. "I used to teach high school brats. I know exactly what makes them bored and what doesn't! And for the dungeon, those can just be trips outside to the nearest dungeon. A practical exam, to see if they managed to learn anything."
"The nearest dungeon to Akihabara is level thirty or so," Takayama muttered. "I see, that's a respectable level range for a beginner. I suppose that you would have activities that involve leaving the safe zone and hunting the local monsters? As a form of increasing their levels until they reach the minimum for the practical dungeon excursion?"
"Got it in one!" Taiga gave a thumbs up. "Now, I realize that we may need more volunteers, or rather semi-permanent employees, to keep the school running until the players manage to learn everything they can."
"Is this really a school, or an in-house training camp?" Woodstock criticized once more. "I highly doubt any player would even dream of touching schoolwork, or grade exams, ever again. Not when we live in this fantasy world."
"You'd be surprised how much people value normalcy," Waver said. "It is because we craved normalcy, that Akihabara is as safe as it is today. It is because we craved normalcy, that people go out shopping for food even if it does not sustain them. It is because of normalcy, that we use familiar terms such as 'training camp' and 'practical exams'. To those students who were still in school, attending a school would be a welcome occurrence."
"… Fine. The idea has its merits, but that does not mean the idea has its flaws."
"Neither did the original training camp idea," Takayama mused before meeting his eye. "Waver, was it? Back in our world, were you a teacher like Taiga?"
"To a degree," he replied as he finished his iced tea. He moved to pour himself some more. "I was more of a college professor. My lessons depended on my mood and sometimes does not conform to a curriculum, which a high school or middle school education would."
Or rather, the Clocktower had no curriculum at all. His Modern Magical Studies was about teaching students how to adapt their magecraft to a modern age. The magecraft of his students were vastly different from their peers, and thus, required closer individual lessons.
"Well, professor," Takayama acknowledged. "Despite this idea being Taiga's brainchild, would you be opposed to shouldering the burden of managing the school?"
The iced tea nearly overflowed the cup, had Waver not roughly set the mug down.
"… And none of you see yourselves as fitting substitutes to that woman?"
"Hey! I'm right here!"
"As a mere kindergarten teacher, I lack the ability to manage an entire school," Takayama admitted.
"I do like the idea, despite the flaws in it," Woodstock added. "However, I find my role closer to a guidance officer, rather than a managerial position."
"You don't need to," Taiga denied. "I can perfectly handle that myself!"
"Eliminate the unworthy and what remains must be worthy," he mused. "I have other tasks as appointed to me by my guild master. Not to mention, a trip that Takayama and I are both supposed to attend. That will likely get in the way of managing this temporary school, but that should only be for a week or two." He was close to finishing the EXP potion automation. "Until then, shall Taiga manage the school?"
"Ah, so your guild master is bringing you along as well," Takayama noted. "Very well, I suppose Taiga can be a worthy substitute. Will you be able to manage with just her and your members, Woodstock?"
"Somewhat," Woodstock sighed. "We still need to work on finding new volunteers, ones who have the patience to deal with students in a classroom. However, it should be doable."
"There are quite a few former teachers in D.D.D.," Takayama said. "I shall see if they can offer assistance before I depart with milord in a few days."
"Then is everything settled!?" Marielle asked. "Can I join? I'm like, great with kids!" She blinked. "But I don't want to do any paperwork. I like, have way too much already back in my office."
Waver sighed. How was the Crescent Moon Alliance still standing?
"Why not," he replied, seeing as he was shoved into the leadership role, again.
Not that he minded.
"By the way, woman," Waver said. And Taiga knew he was talking about her. "I hope you realize that this school venture, no matter how temporary or permanent it is, will have unforeseen consequences."
Taiga snorted. "Yeah, I'm not stupid. But you already have an idea for what that is, right?"
That he did.
He eyed the door, slightly ajar from being opened earlier. He remembered the faint glimpse of a maid uniform, paired with the ever recognizable face of a Kunie clan member.
After all, adventurers weren't the only ones who needed, or wanted, to learn.
"Is this it, midget?" Rin asked with the old namesake as she twirled a newly obtained shamanistic wand, much better than her beginner wand. She had also forsaken her old torn cultist attire and wore a shamanistic red robe. They had trash stats, but they were still slightly better than the cultist robes Illya had provided. "The Primate's Tomb. Looks ominous."
"And dangerous," Shirou noted. He still wore the beginner vest of a Swashbuckler, but he had at least equipped Kanshou and Bakuya, instead of the regular old weaponry. "Are you sure we're ready?"
"Since you were all power leveled to thirty-five, I'd hope so," Illya said. She wore standard level forty armor, having used the teacher system to further lower her level. They might get lax if they were fighting with a player far higher in level than they were. "This is where I'm supposed to teach you all how to fight in a party. While your teamwork is good– I'm not saying it's bad Rin– but if you guys ever get put into a raid and act upon your own, you might ruin the raid."
"That, and probably reveal our extra skillset," Sakura tilted her head. Her equipment had changed the least, in that it wasn't changed at all. "Is there a reason we're not going public with these yet?"
"Until we're all at least level-eighty, I have no intention of doing so," Illya denied. "These skills are our only edge against other adventurers. Even if we're basically allied to all the ones in Akihabara, there's still the Susukino spies to worry about. If we see those brigands running around with newly invented skills, they could overwhelm us with bigger numbers. And I don't just mean in quantity."
If they even had anything remotely similar to Rin's custom spells, their quality level advantage could end up turning battles to their favor.
The same could be said of Akihabara's players, but that was like betting on which side developed WMDs first. True, they would be first, but the idiots on the other side would launch theirs without any hesitation.
So it was just best to keep these extra skills secret. At least for now. Illya knew that, if they were level ninety with the busted skills, they'd be some of the strongest on the island. And that wasn't factoring in all of Shirou's busted equipment and Rin's busted jewelry.
That, and Illya just couldn't participate in a raid with Enchanters. Just one Mana Channeling and Heaven's Feel was out in the open for them all to abuse, and subsequently, paint a target on her back for the Round Table enemies.
"Bigger numbers, right," Shirou sighed. "Should we drink the EXP potions now?"
"Wait until we actually encounter a party of monsters," Illya advised.
After their frankly absurd method of leveling earlier, both Rin and Shirou had ended up being level 40 before the kill zone started to lose its effectiveness. Sakura, yet again, remained behind them at level 35. Healing classes truly have a hard time leveling up.
As they stepped into the dungeon, Sakura let out a yelp as her furry white dog leaped out of her bosom and pranced around.
"Raijuu! Stop, it's dangerous in here!" She berated.
"That's the first time it willingly did anything," Rin commented.
"It was originally a monster, so this is probably where he'd be most active," Illya muttered. "In theory, at least. Not really too sure about pets or summons. What level is it?"
"He's always the same level as me, so level thirty-five," Sakura answered as the dog rushed up to her and nuzzled her leg. "… I guess that does mean that he'll be fine."
"Relatively. If he doesn't run off on his own," Rin said.
"Raijuu won't do that," her sister replied with a smile. "Right? Raijuu?"
The thing barked and nodded.
With that out of the way, the four of them and one dog– hold on.
"Did it understand you?" Illya asked.
Rin, who had also noticed the oddity, decided to try something. "Hey, Raijuu, do a flip."
The dog complied and leaped a few meters into the air and flipped.
While Sakura clapped and fed the dog a treat, Illya and Rin's eyes met.
Ignoring the fact that it managed to jump a few meters into the air, something that his body shouldn't be capable of doing, being able to understand human speech? Was it something that it learned, or perhaps all monsters shared this capability…
Ah. Illya thought back to when they first subjugated goblins, to the goblin that complied with Rin's order to kill itself. How did it even understand Rin in the first place? Did it have the capacity to communicate and learn? Do all monsters?
"Guys, is something wrong?" Shirou asked. He was a few meters deeper into the dungeon and waited awkwardly.
"Nothing," Rin said. "Let's move on. You're upfront, Illya."
"I know," she confirmed. "Alright, you know the drill. Whatever we encounter, let them all attack me. Aim to kill them while I have them occupied, but be careful not to exceed my aggro. You all know how much aggro your spells and attacks give, right?"
At the complete lack of responses, Illya sighed.
"I feel like we should know this," Shirou muttered to Rin.
"Yeah, but we've been busy doing a whole lot more important things, so…" Rin shrugged her shoulders.
"I hope you guys are ready for some studying," Illya said with a pearly white smile. "Because this is very important."
Just imagine them in a raid without her, at the request of some other Round Table members that she couldn't refuse somehow, and then they mess the whole thing up. Their guild's reputation would tank! Sure, they might not care, but she knew that the more politically savvy magi in the guild would care.
After a solid hour of lecturing, letting them know the intricacies of how party combat worked, they proceeded deeper into the dungeon.
Aesthetically, the place was a dump. Sure, the pseudo-Mayan architecture caught their eye, but it was nothing special. The floor was made of stone bricks, which made the out-of-place slabs obvious. Only an idiot would trigger those traps.
Sure enough, they walked past a giant boulder – which Illya was reminded of some popular western movie – and promptly told Rin to blow it up so it wouldn't be a problem when they were leaving. A few minutes later, they stopped in a wide-open corridor with a spacious cavern up above. They noticed a few looming figures up above, jumping down from the top of pseudo-Mayan obelisks.
"I see them," Rin said. "Those aren't monkeys."
"Yeah," Illya said as she took out her axe. "This place is the PRIMATE'S tomb for a reason."
Six figures fell from above, cracking the stone brick floors with abnormally large arms. Each stood on its two back legs and glared at them with empty eye sockets. There were a few audible cracks from within their rotten flesh, which revealed their very visible spine. A guttural bellow later, they were raring to go.
"Zombie gorillas," Rin mused. "I'll admit, that's a horrifying thought."
"I suppose only the undead would be able to survive down here," Shirou said as he looked at his weapons, no doubt wondering if he should switch them out for something more effective against them. In the end, he decided just to use them. They had anti-monster properties anyway, so there was no need to switch.
"Attack as soon as I get into range," Illya reminded. "And bottoms up with the potions!"
Then, as her guildmates drank the EXP potions, she charged ahead.
One of the gorillas howled with failed vocal chords as she did and reciprocated her charge. The stone bricks shattered as it leaped towards her, powered by its massive forearms.
Illya did not need to duck as the absurd coalesced ball of fire flew above her and impacted the ape, canceling its momentum. It was likely boosted from the Caster's EXP Potion. The other apes got their act together and attempted to rush down the party members behind her.
Illya's armor glowed, and her defense boosted by fifty percent, which attracted the attention of the other five apes. They besieged her and attempted to savage her defenses away. They tried using mind-numbingly brutal strength to overwhelm her.
The one furthest from her had its back turned to the Swashbuckler behind him. Shirou did not bother using a skill, for his own spoke wonders. Kanshou and Bakuya bit into the ape's behind and caused it to growl in anger. However, Illya's aggro still outweighed the damage Shirou had dealt and would continue to do so until it was at least a quarter of the way dead.
In the meantime, Illya used her axe– a gift from back when she joined Woodstock's guild– and activated a skill. Onslaught activated and knocked the five apes around her on their backs. For each enemy hit, she gained a random buff. Unfortunately, she got four attack buffs and only one defense buff, which meant she had to fight a bit more offensively.
That was fine. She had barely taken any damage anyway and swung down on the ape that would've gotten up first. Cross Slash impacted and kept the ape down as the other four got up. A classic Guardian skill.
Illya noticed a white blur moving around the apes' legs, which she quickly realized was Sakura's dog. It leaped for the throat of the gorilla closest to knocking her away, which caused it to reel back to get it off its throat. Fortunately, the dog was smart enough to leap away, but not before doing a sizeable amount to the gorilla's health bar. It must've been boosted with the Rider's EXP Potion.
In doing so, it freed up Rin's line of sight once more.
From her fingertips, a surge of electrical energy impacted a gorilla, before it quickly branched out and hit the other four around Illya. For once, Illya smiled at the skill. It was just a regular Sorcerer skill and not one of Rin's busted creations, but that quickly faded once she realized the electricity had not faded and was still there, moving in and out of the gorillas like a wild animal.
Never mind, she was controlling it.
Illya knew that they were stunned for as long as Rin kept that up, and took a gander at Shirou. She immediately noticed the ape had just a little over a fourth of its hp bar left, just outside her aggro range– which was good as any more damage to it would cause the apes to try and attack Shirou or their rearguard players, but Shirou was nowhere in sight.
The sound of sheering flesh appeared from behind her. She did not need to turn back because Shirou leaped into vision and lowered a third ape's health bar to match the first.
Sakura's spell rose from around them, latching onto three apes with barely any health on them and tied itself around them. It did not damage them, but they completely stopped moving. Seeing as the apes were under thirty percent max-health, the skill automatically stunned them instead of just slowing them.
This, of course, left the last three apes to try to do something. One Taunting Shout was enough to stop them from attacking any of her other party members and try their luck on her once more.
Sakura shouted, but a Kannagi skill came to protect Illya from one of the apes. The guild master quickly realized that her Foxtail race must've given her the skill, but took away another. Illya did frown once she realized that it must've been the offensive skill she would have learned at level thirty, which meant Sakura still had no offensive skills.
Without needing to say anything, Shirou kicked down the ape that was blocked by Sakura and stabbed his blades into its neck. An instant critical hit, which Illya now realized was something that always happened if you hit vulnerable points like the heart or head. It also did more damage, courtesy of the Archer's EXP Potion.
As she ignored the irony of the potion and instead put what she just learned to use, Illya faced the two apes seeking to overpower her. However, she knew that she wouldn't be able to avoid getting hit by at least one of them. Dodging, as a tank class, was harder than it looked due to having bulkier armor, despite it not weighting much at all.
So Illya activated Iron Bounce– a skill that sometimes could activate automatically but she didn't want to leave that up to chance– and swung her axe at one of the apes. "Rampage Axe!"
Her axe flew up from below, cleaving through the throat of one of the zombified gorillas. In doing so, Illya's attack got buffed once again. Five minimal attack boosts ended up lowering the apes' health to fifty percent. The single untouched ape managed to land a blow on her, but because of her prior activated skill, Iron Bounce, the damage was reduced by fifty percent.
Illya eyed her health, noticing how it was at eighty percent from one single hit. She might have average level forty armor, but that blow shouldn't have done that much damage. Did something change down in this dungeon?
The Einzbern frowned as she went to town on the downed ape. The other one tried to go in for a second attack, but once again, Sakura's little furball latched onto its throat.
However, this time, it did not let go or flee when the ape tried to grab it.
Like a miniature nova, Raijuu howled through its teeth as the light left its body. The gorilla, who had no eyeballs, was not blinded in the slightest. Instead, its face started to sear like meat on a pan. The flash of light ended but was immediately followed by a burst of electrical shock.
Her eyes narrowed.
Just like the gorillas doing more damage than before, the dog was managing to do something its species shouldn't be able to do. Perhaps the tamed version of it gained more skills as it leveled up, but Illya decided to think on it later when all the gorillas were dealt with.
She eyed the eldest Tohsaka, who knew that it was time.
Shirou gave one more slash on the ape Illya had downed before retreating, with Raijuu doing the same.
"Castle of Stone!"
She felt her armor solidify, then her skin, and finally her insides, yet she retained consciousness. She knew that she could willingly cancel the effects whenever she wanted and also idly wondered if this was what all of Rider's victims could feel when petrified.
As she was now, she would take absolutely no damage until the duration ended, or until she canceled it herself.
From within her petrified form, Illya smiled.
"Sorry, you stupid apes! I need to review my research!" Rin shouted.
Despite Illya knowing Rin was going to use an ordinary Sorcerer skill, she saw the fire cradle within the magus' fingertips, shuddering as if threatening to release itself right then and there. Yet, from how the person-sized flame seemingly solidified into a swirling ball, barely the size of a baseball, she knew that this would be anything but ordinary.
"Feel my renewed Firestorm!"
The ball launched.
Illya barely saw it leave her hands before it impacted her. She felt none of the heat, or the knockback of the skill, but from how the stone around her started to melt alongside the zombie gorillas around her, she was glad she couldn't. The fire – more an inferno that rampaged within a confined environment – raised up and high into the spacious cavern above until nothing but ash remained around her.
And then the fire faded.
Illya, still safe from within her Castle of Stone, dispelled the skill to take a breath of fresh air.
In hindsight, it was a bad idea, seeing as all she smelled was ash and burnt rotten flesh.
"You alright over there, Illya?" the guild master could hear the concern in Rin's voice. "I think the output was a little more than expected."
"You think?" Illya muttered before shaking her head. "So, how did this happen?"
"You know how my research was basically creating a casting process for spells?" Rin started. "Well, in the middle of my testing months ago, Ferlna said that using that method with a spell like Fire Storm was a bad idea because it would probably destroy the Arcadia and a city block around it. Despite this, I wanted to see what would happen if I did to it what I did to the regular spells like Fireball and Pebble."
Well, it made sense. Instead of just outright making the outcome, Rin had created the fire, immense amounts of it, and condensed it until the only direction the fire would go was outward. Even then, the rotation she added to it ensured that it would not explode outward, but spiral upward.
It definitely looked like a Fire Storm, but the radius was much more controlled, and the resulting destruction was much more visceral.
"So you decided it was a good idea to test it here?" Shirou was deadpan.
"W-Well, she did say that Castle of Stone made her completely invulnerable, so as far as I'm concerned, it was a success!" Rin defended herself before laughing under her breath, like a comically evil magus. "If those old codgers discredit my research, live demonstrations are always in order."
"Evil monologue aside," Illya sighed. "Sakura, I'm sure you already realize that your racial trait ended up removing your only offensive skill until level fifty-three, right?"
Her sad nod was indeed saddening.
"It's not so bad," Illya comforted. "More support skills just means you can do more than just heal. You can protect too, like with what you did earlier. Also, I doubt you need more offensive skills when you can just let the dog deal the damage."
"Speaking of which," Rin noted. "Since when could the little thing, you know, explode with blinding lightning?"
"I have no idea," Sakura lamented as she ruffled her pet's shaggy neck. Strange, it was… slightly bigger now. "And… I also have no idea why he's larger."
"What's your level?" Shirou asked. "Maybe it reached a milestone."
"Level forty– I gained five levels!? From six gorillas?"
"And I am level forty-three," Shirou's brow twitched. "Illya… what level were they?"
Illya paused before looking at the ashed remains. Luckily, her UI still recognized it as a corpse, but that was because they hadn't looted the drops yet. "Let's see… Fifty!? When did–?"
"So, the dungeon got harder, did it?" Rin sighed. "Well, that's not ominous at all. Level forty-four, by the way."
"On the bright side, we handled ourselves… perfectly, actually," Illya noted with some surprise. Scratch that, not just some, but a lot of surprises. Sure, Shirou did use a couple of anti-monster Noble Phantasms, Rin with her busted spells, and custom EXP Potions that doubled specific stats in addition to doubling their total attack damage, but they managed to completely take control of that battle.
Hmm… maybe they didn't need to be level 90. Maybe 75 or 80 before they reveal their extra skillset, but it couldn't hurt to be safe so Illya mentally stuck with being level 90 before revealing.
But… Illya eyed the damage. Wasn't this level of damage one step below Servant? Or perhaps it was already encroaching on that power level?
Well, she'll think about it later.
"I guess we can keep this pace up," Illya said. "-but I'm equipping my regular armor now. I don't want to be caught blindsided by a level-sixty or something."
Because wouldn't that be a pain?
Waver had left the meeting early.
While the contents of that meeting itself were interesting, he did not get his title as a Clocktower Lord by being idle. He knew when his role in a meeting was over, so he made his way back into their warehouse and resumed his work.
The warehouse itself was large and open. There were two large doors upfront that can only be opened by members of the guild with appropriate authority, but there was a regular-sized entrance right next to it that can only be used by guild members. It was handy, as it eliminated the need for security.
The real focus of the warehouse was the out-of-place wooden desk, followed by a wooden chair, and the few books on it. Waver had it custom-made to match his desk back at home, a form of normalcy that he craved. The books were purchased from the Arcadia, even if the Lander clerk wanted to give it for free, and contained information of all the alchemical reagents in Theldesia.
Of course, he knew them by heart, as he had played Elder Tale on and off from his home in London, but the isles of Yamato had vastly different fauna and flora when compared to the Seven Hills of the Western European servers. It didn't hurt to get a better understanding.
That being said, he wished there was more that could be done for their supposed warehouse, which the Einzbern hopefully would develop into a 'factory'.
It was hard to do that when they couldn't build any of it.
There weren't any carpenters in their guild, so he had to hire a couple of Landers to aid him. Waver did make them sign a Geass to ensure they would never speak about what they built or what they think that they were building. The Geass would prevent and enforce it so long as Waver drew breath, and as a newly-minted immortal, that was essentially forever.
To be frank, the contract itself was a hassle to make. Without a Scribe in their guild, they were forced to have Scribe Landers write up the contract before they enforced it with their magecraft. In the end, those Landers also had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
The hassle that came with ensuring all the relevant Landers would sign the contract… he could have done without it, but unfortunately, tinkering and carpentry weren't within his skill set, nor was it a skill set for many people in there did have a smith to forge the required parts, Emiya Shirou, so at least that saved some budget.
Waver sighed and set down a flask of dragon's blood, one that had yet to be diluted.
That name haunted him, just as his apprentice's own face had haunted him. It gave him horrid visions and cruel reminders of a friend long lost to war, of his weakness during that war. Being subjected to that name time and time again was aggravating, not to mention uneasy, but idle hands made for idle thoughts.
Waver dealt with all of it by working on what he was told to do. The Einzbern was a slave-driver, whether she knew it or not, but it was better than doing nothing– much better than seeing ghosts from the past.
He eyed the machinery behind him, some parts made by the said scion of past ghosts.
It was essentially an automatic EXP potion brewer.
Some magi heralded the old ways, never subscribing to the notion of automation, of which the only exception was when it came to golems or defense mechanisms. They would say that the mystery of their creations would be lost if automated like modern-day machinery. The overall creation of potions and the like– or consumables, as most of his adventurer peers would call it– was to be done by hand and only by hand, so that the product would always be genuine in their eyes.
It was reasonable… somewhat, but it severely hampered their capabilities. True, the end product would be subpar in some form, but that was with subpar automation. Those magi only saw the result of a first attempt and immediately disregarded modern automation as a waste of resources. They never once chose to try to improve upon it. Even now, Waver could see points in the machine that could be streamlined, improved, and reinforced.
Why waste time brewing a thousand potions when you could have something else do it for you? Aozaki Touko– even the Einzbern family– understood this to some extent.
Though, he would admit that the more specialized products needed to be done by hand. Only he knew the exact recipe for their seven Class Container EXP Potions and only he would ever know how to make more, at least until the guild got more alchemists to share his burden, but that was highly unlikely.
They were magi, and magi did not trust easily, or if at all.
He eyed the thin pipes pouring a steady stream of water, which was met with dragon's blood steadily trickling into it. He mentally nodded at the machine whipping and pumping phoenix egg yolk. He also noted the faerie dust sprinkling from up above.
There were two other pipes, but those were from other similar machines that merely created health recovery and attack damage boosting potions. They all met in a single chamber where a crystal sat, emitting mana poured into it by the Einzbern's spectral ally.
Waver frowned at the sheer magical energy that radiated from the crystal. It was wasteful, but considering that it could keep losing energy for a solid century, there was no need to worry about it losing power.
Heaven's Feel, such a ludicrous ability, even when access to it was limited.
However, the final piece of the puzzle was not included. Adventurer's blood, one that could be readily obtained without a steady stream of volunteers, or by continuous drainage of their own life essence.
To fulfill their quota of potions for the month, they would need to drain Taiga completely every week– who had the most health out of them all, which was a highly vetoed idea.
And so, an alternative was revealed.
Waver eyed the glass container holding an embryo within.
It was inert and would never even develop consciousness. Their guild master would have called it a failure due to those very reasons, which was truly damning condemnation from a family whose sole specialty was the creation of Homunculi, but it suited their purposes just fine.
It, and the two more surrounding it, were formed for the sole purpose of creating an endless supply of Adventurer Blood for Experience Potion production.
Inhumane? Probably. It made the more ethical members of their guild raise a few brows, but both Illya and he had assured them it was, for all intents and purposes, a flesh doll. It wasn't any different from raising animals for slaughter, though that was a whole other topic, one that he had no intention of touching on.
They needed a steady source of adventurer blood and created an artificial method. That was all that really mattered.
With all appropriate ingredients coming together in what amounted to a reactor for magical energy, the output was poured into bottles that moved along a conveyor belt.
They didn't forget the need for workers that refilled the ingredients. Illya had proposed to hire Landers once more, which he agreed to. It gave them more employment options at the very least. One downside of the adventurer renaissance was the dwindling Lander-owned shops that sold food items such as cakes and tarts. Who would buy from them now that adventurers made them, but much better?
A sad reality, but with how the city's economy was booming– as reported by the head merchants themselves, it was negligible. At the very least, they were finding jobs as helpers or in-office assistants. As much as adventurers pushed them out of the limelight, they were still former gamers and shut-ins. They didn't know how to handle a business without some help.
And even if they couldn't get those jobs… there was opportunity elsewhere.
"Swanky place you got here. Those… homunculi-things, are doing their job, huh?"
"Yes, they are," Waver nodded. "I assume the meeting is over with?"
"Yep," she smiled. "Thanks for your help back there. I probably wouldn't have been able to convince them without your help."
"With how you structured your elevator pitch, I doubt they would have," he paused. "Or rather, your complete lack of one."
"I didn't think I'd need one!" the Samurai complained. "I thought everyone liked school. Those were some of the best years of my life!"
"And suddenly, everything starts to make sense."
"I'll ignore that, only because I'm in such a good mood."
He snorted and inspected the potions that were coming out of the machine. He noted, with no surprise, that they were all the same. Just as their guild master intended.
"You gonna say anything else? I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall here."
"What is there to say? You have succeeded in your endeavors, but it is merely the start line. All that is left is to ensure it does not fail."
"Blunt as ever, aren't you?" Taiga muttered with a sigh. She even had the audacity to steal his chair and sit on it. "You know, I didn't want your help, initially."
"Then I imagine that the meeting would have gone swimmingly."
"Yep, like through orca-infested waters."
"Was the saying not shark-infested waters?"
"Everyone knows the real kingpins of the sea are the orcas," she snorted. "Those guys eat shark livers, literally, and don't even touch the rest. If that's not showing them whose boss, then I don't know what is. Anyways, that wasn't the point I was trying to make."
"There was a point?"
"You're making this really hard on purpose, aren't you?" Taiga accused. "Do you really not want me here?"
"Seeing as I have much better things to do, yes."
"Painful," she was deadpan. "Anyways, the point was that I didn't really want you to help me out, or any of the other guild members. At least at first. Can you guess why?"
"We are magi," he said without a hint of hesitation.
"Yeah, that," she said. "It was just… really hard to wrap my head around you guys– not Sakura or Shirou though, they're angels– being a part of those…"
"Utter monsters with no redeemable qualities? Believe me, I feel the same," he said. If that somehow got out, he had more than a few 'colleagues' who would only agree.
"Yeah, which is why I didn't want you guys to help out with making a school, for however short it might end up being," she said. It seemed that she knew that it wouldn't last forever. Only a few adventurers needed to learn, and with no steady source of new adventurers, it would eventually end in a year or two. "I didn't want you people corrupting the minds of youths."
"Rehearsed that in your head, did you?" he snorted but nodded shortly after. "But I do not mind. If I was in your position, I would have done the same."
As nice as they were compared to other magi, they were still magi. Even when they have morally good people holding them back, they would still perform evil if it meant they got what they want. The incident just over a week ago proved it.
"So now you're wondering why I decided to ask for help?" she rhetorically asked. Moreover, she had not even asked him, but instead, dragged him around like cattle. "Yeah, I had a little talk with Tohsaka a few days ago. It was eye-opening, to say the least."
He could imagine. He'd probably have been just as shocked if one of his students ended up being a Dead Apostle the entire time he was teaching them, though that was the only comparison he could draw up.
"I still don't trust you guys, not completely. Not the Einzbern heir, Fuyuki's Second Owner, nor a Lord of the Clocktower," she admitted. "But, I think I can trust Illyasviel von Einzbern, Tohsaka Rin, and you– Waver Velvet. Does that make sense or am I just being confusing?"
"It does," he set down the flask of diluted dragon's blood. "To put your trust in who they are, and not what they are, is an admirable trait."
"Wow, complements! I didn't expect to get that today!"
"And you shouldn't expect anymore," Waver waved it off. "Anyways, I fulfilled my task of fully looking over the machine. It should run perfectly fine without my interference. This means I will be able to leave for the Eternal Palace of Ice without any issue."
"Off to high places, aren't we? Nothing you aren't used to though."
"Indeed, though I could honestly do without it," he turned to leave the warehouse. "Although, this does mean I am free. Any other absurd requests you wish to make of me?"
"Nah, not today. Maybe tomorrow, or when you get back from your little trip."
"Wonderful. I, for one, am in dire need of some coffee. Let's see if this blasted city has any worthy coffee shops."
"And he's picky about his coffee. Never thought you'd get any more workaholic, but eh, I've seen worse. Follow me, I know a few good shops!"
"You've just insulted me and expect to– ah screw it. I'll take you up on your offer."
He'd definitely need one, and maybe store more than a couple of fresh brews in his inventory before their trip. He had a feeling he'd need it.
No matter the world, politics sucked, and there is no doubt in his mind that everything that sucked more plainly didn't exist.
"That sucked," Rin declared. "I think that was the worst day we've had since coming here."
"At least we got some levels out of it," Illya sighed.
And yes, she did mean we.
The boss that ended up appearing late into the dungeon was nothing like they expected. Illya knew it would probably have reflected the choice of zombie gorillas… but she didn't expect it to be a little girl.
Apparently, it was the ghost of a little girl that came here to play with her friends. The fact she was a ghost told the entire story, but she couldn't leave. It drove her insane, and as a result, she gathered the bodies of all the zombified apes and fused them to form a new fleshy body.
That was pretty horrifying to look at. Although she didn't forget the remarks her brother made about a murderous little girl being somewhat nostalgic, nor did she miss Rin agreeing with him.
Killing the amalgam body was impossible as it just regenerated using the corpses around it, which it spawned at increasingly faster rates.
Eventually, they just decided it was just too much to handle without any reinforcements. Their mana capacity couldn't support a battle of attrition, which was what the boss fight seemed to end up being.
They didn't even get to see if it had any other phases.
A retreat was just the next logical decision to take. Maybe they could handle it if they brought Waver along. An Enchanter's mana channeling, which Illya knew the Lord of the Clocktower had, would greatly turn the tide of the battle for them.
Until then, they would lick their wounds and flee.
They could've spent a while killing and see how far they got… but they didn't want to make a habit of dying. Illya knew there was something wrong with it, they all did, but none were willing to risk death to find out what.
There was never such a thing as a free revive. Never.
At the very least, they gained good levels. Rin seemed to be level fifty, Shirou at fifty-three, and Sakura at a flat fifty. Illya herself was level seventy-one– and thankfully she wasn't level sixty-nine anymore. If she had that buffoon Isaac laugh at it just… One. More. Time.
"Well, that's that," Illya nodded. "We're heading home. We ran out of EXP potions, right? No use staying anymore."
"Yeah," Rin muttered as she looked back down where they fled. "Also, I don't want to risk that thing coming after us if we stay for too long. Seriously, I think only a Servant would be able to stand a chance against that."
"And in the future, we will be able to too," Shirou comforted.
Sakura merely nodded, as she mirrored his thoughts. Her dog noticed the rather disgruntled atmosphere and barked for her attention, in which it licked her fingertips as consolation.
"We still have a couple of minutes left on our EXP potions," Rin noticed. "Do we risk it following us?"
"No," Illya finally decided. While more levels were nice– and they would surely be gaining a bunch more if they stayed, it was too risky. All these changes to an area that she thought she knew was starting to unnerve her. If anything, it served as more evidence that this wasn't the world she got to know from Elder Tale. "Pack it up. We still need to prepare for our trip to the Eternal Palace of Ice, remember?"
"Oh, right," Rin grimaced. "I… didn't pack for that yet."
"Too busy raising your Artificer subclass, were you?"
"S-Sakura, why would you assume that? I've been going to bed on time."
"The fact that you said that, makes me question it," Shirou smiled as Illya snickered under her breath. However, speaking of Shirou and Sakura…
"By the way, what will you guys be doing when Lord El-Melloi II, Rin, and I leave the city?" Illya asked honestly as they walked out of the dungeon. "I've been meaning to ask, but it slipped my mind."
"I was planning on helping around," Sakura said. It wasn't anything different from what she was doing before the Round Table came to be. "But Nazuna-san did want to ask me for some more advice. Something about a gathering of mutual interests?"
"I see," Illya mused. Knowing how close Sakura was to the West Wind Brigade, Illya saw no problem with that. "What about you, dearest brother?"
"There was that training camp…" Shirou sighed. "But seeing as it's been canceled, I thought that I'd just try leveling my blacksmithing for the foreseeable future. The sooner that is raised, the better, right?"
"Really?" Rin was surprised. "I thought for sure that you'd try to join the Black Sword Knights on their patrols. You're close with their guild leader, right?"
"This is new to me," Illya raised a brow.
"We aren't," Shirou sighed. "He just helped me out when we first arrived and gave a few potions for free. This was before he knew we couldn't die. We met again when he was trying to haggle with a Lander. I wouldn't call two chance meetings a 'close' relationship."
"He was doing a horrible job haggling, wasn't he?"
Shirou's tired nod told Illya all she needed to know.
However, learning that he did help her family out early on meant he had a good head on his shoulders, even if it was a pretty dense and empty one. Maybe she'll arrange a discount for him or something, as thanks or something… assuming Rin would allow it. Probably not.
With leveling behind them, the Gathering of Lords was next.
Hopefully, nothing would go wrong.
Ugh, who was she kidding? Something was definitely going to go wrong.
It always did.
Next Chapter: Late May
A/N: So, Season 3 of Log Horizon is over. I haven't watched it yet, planning to binge it next month while I work on an assignment, but I do know there's more politicking there with Landers, so it should be helpful for this story.
I've also made a grievous error last chapter that will be retconned. No, you will not know what that error is. KEKW
Sorry if the chapter felt like a slog, but I did need to do a lot of preparation before we head over to the Gathering of Lords. Come to think of it, I've done a lot of setup for this story, which sort of paid off in the last few chapters. Although, I am somewhat unsatisfied with my earlier chapters. Whether I update and fix them is another story. Perhaps when I have more time, or better time management Elegiggle.
As always, notify me about any errors I left here (I know there are because I've seen some on re-reads, but swiftly forgot them like a pepega).
Until next time,
A/N 2: Screwed up a stereotype so badly I think I experienced second-hand cringe. Forgive me, British people, for I somehow mucked up Tea and Coffee.
A/N 3: Forgot that Dead Apostle Ancestors don't exist unless the Human Order is weak enough. Changed to just Dead Apostle. Credit to a Guest Reviewer.