Their heads were fully shaven, including their eyebrows, and their robes were the religious type. Something about them made me feel like they truly belonged to this place.
They didn’t seem to be beastkins but I doubted they were humans either. Even though their arms were thin, their maces packed a terrifying amount of power. Enough that a single blow would mean the end of whoever it would land on.
None of the fighters paid any attention to me and the battle kept going as if I didn’t exist.
Back in the sunken city, the black knight had told me that it was nothing but a mirage. If all instant dungeons were similar, it was also possible that the Undermine, at its core, was just… a recreation of past events that could, somehow, absorb people from the present.
In any case, that was nothing but making strange conjectures so I decided to focus on what was in front of me.
It would have been totally possible for me to just go around them and leave the hall, and I supposed that it was what delvers usually did when they got this far.
But I knew the four of them were like fruits ripe with ether just waiting for someone to pluck them.
And today that someone will be us.
So the battle kept going, but whatever scenario these knockers were following, I could see that the beastkins were going to lose. They hadn’t been able to win when they had the numerical advantage and were now just stalling before their looming defeat.
However, I wasn’t planning to take on the two floating mace wielders by myself.
Taking advantage of their obliviousness, I slowly paced around them. Watching, waiting for an opportunity to present itself. And it soon did.
One of the bald heads had been leaving himself wide open to bait his increasingly more desperate opponents into dropping their guard.
I wasn’t sure of the anatomy under the robes, so before the sword dancers could doom themselves, I jumped into the fray and cleanly removed the mace wielder’s head from the rest of his body with a single swing.
It was as if I had suddenly come into existence out of nowhere, they all jumped away from me in surprise. But surprise was an advantage I wasn’t going to let slip by so easily.
I dashed toward the other bald head before he could raise his guard again. Seeing that he would be too slow to defend himself, he let go of his weapon and it fell to the ground along with his empty robe.
He had disappeared.
Or he should have. I could see his fogged figure trying hurrying away. With an explosive jump, I cut his retreat and thrust my blade into his chest.
There was a groan, and he ceased to exist.
I had hoped for the robed men to be worth more ether and turned to face the remaining knockers with a satisfied smile.
“You!” said one of them as he pointed a sword at me. “Identify yourself!”
He might have been more convincing if he hadn’t been so out of breath, but the result would have been the same.
“He just killed the priests and saved our lives,” said his comrade. “He could be an al-”
“Do not let yourself be fooled! You witnessed him being able to see the invisible. I will not believe him not to be one of these children stealing abominations unless he speaks!”
They made a pause for me to defend myself, but I just raised a brow and kept smiling.
It was amusing to see my humanity being questioned by people who seemed unaware that they had been dead for a while.
“See? They do not dare to break their vow of silence. Take your stance!”
The other one did as ordered.
Wouldn’t have had it any other way.
In general, there was a certain pleasure to defeat opponents. But to crush a lesser blade dance? The idea alone was exciting.
Grasp of the Deep, I hesitantly thought, unsure whether simply thinking the words would be enough. But it was.
The water rose from between the cracks of the paved floor until it was just above my ankle. It was pitch black but faded into nothingness around twenty-five meters from me.
I could have thought it was a beautiful sight if I didn’t remember the things I had seen in those waters.
It was incredibly still, and while I could hear the sound of splashing water when I moved my feet, I couldn’t feel it. And from the lack of reaction of the blade dancers, they couldn’t even see it.
They charged at me simultaneously, releasing all the pent-up frustration they had accumulated against the priests.
But I had seen their moves and probably was the worst type of opponent they could have faced.
Their dance relied greatly on overwhelming their enemy with the speed at which they could swing their swords, while mine was partly based on punishing anything that failed to perform as it was supposed to.
No subtlety in their movement, no grace in their footwork. They were swinging at me with reckless abandon and that put them only one step above barbarians like Ardos who used their fists to fight.
But before long, I had to admit to myself that they worked well together. Their dance may have been full of weaknesses, but they had each other’s back. And since my swings weren’t as strong as the priests’, I couldn’t break their rhythms.
Dodging and parrying, I made sure to never stay under their raining blows for too long and forced them into my own rhythm as they followed me around the hall. Slowly but surely, I could feel the joy of the dance fill me.
It felt almost like a conversation. As we tried to kill each other, every lunge, every spin, every jump, every swing was either a proposal or an answer.
And if my proposal was their end, the arguments of their rebuttal were piss poor.
They were already close to exhaustion when the fight had started, and now that their movements were becoming sluggish I was regretting using the Grasp of the Deep.
It’s been so short… a bit more, hold on a bit more!
No longer running away, I stood my ground, barely dodging and parrying the blows coming from every side. At the center of a whirlwind of steel and sparks, attacking only here and there.
Soon, I was the only one attacking, as they struggled to even hold their blades. But I was still surprised when the first one fell from my blade piercing his heart.
I almost let out a curse and realized I was panting. It had been close, but their dual-wielding dance must have been incredibly stamina consuming.
The other one dropped to his knees, confusion on his face. His sword had probably never felt so heavy.
“Water…” he whispered. “It sounds like there’s… water but…”
He looked up at me with pleading eyes, “We came to save the children. If you-”
Annoyed by the abrupt end of the dance, I swiftly cut the monster’s nonsense short.
I glanced around the hall for the corpse of the third beastkin but it had unsurprisingly disappeared. With just a thought, the black water receded and I started slowly regaining my stamina.
Taking deep breaths as I was becoming myself again, I wondered what the limits of the trance were.
Was it possible for me to eventually be so far gone that I would never resurface?
This isn’t the place for theories. I already know that I can retain control. What I need to do is not let go.
No matter how valid my apprehensions were, the fact was that I had to keep going. I had no choice in that regard.
Realizing that my regeneration was too slow on its on own, I brought out a can of Green Blossom from my inventory.
I sliced the top open and used it to quickly eat the delicious broth. I didn’t stop eating until there was nothing left.
Didn’t even realize how hungry I was.
With the hot meal came a sense of clarity, and I wondered how long I had been in the dungeon already. A few hours, for sure, but how many exactly?
I debated turning back for a moment but decided it would be a waste of the boosted regeneration.
The next floor. The next floor will be the last for today.
I picked a random path and walked until I reached the elevator. It now had a mirror on every side.
I studied my reflection as it took me to my last stop, and smiled. I was still myself, Edward Lee. There was no need to worry.
The sounds of battle welcomed me to the sixth layer of the Undermine.
There were more of the toads, but what caught my interest was the beastkins fighting priests in and out of the many rooms of the passage.
It was a good thing that I didn’t catch my expression in the mirrors as I dashed in the gallery, followed by the whistling song of a dark blade.