We had transferred via Teleportation magic to the 28th level which turned out to be a swamp stretching out towards the horizon. We were standing on a wooden walkway, about 1.5 metres wide, built a little above the swamp and leading off into the distance.
"This walkway, it's the way we have to go right?" I didn't fancy trying to wade through the swamp. It looked nasty and how deep was it? Were there sinkholes and quicksands? What sort of monsters lurked under the surface?
"Umu." Fer said, looking around. "We'll be attacked by monsters as we go and we can't avoid them or hide or sneak up on them since we have to stay on the walkway. It's an extra difficulty compared to a forest or desert level."
...What's with this dungeon, really? Did it truly have to be so unfair? When I asked him about this Fer explained that all dungeons were different and you had to accept what came along. I couldn't be as philosophical as Fer about it though.
"A level which is all swamp and nothing else is definitely unusual." Fer added, after scanning the area. So there wasn't a convenient short-cut, a dry land route to the end of the level somewhere? It was all like this? Dora-chan could fly across the swamp but unless we could get a boat or something like that then the walkway was going to be our only route through the level and we'd get ambushed by assorted monsters as we went.
"Ugh, water..." Fer said in a disgusted voice. Ah, that's right, Fer wasn't happy with the idea of getting wet. "We should get through the level as fast as possible." Fer announced. He was really unhappy with the idea of getting wet... "I'll run all night tonight."
Can you actually do that, Fer? "I can see a bit now because it's dusk, but after the sun goes down and it gets dark will you be able to see?" For now the sun was still in the 'sky' so I could see some of the scenery around here but in the dark staying on the walkway, especially at the speed Fer runs at would be a problem, surely? The walkway ahead of us wasn't straight, it twisted and turned. The monsters hidden in the swamp wouldn't be visible too, and...
"Don't worry, I've got good night vision." Fer said. "Moving around, even running in the dark won't be a problem."
"I can see in the dark too." Dora-chan piped up. Ah, you too? I wondered if Sui-chan was also able to see at night and I was the only one in this party who couldn't...
"But can you actually run all night, Fer?" I asked.
"Humph, I'm not so weak that an overnight run would tire me out." Fer declared.
"Me too. I can fly for three days straight, easy peasy." Dora-chan added.
There wasn't going to be a problem going ahead with Fer's plan, it seemed. Sui-chan couldn't stay awake all night but she'd be OK in her leather bag. I was the only one who'd have difficulties, I'd have to stay firmly on Fer's back all night and not get shaken off. If that happened and I ended up falling in the swamp, well...
"Before we leave, let's eat first." Fer said.
"What the big guy said. I'm hungry." Dora-chan added.
"Sui is hungry too-"
I looked at the wooden walkway and decided it was too narrow for me to bring out my Black Magic Cooking Stove to prepare a meal. I wasn't even sure if the walkway would support its weight. Should I use the little gas stoves to cook something?
"Hurry up. Let's eat and get moving." Fer said, his eyes scanning the area around us. He really really didn't like this water-logged level. I wondered... I had decided that feeding them different-world food from the Net Super again was a bad idea but maybe I was wrong? Fer was going to be running all night and fighting monsters all the way, and Dora-chan would be flying alongside providing supporting fire so an energy boost from eating Net Super products would help them. Yosh, Net Super food it is! I decided quickly against getting more wagyu beef steaks, I couldn't cook them easily and it would take time.
I opened Net Super and started buying side dishes and ready-to-eat entrees that caught my eye. Yakitori, deep-fried chicken, beef croquette, shumai steamed meat dumplings, Chinese spring rolls, sweet and sour pork, pork loin cutlets over rice, beef ribs and more, piled into large dishes and put down on the walkway for the Gluttonous Trio to get stuck in. I bought seafood and salad for myself since I'd been eating a lot of meat recently and the idea of more of the same was a little off-putting. After providing ""Seconds"" for Fer and Sui-chan a few times we were finished.
"Well then, ready to get going?" Fer asked.
"Aruji, Sui is sleepy-" Sui-chan murmured, already half-asleep after the meat feast. She was always the first to fall asleep after we ate.
"Sui should go to bed and sleep." I told her.
"Okay-" Sui-chan climbed into her bag and settled down.
'Hey you, get on my back and hang on tight." Fer commanded.
"Y- yeah, I will." I straddled Fer's back, holding on as firmly as I could.
"Oh, hey." I had a sudden thought. "Do you need a light?" It had become totally dark while we were eating dinner and I only had my pocket flashlight to work with now but there were other sorts of flashlights, lamps, LED lanterns and such for sale in the Net Super. I could buy-
"No, no lights." Fer said. "Lights at night in this swamp would just attract more monsters." Ah, would it? In that case, no lights are good. Safety first after all. I switched off my own flashlight and stowed it carefully in my pocket.
"I'll put my Barrier up for you and Dora, just in case." Fer positioned himself on the walkway and I felt him tense, ready for his sprint.
"Nah, no need to do that for me, big guy." Dora-chan retorted. "I'll take the lead and spot any monsters you are going to run into, smack down the little ones."
"Good idea." Fer acknowledged.
"Right then, let's get going." Dora-chan buzzed off into the darkness and Fer launched himself down the walkway after the little Pixie Dragon. As soon as we moved away from the start of the level a couple of monsters attacked us. One was a giant frog and the other was some kind of fish, about 30cm long and flat like an ankou. They jumped clear out of the water from either side of the walkway but they bounced off Fer's Barrier. We didn't bother to stop to fight them but we just kept going, leaving them behind. We didn't have time to deal with every monster we encountered. Besides, and I smiled to myself at the pun, they were just the sort of small fry Fer kept on referring to. Fish, small fry, get it? Okay, one was a frog but... oh, never mind.
Up ahead in the darkness I could hear the sounds of battle and see occasional flashes of fire magic. Dora-chan was fighting some monsters, it seemed. I felt a vague disappointment that we were leaving drops behind but I had decided before we set off we wouldn't stop to collect any drops on this floor, we just wanted to get through the swamp and face off against the level boss. We had collected a lot of drops on the previous level but it had taken us quite some time. There were bound to be some good drops from this level's boss once we defeated him anyway and I'd be sure to collect those high-value ones before we advanced to the next level.
As we proceeded the monsters that Dora-chan had subjugated had all disappeared but the signs of the battles were clear where the walkway was broken or damaged. Fer nimbly avoided the loose boards and gaping holes and kept running incredibly fast into the darkness while I held on for dear life.
When the sun rose Fer slowed to a stop on a patch of the walkway that had suffered comparatively little damage. He raised his muzzle and sniffed then declared that the level's boss wasn't that far off now. Dora-chan came flying back after a few moments and settled down beside us.
"The walkway just here seems solid enough." I said, climbing off Fer's back with a groan. All my muscles hurt from the pounding ride. I stretched and then my belly clock went off. Hmmm, this was as good a place as any. "Do you want to eat some breakfast before we get to the boss?" I asked.
"Umu, that would be good." Fer said.
"Oh, food at last." Dora-chan agreed.
I could only use the little gas-bottle cooking stoves since I didn't have space for the big Black Magic Cooking Stove but they would do the job. Steak, that was a popular choice for these guys for breakfast, or any time really. I cooked a lot of Wyvern steaks and Sui-chan woke up just in time to eat with the other two. Me, I fried up some ham and eggs for myself and made a sandwich of them with black bread and finished that off with some drip coffee. When Fer had finished his fourth (or was it his fifth?) serving of Wyvern steaks he scanned the swamp ahead of us again.
"Running all night, we're most of the way to the level boss already. If we keep going we'll get to him before noon." Before noon? That's quick. Fer really didn't like this level, too much water around for him probably. Speaking of water, I cast an eye over his coat which was starting to look a bit matted and dirty again. Was it time for him to have another bath and shampoo? Once we were finished with the dungeon, perhaps.
"Oh, that's right. During the night big fish-things with whiskers and big slimy snake-things kept jumping out of the water to attack me." Dora-chan mentioned. "They weren't a big deal but there was no way I was going to ignore anything that looked that ugly." Dora-chan said with a disgusted expression on his face. The big fish with whiskers would be something like a catfish-type monster, and a slimy snake, would that be an eel-type monster, perhaps? My curiosity was soon satisfied as we continued along the walkway towards the level boss. A large catfish broke the surface, opened its big mouth and jumped straight at us from the swamp.
"Guwah!" it roared. How could a fish roar? I wondered as I cringed back but-
"Dosh!" Dora-chan blew several large holes in the torso of the big catfish with his fire magic before it could reach us and the body tumbled off the walkway back into the water.
"It was like this all night, attack after attack after attack." Dora-chan said tiredly. "No big deal really, but all the time? Ugh." As Dora-chan said the catfish-monster was really disgusting and ugly. Yeah, it was a catfish but it had sharp teeth like a shark. Brrr.
"And that's the other sort." Dora-chan said. I looked around to see a slender snake-like monster with sharp teeth ringing its round mouth jumping out of the water on the other side of the walkway at us. It was a lot bigger than an eel, in fact it looked more like a giant lamprey with that round sort of a mouth, only filled with teeth too.
"Dosh Dosh Dosh!" Dora-chan's fire magic Bombardment struck the eel's slime-covered flank and blew it into bits.
"That sort of ugly thing also attacked me in the middle of the night." Dora-chan said. "All the time. Blegh."
Yeah, as Dora-chan says, blegh. We kept moving, me on Fer's back with Sui-chan resting in her bag and Dora-chan flying ahead of us, dealing with the fish and eel monsters that attacked continuously. Fer was concentrating on moving quickly and trying to keep up with the Pixie Dragon who was, as he had often boasted he could, flying at a great speed. No matter how fast he was flying he destroyed every catfish-monster and eel-monster he encountered. I was impressed.
As Fer had promised before noon we got to the level boss standing on a patch of solid ground at the end of the walkway. "That's him, the boss." Fer said, stopping and pointing his muzzle forward. What was that ahead of us?...
"Ah, that? Isn't that a bit too big?" I asked myself. I had seen crocodiles before, in the zoo but not any like this one. It was as big as a sightseeing bus. Bigger, maybe. When I tried to Appraise it....
[ Gustave ]
S rank monster.
Of course it would be S ranked, after all the bosses of the 26th and 27th levels had been S rank. Even so, it was... big. Would we be able to defeat it as easily as the others?
"Yosh, here I go!" Fer shouted.
"Yeah! Hi Ho! ! " Dora-chan chimed in.
"Sui will fight too-" Sui-chan added.
Wait wait WAIT! I pulled back on Fer's fur. "Hey, Fer! Are you going to fight that thing with me on your back? Let me get off first!"
"You'll have to remain on my back," Fer said, obviously impatient to start the boss battle. "If I leave you behind on the walkway you'll get attacked by those monsters in the swamp. I can protect you better if you stay where you are." Fer cocked his head round to look at me. "I'm not going to let you get killed, who'd cook for me if I let that happen to you?"
......ehhh, so I'm only important to you because I can cook for you? I looked around at the swamp and had to agree with Fer though, it was too dangerous to stay here on the walkway while he fought the Gustave. I swallowed hard.
"Oh, it can't be helped." I heard myself say. "I'll go with you-" but Fer was already charging forward. Waaaah!
"Dora, this monster's skin is super-tough. Aim for its eyes." Fer said telepathically as Dora-chan flew ahead into the attack.
"Got it, big guy." came Dora-chan's acknowledgement, swerving nimbly around the Gustave's snapping jaws as it fruitlessly tried to bite the annoying Pixie Dragon buzzing around its immense head. The sound of its teeth crunching shut was very loud, if Dora-chan got caught... Suddenly Fer leapt on to the Gustave's scaly back and blasted its head with his wind magic, zash, zash, zash-
"Gooooaaah-" the Gustave reared up in pain, its jaws open.
"Now aim at its eyes, Dora." Fer commanded as I clutched his neck fur, desperate to stay in place safely on his back. Now was not the time to fall off, I told myself. I blinked as five gleaming ice spears appeared around Dora-chan, then they shot downwards to pierce the Gustave's eyes dosh dosh dosh dosh dosh-
"Gruuuahhh----" The Gustave roared, thrashing its head from side to side, its body bucking and twisting. Fer leapt off safely to one side as the giant crocodile shape rolled on the ground in obvious agony, its fang-filled jaws open wide. I gripped Fer's neck fur even harder as we landed with a jolt. What next-
"Ah, Sui ?!" I watched in terror as Sui-chan pyonged forward... straight into the Gustave's gaping jaws, disappearing from sight as the monster snapped its mouth closed. Sui!
"Gurgle..." The Gustave's roars were choked off then its giant body convulsed once and collapsed onto the ground, motionless. There was a fizzing hissing sound and a hole appeared in the Gustave's flank. As I watched dumbfounded my darling battle maniac Sui-chan pyonged out from the hole she had melted in the monster's side.
"Yay, I went buzz buzz in the big monster's belly." Sui-chan announced with a satisfied tone in her voice.
......she shot Acid Bullets inside the Gustave's stomach? Well, no matter how strong a monster's skin is, its insides are going to be a lot softer. It was a gruesome way to win the battle though, and when she dived into the Gustave's open mouth, well... I watched darling Sui-chan pyong happily around the fallen S-ranked monster, thinking to myself (very privately) that maybe she was the most cold-blooded of my companions despite being the youngest and cutest.
"So you attacked it with Acid Bullets from inside?" Fer said wonderingly. "Y'know, I feel kinda sorry for it now."
"Acid Bullets in its belly..." Dora-chan said as he settled down on the ground, looking over at Sui-chan. "Neat trick, kid."
Hey you two, can you be quiet for a bit? "Ahem, Sui, you did really well." I said.
"Ehehe~" Sui-chan jumped up on my chest, happy I was praising her. Sui-chan is healing. And a pitiless win-at-all-costs battle maniac and... but healing, healing always.
Just then the remains of the Gustave disappeared, leaving a skin, a big magic stone, a fang and, oddly enough, the giant crocodile's spine. I wondered why that would be considered valuable but packed it away with the rest of the drops and followed Fer to the high ground behind the place the Gustave had stood waiting for us. The level exit would be there and sure enough... Fer placed his paw on the teleportation circle on a flat stone as I climbed on his back with Sui-chan in her bag and Dora-chan clinging to me.
"Right then, let's go to the 29th level." I said, looking back at the dismal swamp. I hoped it wasn't going to be like this again but given how the levels increased in difficulty it could be, in fact it probably would be worse. Ah well.
"Umu" Fer said, pushing magical power into the teleportation stone, sending us on an invisible elevator ride to the 29th level.