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405 No Way Back, A Way Forward!

 "Those who are melee should focus on clearing a path forward! Stay aware of your positioning at all times... The only two who should initiate any aggro are Halls and me!" Niflheim commanded as he led the way forward with Halls. The Great Palace Shark was still locked onto him, however, those attacking it were doing even less damage than before. At this rate, they would never get rid of it!

BOOM! BOOM!

Two of the nearby Great Palace Seeker Fish exploded as soon as their HP reached critical levels. Fortunately, it did not have as large of an explosion radius as Ord, one of the two seafolks guarding the entrance into the outer palace who was taken care of by Blue Oasis. To make matters even more confusing, the Great Palace Seeker Fish was one level higher than Ord!

"I suppose we should be thankful that the explosions are more contained. Though given their numbers, it still makes it somewhat troublesome to avoid. If it's not level that determines the range of the explosion, then perhaps it has something to do with the size of the creature or its HP value." Niflheim thought to himself.

Although the Great Palace Seeker Fish was a higher level than Ord, it lacked anywhere close to the same amount of HP as him. But, if that did turn out to be the case, Niflheim shivered at the thought of a boss monster with the explosion hardcore effect. After all, it was standard for boss monsters to possess much greater HP than other monsters.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Three more Great Palace Seeker Fish exploded after reaching low HP. This left four remaining from the initial dozen.

"Six of you from the clean-up DPS - Redirect your attacks on the Great Palace Shark! The rest of you finish off the remaining Great Palace Seeker Fish! We have to take the Great Palace Shark down before we get any closer to the core area of the outer layer!" Niflheim stated. The closer they moved towards the core area, the more monsters they would run into. Although the monsters were somewhat spaced out at the moment, that would all rapidly change if they were unable to move around freely due to the Great Palace Shark's pursuit.

Name: Great Palace Shark(Elite)

Level: 50

HP: 9,062(9%)

Hardcore Effect(s): [Virulent]

The Great Palace Shark's HP was falling, however, it was at an extremely slow rate. They were still unable to figure out what was causing the decrease in damage for the main damage dealers. This was why Niflheim decided that it was time to go with a new strategy and have some of those from the clean-up DPS join in.

"I'll go!" Guan Yu volunteered without hesitation as he charged towards the Great Palace Shark. He did not have a chance to prove himself against the Relic Guardians since Zi Yi took the spotlight. Not to mention, he found it incredibly irritating every time one of the Great Palace Seeker Fish would explode. He would much rather deal with something like the Great Palace Shark.

The instant he arrived before the Great Palace Shark, Guan Yu swept his guandao outward in a mighty arc. The guandao tore through the defenses of the Great Palace Shark as if it were fragile sheets of paper. There were tiny fragments that could be seen forming around the area of contact that Guan Yu's guandao made with the Great Palace Shark's large body. This was one of Guan Yu's skills Arcing Armor Crusher. But, what occurred next surprised those who had been fighting against the Great Palace Shark!

Swoosh!

-13,196

13,000 damage! It was definitely above average, but it was not as if 13,000 damage was some miraculously high damage number that none of them had seen before. However, for the last few moments, those within the main DPS group were dealing around 50-150 damage per hit to the Great Palace Shark. That's why, when Guan Yu jumped in and suddenly struck it for 13,000 damage, they were shocked, to say the least.

Izroth furrowed his brows inwardly as he witnessed the Great Palace Shark's large body go motionless as Guan Yu dealt the final blow. He was familiar with the skill Guan Yu just used and in terms of raw power, it was much stronger than his Fissuring Point. But, he knew for a fact that his Fissuring Point possessed a higher piercing effect than Guan Yu's Arcing Armor Crusher. Therefore, how was it that he only did 397 damage and yet Guan Yu hit for over 13,000 damage?

'It must have something to do with the virulent hardcore effect. Could it be that one does less damage the more they attack it? Or are there other conditions to it?'

Izroth was confident in his ability to eliminate the Great Palace Shark even with the damage reduction he suffered. However, it would require him to use a great portion of his Essence or his Second Baneful Sword: Kill. In the end, he did not believe that the situation was worth its use. After all, how could he waste it on a mere elite monster when there was so much more to come?

Even though everyone was shocked by Guan Yu's attack, they did not slow down and continued to proceed towards the core area of the outer layer. Now that the Great Palace Shark had been defeated, the raid group quickly disposed of the remaining Great Palace Seeker Fish.

As for Halls, a few of the clean-up DPS members, along with the two off-tank supporters, expressed their joy at how Halls handled the situation. At first, they were somewhat nervous trusting a tank who was a complete stranger to them, however, they never expected things to run so smoothly on their end. Even though it was somewhat disorganized and clumsy in the beginning, things started to naturally flow as Halls loosened up. In turn, this made the jobs of the clean-up DPS and the off-tank supporters much easier knowing that they had someone reliable.

Halls was actually surprised and embarrassed by their praise, but he did not turn away their kindness.

"Good work." Zi Yi said quietly to Halls.

"Oh? Was that a compliment I just heard from you?" Halls questioned in a joking manner with a grin on his face.

"You're imagining things." Zi Yi scoffed as she returned to her original position.

All of a sudden, a blurry shadow appeared before Niflheim. When this shadow fully materialized, it was in the shape of a humanoid figure, however, the shadow resembled dark flames and it lacked any kind of facial features except a pair of piercing red eyes. Surprisingly, no one in the raid party was afraid or cautious of this shadow. That was because this shadow was a skill used by Abstract, the captain of Blue Oasis' 5th squad. It was a part of his Death Stalker class and worked perfectly for infiltration, relaying information, or even distractions in the middle of a battle.

"Have you found a way in?" Niflheim asked.

"Yes, however, you're not going to like it." Abstract's shadow spoke in a slightly distorted tone. He then went on to explain the situation to Niflheim and by the time he finished, Niflheim had a troubled expression on his face.

"I see... That explains why you used your Tethered Shadows instead of relaying the message through the system. Do you know the location of the other four who went with you?" Niflheim questioned.

"No, we got separated the moment we entered. Right now, it's only me and I Do Zero Quests who managed to stay together. As for the others - They all disappeared the instant we stepped inside. I have no way or means of contacting them and although I can send my Tethered Shadows out from its original location, I'm unable to leave from this place myself. Even my ability to swap places with my shadows is of no use in this place." Abstract explained.

"Alright, just hold your current position for now and don't do anything foolish. But, if you can scout safely, then do so. Hopefully, the others aren't too hasty in their actions before we arrive and see what's going on. We're on our way." Niflheim said.

"Understood. The duration of my Tethered Shadows is getting ready to expire. Stay safe-" Abstract's shadow disappeared and only left behind a brief black mist before vanishing altogether.

"Did something happen to Abstract and the others?" Asgard asked.

"Yeah, their current situation isn't looking ideal. Perhaps it was a mistake to separate them from the main raid group." Niflheim sighed. There was a slight doubt that started to form in his mind about leading the raid party. This was not his first time leading a raid party as he had done so in other games, however, it was his first time doing so in RML. It was also the first time where the stakes were high and failure was not an option!

Even though Niflheim hid it well, Asgard had known him long enough to understand his current thoughts.

Asgard sat his hand on Niflheim's shoulder and spoke so that only Niflheim could hear his words, "I'm ready to take charge whenever."

Niflheim soon found that there was a slight smile on his face. Those words just now were not spoken out of spite by Asgard. Those were the exact same words Asgard told Niflheim the very first time he led a large scale raid for Blue Oasis in one of the games they used to play competitively. He remembered being so nervous that he made countless mistakes that nearly led to the raid group being wiped out on numerous occasions. It was after one of those moments Asgard said that phrase to him.

It was to remind him that he was surrounded by capable individuals whom he could depend on, therefore, all he had to do was focus on the matter at hand and leave the rest to the capable individuals around him.

"I'm afraid I'll have to decline your generous offer, guild leader." Niflheim responded. The previous doubt that had started to surface was quickly squashed before it could grow any further.

"Then, I'll leave it in your capable hands, Captain Niflheim. After all, you are our amazing strategics expert." Asgard stated in a confident tone.

After they finished speaking to one another, Niflheim informed everyone of Abstract and the others' current predicament. He also told them what they would have to do in order to reach that place.

Abstract and the five players that accompanied him located a narrow underwater stream near the core area of the outer layer. The underwater stream was not necessarily hidden, but it still took some searching to successfully locate. In order to confirm that there was, in fact, a way into the core area of the outer layer, Abstract and the others entered to investigate. But, not too long after they stepped inside, Abstract found himself alone with I Do Zero Quests.

When Abstract tried to exit the same way he entered, he found that it was no longer there! After traveling down the stream, they reached a strange underwater cavern. Fortunately, he had left a Tethered Shadows outside as a precaution, otherwise, he may have never been able to contact Niflheim and the rest of the raid group.

Though the most troubling thing at the moment was that the way into the underwater stream was currently being blocked by the waves of Great Palace Sharks and Great Palace Seeker Fish. In other words, they would have to find a way to break through that crowd of monsters without suffering any losses.

"How are we supposed to get through that mess?" Nidavellir questioned with a thoughtful expression. Since there were nine other whirlpools, if they assumed every whirlpool generated one Great Palace Shark and a dozen Great Palace Seeker Fish, this meant that there were 117 elite monsters with hardcore effects they had to fight! It would be impossible for them to come out of a battle like that unscathed. They would be fortunate just to make it out of something like that alive in one piece!

The raid party grew silent as if everyone was pondering what the next course of action would be. Of course, the final decision laid with Niflheim who was placed in command. They were still moving towards the location Abstract had given them and so they did not have much time to make a decision.

"Is there no choice but to make a few sacrifices in order to proceed? But, to make sacrifices this early means that we'll stand no chance against what's to come... No, there has to be another way, but what is it?" Niflheim thought to himself. As Niflheim was absorbed in his thoughts, he suddenly heard a carefree voice sound out.

"Can you leave it to me?" The carefree voice said. This, in turn, caused the members of the raid group to look towards the source of that voice. That carefree voice belonged to none other than Izroth!

"You have a plan?" Niflheim asked curiously. He was not the only one curious as to what Izroth had in mind. The other members of the raid party were interested to hear what he had to say. However, the next words that left Izroth's mouth caused them to almost cough up blood from shock.

"I'll simply cut my way through." Izroth replied in a carefree tone.

'If I do things this way, then I can take a look at that strange light I saw earlier without any worries.'