Drake winced as he pressed his mouth into the hole in the skull that formed his helmet, his lips brushing up against the dried vomit from earlier overexertion. Well, that and the absolute disgust of watching the sentient monster that was Maelstrom rip through hundreds of monsters, leaving their bodies broken, their fluids turning this open field into a marsh.
Lucifer’s reveal of his ability to fucking teleport was something of a shock, but more than that, Drake found himself dumbfounded 10 seconds later when he realized he had been prepared to completely brush off that impressive display of the System’s disparity in power.
What have I become, Drake wondered, checking his weapons, focusing his Skill to touch his armor, that such inhuman displays only become worthy of a fleeting curiosity?
Then again, Drake was hard pressed to understand what had happened to him over the past month. His Bone Armor had almost tripled in summoning speed and also doubled in size. On his shoulders were huge, spiked protuberances of bones and a Mana operated bone tail swirled behind him. It had taken a few hours of practice in order to understand how it could be used for balance and as a weapon, but the excruciating grind of battling every day had quickly made such actions second nature.
In spite of the fact that the armor had grown to such a huge size, Drake didn’t find the operation of it difficult. If anything, he felt weird… connected to the bone armor. Like, when he wasn’t wearing it, he wasn’t truly himself.
It was a disturbing thought, for other reasons entirely.
After Clarissa unleashed the Maelstrom, the strange spark in her hand rapidly expanded to a swirling cloud, and then to a monster made of wind, sleet, and thunder, with tornados for arms and legs. It did not slow as it hit the monster lines, and instead just flailed its wild arms left and right, laying out dozens of monsters with each strike.
The main weakness of such a Skill, Drake soon saw, was that the beast couldn’t easily alter its own momentum. Once the enemies realized this the Death Cultists and the few remaining monsters not caught up in its swirling wind avoided it, and it roared with a blast of chilling wind, furious that it could be foiled like this.
The secondary weakness, Drake observed was that Clarissa had to constantly channel her Mana into it to keep it going. And very quickly, once it was clear the enemies were dodging it, she ceased feeding Mana into it, panting lightly, her chest rising and falling.
Ace joined Drake and Lucifer at the front of their party, standing in the front lines of their new formation. Annie’s archery had basically depleted most of the Dintan people that were manning the walls, and all that remained behind them were a wounded Rhaidon and a furious Zith, or Gemma, or whatever, who were not able to match Alana while she was wearing her Valkyrie Helm.
Thea stood with Ptolemy, Annie, and Rose, rubbing Chrysanthemum’s muzzle and whispering words of encouragement after the beast had been forced to bear the brunt of the Grey Death Cultist’s Wither spells.
Ace cracked his knuckles, grinning. “It’s a good day in a Dungeon where the scent of death covers up the smell of a sweaty man who hasn’t showered in a month, eh?”
This was the point that Drake vomited a little, the acrid bile flowing out of his lips and sticking to the inside of his helmet. If Drake could go back in time… but alas, he was stuck with his previous mistakes. Besides, he couldn’t deny that Ace was absolutely rancid at this point, having spent a lot of their fights in the past up to his elbows in the organs of their enemies, and the thought of comparing him to the dismembered and whimpering corpses in front of them…
Truly, Sydney was right to distance herself from this madman. The only question was whether she was right to retain a strange fascination with the Ghosthound…
But then Rose started barking out orders, pointing out the monsters that were using powerful Skills, and Annie began to calmly shoot her arrows forward, having recovered from her previous displaying. Drinking slowly to avoid oversaturating her body, Clarissa continued to rip through their store of Mana Potions, restoring herself to a fighting state.
Then the lines approached close enough to be dangerous, and Ace, Lucifer, and Thea rushed forward, hitting the monsters and Death Cultists like bowling balls, smashing them apart. Chrysanthemum roamed, and Drake stayed back, mopping up the remnants that slipped past, protecting Rose and Clarissa from close range combat.
Earlier in their Raid Dungeon dive, Drake had also considered Annie one of those people he needed to protect. But then a troll had knocked him to the side, and rushed towards the group. Cool as a cucumber, Annie had drawn an arrow, walked forward, dodged the troll’s strike, and slit its throat.
With a short hop, she had stood on top of the troll and shot arrows until it overbalanced and fell, finally realizing it was dying. Annie hadn’t even spared Drake a glance but his face flushed uncomfortably. Part of the reason was he wasn’t used to the heavy bone armor at that time, but the other reason was that he was clearly the weakest one here. It wasn’t a lesson he would forget.
Not that he would let anybody past him if he could help it, but no longer did he worry about what would happen if he did. Which, in turn, lowered his stress, and allowed him to basically protect them completely.
Drake grimaced. Not so today. Not only were the numbers higher than usual, but the Death Cultists were a tier higher, in terms of power than what he was used to. It was difficult for Drake to quickly finish off those he wounded, and more and more poured forward. It was a good day, however, because he had gained his second Level of the day, putting him at Level 44, but Ptolemy had to come join him at holding the middle of their formation. Although their healer wasn’t able to do much damage, he was adept at keeping the opponents off balance, earning Drake precious seconds in which to do his dirty work.
Time slowly blurred together, split only by quick swigs of Stamina and Mana Potions. But they were slowly getting pushed back in a very dangerous manner, but there was nothing that Drake could do about it. Again, he felt his face flush as his lips pressed against the dried vomit. He was strong, sure, stronger than he had ever been, but in this moment of need, all he could think is that someone else would have to perform some feat of daring, opening up a path to hope.
Because with his abilities...
“Rhaidon!” A scream cut through the sounds of battle and blood wet flesh. There was a groan behind him, but he dared not turn, focusing on the six-armed frog creature in front of him, groping towards him with slimy hands.
“I’ll fucking kill you, you bitch!” The voice continued, and there was a scream that Drake imagined was something akin to the old animated series he watched in college, where the characters would scream their emotions out, rapidly growing in power.
But then he heard a soft whisper, and then the sound of an impact, and then there was silence.
Drake dispatched the frog in front of him, then paused to reach up and scratch at his helmet, trying to scrape away the vomit. But his bone gauntlets were too large to fit through his breathing hole, and he was forced to hiss in frustration.
Calmly, Alana walked forward, patting him on the back in a companionable motion while she advanced. “Good hold, we are almost through this-”
There was a rumble behind them, causing Alana to pause briefly, before she resumed speaking, talking loudly so everyone could hear. “-there might be a shit ton of them, but they are relying on the Death Cultists to apply pressure. The rest are just fodder for-”
There was another rumble, louder this time, closer. Then there was a sound that, almost impossibly loud, started as a roar of a lion, then slowly slid upwards into the pure clarion call of a trumpet, before finally descending into the hacking cough of a creature dying from the inside.
Following that, there was silence. Then a rush of noise as the monsters around them turned tail and fled. The Raid Dungeon crew tensed up, raising their weapons, but the monsters just fled, running back towards the forest from whence they came. Of them all, only the Death Cultists remained, gathering into a pitiful group that was only 1/10 of the manpower they had when they had come, following the Ghosthound’s lead.
Drake was surprised to see there was even a Grey Death Cultist remaining amongst a tight knot of Red Death Cultists, missing an arm, but otherwise looking rather healthy. The call sounded out again, following the same strange arching pattern. The rumbling grew louder.