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A note from Wutosama

 

Nightfall.
The time for action was nigh.

"Alright!" Richard clapped his hands together and gathered the attention of the assemblage of Mages. "As discussed, let us proceed with hunting the elder Gila. Gwen, Petra, how are your conditions?"

"I am ready." Gwen nodded; for now, keeping busy was her best solution to keeping the sickening memories at bay.

"My spell list is adequate," Petra replied.

"Julian?"

"We're ready." Julian's men looked very much thrilled to be engaged in an operation to bring down a tier 6 monstrosity.

"Felicity?"

"I got 'em covered, Magus Huang." Felicity's eyes sparkled. Surprisingly, she acted as the Xu party's Abjurer. Unfortunately, Clan Xu's Abjurer had either perished or failed to join up with the leading group due to unforeseen. They would not know if their companion was safe until the Dungeon concluded.

"Not a Magus, not yet," Richard quipped. "Mina, you're with Petra on the left. Gwen, you're on your own on the right platform. Can you handle that?"

"I can."

"Tao, Fei, come here. Lea, let them attune with your mana."

A swirl of water flowed around Tao and Fei. Lea's alluring semi-transparent form flitted between the two Illusionists.

"The Gila is awake," Lea informed the two parties. "Shall I begin?"

"Everyone! Battle stations!" Richard stood alone by the peat bog. The others hid behind platforms transmuted from the Bayan tree by Warp Wood. "Tao, Fei, you may begin."

Deep within the bog, the elder Gila stirred.

It had existed within the Dungeon dimension for aeons, arriving almost a millennia ago upon the currents of a mana storm. It began its conquest by consuming the local fauna, transforming them into Gila-like creatures that were like itself. Its first spawn was a drove of Blue Gila, which left its peat bog den searching for prey. The subsequent spawn was Red, followed by Blue, and then Red again. Occasionally, there was a Green Gila, but those were far and in between; without access to humanoids and Demi-human hosts, the elder Gila couldn't perpetuate its rarer bloodlines.

Then as though answered by the Gods of Chaos, humans appeared, and the Elder Gila rejoiced. Not only that, these humans were Mages! Creatures attuned to the magical energies of the universe and the planes! With any luck, Gila's proliferation would inevitably spawn a supreme existence such as Black Gila King via the strange arithmetic of chance.

Meanwhile, the original fauna of the plane had all become its kin. The elder Gila had also made its spawn feed the marsh's mangrove forests to accelerate the growth of the magical fruits the pocket plane initially held— fruits that could extend the life-spans of creatures that consumed it.

As old as the elder Gila was, it knew that it would meet the inevitable end that not even chaos could overcome. That was why it cultivated the fruits of life.

Now, the instant it had awoken, it understood that the guards it had set underneath a ripening tree were dead, that usurping invaders had taken its prize.

"GARRRRROP!" The elder Gila quivered with rage; it desired to capture these humanoids and infect them with its parasitic eggs.

But the elder Gila also knew to be cautious. More than once, these humanoid invaders had almost taken its life. It would need to gather a swarm of its spawn and make a push for the tree, where it shall—

"Yo! Yo! Yo! Lizard Bitch!"

The elder Gila was surprised to find its thoughts interrupted. In front of its snout, a swell of water transformed into a human! The creature wore a skin with three white stripes and had a strange thing on its head that looked like a duck's bill. It was taunting the elder Gila by throwing its limbs this way and that in an infuriating way.

"GARRROP?" The elder Gila demanded to know why it was here.

"I am here—" The image met the elder Gila's shrivelled eyes, still the size of dinner plates. "— to smack a bitch up!"

Despite recognising the image as an illusion, the elder Gila felt an insolent force connect with its lower jaw, sending its head upwards to smack onto the cavern's roof.

"GARRRROP!!!" The elder Gila roared, sending the water currents to rush and the image to blur.

"Yo, Fei, pass it over."

Another image approached the first, this one another humanoid.

"Look what I found!" the small, androgynous-looking image spoke. "A Fructum Vitae!"

"Do you this big delicious fruit belongs to somebody?" the first image asked, looking around.

"GARROP!" The elder Gila howled at the vision. It was his fruit! The one he'd spent a century cultivating! The one closest to ripeness!

"Naw, this belongs to no one." The small image began to pull the fruit open.

Suddenly, the waters around the elder Gila flooded with the scent of its long-awaited harvest! The rich odour of its holy fruit! The prize the elder Gila needed to extend its life! With a shocking realisation, it acknowledged that these miscreants must be eating the fruit right now! They had just opened it! How else could it be sensing it so strongly? It must attack these wretched beings forthwith! With any luck, it could consume the fruit before they did; it still had a chance!

With a wave of its gigantic tail, the Gila launched itself upward, punching through the layers of peat and slipping through the taut gaps with the lubrication afforded by its slimy exterior.

Its fruit! Its prize! It would have it!

"IT COMES!"

Lea appeared beside the illusory image of Fei and Tao busily tearing apart the fruit. In-between the two bickering visions were the "spare" piece of the fruit that Gwen had hoped to keep, now expended as bait to lure the elder Gila. A portion of it had been taken apart by Lea, whose elemental body then transported the tasty morsel downstream.

The surface of the bog swelled like a bloated balloon before it erupted, ejaculating a geyser of foul, rotten water into the air and showering the surrounding with a cloud of foulness. The Red Gila that emerged was true to form, a giant salamander, its eyes and limbs long atrophied thanks to a life of unmoving stasis in the deep-dark of the fetid cavern.

Along with its exit, a swarm of strange Gila-fauna likewise emerged. Fish that were lizard-like, lizards that were frog-like, everything from ankle-sized biters with razor-sharp teeth to dog-sized spawn with jaws that distended to encompass more than half its body, rushed towards Tao and Fei.

"Shit! Run!" Tao grabbed the fruit and fled, exercising his natural talent.

Fei, meanwhile, distracted the lesser creatures by swinging to the right, throwing ineffective spells at the swarm as it advanced behind the elder Gila.

"GARRRRROP!" The elder Gila howled with insane rage, feeling the fruit flee from its enlarged nostrils. With a dull 'whoomp!' of its tail, it slid itself forward, balanced by small, ineffective limbs, toward the hapless humans that it could swallow with a single snap of its unhinged jaw.

With the swarm and the elder Gila somewhat separated, Tao stopped and turned to face his enemy. The Illusionist's face was white with fear and pale with terror.

"No!" Tao cowered before his inevitable demise.

The elder Gila's mouth closed over Tao and felt itself biting into something long, slithering and sinuous. In the next moment, its mouth burned with necrotic energy. With a reflexive gulp, the elder Gila swallowed.

"NOW!"

Beneath the gigantic Bayan tree, the elder Gila gazed up with its mucus-covered head and measured the humanoid creatures' mana-rich presence.

An ambush! The Gila howled, spraying gobs of mucus all over. It had to escape!

With supernatural effort, it turned its body and slid on its mucus trail to make a turn, slamming against the tree as it did so, encouraging a shower of leaves to rain down together with the spellfire.

Gwen injected herself with a mana potion as soon as she felt her reserve drop to half. After Conjuring Caliban, Ariel, two sets of Warding Bolts, Dark Tentacles and Call Lightning, what was left was insufficient in sustaining her upkeep.

Likewise, the vital Positive Energy from Mina's delayed healing buff expended itself without reserve.

As the Gila consumed Caliban, it had crushed the lower half of the serpent's body, forcing Gwen to expend another portion of her vitality to sustain the critically injured netherworld creature until it could begin its terrible surgical excavation.

When the creature then slid under the tree and tried to propel itself backwards, both Gwen and Petra knew that it was now or never.

Ariel let fly with a shower of needles that embedded themselves into the slimy, leathery exterior of the salamander. Four sets of Lightning Bolts fired downwards from above the Gila to sizzle its skin, splitting open the oozy surface and frying the fatty dermis below. Four bolts of Void matter followed, biting into the flesh and gouging out chunks of pink-dark tissue from the crimson exterior of the barking beast as it sought to escape.

Gwen felt her vitality drop again. A wave of dizziness washed over her, forcing her to brace herself against the warped, wooden platform. In moments like these, she began to understand why her contemporaries call her a glass cannon.

"Caliban!" she commanded. Despite becoming smothered by the barrage of malefic magic, the salamander's magical resistance proved superior. A lesser creature would have become mincemeat, but the elder Gila was merely wounded and remained fully mobile.

With a mighty swipe of its tail, it launched itself back toward the rupture in the peat bog, seeking to escape.

Unfortunately for the Gila, its escape route was no more. Richard had used Lea to crush together the passageway, closing it like a choked oesophagus.

"GARRRRROP!" A resounding roar echoed through the surrounding grove.

Around them, Julian and the House of Xu battled the tide of small Gila creatures, keeping them away from the main combatants. Occasionally, one of them threw a spell at the Gila. Unfortunately, every element apart from the monster-hunting Lightning and the all-consuming Void seemed to slide off its exterior like water off a duck's back.

"HURRRRK—!" The Gila turned toward Gwen's elevated position and fired off a glob of corrosive liquid without warning.

"Richard!" Gwen was far too preoccupied with maintaining her spells to reinforce a Shield or effect a Dimension Door.

"Water Shield!" A double layer of water covered Gwen. The first took the attack's brunt, while the second, a shield with a broader base, prevented any of the phage laden fluid from reaching her.

"Gwen, I can't sustain your Void spells!" Petra's voice called out from the right. "Mina's almost out! It's all electricity from here on out!"

Behind Petra, Mina panted with exhaustion.

"One more bolt!" Petra demanded of her cousin. "More Positive energy!"

"I am doing it!" Mina let loose a moan of effort, her blouse sweaty with exertion.

Below, the elder Gila slid forward, only to meet with a shoal of writhing tentacles. Lashes of Void and Lightning wrapped themselves around its torso, its neck, and around its bulging waist, cutting apart the slime and reaching for the flesh.

Another barrage of Void and Lightning bolts arrived, punching through the creature's hide. The Void created pock-marks the size of a human head, while Elemental Lighting opportunistically penetrated the freshly-made wounds, expending its volatile forces inside the Gila's organs.

"Ice Ball!"
"Wall of Stone!"
"Flame Sphere!"

The House of Xu continued to isolate the swarm from joining its creator, transforming the surrounding area into a fire zone separated by Felicity's barriers. Petra, too, spared what she could, laying down preprepared walls of crystal to ward away the wayward creatures.

With the salamander held down by her tentacles, Gwen checked Caliban's progress. Her familiar informed her that it would soon complete its terrible work.

"Void Skin!" She incanted, the protective film turning her silhouette the consistency of midnight. "Richard! I need to get close!"

"I got you!" Richard answered her from below. "Fei! Tao, Mirror Image, now!"

His command was answered by an affirmative. As Gwen drifted downward toward the dying Gila, two images in her exact shadow-clad facade appeared beside her.

Within the Gila, Caliban had finally located its prize, the creature core.

"Do it!" Gwen commanded, landing just beside the Gila as to avoid its thrashing tail. A single strike from the battering appendage would likely break every bone in her body.

An illusory Gwen landed near its head, instantly becoming crushed by a snap of its maw, while the other, appearing near the tail, were dashed by a single slap that sent up a small tsunami of swamp water.

Gwen felt another wave of weakness as Caliban took its pound of flesh and engaged its consumption ability. It was slithering through tie Gila's innards and making for the spine of the Gila.

"Come on!" Gwen mouthed a little too audibly, unnerved by the presence of the gargantuan Gila. This close, the feeling was akin to standing next to a school bus as it attempted a blind turn at full speed.

Her Warding Bolts fired again, finishing off its cartridge of three. Her Call Void and Lightning likewise engaged, feeding off her Evocation Sigil to emit bolts of terrible destruction.

Then Caliban tore into the Gila's spinal column, causing a mighty shudder to overcome the churning beast. Insane with pain and agony, the Gila suddenly reared its head, turned toward Gwen, and twisted its body to perform a last-ditch body slam.

"Everyone!" Richard called out. "Lea! Give Gwen everything you got!"

Gwen was caught off-guard by the sudden vitality of the beast. The momentum of a creature measured in tonnage and far exceeding her sixty-odd kilos of body weight slammed into her non-newtonian Shield. Just as she saw her life flash before her eyes, Richard's Water Membranes opened in front of her, lasting only a split second against the physical force of the dying monstrosity.

With a ground-shaking thud, the creature body-slam landed.

"Gwen!" Her party collectively screamed.

There was a second of goose-bump horror when all who watched held their breath— until Gwen reappeared on the other side of the Gila in a burst of Lightning.

A Dimension Door!

Gwen fell to her knees and slumped onto the peat bog's torn soil, the churned mud instantly reaching her waist. The Gila twisted itself again and tried to bring its body back the other way.

"Shield of Faith!"
"Water Shield!"
"Stone Shield!"
"Crystalline Barrier!"

A glowing shield, films of reciprocating water, and an immense, umbrella-like barrier of stone appeared above and beside Gwen. The combined might of the accumulated defence bore the attack's brunt and physically repelled the Gila with recoil. Upon landing on its belly, an arterial spurt of dark blood erupted from its pale white abdomen, in the space between its two frontal legs.

"SHAA!"

Caliban burst forth from the Gila's chest in a guttural spray of viscera and roared triumphantly.

"Shaa! Shaa!" it cried out, engorged and bulbous with life-blood and stolen vitality.

With the swell of vital energy from Caliban, Gwen caught her breath and lifted herself from the sloppy embrace of the marsh.

The salamander's atrophied eyes regarded its assailant for the final time, then the fluttering firelight within its beady orbs died, turning into a milky-emptiness. Its gargantuan body twitched and shook; its limbs pawed the air helplessly. Then, with a gurgling shake of its jiggling flesh, it was no more. The Mages felt a pulse of psionic energy escape the salamander, then the cacophonous crash of combat came to a sudden lull.

Stricken by their Matriarch's death, the spawns of the elder Gila fled into the swamp. Now, it was every Gila for itself.

Petra was the first to land beside Gwen, lending her a shoulder to lean on. Like Gwen, Petra too was pallid with Void-drain. Richard, Tao, Mina, and the others quickly joined the girls to ensure they were alright.

With a theatrical expulsion of gas, the salamander's giant carcass began to collapse, its soft bones breaking one by one as the magic that sustained it drained out into the aether. A burst of nauseating stench from its relaxed anus released a cargo of dark matter more deadly than the Void itself.

At the same time, a pulse of mystical energy fed into Gwen's Kirin amulet.

"Caliban!" Gwen willed her familiar to slither toward them. For the Mages seeing Caliban for the first time, they felt overwhelmed and revolted by the sight of the viscera-clad worm, whose visage would visit their nightmares.

"Hurk! Hurk! Hrkbleeegh!" Caliban declared as it heaved like a cat trying to cough up a furball.

The Gila's Creature Core emerged pointed end first, the size of a man's torso. Caliban's ribs bloated and its carapace became stretched until it bled a milky-purple ichor. Then with a final, exhaustive motion, it spat the gore-laden crystal out onto the ground, a portion of it still attached to what looked like a segment of the creature's spine.

"Wo Cao!" someone exclaimed loudly. "That is a huge core."

The gathering appreciatively regarded their loot. Richard lifted the core into the air and cleansed it with Lea's aid, polishing the stone until it sparkled with refracted light. A heart of this size, from a creature with magical resistance, was undoubtedly immeasurably valuable.

"Gwen?"

"Yes?"

"Storage, please."

Gwen nodded and moved toward the core, allowing her Ring's spatial field to envelop the thing entirely.

When the air displaced and the core disappeared, their newer members felt their awe renewed by her Lighting, Void, and a large Storage Ring.

"The eggs!" Petra turned to Richard. "Should we destroy them?"

Richard rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"This place is already a plane populated by the Gila," he suggested. "Maybe we should leave them? If the Gila are gone from this place, The Dungeon will diminish in many ways. How would that affect the population of magical materials in the plane? What would Acolytes farm in the future?"

"How about just one?" Mina suggested. "Could be someone is desperately looking for an egg. You never know."

"Alright, just the one," Richard commanded Lea to retrieve an egg from the bubbling corpse. "At worst, we can have a dubious omelette for breakfast."

The gathered party members turned to regard the mountain of flesh that now sat before them, bathing in the afterglow. A Tier 6 beast! One with Magical Resistance that increased its toughness up to tier 8! And yet, they were the ones to butcher it!

When the Dancing Lights and Daylight spells faded, the clearing was once again reduced to darkness, illuminated only by a sliver of moonlight. The enormous corpse of the Gila had attracted a plague of carrion crawlers, so after some deliberation, the party opted to open up a chasm and throw the Gila back beneath the resting bog.

Gwen retreated to her Master bedroom with the combat over, for she was the Habitat owner while the rest of the men slept in the living room. At her behest, the girls had their choice of lodging, for the King-sized bed was enormous, and there were only two other spare bedrooms with single beds.

Felicity felt far too uncomfortable to be sleeping with strangers. Mina had never shared a bed with anyone, and so Gwen and Petra became bunk buddies in the Master suite.

Petra seemed entirely comfortable with the proposition and slid into the sheets with the enthusiasm of a military-trained bunk-sleeper. Gwen rested her eyes beside Petra's body, mindful of her soft breath.

However, when she finally closed her eyes, Gwen once more saw in exquisite detail those damned pigtails fluttering gently onto the bog.

Her eyes shot open, and her breath hastened.

Shit! She mumbled to herself. Gwen has murdered sleep, and therefore she shall sleep no more. But this world was not like her old world. Why should she be so distressed over the death of one inconsequential Mage, a nobody? It was her attacker's fault! She acted in self-defence! In the dark, Gwen felt herself pivot dangerously towards a sinister axiom before she stopped herself.

She closed her eyes again.

A scent of hot iron filled her nostrils.

Gods! Gwen bit her lips. Damn you, stupid brain.

"Hey." Dark silhouetted fingers moved through the night and parted Gwen's ruffled hair to reveal her face. "You alright?"

"Yeah..." Gwen turned toward the ceiling, wondering if the dark down-lights offered some epiphanic solution to her insomnia.

Petra shifted on the bed until the silhouette of her face hovered on the edge of Gwen's vision. Gwen could make out Petra's Husky-blue eyes catching the ambiguous light of the pocket dimension peering in from the semi-opaque pane in the dim darkness.

"Want to hear a story?" Petra implored. "If you can't sleep, that is."

"Sure," Gwen said to the ceiling.

While her cousin gathered her thoughts, the shared darkness filled only with the sound of soft breaths exchanged in alternating intervals.

"I was twelve," Petra began. "I Awakened a little earlier than the other girls in my Military school. As I was from a state institution, the Moscow Tower picked me up, and I was assigned to one of the Magisters there, an Enchanter, Magister Popov. Master Popov was an eccentric, a bohemian, if you will, not a man for the rules. His personality and profession were bad combinations, for Popov was a sanctioned Mind Mage, a spy by profession. He used his talents liberally and without much regard for ethics, but the leadership turned a blind eye to any unsanctioned use of his magic because he was also the best they had."

"I was young and ambitious, and I thought the world of Master Popov. He was suave, he was skilled, and he drank like a fish. I had thought he was going to teach me Material Enchantment because I was a Mineral Mage. But Master Popov had other plans for me."

"Other plans?" Gwen shifted a little to catch Petra's profile. A sliver of silver moonlight contoured Petra's figure under the silken sheets. Other plans, she thought to herself. It didn't take a stretch of the imagination with Petra's nubile body beside her to see where this was going.

"He convinced me that I should train to become a Mind Mage like him. He told me I was born for it," Petra intoned nostalgically.

Gwen waited quietly for Petra to continue to the story.

"Popov told me that there are dozens of Mineral Mages, hundreds even, that the Tower could tap into if they needed work of that kind done, but there was only one Enchanter he knew of that could do my work."

"What kind of work?"

"Espionage. Ghost work. Specifically Red Ghost— meaning youthful, female spies."

"Wow..." Gwen replied with a "Gwenism" only she could understand. "They sought to make you into a Black Widow?"

"You know it well." Petra laughed self-depreciatively. "He had no interest in my Mineral talents, Gwen. He thought that with my external gifts, I could become more successful than anyone. I could become his Apprentice, take over his role at the Tower one day. I was smitten. Me, a Magister and a Ghost!"

"I went along with it at first. Like I said, I was young and ambitious. Think about it, Gwen, a Magister, telling a junior Mage that they could be as great as they are. Who was I to refuse? I agreed, and we trained. He taught me everything he knew and then some. He was full of impatience. Then, when I was fifteen, Popov decided that I needed to see some blood. He volunteered me for an operation in downtown Moscow, dealing with the illicit trade of young Mages trafficked from the now-defunct Communist states overrun by the Beast Tide, you know, Ukraine, Romania, Belarus?"

Gwen knew only vaguely, but she inclined her head as not to interrupt Petra's story. She had seen the trade in illicit Mage flesh first hand, even in a Frontier city as "orderly" and "low-crime" as Sydney. With its vast stretch of hostile landscapes and endless tundras full of Magical Beasts and Demi-humans, Moscow's outer Frontiers had always been endemic with traffickers.

"As expected, I acted the bait. I charmed one of the traders and bid them take me to the underground market. The Tower Mages laid in wait for my signal, for it was my job to identify the ringleaders. Everything had gone well until I caught the eye of one of the customers, who demanded an immediate purchase and transfer from my charmed informant. When I willed my informant to refuse, he killed him right there."

"Jesus." Gwen inhaled an unsteady breath.

"That was the first time I saw someone killed." Petra's voice was calm and controlled. "They crushed his head with an Earthen Evocation."

Petra swallowed before she continued.

"The customer's goons took me after that and dragged me to a room somewhere in the den. I acted the part of the hapless waif and begged him to spare me. Satisfied with my helplessness, he dismissed the guards. It was an unexpected scenario, but I was sure I had the situation under control. The man was smitten, and this made him far more pliable to my Mind Magic. But when we entered the room…"

Gwen gulped as Petra took a moment to pace herself.

"It was a room without windows, all done up to look like some dungeon, though you might be a little young to know what that is. Anyway, we got into the room, and the first thing I saw was a child."

"A child!" Gwen spluttered in horror and disgust.

"I couldn't tell if the child was alive or deceased. I thought it was a girl first, but no, it was just a skinny boy, a street urchin. There are a lot of urchins about in Moscow and the surrounding Frontier cities. We're famous for it. The boy was undressed from the waist down."

"Jesus..."

"The man must have thought I was frightened witless. He came toward me, like this…"

Petra moved her head closer to Gwen, close enough that she could feel Petra breathing on her face.

"Oh, Pats…" Her voice was full of quivering sympathy.

"When he tried to touch me with his filthy hands, all that training, all that tutelage Master had drilled into me, flew out the window. I blasted him with a Hold Person; then I materialised a crystalline dagger and placed it under his throat— The man whimpered. His face was so pitiful, so scared. I think he would have shat himself were it not for the Hold Person."

"What did you do?"

"Then, with one swift push, just like Master taught me…"

Petra poked a thin finger under her cousin's chin; the unexpected synaesthesia instantly coated Gwen's skin with a sheen of cold sweat.

"Then I had an unexpected discovery."

"What was it?" Gwen choked out, moving a hand to caress her intact neck as she tried to pace her heartbeat.

"You should know it well." Petra smiled. "The blood."

"Who'd have thought the old man would have so much blood in him…" Gwen said softly.

"Yes." Petra moved away. "So much of it. It was like a fountain, spraying all over my hands, my clothes, my face. I had thought murder was clean, quick, easy, like killing a monster. The reality was obscene. It was disgusting. It turned my stomach."

"Then?"

"Then the Tower Mages had to move in. I had blown my cover. When the VIP died, it had sent the place into a frenzy. There was no more purpose to me discretely identifying the ringleaders."

"The operation?"

"A modest success, no thanks to me. Master said that it was a test, and I had failed it spectacularly."

"I am so sorry." Gwen moved a hand over to touch Petra's face. Petra brushed her vague fingers away.

"I am glad it happened that way," Petra said quietly. "I quit the Tower after that. Master rescinded my Apprenticeship. My parents, both serving in the military, were told of my failure. Father was disappointed, of course, but mother was alright with it. They asked me what my plans were, and I said I wanted to be a crafter. They contacted my grand-aunt— our babulya— then sent here to Shanghai, where I wouldn't be an eyesore."

"But you're amazing!" Gwen gripped Petra's cold fingers. "Your skills with the Cubes! They're incredible!"

"That's thanks to my new Master, Magister Wen," Petra spoke with a voice full of reverence. "A magic just for me. I owe Babulya my life, Gwen. She gave me hope. My Master as well, she gave me purpose, even if it's just an exchange of favours with grandmother."

"I hope she'll be satisfied with the Vitae fruit," Gwen stated.

"I hope so as well." Petra smiled.

The two girls laid side by side until their breath fell into a comfortable, iambic rhythm.

"I don't how if that helped," Petra said after a while. "I just thought I'd share it. I am not good with these things. I am sorry if there was no wisdom there to make you feel better."

"It helped," Gwen said earnestly. "Thanks for sharing, Pats. I appreciate it."

"It was good to tell someone," Petra answered. "Also, I hadn't expected that I would be so willing to overshare. Our story is strictly between you and me."

"Alright."

"Sleepy now?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I am sleeping too."

Gwen closed her eyes.

True to Petra's words, she felt the creeping lull of sleep, however troubled and uncertain it may be.


When she woke the following day, Petra was gone. The whole house was empty except for Fei, who waited upon her with breakfast.

"Everyone's outside," Fei said. "We need to hurry up; the Dungeon is ending soon."

"It is?" Gwen quickly consumed her porridge and exited with Fei. Outside, the gathered crew was impatiently waiting for the final countdown.

"So soon?" Gwen asked Petra, who was happily stretching her body without regard for the hungry eyes observing her every move.

"Expected fluctuations." Petra shrugged. "We got a good 40 odd out of the maximum 72 though, that's not bad. Especially with the ley-lines around Shanghai, which primarily services the city."

They waited half an hour more, then each of their Message devices began to vibrate.

"Participants, you have thirty minutes until Dungeon collapses. When you reappear in the Material Plane, there may be slight disorientation. Make your way to the Staging Area once you are clear. If you require aid, signal an Adjudicator once you are outside. There are no penalties for asking for aid once you exit the Dungeon. Likewise, you may not attack or engage in hostile actions toward other members of the Dungeon once you're outside."

"Anything to watch out for?" Gwen asked the party. "When we pop out, I mean."

Richard had nothing to say; it was his first dive as well.

"We're going to be pretty packed in, like when we entered. Careful that no one tries to take our loot or repay a grudge with a sneak attack," Mina advised.

"That likely?" Richard raised a bushy brow. "I guess we did piss off a lot of people."

"Sure, why not. If any assailants get caught, though, it's a huge penalty, paid in CCs." Mina smiled sweetly. "Think anyone would want to have a go?"

"They can try!" Richard grinned. "I am happy to take a few CCs to forgive and forget, ha!"

The two cousins chuckled amiably.

When the countdown reached the final minute, all the members were packed and ready to leave. Gwen had retrieved her Portable Habitat, but not before changing into a clean dress that showed off her figure.

"What a strange vanity," Petra said, her eyes scanning Gwen's outfit.

"What a waste," Gwen retorted with big smiles, scanning her cousin back.

"See you on the other side!" Mina rolled her eyes, then waved to the crowd, who waved back.

"Senior Huang! It's been a pleasure!" Julian announced. "I look forward to seeing you again in Shanghai!"

"Thank you! Senior Huang, Ms Gwen, Mina and Petra!" The others bowed.

"Julian, the pleasure was all mine," Richard replied.

"Thank you, everyone!" Gwen bowed as well, returning the favour. "I hope to see you all in Shanghai very soon."

"We look forward to seeing you as well, Ms Gwen!"

Their Message devices began to vibrate.

"All participants, the Dungeon is now collapsing. You will be teleported to Hengsha Island shortly. Keep your arms and hands close to your body, and if you should be displaced into the ocean, immediately signal an Aerial Mage to render assistance."

Gwen held her breath as the distortion began.
Her first Dungeon dive was at an end.
Now was the time to count loot.

 

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A note from Wutosama

Chapter Ref :: 


Volume 1 Amazon (US) the book is in all markets as well.
Volume 2 Amazon (US) the book is in all markets as well.
 
V1 Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link
V2 Google Play, iBook, Kobo, Nook and Playster Link

Paper back in near future

 


Satiate yourself while you wait with Metaworld-Meta-fics :

 


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For theorycrafting, world building, Dede, and meta-brew Roleplaying! 
Thank you Wandysama & Boneless Chicken et al for all the vote pics! 
 

 


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About the author

Wutosama

Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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