“Are you going to poke your hand into it again? Patrick asked with a sly grin as the party approached the portal that was dug into the mountain behind the cabin.
“Ha. Ha,” James faked a laugh, seconds before stepping into the portal with his entire body, just to make sure he didn’t get the discombobulated feeling like he did the last time he just stuck his hand through.
James looked around the broken spirit battleground with a long exhale. The shattered spirit vessel that Salmaana once lived in for an eternity as she fought against the Lich King’s forces had a layer of dust on it, but the place was otherwise unchanged. James looked up at the sky. It seemed to stretch on forever. It was an infinite darkness without even the smallest hint of a star, and yet, the spirit battleground was still somehow lit. The light didn’t seem to emanate from any certain direction - it just was.
Will I ever get used to this? James thought, pondering his life in the game world.
Alex and Patrick stepped through the portal and into existence just behind James. Everyone paused for a moment, in remembrance of the long battle they fought there. Then silently, they set out. James lead the way running quietly down the middle path. As he suspected there were no minions or any other signs of life to try and stop them. As James hopped over a dark crevasse in the ground, he wondered why the Lich King didn’t bother extending his realm and stationing defenders in the broken spirit battleground.
Either he is too cocky and thinks he is already secure in his lair, or he wants nothing to do with the zone he was imprisoned within for so long, James mused.
James, Patrick, and Alex descended the hole in the other side of the Spirit Battleground that could be considered stairs. The vertical distance between some of the outcropping rocks they stepped down presented a problem, especially considering that the hole was so dark, but they all agreed this was a much more pleasant way of descending into Ogrim’s level than simply falling down a ravine like last time. Vague echoes of metal striking rock could be heard when the party reached the second floor of the dungeon.
James looked around the labyrinth of tunnels, “Okay, Michael said to just keep going down and we will find Ogrim’s lair. Anyone see a downward slope?”
“No, but I think I remember coming from this direction last time we were here,” Patrick answered quietly while pointing his large fingers down one of the center tunnels.
“Okay, lead the way tank,” James said.
Patrick nodded, unstrapped his maul from his back, and set off down one of the tunnels. Torches lit their way and flickered against the walls they were fastened to, leaving scorch marks against the stubborn rock. The red-head peaked around a corner and raised his closed fist in a stopping motion. He turned back to the party.
“Mini-Ogrims. Three of them,” he said.
“Think you can tank them all?” James asked. The red-head nodded. “Okay, then you do that, I will cast Firebolts from behind you. Try not to let them past you so they won’t bother me. The tunnel is pretty narrow, and you are... uh…”
“Fat,” Alex suggested.
“You are not narrow, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Alex, you blink behind them and strike them from the back. If they turn to fight you, just blink back to me. Sound good?”
“My Blink ability has a short cooldown, but yea, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Alex agreed.
“Oh, and try to be as quiet as possible, we don’t want to attract more attention,” James paused, thinking, “until we want to attract more attention.”
Patrick nodded and turned the corner. He strode right up to the brutes who were busy widening the tunnel with Pickaxes. James crept up behind him along with Alex. They stopped when Patrick got within steps of the brutes.
“Hey…” one of the brutes said as he slowly realized that Patrick wasn’t the same sort of brute that he was. Patrick’s maul slammed into the brutes head. Surprisingly, the brutes skin proved to be extremely resilient and didn’t break or drip with blood, but the worker brute did fall to the ground all the same.
Alex blinked away, moments before James brought up his hands to weave his complex curse into the air. He made sure to place a curse on each of the brutes, even the one that was still struggling to get its life together after Patrick’s attack. Two of the brute’s pickaxes were held high into the air ready to mine Patrick when James released his first Firebolt. James watched the Firebolt blaze through the air angrily as both of the Brute’s pickaxes descended. Then something strange happened. The Firebolt jerked from side to side, unsure of which curse to be attracted to. Then, the Firebolt split into three parts and slammed into all of the Brutes.
Cool, James thought as he moved his hands in the opposite pattern of the curse twice, effectively removing it from two of the Brutes. James figured he would rather have one strong FireBolt than three weaker ones, but more importantly, he didn’t want to do anything new with his fire spell for fear of improving his fire mastery faster. He was already forced to come into the dungeon without learning a new spell mastery like he would have liked to, so he planned on trying to avoid using his fire spells as much as possible.
Two loud clanks echoed through the tunnel as the Brute’s pickaxes struck Patrick. The redhead winced from the pain, but otherwise kept the attention of the three mini-Ogrims. James was surprised at the lack of blood from such powerful strikes but didn’t let it distract him from casting one last Firebolt. When the first brute’s health points finally dropped to zero, James’s moved closer to attack with his short swords. Fighting so close to Patrick severely limited both of their movement abilities, but James first strike with his Legion Commander Short Sword showed that it was worth it. When James attacked with his Martyr’s Skinning Knife he only left a small scratch on the Brute’s skin. His legendary short sword, however, torn through the brutes tough skin like butter, resulting in an outpouring of blood. The party made quick work of the remaining two Brutes.
“Ohh,” Patrick said in delight as he bent over to pull an item out of a pool of Mini-Ogrim blood, “this one had a green pickaxe!”
“What does it do?” Alex asked curiously.
“It improves mining speed by 5%,” Patrick said, lovingly.
“It’s yours,” James interrupted as he hopped over the pool of blood, “let's keep moving.”
The party cleared out a dozen groups of Mini-Ogrims as they traveled through the network of tunnels. James changed his attack strategy to only using his short swords, and the fights steadily got easier and easier. The party fell into a routine and got so good at it that they could clear a mob of three brutes without even letting Patrick get hit once. Patrick appreciated that fact and admitted that he had begun to forget what pain felt like until the first two Brutes hit him with their pickaxes. None of the mobs dropped anything else of use. Alex did manage to find a few rocks filled with various ores and gems hidden in wheelbarrows though. He promptly added them to his inventory, saying that the ores will help him improve his blacksmithing faster than the ore Patrick mined from the mountain that Dreng’s Keep was set against. James didn’t mind, especially since he knew nothing about crafting skills. He resolved to fix that problem as soon as he had a moment, and only after he learned another spell mastery. He figured getting a crafting skill would be a fun skill to practice and a welcome break from grinding his fighting skills and managing the town.
“That’s it,” Alex said as the party jogged through the rocky tunnels. James looked ahead and spotted a tunnel that dropped sharply. “That’s the tunnel into Ogrim’s chamber.”
“Okay, let’s rest up and prepare,” James commanded as he slowed down to a walk.
The party lowered themselves to a sitting position by sliding their bodies against the wall. James pulled some Abomminar Fat Stew out of his satchel and handed a bowl each to his two companions. He could tell by his health bar, which showed his current health points including the extra points granted by buffs and various items, that the party was already under the effects of the Stew’s +10 constitution buff, but he was hungry nonetheless. He had some Ingo meat as well, but he didn’t want it to replace the buff he got from the stew. The party greedily slurped up the offered food.
“Whuts at,” Patrick said through a mouthful of food. He swallowed and tried again, this time putting his stone bowl aside and pointing down the tunnel to Ogrim’s cavern, “What is that?”
James followed the direction of Patrick’s beefy fingers and saw various lights gleaming from the tunnel, “loot?” he asked.
Patrick stood up and cautiously peaked down the tunnel, “Yea, that is loot alright. Why is it there though?”
“Think it’s a trap?” Alex commented curiously.
James shook his head from his seat by the wall, “No, I think that is just the loot from the last time we were here. We were in a rush to escape and didn’t grab it. It odd that none of the brutes did though.”
“They only seem to be interested in hitting rocks to find other, shinier rocks,” Patrick said with a shrug, “I’m gonna grab it.”
Patrick dropped the pile of multi covered loot by James’s feet and took a seat beside him with a grunt. One of the extraordinary items with a purple glow immediately caught James’s eye.
A map? He thought as he reached out to grab the item. As soon as the purple paper touched his hand it disappeared. James’s interface popped up without his instruction, causing James to reflectively pull his head back. It bumped against the rock wall.
“Ouch,” he complained as his eyes adapted to the interface.
“What happened?” Alex asked curiously.
“I think that map was just added to my Adventurer’s interface. When we got down here my map was just all black, but now I can see everything…” James said, his voice drifting off in concentration, “I think there might be some prisoners on this level of the dungeon!”
James swiftly printed out three copies of the second-floor dungeon map and handed one to each of his companions.
“Over here you mean?” Alex said, pointing to a section on the map that displayed a cavern filled with square symbols, “It looks like we would have to actually loop around to a cave that is behind Ogrim’s.”
“Yea, it’s worth a look though. I figured that the Lich King would have transferred all of the prisoners down to the lower floors already, but maybe not. That symbol has to mean a cage right?” James replied. Alex and Patrick agreed with a nod.
“Let’s split up this loot and head over,” Patrick suggested with a nudge to the glimmering loot pile.
James let Patrick lead the way as he checked out his equipped items interface.
Left Hand – Legion Commander’s Short Sword (Legendary)
Right Hand - Martyr Skinning Knife (Widespread)
Feet - Reinforced Leather Boots (Uncommon)
Legs - Ingo Cloth Pants (Widespread)
Chest - Ingo Cloth Shirt (Widespread)
Shoulder – Empty
Wrist – Reinforced Leather Bracers (Uncommon)
Back – Thick Ingo Skin Cloak (Common)
Head – Empty
Neck - Necklace of Lucidity (Uncommon)
Ring 1 – Brutus’s Ring (Extraordinary)
Sheath 1– Clunky Short Sword Sheath (Widespread)
Sheath 2- Oana Scythe Sheath (Common)
Bag - Adept Adventurer's Satchel (Uncommon)
James was happy to see his equipment tab slowly getting more colorful. When he and Patrick managed to take down their first Abomminar, James managed to upgrade his boots and bracers. The newish items didn’t offer any stat boosts, which James thought they should since they were of Uncommon rarity, but they did seem to provide more armor than other items of the same rarity. James figured it was a good trade-off even though he would have preferred a stat boost. Alex got the best items from this most recent round of loot. The extraordinary pair of spiked gloves he received made his fists look like harbingers of destruction. The sight was made even more impressive since the spikes traveled up to his bracers, due to the Spiky Bracer Covers James had gifted to the unarmed fighter. Patrick received a few items that drastically improved his armor. He seemed overjoyed about the improvements. He said he had been collecting armor like candy because of some update he got from his interface. He said he was pretty sure he would be able to be the most powerful tank in existence if he could only raise his armor points a little bit higher. James questioned the red-head about it but didn’t get any helpful information. The red-head just said he thought his mining and stoneworking skills was giving him a unique mastery, and if he could improve that mastery, he would be unstoppable. James decided not to inquire further since getting information about Patrick’s interface was like pulling teeth. Also, James had his sights set upon the Uncommon bag in the pile of loot. He might not have gotten any items that made him a better fighter or mage, but the bag was a better item for a long-term strategy. The new bag lowered the drop chance of all of his items by ten percent. That meant that if he died for any reason, his Legion Commander’s Shortsword would only have a ten percent chance of dropping. To James, that was better than all the loot Patrick and Alex picked up, combined.
The party suddenly halted as the floor beneath them began to quake. James braced himself against the wall, waiting for another quake. It came a few seconds after the first, and another came a few seconds after that.
“Those feel like really heavy footsteps,” Alex said with furrowed brows.
“My mom must be just up ahead,” Patrick said with a shrug as he continued down the tunnel. James blanched and looked at Alex, who was equally speechless.
“Did he just Mom-joke himself?” Alex asked with a brief laugh.
Alex’s laugh stirred something in James that caused him to laugh as well, “I think he did…”
Patrick chuckled without stopping or turning around, “C’mon guys, we have prisoners to free.”
James nodded to Alex and stifled the laughter threatening to spill out before heading after Patrick. James was pretty sure Mom-jokes wouldn’t go over well in the village considering that a lot of people had no idea if their mothers were still alive, but he was happy his companions were close enough to not get offended over the joke. He figured that if they were going to get stomped to death by whatever was walking around and causing the ground to tremble anyway, some humor would do them some good before they were sent to respawn.