“Welcome back, James!” Ogrim boomed from his metal ore throne as the party entered his cavern, “My mace missed you. I hope you are here to say hello to it.”
The thundering sound of dozens of pickaxes hitting stone halted as Ogrim spoke. James noticed that no one was in a rush to break the calm before the storm, so he took the opportunity to reaffirm the plan.
“Alex, distract Ogrim since you are the fastest. Patrick, tank all the Brutes if they come down from the scaffolds. I will provide support and ranged damage.”
“Roger,” Alex said.
“Mhmm,” Patrick hummed as he gripped his True Iron Maul.
“GO!” James yelled. In a split second, Alex was gone and Patrick had begun his charge. The boss of this floor of the dungeon barked a command, which was interrupted by a strike from Alex. Still, some of the Brutes all along the scaffolding of the cavern showed a surprising amount of intelligence and jumped down to join the fight. Patrick was ready to meet them. James watched as the redhead took up a batter’s stance as one of the Brutes fell towards him. He slammed his maul into the Brute before it could hit the ground. The monster gave an involuntary grunt as all the wind was forced out of it and was sent crashing into the nearest wall. The impact caused the scaffolding to shake, knocking some of the dumber Brutes off in the process.
“Jesus,” James said, marveling over the power Patrick had accumulated. He cast a firebolt at one of the Brutes that remained on the scaffolding. It was picking up rocks and chucking them at Alex, who was struggling to dodge them along with Ogrim’s larger maul. Patrick howled in war lust as a dozen Brutes surrounded him. They raised their pickaxes in slow unison and brought them down with the power only something that was built for such an action could muster. It wasn’t enough though. The strikes from the few Brutes that were lucky enough to not to get their heads bashed in simply bounced off Patrick’s toughened skin with an audible tink. The red-head laughed heartily as he casually swung his maul over his head and dealt final counter-strikes.
I need to get a handle on how armor works, James thought as his hands formed the necessary patterns for a curse of fire. Alex was failing to deal much damage to Ogrim with his fists, but the boss Brute still managed to become enraged over not being able to land a hit on the agile veteran. Ogrim’s strikes became faster and wilder. Alex had stopped using his blink ability, no doubt for fear of blinking into Ogrim’s maul or a thrown stone. James could tell he was losing ground. Dozens of smaller Brutes had caught on to the idea of throwing stones. James studied the scaffolding and finished his curse. Seconds later, double fireballs twisted around each other and exploded not onto a Brute, but onto the matrix of wood that held them up. James repeated the spell combination twice more on separate walls, just enough for the cavern to shed a layer of stone-throwing Brutes. James jumped to Patrick’s aid like a meteor entering the atmosphere. The two quickly dispatched the rest of the smaller monsters.
They turned to Alex, just in time to see Ogrim’s maul sweep one of his legs. The veteran blinked away from his position on the ground before he could be smashed into a pulp. James could see that a quarter of his health was already gone.
“Hey, Baldy!” Patrick roared, then ran his free hand through his own hair. James noticed for the first time that it had actually grown rather long. He figured he hadn’t noticed before because Patrick’s body had been growing faster in proportion.
Ogrim stopped looking for Alex and touched his own head. He spun around to glare at Patrick, then charged. Both humans ran to meet the boss Brute.
Before they could clash, James yelled, “He’s yours!” Then cast a firebolt at Ogrim’s face and slid out of the way. A second later the sound of two large boulders crashing together echoed through the cavern and deafened James. He yelled for Alex uselessly as he fished his satchel around his arm and brought it in front of him. Tossing one of Torunn’s potions to the pained Alex, he mouthed, “Let’s finish this.”
As the party converged on Ogrim in full force the boss Brute immediately began chanting. He coerced the ground to break and a totem to grow. I tribal face exploded from the ground and a leash of red energy connected to him. It fueled his battle rage. His strikes became even faster and more deadly, but everyone besides Patrick was still able to avoid them. Ogrim’s maul flew in an arch, high at first where Alex could duck under it, then low where James could jump it, and smashed into Patrick’s studded leather cuirass, causing him to fall backward with enough force that he rolled over his own head. As the large red-head struggled to stand, James and Alex took the opportunity to do as much damage as the could before they had to flee.
“Three-quarters health!” Alex reported as he blinked backward. Ogrim’s attention was now focused on him.
“You need to lose weight!” James said as his hands began to build a spell.
“Never,” Patrick grunted, finally completing the arduous process of getting to his feet. Then he shot forward in a blur. A sonic boom followed him. James reflexively covered his ears, but his hearing was already reduced to a dull ring. He missed the part where Patrick bulldozed his way into Ogrim but looked over just in time to see the pair collide with the wall. Patrick stepped away, letting the boss Brute fall to the ground, dazed. James activated his Jump Strike ability just as Alex blinked over and a True Iron Mail was slammed into Ogrim’s face with a spray of blood. Through missing teeth and a bloody maw, Ogrim chanted.
Towards the center of the room, the tribal totem grew. James double checked his energy and mana levels.
Just enough, he thought before sighting the growing totem and activating his last Jump Strike. James plummeted into the totem. It swayed under his shock wave, but its magical essence kept it from catching fire from the billowing flames of his landing. Using his last bit of mana, James activated his Flame Whirlwind ability. His Legion Commander’s Short Sword and his Short Sword of Weeping Wounds lept from his hands with a mind of their own and began to orbit him. They spun and chopped with increasing velocity until James couldn’t see past them in any direction. When the ability was spent, splinters of tribal colored wood lay scattered on the cavern floor, mingled with the embers of the scaffolding. James smiled as he realized that his plan was a good one, but his smile quickly fell.
Ogrim’s shoulder rocketed into his face. He fell onto his back. A large mace poised above him became his world. His fingers struggled to pull out the small Ingo skin filled with Torunn’s potion that he had tucked in his belt for emergencies. He didn’t have enough time. The mace fell. James rolled left. He felt rock shrapnel embed into the Studded Leather on his back. Popping to his feet, James's head turned around just in time to see Alex take a devastating strike. His life bar fell to the red in James’s upper left peripherals.
“I’m out of energy!” Alex said as he limped away.
“Hey, No Hair!” Patrick bellowed as he ran over. His taunt was not enough to distract the enraged Brute again though. Ogrim hefted his heavy maul with one hand and launched it. It flew end over end in the air until it found Alex and brought his life points to zero.
“Now… now, there will be one less of you for the lower levels,” Ogrim seethed victoriously, blood flowing freely from his mouth as he spoke. James jumped forward and sliced at Ogrim, who took the hits without defending himself. He fell to his knees as his legs gave out. “You will not make it… far enough… you will,” James embedded his blades into the back of Ogrim’s skull, “Die. When you do,” he collapsed, “I will be ba-” Patrick’s True Iron Maul landed on top of James’s blades like a log splitter and a wedge, cutting off the Brutes tirade.
“Damn it,” James said as he let himself collapse heavily to the floor. Patrick did the same, causing the floor to quake slightly.
“Got anything to fill our bars up faster?” Patrick asked.
James glanced at his party member icons. The red-head had practically a full health bar, but his energy bar was completely empty. “Yea,” James replied, grabbing two potions from his satchel and tossing one to the red-head.
“Oh shit…” Patrick whispered after downing the thick potion. He bent forward and pulled an item out of Ogrim’s dropped loot. It glowed purple. He turned it over in his hands, then tossed it over his head. “Metal pauldrons!” he said excitedly as he got to his feet.
“Not just metal pauldrons, spiked metal pauldrons!” James said, adding to the excitement. “What do they give you?”
“They give me five points to strength and constitution… and… they have some effect that doesn’t really make sense.”
“Let me see,” James said holding his hands out, “your interface is useless.”
Patrick placed his hands on the edges of each pauldron and pushed upward. Nothing happened.
“Are they stuck?” James asked, moving behind Patrick to get a better look. The red-head pushed again, this time grabbed the piece of metal armor at a different spot, being careful not to cut himself on the long spikes.
“What the hell…” Patrick cursed.
“I don’t see anything they could be stuck on. I made the cuirass myself so nothing should be jutting out.”
“Oh, well. We can figure it out later. It's not like I was ever going to take these bad boys off anyway.”
James laughed, “Yea, I don’t know how you sleep in your armor man.”
The red-head shrugged and regarded the rest of the pile. “There is a ring here. Gives plus five to wisdom.” James caught the ring.
“Everything else is just junk to add to the village’s stores.” James nodded, slipped on the ring, then checked out his equipped items tab.
Left Hand – Legion Commander’s Short Sword (Legendary)
Right Hand - Short Sword of Weeping Wounds (Uncommon)
Feet - Reinforced Leather Boots (Uncommon)
Legs - Studded Leather Trousers (Common)
Chest - Studded Leather Cuirass (Common)
Shoulder – Studded Leather Pauldrons (Common)
Wrist – Superior Leather Bracers (Common)
Back – Thick Ingo Skin Cloak (Common)
Head – Studded Leather Helm (Common)
Neck - Necklace of Lucidity (Uncommon)
Ring 1 – Brutus’s Ring (Extraordinary)
RIng 2 - RIng of Young Wisdom (Uncommon)
Sheath 1– Clunky Short Sword Sheath (Widespread)
Sheath 2- Oana Scythe Sheath (Common)
Bag - Adept Adventurer's Satchel (Uncommon)
“Okay, I am starting to look pretty good,” James said, regarding himself, “Well, I look stupid. But I meant my equipment is coming along well…”
“Yea yea, let’s roll out,” Patrick said moments before James saw him regard himself.
“One second. I want to check out my skills just in case I have something new.”
Sneak, Level 9 – Visibility & sound decreased by 9% while sneaking.
Fire, Level 37 (1 levels gained recently) – Your mastery of fire is increased by 37%.
Fire Bolt Spell - Damage is equal to 2.5x Intelligence.
Curse of Fire Augment - Cast a curse on your target, attracting all Fire Bolts in the immediate vicinity.
Short Swords, Level 43 (2 levels gained recently) – Damage done with short swords increased by 43%.
Jump Strike Sub-Skill, level 15 - Chance to stun 100% (25% + 5%/lvl).
Meteor Augment - Land with such force the ground trembles beneath you. Surrounding enemies are slowed for 1 second.
Dual Wield Sub-Skill, Level 19 (2 levels gained recently) - Damage penalty from dual wielding decreased by 19%. Current damage penalty when dual wielding equals 41% for both weapons.
Flame Whirlwind Augment - Your blades gain a mind of their own for a short time and whirl around your body. They move so fast they ignite the air, encasing your body in a tornado of flame. 30-second duration. 1-day cooldown.
Party Leader, Level 18 (4 levels gained recently) - Damage taken by party members reduced by 18%
Moral Defender Sub-Skill, Level 1 - Those under your command gain an additional armor point.
Ingo Mastery, Level 3 (1 levels gained recently) - Friendliness with your favorite Ingo has increased by 3%. Friendliness from all other Ingos increased by half that amount.
“Have anything?” Patrick asked, interrupting James’s thoughts on why his Ingo mastery was classified as a battle skill.
“Okay, let’s go. The portal is this way.” James said, pointing to a swirling purple rip in the surrounding landscape.
James stepped through and was instantly brought to another world, as simply as if it was just around the corner. Clear organic looking tubes pumped swirling smoke from one end of the large cavern to another. Hooded figures cast complicated spells on top of glowing runescript, unaware of his presence. Steam whistled rhythmically from various foundries that burned light into the otherwise impenetrable darkness. Through it all, James could see a portal to the third floor, guarded by an eerily familiar creature.
“Is that…” James whispered to Patrick as he popped into existence in the cavern, “Noma?”
Patrick looked along James’s finger, through the undulating matrix of organic tubs, and at the creature that guarded the portal. “No, it can’t be,” He said.
“Is it a different Praxk?”
Patrick nodded, “It must be. A Vagrant one at that.”
James nodded back, studying the looming creature as it stood there, slightly bubbling with unchecked greed. “Okay,” he whispered, “we will worry about him when we get there. First, we need to figure out what the hell this… machine… is.”
“I think I know,” Patrick said gloomy, “It’s not a machine, it's a spell. Look there, and there. Cages.”
James looked and spotted two human-sized cages on either side of the cavern. Runescripts glowed beneath them, causing the mist to burn upward where it got caught in the organic tubes. James followed the tubes and realized they connected to a central runescript in the middle of the room. More hooded figures stood around it, directing the steam into an ornate Warhammer as large as James himself.
“They are making soul weapons here…” said Patrick.
“Shit.. you are right,” James admitted as realization slowly crept up his spine, “Fuck, I bet you they have Jess and Trevor in those cages!”
“The two villagers that went into the dungeon while we were gone!” James said, eyes wide, “Come on, we have to get them out,” James started to run to one of the cages. He yelled back, “Distract them!”