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A note from Balr0g

I had to split this chapter up into two parts, sorry folks... It would have been upwards of 8k words and that was only 2 of 3 fights in this dungeon. I'll get the other one or two out as soon as I can. Thanks for the patience while I worked on this one. 

  "Heads we go left, tails right," proclaimed Tristen as the coin flipped end over end and landed with a soft thump in Tyler's hand.

  "Heads it is."

  "All right, let's do this. Tyler, can you scout the tunnel? We will give you a few paces head-start and then follow."

  Tyler stole down the tunnel in a crouch. After a few paces he disappeared from sight.

  Must be his stealth activating..., thought Tristen

  "Let's move!" Tristen said, excited. "Aaron, can you take point please?"

  Without another word Aaron fell into the point position, followed by Tristen and then Natalia, who also held the torch. The tunnel only accommodated a single-file line and Natalia needed the most protection on account of her being the groups healer and sole resurrectionist.

  "Hey Natalia, can you pass the torch to Tristen? I can't see jack up here and Tyler's sneaky little elf is almost invisible without the light."

  Tristen grabbed the torch from Natalia and made sure that everyone stayed within the ring of light to see the path ahead. No sooner did Natalia pass the torch when Aaron signaled a halt and whispered, "Tyler stopped and is kneeling on the ground just ahead."

  "Stay back!" hissed Tyler and backpedaled in a crouch until he stood inside the light cast by the torch. "There is a large open cavern just ahead. From what I can tell, there are flying creatures in the room. They might aggro if you bring the light too close."

  "Good point, do you think you can get close enough to inspect any of the creatures?" asked Tristen.

  "I should be able to if I cast [Shadow Cloak] and use my stealth ability."

  "All right, go for it. We need to know what type of mob we are up against before we pull them up here."

  Tyler dropped back into a crouch and crept closer to the ledge. Just before his silhouette would have breached the lip of the cavern, he disappeared from view. Tristen waited in tense silence and prepared himself for the possibility of an encounter. A split second later a prompt obscured his vision-

 

Skaled Serpent - Level 1

Skaled Serpents live in underground dens and often congregate in packs. They are a cross-species between Dire Snakes and Dire Faeries spawned out of experimentation and genetically fusing Dire Faery wings and limbs on the Dire Snakes. Over time they have evolved to accept the genetic changes and every appendage functions as a deadly weapon. These creatures have sharp talons and fangs tipped in poison. They can inflict stacks of poison to whittle down the health of their prey. Their whip-like tail can spear enemies with its barbed point.

Note: The venom sacks from Skaled Serpents are used with a variety of professions.

 

  Tristen looked around at his friends after reading through the prompt. Natalia blanched as the description, Aaron check his armor to ensure everything was in place and Tyler's face showed grim determination, likely a mirror of Tristen's own.

  "I'm assuming we need to cut the 'sacks' off these things," quipped Tyler, easing the tension slightly.

  "Heh, I think you may be right on that one... any idea where these sacks are on their body?" asked Tristen quizzically.

  "Well...," Tyler started with a smirk. "Haha, don't worry I doubt they've got gonads, it's probably in their mouth somewhere. Hell, the loot system might allow us to just grab them off the corpse instead of cutting into them."

  "I hope so...," said Natalia, and everyone agreed.

  "Tyler, did you see any of the Skaled Serpents clumped together? Preferably two or three of them?" asked Tristen.

  "Yea, there are a few clusters of them I think share an aggro radius." Tyler furrowed his brow trying to recall the positions of the creatures. "Ah, yea there is a group of two just on the other side of this lip. There are natural steps leading down you can use to get closer."

  "Okay, here's the plan. I will cast [Fury] on one of them. No matter if the skill fails or succeeds, I'll sprint back up here and we can draw the mob to Aaron. Try to stay in the light so we can see this thing. It would also help to say inside the tunnel so it can't fly over our heads. We can create a bottleneck and attack it from multiple sides," explained Tristen. "Tyler, did you see how much HP these things have?"

  "No, I got the same prompt as you. My [Inspect] skill is probably too low to see it..."

  "All right, I'm hoping that after we engage in combat, we can see the health of the creature. For now, let's go with the plan I outlined. If we aggro two of them, Aaron will pick up one and I'll tank the other. I can use [Parry] until Aaron switches targets."

  "Everyone good on their roles? Oh, Natalia make sure that your light wisp casts its HoT on Aaron and then step back into the tunnel so they can't get to you. Until you get more healing spells, just try shooting the thing and use Aaron as a meat shield."

  "Heh...," Tyler started.

  "Hey, no comments from the peanut gallery," reprimanded Tristen. He turned around unable to hide a smile at the corner of his lips.

  Tristen gave a thumbs up and everyone nodded their assent as he started down the steps. Tyler cast Shadow Cloak on him before he disappeared from sight, and he saw a buff icon appear on his notification bar.

  Tristen peeked over the edge and saw...nothing?

  Where are the serpents?

  One step at a time, he descended toward the pit. After five or six steps, he made out dark shapes below. True to Tyler's description, there were two of them at the base of the steps and the rest of appeared far enough away not to aggro. Tristen toggled to his party chat and projected his thoughts-

  GET READY!

  Tristen focused on the closest mob and triggered [Inspect]. He switched to the next target and repeated the inspection. The information remained the same. Regardless, it gave him experience in the skill so he wanted to inspect all creatures they came across.

  Here goes nothing-

  Tristen activated the skill and knew how to form the spell pattern, incantations, and gestures. The spell activation didn't control his body so much as guide him, and he allowed it to happen. Because he was in control, he kept his voice low and minimized any sound as his hands weaved the spell pattern. The spell settled over the head of the nearest serpent and hung suspended...

  Why is it not working? It feels like there is resistance...

  The serpent shook its head as the spell refused to take hold. Then with no warning, the spell formation collapsed into the creatures mind. Its body went rigid, and it whirled on its unsuspecting ally.

  IT WORKED! Tristen thought loudly at his friends.

  He sprinted up steps and ran to the other side of the entrance where Tyler waited in the shadows. They heard hissing and scratching noises from below as the creatures tore into each other. It didn't take long before the only one creature remained and it started up the steps toward them.

  Why isn't it flying up here?

  The creature bounded up the steps and made a beeline for Tristen. As soon as it stepped into the radius of the torchlight, Aaron brought his two-handed war hammer down on the creatures head, dazing it temporarily. Tristen saw a debuff icon and a small avatar of the creature appear to the left of his view. When he focused on it, he saw the creatures health and name.


Skaled Serpent - 250/400 HP

Debuff - Dazed

 

  400 HEALTH! Tristen exclaimed into the party chat. IT'S DOWN TO 218 HP, LET'S TAKE IT OUT QUICK!

  Tristen watched the health of the creature and noted Aaron's bash knocked off 32 HP, which told him this thing had decent armor since the skill should have eliminated 38 HP.

  "This thing has defensive armor," updated Tristen.

  That meant his regular attack would only deal half its damage. Against a non-armored mob Tristen's one-handed attack was between 10 and 11 damage per slash. Tyler's normal attacks dealt roughly the same, but he also had [Backstab], which allowed him to deal 30 damage against this mob. If the creature attacked Tristen, he could [Parry] the attack and deal 12 points worth of damage.

  Natalia spammed [Quickshot], Tyler activated [Backstab], and Tristen hacked at the serpent. Aaron held aggro on the mob due to the massive damage he dealt from [Bash]. The only downside to Aaron and Tyler's skills was the 60 second cooldown.

  The fight proceeded with no complications and just as Tristen thought the battle was over, the serpent made a last ditch attempt at getting through Aaron's defense. It speared him through the leg with its tail.

  "Agh!" grunted Aaron.

  Tristen glanced at their party window and saw that Aaron took 20 damage and received the poison debuff. Thankfully, the light wisp kept Aaron’s health stable and now that the battle was over his HP regenerated.

  “Let’s take a breather and go through the combat log. These things are mini tanks and they hit hard. If we get swarmed by three of more, it spells game over for us. Aaron took 20 damage, and that’s after his 23 points in defense.”

  Following his own advice, Tristen pulled up his combat log. No surprises jumped out at him. His normal attack damage halved on account of the natural scaled armor of the serpent and… Wait…

  “Aha,” said Tristen, “these guys have little armor but they make up for it in Dexterity. Look at the combat log. You can see the armor rating increased for successful dodge checks.”

  “That makes sense,” Tyler replied. “Even with my high Dexterity the little bugger was tricky to stick with the pointy end.”

  Tristen agreed with Tyler’s assessment and said, “we need to avoid bringing over two of these at once. If we aggro three or more, we need to run or we will die.” Everyone agreed with this decision.

  "Tyler, I think it will be a good idea for you to scout after each pull and then guide me to a spot I can cast my spell. If it is a single mob, we can have Natalia shoot it to bring in range and then I’ll cast my spell to work on it’s level." Tyler nodded his assent.

  "Only one thing left to do before we pull the next mob…," Tristen said looking at the corpse in front of him.

  Everyone looked at each other. Tristen still hadn’t gotten a decent look at the creature on account of the darkness, but he didn’t want to sift through the body either.

  Sighing, Tristen said, “fine, I’ll do it. Natalia bring the light over here please.”

  Natalia moved the light closer to the creature-

  “AHHHHH!” she shrieked.

  “SHHH…,” everyone hissed. They listened for any evidence the serpents heard the noise and wanted to investigate. It looked like they were in the clear. Tristen couldn’t blame Natalia for the outburst-

  “This thing is the ugliest, nastiest creature I’ve ever seen. I thought nothing would surprise me after memorizing the monster guides for Dungeon Quest, but that….that is one ugly snake.”

  Tristen bent closer to the body and studied the creature. It was grotesque and dis-proportioned. The legs were nearly as wide around as the body of the creature and the talons made it impossible for the thing to walk.

  No wonder that other creature had bounded up the steps to them, he thought.

  The skin looked like a patchwork quilt of scales, slimy membrane, and necrotic flesh. The wings, shaped like a clover leaf, jutted from its back, leathery and rotting.

  How is this thing able to fly?

  The head of the serpent no longer resembled a triangle, but rather looked like a bulbous growth where the fangs gutted out and over the bottom lip. He could see a dark viscous fluid ooze from small holes in the fangs.

  This thing definitely looks like some mad science experiment. Its body now sported gashes, missing pieces, and a smashed head from the fight. Blood coated everything and the ground around the creature was slick with it.

  “Guys, if I have to cut into this thing we WILL take turns on the rest of them… this thing is appalling.” Tristen tentatively reached out to touch the thing with one finger, cringing as he contacted the slimy flesh. As soon as he touched the thing a loot window popped up-

 

Skaled Serpent - Level 1

Poison Sack

Claws x 2

Loot All? Yes/No

 

  THANK YOU! Tristen thought happily. At least I won’t have to cut the parts off… Yes, he selected.

  The prompt disappeared and Tristen looked down at his hand, feeling something wet and moist.

  “Yuck! Ugh…,” he flung his hand away to empty the contents onto the blood-slicked floor. The claws kept bloody ends where they connected to the feet of the creature. The poison sack was… disgusting. It looks like a… testi… Tristen felt his hackles raise and if vomiting was a function in the game, another layer of gore would coat the floor.

  The sack was a small leathery pouch that really resembled an actual ball sack and the flesh was mostly transparent with black veins spider-webbed throughout. Green liquid inside glowed faintly, but appeared to dim the longer it sat on the ground.

  “Haha…,” Tyler cackled, “dude, you grabbed a snake by the balls!”

  Tristen turned a reproachful gaze on Tyler and replied, “seriously? If you think it’s so hilarious, you pick it up.”

  Tyler backpedaled and held up his hands. Chuckling, he said, “no, no, this one's all you dude.”

  Squaring his shoulders, Tristen reached down and grabbed the claw first. Just before stuffing it into his bad, he inspected it-

 

Skaled Serpent Claw

Use: The claws of Skaled Serpents are ingredients for weaponsmithing and alchemy.

 

  He walked over to the poison sack next and inspected it before touching it-

 

Poison Sack

Use: Poison sacks are found on a variety of creatures. These sacks contain a highly potent venom that are used as the primary ingredient for crafting poison potions and elixirs. The poison can also be refined and applied directly to weapons to inflict poison debuffs.

 

  Tristen gingerly pinched the sack between his fingers and dropped it into his bag of holding. I really hope these things are true dimensional bags, he thought. If it exploded in his bag or the blood and gore sloughed off into his bag, it would go straight in the trash; they needed to think about some other way to transport the items.

  “Someone else will get the next loot drop. That was by far one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever touched.”

  “We can flip for it,” suggested Tyler flipping a silver into the air.

  “Let’s get through the next fight and we can work it out then,” said Aaron.

  Tyler scouted the next group while Tristen followed close behind. The next group required him to step down onto the bottom of the pit and he really hoped it didn’t trigger an event for all the serpents to aggro.

  I SEE THEM, said Tristen in the party chat. The ability to talk to just his party with thought made it a lot easier to communicate in situations like this. Tyler ascended back up the steps and Tristen made sure he positioned himself for the fastest retreat if the spell didn’t work. At present he only had a 51% chance of it working.

  Everything set, Tristen activated the spell. Just as before, the spell settled around the serpents head. Only this time, there was no resistance, and it took effect immediately. Tristen saw what happened before he raced back up the steps. Just as before, the creature jerked as the spell settled into its mind and zoned in on the closest enemy.

  It pounced on the other creatures back and viciously tore into wings, skin, and face. The thing had zero chance, and the fight was over in seconds. No other enemies within range, the creatures head snapped around to Tristen.

  Oh…

  Scrambling for all he was worth, Tristen ran pell mell up the steps to his friends. He made it to the last step when a sharp, searing pain exploded between his shoulder blades. He pitched forward landing on his face. All he could think was… I need to increase the pain filter. He flipped onto his back to see the creatures jaw descending toward him. His shield was on his back still and there was no way he’d get to it in time-

  Thump, an arrow sprouted from the serpents grotesque mouth. Forgetting all about its recent victory, the serpent sprung into the air and charged full tilt at Natalia. Right before reaching her, Aaron stepped into the path and brought his Warhammer sailing at the creature, knocking it out of the air. Tristen recovered his wits and joined the fight. They followed the same pattern as the previous fight, only this time Aaron fended off all attacks.

  By the time the fight ended, Tristen’s HP was down to 80. He slumped to the ground and still felt the twinge of pain in his back. Tristen pulled up the menu and adjusted the pain threshold to 40%. He had no desire to experience that level of agony again.

  “If you guys adjusted your pain threshold, I recommend dialing the pain down some. I had mine set at 60% and that stab to the back literally felt like someone slammed a hot poker between my shoulder blades.” Apparently, he was the only idiot that changed his. The rest of his friends had left it at the default 30%.

  He felt a little better after a few minutes of rest. Natalia also instructed her light wisp to heal Tristen until the next fight. While he waited to regenerate his HP, he reflected on the brief, yet intense fight.

  I lost half of my health from one attack? What the… He pulled up the combat log to see what happened.

Critical Hit - 50 HP

  “Wow!” Tristen exclaimed. “This thing hit me for 60 points of damage. My defense shaved off 10 points, but still… the hit to the back counted as a surprise attack and it got a critical hit. The poison debuff knocked off another 20 HP while we finished the fight. If there had been two of these things I’d be a goner. We need to switch up the tactics and I can always cast my spell after we’ve engaged it in combat.”

  “I can shoot them from up here,” offered Natalia.

  “Tyler, can you guide Natalia on which serpent to hit from here?” asked Tristen. “We can see vague outlines, but other than that it’s all blackness.”

  “Sure, I’ll try to pick out the stragglers first and we can whittle them down.”

  “First… someone has to loot the body, and that is NOT me,” Tristen said backing away.

  “I’ll do it,” said Aaron. Natalia looked at him gratefully as he walked over, grabbed the loot, and deposited it in Tristen’s bag. He wiped the gore off on the wall of the tunnel and motioned for Tyler and Natalia to continue with the next pull.

  “All right Mr. Chivalry, you don’t have to tell me twice,” quipped Tyler as he walked toward the ledge.

###

  DING! Tristen felt a heady euphoria suffuse his body and a light shimmer enveloped his body.

  “Wow… Whoa…,” said Tristen and Aaron at the same time.

  “That was awesome! I feel refreshed, my HP, SP, and MP are all full too!”

  “We hit level 2! Tristen exclaimed. He pulled up his combat log to look at their Exp gains. "It looks like we are getting 40 Exp per kill for the party, but because Aaron and I are humans, we are getting 1.5x the Exp. That was our seventh kill, which pushed us to level 2. Natalia and Tyler should level up after three more of these things,” explained Tristen.

  While Tristen explained the Exp to his friends, he noted the icon on his notification bar showed he had an unread message. He opened the message and read-

 

Congratulations! Level 2!

Through hard work, adventure, and perseverance you have reached level 2!

You have 5 stat points to allocate.

NOTE: The experience required for each consecutive level increases exponentially.

P.S. Congrats Father! Wink

 

  Tristen read the message and paused at the end. He re-read the post-script making sure he read it correctly, and that there was in fact a winky face in the message. Tristen smiled and shook his head in mirth… Sai...

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Balr0g

Bio: This is the section where I'm supposed to write how I have always dreamed of writing books and that there are dozens of five star books out there with my name on them. Reality? I am brand new to writing, and worse, I'm not a creative writer. Most of the stuff that I have written is technical, cyber-related stuff. So, how in the world did I start down this path? The best way to sum it up is D. Rus and Vasiliy Mahenenka. These two Russian authors created books in a new genre called LitRPG, which falls under a more broad category called Gamelit. I devoured any and every book created by these two authors and quickly realized they were not alone in their endeavor. The series they created were translated from Russian to English, but it wasn't long before American authors started pushing their own series. Since starting with the Play to Live series (D.Rus), I've read hundreds of books and dozens of stories on Royal Road. I started posing questions and conversations about plots and book directions in various groups and forums. Eventually, I got the idea to start keeping track of my ideas and instead of giving them away, write my own story. Herein, is born a writer (or at least a wannabe writer)... not a writer to grab a paycheck, and not even for the sake of a job. I am putting this first story together purely for my enjoyment and it has been a fun ride so far.

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