“Damnit, I forgot to make my poisons. Oh well, I can do it after gathering a few reagents.” I muttered as soon as I walked into the Underdark. I made my way through the rat area, slaughtering as I went. They really weren’t a challenge anymore since I figured out the counter to their initial lunge. I was only collecting the rat meat and fangs, along with a handful of the stamina mushrooms. I ended up with another ten fangs and 20 meat. Not a bad haul, but it wasn’t rare equipment either. Before I went and fought the first set of cave hounds, I pulled out my portable alchemy set. I had limited reagents, but it did come with enough alcohol solution to make ten stamina poisons. I spent about 20 minutes prepping and making the potions, then identified the poison once again to see how I could apply it to my crossbow bolts.

Elixir of stamina poison

This poison was brewed for maximum effectiveness of ingredients, and will have different effects based on how it is introduced.

Oral consumption: Drains 180 stamina, prevents stamina regeneration for one hour

If injected: Drains 360 stamina, prevents stamina regeneration for 30 minutes.

I pulled out a bolt and dunked the tip in the poison, then identified both again to see what I was dealing with.

Poisoned crossbow bolt

A potent stamina poison has been applied to this bolt. If the arrow pierces the flesh, the poison will attack the stamina of the victim.

Drains 360 stamina, prevents stamina regeneration for 30 minutes

1 use, must pierce flesh

Elixir of stamina poison (used)

This poison was brewed for maximum effectiveness of ingredients, and will have different effects based on how it is introduced.

Oral consumption: Drains 180 stamina, prevents stamina regeneration for one hour

If injected: Drains 360 stamina, prevents stamina regeneration for 30 minutes.

Doses: 4/5 remaining

Well, that’s a nice surprise. I went ahead and used nine of the poison vials to make poisoned bolts, leaving me with 45 bolts and one reserve vial if I wanted to poison a different weapon. My next step was to prepare a few pikes. I started with a large slash in the ground at my feet. I turned perpendicular to this, took three long steps forward, and made another slash. That would put them at over 15 feet long, and I kept the design simple. Perfectly round at the base, I made them so they would fit comfortably in my hand. The cross section was the size of my palm. I kept this straight , then the last foot of the weapon tapered to a conic point. About 2/3 of the way down the length, I cut a groove so that I could loop some rope and raise the pike swiftly.

Stone pike

Crafted with care, this weapon prioritizes ease of use and piercing ability over durability.

Damage: 35-50 piercing

Durability: 15/15

Satisfied that they would do what I needed them to, I went ahead and copied the design 20 times. That ended up taking two stacks in my inventory, but I still hadn’t even taken up a tenth of what I was able to. I also ended up adding a level to Mana Excavation and Sculpting, taking them up to Intermediate 5 and Beginner 10 respectively. Now, let’s get started on rock hound round 2. I still took my time cutting through the cave hounds, but I saved my poisoned bolts. I seemed to be on a lucky streak when it came to meat, getting one meat for almost every hound and the occasional two.

After a half hour of hound genocide, I saw my first rock hound. Time to set up my traps. I took out one pike, and settled it in a trench that I had quietly dug while just outside of the aggro range of the rock hound. I tied the rope around the groove, and stepped on the back end of the pike. I reached out to one side of me and scooped up a chunk of rock. I knew my crossbow was probably going to be useless at first, I carved out a rough sphere and dropped mana into it until I felt it cross into overload. Rearing back, I flung it at the unsuspecting dog. It clicked against its side and dropped to the ground. Before it could explode, the dog crunched down on it, and I saw the glow of mana die down into nothing. Finished with his treat, the bastard looked at me and gave me a doggy grin.

“All right ya bastard, so you can eat mana. I’ll fix ya up real good.” Growling at him, I took out my crossbow and lined up a shot between his eyes. The bolt sparked off some armor, and he gave a slight whine before snarling and charging. “C’mon then pup, I’m gonna win this time.” I yelled at him, taunting him as he charged. Timing was everything, and I pulled the cord on the pike when he was about a body length away from where the tip was. Oh, it was a thing of beauty. The pike rose smoothly, and the dog’s eyes widened in terror, but he had already started his next bound. I leaned back to slow the tip’s rise, and watched as it took it straight in the chest. Once I felt the tip pierce through, I gave a much stronger tug on the rope, pulling the pike higher through the chest. The momentum of the dog kept impaling it, and the rising pike redirected a bit of its charge vertically, slowing it down until the pike snapped in the middle. As the dog was dropping back to all fours, I prepared a massive horizontal swing of my hammer.

“[Skull Crusher]” I sneered at the beast, smashing a vicious blow to the side of its head. Like a perfectly choreographed dance, I was able to fully extend my arm to increase the force of my blow, and it caught the monster right where the jaw hinged. A whimper was all that it could do, as the force snapped its neck and dropped the corpse at my feet.

Not bothering to loot just yet, I bent down and felt around for the artery in the side of the neck to try and get as much blood as I could. It took a minute, but I finally found it. Carefully inserting the needle from my collection kit, I ended up with three vials of blood. Once that was done, I did a visual inspection to see where I could hurt these bastards in the future.

The top portion of the head was encased in a thin layer of quartz, which explained why bolts fired at the head simply sparked off. The neck and legs were lacking in armor, giving the dog some mobility. The sides and back were heavily armored, nearly an inch of stone. There were three points along the body that would allow for slight turning, but these dogs seemed to be almost locked into straight charges. That would be useful, as they had less chance to evade my pikes. They had no armor on their bellies, which explained the effectiveness of the pike. I looted the body and received a piece of meat and two armor plates, along with a level up!

Stone armor plate

This piece of armor from a rock hound seems to be a compressed form of granite. While strong, it is incredibly heavy.

Crafting material

Standing up, I started searching for my next target. I decided to do another test while I was at it, and loaded my crossbow with one of the poisoned bolts. The unprotected neck was about the only place I could get a shot in, but with windless trajectory I would have a much better chance of landing a blow. I didn’t have to wait long to test out my weapon, as there was another hound in a clearing less than a minute’s walk away. Once again it was laying on its belly, side profile facing me. I set up a new pike, but didn’t bother with the trench this time. Knowing it would perk its head up at the twang of the crossbow, I aimed just above where its resting neck was. The bolt buried itself in the neck exactly as planned, and the dog stood and immediately charged. Three bounds into its charge, it did a marvelous face plant and skidded just a little bit. That’s odd, it still has a good 2/3 of its life still.

Cautiously approaching, I kept my hammer at the ready. Are these dogs intelligent enough to set up a trap? I got within arm’s length, constantly looking around. Seeing nothing that would attack, I looked down to see the dog feebly try and get up. It would try and gather its legs underneath, but anytime it tried to stand, the most it would get is some shaking legs before flopping back down. “Out of stamina? Damn, that’s an effective poison for heavily armored opponents.” Taking pity on the creature, I raised my hammer over my head and dealt it a massive [Skull Crusher]. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that when the skull being crushed has nowhere to move to, all that downward force tends to make the skull of your enemy explode like that old comedian with a mallet and some watermelons.

“Ugh, damnit. I got brain bits all over my feet.” Note to self: Next time don’t crush the skull of something with their head on the ground. Cleanup is a bitch. At least I had multiple ways of dealing with these hounds, as I was sure the game wouldn’t let me keep finding them in singles. I searched around the area the dog was guarding, but there wasn’t anything of interest to loot. I was seeing more crystalline formations in the rock though, but I didn’t have anything that would help me excavate it. Besides, knowing my luck with things I would be more apt to bring the ceiling down on my head.

Continuing on with my exploration, it was a few battles later that I came across the first outcropping of actual crystal, and not just some extra sparkle in the granite matrix. I got close to examine it, and it was a pinkish crystal about the size of my thumb. There were a few cracks in it, and the center was heavily clouded. It would never be something that someone would put on a ring, but who knows what alchemical uses it could possibly have. With nothing to lose and no enemies around, I activated mana excavation along one of my claws, and tried to trace a circle around the base of the crystal.

You lack the required skill level to extract this resource.

Well, whatever it is it seems to have some value. I tried cutting down into the rock around it, and got the same error message. Well, time to go for overkill. Taking my hammer, I gave the lightest tap I was capable of to the side of the crystal. It immediately crumbled into dust. Shaking my head, I headed off to find the next rock hound to vent my frustrations on.

I took care of the next several hounds with a combination of crossbow to anger it and a pike to the chest. I almost bit it when I misjudged a dog’s speed. Instead of a clean shot to the chest, the pike penetrated and dragged along the stomach, disemboweling the monster. Rather than a hammer, I used a mana blade to decapitate it. It worked a lot better than the first time I tried that on a hound, and I got an idea. Before I looted it, I formed a mana blade again and slashed along the side of the creature. The rock dispelled my construct, flashing blue for a second. No wonder, their rock shields can absorb mana. “So very glad I didn’t go with a mage type class. I think the only spell that would be effective would be conjuring a stone spike from beneath it.” Looting the corpse and moving on, I came to my first obstacle. There were two rock hounds, and both were staring at something with a faint pink glow between them.

Now, how do you take out two rock hounds? I first removed a pike from my inventory and prepped it, dropping my total of them down to 8. I also loaded a poisoned bolt into my crossbow. I couldn’t tell just what had their rapt attention, but I didn’t want a falling dog to crush whatever it was. Hedging my bets, I took aim at the nearer of the two creatures, and watched as the bolt sunk into its neck. It got up and charged, but dropped after a few steps. The other dog had already passed the first, and was lined up perfectly with my pike. I took care of him, and went and ended the second dog, and was amazed when I saw what had them enraptured. A crystal flower, pale pink and radiating a gentle light. The stem was delicate, and it had a trio of leaves at the base. The flower itself formed a deep cone and gently curled at the tips of the petals, much like a trumpet vine. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I had no idea how to properly collect it. I tried cutting it out with the roots intact, going for the rock a few inches away from the stem to no avail. I really needed to improve mana excavation. Sighing in defeat, I gently snapped the stem off just above the leaves. Hopefully I left enough that it could grow back. Wanting to know what I had, I examined it.

Pink crystal flower

This rare type of living crystal has an unknown life cycle. It absorbs ambient mana and releases a gentle glow.

Well, whatever it was I’m sure Djarleen would have some ideas on how to utilize it. I wonder if all the crystals around here are sensitive to mana? If I could get a few of them to experiment on, it could be useful. I’ll have to ask Djarleen sometime about crystal extraction techniques. Perhaps see if Dharkiss could make me a small rock hammer. No matter, that was something I’ll have to come back to. Right now I needed to find the crystal alpha.

Fighting through doubles of rock hounds wasn’t too bad, and I quickly honed my anticipation of their lunges. I didn’t make it through unscathed, there were several times I got slashed by a claw or got a fang slicing along my arm. Most fights ended with my life above 2/3, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I lost track of the number of fights I had gone through, but knew I had to be getting close by the amount of crystals sticking out from the walls. I rounded the corner of a stalagmite, and finally found the alpha.

It was half again as big as the other rock hounds, and its armor was made from the glowing pink crystals instead of granite. It was sitting up and facing me, flanked by two large crystal protrusions. Laying by its feet were two more rock hounds. Outnumbered three to one, facing either a champion or miniboss monster, and down to two spare pikes. There was enough crystal in the ground by this point that I couldn’t craft any more pikes either. I couldn’t help but smile at the challenge.

A note from Mighty Moushie

Couldn't sleep, so I got another chapter written.  I'll post again tonight, next chapter is the crystal alpha fight.

About the author

Mighty Moushie

Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.

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