The wind immediately assaulted us as we came through the portal. We found ourselves above the clouds, on a massive platform. The only way forward was to cross a rope bridge. “Oh fuck me." Blackthumb muttered. I could understand after his fiasco on the mountain. Looking over the edge, we were on a series of floating islands. Some large, some small. The largest ones had waterfalls flowing off the edges, creating beautiful rainbow halos in the air. Each island was covered in incredibly dense jungle vegetation, and some of the vines even linked together several islands. Far below us, we could barely see the peaks of three mountains as they split the clouds.
“Did you read the note?” King asked, bringing my attention to a sign by tapping on it.
“I’m almost afraid to.” I muttered, heading over to the sign. Let’s see what they are trying to pull this time.
Welcome to floor 13!
I hope y’all don’t believe in bad luck, because this would normally be the floor you would expect it on. The portal to the next floor is on the peak of the largest mountain. All you have to do is get down there. For your convenience, there are several varieties of animals you could possibly tame on the connected island to help your descent.
Since there is a high chance for losing the body, this floor only has a special rule. By sacrificing a resurrection scroll, the body may be resurrected. This may be used in conjunction with a healer skill or the additional two resurrection scrolls.
In order to prevent abuse, this will be limited to within one floating island of the death.
“Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me!” I groaned. “Tiamat is chaos, he couldn’t have known. No way in hell he could have known!” I growled out, as a concerned Lucy and Dave headed over to see what the post was all about.
“Oh goddammnitalltohell!” Lucy swore so fast it all seemed like one word. “At least we have some druids. Do we still have a few bits of meat from the swamp?”
“Yeah.” Dave said. “We had three or four people not turning in their drops despite the charm. Not sure what all they have though. Nothing above rare, that’s for sure.”
“KREEEEEEEE!!!!” We all nervously ducked at the cry of the raptor, watching as a massive golden bird flew over our platform and headed toward the peak coming out of the middle of the connected platform.
“Guys! GUYS!” DeathFromAbove shouted. “Did you see that? A Golden Gyreagle!”
“What’s so special about that? It’s a golden bird.” Someone snarked.
“Not just a golden bird, but the strongest flying bird mount available. It’s got speed, power, attack, and agility.”
“So go and grab it! Make it give us a ride down.”
“You can’t. They are incredibly proud, and you almost need a maxed out beast tamer skill just to get near one. Even then you only have one chance to tame it, and it maxes out at ten percent. It’s one of the only mounts nobody has acquired yet.”
“Alright, enough of that. Let’s head down to the next area and see what we can get for rides.” I said, leading the way. “Bridge looks stable enough, but let’s leave at least ten feet between people crossing it.” King started the raid across, followed soon by the other scouts. We had gotten about half of the raid across when I stepped up to Blackthumb.
“You ready to go next?” I asked, rubbing his back.
“What?” He asked, panicked. “I can’t go next, I’ll freeze up! It’ll slow everyone down!”
“Relax.” I said. “You can do it. Would it help if you turned to your ferret form and rode on my shoulders?”
“You, would do that?” He slowly turned to look at me.
“Sure thing. Transform, I’ll carry you across. You don’t have to worry.” With a relieved sigh, he quickly transformed and scurried up my armor to grab onto my shoulders. I headed out, giving the trembling ferret a reassuring pat. It took about ten minutes, but the entire raid made it across with no issues. Now we had a tough choice to make.
“Lucy, you sure you don’t have any summons that could let us get going?” Dave was asking.
“For the last time, none of my summons can grant flight. I don’t have any that can be used as mounts either, so stop asking.” She snarled at him.
“So what are we gonna OW!” Dave cried out, holding his head. “What the hell was that? An acorn?” Bending down, he picked up the offending nut. Chittering laughter came from the trees, as a few more nuts flew at the tank who immediately raised his shield in defense. The clanking raised more laughter, especially when they discovered that they could make different sounds by plinking different portions of his armor. Seconds later, and poor Dave was reduced to a walking drum set from the volleys of acorns, as his tormentors finally revealed themselves.
Legends say these air variants of squirrels are descendants of Ratatoskr. Much as their forefather enjoyed travelling up and down Yggdrasil to deliver insults, his progeny enjoy nothing more than to cause mischief. Their limited ability with air magic gives them excellent gliding abilities, and when unencumbered may even fly up to different levels of the floating isles.
“Ha!” Lucy and the other druids started laughing. “Well done Dave, well done! You’ve managed to set us up with possible rides! They are loving the metal music man, and are offering services.”
“Oh joy. I’m so thankful for their offer.” Dave deadpanned, and the largest of the squirrels darted up to stand in front of him. At that point, the size difference became quite apparent, as Dave only came up to the lower chest of the squirrel.
“Oh wow. Ratatoskrdottir says she will bear the musical one, as only she has the strength of her great, great grandfather. That’s, well that’s quite the offer Dave.”
Standing for a second, Dave craned his head back to look at the squirrel before him. “I would be proud to be carried by someone with such a legendary lineage.” Dave respectfully said, and the squirrel immediately started chittering in happiness before swirling around him several times and wrapping him with her tail. That seemed to be the signal the squirrels were looking for, as several descended into the raid and started chittering with whoever they found interesting. The druids were having a blast with their talking, answering questions.
While several of the squirrels were happily examining the raid up close, I noticed several watching from in the trees. One in particular stood out, focusing on each individual for a few minutes to see how they moved before moving on to the next one. “[Blink].” Though I appeared out of his sight, he immediately sensed me landing in the tree and turned to stare at me.
“Easy there, I just wanted to talk for a bit.” I spoke, holding my empty hands toward him palm up. “I too like to study people where I can. Especially when I need to make a decision. I think we would be a good match.” He simply turned his head to stare at me, looking me up and down. Shrugging, I let him watch a little bit before I used my agility to drop down from branch to branch until I hit the ground. I hadn’t taken but three steps when I got a notification.
Temporary contract offered!
Rothgar Lightfoot wishes to offer a temporary mount contract with you.
Duration: Until the end of the dungeon level, or end of the raid. Whichever comes first.
Acceptance: Rothgar will become your mount.
Temporary mount acquired!
You have a temporary mount! Due to special circumstances, should your mount be killed it will be available to resummons in one minute. You have also been granted two temporary skills while mounted. As this is not a full contract, Rothgar will retain much of his will while being ridden.
Summon a swirling cone of air in front of your mount to deflect incoming projectiles. Less effective on heavy or magic projectiles.
Duration: 5 seconds
Cooldown: 10 seconds
Create a boost of air to either increase your mount’s air speed or altitude.
Duration: 3 seconds
Cooldown: 30 seconds
“Thank you Rothgar.” I said as the squirrel followed me down. Heading back to the raid, I saw everyone had a mount ready to go. “Alright everyone, listen up!” I called, and was surprised when even the squirrels paid attention. “Due to the revival rules, we are going to do a roll call every time we land on a new Isle. If we have to use two resurrection skills, we will wait at least five minutes afterward so that we don’t lose a body. Everyone with me? Then let’s get going.”
“The squirrels say the first jump will have to be a teamwork jump.” Lucy spoke up in the quiet just after I had finished. “In order to safely make it, we need to use aero boost immediately. So make sure you hit it as soon as your mount leaves the ground, ok?”
Everyone easily agreed, and we headed toward the first jump. To my surprise, a plain saddle had formed on every contracted squirrel, and it automatically latched on to our legs to hold us in place. It took a bit to get used to the odd gait of the squirrels, but the quick trip had at least a third of the raid sitting comfortably. King and the other scouts volunteered to go first, and we all watched as they took off at a run and leapt into the air. They activated the skills, and we watched as the squirrels glided to the next island.
Glide being a very loose description of what they were doing. Sure, the flaps on their sides gave them a bit of air resistance, but when the squirrel is twice the size of a human it is more falling with an extended leap. The only one of the raid who wasn’t watching was Blackthumb, who had buried his head in his mount’s neck. I felt horrible, this entire level was his own personal version of hell.
“Oh that looks so fun! Let’s go! [Aero boost]!” Cinderfy cried as his mount took off as well, hollering gleefully the entire way down.
“I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna gogogogogo [Aero boost] AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” To my surprise, Blackthumb was the next to go, screaming as he clung to his mount for dear life. Turning to look at everyone else, they all had identical stunned faces.
“Damn. I don’t think I could face my fears like that.” Grandelf whispered in awe before shaking his head and joining Blackthumb in his leap. The rest of the raid followed in turn, and we started through the second island. The squirrels took us through a random route in the treetops, and we came again to a clearing at the edge of the island.
“Looks like there’s a choice.” Lucy said as her mount chittered at her. “The right route has mostly leaping transfers, but the gyrfalcons are a lot harder to dodge. The left route has more transfers along thickened vines, but there are more land based dangers and we will have to run the Monkey Gauntlet.”
“I think we need to take the left route.” I said before anyone could discuss it. “Blackthumb did great on that first jump, but we can’t hold him to that constantly.”
“I’m sorry.” He whispered, head down in embarrassment.
“None of that.” Ice Queen said, slapping the back of his head. “Everyone has fears. You’ve faced yours twice now in this dungeon, and are still here. You’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.” He looked up to see smiles on everyone’s faces, and let out a sigh of relief.
“So, to the left!” Lucy cried, letting King and the other scouts lead the way. There were several long, curving vines leading toward the next island, an island that dwarfed the first one we had come to. Our party naturally spread out a bit, leaving at least a tree between each squirrel. The squirrels were incredibly playful, darting around without much care. I was slightly worried, but aside from some annoying insects the jungle was oddly silent.
Despite the fun they were having, the squirrels were deceptively fast when traveling through the trees. In only a few minutes, we had managed to cross the island, though there was a problem when we got there. Dave’s mount was chittering animatedly, and Lucy was looking worried. She turned and started counting members of the raid, frowning.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I can’t find Peppermint. She was towards the back, but nobody has seen her for a while.”
“Jess!” I called, and the healer came over. “Jess, can you try and revive Peppermint? I have a bad feeling about things.”
“Sure.” She said. Going through the chant, we were rather shocked when a white circle appeared and deposited Peppermint’s body before she was revived.
“Oh you guys caught it! I died so suddenly I didn’t think anyone would realize.” She said.
“Yeah. Can you tell us what happened?” Lucy asked.
“I don’t know. We were travelling along, and all of a sudden I saw a massive paw in front of my face.” That got a bit of chitter from Lucy’s mount, and she grimaced.
“Well. Sandy says it was probably a night liger. They can be found on some of the isles, and love to attack from ambush.”
“Great. Are there any other dangers we need to be worried about? It would be nice to know, before, ya’know, we meet them.” I snarled.
“Nothing but night ligers on the next isle, but then we have the Monkey Gauntlet.” Lucy said.
“And just what the hell is the Monkey Gauntlet?” I asked. “They’ve mentioned it twice now.”
“I guess there are several smaller islands populated by monkeys that like to throw things at people crossing to the next big isle. As long as you don’t enrage the monkeys you’ll be fine.”
“Alright.” I replied, rubbing the bridge of my nose in annoyance. “Let’s get going. I hate this level, and really want it to be done.”
Peppermint summoned her mount again, and we had an uneventful crossing of the next island. That brought us to the gauntlet, and I was nervous. We would have to cross nearly three football fields of gauntlet territory, though nearly twenty yards at each end was empty of monkey islands. Our road? Seven trunks that twisted over and around each other as they sloped downward. There was no cover, and the monkeys already knew we were there. We could see them bouncing and jumping around on their islands, whipping themselves into a fury.
Gaia monkeys love to cause trouble, though it is more in the form of pranks than actually attacking other creatures. Should one be injured, it will enter a rage and use earth and plant magic to retaliate.
“How are we going to do this?” Dave asked, shifting in his saddle nervously.
“Put our heads down and hope for the best.” I said. “We have to leave some distance between the squirrels so they can react, so the tanks can’t cover others. We could have the mages attack, but unless the monkey is killed I have a bad feeling about how it will react. I guess we will have to use our vortex shield as much as possible.”
“Damn. I guess we should have the healers in the middle to try and protect them as much as possible.” Dave said.
“Probably.” I agreed. “Listen up everyone! Unless you are sure you can kill the monkey, don’t attack it! Healers will travel in the middle of the pack as much as possible, and we will all be using our vortex shields as much as possible. Good luck, and see you on the other side.”
There was some grumbling, but we tried to organize ourselves as best we could. I took one of the rear positions, letting King and the other scouts head out first. Perhaps they could use some archery skills for protection. With a scream from the monkey audience, we took off as fast as our mounts could go. Contrary to my expectations, the squirrels didn’t stay on one branch. They were leaping and weaving along, trying to sow as much confusion among the monkeys as possible.
The monkeys? They didn’t care. They simply reached behind themselves for ammunition and started flinging chunks of sod at us. The raid countered with vortex shields, that were incredibly effective at destroying the sod chunks and deflecting them.
“Oh god! It ain’t soil, it’s SHIT!” Grandelf shouted as he got splattered by a thrown chunk, and the horror in his voice caused the monkeys to get even more excited. The rate of incoming fire increased, and we were forced to take some attacks. The damage done was minimal, but the stench was distracting. We had nearly reached the halfway point when disaster struck.
Blackthumb was travelling behind Lucy, when her squirrel had an accident. Instead of grabbing the vine they were travelling along, her hand landed on a pile of excrement. With no grip, they slid and lost their balance, tumbling off the side.
“[Aero boost]!” She frantically cried, but the angle of her mount caused her to shoot away and fall into the clouds below. Blackthumb saw the whole thing. And freaked the hell out.
“OhnononononononoNONONONONONOOOOOO [Binding vines]!” He screamed. I’ll never know whether it was the terror from his fear of heights, or just a normal bonus from Tiamat, but what came out wasn’t vines to bind the monkeys. Instead, dark portals appeared. Erupting from the portals were long, suckered, dark green tentacles that wrapped up every single monkey on that side. I was glad for the speed of Rothgar, as I didn’t have to watch what the tentacles did to the poor monkeys for long. Just those few seconds was enough to give me nightmares for a while.
I wasn’t the only one affected by the horror. We ended up with nearly ten yards where all the monkeys were frozen in horror, before one screeched and the pelting resumed. “Screw this, I’m sick of this shit!” Cinderfy cried out. “Let’s see you handle this. [Lava bomb]!” Normally the highly explosive spell would have been highly effective against an earth based monster. If the fire didn’t kill it outright, the blast most likely would have knocked them off the isles they were on, sending them plummeting to their doom. If. The lava bomb was a lava dud, and instead came out as a measly fireball. The monkey it hit froze for a second, eyes widening in rage before it started beating its chest.
Each beat on the chest caused it to grow in size as its skin gradually turned red. Once it had nearly doubled in size, it reached behind and pulled up a massive rock, chucking it at the unsuspecting back of Cinderfy. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to cry out, I could only watch as Cinder and his mount were blasted off the path and fell to their deaths.
Luckily, those were the last of our deaths along the pathway. Grandelf had dismounted and was casting deluge spells as fast as he could to clean everyone from the monkey’s ammunition, and I headed over to Heal and Jess.
“Hey guys, need you to each do a resurrection. Cinderfy and Lucy booth fell.”
They nodded, pausing to rez the fallen members.
“Oh god, thank the devs for the falling death changes.” Lucy muttered as soon as we brought her back. Seeing our confused faces, she elaborated, “Once it was certain I had no recovery option, it kicked me out of my avatar and gave me a notification that I was going to die and to wait for resurrection. It didn’t make me fall the whole time.”
“That’s a nice relief.” I agreed. “Do we know how many more islands we have to jump to?”
“This is the last major island.” Lucy said after some conversation with her mount. “Also the last one with night ligers. After this, comes the drifting isles.”
“What in the hell are the drifting isles?”
“A bunch of smaller isles that move around the anchoring chain. They are the stepping stones to the end of the floor.”
“Any reason why we can’t use the anchor chain to run down?”
“Yeah. I guess because it is connected to the massive mana stone that powers the flight of the isles, its highly charged. Consider it a gigantic bug zapper.”
“Well. Blackthumb is going to hate this. Let’s go ahead and cross this island, we will go slow and take out any of the cats we see.”
Plan in place, we headed out. It seemed the cats didn’t like that we were far more wary this time around, as we made it across unmolested. The view down was concerning. Like Lucy had warned, the anchor chain was nearly vertical, and had bits of lightning sparking along its length. The islands we would have to jump down were circling the chain, and each was big enough for three, maybe four squirrels if everyone was very friendly. They were circling at different speeds, and none of them were connected. Some were barren of vegetation, and looked like they would be a pain in the ass to jump between.
“Lucy?” I asked.
“Trust your mounts is the only way down. If they chitter at you, use the boost skill. If you fall, don’t worry about it too much. Once you pass the point of no recovery, you are ejected from your avatar and watch it fall from a floating position. After that, it’s just waiting to be resurrected.”
“No time like the present.” I said to the raid. “See you on the other side!” I quickly turned, and yelled in glee as Rothgar took off. This was the best part of the dungeon right here. The wind whipping through my hair, how Rothgar barely paused when he hit some isles. It was the greatest roller coaster I had ever been on. The entire trip barely took a minute before we found ourselves clearing out the landing pad in front of the portal to the next area.
Turning to look, it seemed like it was invasion of the squirrel riders. The raid didn’t leave much time between members, instead opting for a leaping chain of squirrels gradually making their way down the shifting path. To my surprise there were no issues with missed islands, and everyone landed safely.
“Thank you all for your assistance.” Lucy said as we all dismounted. The squirrels chittered something in reply, then turned and started flying back up the islands as their saddles disappeared with the finishing of the temporary contract. We watched them for a minute, before turning to head to the next level.
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.