By the door, Mina was finishing up the last rune, and Thorn realized they were about to begin the opening spell. While it looked like the runes that Mina had drawn were scattered around the door, what happened next proved otherwise. Standing a few feet away, Mina lifted her hands, palms toward the door. Taking a deep breath, she began to spit out arcane words, each word causing one of the runes drawn on the door to light up.
As they glowed, the runes started floating off of the door to gather in the air. As the different runes rotated in the air, glowing lines of energy raced to connect them, forming mysterious overlapping geometric shapes. To Thorn's untrained eye the symbols were incomprehensible, but he still found them fascinating. Mina finished igniting the last rune before to turning Velin, who was still standing to the side calculating something.
"Alright, we're ready."
"Okay. The first position is thetra, kal, emix, housan, rou," said Velin, looking up from her paper.
Listening as Velin rattled off the arcane words, Mina swung her wand, rotating the runes to different positions in the air. Once the shapes had been moved to the proper position, she pointed to five runes in succession. The runes, each on different shapes, glowed brighter, forming a mysterious constellation in the air.
"Ready for the next set," said Mina with a deep breath, wiping away the sweat that was trickling down her cheek.
Over the next two hours, Velin read out rune combinations, and Mina rotated the shapes to light up new constellations. It was tiring work, but halfway through, Velin cast a rejuvenation spell on the Ice Witch so she could keep working. Finally, they were done, and the runes began to flash. One by one the constellations they had marked out began to flash as the magical rune shapes spun on their own.
Faster and faster, they pulsed in the air, until they began to blur together into a single complex rune. Jorge stepped behind Thorn as the girls made their way behind Ouroboros, who had readied his shield. At Thorn's questioning look, Mina looked grim.
"If we didn't get it completely right, it might be trapped. Even if we did get it right, it might be trapped. Plus we have no idea what is behind the door. I'd brace yourself," she explained.
Thorn watched the door as the glow continued to brighten. When it was getting difficult to look at, there was an abrupt noise.
Jumping, Thorn braced himself and waited for the coming explosion. And waited. And waited. Instead of a rushing force, what came were peals of laughter from Mina who had been watching Thorn.
"Haha, you jumped so high!" Mina gasped in between her giggles. Seeing the rest of the party smirking, Thorn realized the Ice Witch had been playing a trick on him and blushed, rubbing his head in embarrassment.
"The one thing Mina was right about is that we don't know what is behind the door. Everyone fall in," commanded Ouroboros. "Mina, watch for mana flux, Jorge get ready to jump."
Squaring up, Thorn got his arbalest out and loaded a bolt while Ouroboros stepped next to the door and pushed. The unlocked metal door inched open, revealing beams of sunlight that streamed into the tunnel. Fully open, no threats were apparent, so the group walked forward, out of the tunnel and into the sunlight.
As they left the tunnel, the land in front of them opened into a peaceful green valley. Sloping hills dotted with woods rolled between the sheer cliffs of the canyon walls that opened up before them. Widening to almost a mile across, the canyon walls were smooth and unbroken. The ground dipped down into a hollow in the center of the valley, a ruined city sprawled out in somber silence.
"Whoa," Mina exclaimed, gazing wide-eyed at the little world that stretched out before them.
"That must be Dayvos' final retreat. The place where he fled before he died," said Velin.
Together, they walked toward the city, admiring the peace of the valley. Ancient stone buildings, spotted with age, rose from weed-eaten cobblestone streets as decaying wooden shutters creaked to and fro in the soft breeze. True to their expectations, they did not spot any more of the Wolfkin they had found in the tunnel.
"It's so quiet, though," Thorn said.
"It is quiet. The city has been abandoned for hundreds, if not thousands, of years."
"Can't have been," Thorn replied, shaking his head and pointing. "Wooden shutters wouldn't last for more than ten to fifteen years, even if they had paint, which they don't. If the city was last occupied a thousand years ago, nature would have reclaimed it. Or at least overgrown it. The fact that we can still see most of the cobblestone means that the city was occupied more recently. I'd imagine that it hasn't been more than five or six years since people lived here."
"Hmmm. Why don't we spread out and look around?" suggested Ouroboros. "Give a shout if you find anything of interest."
Agreeing to meet up at a large building in the center of the city, everyone scattered and began to explore. Thorn found a building with some large columns that looked interesting. A barely readable sign in an ancient language proclaimed its use, but Thorn couldn't read it. Based on the faded picture of what looked like a book, Thorn assumed it was a library of some sort and pushed open the hole-ridden doors.
The doors were quite large, so he did not have to duck as he walked into the building. Looking around, he found himself in a large open hall with a desk set to one side. Large double doors beyond the desk revealed a massive room filled with shelves of moth-eaten books. Stairs in the middle of the back wall led up to a second-floor balcony that ran around the whole room, leaving the middle of the room open.
Counting fifty bookshelves on the bottom floor and another twenty on the second story balcony, Thorn wandered over to a shelf and rapped on the wood. The wooden shelf still felt strong, a testament to how well sealed the library had been over the years. For the most part, the books seemed to be in pretty good shape, but every single book that Thorn pulled off of the shelf was written in the same ancient language that he had seen on the sign.
Out of habit, Thorn tossed the book he had picked up into his inventory as he continued to browse. Along one wall, Thorn did find a large map and a rack of scrolls that he put in his inventory. The map was made of some sort of treated hide and showed many details of the surrounding area. Based on what Thorn could tell, it seemed to be the valley and the area north of Berum. A brief examination showed the location of the city of Berum, which reinforced Thorn's idea that this city had been occupied within the last ten years.
Berum had been around for at least one hundred and fifty years, but the division of the city into four quadrants had only happened fourteen years ago when the current Castilian took over. Seeing that the map had the four quarters of the city marked out, Thorn could guarantee that it had been made within those fourteen years.
‘So why was it abandoned?' wondered Thorn to himself. ‘The legends of Davyos go back thousands of years, and that ancient map that Velin scrounged up was that old. Or at least a couple of hundred years old. What could cause a whole city to be abandoned like this?'
The fact that the books were still on the shelves and the map was still on the wall indicated that the city had been abandoned in a hurry without the time to pack everything up. Growing more and more curious, Thorn closed the doors and continued to explore the city. Wandering down a street, he peeked in a couple of the homes that lined it. Most of them were very similar in their layout but empty.
In the distance, Thorn could hear the rest of the group moving around, but otherwise, the city had no sign of life. Over the next hour, as he poked around the buildings on his way to the center of the city, Thorn did not find anything as exciting as the library. He did find a street of what looked like potion shops, but apart from fancy glass tubing, there was nothing of particular interest.
The center of the city was dominated by a hulking stone building set in an open courtyard almost a thousand feet across. The tall building towered over the rest of the buildings in the city that were two stories high, at most. Broad steps covered the front of the building, leading up to a wide landing with thick marble columns that stretched for the first two stories.
Massive metal doors, that mirrored the doors that Velin and Mina had opened in the tunnel, were set in the thick stone walls. Looking around, Thorn could not see any windows or other openings on the massive building. There was a certain barbarity to the rough-hewn stone, and a close examination of the walls and stairs revealed thin red veins running through the grey stone. The building was quite different from the rest of the city, though Thorn had seen traces of this style in some of the other buildings he had passed by.
It was almost as if the city had been built up around this massive edifice. However, without a reliable way to date all of the structures, Thorn could only assume that the large building predated the rest of the city. Hearing a whistle from behind him, Thorn looked back to see Jorge stroll out of an alleyway, gazing up at the big building in astonishment.
"Woooeee. That is one big building," Jorge scratched his chin as he stared at it, his eyes lighting up. "I bet it’s a dungeon."
"Man, you never disappoint, do you, noob?" Shaking his head at Thorn's ignorance, the dwarf explained. "Dungeons are specialized instances that can be entered over and over again to gain rewards."
"Yeah, obviously," Thorn rolled his eyes. "Is there anything special about them?"
"Haha, yeah. In this world, dungeons run a bit differently than in normal games. In most games, a dungeon resets every time you run it, which means the spawns, difficulty, and rewards are fixed. You get the same experience every time. Nova Terra is a bit different because nothing resets. Instead, dungeons in Nova Terra tend to evolve. For instance: let's say that there is an evil wizard at the bottom of this dungeon. Or top, since it is a tower.
"If we roll through the tower and whack the wizard, the next group of people who come through may find out that the wizard has become a lich. Or maybe they kill the lich and, the next run, it turns out that a group of priests have taken over the tower but have been corrupted by the residual evil magic. Or some such nonsense. Regardless, things in this game follow the same pattern as the world. Everything we do causes other things to happen, so what we do in a dungeon sets up the next dungeon."
"What if we destroyed the building?" asked Thorn after pondering Jorge's words for a few minutes.
"I dunno. Nothing might happen. In that case, we would get a small amount of credit for ‘razing' the dungeon, but anyone who found out would hate us. But maybe, after enough time had passed, an evil monster would take up residence in the ruins and a new dungeon would be formed. It all depends on what Eve wants to do."
After a few minutes, the whole group gathered together on the steps of the huge building. Velin, who had arrived before Ouroboros and Mina, stood next to the large metal door scanning it for magic traps. After determining that the door was not locked or trapped, she called Ouroboros up and had him open the door.
Thorn had volunteered, but the elven War Priestess had smiled and patted him on the arm. Despite his best efforts, the team seemed reluctant to let him help in any way, apart from being a porter, which made Thorn frustrated. Still, he was glad to be able to tag along with them, so he did not try to push his luck for fear they would not be comfortable letting him stay.
Ouroboros made sure the others were in position before pulling the door open to reveal a blank, empty room.
"See, dungeon," said Jorge to Thorn, who was behind him. "The first room of a dungeon is always empty. It’s a staging room."
As the group entered the building, Thorn heard the soft ding of a notification and looked down.
Dungeon: Hati's Ascent
You have discovered the ancient temple of Hati, the Moon Wolf, where the Devil Blood Berserker Davyos gained his power and fell. Eons have passed since Davyos betrayed his pledge to the divine Moon Wolf, and the corruption brought by his betrayal has warped the temple. Proceed at your own risk.
"Hati? Wait, I thought that Davyos got his power from Karrandaras, that archdevil guy," Mina said after reading the notification.
"That is what I thought, as well." Ouroboros furrowed his brow. "Velin? Any thoughts?"
"Give me a moment." Velin retrieved a small, leather-bound book from her inventory and flipped through it. After a couple minutes, she sighed and closed it, shaking her head. "Too much information is missing. We know that the Devil Blood Berserker Davyos served as Karrandaras' avatar. Maybe he did so after being Hati the Moon Wolf's avatar? But I've never heard of Hati before, so there is no way to determine what happened. Most likely we'll find out more as we go through the dungeon."
Nodding, Ouroboros commanded everyone to get into position, and they moved out of the staging room onto the first floor of the dungeon. Excited about his first venture into a dungeon, Thorn looked around with interest. What met Thorn's gaze could not have been simpler: a stone passageway stretched twenty feet to a stone room, light from torches placed four feet apart providing ample light.
As they walked into the room, Jorge took to the front to check for traps. The first room was as simple as the hallway they had passed through, holding a small pedestal with a book opened on top of it. With no visible exit and no dangers apart from boredom, the group split up to look for the way forward. Thorn copied Ouroboros and Mina, who were knocking on the walls to see if there were any hidden doors. Meanwhile, Jorge checked out the pedestal while Velin looked at the book. Seeing that it was in a language that she had never seen before, she shrugged and put it away.
Jorge found a switch and, with a grinding crunch, a section of the wall depressed and slid aside to reveal another hallway. However, as the group started to gather, four robed figures armed with bucklers and short spears with wide, leaf-shaped blades rushed out. With hoarse cries, they attacked.
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Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.