As always, the team's response was impeccable and instantaneous. One of the figures only made it two steps before collapsing as Jorge's figure appeared behind them in a silent explosion of shadow. Mina slid to the side on a sheet of ice that appeared beneath her feet, avoiding a stab, as she started to chant while Velin waved her staff, causing Ouroboros, who was charging forward, to light up. With a satisfying crunch, Ouroboros smashed his shield into the two robed figures in the front, sending them flying off their feet and into the stone wall.
Rotating, the Holy Guardian roared out a challenge at the robed enemy chasing after Mina, who turned as if by magic and charged toward Ouroboros. ‘That must be some sort of taunt,' thought Thorn as he watched the team taking their enemies apart. The rest of the fight took less than a minute, ending when Mina dropped the last enemy with an ice spike.
Once the fight was over, Thorn stepped up, glad to finally have something to do. Walking up to the bodies, he crouched and pulled the dark robe off of one of the corpses, revealing a scarred wolfkin. Unlike the wolfkin they had killed in the tunnel before the valley, these wolfkin had dirty silver fur, stained with old blood and grime. Curious, Thorn looked at the others.
"Looks like some sort of cultist or acolyte," said Velin, walking over and prodding the corpse with the end of her staff. "Look for some sort of religious symbol."
Sure enough, after digging through the dead wolfkin's waist pouch, Thorn found a small token with cracks on it. The token was round, made of silver, and Thorn could see the silhouette of a howling wolf under the deep crack. Handing it to Velin to look at, he kept searching but did not find anything else.
"Interesting. I'm guessing that these wolfkin served Hati at one point. The symbol of the howling wolf against a round moon would match. But they must have fallen out of favor or betrayed the Moon Wolf, causing their tokens to crack. Hmm. We'll have to keep our eye out for more information. Info about a lost god could be valuable."
"Alright, let's keep rolling," Ouroboros said, taking the token from Velin to look at. "This seems like it is shaping up to be a corrupted altar sort of dungeon, so we'll want to keep a heads up for possible ways to purify it. It is also getting increasingly likely we will be getting a solid class out of this, so we need to keep our heads in the game. We handled these guys pretty well, but if we are going up against ranged fighters or casters, we will need to adjust. Thorn, we're going to count on you to help deal with ranged threats with that massive crossbow of yours. Coordinate with Jorge so you are not doubling up on targets. Remember, no need to rush this, slow and steady keeps us alive."
Hearing Ouroboros say that he could participate in the upcoming fights made Thorn so excited that he almost forgot to loot the other three corpses. Rifling through their belongings, Thorn tossed their whole pouch in his inventory and then stood back up, his arbalest out and ready, much to Mina's amusement.
"You know we are going to fight, and not eat, right, big guy?" Mina poked him with her wand.
Despite her teasing, Thorn checked over the parts of his weapon the way Janus had taught him. Once he was sure the firing mechanism was in working order, he stood at the back of the group and waited to proceed. Despite thinking to himself that he would do much better fighting on the front lines like Ouroboros, Thorn did not want to disrupt the group's normal way of doing things, so he tried to be as understanding as possible.
The first floor of the dungeon turned out to be much the same, a series of rooms containing between two and six enemies, all armed with long daggers. Nothing out of the ordinary presented itself, and Jorge and Thorn's cooperation became better and better as they practiced. It even got to the point where they were able to take down groups of four enemies before the rest of the group could even engage.
Jorge would always take the enemy to the farthest right, and Thorn would start with the enemy the farthest left. Once they were done, they would move in, toward the center. At first, Jorge assigned Thorn to one enemy, but Thorn's reload speed was fast enough that he could generally fire two shots before Jorge was done with his mobs.
The only issue was the immense destructive potential of the bolts that Thorn's arbalest used. Unlike normal arrows that would stick into an enemy and make them bleed, these bolts either ripped their unfortunate victims apart or nailed them to the stone wall. The party had seen one of the bolts in action when Thorn had shot the armored wolfkin in the tunnel, but it was not until they saw the bolt stab six inches into the stone wall that they realized how fast it was actually going.
The bolts would slam into the robed wolfkin, sending them flying back through the air like a kite with its string cut. After one bolt landed in a particularly unlucky wolfkin's shoulder and ripped his arm completely off, Mina could not take it anymore and made a gagging motion.
"Thorn, do you really have to break them into pieces like that?" Mina complained.
"Ah, sorry. I was aiming for his chest, but he moved."
"Ug, so bloody. Why don't you let me deal with them from now on? I'll be able to do it much cleaner, and you won't waste ammo."
"It’s okay, I have plenty of bolts. I still have almost 1200, actually."
"Are you serious?" Velin cut in, her eyes moving between Thorn and the massive bolt that had nailed the poor wolfkin to the floor. "The bolts weigh, what, 15 pounds?"
"The shaft is nine pounds the metal head adds three and a half pounds," nodded Thorn.
"You are carrying 1200 twelve and a half pound bolts, in addition to all the stuff you are carrying for us?"
"Yeah. Just under. This game's weight reduction is something, huh?"
Without replying, Velin looked at Ouroboros.
"Regardless, next time I'm going to attack. Your arrows are way too bloody," said Mina, getting out her wand and holding it up in front of her.
"Please, Thorn is much better than you at ranged combat. His bolts don't take up mana, he fires faster, and they are all one hit kills. Compared to that, your ice spikes are terrible," argued Jorge, ever ready to give the Ice Witch a hard time.
As the three of them moved toward the next room, bickering as they went, Ouroboros and Velin stayed a bit farther back. Ouroboros' face was pale, his hands gripping the top of his shield as it rested on the ground. Velin's face was as grave as ever as she watched him. With a shake of his head, Ouroboros gave her a determined smile and picked up his shield, walking after the others.
"This is looking worse and worse," muttered Velin under her breath as she watched Ouroboros' back.
After a couple more rooms, the hallway widened out, and a large metal door appeared. Even Thorn could tell that this was the boss room. Since this was a new dungeon, and they had no idea what to expect, Ouroboros decided to take a conservative approach, directing everyone to stand in a defensive formation. Mina and Velin stood in the center with Ouroboros in front and Jorge a few steps back and off to the side. Thorn, like always, towered over everyone in the back, his arbalest ready.
‘Being tall sure is convenient for shooting over allies,' Thorn thought to himself as Ouroboros opened the door.
Inside the boss room a large, robed wolfkin sat on a big throne, surrounded by seven of the smaller wolfkin in black robes they had been fighting on their way here. The larger wolfkin's robe was a deep green, and his clawed hand held a long, smooth staff with a cracked holy symbol on top of it. Bloodshot eyes stared from beneath the dark green cowl, and with a cackling laugh, he welcomed the party into the room.
"Muahaha, welcome." His voice was pitched higher than was comfortable, creating an eerie atmosphere. "You have done well to make it here to the Fallen Moon Temple!"
Just as he finished his last word, Mina nudged Thorn, who accidentally pulled the trigger on his arbalest, sending a bolt whooshing past the large wolfkin, straight through the head of one the smaller wolfkin that surrounded him.
"Gaaah!" screamed the green-robed wolfkin, jumping so high in his fright that he nearly tumbled off of his throne. Dropping his staff and waving both of his hands, a magical crimson shield sprang up in front of him as he looked nervously at the massive crossbow in Thorn's hands.
"Sorry. Sorry. I did not mean to interrupt." Thorn waved his hand at the large wolfkin. "Please continue."
"Uh, yes. As I was saying. Uh..." It took a moment for the green-robed wolfkin to get himself back under control. "You have done well to make it to here, Fallen Temple Moon! I mean, Fallen Moon Temple!"
"Do you need a moment?"
"Ah, yes, thank you." Taking a deep breath, the large wolfkin clutched the throne's armrest, his other clawed hand resting on his chest. After a couple of deep breaths, he took up his staff again, rising from his chair. "You have profaned this holy hall and must be punished for your insolence. I, Amis, will punish you!" he screeched, seeming to have regained his composure.
Stabbing his staff forward, he began to chant in a foreign tongue, threads of bloody light pouring from the corrupted holy symbol on its end. Each thread floated in the air for a second before being inhaled by the black-robed wolfkin that surrounded him. With roars, their bodies began to grow, ripping out of their robes until they were a head taller than the green-robed wolfkin.
Seeing them change, Ouroboros lifted his shield and drew his sword, leveling it at the transformed wolfkin.
"Engage at will!"
More than happy to comply, Thorn leveled his crossbow again and pulled the trigger, sending a bolt flying into the chest of one of the enlarged wolfkin. In an amazing display of reaction, the large brute spun to the side as the bolt approached, causing it to slam into his right shoulder rather than his chest. With a deep roar of pain, the hulking wolfkin staggered back a couple steps before launching himself toward Thorn, murder in his eyes.
"Watch out, these guys are tough!" shouted Velin, casting a buff on the whole group.
"Means it'll be more fun." replied Mina, throwing up an ice wall in the path of the oncoming wolfkin.
"Jorge, finish the wounded. Mina, get your DPS going. Heals on me. Thorn, try to occupy the caster." Ouroboros barked out commands. "Come on!" With his last roar, the six charging wolfkin paused before turning to rush toward him.
Seeing that the wolfkin were heading after Ouroboros, Thorn loaded up another bolt and aimed at the green-robed wolfkin, who was jumping around and chanting. Despite aiming at the hopping wolfkin, Thorn's first shot missed by almost two feet. The bolt ripped through the air and hit the top of the throne, breaking it off with a crack.
"Ahhhhhh!" screamed Amis, abandoning his chant and ducking in fear as he felt the shockwave of the bolt whooshing through the air. Hearing the crack of the stone moments after as the bolt smashed into the throne, Amis panicked. Screeching like his fur was on fire, Amis waved his hand, summoning his blood-red shield. He dashed behind the remains of the throne, crouching down to make himself a smaller target. Peeking out from behind the crumbling stone, Amis caught sight of Thorn leveling his arbalest, another bolt loaded.
While Thorn and Amis were playing peekaboo around the ruins of the throne, Ouroboros was holding off the six hulking wolfkin. Like a turtle, when a Holy Guardian tightened up their defenses, they became nigh invulnerable. Despite the ferocious attacks from the raging wolfkin, Ouroboros stood as firm as a rock. While his armor was thick, it was his skillful use of his shield and sword that allowed him to block the incoming claws and daggers.
Behind Ouroboros, Velin chanted, calling down healing energy on the Holy Guardian. Next to her, Mina shot ice spike after ice spike into the attackers. Focusing on the wolfkin that had been shot already, it only took Mina six shots to cause it to collapse to the ground, switching her attacks to another until it fell as well. As they fell, Jorge appeared next to them, slicing across their throats before disappearing back into the air.
One by one the wolfkin attacking Ouroboros fell to Mina and Jorge's precision attacks until only one remained. Behind the throne, Amis was still cowering, doing his best not to reveal himself to Thorn, who had taken to demolishing the rest of the throne, one bolt at a time. When he finally mustered up the courage to look around the edge of the pile of stone, Amis saw the five players standing together, his minions collapsed all over the floor in pools of blood.
"How could you beat them?!" he howled, his eyes turning red. His high pitched voice began to deepen as his arms and shoulders began to swell. "Those were my servants, not yours! How could you kill them like that?!" The green robe began to give way at the seams, bristles of fur popping out as it ripped.
Madness consuming him, he strode forward, throwing down his the staff as massive claws grew from his fingers. Red mist poured into him with each step, his form rippling with muscle and savage fury. The closer he got to the group, the large he grew, until he could almost see eye to eye with Thorn.
"I'll kill you! I'll flay your skin from your body and destroy you!"
"Uh oh," said Jorge, backing up and readying his daggers.
"This looks like trouble." Mina lifted her wand.
"Don't let him take the initiative!" commanded Ouroboros, and with a motion to the elf behind him, he dashed forward to intercept Amis. Seeing his signal, Velin chanted, bestowing a blessing on Ouroboros, increasing his armor.
Thorn aimed and fired, but this time his bolt did not even slow the enraged wolfkin at all. With a solid thwack, the bolt landed on Amis' chest, but he did not seem to feel it as he bounded forward to meet Ouroboros' charge. Lashing out with a massive claw, Amis hit Ouroboros' shield, sending the Holy Guardian tumbling across the floor. Jorge appeared behind him but was forced to immediately dodge away as the wolfkin turned to slash at him with uncanny speed. There were now no defenders between the enraged Amis and the team’s casters.
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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.