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At almost the same exact moment, a barrage of ice spikes slammed into Amis' head, shattering and sending shards of ice raining to the floor. The massive wolfkin snarled and glared at Mina, who had already begun her next cast.

Next to her, Velin was chanting, as well, and something about it unsettled Amis. Holy energy was gathering at an alarming rate around her, and the gem atop her staff was beginning to pulse with power. Sensing the growing power, Amis instinctively knew that it would be dangerous if he allowed her to continue, but, before he could do anything about it, another bolt from Thorn's arbalest came ripping in.

Like the first one, this bolt only infuriated Amis even more. Roaring with rage, he bounded toward the girls, bent on ripping them apart before that terrifying power could be unleashed!

Speeding up her chant, Mina gestured with both hands, and a large wall of ice grew from the floor, obscuring the girls from the charging boss. Amis snarled and, lowering his shoulder, smashed right through it. Chunks of ice rained down around him as he sped up. The ice wall had not even managed to buy them a second, and Mina knew it would be pointless to summon anymore.

Frustration flashed in her eyes as she saw Amis coming toward them like a freight train. He was too fast and too strong and had changed from a wimpy caster to an unstoppable juggernaut, too. Mind whirring, she ran through her options. Jorge's shadow jump was on cooldown, and Ouroboros' taunt wouldn't work on a boss. Velin was casting and couldn't be interrupted if they wanted to take the boss down.

That left her CC, but Amis had blown through her ice wall like it was paper, and he was moving too fast for blizzard to be helpful. That only left Ice Explosion. "I hate ice explosion," she thought, but that did not stop her from preparing the ability. As she was about to step forward and blow herself up to buy Velin time, a shadow fell over her, and a massive arm appeared in her vision.

Amis could almost taste the sweet blood of the little Ice Witch in front of him. He would take his time and savor it before ripping apart the beautiful elf standing right behind her! Howling with excitement, he launched himself through the air. A black line entered his sight, and everything seemed to slow down to a crawl. Despite his power and speed, he did not seem to be able to move as the line grew bigger and bigger, revealing a massive fist the size of his head. He blinked, and then it hit him.

With a sickening crunch, the fist landed on his jaw, smashing it into pieces. Amis was sent flying to the side, his head tilted at an impossible angle and his jaw hanging loose. Tumbling across the floor, he only stopped when he hit the stone wall hard enough to shake the whole building. It was almost three seconds before he could scramble to his feet, and when he did, he found himself once again facing the unified group.

Ouroboros had retaken his spot in the front lines with Mina and Jorge flanking him. Velin was still chanting behind him, the ball of energy on the end of her staff growing stronger with each word. Behind all of them, Thorn had reloaded his arbalest and was taking aim.

Confused as to what had happened, Amis shook his head to clear it, sending waves of pain through his head as his broken jaw shifted. In his enraged state, the wolfkin boss grew even more aggressive, brandishing his claws as he howled at the party. Seeing that Ouroboros was standing in front again, Amis sneered and charged forward to meet him.

The last time they had clashed, the Holy Guardian had been sent flying, and Amis intended to repeat the performance! Ouroboros, on the other hand, was not quite as keen. As a Main Tank, the fall from earlier had bruised his ego as much as his body, and he was not about to let it happen again. Because of the angle, he had not seen how Mina and Velin had deflected the wolfkin boss but, regardless, he was determined to stop Amis this time.

This time, instead of charging like he had done before, Ouroboros took two large steps forward and planted himself in Amis' way. Rather than tightening up his defenses as he had against the six enraged wolfkin earlier, he held himself at the ready, his shield up in front of him. Within seconds, the snarling visage of the boss filled his view, and a wicked looking claw swept in, smashing into his shield.

As soon as he felt the impact, Ouroboros took two quick steps backward, his feet slamming into the ground to help displace some of the energy from the strike. At the same time, he let the power of the strike flow through him before tightening up his body and armor, dispersing the extra energy. Despite the floor being made of stone, small cracks radiated out from where his feet had landed, giving testament to how hard the blow had been.

Gritting his teeth, Ouroboros shook his body to get rid of the lingering tension and smashed forward, bashing with his shield as he activated one of his skills. Caught off guard when the Holy Guardian did not fly away, Amis could only lift his arms to try and protect himself from the large shield. Despite being stronger than his opponent, he had been forced to stop, and so his momentum was at its lowest, resulting in Amis being sent reeling.

Off balance, the wolfkin scrambled to get his feet back under him when a sharp pain lanced through his ankle. Looking down, he saw a serious-faced dwarf trying his best to cut through his Achilles tendon. Like the last time the dwarf had attacked him, as soon as Amis turned to deal with him, ice spikes began to fly toward him. The last time they had shattered off of his tough skin, but this time the blasted things were aimed at his already broken jaw.

With a howl of rage, he lifted his hands to protect his fragile jaw while kicking out at the offending dwarf. Yet Ouroboros would not let him do what he wanted, and another shield bash flew in, keeping him off balance. At the same time, another annoying bolt shot in, this time landing deep in his side, under his ribs. Furious, Amis snapped the bolt in half and glared at the giant who was already loading another!

A chill ran down his back, cutting through the burning rage clouding his mind. Amis' gaze snapped to the elven War Priestess, who had finished her long chant. With a single word, Velin stepped forward as the burning light on top of her staff condensed down into a single beam. Despite his wish to move out of the way of that deadly looking attack, Amis found his body would not respond the way he wished.

Shooting out of the top of her staff, a white line appeared, connecting Velin with Amis and burning straight through his large, muscled chest. Thorn could feel the destructive energy radiating off of the beam of light from where he was standing and, once again, vowed to himself that he would not get on Velin’s bad side.

Dumbfounded, the boss could only stare down at the large hole in his chest where his heart used to be. Looking up, he tried to speak, but his broken jaw turned it into gibberish as he fell to the ground, dead.

"Whew." Mina breathed a sigh of relief as she collapsed to the ground, exhausted. "That was so tense! Ouroboros, what happened? Why did you get knocked away?"

"Yeah, what was up with that?" Jorge chimed in.

"Hey, you have no room to talk," quibbled Mina, turning to stare at the dwarf who had appeared behind the boss' corpse. "You didn’t do a thing the whole fight."

"Alright, that is enough," said Ouroboros, his tone dark. "We did not anticipate that change and were caught off guard."

"I'll say," Mina rolled her eyes.

"I said enough!" Ouroboros glared at her, his tone brooking no argument. "Velin, how are you doing? Do you need time to rest?"

"Yes. It would be a good idea."

"Let's deal with the body and then rest for a bit. We'll pick back up in twenty minutes," Ouroboros said, planting his shield on the ground.

Walking over to the body of the wolfkin, Thorn poked around to see if he could find anything of value. Another broken silver holy symbol appeared along with some gold and a couple potions. The only thing he found that was out of the ordinary was a piece of paper with what looked like a recipe on it. At least that is what he assumed it was. The paper was written in the same language that the wolfkin all used, so Thorn could only judge by the way the paper was formatted.

Knowing Velin would be interested, he dropped it off with her and then, after a quick look around the room, sat down to eat some food. Jorge had found a small chest buried under the rubble that had once been a stone throne and was working on getting it open. Velin was resting while looking at the piece of paper Thorn had found, and Ouroboros was cleaning his sword and shield.

"Hey, thanks for saving me."

Somewhat startled by the quiet voice, Thorn raised his head. Mina stood next to him, twisting her wand in her hands.

"If you hadn’t knocked him away, he would have killed both me and Velin before Ouroboros could have gotten there."

"Of course," said Thorn with a smile. "We're teammates, it's what I should do."

"Yeah," Mina gave a strained smile. "Anyway, thanks."

Watching the short Ice Witch walk away, Thorn was puzzled by the exchange but quickly threw it out of his mind and started thinking through the fight they had won. Up until this point, Ouroboros and his team had walked over every enemy they had encountered with considerable ease. In fact, Thorn had been beginning to doubt that they found the game difficult at all.

With impeccable teamwork and powerful classes, the fights so far had been effortless. That had changed today when they met Amis. The beginning of the fight had gone as Thorn had expected, but once Amis changed into his hulking form, the whole situation had gone downhill fast. Caught off guard, Ouroboros had made the wrong call and charged forward to engage, resulting in the Holy Guardian being knocked out of the way, leaving Mina and Velin exposed.

At least Velin had the presence of mind to start chanting her most powerful spell. If she had not, the fight would have dragged on for that much longer. Amis had been powerful in his hulk form, and none of the others had been able to get past his defenses to hurt him. With the exception of Thorn, of course. Staring down at his fist, Thorn could not help but shake his head. He still didn’t completely understand how his strength worked in this game. His punch had not been that hard, rather he had thrown a warding strike, designed to throw the opponent off balance in order to stop their forward momentum.

"Oh wait, my logs." thought Thorn.

Pulling up his combat logs, Thorn scrolled back through them. Combat logs were common to most adventure games, and kept track of all that happened during a fight, especially abilities used at crucial points. In Nova Terra’s immersive environment Thorn had almost completely forgotten about them, but they were a useful source of information in a game that hid most abilities. Thorn soon found the point in his log where he had hit the charging wolfkin.

Unarmed Strike: Attacking strength exceeds defending strength: Crushing Blow activated
Attacking strength exceeds defending strength by a factor of 5 or more: Crushing Blow x 5

Opening up a browser window, it did not take Thorn long to figure out what had happened. A crushing blow did damage that ignored all defenses and applied a knockback effect. Because Thorn’s strength was much higher than Amis’, his warding blow had sent the werewolf flying.

After the twenty minutes had passed, the group got to their feet and gathered at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the next floor. From the size of the building, Velin had estimated that there were at least five floors, and they had made it through the first floor. Looking at Ouroboros' serious expression, it was obvious that he was not very happy with their performance so far.

If it had not been for Thorn stepping in at a vital moment, the party might have wiped. Even if they did not all die, they would have lost the girls, at the very least, which made Ouroboros quite upset. For an elite team like theirs, it was embarrassing to think that they almost died by the hands (or claws, in this case) of the first boss in a dungeon. Taking a deep breath, Ouroboros gave out directions.

"Jorge, you are responsible for scouting, I'll tank, Velin is on healing and Mina will cover DPS. Keep to your roles unless I call a rotate. We don't know what sorts of enemies we'll face, but we should be fine if it is more wolfkin. However, if we hit undead or spirits, Mina and Velin will swap since holy damage will be more effective. I'll take point, and Jorge will watch our backs. Everyone have their enchants up? Remember to watch for ambushes. So far this dungeon has been pretty straightforward, but we don't want to let our guard down."

Throwing a stiff smile toward Thorn, who was listening with interest, he continued. "Thorn, you'll stay behind whoever is playing DPS to add ranged damage. This means you'll be behind Mina while we are going up against wolfkin and Velin if we run into any undead. If we meet with spirits, your bolts will not do anything because they are immune to damage from unenchanted weapons, so stay far enough away that you don't draw their attention. We are going to be speeding up to make sure we can push through in a timely manner using a system called Clean and Sweep for dealing with a room at the end of the fight. So, when you hear me say clean and sweep, you can get to picking up all the drops. Focus on high-value drops, as there will be limited time for picking stuff up."

Nodding that he understood, Thorn followed the rest of them as they walked up the stairs to the second floor, which looked almost exactly like the first floor. Ouroboros called for them to stop while Jorge ranged ahead. Once he signaled that they were good to proceed, the group made its way farther in, Jorge advancing in the front in order to handle traps and lone guards.

Their first major fight on the second floor came when Jorge spotted a patrol of six black-robed wolfkin who were on their way out of a room, walking straight down a long hall off the one the party was in. After reporting this back to Ouroboros, they picked a corner to launch their attack from and set up an ambush. Seeing the quick and disciplined action of the party, Thorn couldn't help but be impressed. Once the group got serious, they worked with incredible precision. Even Mina, far from her normal chatty self, seemed focused and serious.

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WildCard

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.

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