While Zoey focused her efforts on the hidden stash, we went to the slime dungeon. Yet, the place was empty. Nothing moved on the first level, not a slime, not a glop. I looked down the spiraling stone stairwell, it petered out into darkness. Globba ran down to the next level.
I had serious doubts -- this smelled like a trap. I turned to Estra to suggest an alternative.
"Well?" Estra glowered at me, and motioned with the cane down the stairwell.
I winced, and took a probing step forward. The stone was smooth and sleek with slime. I feared if we slipped we wouldn't stop until we hit bottom. No handrail - I didn't like that either.
Eager to get the cannon and make gunpowder I had insisted that clearing and destroying the dungeon core was our absolute number one priority. We argued, we shouted. She wanted to focus on the stash so as to make mana potions, and was utterly sceptical of my claims about the cannon and gunpowder. In the end, I had 'won' the argument, and was still paying for it.
I took another step while keeping a hand against the wall for support. Our feet were bigger than the steps, making it awkward. The spiral staircase went around in circles enough times for me to wonder when it would ever end.
Finally, we found Globba napping at the bottom. She showed no outward signs of caution or care. A large metal door greeted us at the foyer outside the stairwell, a head shorter than us, thick and sturdy, was left half-open. We slid past the door sideways - the hinges of the door were rusted shut preventing it from opening fully, and entered a large stone chamber with a multitude of supporting columns. The tall ceiling included hanging braziers down the center illuminating the area in an ominous red light, stretching on for several hundred meters ahead.
Like pockets on a billiard table, pitfalls were constructed against the walls on all sides. And more laid in wait about the entire floor area strewn about randomly. I had a strong urge to write this place up for reckless disregard of fall hazards, even though I had a lurking suspicion they'd take it as a compliment.
Nothing moved, the place was vacant. A menacing silence hung in the air. I glanced back the way we came in, and regretted calling Estra a coward during the argument. I wasn't going to live that one down any time soon.
"Is this normal? What happened to all the slimes?" I asked.
Estra looked at me with narrowed eyes, lips pursed. "We're gonna find out, aren't we." She didn't phrase it as a question.
We tiptoed forward, glancing from side to side. Estra sent a ball of light down one of the pitfalls. No spikes, but no visible bottom either.
We didn’t get far when we heard a loud clang, as if a mechanism was activated, followed by a number of clicking sounds. The very structure rumbled under our feet. That’s when I noticed subtle oval grooves indented in the stone floor, several feet across, as if created by some odd steamroller.
We braced for any sudden attack, heart pounding in our chest, my eyes darted about the chamber. I gripped my shield tighter.
The rumbling died down, the clicking sounds grew sporadic and few. Nothing happened. Yet, something was still afoot, I could hear dragging sounds along a stone floor. We waited in caution, and I wondered if anything would even happen.
Estra eyed the ceiling from where the sound was coming from. "On second thought-"
The trap sprung. But very slowly, and with ear piercing screech, as if hundreds of old rusted iron gate hinges cried out for oil. The door to the stairwell behind us slammed shut, broke off the wall and almost hit us on the way down.
“Oh, kitty poop.” Estra whimpered, and the chamber came alive with a shudder, followed by a loud clang and a clattering noise like something snapped.
The door panels on the wedge shaped ceiling opened up like skylight windows. Well, a few did, most stayed closed while the rest only managed to open a smidgen. I could taste the metal as rust was dusting down from above. It bet this trap worked great before, and was marvelous, but now I was almost disappointed by its catastrophic failure. A surprise party a century in waiting. I half expected for skeletons to fall out of the opened panels.
“This is what happens when you neglect periodic maintenance.” I spoke up loudly to no one in particular. “Things stops working.”
The dust settled, the place grew silent. We turned around to the fallen metal door. Covered in rust, it was one meter wide by two meters tall and solid 1 cm thick with reinforced edges. I could barely budge it, let alone lift it. Globba tried picking it up but only managed to lift a corner. I had a perfect idea for this door, similarly to what I had in mind for the cannon.
[1,600 Essence] [t5] Weightless, 100% weight reduction; double mass.
I smiled to myself, and spent the 1,600. The effect on my current shield was immediate - it become weightless, but it didn’t lose the mass. I had to apply a force to move it about, and it glided as if in zero gravity.
“Now, how do I make this door a shield?” I mused to myself. Is it a matter of intention? Do I need to loudly proclaim it as such? Maybe equip it somehow? For that it needed some straps.
With Globba’s help, I wrapped the door using our leather belt down the center. I tried nudging the shield up, and it worked! Like pushing a fridge made of lead around on an ice rink, it took as much strength to stop as it took to get it going.
I tried swaying it from side to side, but it felt more like the shield carried us, rather than the other way around. "Hrm. We're gonna need a lot more strength to use this as a shield."
"You think?" Estra said snidely.
I tilted my head toward her. "We got 30,000 essence. How do you want to spend it?"
"As I told you before. Spirit, intelligence and my fire spells."
"Oh yeah? And what about our shared stats? and my shield skills?"
"You already wasted plenty on those." She looked up, rolling her eyes. "We don't need this stupid shield, this dumb empty dungeon that's sure to kill us in a trap." Estra huffed furiously. "Or Arthur's metal club you been droning on about."
"I already told you a hundred times, it's NOT .. a .. CLUB!" I growled. "We spent plenty on spirit, your fireball spell, and your healing spell."
"A fully upgraded Fireball spell, with as much intelligence stat as possible, is more powerful than any weapon you can find. You boys and your clubs and swords, thinking it's more powerful than magic. Childish!"
I scoffed. "You have no idea what you're talking about. Alright? The world I'm from, we have weapons that could level entire cities, even counties in a single hour. This fireball of yours is nothing in comparison, neither is that dragon of Arthur's. It'd be shot dead the moment it peeked its tiny little head out of the cave.
You want to see real power? It's not magic. It's simple chemistry and physics. Once I get that cannon and make gunpowder, I could shoot through this solid plate of iron." I knocked my knuckles on the metal door. "and still massacre each and everyone hiding behind it. That's something your fireball couldn't do in a million years.
In fact ..." I lowered my voice to a whisper. "I bet that's what Arthur used to evolved into a dragon." I wiggled my eyebrows.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Estra said with a smug look.
"Fine. How about this. You spend one-third, I spend one-third, and we'll spend one-third on shared stats."
"Which shared stats do you want to increase?" I looked them over.
Str: 193 [shared]; Agi: 143 [shared]; Con: 204 [shared]; Spirit: 200 [Shared.]
She stared out blankly up front as if looking at a status screen. "Spirit," she said without looking away.
"Don't you think we're okay for mana regeneration, especially with that cane?"
"You want to spend it all on strength? Fine. Spend it. If you didn't want to hear what I was going to say, why bother asking?"
I drew in a long breath, closed my eyes and massaged my forehead. Her mood had grown more downcast by the day. And I couldn't really blame her, we were up against a daunting challenge, and had been enduring pain and misery for days. But what choice did we have? I didn't like our alternatives, and I didn't like our current state of affairs either. At least we had a plan - I had a plan, she had her attitude, and it was starting to grate on me.
I read over the stat descriptions for Strength and Agility to make sure.
Strength: Muscle; how hard you push / pull / hit / throw; How much weight you can carry; Power of Parry / block ability.
Agility: Body Movement Speed; Dodging / parry chance; Flexibility / mobility; Reflexes (50%); Hit chance.
Then dumped every bit of 20,000 Essence into Strength and Agility, increasing Agility from 143 to 200, and Strength from 193 to 240.
I tested moving the new shield with those upgrades, and was disappointed with the results. Although it felt easier, it wasn't nearly to a degree I would have liked - it was too damn heavy, and the doubled mass penalty only made it that much worse.
Globba, on the other hand, wouldn't stop bouncing from foot to foot. I envied her happy as sunshine attitude.
I smiled. "You like the new shield?" I asked her.
"Heavy." She touched the shield and clapped her hands like a child with a new toy.
I nodded. "Yeah, really heavy." Too damn heavy in fact. I'd be like a freight train if I ever charge with it. I figured I'd need to raise my strength to 400 or even 500 for it to feel comfortable, but that would require 50 to 100 thousand more essence. It didn't grow on trees, but ...
She ran, yelling. "Globba, follow!"
"What ... Where is she going?" Estra said in alarm.
"I-I don't know. She just ran!" We looked at each other and sighed, then we followed after.
We made it to the opposite side of the chamber without any issues. And by the time we reached the bottom of the next spiral stairs, the air thinned out, making it difficult to breathe. On top of being out of breath, the air felt stifling and had a medicinal tinge as if we descended into an underground hospital. Blotches of light-emitting orange moss covered all the surfaces like infection.
The walls lined with thin layers of stucco like substance appeared to peel off, creating a corridor much like a dried out shower drain with years of mineral build up. I felt uneasy walking barefoot and without a respirator over such a foreign moss, which could readily have been this world’s equivalent of anthrax. My steps crushed the thin layers underfoot with a satisfying crunch, like walking on cereal.
The pitch forward steadily increased the further we went, and opened up into a large spherical room with similar passages going out in eight different directions, placed seemingly random around the sphere.
"I don't like this," Estra said, between panting breaths.
There, across from us in the spherical chamber, Globba stood waiting. She waved. The floor shuddered open.