My soft steps echoed in the wide but short hallway, it was chilly and dank, my breath was coming out in the form of little puffs of steam. I glanced over my arm, the entrance behind me was now just a small spot of light and there was no other light in this place whatsoever. Taking a deep breath of the chilly air, I guided Essence towards my palm and a small flower of light blossomed from it, the gold brilliance lit up my surroundings.
After it grew big enough, I gently guided it above my head where it floated, following the movements of my head; there was enough Essence in it to last for roughly an hour. Smacking my lips in approval, I examined my now illuminated surroundings.
The steps were wide but short and there were many of them, luckily, my shoes had good soles or I would have slipped from all the slushy water that built up over time, partially freezing. Everything in there was carved in the black stone, the walls were smooth and dripped with water, the magical light above my head reflecting from them.
Sighing, I traced my collar with an Essence covered finger, drawing a certain symbol on it, instantly, my jacket puffed out and the inside exploded with soft fur. Satisfied with how warm it was, I buttoned it up and continued downward, ready to draw my sword at any sign of movement.
After a few minutes, the stairs ended and a bigger chamber opened up in front of me, it was much taller than the stairway, the ceiling was supported by numerous pillars evenly scattered through the room. There were numerous hallways leading towards this room, or out from it depending on the point of view.
Pouting, I went to the middle of the room and threw a coin into the air, observing where it landed and choosing the closest hallway from where the coin settled. All of the ways looked the same so I decided that this might have been the best method to randomly choose one.
Casually strolling through the path I chose, I wondered whether Nec tampered with it, scratch that, he must have made sure that it was safe enough for me. Curiously, this corridor wasn't completely carved in rock, there were large stone tiles on the floor, weird ones with some holes in them too.
Realization what I was walking on hit me a bit too late, I rested my weight into another step and the tile loudly clicked. Frantically jumping up, I put the shield under my feet, straining my arm due to the awkward angle. The ear-splitting grinding of metal against metal and the impact I felt with my left arm confirmed my suspicions as long spikes exploded from the ground.
My heart revved up to the max, I glanced at the light suspended above, if it was connected with me it would have surely exploded into lightning. Inwardly praising myself for creating this 'battery' powered light, I carefully landed between the spikes and walked to a regular tile. My foot instantly sunk, cursing, I jumped back into the spikes with my shield up.
Something swished through the air and missed me by a hairbreadth, clanking against the stone wall behind me, I stole a glance at it and realized it was some kind of crossbow bolt. Trying to calm myself, I gritted my teeth and continued onwards, being extremely carefully this time.
There were some other traps but nothing I couldn't deal with, finally, I got out of the corridor into something that looked like crossroads with four possible ways, including the one I came from. There was a lot of mess on the floor, intrigued; I crouched and picked up something near my foot.
"Bones? That's a classic," I muttered to myself, dropping it to the ground and standing up, ready to draw the blade at a moment's notice.
All hell broke loose when I took another step forward, a strong gust of wind assaulted me from every direction, rattling the bones and raising a cloud of dust. Coughing, I retreated back with my sword drawn, ready to fight whatever would come out of the dust.
The cacophony of rattles and clanks stopped, replaced by creaking of old bones given life by an unknown type of magic. When the dust settled, I understood what it was that clanked before, there were four skeletons, all of them armed but the biggest one was fully armored, holding a mace and a large shield.
"Free pass, please?" I asked them jokingly.
"No," The armored skeleton replied in a raspy voice, taking a step in my direction.
Stunned by the fact that it could speak, I shrugged to myself and poured my Essence into the sword, the runes lit up with my light element, ready to smite the undead. The lesser skeletons rushed me like rabid dogs, throwing themselves at me without a second thought.
The first one that reached me carried a hatchet but I didn't think it knew that because it tried to whack me with the flat, actually, these smaller skeletons were phenomenally stupid. Emboldened by its lack of skill, I easily took a springy step back and took off its arm with a single rapid cut.
Before the skeleton could react, I kicked it in the ribcage, putting all of my weight and strength behind it. With a loud crack, its chest collapsed and the skeleton flew a few meters back, scattering on the ground; I didn't really have time to admire it, the other two reached me at that moment.
Taking a deep breath, I did just as Nec instructed me, I improvised and poured my magic into the shield, bashing it forwards with the intent of releasing it all at once. My attempt wasn't too successful, the faint wave of light washed over the skeletons but it only forced them to take a step back. Meanwhile, my forearm felt as if it would explode at any moment; I guided too much Essence through it at once.
Getting nervous, I glanced at the slowly approaching armored skeleton and clenched my jaw, dashing at the two smaller ones. One of them was holding a rusted sword and tried to cut at me, I easily ducked under the blade and kicked him in the knee, it exploded and the skeleton collapsed but not before I easily decapitated it.
The final one jumped at me with a different type of curved sword, it's clumsy movements were a joke to current me, I easily blocked the swing with my shield and then bashed it against the skeleton's skull, putting all my weight behind it. Sandwiched between the wall and my shield, the skeleton could do nothing as I crushed its skull in a single hit from my sword's hilt.
Suddenly, the armored skeleton rushed at me, panicking I felt the control of my elements slip and violent lightning started to dance around my sword. Hyperventilating, I put up my shield for defense and intercepted the enormous mace, it felt like a truck hit me, my bones dangerously creaked and I was flung through the air.
It took all of my dexterity to put my feet against the wall to slide along its wet surface, dissipating the force along the way, finally, I stopped no less than ten meters away from the impact point. Amazed at my own ingenuity, I tried to calm myself and get rid of the crackling lightning but I couldn't do it in such an intense situation.
The armored freak dashed at me again, I dodged his mace, not daring to block it again. His shield proved to be impenetrable for my sword, it just bounced off and made my entire arm feel numb, cursing under my breath, I dodged to the side and retreated a few meters, eyeing the skeleton.
Wheezing, I squeezed out, "A little break?"
This time it didn't even bother replying, rushing at me instead, I didn't know what to do to achieve victory there, especially not in my current state of mind. If only my stats were high enough, I wouldn't need to worry about such a stupid opponent then.
Making up my mind, I forcibly guided all of the Essence available to me into the sword, it basically exploded with light and electricity dancing around it, my hair stood on its end, only fight or flight response was left in me, fight it was.
The furiously buzzing electricity pulled out the memories I have repressed, Thunder killing my teammates, destroying their bodies, the red path...
Shouting, I mindlessly rushed at the titanic skeleton and cut at him, disregarding his shield and my safety, all of my Essence erupted through the sword. It flashed before my eyes, Thunder's electric eyes exploding in intensity, Covenant of Mortality unlocking and then; I was no longer in the dungeon.
"Limbo?" I said to myself, collapsing onto the nonexistent floor, "I died again."
"How did you do this?" A distorted voice asked me.
Jolted by this question, I turned towards the source and saw Thunder looking at CoM, it was unlocked and the red path of soulbind was tens of times thicker and more intense than before.
Thunder looked at me and asked again, "How did you do this?" He pointed at CoM with his other hand.
"I-I don't know!" I replied, stunned by how thick the soulbind was now.
"This belongs to me, thief," Thunder said, locking the CoM with a loud click.
The red path shrunk to its original size and everything in front of me exploded, the rumbling of thunder shook my entire aching body.
I was back in the dungeon, or whatever was left of it. Everything in front of me was gone, turned into charred and molten stone, there was an enormous smoldering gash in the corridor, following the arc of my swing and the skeleton was gone, stumbling back I fell into someone's arm.
"Marie?!" Nec asked me, clutching me tightly.
Shaking, I asked, "What happened?"
"You exploded your Essence!" Nec replied, nervously grabbing my sword hand.
This was when I realized that it was charred, completely dried up from the explosion. Before I could scream, Nec forced a bottle into my mouth and some kind of chill liquid dripped down my throat. A few seconds of agony later, I was completely healed.
Nec carefully rested me against the wall and picked up my sword, it was completely broken now. He muttered, "Well, I didn't expect that to happen."
I wiped the cold sweat from my forehead and mumbled, "I-I saw him, Thunder."
"What?" Nec absentmindedly asked and rushed up to me, grabbing me by the shoulders he asked, "I know it's hard but you need to tell me exactly what you saw."
Nervously nodding my head, I narrated the bizarre vision in detail, my voice cracking up at times. After I was done, Nec gave me a long fatherly hug, tearing up, I returned it as he caressed my head, this was something I really needed at the moment.
"The soulbind is leaking, it would be impossible for you to mobilize that much Essence with your current stats," Nec explained, wiping my tears. "Temporarily, they have been raised but I can't be sure to how much. When I teleported in everything was already over."
Cracking up, I squeezed out, "I don't know what happened, I couldn't see. Sorry that I am so useless."
Quivering, Nec hugged me tightly and said, "You are not useless Marie, you did wonderfully. I am very proud of you."
"Okay," I squeezed out, closing my eyes.
Nec picked me up and before I realized it we were back in his office, he gently sat me in his big leather chair while Chopsticks landed on my knees, trying to snuggle up. Scratching his beak served to be a nice distraction as I gradually regained my calm, feeling stupid at what had just happened.
I was pulled out of my self-loathing by Nec handing me a cup of steaming chocolate, at least I thought that's what it was based on the pleasant smell and the color. I quietly thanked him and sipped on it, sure enough, it tasted as chocolate should.
"Chocolate always calms me down, I am a bit of a sweet tooth," Nec said to me, smiling.
"It's good," I replied, fixing my eyes on the brown liquid and my distorted reflection within.
Sighing, Nec said, "I've never lost CoM before but at this rate, you might not even need to retrieve it. Everything will return to you sooner or later, soul magic is the most powerful one in this world."
Squeezing my fingers around the cup, I said, "I need it back. I need to take revenge."
"That's your choice," Nec said, sitting on the desk and shooting me a deep glance. "Once you calm down we will start with the meditation practice, I am sure a smart girl like you will be able to quickly get a hang of it."
I couldn't help but grin when he called me smart, even if I didn't feel that I was, I took a gulp of the chocolate trying to hide my smile. This was what I believed every father should do, be doting and know when the cheer up the kid. Maybe it was weird that I clung to Nec so quickly, calling him 'dad' or 'papa' whenever I got the chance but I really wanted it.
Smiling shyly, I said, "Thanks, dad."
Nec ruffled my hair, his voice thick with emotion he said, "This is all I ever wanted, to have a cute and smart daughter. It's me who should thank you."
My face burning, I silently nodded my head and took a sip of the chocolate, I couldn't tell if he realized that I always wanted- no, needed a father like him. Whether there was a blood connection between us or not, I did not care, actions mattered to me more.
And Nec? In this short week, he was more of a father to me than my biological one, he absolutely had my trust.