With Burke leading the way, the party descended the rough-cut stairs into the depths of the dungeon. As they descended, the mostly neat cavern walls steadily gave way to jagged cracks and fissures. Rich veins of metal glittered in the party’s torchlight. The stairs, which were now a steep ramp, levelled out after they’d switch-backed three times. A massive cavern loomed at the end of the narrow well. Two stalagmites rich with ore and gemstones dominated the left and right side of the entrance, like pillars to a colosseum.
Faintly luminescent rock hung from the ceiling of the cavern and illuminated an open space the size of a sports field. The change in tone and pattern from the rest of the Haunted Iron Mine startled Jim and it could not have been any clearer that the Zombie Lord in front of them was the final boss if his four Putrescent Zombie companions had each held signs, rather than rusted lumps of metal.
Zombie Lord, level 5 Undead (Boss)
Putrescent Zombie, level 5 Undead.
Their five enemies stood at the far end of the cavernous room. Fortunately, they seemed to either not notice or not care about Jim’s party, which gave him time to view the environment. Tattered and decrepit furniture, cloth and other unidentifiable chunks of rotting wood seemed to exist throughout the boss room as haphazard décor, though they may have once had a purpose in a functional mine. Jim thought that they would have a purpose in the upcoming fight.
The entire group had been reduced to around 100 points of HP each. Without a healer or medic, they were unable to restore their weakened states within the dungeon. They needed a plan.
“Five’s not too bad,” Martin said, “but I wouldn’t say I’m keen on it.”
“Look at the health on that big bastard,” Burke commented. “He’s at least three times tougher than that ghost captain we fought. He hits any of us more than once, we’re dead. I know I said we should finish this, but I reckon we back off.”
The Zombie Lord stood at an enormous eight feet tall and wielded a comparatively tiny pickaxe in his oversized hand.
“Yep,” Martin agreed, looking more closely at the Zombie Lord. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
Langdon looked thoughtfully around the room but shook his head. He didn’t think that they’d manage this, either. He opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by Jim.
“No,” Jim said. “I might have a plan.”
Jim’s elaborate plan hinged on many different variables and a lot would have to go just right. The most significant obstacle to Jim’s plan was the group's positioning. They had a few good options near the stairwell. The tight space would allow the three spear-wielders of their party to hold off all five of the zombies easily and allow more vulnerable members, such as their non-existent healer, to carry the day. For Jim’s group, this was a terrible plan. The three men would be suppressed and overwhelmed by the boss while the tight confines would concentrate the putrid gas into a deadly cloud that would either suffocate them if Jim didn’t act or incinerate everyone simultaneously if he did.
Alternatively, they could fight in the open area between the two stalagmites or under the many stalactites. Jim might be able to pull some shenanigans with incineration and the open area would be better ventilated. This was also a terrible plan. Roof IEDs would be devastatingly effective, sure, but would they deal 1,500 damage before they were inevitably cut down by the Zombie Lord? No, Jim thought, they would not.
Jim’s third, and dramatically ironic, secret plan combined the best of both previous plans the group had come up with. He also mixed in a few other neat tricks that he was pretty certain would work based on their early encounters with the undead. Of course, the boss’s ??? ability and mysteriously empty mana pool may complicate things, but Jim planned on taking all of the risks this time and he was pretty sure he couldn’t permanently die. He hadn’t died yet in Platinum Online, but he’d come so close so often now that it must have been a regular occurrence for other players.
Shouldering all of the aforementioned risks, Jim inched forward into the boss room. He slipped past the left stalactite and sidled along the left wall of the cave. Jim did not know how close he could approach before the mindless undead sensed his living presence and rushed him, but he needed as much extra distance as he could manage. Everything was going well, Jim was almost a third of the way around the cavern and, at this rate, he’d be able to—
“Ngaaargh.” The zombies charged.
Jim kicked off the wall at his back and strafed the approaching undead group. He had two overriding goals that he had to achieve to prevent his friends from dying.
First: He had to carefully pick his path so that, no matter what, the Zombie Lord did not end up at the front of the group. Jim would be able to temporarily fend off the Putrescent Zombies, his experiences with them previously showed that they only hit for 12 or 13 damage, while the gases of four enemies would take a long time to build up enough to kill Jim.
Second: He had to reach the decrepit wooden heap a dozen metres that decorated the wall just a little further around the cavern. The debris was large enough and dense enough that Jim would be able to wedge himself inside and fight only two zombies at a time. He’d be able to poke holes in the zombies and trap them in the pile of wood. The flammable, ignitable, burnable wood.
Initially, he’d been concerned that the zombies would intercept Jim and ruin his plans. In reality, the shambling zombies took ages to catch up and Jim thought that, if she had enough arrows, Vanessa might realistically be able to kill the entire group on her own. Too late for that though.
He climbed the debris atop which he would make his final stand and squished himself into a narrow space between two crumbling wooden beams. The zombies clambered awkwardly up the pile of broken wood and were scratched and scraped by a combination of splintered planks and rusty nails. Putrid gas bellowed from the wounds. Jim began to cough. He gritted his teeth and lowered his spear. The plan worked, so far. Jim stabbed holes into the leading zombies while their lord at the back could only awkwardly loom over them.
The putrid gas thickened and congealed around Jim. Rather than occasional coughs of damage, he exhaled a cloud of decaying 1s with every breath. He was almost ready to throw himself clear of the wood and launch a fireball at the miasma of flammable fumes... The Zombie Lord breathed in. The rot that clogged Jim’s airways was sucked right out his lungs and when he gasped clean air refreshed him.
Zombie Lord, level 5 Undead (Boss)
Jim wanted to scream and curse, but a fresh wave of putrid gas flowed from the zombies in front of him and he coughed. Jim stepped back further into the debris. The butt of his spear clacked against the cavern wall when he pulled back to thrust once more into the lead Putrescent Zombie. The air around Jim thickened with flammable gas. Jim could, once again, detonate the rotted platform with a fireball. The wall at Jim’s back and the Zombie’s trying to push through his spear trapped him, though. He would surely blow himself up.
Jim didn’t cast the fireball, but not because he was afraid of killing himself in the explosion. A prompt that popped up in his vision gave him a better plan. The Zombie Lord inhaled the putrid gas a second time, its mana filling to 100/100 MP.
Zombie Lord begins to cast Putrid Eruption. Run away!
Jim stopped stabbing the weaker undead and stared at the Zombie Lord. The undead boss’s belly began to shake and gurgle, overfilled with putrid gas. The tremors and ripples under its skin increased in violence and frequency. The Zombie Lord reared back. Jim stood up straight and held his left hand, open and palm up, to his chest. Brown fluid dripped from between the boss’s teeth. The Zombie Lord and Jim opened their mouths at the same time.
Fire and flame filled the room with a tectonic Crack! Plumes of white-hot numbers in the high triple-digits vapourised Jim and the four weaker minions. Jim’s spirit wooshed out of his body and surfed the tidal wave of blazing orange all the way to where his group stood cowering behind the stalagmites by the entrance.
You are dead. You have lost all accumulated experience points. If your forces are victorious, you will be revived at the beginning of the dungeon. If your forces are defeated, you will lose one level.
Jim watched from the muted, ghostly world as the boss staggered and then collapsed into the burning ruin of debris. A little over a third of its health remained. Jim’s plan had failed and his experience progress toward level 5 had been reset to 0/5000. The still-living members of the party peered out from behind the stalagmites, stunned into inaction. They watched on, unmoving, as the Zombie Lord wallowed and grunted in the burning debris.
A smoking 33 of fire damage peeled away from the boss’s charred skin. Then a few seconds later, another 33 swirled in the black smoke.
“CHARGE!” Burke yelled. “DON’T LET IT GET OUT OF THE FIRE!” The three spearmen bolted at the Zombie Lord.
The boss had only managed to crawl to its elbows and knees by the time Jim’s party arrived. The fire had scorched away more of the boss’s health, but it still had just over a quarter remaining. If the boss escaped the blaze, Jim was uncertain if his friends could kill the thing. They definitely wouldn’t all survive the experience. A prodigious, undead foot slammed into the blackened wood. The Zombie Lord shifted its weight and prepared to right itself. Martin, the youngest and most agile spearman, slammed into the creature’s knee. He hit just as all of the monster's weight rested on the wobbly joint.
The Zombie Lord crashed back into the blaze. More, red 33s rose with the superheated air. Burke and Langdon lanced into the fallen enemy, their spears targeting joints and tendons. Even hamstrung and smouldering, the boss did not allow Jim’s allies a one-sided victory. A backhanded strike from its pickaxe smashed into Langdon and launched him across the cavern. A bloody 78 erupted from his back as the weapon’s tip peaked through where Langdon’s kidney used to be. When he crashed to the floor, Langdon lost another 21 HP, reducing him to 1 HP and leaving him unconscious and unable to fight.
Fortunately, Martin, Burke, and Vanessa were enough. A barrage of arrows drained the last of their foe's health.
Haunted Mine Dungeon Cleared!
Rewards: 2808 experience points; Metal Ore ; Hard Stone ; Deathless Pickaxe; Necromantic Crystal Shard Simple Iron Sword pattern; Simple Iron Shield pattern; Simple Iron Armour Set pattern.
A blur of motion resulted in Jim standing, uninjured, at the entrance. The prompt caused a smile to crack Jim’s face. He finally felt like he played the hero of a game, rather than some digital half-afterlife. He ran down the spiral shaft of the Haunted Iron Mine, not stopping to explain as he passed the confused refugees that still hiked their way up.
In the final cavern of the dungeon, Burke and Martin offered a wounded, but living Langdon food and drink from their inventories. He sat, the wall to the cavern propping him up, sipping from a waterskin. His HP inched its way back to full now that the dungeons healing restriction had been lifted. Jim’s panting breath and pounding footsteps caused them all to look up as he entered the chamber.
“Fucking wizards!” Burke called over. When Jim approached, he clapped Jim on the back.
“Good job, mate.” Martin said. The barely conscious Langdon nodded.
“That was a stupid plan, honoured elder.”
“We got lucky,” Jim admitted. Langdon, who could barely keep his head up shook his head at this.
“Ya make your own luck.” The man’s words emerged slowly and in between grunts of pain, but Jim smiled again.
After several minutes of recovery, everyone but Langdon helped Jim meticulously search the room for their promised rewards. The metal and stone mentioned in the prompt were obviously those held in the carts that the refugees had helped haul to the top. The patterns were for common level 5 equipment and had been sealed in a chest behind where the boss had first stood. The Deathless Pickaxe, it turned out, was the Zombie Lord’s weapon, though it was ill-suited to that purpose.
The boss’s corpse also held a glowing green crystal, considerably larger than the Necromantic Crystal Fragment Jim had, but it was still obviously incomplete. The Necromantic Crystal Shard was perfectly rounded on one side, but sharp edges and jagged faces marred its other surfaces. Jim pulled the Necromantic Crystal Fragment from his inventory and the small gem flew from his hand and affixed itself to a divot in the larger shard.
Quest Completed: A brush with death.
You have defeated a Zombie Lord that had been the leader for a large group of undead in The Grand Plateau. Having destroyed the creature, you received a shard of a larger, necromancer’s crystal.
Rewards: 5000 experience points; Necromantic Crystal Shard.
Necromantic Crystal Shard
Congratulations, you have reached level 5. Your attributes have increased. You have 1 talent point to spend.
Quest discovered: The Necromancer’s Crystal
You have discovered a shard of a larger Necromancer’s Crystal. You do not know much about this mysterious object, but you know that it is a tool for creating the undead, and that it must be destroyed.
Rewards: 100,000 experience points; unknown.
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My name's Tim and I'm writing Forgotten Man Online, a game-literature light novel web-series that I plan to release here, on Royal Road, and eventually hopefully through Amazon's Kindle platform.
I studied writing at university for three years and then became a high-school English teacher in Australia (6 years in). Hopefully, that means you will find my content to be of a high standard and that you will enjoy it, provided you can stand the British spelling of words :).