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Shayla’s military discipline finally kicked into gear. You don’t turn down a superior’s request, and while the heroes weren’t technically part of the army, they might as well have ranked above the generals, for all the reverence the soldiers held them in. Shayla ogled their stats. Sure, she was second generation and a good 20 years their junior, but even so—over a hundred thousand HP? She’d never partied with people so—

“What would you like me to do, sir?” Shayla snapped the crispest salute she’d made in years. There wasn’t much need for that down on dungeon duty. Not for these dungeons at least. These were too difficult and too valuable for anyone to frequent, and there were one or two no one had set foot in since their acquisition, due to their lethality. One of those had been gathered by this very party, before Larsen Nightwind and Princess Merilyn’s deaths and Luctus’ retirement from raiding.

“Just keep up,” Reymond directed, and turned his back on the light. The other two filtered past Shayla after him, and Shayla scurried after them all, a stray kitten now running with a pack of lions.

Lord Reymond strode deep into the hall, past the lesser dungeons and the statues of heroes, some who’d returned, triumphant, with the dungeons’ hearts, and others who hadn’t returned at all. He stopped at the far end in front of a doorway more grand than any other. This one was Legendary, Shayla knew. The Sorrow was the one dungeon every resident of Penfold knew. Princess Merilyn had died there, after all, and there had been an entire week of mourning. Though none of the heroes involved had ever spoken publicly about what had happened, rumors were rampant. Why would they consider running it now?

At least, that’s what Reymond appeared to be doing. He stood, rigid, at the threshold. The others didn’t press him, but Shayla half-opened her mouth to plead with him not to take her inside. She couldn’t make the words come out though, not in front of the heroes.

After seconds that felt like minutes, Reymond turned away, his face tight and frustration written in every line. “Fin Bambular,” he announced. “We’ll start there and work our way down. Remember, we keep moving and take any shortcut we see. Our only goal is the hearts.”

The entrance to Fin Bambular was the last one along the eastern wall, requiring the four of them to pass beneath Merilyn’s watchful eyes, frozen eternally in her memory. Shayla mimicked Daida and Torgun in gazing up at the statue, so strong and proud, but so young. Too young. After a few seconds, Memory of the Fallen Few settled on each of them.

Memory of the Fallen Few (1 hr 29 min 52 sec)

The memory of heroes past serve to inspire and uplift you.

+15 to all Attributes

Reymond was waiting for them at the dungeon entrance, having avoided Merilyn’s statue. He glared at the floor as though it had insulted his honor. Once again, Torgun and Daida made no mention.

Lord Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield, has unlocked Fin Bambular.

Perfect Completion Bonus x2! Material Quality increased.

Quick Run applied. Experience Point gain halved.

Weakened Enemies applied. Material Quality reduced.

...

“That’ll have to be enough,” Reymond muttered. “Grimauld is going to skin me alive if this turns out to be a hoax.”

Shayla had run similarly weakened dungeons, though after a certain point it just wasn’t worth spending the resources to strengthen barrenborn. Dungeon Modifiers were valuable, and their cost increased dramatically relative to the dungeon level. Better to save them for the seedborn dungeon farmers. If Shayla had dared to spend Dungeon Master Grimauld’s Dungeon Master Points on modifiers without his express permission…

Not that Shayla minded the modifiers. If her head hadn’t already been a whirl, she might have asked Reymond to apply even more. As it stood, she’d just have to trust that he knew what he was doing better than she did. She braced herself, and then followed Reymond in.

“Hold on there, hot stuff. You’d only slow us down.” For a medium-sized man, Torgun’s hands were very large. They were weather-stained too, and Shayla could see the dirt under his fingernails. Something in her responded to his grip on her shoulder—something that needed nurturing and a safe place to thrive. I can see why plants grow for him, she thought, embarrassed to have compared him to Hannick.

“We need you to watch our gear, and to guard this.” The Gardener King placed a short spear in her hand. It was the first Legendary item Shayla had ever held, and she could almost swear the short spear was buzzing in her hand.

“I can’t—” she started, but Torgun’s hands closed her own around the spear.

“There’s no one else, friend Shayla. All of Penfold needs you tonight.”

With that, Torgun ducked through the doorway, disappearing into the folded space containing the dungeon.

Shayla wasn’t upset at being left behind. After all, she knew what was in the dungeons. She’d been guarding them for Penfold for years now, and had made a point of watching back through the old runguides, back before she’d come to terms with the assignment being a one-way move. Guarding the high-level dungeons might have been something prestigious, once, but the number of visiting adventurers capable of facing these particular challenges was dwindling as the First themselves did.

Grimauld’s time was occupied with goods production these days, rather than with cultivating heroes.

She stared at the portal, numb, while she processed. She was holding The Heroes’ Cynosure, the only one in existence that would work for mortals. It had been modified by the Great Sage himself to spirit him and his companions out of harm’s way. And only one charge left, she thought. I hope to gods this isn’t the night they add to those stories. The illusion shows would cast me as as the comic relief, I just know it.

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A note from Wilson A. Bateman

Y'all know that writers—especially independent writers—only get play if their readers leave reviews, right? If you want more here, in my full books, wherever, leave a rating! It will keep my cold, gray heart pumping a while longer.


About the author

Wilson A. Bateman

Bio: Wilson A. Bateman was raised all around the world, but predominately in Utah. Never able to constrain his interests to one field, he has degrees in German, Biology, Professional Writing, and Computer Science. He thrives on mixing Psychology and Philosophy into his work, and has recently made his debut in the Fantasy and LitRPG genres with his books: Auger & Augment and Serpent & Spirit.

He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his beautiful husband and their three hideous children.

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