Chris picked his way through the forest. The number of demons increased the closer he got to the glade. He steered clear of most, but the density of monsters was quickly becoming too high.
He reverted his arm and drew his mace. The increased length would give him some much needed leverage—hopefully make bashing in demon skulls a fair bit easier than using his fist. He gave it a twirl, then launched forward into a demon, bringing one strike down on its torso, and another on its head.
The demon was stronger than the rock trolls, perhaps a little below the bone knights in power, but it still went down under the loving caress of his mace. The vicious little creature was still moving though, so he gave it another love tap. He brought the mace down on its chest, so as not to get splattered with more demon goo from exploding demon heads… which sounded like the starting premise for a hentai… yeah… better not to think about that…
He continued bashing his way through the demons between him and the glade, becoming increasingly soaked in demon blood despite his best efforts. He tested each corpse with his shoulder-mounted Slime to see if they contained Soul Gems, but it seemed that different monsters yielded the precious crystals at different frequencies.
At last, he reached the glade. The bat demons were clustered inside, gnawing on the corpses of the rock trolls, hissing at each other when the others got too close.
At the center of the forest clearing stood a white obelisk with glowing purple runes scrawled into its side. From its peak, it released the column of light into the sky. The light wasn’t as bright as when it had first appeared, which could indicate that it was at least partially dormant. Around its base flared a sphere of rippling, gasoline-on-water energy that occasionally showed an image to… elsewhere… that Chris couldn’t quite make out.
As soon as he saw it, a screen flared to life before his eyes.
(Mandatory) Enter the Dungeon (0/1)
(Mandatory) Seal the Dungeon (0/1)
(Optional) Steal the Dungeon Core (0/1)
Urgh. What the hell? He knew that mandatory quests had to be a thing—why else would the System label other quests ‘optional’—but he didn’t expect to get one any time soon. This was meant to be a damn tutorial, but the only thing it had taught him was what a headache felt like. Now it was forcing him to complete a quest, whether he liked it or not. Not cool. So not cool.
Urgh. He needed to check his Status before he did anything else.
|Race||Hybrid: Human (F-1), Slime (F-2)|
|Traits||Human Potential, Monster Hybrid, Monstrous Constitution, Monstrous Assimilation, Amorphous, Stone Form|
|Titles||Genesis of Blood, Prime Underdog, Agent of Self-destruction, Prince of Poison, Makeshift Master, Prodigy, Legendary Prodigy, Unrivalled Prodigy, Horde Disciple I, Xenocidal, Infiltrator|
|(6 Stat Points to Allocate)|
He hadn’t gained another title, but at least he’d gone up a level, and he was amassing a decent bank of System Coins; so at least there was a silver lining. He could muster up the energy to be enthusiastic as he dropped four points in dexterity and two more in luck.
Maybe next time he’d be lucky enough not to get conscripted to destroy a Dungeon. He knew how Dungeons worked from MMOs, it was unlikely that this one was vastly different. The demons out here were the dross, the trash, the meatshields. They were almost as strong as the bone knights. In brief, he was screwed.
If the System wanted to screw him with a mandatory quest that would get him killed, then screw the mandatory quest.
He turned and began walking away. He felt a shock run through his body as a pain he had never felt before overwhelmed him; it was worse than getting Georgie Denbrough-ed by the tentacle slug in the laboratory on the planet Xal.
Pure prismatic torment lanced through him. His nerves felt as if they had been deepfried and fed to piranhas, piece by piece, then regrown and sautéed with salt and spice. The pain consumed him utterly. It was only a second before he succumbed to it, capitulated, chose to return to the Dungeon. Anything to stop the pain. It had only been a second, but it was a timeless torment, one that gnawed on perspective and devoured sanity.
And then he was back, chest heaving, heart galloping, anxious nerves anticipating a revisitation to that second of hell at any moment.
Carefully, he took a step backward, not wanting to move forward a hair’s breadth, lest he trigger the pain again. Then, stumbling to a sprint, he charged past feasting demons. The demons turned to him with hisses and shrieking roars, but Chris was already gone, diving into the gasoline rainbow of the portal without so much as a backward glance.
The world spun in nauseating patterns, like a bad acid trip. Chris jammed his eyes shut, but it did nothing to stop the disorientation. Then his feet touched ground and the smell of smoke hit his nostrils. Something clinked on the floor beside him, sounding like glass on stone.
He opened his eyes, expecting a hellscape, a bit of fire, a bit of brimstone, maybe a few souls of the damned trapped in eternal suffering. It wasn’t that. Instead there was smooth stone, black rock, and demons cooking meat over a coal campfire that belched out thick, choking soot.
He looked down and saw five glass vials filled with red liquid. Were they health potions? They certainly looked like health potions. He bent down and picked them up, piling them into a pocket.
Then something hit his back.
A demon had followed him through from the glade. It seemed to be suffering the same disorientation as he first had, though. So Chris did the obvious thing. He gasped in panic. Then he brained the demon with two quick swings.
More of the oily blood splattered him, much to his displeasure. He gagged as some of it got in his mouth. Then another demon shot through the portal. It met the same fate as its predecessor, except without the exploding head bit.
The portal on this side looked weak and pale; pushing against it produced a worrying amount of resistance, and once his hand had sunk a few inches in, it was like pressing against solid steel. There was no give whatsoever. He wasn’t sure if that was due to the obelisk in the glade’s decreased activity, or whether the System just didn’t want him leaving before the job was done.
Chris took better stock of his surroundings. He was in some sort of natural cavern that had been expanded, part of the walls had been straightened and the floor underneath flattened to something that wouldn’t trip anyone trying to walk—with the exception of a few stalagmites that protruded stubbornly from the floor. Did the bat demons even need to walk? He guessed so, their wings seemed more vestigial than something capable of sustained flight—the only time he’d actually seen them used was to allow that first demon to push itself off the ground.
In the corner were piles of crates and boxes stacked high. Chris reevaluated his opinion of what was happening. The demons here, though still the bat faced things he’d seen outside, were nowhere near as bestial. In fact, the materials gathered here seemed to indicate that this place was the result of long planning and preparation.
The wide area of the cavern would allow plenty of demons into the cavern all at once, and flood out after the Dungeon opened. If anything, it felt more like a staging area for an invasion. A small-scale invasion, but an invasion all the same.
It seemed like the only issue was the demons becoming raving battle-crazed lunatics on the other side. Then again, he’d become a bit of a battle-crazed lunatic as well, and he hadn’t needed a portal. Was that all it took? The promise of real self-improvement and empowerment to excuse killing everything in sight. He wasn’t sure. If it was, it painted an unflattering portrait of him and everyone else, but he doubted that was the full story. If that was the case, then the System wouldn’t have had to resort to torture to prevent people from leaving the area.
That reminded him. He wanted to check his quests, see the ones that he still had active.
No quest screen appeared.