Dwarves of Appalachia

by

Blackguard

Chapter 31: The Times, They Are A-Changin'.

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     As the twisted gothic gate opened, creaking as if unoiled though definitely new; it revealed a veritable wonderland of endless bounty for Jamie.

     The young scavenger jumped for joy and nearly ran inside of the doors as soon as they saw the walls covered in bags of Grippo’s BBQ chips with glass refrigerators stocked to the brim with Ale81. An old wood paneled video game console with a cartridge was plugged into a TV that must’ve been older than Jamie; with the extra room in the back for tubes and such.

     “I think I died and went to heaven.” Jamie said dreamily, getting close to one of the large bags, ripping it open and taking out one of the smaller silver bags for themself.

     Zippy looked quite confused at the sudden change in demeanor. “Are you all right, Jamie?”

     Billy Joe laughed, stepping into the room herself, having to duck under the top of the doorframe. “Let them be, it’s their favorite and none of the stores choose to carry it around here. I’m sure you’ve met Karen, she has a vendetta against regional foods and drinks, says it makes us too ‘country’ or whatever.”

     Jamie grabbed the second silver bag of chips and threw it to Billy Joe, along with a glass bottle from the fridge. The two old friends sat on a small bench near the altar where Will’s lamp now rested, munching away at the slightly spicy chips.

     Theodore cleared his voice loudly, “EHEM! As I was saying, you will help us cheat, somewhat. To actually explain more, well, please come out Majesty.”

     A red mist wafted away from the lamp; filling the room like a bad haunted house with too much dry-ice. “Tis I, the MIGHTY GENIE!”

     Will spoke in a deep, rumbling voice as all the chips and bottles in the room shook. None of the humans or beings there looked impressed, all giving the small axolotl faced child-like being a look of annoyance. The small form blushed a soft blue color and then shrunk back down to normal size.

     “Fine, I just wanted an air of mystery or whatever. It’s not like I get a talking feline entrance… ooh, that might be an idea for later…” Will began, then trailed off into their own mind.

     Shaking their small head and getting back on track, “Alright, It’s a bit complicated, but here’s the basics. I have wiggle-room when it comes to my… well… rooms. I designed it that way on purpose. The more devastating, violent, or cruel the wish they declared as they stepped inside, the more effort I can push into my defenses.”

     Gus and Marc listened raptly while Jamie and Billy Joe happily munched away in the background. Will, continuing after giving the two loud ones a sideways glance, “anyway… Thing is, coming for my lamp isn’t violent necessarily, or cruel. Devastating? Well, the leeway I have with that is what has allowed me to pull out my beta-designs.”

     “Now, as for where you five come in. Especially those with classes. Early on, I decided that simply fighting the Dungeon’s creatures might get old, and in many cases would be poor preparation for being attacked by humanoids. So, I created the cross system, which would allow divers to fight each other for extended prizes. Kind of like a new challenger in one of those older arcade games.” Will said over the munching.

     “But… They’re trained soldiers, what are we supposed to do?” Marc asked apprehensively.

     “That is where my beta system comes in. I’m sure you’ve seen small icons indicating experience or something to that effect. My class system is meant to be a walking cane for toddlers, you are supposed to learn the spells or skills given so that the system is unneeded to activate them. Say you learn how to cast Smite, the system can then cast a separate instance when you ask it to, effectively doubling your spell’s strength. Normally, you cannot complete a level-up without learning all the skills given to you. But, just this once, I’ll make exceptions.” Will said with a hint of mystery.

     Zippy stepping forward, “Soldiers, yes. Unfortunately, I think I know the people in your depths right now. They’re highly trained and have various backgrounds, brought together from various armed forces in your country and a select few others. They call themselves M.A.R.S. or the Magical Artifact Retrieval Specialists.”

     “That’s good, right? We don’t want the actual military here. But wait, why haven’t I heard of them?” Gus asked.

     “They’re hush-hush. At least, for now. They’re supposed to come public in a few years, after everything has died down and a group of magic hunters won’t be… you know, under the spotlight as much as they would be now.” Zippy said, making motions with his hands as he spoke. “Just as I’m your liaison for the U.S. Govt, I’m also a liaison for M.A.R.S. In all likelihood, this op was planned by a rival I acquired after stepping into your time. The people inside of this cave likely have no Idea that this is a political play. Only the top brass know that I am here.”

     ***

     “Everyone ready?” Clarence called from the front of the squad, standing directly in front of the door to room two.

     “Dungeon goggles are set.” Charlie called from the back, covering the rear.

     “Good, While we have no data that the next room will attack us on sight, things are not lining up with the packet. Be on your toes, but do not attack first. We don’t need the Tree getting involved as well, especially considering that anyone who triggered the event was unable to actually defeat it.” Clarence said from the front, referencing the packet they had been handed before the mission, describing Elder Thorne’s distaste of ‘jumping the gun.’

     Everyone pulled out their handguns to be ready, right as Clarence pushed past the first door.

     ***

     Will handed all five of the people inside of their sanctuary a small glowing crystal. When you looked into the swirling green and purple designs in the center, it looked like the design itself moved as if it were the very top of a hurricane.

     “These are Torsion Barriers. They should remove the spinning from any rifled bullets; drastically reducing their penetrating and stopping power. They won’t remove all the force, but the amount they do will make anything less than a high-caliber round feel like getting hit with a BB gun.” Will said.

     Jamie looked up, cheeks puffed up like a chipmunk full of the glorious spicy-sweet bounty and refreshing ginger soda. Swallowing, “So, bout those levels, they only affect people with classes, right?”

     Will nodded, “Yes, and there’s one more piece of bad news.”

     Even Billy Joe stopped digging into her third silver bag when she heard that.

     Will sighed, “I have rules, then I have morals. They are in my Dungeon, and I have already decided that If they impress me, same as any other diver, they will be rewarded. I cannot promise you that the gifts I give them will not make your fight harder and thus make it easier for them to take me.”

     “Why would you do that?” Billy Joe asked incredulously.

     Theodore walked up, putting a small paw on the side of her leg, “Do not judge Majesty too harshly, miss. I let it slip how Majesty will be creating more dungeons…”

     “THEO!?” Will burst out with surprise.

     The Opossum continued. “This is a school. All the minions you fight? They’re piloted by artificial souls, souls that are being taught how to run a dungeon. This first week we’re focusing on minions, which is why there are so many in the shellfish room. If Majesty were to show favoritism, even if it is to save themselves, it would set a bad precedent for the students here.”

     ***

     Hero stared in shocked disbelief. His sword had been stopped, and now his health was plummeting. In less than a second, his health would hit zero and the intruders would be on to the next room.

     He had tried his best. Giving the soldiers a short but sweet speech right before he was challenged to a 1-1 duel. How could he say no? Challenged by the leader of the group of intruders; Hero had tried to finish it quickly, a quick step forward with an overhead swing. Using his new metal sword, he would cut this man from collar bone to pelvis, sending him back to the Maroon Room.

     What he hadn’t expected was for his sword to be intercepted by the captain’s left forearm. Hero’s oversized metal sword bit into the man’s arm… and stopped. Barely an inch and a half deep, and no blood coming from the wound.

     Hero then made his final mistake, taking just a moment to glance at the man, the captain unloaded the entire clip of his handgun into Hero’s chest and stomach. Even with the new torsion barrier Hero was using, these point blank shots ripped through his chain-mail, annihilating his health bar.

     “H-How?” Hero asked as he fell backward, falling flat on his back as his body evaporated into a magic mist.

     ***

     “They’ve just cleared the second room.” Will said aloud to the entire room. “Be careful. The leader was able to stop Hero’s swing with his forearm. I’m not too sure what is going on here, sure; his strength stat and endurance are drastically higher than the others. But that doesn’t explain how he was able to take that massive sword to his left arm and not shed even a drop of blood.”

     Zippy looked up at the entire group with a smile. “Oh, it seems Hasenpfeffer made a mistake.”

     Everyone turned to look at the Gnome, who had been pretty quiet up until now.

     Zippy let out a small chuckle, “I’m pretty sure you just described Clarence, and if this is his team… Will, I need you to send someone outside. Please, bring the three soldiers out front inside so they don’t have to cause trouble.”

     Everyone looked confused as Will nodded to Theodore, “Do you mind?”

     Theodore grumbled as he walked back toward the gothic gates.

     “What do you mean… won’t have to?” Billy Joe asked from her seat beside Jamie.

     A barely noticeable grin appeared on Zippy’s small mouth. “I’ve noticed something since I’ve come to your time. Your bosses really love to monitor their employees to a creepy degree.”

     ***

     Carnage incarnate fell upon the artificial seabed. As the prawn artillery fired off its magical multi-colored orbs into the air toward the intruders; they responded with swift retribution.

     Entire lines of infinity lobsters were blown apart by fast-moving projectiles that left carnage in their wake. Only the crabs were spared, the new barrier the head-master had given them slowing down the bullets just enough for them to plink off of their reinforced carapace.

     Soul number 19 shivered in their lobster form. Excitement and adrenaline rushing through the tiny body, filling them with a sense of euphoria and fear. A projectile whizzed past their antenna, impacting one of the mighty crab’s shields and passing through. It connected with one of the beast’s knees, causing it to buckle ever so slightly for a second. Even these behemoths wouldn’t last long under this continual fire.

     Right as the tiny lobster was unsure which was greater, fear or awe. A bullet ripped through its bright blue form just as it launched its own glowing ball of necrotic magic.

     Soul 19 watched from the place between dimensions, deciding that yes, what it had felt was definitely fear.

     ***

     “I don’t think it will take long for them to get past room three, or four for that matter. Everyone, please make your way to the boss room.” Will said as they could see everything going on in their dungeon.

     Jamie grabbed a few big bags of chips and a six-pack, as Billy Joe laughed, picking them up and placing them on her shoulders.

     “GAAAAAAH!” Jamie screamed.

     “Oh calm down, you know I wouldn’t drop you.” Billy Joe laughed, walking towards the large gatelike doors which replaced the gothic ones from earlier.

     The group of five walked into the boss room. On her throne sat Galatea; as regal as ever in her long flowing dressed and now jeweled weaponry.

     “What’s with the bling?” Billy Joe asked, putting Jamie down who quickly hugged the throne and ground.

     “Boss said I needed an upgrade. Honestly, I’m not too sure the difference just yet.” Galatea responded, her smile soft and beautiful, her form statuesque.

     “I’m sending the levels,” Will said from no direction in particular. Everyone could just hear them inside of the boss room.

     Gus and Marc both fell onto their knees, clutching their chests for a second before looking around in confusion.

     Marc let out a loud yell, cupping her hands around her mouth. “COULD HAVE WARNED US!”

     ***

     The aquatic room was now a mess of crustacean guts and water. The bullets had shredded the body of every one of the animals, leaving most of the slurry unusable for food.

     Anne shook her head in sadness at the waste, secretly hoping that Majesty could sort sustenance from shrapnel.

     “Alright that was far harder than I thought it would be. How is everyone’s health?” Clarence called from the far end of the room as the squad regrouped around the third door.

     Charlie gave a quick look around the group. “I’m down a little over a hundred health, same for most of us. Honestly, this may be rough, those crabs had no data in the packet and we were completely caught off guard by their artillery.”

     Clarence nodded gravely. “We still have a mission to do.”

     One of the soldiers from the middle spoke up. “Honestly though, I’d take this over our other missions any day. I got hit by a ball of death magic or something, those normally hurt and leave me in severe stomach pain for a couple days. Nothing this time except for some momentary discomfort, but, I mean, that’s a win, right?”

     Clarence nodded, “Yeah, It’s kinda nice getting hit by a fireball and not going up in flames.”

     “So, onto room four, right? We have two ways to do this, gather the creepy crawlies for a bonus reward, or we can just blow them all away.” Charlie asked.

     “We wouldn’t be very good retrieval specialists if we let a magic artifact get away. Slow and steady everyone. We’re here to make friends, not enemies in the next room.” Clarence said, placing his hand on the door to the room of complete darkness.

     ***

     “Guess it’s time I used this, huh?” Jamie asked no one in particular.

     Pulling the discolored bright class gem out of their pocket, Jamie gave it a tentative lick. The stone tasted of cinnamon and ashes, yet it also had a cooling mint flavor at the end. All in all, not the worst rock they’d ever licked.

     Billy Joe took the chips and soda away from Jamie as they pressed the slightly warm stone to their skin.

     Orange cracks started racing along Jamie’s body and they let out a deafening scream. Their body convulsed and started spasming as Galatea and Billy Joe quickly ran to their side. Gus and Marc both started freaking out as they saw the cracks spread and Zippy’s eyes were the size of saucers in surprise.

     An ever-changing multi-color glow crept out from the cracks in their skin and began building. “Wh-what’s going on?” Jamie’s words weakly fell from their lips.

     Zippy slowly walked up to the young scavenger as Galatea sat them on her prized throne. Floating up to the armrest on his small cloud, the Gnome put his hand on their warm arm.

     “It’s your rebirth, you’ve not changed yet, and I thought it was… Wait a minute…” An odd look crept itself upon Zippy’s face. Realization combined with disgusted pity, as if looking at a beast who was too simple to understand an action was harming themselves.

     “Flowers do not bloom in the shade.” Zippy’s words crept inside of Jamie’s mind, like a sing-song melody, or the world’s most successful lullaby. They had no idea of knowing that the words were magically laced to speed them into unconsciousness. For a delayed rebirth is always a painful one.

     Just as Jamie could not handle the feeling of something trying to rip itself free from their body, their entire world became naught but black.

     ***

     “What’s going on? My boss-connection feels weakened and the divers just stepped into Gruesceth’s room.” Will’s voice flooded the room, their attention previously focused on the destruction in the third room.

     Billy Joe stared at Jamie’s chrysalis on Galatea’s throne. The small faint green trace of magic finding its way to the angel was severed.

     The five remaining people in the room looked at each other in amazement at Jamie.

     Then, they all dared look at the door to room five with dread.

     ***

     Deep inside of Will’s mental realm, the tree of knowledge began stirring. Its roots had been grown into circuit boards growing deep, deep into Will’s spirit earth. A grafted root had been activated, filled with nutrients and mana; the tree asked the Game Masters permission to infuse. For the Game Master’s judgment was absolute, even above the Will of the world it grew in.

Experience System beta initiated…

Three votes required… Approved.

Held Experience has now been distributed to owners.

Changes are as Follows...

 

Gus

Questlord Level: 0002
Domain: Protection, Dream.

Gained Spell:
Summon Golem Familiar.

Channel your mana into a medium chunk of rock. Golem statistics based upon material used.

Mana Cost: 130 mp.
Duration: N/A
Cooldown: Golem Death

 

Marc

Priestess Level: 0002
Domain: All.

Gained Spell:
Unseen Force

Create an area of force with a maximum diameter of 10 meters. Designate a direction for the forcefield to push. Will move air, water, and many other things.

Mana Cost: 10 mp. Per 25 square millimeters.
Duration: 30 minutes.
Cooldown: 15 Minutes.

 

Jamie

ScaXenger level: XXXXErRor.
DoXaXns: XyXXX, XXXXiXXXX.

Class Gem has been interrupted by rebirth… Refunneling Mana… Optimization progress underway…

Class Gem rebirth underway… Essence of the Fruit absorbed… Reconfiguring.

New Greater Class Created: LootLord.
Domains: Escalation, Cycle, Luck, Archivist.

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About the author

Blackguard

Bio: Amateur writer and ravenous reader. I do my best to keep consistent if not generous updates, comments are welcome and encouraged. Nonbinary Zebra.

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