Time to level Collapse: 5 days, 10 hours.
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The first thing I did as I settled into Mordecai’s chamber was collapse into one of the classroom chairs. I’d been awake all night, and I really needed to get some sleep. The weight of the past 24 hours suddenly crashed down on me.
I watched Mongo, equally exhausted, walk straight to the fireplace and sit in front of it. I could tell he wasn’t yet used to his larger size, and it took him several moments to get comfortable. He eventually settled on his side, like a dog.
Mordecai transferred back to his own room a minute after we arrived. He arrived with a loud pop, and the drink in his hand sloshed onto the floor. The incubus cursed loudly at the sudden, unexpected teleportation. I’d forgotten to warn him. Whoops. Even though he was drinking, I could tell he wasn’t nearly as trashed as last time.
“Oh thank the gods,” Mordecai said, putting down the drink. “You’re at the medium settlement? I was getting sick of that small town. They only had three bars, and I’d been kicked out of two.”
“So when you go out there without us, it’s going to be that Skyfowl town now?” I asked.
“That’s right,” Mordecai said. “Since I’m now a manager, for me, it’ll match up with the last place Donut entered. If I was still a standard guide, I’d be able to dial it wherever I wanted.” He sighed wistfully. “There’s a guide-only town you buggers can’t get to. I was really looking forward to it. Don’t forget, I’ve been on this planet for decades. During the preparation stage, we can’t mingle so much. So it’s only when a dungeon is active do I get to see some of my friends.”
I felt a short wave of guilt for making Donut pick the manager benefit. But then I remembered we’d probably be dead already if we hadn’t picked it.
“Why aren’t you puking drunk?” Donut asked. She jumped up on Mordecai’s shelf and sniffed the drink. The flagon had “The Boll Weevil and the Chowder Pub” written on it. She crinkled her nose. “I thought your kind can’t drink.”
Mordecai shrugged. “I had to make a potion that negates the effects of alcohol on demon spawn. It’s simple stuff. Then I dilute it at 43%, and it makes it so the alcohol works as intended. Almost.” He frowned. “I think I need to add a bit more dilution next time.”
“You’re really into potions, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Yes. While I focused on fire magic, I also spent a lot of time working on my alchemy. I was a mycologist on my world. I studied fungus. It was something that held great interest for me, and the two go hand-in-hand. The sixth floor, even though it’s considered an urban level, is very thick with vegetation. Odette made me spend a lot of time learning about that stuff when we made it to that floor.”
“Huh,” I said. Donut looked at me sharply the moment he said that. She’d understood the significance of that last sentence the same moment I did. Neither of us said anything.
“I have a shitload of achievements and boxes to open,” I said. “I also have 12 stat points to assign.”
“Do the stat points last,” Mordecai said. “See what sort of gear you’ve gotten. It’s getting too late to hit the stores today, but we’ll do that in the morning.”
“The first thing I’m going to do tomorrow is buy pants,” I said. “I may not be able to wear shoes, but if we’re eventually going to go to a jungle level, I’m gonna want my legs covered.”
“Also, we want to go to the club,” Donut said. “Is it only open at night?”
“The Desperado Club will always be open,” Mordecai said. “It won’t be too hopping on this floor. On the sixth and ninth floors is where it gets really interesting. I’ll tell you guys about it tomorrow. Don’t go tonight. Carl needs rest. For now, open your boxes, and then you need to find a pub with open rooms. You can’t sleep here. You’ll want to watch the recap episode. You missed the one last night.”
“Were we on it?” Donut asked.
“You were, and I reckon you’ll be on it again tonight after what you two just pulled.”
“Was there an announcement?” I asked. “I don’t remember hearing it.”
Mordecai nodded. “It happened while you were still conked out in that elite’s lair. You didn’t miss much. There were a lot of patch notes, but I don’t think you have to worry about any of them. There’s a Golem spell that’s not working properly, so if you come across it, don’t use it. Oh, and they introduced something called collective bidding for sponsorships, but she didn’t explain it very well.”
Mordecai had said the number of achievements we’d receive would start to wane when we got to this floor, but I had over 20 of them, the most I’d ever received at one time. Many of them were related to fighting the boss while solo and completing the quest. A few of the achievements of note were:
New Achievement! One Quadrillion!
You are one of the first ten crawlers to have achieved one quadrillion views! That means one of two things. You’re either one of the best crawlers in the game, or you’re such a hot mess, people can’t wait to see you fail.
Reward: You have received a Gold Fan Box!
Admin Note: You have received your first Fan Box. Fan boxes contain items that are voted for by those who follow your progress. Once a box is received, you may not open it for thirty hours while the fans vote for the contents.
Donut also received the same achievement. She was literally hopping up and down with excitement over it. Mordecai was telling her not to get her hopes up while I moved onto my next achievements:
New Achievement! Yellow-Bellied Chickenshit!
You initiated a boss battle, and it somehow ended with neither of you dead. What a disappointment you are. What a goddamned smear.
Reward: Pussies don’t get prizes.
New Achievement! Johnny Quest!
Not only have you been given a quest, but you actually completed it without dying. We like it when you do what you’re told. It means you’re a good dungeon citizen and not a traitor to your people at all.
Reward: In addition to the Gold Quest Box you’ve received for completing the quest, new quest locations will sometimes appear on your map. Notice how I italicized “sometimes”?
The next one was even more interesting.
New achievement! Hadji!
You have completed a quest, but you completed it in a way unusual enough to trigger the Hadji Achievement! And like the oft exploited street children of Kolkata, where there’s one, there’s usually more. This is one of the rare achievements that can be rewarded more than once.
Reward: Your Gold Quest box has been upgraded to a Platinum Quest Box!
“There’s another level past that, too,” Mordecai said after I described the Hadji achievement. “I don’t know what they call it this season, but it’ll double upgrade your prize.”
Donut also received the Hadji upgrade. I watched as she opened her boxes. She’d received a bunch of the usual items from the lower-tier boxes along with a few random objects like colorful bows and collar charms not as good as her butterfly charm. The system said she could only have one. The hair bows also couldn’t be worn unless she took off her crown, which we couldn’t allow her to do.
She opened the Platinum Quest Box, and it held 5,000 gold along with two items. A skill potion and a pair of “Fang Caps.”
“Both are great items,” Mordecai said, nodding. “Those teeth caps don’t go well with Donut’s fighting style, however. You should either sell them, or you might want to consider giving them to Mongo. Most gear can’t be swapped with your pets, but some items can. This is one of them. Also, teeth caps come in pairs, and your dinosaur can wear up to six pairs of these things. It’s something unique to his type.”
While Mongo’s face was mostly the beak of an overgrown chicken, when he opened the beak, a row of sharp, ripping teeth circled the interior.
The skill potion gave her level three in something called Acute Ears, which didn’t just improve her hearing, it vastly increased the information that appeared on her minimap regarding not-yet-identified mobs. Basically, if she saw a red dot on her map, it now told her how large the mob was, and if it was a type of mob we’d already run across, it would tell us with “somewhat-reliable” accuracy.
Donut immediately drank it down. She pulled the twin, metallic metal caps from her inventory and allowed me to inspect them. They looked like a pair of loose vampire teeth.
Enchanted Fang Caps of the Expectorating Tizheruk
This is a Fleeting item!
Fun fact. There is not a single dentist from your world left in the dungeon. A few made it to the first floor, but every single one of those fuckers is now tits up. There’s a few hygienists left, but I wouldn’t want to rely on those chuckleheads. So what I’m getting at is that you need to install these yourself. Make sure they’re facing the right direction. You can always take them off, but this is a fleeting item. That means they disappear once they’re off. So don’t fuck it up.
Turns two of your incisors into ripping, tearing, deadly chompers that would impress even the most self-hating goth.
Increases melee bite damage by 50%
Each bite attack has a 25% chance to inflict a level-five Poisoned status.
Each bite attack has a 10% chance to inflict a level-five Paralyzed status.
“I’m totally giving this to Mongo when he wakes up. Carl, you’ll have to put them on him.”
“Are we sure that’s a good idea?” I said. I eyed the still-sleeping Mongo uneasily. He hadn’t chomped down on Donut or me in a couple days. But he snapped at the both of us. A lot. Both Donut and I were immune to poison, but not paralysis, as we both learned the hard way when Signet had captured us before.
Mongo chomped at the air in his sleep. It sounded like an axe splitting wood.
I sighed and moved to my boxes. I had several more than Donut did. She harrumphed at that. I could tell she was pissed that I was now three levels above her, but she hadn’t actually said anything out loud.
In fact, I had received a Lucky Bastard box for surviving Signet’s initial attack on us, but Donut hadn’t. She received the same Lazarus achievement, but instead of the box, her reward status said, “You’re lucky to be alive. That’s your reward.” None of us were sure why. Mordecai suspected it was because Donut’s health had zeroed out while Mongo was defending her, and she’d been saved by her Cockroach skill. But that didn’t make sense to me. It was just one of those things, Mordecai said. “Get used to it.”
I started sifting through my rewards. I received multiple sticks of goblin dynamite and smoke bombs. I also received a whole box of hobgoblin dynamite along with three globs of Hobgoblin Pus—the remote-controlled explosive detonators—in the bronze boss box from my fight with Heather. I’d never seen hobgoblin dynamite before. The sticks were white instead of red. They had a larger yield and were much more stable.
I’d also been receiving a lot of random odds and ends lately that were simply labeled “Trap Supplies.” They all went into my inventory. Mordecai warned me not to mess with that stuff until I had my sapper’s table set up. “I don’t know too much about trapmaking, but I do know it’s just as dangerous as handling explosives,” he said.
I’d been expecting another lottery ticket in my Lucky Bastard box, but instead I received a single casino chip.
“Holy cow,” Mordecai said, snatching it up before it could get sucked into my inventory. He held it up to the light. “I’ve never even seen one of these before.” He continued gawking at it as my Platinum Quest Box opened up.
In addition to 5,000 gold coins, I received a single scroll. A scroll of Upgrade. I immediately read the description. A 20 minute timer appeared over the scroll the moment I picked it up.
Scroll of Upgrade!
Warning: This item has a short shelf life.
Maybe it’s not as good as getting something new, but sometimes it’s better to just take something you’re already comfortable with and improve upon it. Kind of like buying your girl new tits.
Once you read this scroll, one, random, currently-equipped item will receive an upgrade. That upgrade could be small. It could be huge. But since this item has a short shelf life, you gotta do it now or forever hold your peace.
“I hate these short shelf life items,” I said.
Mordecai was still peering at the casino chip. “They do that because if they didn’t, you could hold onto it and save it for a really deep level, making it more valuable than they intended.”
“Can I just take everything off except one item?” I asked. “If I wanted them to upgrade my ring, can I remove everything but that?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t,” Mordecai said. “I’ve seen people try that several times, and the upgrade is never very good when they do that.”
“Okay, I’m just going to do it now then,” I said. I pulled the scroll into my hotlist and activated it.
My Enchanted BigBoi Boxers glowed. I read the description. And then I read the description of the new benefit I’d just received.
I looked up at the ceiling. “You motherfucker,” I said. “Well played, asshole.”
Mordecai barked with laughter. “Those things are probably now your most valuable item.”
The upgrade was actually pretty awesome. But it came with a terrible catch.
Enchanted BigBoi Boxers.
This item has been Upgraded once.
All right, you already know the description of this item. Something something Incredible Hulk, blah, blah, blah. Now you want to know how this item has been upgraded. Right? So here are the original benefits of these naughty little undies:
+ 2 to Constitution
Wearer may cast a level 15 Protective Shell once every 30 hours.
That’s some good shit right there. But we can do better than that. Here’s a few additional benefits.
+ 5 to Dexterity
+ 5 to Intelligence
+ 3 more (for a total of + 5) to Constitution
+ The Freeballing Benefit
The benefit’s description was:
And I’m freeeeee! Freeee Ballling!
Usually reserved for monk classes and those too soused to reliably dress themselves, recipients of this benefit receive an additional 100% damage bonus to all attacks that originate below the waist. In addition, all skills that originate from below the waist train 20% faster. But as the name implies, this benefit allows only a single layer of armor or clothing to cover your crotch area. And since you’re already wearing these, it looks like you won’t be getting trousers anytime soon.
Mordecai was still laughing. “You shouldn’t have said you really wanted those pants.”
“What? What?” Donut asked. Mordecai explained it to her, and she, too, started laughing. They both laughed so hard Mongo woke up and started bouncing around the room excitedly.
“Oh this is delicious. Positively delicious!” Donut said. “Don’t worry, Carl. Maybe the next box will contain leather chaps. You can still wear those. Those would really frame out your feet.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Can you imagine how sexy Carl would be in chaps?”
“Goddamnit Donut,” I said.
I took a deep breath and waited for both of them to stop howling. For the first time in days I really craved a cigarette. I tried changing the subject. “These benefits are way better than the ones we received on the previous level.”
“Yeah,” Mordecai said, finally calming down. He handed me back the casino chip. “You’re eventually going to start seeing items that increase your stats not by numbers, but by percentages. That’s why it’s crucial to build your stats now. And you’ll see weapon damage modifiers that are a lot higher too. It gets a little crazy on the lower floors.”
Mordecai: Also, I don’t want to risk saying this out loud, but as you’ve just seen, once your brand gets established, they start to shift the type of gear you get. They like it when you get new equipment, and believe me you’ll be getting all sorts of new stuff, but they don’t want you completely changing your look overnight. Usually you don’t start seeing these scrolls until deeper, but you two already have a name for yourselves. You’ll be receiving a lot more of these Upgrade scrolls. That was a really good one. Most won’t be that potent.
“So what is this thing?” I said, examining the poker chip. It was black with pink, then purple, then pink splotches staggered along the edges. A familiar dagger logo adorned the center. The chip felt as if it weighed 15 pounds.
“Oh yeah,” Mordecai said. “So, you’re rich. Maybe.”
100,000 Gold Coin Casino Chip.
This is a comp chip, and it may not be sold or transferred. You may not redeem this chip directly for gold. This chip must be played at the High Roller’s Roulette Table or the Wheel of Fortune game at the Desperado Club Casino.
“Roulette?” I said. Bea always loved roulette. I would sometimes play blackjack, but I was one of those guys who got pissed off after I lost just a few bucks, and if I won, I would quit immediately. So I wasn’t much of a gambler.
“It’s not roulette like you know it. Go get some sleep. Tomorrow night I’ll take you both to the club and show you how that place works.”
“Can you get in?” Donut asked.
“Don’t you worry about that,” Mordecai said, grinning. “They know me there.”