Osmosis? Fire Eater?
The words echoed through Ari’s mind. He couldn’t quite grasp how his summon learned a new spell during the fight. When he tried to focus on the Osmosis spell, no description appeared, and only its level was raised by one. Which was also something new — till today, the spell didn’t even have one.
During the evaluation, they were surprised that his spider didn’t have any skills. And somehow now the squirrel had two, and he could see them while inspecting the spell.
|Summon Lesser Fire Elemental - level 7|
|You summon a lesser elemental, which fights alongside you and obeys your commands until it is destroyed or dismissed.|
|Known skills (2/5): Blazing Acorn, Fire Eater|
Why now? What changed? Ari sighed and opened his eyes.
His teammates sat on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. Killian’s face was pale and his breath shallow. Ari felt terrible for asking him to use the trap at full power, but they didn’t have a choice. While the boss was weaker than the boar in the previous dungeon, its curse spell was annoying, to say the least. If not for the regeneration and the mistakes they made, the boss fight would be far easier. We still have a lot to learn.
“Fucking boxes,” grumbled Elijah while rubbing his temples. “Next time we hit the damn thing till they appear.”
“My mistake,” Tasia sighed. “The skeleton got on my nerves.” She stood up and waved her hand, signaling Ari to follow her.
The pair approached the crater at the center of the chamber, trying to avoid all the fissures in the destroyed floor. There, Tasia started searching for something among the rubble.
“Listen” —Ari ran his bloodstained hand through his disheveled blonde hair, leaving accidental smears on his forehead— “about the weapon.”
The woman narrowed her blue eyes at him, but she hadn’t said anything. He cleared his throat and went on. “It’s your secret to keep. I just want to know why you aren’t using it more often. During the fight with the boar—”
“I couldn’t use it then,” Tasia interrupted him. She crouched and rummaged through a small pile of bones. After picking one, which resembled the wand the skeleton wielded, she cursed and threw it back on the floor. “Fuck, it’s broken.”
She cleaned her hands with a piece of cloth and let out a deep breath. “And you’re damn right, it’s my secret to keep. Just like you’re hiding something about yourself and mister pyromaniac over there,” she added with a snort.
Ari was silent for a few seconds before he spoke again. “Thank you for using the weapon. We wouldn’t have made it without you.”
“Just keep your promise.” She waved her hand dismissively, but a shadow of a smile crossed her lips.
Elijah and Killian joined them, and the group spread out through the chamber, trying to find the box with loot. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, the archer raised one hand and waved them up. He stood in front of one of the crypts, at the opposite side of the entrance. The boy still looked weakened, but the color returned to his face and he was breathing normally.
“What did you find?” Elijah asked when they approached him.
“Listen,” Killian said.
Ari pricked up his ears, but he could hear nothing apart from the wind coming and going. Wind? He neared the wall, and the noise was clearer here — it sounded as if wind whistled through the small cracks in the stone blocking the crypt.
“It’s only this one. The rest appears to be sealed,” Killian said.
“Good job,” Ari said with a smile. “Did you find a way to open it?”
Killian shook his head. Ari closed his eyes and focused his Sense at the crypt in front of him. There, he thought after a second. He reached out his arm and pressed inward an unassuming looking stone.
The stone door silently receded, revealing a passage leading down into another room with glowing vines on the walls and a stone pedestal standing in the center. There was something placed on it, but Ari couldn’t see what from here.
Tasia unsheathed her sword and went first inside, the rest followed. The room was small, and they barely managed to fit there. Broken pieces of what Ari assumed previously was a crystal mixed with steel, lay on the pedestal.
“Fuck, we messed up so badly,” Tasia groaned.
“Why?” Ari asked.
“That looks like a phylactery,” she said, pointing at the pieces. “Or rather what’s left of it.”
Ari stared at the woman with a questioning look in his eyes, and she sighed, but Elijah spoke before she did. “The boss stored his life force in the crystal. This is why it regenerated after we killed it the first time. But even then, it should appear here after a few days, not explode right after.” His brows furrowed after he finished speaking.
Tasia nodded and said, “Because it wasn’t a normal phylactery. Liches don’t appear in low ranked dungeons, they’re at least a high opal rank monster. That thing we killed was an evolved skeleton, who wanted to act like a lich and separated part of its essence.” She turned toward Killian and chuckled. “And your trap destroyed both him and the ‘phylactery’ he made.”
“Still, the dungeon would be much easier if we had a Stalker like Roisin on our team,” she continued as she approached a hole in one of the walls from where the draft was coming from. “He could have scouted the graveyard and the chamber, and maybe even found this room. Instead, we just stormed through the front door, or a gate rather, and nearly died.”
Ari thought about her words and agreed with them. They disregarded Elijah’s hunch and walked straight into the skeleton’s trap. While most of the knowledge from his world wasn’t useful, it seemed he knew quite a lot about the monsters and their behavior. Maybe all the books he read will help us now, he thought, looking at Elijah, who was leaning against one of the walls as he cleaned his sword.
“Hey, there’s something here,” Tasia said suddenly. She thrust her hand into the hole and started tugging at something. A moment later, she pulled out a skeleton with fragments of rotten clothing still clinging to it. Two daggers were strapped to what was left of its belt, but they were covered in rust and no use to anyone now.
“Yuck,” she said after she got up. “Looks like we found one of the members of the group the boss mentioned.”
Reaching down, Ari picked up one of the skeleton’s hands. On the ring finger gleamed a simple band made of gold, and he pulled it off. He studied the item and its description appeared in his mind.
||Rank: Unranked 2|
|Inventory capacity at 7/15
Woah, no way! Ari thought, and a broad grin appeared on his face.
“What is it?” Elijah asked.
“It’s a void ring!” Ari said excitedly.
“Really?” Tasia asked, and joined him. “Let me take a look.”
He gave her the ring, and she closed her eyes. “Nice find. Shame there’s nothing useful inside, just spare clothing and food.” She returned it to Ari. “You should keep the ring because you need it the most. Still, after the stunt you pulled you should get jack-shit.”
“What are you—”
“Don’t what me!” She cut him off and poked her finger at his chest. “We spoke about your arm with Roisin, and she said there’s nothing we can do to speed up your recovery. Only after nearly a week, she deemed the arm to be strong enough to allow us to enter a dungeon.”
Ari looked around at their solemn faces and grew angry at himself. He always downplayed the severity of his wounds after training with his father and suffered in silence. The alternative was much much worse. I need to stop doing that. It’s not only about me anymore.
“I’m sorry…” he said after a few moments. “I should have been more open about it.”
“You’re right, you should!” Tasia said. “We all saw what the boar did to your arm and how it bothered you since then. We waited patiently for you to talk to us about it, but you didn't do it.”
Elijah cleared his throat and raised a brow. “Just like you were so open about that ridiculous poleaxe?”
“That’s not the same thing.” She protested and crossed her arms over her chest. “And don’t tell anyone about the weapon, especially not Roisin.”
“We won’t,” Ari said. “But you will have to explain how it works later.”
Tasia was silent for a second as she considered his words. “Fine.”
I can’t mess up like this again, Ari thought and decided to change the topic. “How do I use the ring?” Sending the essence inside only allowed him to identify it.
“You have to will your essence inside, but also think of the word inventory to check what it contains. The other words are store and retrieve. I think I don’t need to explain what they do,” she said with a smirk.
“That’s weird,” Elijah interjected. He hovered over the skeleton and poked at it with his sword. “He didn’t have a necklace.”
“Really? Maybe he was a Wanderer?” Ari said.
“If what Roisin said about them is even partially true, a Wanderer wouldn’t die in a place like this.” Tasia shook her head. “Let’s find the stupid box and return home.”
They nodded and left the hidden room, spreading out again. After half an hour of searching, they finally found the small chest outside in one of the graves.
The chest looked exactly the same as the one in the previous dungeon, down to the mark with the tree and pickaxe on its brass plate. Ari opened it, and inside he found a black leather bracelet studded with glistening metal. Without wasting any more time, he identified it.
|Leather Bracelet of Elemental Enhancement|
||Rank: Unranked 3|
|Active: Enhances your weapon with the element of the last spell that hit you. Last for one attack.|
This seemed awfully similar to the skeleton’s wand, but much weaker as he could copy spells and use them more than once. Wait a minute. Copy spells. The squirrel saw the skeleton doing that. What if Osmosis is somehow connected to it? An idea formed in his mind, and he couldn’t wait to test it.
Ari gave the bracelet to Tasia. “I think it will suit you.” While the woman identified the item, he retrieved the spherical holder. It was full of liquid essence, but this time its color was more gray than white.
“I don’t like the being hit part, but I will have to try how it works. We can always sell it,” she said with a shrug. “Time to leave this world.”
Ari nodded and activated the holder. The ivy covered stone archway appeared a moment later, and they saw the field filled with dead cattle through it. They took one last deep breath, readying themselves for the awful smell. Then, they stepped inside and vanished, leaving the empty graveyard behind.
The ride back looked way different. One of the guards wanted to travel to the town with them, and Roisin convinced him to drive while she joined the team inside the cabin. It was a little crowded now, but the woman didn’t mind as she pestered them to reveal every little detail of what happened in the dungeon. They indulged her, but they left out the part about Tasia using her weapon. Roisin seemed satisfied with what she heard, but she already had some ideas on how to improve their cooperation.
After they arrived at the outpost, she told them to wait in the training room while she retrieved their payment. On their way there, the group stopped in the main hall to check the ranking. Already six team names were written in red, and theirs was only a few positions ahead of them. Twenty-four dead recruits and it’s been only a week since the inauguration...
“What about celebrating?” Elijah said eagerly, interrupting his thoughts.
Ari looked at him with a confused look on his face.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Tasia asked.
“We did a good job today, and we should celebrate. Do you know where The Golden Goose inn is?” Elijah said.
“I heard about it,” Tasia said as she rubbed her chin. “South of the town near the gate?”
Elijah nodded, and his face brightened. “That’s the one. Let’s meet there tonight at 8 and we will—”
“Ari Ragnarsson.” A familiar voice sounded behind them.
Ari turned around to face a silver-haired man wearing an immaculate black suit. He stood a few meters away, staring at the group with his piercing amber eyes. It's the council member from my evaluation.
“Please follow me. Someone’s here to visit you,” the man said.
“Uhm, who?” Ari asked.
The silver-haired man hawklike brows rose slightly, and he remained silent.
“Right,” Ari said awkwardly and turned toward his teammates. “Don’t wait for me, I will join you in the training room.”
Then, Ari followed after the man, wondering what this was about. He led him to the fourth floor, through several different stairways and hallways, and Ari had trouble keeping up with his pace. He was still tired after the dungeon, but at least the silver-haired man wasn’t interested in conversation as he remained silent the whole way.
Finally, they came to a large wooden door, on either side of which stood a man wearing Order’s clothing. When they noticed the approaching pair, one of them knocked at the door and opened it.
Who the hell am I meeting if they have their own guards? Ari felt his palms sweating, and he tried to keep a calm expression. The silver-haired man pointed at the door with a wide inviting gesture.
When Ari got closer, he could already smell the rich aroma of tea wafting in the air. He took a deep breath and stepped into a room containing polished wood floors, old brick walls, and a high ceiling painted white. A round wooden table filled with pastries and various drinks stood on his right. Aside from two accompanying leather armchairs placed beside it, that was the room’s only furniture.
The opposite wall featured a large double window, in front of which stood a tall woman with her hands clasped behind her back. She wore a white shirt and pants, which contrasted with her silky dark-brown hair curling down her back.
When the door closed behind Ari, she turned and looked him up and down as her amber eyes danced and sparkled. She was young, maybe in her early thirties, and her skin was even darker than Elijah’s.
“It’s so good to finally meet you, Ari. I have heard so much about you from your mother,” she mused with a smile.