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A note from CoCop

Word count: 29421

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The quiet slap of Kat’s hands against the stone rungs of the ladder and her occasional grunt were the only sounds in the massive boss chamber. The entirety of the icy lake that Arnold and her had seen was gone, replaced by the massive array of ice spears jutting up out of the floor. Only a narrow stone bridge, offset by ten to twenty feet from the entrance, connected the hallway to the stone cylinder on which the dungeon altar stood.

Evidently, Arnold and her were supposed to notice that the lake was a trap and make their way to the safe stone passage before it shattered beneath them, spilling them onto the spikes below. Once again, she muttered a curse at Arnold’s carelessness as her breath began to shorten into sharp gasps from the exertion of the climb.

She crested the edge of the ladder and pulled herself up onto the platform just in time to have to roll to the side as a longsword made of ice smashed into the stones where she’d just been.

Kat sprang to her feet, knife in hand and cursed as the knife wielding sculpture closed with her, slashing at her with its own blade. A shift of her body let the stab pass by her, but her counter attack did little more than chip its forearm.

Luckily the living statues moved stiffly, and didn’t seem to have anywhere near the reactions of a player, but they made up for it with their defenses. Without critical points for her to nip and slash at, Kat’s knife wasn’t even as useful as a brick or a pipe. What she really needed was something large and blunt to shatter the crystalline sculptures.

The knife wielder awkwardly swung at her once again. It’s slow and telegraphed movement gave Kat more than enough time to slap its arm aside and step into its guard. Rather than take the opportunity to stab and chip ineffectually at the entity, Kat grabbed it around the waist and shifted so that it’s icy torso was between her and its companion’s sword.

Both the sword and the statue Kat was holding tight to her chest spiderwebbed with cracks. Her right hand snuck down to the creature’s waist, fingers clenching against the hard ice of its hip.

“Fuck it,” she muttered, her right foot snaking past the sculpture. “Knife isn’t working, time to try something else.”

She concentrated on the ice statue shifting behind her as she shoved out with her butt, getting her center of gravity below it. Mana flowed out of her as Levitation snapped into place. Even with her hand still holding the hilt of the knife, it was easy to hoist it up on her back and execute a simple hip throw.

Kat grunted in satisfaction as the creature flailed, arcing in a perfect rainbow before she cut her spell, dropping it to the spiked ground below.

The two remaining golems approached her, weapons at the ready. Kat sheathed her dagger. It was almost superfluous against enemies like this, a strong argument for adventuring with companions. Preferably large and strong individuals that used massive blunt weapons.

The dual wielding statue scissored the blades at neck level, forcing Kat to scramble backward, almost to the edge of the pillar. Before she could fully recover, the sword wielding ice creature thrust toward her.

Once again, she was grateful for its stiff and rusty movements. Kat bent to the side, letting mana flow into her assailant as she grabbed its out of position wrist. With a sharp yank, Kat pulled herself fully back onto the platform and threw her newly light opponent off of the edge entirely.

Mentally, she dismissed the spell as she squared off with the final sculpture, enjoying the crunch and tinkle of shattering ice as her erstwhile opponent tumbled to the cavern floor.

The final golem switched tactics, swiping with a blade while it stabbed with the other. Kat scrambled to get out of the way, once again hampered by the sluggish body granted by the tower.

She sucked in her stomach, avoiding the slash, but the stab from its other sword went clean through her bicep. The dull red icon in the corner of Kat’s vision flared to life as pain exploded up her entire side.

Even as the ice sculpture withdrew its bloody sword, something primal in Kat snapped. She screamed loud enough that her voice cracked and the iron taste of blood hit the back of her tongue. Levitation popped into existence around her enemy and a step that should have been a pirouette that ended in a double sideways slash across her torso launched it almost a foot into the air.

It hung there, glittering. If Kat didn’t know better, she would have sworn the perfectly spherical ice spheres it used for eyes widened in shock.

She kicked it as hard as she could. It wasn’t anything elegant. Kat was in too much pain to care about proper form. Instead her foot just slammed into one of its legs, just above the knee, flipping the golem forward even as the momentum from the strike sent it careening toward the edge.

Its face slammed into the stone lip of the pillar, shattering its nose and leaving its head a fragile web of cracks. A single icy hand reached up, trying to grab hold of the stone bricks of the circle that held the dungeon altar.

She cut the spell and gravity caught up with the golem. The hand disappeared almost immediately, replaced a second later by a satisfying crash.

Kat fell to her knees, dizzy and in pain. She slapped her hand over the hole in her arm, trying to staunch the bleeding. The entire room swam around her as her hand clenched down on a pressure point.

Three hit points and an active bleeding effect, all of the sage leaf gone. Her hand felt damp and warm as her heartbeat betrayed her, steadily pumping blood onto the uncaring dungeon stone.

Two hit points.

God, wouldn’t that be ironic. After Arnold backed her into a corner and failed at everything, this would be how she died. Victorious, but alone and bleeding out.

Silently she vowed to never attack an armed person bare fisted. It might have made sense under circumstances, but that didn’t change the fact that it was an incredibly risky idea. Kat was sure that if only she’d stopped to think of a way out of her predicament, she could have resolved the fight without taking another stab.

One hit point.

This was bullshit. Kat’s vision grew grey. Absolute bullshit.

Something chimed, and a yellow icon appeared in her vision. Squinting, she let out a sigh of relief. Stabilized at one hit point.

A brief review of her notification log brought a frown to her lips. The attack had inflicted one to four bleeding damage over time. Technically, her survival had been very average, slightly under a fifty percent chance from the moment the golem had stabbed her.

Still, under a fifty percent chance to survive, stuck on her knees, with her very life beyond her control. That wasn’t a place she ever wanted to be again. Risks might bring rewards, but they also tended to bring early graves. Uncontrollably, her gaze flickered in the direction of Arnold's smashed and twisted corpse.

Standing unsteadily she walked to the altar, placing her hand on the dungeon heart. A tingling warmth filled her body as the tower’s awareness washed over her.

Congratulations Adventurer!
You have completed the Wood Tier Level One Dungeon, Icy Descent.

Three party members were recommended for this delve. Please recruit more before your next delve!

One of Two party members surviving. Better luck next time!

Assigning awards:

Skill Stone (Water I)

Agility + 1

 

Energy rose up from the dungeon heart, a rainbow of color and energy that fizzed and crackled around Kat. For a second, vertigo threatened to overtake her, and then she was standing unsteadily outside the dungeon portal.

She staggered slightly, leaning against the portal’s frame as the world spun from a combination of blood loss and the aftereffects of the teleportation.

“Ah!” A cheerful voice exclaimed in a familiar British accent. “Miss Kat! It is good to see you again. I haven’t seen much of you and Mr. Arnold for the last couple of days and for a while I began to fear the worst.”

She squinted at Dorrik, taking in their widespread arms and gleefully displayed crest. Behind them, a creature that looked more than anything like a giant otter wrinkled its nose as it looked her up and down while leaning against a huge metal claymore.

“Your fears aren’t entirely wrong regarding Arnold,” she replied blearily. “He set off a trap in the final room of the dungeon and got himself killed. I ended up having to clear the entirety of the final room on my own, and I think it’s safe to say that I wasn’t exactly equipped for it.”

“That is a shame,” Dorrik clicked their tongue in sympathy. “When do you think that Arnold will enter the dreamscape once more? The Dessoph next to me is Kaleek. He is a thug with much more training than most of the rookies hiding out on the first floor.”

“And who is this Dorrik?” Kaleek shifted his weight, forcing Kat to blink as a flash of light from his brightly polished cuirass briefly blinded her. “Whatever it is, it looks like it’s been chewed up and spit out by gerrek hounds. I’m presuming you know it?”

“She, my friend!” Dorrik flashed a toothy smile that set made the huge bipedal otter’s tail slap the ground nervously. “Kat is a human, the new probationary race that’s been added to the dreamscape. Unlike most of her kind she seems both reasonable and well acclimated to the dangers of The Tower of Somnus.”

“She sure doesn’t look like she was ready for a dungeon to me,” Kaleek snorted.

Dorrik looked her up and down appraisingly, their tongue darting just outside a row of knifelike teeth before they shrugged.

“Forgive me if I’m wrong Kat,” Dorrik turned to Kallek. “I did some adventuring with Kat’s companion, and I would rate him in combat as somewhere between a nonentity and an active liability. The fact that she managed to survive a dungeon with him as a teammate is a testament to her resourcefulness.”

Almost instinctively, Kat opened her mouth to defend Arnold. People were almost always down on him when he wasn’t around, and it was almost second nature by now for her to explain away his flaws and peculiarities.

She caught herself. No. She bit her lower lip, chewing gently as she assessed their fights. Arnold had helped once or twice, but on the whole he had absolutely been a liability. Maybe things were about even, but Kat doubted it.

“I will want to see her abilities myself,” Kaleek glanced her up and down appraisingly, “but you can consider me intrigued.”

“Great!” Dorrik clapped their double pair of hands together before rounding on Kat, a giant toothy smile on their face. “Now that Kaleek has assented-”

“To a probationary period,” the otter chimed in, shaking its head at Dorrik’s exuberance.

“-to a probationary period with our hunting team,” Dorrik continued, not even slowing. “Kaleek is the associate that I mentioned previously. He specializes in up close fighting and drawing the attention of enemies. With you disabling targets from the flanks and me functioning as both support with my psi abilities and a frontline fighter, we will have a very balanced three person team.”

“Wait,” Dorrik’s face knotted up slightly. “If you’ve raided a dungeon, that means you have a class right?”

Kat nodded with some trepidation.

“It isn’t footpad is it?” Dorrik shook their head as they took in Kat’s sheepish expression.

“Well?” Dorrik asked. “Out with it! Just tell me that you aren’t a squire or a wizard initiate. You have too much potential to waste it on a bad class Kat. Just let me know how bad the damage is.”

“Elementalist,” she shrugged, wincing as even that simple movement pulled at her many half healed wounds. “Arnold told me that casters weren’t common amongst humans and that the class was a great fit for me. I’d been hit in the head pretty hard, but that really isn’t an excuse for making such an important decision hastily.”

“What element,” Dorrik tapped a claw against their lipless mouth thoughtfully. “I don’t see earth, electricity, metal or fire being all that useful, but I think I can see a viable build with wind or water.”

“What about gravity?” Kat asked tiredly. “Right now I’ve been creating localized gravity and anti-gravity fields to throw my enemies off balance while I fight them. I still do my killing with a knife, but so long as what I’m fighting can bleed, I’ve found that a sudden shift in their weight is usually enough to cause them to stumble or lose their guard long enough for me to stab something important.”

“That could work,” Dorrik nodded slowly. “Not my first choice, but elementalist abilities are quick to cast and don’t have vocal components. They might not have the variety of some of the other casters, but there are enough advantages that with some luck we can find you an interesting class evolution stone when the time comes.”

“Does that mean I’m still in?” Kat questioned, trying to make the question sound nonchalant.

“I say yes,” Kaleek answered for Dorrik. “Your dead friend was right. There aren’t a whole lot of casters that make it past the lower levels because most of them can’t hold their own in a fight and get themselves killed before they can grow into actual powers. If you can solo a dungeon with minimal magic, I’m betting you’ll be able to stick with it long enough to actually amount to something, and that’s something I’d be interested in having on my team.”

Dorrik fluttered their crest cheerfully while nodding enthusiastically.

“In that case,” Kat smiled thinly at the two of them. “I just got a water skill stone in the dungeon. I was about to use it, but if you have any hints as to what initial spell I should select, I’m all ears.”

“Dehydrate,” Kaleek spoke without hesitation.

“Pseudopod,” Dorrik finished right after him.

For a second the two aliens eyed each other. Then Kaleek shifted his grip on the claymore and continued his reasoning.

“Dehydrate is a powerful attack spell,” he explained, his whiskers twitching slightly. “It uses a fair amount of mana, but it evaporates a significant amount of water. Given how many monsters are reliant on water to sustain their blood and tissues, that makes it a potent and devastating attack.”

“This is true,” Dorrik agreed, “but I am not sure that dehydrate is Miss Kat’s style. From what I’ve seen, she can handle most creatures made of flesh and blood already. Pseudopod on the other hand is a utility spell. It forms a whip of water that you can control with your mind. It doesn’t have any one set purpose, but you can use it to entangle opponents, pull yourself up, or to crudely strike an opponent from a range. At higher levels, I’ve seen elementalists actually arm their pseudopods and fight with melee weapons from a range.”

Kat bit her lip, thinking over the merit of both options. Her hand reached into the satchel she carried with her and brought out the stone, clear except for the faint image of a water droplet deep in its core.

She closed her eyes, willing the skill stone to bond with her.

You have reached Level 1 in the skill Water I, please select a first tier spell.


Water Jet

Dehydrate

Submerge

Pseudopod

Sheen

Pressure Blade

 

Kat made her selection and opened up her character sheet.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

1

163 Marks

HP

1/18

Dodge

Insignificant

MP

20

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

19

Strength

3

Agility

4

Fortitude

3

Endurance

3

Mind

3

Reaction

3

Charisma

3

Spirit

3

Spells Known

Gravity’s Grasp

Levitation

Pseudopod

Skills Known

Knife I - 3, 42%

Gravity I - 2, 86%

Water I - 1, 0%

Perks

 

“Well then Miss Kat,” Dorrik nicked the palm of their hand with a claw before pressing the blood against the shimmering portal behind her.

“Now that the dungeon is no longer occupied,” they shot her a cheerful wink, “Kaleek and I have some awards to earn. We should meet again tomorrow around the starting village spawn point. We will have to practice our teamwork against lower level monsters, but I can foresee a happy and prosperous future for the three of us once we begin working together.”

“Agreed,” Kat smiled tiredly. “And thank you for giving me a second chance after how awful Arnold was to you.”

“But of course Miss Kat,” Dorrik replied, their smile all teeth. “I’m interested in your species and pointless belligerence is what I’ve been led to expect. As far as I am concerned, it is you that is the pleasant aberration.”

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About the author

CoCop

  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night

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