The skitterling slapped into the ceiling. Kat yanked on the Pseudopod around its torso, cutting out the Levitation effect as she whipped the mass of beaks and tentacles into the dungeon floor with an audible crunch.
Dorrik’s swords diced one of the screeching balls of hatred into calamari as it threw itself at them, grimacing slightly as another latched itself to their leg, tentacles digging into their dark scales while its beak tried to force its way into the flesh of their calf.
Kat focused, paying the mana cost of Dehydrate even as her Pseudopod slammed the injured skitterling that she had a grip on into its companion. The spell went off, canceling her Pseudopod as it robbed a small sphere of moisture, and disrupting the water tentacle.
The two skitterlings truly got the worst of it. Their squidlike amphibious bodies weren’t designed to survive without a certain level of dampness. Almost as soon as the spell hit, they began squealing and vibrating in distress as it robbed their membranes of moisture they needed to pull oxygen from the air.
Kaleek slapped a skitterling out of the air with the flat of his blade before angling the point slightly to let another impale itself. Of the three of them, he’d suffered the most. The volleyball sized critters couldn’t penetrate his armor, but his fur was ragged with sucker marks and freely bleeding bite wounds from the vermin’s wickedly hooked beaks.
One fell from the ceiling, meaning to land on the bedraggled thug’s head only to meet a thrown dagger that punched deep into its slimy and rubbery hide. A second leapt from a dark corner of the dungeon only for Kat to appear silently beside it, plucking it deftly from the air by a tentacle before swinging it in a wide arc.
It hit the floor and bounced with a wet squelch. Kat didn’t wait for it to recover, instead stabbing her knife deep into its solitary eye just above its beak. Her feet blurred and she moved two paces in one motion as Cat Step let her close on the skitterling injured by her throwing knife and finish it before it could completely recover and throw itself at Kaleek again.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled and Kat spun around, knife at the ready only for a purple field of arrested momentum to halt the leap of yet another skitterling just long enough for her to pin it to the ground with her dagger.
She planted her foot in the dying monster and withdrew her weapon before scanning the room. Her perk, Nightvision, let Kat see perfectly in the shadowed chamber, albeit in black and white. A follow up scan of the ceiling confirmed her initial impression, unless the skitterlings had found a way to make themselves completely invisible, the three of them had finished off the horde.
“Clear,” Kat’s voice rasped slightly as her lungs pumped to refill the stamina she’d burned using Cat Step. Even at level one it was a powerful ability, allowing her to dash and sprint silently across the battlefield. Unfortunately, its use came at a heavy stamina cost. Hopefully later levels would increase the skills efficiency, otherwise it would forever remain something that she could only use in key moments.
“Are you sure that wasn’t the boss fight?” Kaleek groaned, popping two sage leaves into his mouth at once as he began chewing the herb into a medicinal paste. “Those little assholes did an absolute number on my fur and hit points. I’d rather fight two perytons at once than another room full of those any day.”
“You know that our team is better suited to powerful solitary foes,” Dorrik replied around their own lump of sage leaf. “Unless we hire a wizard, that will always be the case until Kat or I learn a proper area of effect or multi target spell.”
“Get on it then,” Kaleek’s joking tone faded into a hiss as he began packing green mush into his wounds. “Elders. As much as this stuff itches and stings, you’d think it would help my fur regrow, but no. I”ll be just as bald as Kat by the time the boss fight comes.”
“I tried to warn you about the pressure plate that opened the chitterling warrens above us,” Kat replied, smearing a poultice of mashed sage leaf against some bruising on her bicep. Even though she’d been able to stop the skitterling from biting her, the suction from its tentacles as it coiled around her had been enough to deal a hit point of damage on its own.
“Indeed,” Dorrik agreed, leaning against the wall of the dungeon as the sage leaf in their leg wound tried to do its work. “I have to admit that having a quiet dungeon excursion interrupted by two dozen squealing and writhing tentacled vermin falling on our collective heads was far from ideal.”
“You were warning me as I was stepping on it,” Kaleek snorted, glancing at the patches of fur ripped off by the cat sized squid monsters morosely. “I heard your shout at the same time as the ‘click’ from the dungeon as it released the ceiling panel.”
“Maybe it was all of your vaunted fur?” Kat asked playfully. “DId it get in your ears and garble my words?”
“I must say Miss Kat,” Dorrik replied smoothly, ignoring Kaleek’s mumbled curses. “You’ve taken to double casting quite well. The combination of Pseudopod and Levitation in particular opens up some interesting possibilities, especially if we end up fighting near some traps or an open pit.”
“I thought so too,” Kat smiled brightly. “I can barely afford the mana cost of single casting the spells in short succession, so I’m not sure how great a strategy it is in the long run, but I’m already excited for the prospect of throwing something into the air with Levitation and Pseudopod only to increase its weight with Gravity’s Grasp. On any moderately hard surface that will break bones easily.”
“Agreed,” Dorrik grimaced as they poked the beak mark in their leg. “At higher levels it isn’t uncommon to see elementalist based classes that focus on casting multiple efficient but low level abilities at a time. By the time they reach triple casting, the effect can be quite impressive.”
“It goes up to triple casting?” Kat arched her eyebrows. “That does open a lot of possibilities.”
“Elders,” Kaleek spat. “Maybe I should look into getting an area of effect attack when we get to the second level. Broad Swing or Whirling Steel might do the trick.”
“Save your marks,” Dorrik shook their head. “Even if you can theoretically use Whirling Steel with a two handed sword, most of its efficiency would be lost. Plus, Broad Swing is more for hitting two or three opponents next to each other. Not dealing with an angry swarm.”
“I know,” Kaleek responded morosely, “but it itches so bad. The little cretins ripped out half of my fur.”
“Fair,” Kat chuckled, “but once we’re done healing and regaining our mana and stamina, let me lead. I might not be able to take a sudden hit as well as you, but this dungeon is darker than most and I can see in the dark. I know your vision is a little better than mine normally, but in low light conditions, it just makes sense that I take point.”
Kaleek opened his mouth to respond only for Dorrik to cut him off.
“She has a point Kaleek,” Dorrik shook their head. “I know you take pride in leading the way, but pride is only useful so long as it encourages us to push ourselves beyond our limits and improve. Right now, there is nothing to gain from having you lead. Kat’s logic is sound.”
She smiled apologetically at Kaleek, cocking her head slightly. He started to speak again and caught himself. Finally the big otter just chuckled.
“I lost fur to skitterlings of all monsters,” that’s enough humiliation to make me see the light. “Lead the way Kat, and sorry about being so bullheaded.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Kat smiled back at him. “I was prideful enough to force the two of you to help me train on okkles for days on end until my skill levels were up to snuff. I’m not going to begrudge a little swagger on your part.”
“Swagger,” Kaleek nodded thoughtfully. “I like that. Your race’s concept of quiet but earned arrogance is an interesting one. I’m not sure the translation subroutines of the dreamscape are completely doing it justice, but I’ll have to look into introducing that word into desoph society at my next social gathering.”
“Glad to help,” Kat laughed. “Now, are we ready to delve a little further and see if we can finish this dungeon off? We’ve already had four or five encounters, so we have to be close to done.”
“I’m as ready as I will be,” Dorrik sighed. “My leg is still a bit tender, but sage leaves can only do so much. I’m already looking forward to potions, if I didn’t have to chew on another one of those bitter leaves for the rest of my life it would be a blessing.”
“Onward it is then,” Kat lurched into motion, quietly creeping toward the room’s exit. A quick once over of the door revealed a series of needles coated in something shiny on the underside of the lever that would open it.
Given the dungeon’s dim lighting, the simple trap was fairly well hidden. In all likelihood, more than one player simply missed the obviously poisoned needles. It wouldn’t be all that bad if they were wearing a gauntlet or thick mail, but anyone with bare hands like her was likely in for a bad time.
A second more thorough inspection failed to yield any unpleasant surprises, so Kat gingerly opened the door, careful to only place her hand on the top of the lever. Soundlessly it pushed open, revealing a massive cavern.
At the center lay an elephant sized creature, covered in shiny green iridescent chitin. Each of its four legs were massive. Easily the size of Kat herself, but they were hard to focus on given the pair of massive scythe blades jutting from its arms.
Around it, three smaller versions of itself, each ‘only’ the size of a horse shuffled about, prodding rocks with their blades as if looking for something. Behind them, barely visible past their collective bulk, sat the dungeon altar.
“A vornak hive champion,” Kaleek hissed, a huge smile on his face.
“I thought they were wiped out in the third crusade?” Dorrik asked uneasily. “What with them consuming all life they encountered, sapient or not. Including the Consensus landing party.”
“Who cares,” Kaleek’s grin was almost unnaturally wide. “Finally a trophy worth taking.”
“Kat,” Kaleek was practically hopping with excitement. “Do you think you can fight with Gravity’s Grasp active on that thing the entire time? They’re supposed to be slow as is. With a little extra weight I should be able to stay out of its reach long enough to crack a hole in its armor. I just need Dorrik and you to keep the little ones off of me.”
Kat looked at Dorrik, silently asking a question.
“Might as well,” Dorrik huffed in amusement. “He’s so excited. It would be a shame to spoil his fun.”
That was all the approval Kaleek needed, and with that the giant otter was off like a shot. Almost instantly the four vornak perked up, the vibrations from Kaleek’s charge alerting them to his presence.
Kat caught up with him fairly quickly, the combination of Cat Step and not wearing heavy plate armor letting her close the gap in a matter of seconds. In front of them, the smaller vornak ranged to either side of the champion, one on the left and two on the right, clearly attempting to flank their hunting party.
Before Kat could pick a side, Dorrik dashed past her to the right, clearly intent on taking the two giant bugs on their own. She crushed down a flash of anger at Dorrik’s actions. Likely a byproduct of Arnold’s constant low grade patronizing dismissal of her opinions, the idea that anyone would just act without consulting her triggered something primal in her.
But Dorrik wasn’t like that. Kat would have to maintain Gravity’s Grasp while she fought, restricting her to one spell. Dorrik wouldn’t be under any such restrictions. One of them would have to fight two on one, and Dorrik didn’t make that decision because they didn’t think Kat could handle it. Instead, the choice was made from a place of logic. A rational decision to maximize their team’s potential.
Kat focused, dropping Gravity’s Grasp on the hive champion a half second before Kaleek threw himself at it with a bestial roar. The massive bug stumbled slightly, its increased weight forcing it to miss a step just as Kaleek’s two handed sword dented and cracked its armored hide.
Then, Kat didn’t have time for anyone other than herself. A scythe am passed just over her head before she whirled to the side, her feet tapping silently against the dungeon floor as she narrowly avoided the charging creature.
A throwing dagger appeared in her hand as she eyed its back, but Kat slipped it back into her bandoleer unhappily. The entirety of the creature’s body was covered in hardened chitin. If she got close enough, she could probably use the penetrate skill to punch through its armor, but the blade still wouldn’t sink in deeply enough to do serious damage.
Instead, Kat would have to aim for the narrow joints on its legs and where the vornak’s torso segmented torso rose from its armored thorax. Squinting slightly, she pushed her mana into it, activating Dehydrate.
The spell didn’t cripple the creature. That would have been too much to hope for. Still, it released a keening moan as it turned back toward Kat after having missed her in its initial charge.
It began to gallop once more, seeking to run Kat down if she dared to stand in front of it or clip her with its sharp slashing arms if she tried to escape.
Steeling her fluttering heart, Kat stood directly in front of it. Dagger at the ready as it bore down on her, waiting for the exact last moment. The monster, clearly anticipating her goal of striking and retreating, spread its blade arms wide in an attempt to seal her options.
Just before it ran her down, Kat sprang into motion. Her mana dipped and Dehydrate struck its face at the same time that her stride lengthened, toes barely touching the dungeon floor.
The vornak blinked, its eyes crusted and blurry from the spell, and in that time she soundlessly slipped under its blade arm and rammed her dagger into its front right shoulder.
Its moment almost ripped the knife from Kat’s hands and her shoulders from her body, but she managed to hold on despite the flashing red indicator that appeared in the corner of her vision.
A second later, the vornak stumbled and fell, unable to sustain its weight on an injured leg. Before it could get up, Kat cast Gravity’s Grasp, pinning the wounded creature to the ground as it fought against its own weight to stand on three good legs.
More stamina trickled out of Kat, and her short strides carried her to its rear with deceptive swiftness. The Vornak tried to turn, pushing against her spell, but she managed to stab it twice behind a knee joint and once in a segmented hip before it rolled toward her. Unfortunately, thanks to the monster’s alien physiology, none of the blows managed to disable the beast, but they did add more ichor to the rapidly growing pool underneath its thrashing form.
Before it could launch a proper attack, Kat was behind it once again. This time pushing her dagger deep into the center of its back with the power of her Penetrate skill. It howled in pain once more, but already Kat was dancing silently away.
The next attack ended the vornak’s struggles entirely. Once again her knife glowed red, robbing her of more stamina, but this time it was lined up perfectly with the back of the monster’s head.
The chitin resisted the dagger for a fraction of a second before her weapons slid home and the creature froze. A second later it collapsed.
Kat stepped back and watched for a second as ichor continued to pool out of its multiple injuries. It didn’t look like it was faking, but she was hardly an expert on gigantic space insect physiology.
A pulse of mana flowed into the Gravity’s Grasp on the hive champion, reminding Kat to dismiss the spell covering her downed foe.
A look around the chamber drew Kat toward Dorrik. Kaleek was doing fine, hiding in the hive champion’s blind spots as he slowly battered away at the monster’s heavy chitin. As far as she could tell, the maniacally grinning otter hadn’t taken a single hit yet.
Dorrik on the other hand was bleeding from a brutal slash across their chest. It didn’t seem to slow them down overly much, and they had managed to remove a leg from one of the vornak, but Kat didn’t want to leave things to chance.
A moment later, the injured vornak was slammed to the ground by Gravity’s Grasp, its delicate balance thrown off by the spell. Kat hurried forward on silent footsteps, taking advantage of the creature’s pain and confusion to slam another dagger enhanced by Penetrate into the back of its head in the exact same place as the previous monster.
This one struggled for a second, forcing Kat to duck as it swung a blade roughly toward the spot where she’d been crouching with her knife in the creature’s head. Then, it twitched a trickle of ichor tailing out of its mouth and it was still.
Kat turned to help Dorrik further, but apparently her distraction had been all that he needed. Even as she watched, one of his swords tapped each of the remaining vornak’s blades to the side while the other plunged deep through the shallow armor protecting the monster’s throat.
It jerked back, letting loose a warbling scream as ichor fountained from its throat only for Dorrik to follow its retreat, jamming both of their swords into its chest. Before it could attack Dorrik, the big lizard hopped back and pointed a finger at the vornak.
“Ego shard!” Dorrik shouted the word and a crackling purple bolt of energy hit the giant bug, causing its eyes to glaze over for a second and giving Dorrik a chance to escape.
It took a couple of tottering steps to follow before collapsing entirely. Kat approached, her dagger at ready as Dorrik and her watched the body. After ten to fifteen seconds without movement, Dorrik pulled his weapons free.
Kat turned just in time to see the hive champion, on its knees from a combination of serious injuries and Gravity’s Grasp. It swiped futilely at Kaleek only for the grinning warrior to use the Parry skill to deflect its scythe arm into the ground.
Sparks flew everywhere as the razor sharp arm blade bit deep into the dungeon stone, but before it could recover, Kaleek rammed his sword into one of the creature’s beady eyes. It tottered, its remaining three eyes glaring at Kaleek with surprise and disgust before it collapsed entirely.
Notifications popped up in Kat’s vision, signifying the end of the battle.
You have reached Level 7 in the skill Knife I, you have received the following reward:
+3.3% speed and damage with knives (total +18.8%).
You have reached Level 3 in the skill Cat Step, you have received the following reward:
+5% Speed and -5% Stamina cost when using Cat Step (total +15%).
After a brief round of tired congratulations, one by one they put their hand on the dungeon altar to accept their reward. Kat could almost feel her breath catch as she prepared to leave after Dorrik. Kaleek would be staying for a little while to take a trophy from the dead hive champion.
Tomorrow, they would prepare and challenge the floor guardian. Her reward here would be her last major power up before she was forced to fight the most powerful of monsters available on the first floor.
Her hand looked small as she placed it on the dark gemstone of the altar.
You have completed the Wood Tier Level One Dungeon, Poisoned Hive.
Three of Three party members surviving. Good Job!
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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