You have reached Level 1 in the skill Cure Wounds I:
Mana Cost: 1 HP/2 Mana
A smile blossomed on Kat’s face as she absorbed the skill stone. The ability was slow, expensive, and mana inefficient, but avatars regained mana fairly quickly. At a very minimum she would be able to heal the rest of her hunting party in between encounters, drastically decreasing their reliance on expensive herbs that they carried in limited supply.
Perhaps more importantly, it would provide some relief to her ribs in the real world. Kat suspected that it wouldn’t be able to fully heal her. There were separate skills for causing/curing debuffs that likely applied to actual broken bones, but a decrease in bruising, pain, and swelling would be more than welcome.
She nodded to Gasoot. Already the huge rock’s eyes were turned elsewhere, scanning the players making their way around the starting village, looking for another potential customer.
She nodded to them with a smile and made her way back to the starting location. Dorrik was already there, fiddling impatiently with their swords as they waited for Kaleek.
“Hey,” Kat called out, slightly startling the big lizard. “Are we ready to go once Kaleek shows up?”
“You startled me Miss Kat,” Dorrik smiled, a pleasant expression made slightly unsettling by their massive array of razor sharp teeth. “As for our preparedness? We are more or less ready to leave. I’ve already gathered the publicly available information on the floor guardian for the surrounding starting villages. I just wanted to take a moment to make sure we were all familiar with what we will be facing before setting off.”
Before Kat could respond, a cocoon of rainbow light coalesced into Kaleek’s form, his fur pristine after being ravaged by skitterlings the previous day.
Kaleek blinked at both of them, adjusting to the dreamscape of The Tower of Somnus as he settled into his avatar.
“Are we ready for the big day?” The otter’s face split into a wide grin. “I know I’m more than done with hunting low level monsters across endless hills.”
“I believe so,” Dorrik nodded. “I was just about to tell Miss Kat about the Bright Priest, the guardian we will have to fight to ascend a level.”
“Crap,” Kaleek’s smile dissolved. “Are we going to have to deal with a curse and debuff specialist? I hate curses.”
“Curses and being really big primarily,” Dorrik responded without much enthusiasm of their own. “He also has a pair of minions that power a protective barrier. We won’t even be able to touch him until we bring them down.”
“Him?” Kat asked. “How do we know the sex of the boss? With most of the monsters we fight it’s a mystery.”
“Unfortunately,” Dorrik grimaced, “the boss is bipedal, fairly large, and he fights without clothing. His gender is fairly obvious. The proof has a tendency to dangle itself right in players’ faces.”
“As gross as that is,” Kaleek sighed, “do we have a plan of action for challenging this guy ourselves, or are we going to have to forego the three person completion bonus?”
“Without a healer of our own to counter the curses,” Dorrik shrugged, “I don’t think it is a good idea to challenge it on our own. We are only on the first floor, so the curses shouldn’t be unbearable. Likely an increased vulnerability to attacks and maybe a temporary attribute point or two. Still, I don’t know how we beat a boss tier enemy with anything less than our full stats.”
“Before I volunteer for anything stupid,” Kat began slowly, “two questions. First, how do curses target people? Secondly, what is this about a three person completion bonus?”
“Curses are like any targeted spell,” Dorrik responded, their crest fluttering slightly in confusion. “You concentrate on a target and the spell hits the target. I’m not sure I understand.”
“I’m wondering if it’s possible to spoof a curse,” Kat frowned, struggling to explain herself. “When I cast a targeted spell, sometimes, like with Dehydrate or Gravity’s Grasp, I’m aiming for a specific spot in the air. Others, like Levitation, target a specific being, but I noticed in our fight with the skitterlings that it doesn’t always get the right one. There’s a slight pause in between me casting it and the spell activating, and if something steps between my target and I in that time, the spell will hit it instead.”
“Interesting,” Dorrik wrinkled their brow. “I’ve heard of this effect, but I don’t know how helpful it would be. Evolved versions of the squire class can take advantage of it by intervening and taking the brunt of a spell on themselves, but I’m not sure that will help here. We don’t have access to anyone durable enough to take repeated debuffs while we bring down the guardian’s defenses.”
“What about a squirrel?” Kat smiled mischievously. “Curses just weaken their targets, right? Is there any reason why we can’t use some sort of small woodland creature to absorb them?”
“Because chiikrats have sharp teeth,” Kaleek chuckled. “They’re the closest thing you’re going to find to a squirrel in this area of the tower and they have fangs as big as your thumb. The little buggers aren’t shy about using them either. You’ll end up bloody and full of holes before the floor guardian can even get their first spell off.”
“What if I use Pseudopod?” Kat chuckled. “I should be able to keep the chiikrat at more than arm’s length, and the spell would let me move it around quickly enough that I should be able to block a spell or two. Plus, I should be able to keep enough distance with Cat Step to keep it off of me while you take out the minions.”
“That might work,” Dorrik nodded thoughtfully. “It’s still risky, but if you can keep the Bright Priest’s attention long enough for us to clear his minions without picking up some debuffs, the three of us should be able to take him without too much difficulty.”
“Now that we’ve established that it might work,” Kat continued. “What’s this about a three person completion bonus? More importantly, is it worth all of us risking our avatars on whether I can actively block spells with a woodland critter?”
“Part of the reason why there are some weaker players on higher levels,” Kaleek answered. “Is that you don’t really have a limit in how many people fight the floor boss. Things will scale partially starting at six players, mostly in the form of additional minions, but generally the difficulty doesn’t scale properly. It’s much easier to beat a boss with ten players than it is six.”
“The Tower of Somnus rewards those who push their limits,” Kaleek smiled, flashing his thin, needle-like teeth. “If you can clear a floor with three or fewer players, you get a bonus attribute point. One you can assign anywhere. At later floors it isn’t exactly a game changer, but it’s a welcome bonus if you can earn it.”
“If you two can handle the minions,” Kat shrugged, flashing a smile at her team. “That’s good enough for me to risk it.”
“Then let us catch a chiikrat,” Dorrik smiled back.
An hour later, Kat stood next to her teammates, covered in scratches, holding a chittering and squirming burlap sack gingerly, and questioning many of her life decisions. Ahead of them, a pillar of ivory rose from the ground up into the roof of the tower, the entrance to a circular staircase barely visible in its base.
A mountainous humanoid covered in fine auburn fur sat with his back to the pillar, stark naked. Next to him, two smaller members of his species served him food from a platter covered in roasted meat. The larger creature barely moved, instead letting its servitors place the food directly into its mouth before scarfing it down messily.
“Gross,” Kat grumbled, shifting her weight to hold the angry twisting bag away from her body. The chiikrat had already bit through the fabric and nicked her once, taking off a full hit point, and Kat wasn’t exactly keen to repeat the experiment.
“Wait until he stands up,” Kaleek grinned. “I’m glad you volunteered to deal with him first. I’m not exactly excited for all of the swaying and wobbling that would entail.”
“No reason to drag this out,” Kat sighed, trying to ignore her teammates’ snickers as she summoned a Pseudopod before dropping the sack.
Before the chiikrat could free itself from the bag’s confines, her tentacle of water crawled into the container, emerging with the struggling ball of fur and hatred. It hissed and chittered unhappily at Kat as she manipulated the spell to hold it at arm’s length from her.
“Ready?” Dorrik asked. Kat’s disgruntled nod and Kaleek’s chuckled thumbs up were all the signals the big lizard needed.
A second later they were pounding across the grassland that separated the three of them from the ivory pillar. Kat focused on holding the chiikrat in front of her, as she ran alongside her companions.
Halfway to their target, the floor guardian bellowed, slapping his minions aside before grabbing a large staff made out of wood. He rumbled to his feet, holding the staff over his head and began shouting something in an unknown tongue.
His two companions grabbed battle axes from where they had been leaning up against the pillar. As soon as their hands touched the he hilts, golden light flowed from the axes toward the staff suspended over the floor guardian’s head.
A curtain of light flowed down over him, obscuring his features and wrapping him in a protective golden glow as the two minions rushed past him, interposing themselves between the guardian and their party.
Kaleek threw himself at the one on the right, his two handed sword crashing into a battle axe hard enough to spray sparks everywhere. At the same time, Dorrik glowed faintly purple as they used body enhancement to speed their hands while their swords scissored in on the other.
Kat activated Cat Step, feeling the stamina burn out of her as she slipped in between the two minions. Kat’s feet blurred together and the hillside flashed past her as the distance between her and the guardian dwindled.
He screamed something unintelligible, pointing his staff at Kat. Almost without thinking, her Pseudopod curved upward, interposing the squealing chiikrat between her and the guardian.
Grey flames burst into existence around the chiikrat, drawing a squeal of distress as its struggles against the Pseudopod suddenly diminished.
In response, Kat whipped a throwing dagger at it. Unsurprisingly, the blade bounced off the curtain of light, failing to penetrate it in the slightest. It might be possible to overwhelm the defensive barrier, but that wasn’t on the table for Kat. Her fighting style was more a question of precision, not the brute force needed to undo such a powerful piece of magic.
Kat’s enemy charged toward her, staff held in a two handed grip over its head and exposing hundreds of openings that she would have been able to exploit to cripple or kill him if the floor guardian were an ordinary opponent.
Instead, thanks to the barrier protecting him, she was forced to use Cat Step to flow to the side, narrowly avoiding a double fisted overhand swing while the chiikrat squealed in terror. A second later, his leg, brilliant and shining gold, slammed into the ground where she’d landed, giving Kat barely a fraction of a second to dodge.
Kat backpedaled a couple steps to open up the distance between her and the guardian, her breath coming in short even pulls. The curses weren’t pleasant, but with the help of the chiikrat she could probably weather them.
What she hadn’t anticipated was how strong and fast the guardian was. Ordinarily, a close dodge followed by a counterattack was very much her combat style, but the gilded armor of light radiating off of the staff wielding giant presented a problem. No matter how recklessly he attacked, she couldn’t fight back. Her only option was to weave, dodge and harass in order to buy enough time for her teammates to take out the axemen.
He raised his staff, chanting once once again.
Kat clenched her jaw, curling her Pseudopod up toward herself. The chiikrat struggled in its grip, still burning with dim grey flames. She crouched slightly, ready to explode into motion the moment the floor guardian’s chanting reached a crescendo.
The glowing gold staff swung downward trying to draw a bead on Kat as she broke to the left, the tendril of water interposing the chiikrat between them. Once again, it erupted in dark grey flames as it absorbed the curse directed at Kat.
The guardian angrily shouted something indecipherable and lunged toward her, swinging its staff in a low arc that threatened to pick Kat up off the ground and send her flying like a golf ball.
Levitation clicked into place just before Kat jumped, easily clearing the chest high swing as she floated backward. The giant didn’t waste any time. As soon as he recovered from his attack, he darted forward, grasping with his right hand while the staff was held in his left.
Kat cut her spell out, dropping beneath the thrust and activating Cat Step as soon as she hit the ground. Another precious point of stamina burned away, but she was behind the guardian. Before he could locate her, Kat crouched in the waist-high grass of the prairie.
It wouldn’t conceal her for long. The chiikrat’s pitiful noises gave away her general position the moment she tried to hide. Still, every second she distracted the guardian was precious, giving her companions more time to finish off his minions so that they could actually fight back against the giant.
He spun around, the ground shaking under the brilliantly glowing guardian’s steps. It swung its staff through the grass in front of it before pacing forward. Another whistling swing of the light clad wooden rod trimmed a semicircle of grass close to the ground.
The chiikrat vibrated, squeaking unhappily as it tried to weasel its way out of her tentacle’s grasp. The guardian’s head whipped in her direction.
Kat couldn’t see his eyes, but she was sure the guardian was searching the tall grass for her. A moment later, he raised the staff above his head once more and began chanting.
She didn’t move. Instead, quietly activation Levitation. It’s possible that the guardian didn’t see her and was just trying to force her out of hiding. Her Pseudopod curled toward Kat, holding the chiikrat between her and the giant.
This time, the chant dragged on. One second. Two. Three. Nine. Kat could feel a slight burn in her legs as she remained crouched in the tall grass, waiting for the curse to finish.
The gleaming figure whipped its staff toward her, a cone of grey flame erupting from it. Kat jumped, Levitation almost giving her wings, but it wasn’t enough. The oncoming wave clipped her legs.
Rather than searing heat, icewater ran through her limbs as the grey flames enveloped her. Almost immediately, her entire body felt heavier. Her reactions grew sluggish as the curse wormed its way deep into Kat’s body.
She stumbled as she landed on the ground, trying to make sense of her suddenly clumsy limbs. The guardian charged toward her, staff held like a baseball bat.
Then cracks appeared in the golden glow surrounding the giant. His steps faltered as the light surrounding him dimmed. Almost as one, both Kat and the guardian looked to where her companions were fighting the minions.
Dorrik flicked blood off of both their swords, a gruesome X of blood carved deep into the chest of the minion in front of them. The monster’s axe was already on the ground, the gem on its hilt that powered the barrier long since extinguished.
Nearby Kaleek, was grinning like a madman as he tapped an axe blow aside with a deftness that seemed to contradict the huge sword he held in both of his hands. A moment later he slammed his shoulder into the minion’s chest, doubling the furry creature over even as Dorrik approached, swords at the ready.
The guardian turned, away from Kat, storming back toward the rest of her party. Kat swore silently to herself, sprinting after it.
Even with Cat Step burning stamina, she still moved slower than the dimly glowing giant. In fact, generally, she moved a lot slower than she expected. Whatever the curse was, it was like her body was stuck in wet cement. If she tried to fight seriously, she’d barely be able to dodge, let alone damage something critical on the floor guardian.
Reluctantly, Kat let it outpace her. After all, even if she could catch up, all she could do was distract it. So long as the barrier was in place, all it needed to do was ignore her attacks and blow past her.
Just as the guardian was about to reach Kaleek and Dorrik, the aura of golden light around it faded to almost nothing. Kat smiled, eyes on the bloody tips of both of Dorrik’s swords as they sprouted from the minion’s chest.
The furry creature let the axe drop from its hand, the glowing gem in its pommel fading to nothing the instant it left the monster’s grip. It reached to its chest, touching the blood pouring out of the exit wounds before bringing its bloody fingers up to eye level in disbelief.
Kaleek’s sword took its head, freezing the minion’s face in that look of disbelief forever.
Simultaneously, the light surrounding the floor guardian shattered, dissipating entirely into motes of gold and white that floated upward toward the dungeon’s ceiling.
Without thinking, Kat concentrated, hitting the distant form of the furry giant with Dehydrate even as she sought to catch up.
He stumbled, the spell taking him by surprise.
That moment of hesitation bought Dorrik the time they needed to whip their swords from the chest of the minion and point their top right hand at the charging floor guardian.
“Ego shard,” the words echoed across the prairie as a dart of purple energy hit the Bright Priest in his furry chest. Unsurprisingly, the massive creature resisted the stunning effects of the psi ability, but it did twitch as one of Kat’s throwing daggers dug a needle of pain into its back.
Kaleek lunged forward, swinging his massive two handed sword toward the floor guardian’s knee. Their opponent’s staff swung downward, almost of its own accord, and intercepted Kaleek’s weapon, easily knocking their companion back a handful of steps, but Dorrik took advantage of the opening.
Both of the lizard’s blades dug deep into the monster’s upper thigh. Almost immediately, blood began to spurt from the wound.
The Bright Priest bellowed in pain and his foot whipped upward, taking Dorrik in the chest and sending them flying back into the tall grass. The floor guardian winced as he tried to put weight on the injured leg once more to fight Kaleek. The otter warrior, since recovered from being knocked off balance in the previous exchange, swung his two handed sword at the monster once again.
Just as their weapons were about to connect, Kat’s second Dehydrate of the fight activated, drawing moisture from the hamstring in the monster’s wounded leg, and likely triggering a crippling muscle cramp.
Whatever force was behind the floor guardian’s swing was robbed from it by the sudden rush of pain from its leg, and Kaleek was only pushed back a single step when his sword met the creature’s heavy blow.
Kat reached for another knife from her bandoleer, cursing her newly clumsy hands as they struggled to remove the dagger without looking. Even her feet were heavy and dumb, barely responding to her commands as she urged them to move faster.
Kaleek traded blows with the Bright Priest once more. This time, wisely using his parry skill to redirect the giant’s crushing strikes. The staff slammed into the ground, buying Kaleek just enough time to jab the tip of his sword into the flesh of the creature’s injured leg just above the knee.
Hardly the sort of devastating blow that they’d come to expect from Kaleek, but all he could manage in light of the guardian’s overwhelming speed and strength.
Finally, Kat managed to throw another dagger, a glint of silver lodged in the monster’s furry hide. It didn’t strike anything vital, but then again, how could it? Only her main knife was long enough to cut through the creature’s tough hide and actually injure the flesh and organs beneath.
The stab did distract it, drawing an angry glance over the shoulder of the angry monster. A mistake that Kaleek quickly took advantage of with a slash across the guardians stomach.
The Bright Priest stumbled backward, only gingerly putting weight on its hurt leg as he thrust his staff at Kaleek to ward off the grinning warrior.
Kaleek simply slapped the staff to the side and pivoted his body to let it slip past him, advancing on the increasingly desperate floor guardian. Dorrik joined him, walking out of the high grass, their mouth a grim line. Their left pair of arms were limp, nerveless and unmoving, but Dorrik’s grip on their right sword was firm, and their arms were bright.
The floor guardian jabbed again at Kaleek, but the otter was simply content to deflect the blow leaving the Bright Priest’s side open for Dorrik to stab deep into the injured leg with their sword.
The monster jerked back, struggling to maintain his balance as the injured leg buckled underneath him.
Kat pounced on the floor guardian, activating Levitation and jumping the instant she was within range of the stumbling monster. Her Pseudopod curled around his chest pinning her to his reeking fur while she sunk her knife into the creature’s back, barely holding herself aloft with the fistful of matted hair grasped in her left hand.
Finally, the chiikrat squirmed free, pushing off of the Bright Priest’s chest to overcome the waning water tentacle that pinned it to the monster. Almost immediately, it began biting, drawing blood as its oversized fangs moved with the speed of a sewing machine while it ran over the creature’s massive bulk.
The floor guardian lost his footing, injured leg giving out underneath him from the surprise, weight and pain of their attacks. Kat held on for dear life as Dorrik whipped out their sword and struck again.
Kaleek, stepped forward, his two handed sword glowing slightly red as he held it above his head, no thought given to protecting himself from the reeling enemy.
He brought the blade down, cleaving through the kneeling floor guardian’s neck.
Blood fountained out of the wound, staining the prairie in front of the great ivory cylinder crimson.
A dialogue box popped up into Kat’s vision.
You have defeated the Bright Priest and ascended past the first floor!
For achieving this feat with three or fewer players, a bonus attribute point has been awarded. Assign it wisely!
For ascending a level as an Elementalist Initiate, you gain the following benefits:
Keep climbing! Your answers and the Gardners await you at the top!
She stabbed a finger into the portion of her status sheet devoted to her reactions, assigning the free point to her reflexes. Her body tingled as she rolled herself off of the dead floor guardian’s form.
There were plenty of questions for tomorrow, but until then, she was finally level two.
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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