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A note from CoCop

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“Let’s go over the plan one more time,” Dorrik stood next to Kat on the rock face overlooking the beach, the wind rustling the giant lizard’s crest.

She glanced at her companion. Her head only came up to the dusky scales of their upper shoulder, but the giant four-armed, muscle-bound lizard was more scholar than warrior. That didn’t mean that Dorrik couldn’t hold their own in a fight, far from it. They were one of the most adept swords-beings that Kat had ever seen.

It was just that Kat suspected her companion thought their combat prowess secondary. At their heart, Dorrik was a scholar. History, anthropology, physics, the lizard devoured everything they could related to learning.

Dorrik was a skilled combatant almost without trying. Like her, they blended a casting class with combat prowess, but Kat wasn’t sure she’d ever seen the lokkel practice with their swords. Like many of Dorrik’s skills, swordplay was another thing that came to them with infuriating ease.

“We wade in and kill as many of the float fish as possible,” Kaleek responded, his whiskers twitching. “Once enough of them are down, the Deep Terror will come partially to shore. At that point I head into the water to attack it directly while Kat and you do your best to deal with its tentacles and deflate it.”

Kaleek had been chosen for the direct attack for two reasons. First, he was a desoph, a semi-aquatic quasi-mammal that closely resembled a giant terrestrial otter. The three of them suspected that his experience swimming and fighting in the water would be useful in the coming battle.

Perhaps more importantly, Kaleek was the team’s frontline fighter. The huge two-handed sword on his back was only a little smaller that Kat herself, but Kaleek could use it with deceptive speed and dexterity. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had stamina-based skills specifically to help him offset its weight and momentum.

“Just be careful,” Kat replied, frowning. “I might be able to heal you if you get hurt, but Dorrik said that the tentacles carry a paralytic agent too. If you’re waist deep in water and paralyzed, that sounds like a good way to drown.”

“Desoph don’t drown,” Kaleek snorted. “Even our cubs spend more time in water than they do on land. It’s unthinkable.”

“Unthinkable or not,” Kat crossed her arms as she stared him down sternly, “that’s the sort of attitude that will end with you paralyzed and dead face down in a puddle”

“She is right, Kaleek,” Dorrik spoke over the desoph’s snort. “You won’t be wearing your heavy armor so that you can fight in the water. If the Deep Terror even brushes you with a tentacle, that should be enough to paralyze you unless your fortitude attribute can overcome the poison.”

“Come on,” Kaleek wrinkled his whiskers at them. “In the past two months we’ve blazed through four dungeons here on the second floor. I’ve been careful that entire time. Nothing is going to change just because we’re challenging the floor guardian. Don’t worry about it, I’m not going to let this thing tag me.”

Kat just rolled her eyes. Kaleek could back his bold words up. Probably.

She called up her status.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

2

653 Marks

HP

22

Dodge

Insignificant

MP

29

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

24

Strength

3

Agility

4

Fortitude

3

Endurance

4

Mind

3

Reaction

5

Charisma

4

Spirit

3

Spells Known

Gravity’s Grasp

Levitation

Pseudopod

Dehydrate

Dazzle

Shadow

Water Jet

Gravity Spike

Skills Known

Knife I - 8, 79%

Gravity I - 7, 42%

Water I - 8, 14%

Cat Step - 5, 61%

Light I - 5, 16%

Cure Wounds I, 4, 62%

Penetrate

Perks

Nightvision

Leaping

 

Four dungeons worth of delving, and the awards had been a mixed bag. She’d only earned two attribute points, one in endurance and one in reaction. As for the other two dungeons? The three points in hit points and stamina she’d been awarded from their most recent adventure would be useful, but she was struggling to find a consistent use for the Leaping perk.

In theory, the perk was nice. It let her burn stamina to triple the force she put into a jump. Combined with Levitation, Leaping let her jump almost twenty feet into the air. A useful skill for climbing cliffs or buildings, but far too flashy for Kat.

“Are we ready?” Dorrik asked, pulling both of their swords free. Each blade was held casually in a two-handed grip consisting of each of the lizard-man’s vertical hand pairs. “I believe that everyone is as prepared as we can be.”

“Ready,” Kat nodded, drawing her knife.

“Ready for this,” Kaleek wrinkled his nose, “not entirely ready for the third floor. The environment is a bit arid for me.”

“Your preferences have been noted,” Dorrik replied dryly as they began hopping from rock to rock to descend the ridge in front of them.

Kaleek and Kat joined them, scrambling down the boulders. Seconds later the three of them were standing on the white sand of the beach. For a moment, the fake sun of The Tower of Somnus beat down on them as the water lapped gently at the shore.

Then they spread out and began walking toward the float fish. Kat wasn’t entirely sure about the translation software used by the Tower because whatever float fish were, they didn’t look like any fish she’d ever seen.

Each of the creatures was about the size of a beach ball, their mottled and slimy skin stretched tight over an air bladder filled with buoyant gas. A quartet of fins around their circumference let them steer themselves through the air while a pair of tentacles ending in venomous barbs allowed them to collect and eat prey.

One of the five throwing knives Kat kept in a bandoleer across her chest whirred through the air, slashing deep into the side of float fish. It popped like a balloon, deflating and sinking to the white sand.

With a follow up throwing knife held in the palm of her left hand, Kat approached her immobile foe. One of its tentacles rose from the sand, coiling and lunging toward her.

Kat half turned, her enhanced reflexes throwing her into motion almost the split second the dark green tentacle moved from the sand. She spun, using the momentum of her rotation to help drive her combat knife through the rubbery appendage.

Whether it was her form or her eight ranks in Knife I enhancing the effectiveness of the strike, the blade cut cleanly through the float fish’s tentacle. A second later, her spare throwing knife was dropping to the sand as Kat grabbed the second tendril out of the air.

It struggled, slimy and writhing in her hand. Kat tried not to think about it as her knife flashed down, cutting off the venomous spike at its end.

After that it was only a matter of stabbing the half-deflated orb of the float fish’s main body a couple of times and retrieving her throwing knives.

Leaving behind the dead float fish, Kat glanced at her companions. Dorrik had already defeated their first opponent, severing both tentacles before drawing an "X" with their swords through its body. Kaleek, on the other hand, was struggling. Each time he brought his sword up to handle one of the tentacles, the other would threaten him and force him back.

She shrugged, throwing her knife and popping another float fish. This time she didn’t even bother walking toward it, instead standing out of its tentacles’ range and throwing one knife after another into it.

Around four it stopped moving and she cautiously moved closer to retrieve her weapons. Neither of its tentacles stirred to stop her as she collected the daggers, and before long she found herself repeating the process.

A part of her felt bad for the floating blobs. She didn’t know whether they were constructs of The Tower of Somnus or actual animals somewhere, but they clearly didn’t know how to deal with a ranged opponent.

Her knife thwacked into yet another float fish, sending it sputtering to the sand. Really, they weren’t even as smart as most animals on Earth. Even wild dogs would have run away by now, and as far as Kat could tell there wasn’t anything stopping the creatures from simply floating up into the sky and out of her reach.

Dagger after dagger followed it while the creature’s tentacles twitched and searched fruitlessly for their assailant. Once the fourth hit, the tentacles dropped to the sand. Kat jogged over to collect them, but before she could reach the dead float fish, the ocean began to churn.

“This is it!” Dorrik yelled, squaring their stance and facing the water even as the waves began to wash much further up on the shore. “The float fish should begin fleeing as the Deep Terror pulls itself up onto the shore. Get ready!”

Kaleek stabbed his sword into a float fish that he’d trapped against the sand with his foot, twisting the blade slightly before he withdrew it. He cracked his neck and turned to the ocean. The beginnings of a semi-transparent sphere began to push itself out of the water some twenty paces from the shore.

Kat quickly stowed her throwing knives in their bandoleer, locking her eyes on the water. More of the Deep Terror splashed into view as it moved toward the shore, pulling itself from the water with six white tentacles, each as big around as her waist, grasping the shore and dragging its bulk.

It was a translucent hemisphere, as big as a small building and filled with vaguely defined organs and structures that Kat couldn’t quite make sense of. The monster rippled slightly, its formless and pulpy flesh undulating rhythmically.

The second Kaleek touched the water, it seemed to sense him, the off-white tentacles pulling themselves off of the beach and curling backward toward the intrepid desoph as Kaleek splashed his way toward the creature’s main body.

“Hit it now, Dorrik!” Kat shouted, whipping a throwing knife into the side of one of the giant tentacles even as she concentrated on another. Her mana stirred as it began flowing out of her. “We need to keep the tentacles off of Kaleek long enough for him to do some damage.”

“Trying, Miss Kat,” Dorrik grunted in response as they sprinted toward one of the tentacles that they had been sneaking up on. “Nerve Lash.”

Dorrik’s eyes flashed purple a moment before the same glow appeared around a tentacle. The entire thing spasmed as Dorrik’s psi energy ran down its length, activating whatever passed for a pain reflex in the Deep Terror.

Kat didn’t envy the creature. After a fair amount of drunken coaxing and assurances that it wouldn’t deal permanent damage, Kat convinced Dorrik to use the ability on her. For an agonizing second, it filled her lower body with white-hot pain so strong that Kat almost blacked out.

Her spell activated just as Kat was reaching for a second knife, and Gravity Spike sent two conflicting pulses of energy into the tentacle she was attacking. For a second, Kat could feel her magic simultaneously pulling on the rubbery length even as a handspan away it pushed.

With the sound of wet paper tearing, cyan blood erupted from the tentacle as its surface rippled and crumpled. A second throwing knife dug deep into the tentacle’s soft surface.

An angry, low crooning sound shook the beach. Kat stumbled slightly, dizzy as the deep sound made her teeth ache as they resonated. In the corner of her vision, a red indicator flashed into existence, a sure sign that she’d taken damage or received a status affliction.

A second later, she was spending stamina to use Leaping in order to clear a second tentacle whipping toward her at chest level while the one she’d injured curled its way gingerly toward the Deep Terror.

It passed under her, the wind ruffling Kat’s clothing as she concentrated on firing another Gravity Spike into the retreating tentacle. The spell was slow to target and cast, but over the last couple of weeks since she’d learned it, Kat had come to accept that it was her most powerful magical ability.

Really, her only other direct attack was Dehydrate, a much quicker and more mana-efficient spell, but ultimately weaker spell. Of course, that wasn’t against an ordinary opponent. It would likely be ineffective against a creature that appeared to be entirely made of water. Even if it could dry the Deep Terror out slightly, Kat suspected that the creature would be able to circulate more liquid into the afflicted area, negating any damage she could do.

Gravity Spike fired again just as she landed on the beach, once again ripping at the injured tentacle. This time, it went limp entirely as the invisible tempest of mana tore something important deep inside the muscular appendage.

Nearby, Dorrik hacked down with both of their swords, cutting a neat "V" halfway into the tentacle in front of them. Blue blood geysered from the gaping wound, but Dorrik’s body glowed briefly purple as they boosted their physical attributes just enough to escape the torrent of ichor.

The remaining four tentacles writhed toward them, two circling to either side in order to hem Dorrik and Kat in. The other two crept toward them, tensed and ready to lash out at a moment’s notice.

Without speaking she found her back brushing up against Dorrik’s rough scales. Out of the corner of her eye, they nodded at her, and Kat nodded back.

Then, Kaleek cut deep into the side of the monster, his sword passing easily through its mostly permeable skin. Clear, viscous goop began pouring out of its side even as Kaleek splashed deeper into the water. A second later he stabbed it once again, shoving his blade so deep that the hilt slammed into the creature’s pulpy flesh.

The tentacles around them twitched, and the mournful bass note from earlier began to swell once again. Kat could feel her concentration faltering slightly as the beach spun around her even as she tried to gather the mana for another spell.

Nerve Lash,” Dorrik’s voice rang out, somehow clear and perfectly audible above the rumbling sound assaulting Kat’s balance.

She clung onto the words, using them as an anchor to drag herself back to the real world and harness the mana she’d been gathering, pouring it into another Gravity Spike.

Dorrik and her abilities hit almost simultaneously. The left tentacle twitched and spasmed, unable to move as pain wracked it while the right had a basketball sized area of its flesh crumple and begin leaking bright blue blood.

The mournful, pained sound cutoff abruptly. Kat spared the creature’s main body a glance. Even as Kaleek was slashing it a third time, it began lifting its bulk from the ocean.

Kat frowned as she finally got a good look at the entirety of the creature. It truly was a half sphere, the bottom of its body edged with thousands of small white tendrils, almost like oversized cilia. The strings of white monster flesh studded the perimeter of the monster, surrounding the much larger tentacles attacking the two of them.

The creature dripped water as it pulled itself up into the air, towering above Kaleek on a pair of newly revealed tentacles that were coiled together under it, rooting the Deep Terror to the ocean floor.

“Bring it down, Miss Kat!” Dorrik stepped in front of her. “I can hold the rest of the tentacles off for a couple of seconds. Kaleek needs it back on his level so he can finish it off.”

Without responding, she changed her focus. A moment later Gravity’s Grasp pulled at the Deep Terror, causing its body to bow around the tentacles holding it up.

Its pseudo-leg began working against it. The Deep Terror’s body was weak, usually supported by water as its tentacles did the dirty work of gathering prey. It could support itself out of the ocean, barely, its body forcefully sagging around the two tentacles that held it up.

Under the force of her spell, the 'leg' held up, but the rest of the Terror’s body pulled toward the ocean, straining at its thin, translucent skin. Even at a distance, Kat could almost hear it creaking as the extra gravity began to tear at its borderline liquid flesh.

Cracks ripped in its body, leaking the Deep Terror’s clear innards with distressing plops into the water below. Kat did her best to ignore Dorrik’s whirling form as the giant lizard swung around her, glowing purple and hacking into the white tentacles that frantically quested toward her in an attempt to put an end to the magic.

Cyan blood spattered all around her as Dorrik danced back and forth. Their blades flashed in the light as they opened up great cuts in the tentacles, forcing them back one by one. Just as Kat was almost finished gathering her mana, one of Dorrik’s weapons caught a tentacle too close to Kat, spraying her right side with its blue blood.

Almost immediately, a tingling chill seeped into her body, attacking Kat’s concentration as she tried to finish the spell. She bit her lip hard enough that the iron taste of blood hit her tongue, focusing on the pain just long enough to finish another casting of Gravity’s Grasp.

Her mana dropped into the single digits as the gravity magic rippled in a sphere over the monster’s ‘leg.’ One of the two tentacles the Terror was standing on crumpled as the spell tore at it.

It toppled sideways into the water, only for Kaleek to leap at it, hacking into its dome with his sword and spilling even more of the translucent gunk that made up its into the ocean.

Kat shook her head, trying to fight the fuzziness creeping into her thoughts. Her right arm was completely numb, hanging limply from her side. Near her, Dorrik dragged a deadened leg, one of their swords in a single-handed grip as the lower arm flopped bonelessly.

They had done their damage though. Of the six tentacles that had originally attacked the two of them, only three were in any condition to continue fighting, and even those appendages were covered in deep gashes from the lokkel’s swords.

Luckily, the tentacles were pulling back to fight Kaleek. Kat sighed, her vision fuzzing slightly as a vague sense of euphoria washed over her.

In the distance, Kaleek cackled maniacally, waist-deep inside the Deep Terror’s deflating form, his sword hacking rhythmically as he worked his way through its inert goopy flesh and into the blurry organs deep inside its body.

“Should we be helping?” Kat asked, her tongue feeling like cotton in her mouth.

Dorrik blinked at her slowly. Reaching down with their upper right arm to poke their lifeless lower left limb. It began swinging back and forth, clearly outside of the big lizard’s control.

“Let him have his fun,” Dorrik shrugged. Distantly, Kat noticed that their eyes were vaguely fogged as well. “There is no way that the creature will be able to stop him in time, and the third floor is one of his least favorite. Hopefully he’ll complain less if we let him get it out of his system here.”

“Why?” Kat asked hazily, blinking as she tried to fight the prickling chill invading her mind. “What’s so bad about the third floor?”

“Nothing,” Dorrik chuckled, watching as Kaleek ripped a handful of wriggling tubes out of the Terror with his bare hands and threw them into the ocean. At some point the tentacles had stopped moving entirely. “It’s just a gigantic desert. Wonderfully warm, dry and sandy with oasis cities made for players around the infrequent patches of water. My people love the place.”

“No resting,” Kat shook her head, grabbing one of Dorrik’s hands as the big lizard prepared to sit down.

“If either of us rest right now, that venom is going to take over and we’ll be out like a light,” She heaved them back to their feet. “God, now that I think about it that battle was closer than I’d like.”

“That is the way of the dreamscape, Miss Kat,” Dorrik’s head lolled slightly to the side, their lids laying heavy on their eyes. “The Deep Terror is a foe designed by the gardeners for six players. One to eliminate each leg. The paralytic agents in its tentacles are quite powerful, and the only way to fight it properly is to avoid getting hit. Average players struggle to avoid one tentacle at a time, especially when the blood spray carries similar properties.”

“Defeating a floor guardian with a team of three grants an extra point because it is difficult,” Dorrik smiled, a display of their massive needle teeth. “The Gardeners would not simply give us power for free. We just approached the monster with a good plan and a well-trained team.”

“What are the Gardeners anyway?” Kat asked, frowning slightly. “I saw some sort of mention of them when we ascended our last level.”

“An enigma,” Dorrik shrugged, their eyes barely open. “Their existence is shrouded in myths and rumors. In fact, some of the more heretical groups such as the stallesp deny that they even exist. Still, many races have found murals of them in ancient ruins that predate spaceflight.”

“Some even say,” Dorrik’s voice cut out replaced by an unintelligible string of snarls, hisses, and whistles.

Warning! As a probationary race on level 2 this information is prohibited. Your translation software has temporarily been disabled. Please contact an administrator if you wish to appeal this decision or if you believe it has been made in error.

 

Before Kat could respond, the first window disappeared, replaced by a much more welcome alert.

Congratulations, Adventurer!


You have defeated the Deep Terror and ascended past the second 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:


+2 Mana

+1 Stamina

+1 Mind


Keep climbing! Your answers and the Gardeners await you at the top!

Quietly she assigned the extra point to Mind, immediately feeling some of the wooziness fade. In the distance Kaleek whooped in pleasure, diving out of the caved-in monster and into the water of the ocean to clean its slime from his fur.

She’d address the translation issue later, but even with the cold numbness from the paralytic agent coursing through her veins, Kat couldn’t help but feel a twinge of curiosity.

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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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