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A note from CoCop

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“It doesn’t feel right fighting a yeti in the middle of the desert,” Kat wiped the foul grey ichor off of her knives while she stared at the hulking, white-furred corpse in the center of the dungeon’s boss chamber.

“Yeti?” Kaleek asked as he used a belt knife to begin removing the monster’s pelt, his breath fogging the cold air.

“A fictional creature from Earth,” Kat sheathed her knives, finally satisfied with their cleanliness. She began walking toward Kaleek, struggling to maintain her footing in the unstable and bitterly cold sand that made up the floor. “Some people still claimed that they existed in some of the untouched wilderness areas well into the 21st century. Now? The megacorporations have been everywhere and exploited every natural resource that could possibly have turned a profit. You can be sure that if there were yetis they’d have captured them and turned them into either a luxury good or a theme park by now.”

“And what doesn’t feel right about it, Miss Kat? Dorrik asked, squinting at the light reflected from the cavern’s icy walls as they returned from looting the marks from the quartet of ice sculptures that they’d defeated during the boss fight. “Although The Tower of Somnus draws upon some creatures from strange or forgotten worlds, it is not terribly uncommon for it to select an entity from myth or to invent a creature entirely.”

“I guess,” Kat shrugged, looking down at Kaleek as the otter carefully worked his knife under the body’s pelt. “It’s just that yetis were always associated with cold areas and I always thought of deserts as warm.”

“But plenty of deserts are cold?” Dorrik cocked their head curiously. “There are entire expanses on Lokkel near the mountains that only see snow once a year. The most beautiful sand and rock as far as the eye can see, but they never get above freezing.”

The big lizard paused, nodding slightly, their crest fluttering as they smiled wistfully.

“Once your race is no longer under probationary status Miss Kat,” Dorrik looked back at her. “Then you can travel out to Lokkel and hike the Aguatt Plateau with me. It’s chilly, but a dozen days hiking the freezing sands does wonders to clear the mind and put things in perspective.”

“That,” she stopped, pithy response stuck on the tip of her tongue. “That actually sounds really nice. It’d be nice to spend some time with Kaleek and you while we’re all awake.”

“Not at the Aguatt Plateau you won’t,” the otter stood up, folding the heavy fur pelt from the dungeon boss. “Desoph evolved on a tropical archipelago. I’m sure you’ve noticed from my constant and vocal complaints, but I need a certain amount of humidity or I will be absolutely miserable. Combine that with ice-cold temperatures?”

“I’d literally need an oxygen tank to prevent lung damage from exposure,” Kaleek shivered theatrically. “Maybe if you can convince the lokkel to crash a couple of comets into their planet, up the humidity a little, then, I’d be on board.”

“Just something to think about,” Dorrik smiled at Kat before glancing at the pelt in Kaleek’s arms. “Did you collect all of the drops from the boss fight?”

Kaleek wrinkled his nose, whiskers rippling in the cold air.

“The Boggrun’s fat can be rendered into tallow that’s fairly useful as a base for potions and oils,” Kaleek replied. “I’m pretty sure they used it in those warmth potions you had me use for the underwater portions of the dungeon.”

“Unfortunately,” the big otter shrugged, “I didn’t bring any wax paper or containers for something so… goopy.”

“Then we’ve collected everything we need? Kat asked.

“Time to go,” Kaleek agreed, “at least it’ll be warmer once we get to the surface.”

Kat checked her status as the otter made his way over to the dungeon altar.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

3

742 Marks

HP

22

Dodge

Insignificant

MP

33

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

25

Strength

4

Agility

4

Fortitude

3

Endurance

4

Mind

5

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, 96%

Gravity I - 7, 59%

Water I - 8, 21%

Cat Step - 5, 74%

Light I - 5, 61%

Cure Wounds I, 5, 11%

Penetrate

Perks

Nightvision

Leaping

 

“Why the introspection, Miss Kat,” Dorrik asked, walking up next to her as she stared off into space. “It hasn’t shown in combat, but you’ve seemed a little withdrawn today.”

“There’s just been a lot going on in the real world,” she replied, shaking her head to dismiss the status screen. “The last couple of days I’ve been tied up in a fairly major job, and I wouldn’t exactly say it went wrong, but it certainly got complicated.”

“Complicated?” Dorrik’s crest fluttered in amusement. “You don’t seem like the type of individual to get bothered by complicated.”

“Well, it was three things really,” Kat shrugged uncomfortably. “My boss might have pissed off someone he shouldn’t have. It led to a lot of threats from someone who was in a position to do some damage. Xan says he has it under control, and who knows, maybe he does.”

“That wasn’t the worst of it,” a sigh dragged itself from her throat. “Our partner on the operation got antsy and tried to double-cross Xan and I. A friend got shot, and I had to take down someone I thought was an ally. It all happened in a split second and…”

Kat closed her eyes, taking in a deep, shuddering breath.

“That certainly sounds like emotional whiplash to me,” Dorrik agreed. “The excitement of battle can conceal trauma in the moment, but those sorts of events tend to leave wounds that healing magic can’t fix.”

“God,” the tears were ice cold on Kat’s face, “I almost forgot about the two people I killed retrieving the data. I thought they were samurai, and I needed a vehicle that they had in order to get myself to safety, but they couldn’t even fight back.”

“Miss Kat,” Dorrik placed one of their hands on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Dorrik,” she smiled at him weakly, wiping off her face before the tears froze. “It just all hit me suddenly. I’ve been in fight-or-flight mode day in and day out for so long that it just never registered until now. Then suddenly, their faces were flashing in front of me.”

She took a moment to center herself. The last week had been a race, everything moving at a breakneck pace. One burst of adrenaline fading into another.

“Don’t worry, Miss Kat,” Dorrik’s grip tightened on her. “Mistakes happen. Challenges happen. We must simply do what we can to become better people. Move past them. And in the meantime? Kaleek and I are always here to talk.”

“There are plenty of monsters to fight in The Tower of Somnus,” Dorrik continued, releasing her shoulder, “but most players don’t spend every night delving in dungeons or improving their skills. For many, the dreamscape is a place to meet with old friends and absorb new cultures while relaxing. Maybe we should look into slowing our pace a bit. Give you a chance to relax a bit. There will be plenty of time to level later.”

“Thank you, but no,” Kat smiled at the big lizard. “I know how badly Kaleek and you want to get back to your former levels. I… think I just needed to let all of that out. You being here to listen was already a lot.”

“Then go ahead, Miss Kat,” Dorrik smiled, “Kaleek has already teleported out of the dungeon so the altar is free.”

With a quick nod, she approached the obsidian structure next to the Boggrun’s skinned corpse. A moment later, her hand was on its smooth surface and a rainbow of light and energy wrapped her in its embrace

Congratulations Adventurer!


You have completed the Wood Tier Level Three Dungeon, Ice Flow.



Three of Three party members surviving. Good Job!


Assigning awards:


+1 Spirit

 

Kat gasped at the sudden heat and light as she burst out of the dungeon and onto the third floor of the Tower. Kaleek stood nearby, a contemplative look on his face and the Boggrun pelt at his feet as he looked out into the desert.

She blinked, shading her eyes from the overly bright, fake sun that The Tower of Somnus used to make the unending deserts of the third floor feel authentic. Kaleek turned to her frowning slightly.

“You should probably put on that hat Dorrik got you, Kat.” He shifted slightly on the rocky spur that jutted out of the desert, hosting the portal into the dungeon. “I’m doomed to be miserable regardless, but Dorrik was very proud about looking up human physiology. Apparently the hat will prevent ultraviolet damage to your skin and hopefully help keep you cool.”

“Are you sure this will work?” Kat asked, fishing the gauzy white hat out of her pack and slipping it on her head. She had to admit that the mist netting that covered her upper shoulders felt nice, taking some of the immediate sting of the light off of her, but it still felt ridiculous.

“I don’t really know,” Kaleek shrugged, flashing teeth as he smiled at her, “but Dorrik was incredibly proud of researching that factoid, so I vote you wear it to keep them happy.”

“This has nothing to do with you snickering at me while I look ridiculous?” She planted her hands on her hips as she stared the grinning otter down.

“Honestly?” Kaleek’s whiskers wiggled mischievously. “It actually makes you look a bit better. It’s almost like a mask covering up all of that hideously smooth, pink skin.”

Before Kat could retort, Dorrik appeared in a shower of light, stumbling slightly as they exited the dungeon. Smaller rocks tumbled down the outcropping as Dorrik fought briefly for their balance after the disorientation of the teleportation.

A minute or two later, the pelt was on Dorrik’s back as they began the trek back to town. Theoretically, they could just sit around the dungeon waiting to wake up and save themselves a trek across the desert. When they returned to the dreamscape, they would respawn in the adventurer’s hall like always, but all of the monster parts they collected would be gone.

The only exception to the rule was dungeons. Apparently the Tower didn’t want people to be able to exit without paying for a return stone. If you woke up while in one, you simply returned to the beginning with all monsters respawned the next time you entered the dreamscape. Apparently, it was a good way to annoy other players as it would lock down the dungeon for the entire time that the player was in it, regardless of whether they were active in the Tower or not.

“So,” Kaleek gasped, panting to keep cool under the beating light, “Kat, how was your first day of that new educational program you’re in?”

“Really?” She asked him incredulously.

“Yes, really,” he practically snapped back. “It’s too hot and too dry. I am absolutely miserable. If I tried to talk to Dorrik I would end up with a lecture on the mating practices of Antaran Devil Wasps or something. Therefore, it is your responsibility to handle small talk.”

She glanced at Dorrik and the big lizard shrugged.

“I may have tried to explain the unique facets of the reproductive habits of Antaran Devil Wasps to Kaleek several times,” they replied without a hint of hesitation. “In my defense, it was relevant to an upcoming encounter with Devil Wasps. One that likely would have gone much smoother if Kaleek had bothered to listen to what I had to say.”

“As I said,” Kaleek rolled his eyes. “How was school?”

“Yesterday was just orientation,” Kat tried to suppress a chuckle. “They showed us to our housing, helped us select classes and I met a couple of people. Unfortunately for me, one of them was a boy. As soon as Mom found out she would NOT shut up about it. I ended up having to talk about him for like an hour.”

“Ah yes,” Dorrik nodded sagely. “Humans come into sexual maturity early. Biologically, it is almost your prime period to find a mate.”

“No,” Kat glared at them, trying to ignore Kaleek failing to stifle his laughter.

“You are eighteen years old correct?” Dorrik glanced at her in confusion. “The textbooks that the expedition copied down seemed to be very clear that-”

“I get enough of this from my Mom,” Kat cut them off, glad that the hat’s veil covered her growing blush. “I am not going to ‘mate’ with Jasper. For all I know he’s just trying to lure me to his room so he can torture secrets out of me.”

“Some people still might consider that part of the mating process,” Kaleek winked at her.

“Dorrik might be oblivious but I know YOU know better,” Kat glared at the giggling otter. “Seriously though, I’m not sure what Jasper knows but he’s managed to figure out that I know something about his father’s murder and now he wants to talk to me about it.”

“Huh,” Kaleek frowned, “that isn’t nearly as sexy as I imagined it. I mean, did you have anything to do with his father’s death?”

“After a fashion?” Kat shrugged. “I was part of the team that investigated his death even if Jasper doesn’t know that. The only problem is that we couldn’t properly identify everyone involved. Three people stood trial, and I strongly suspect that four were involved. I feel for the guy, both him and the fourth person are incredibly rich and powerful. I just don’t want to have anything to do with the entire situation if I can help it.”

“Certainly you didn’t actually agree to meet this man alone?” Dorrik frowned at her.

“Of course not,” she sighed. “I agreed to meet up with him for a coffee. It’ll be in public and ostensibly we’re going to be discussing school as well as his investigation, but I still don’t feel all that comfortab-”

“Heads up,” Kaleek called out, lifting up his sword. “We have company.”

Kat looked up, frowning. Cresting the dune in front of them stood a team of three humans, all men armed with swords and spears. Behind the warriors, a trio of hairless, black man-sized moles shuffled their way to the top as well.

“Stallesp,” Dorrik almost spat the word, dropping the pelt to the sand, “working with humans despite the embargo.”

“Yeaaaah,” Kaleek cracked his neck. “Get ready, Kat, this is about to get ugly.”

“Lokkel!” Kat’s head whipped up as one of the hunched mole creatures pointed at the three of them with a heavily muscled claw. “Leave no survivors!”

“Kaleek,” Dorrik’s voice left no room for backtalk, “you handle the three humans. They look like idiots that can’t handle their weapons, but they made it to the third level so who knows.”

“Kat,” they continued, drawing their blades, “you’re the fastest. Try to get to the stallesp and bring them down. They have the look of support casters and I would prefer you to at least distract them enough that they don’t end up peppering us with arcane bolts. I will provide support to both of you as needed.”

She just nodded at Dorrik before activating Cat Step and sprinting up the side of the dune, struggling against the shifting sand that tried to pull her off balance as she made her way up.

Behind her, Kat heard a clash of steel on steel as Kaleek began his fight with the humans, but her attention was focused on the three aliens. One of them chanted, forming various eldritch seals with their hands as they began to harness mana for some unknown spell. Another drew both of their paws above their head, mumbling slightly as a golden light began to encompass them. The final mole stepped in front of the other two, their claws glowing purple with the telltale light of an activated psi ability.

He first knife found the psi initiates forearm even as Kat gathered her mana to cast Water Jet. The spell wouldn’t deal any damage, but that wasn’t even the point. She might not recognize the specifics, but Kat had enough experience to recognize arcane and curse magic.

If either of the three stallesp got their spells off, the rest of the party was in trouble. Depending upon the school of arcane magic, it could do anything from directly harm her friends to hinder them enough that the advancing humans could finish them off. As for the curse? One might not be enough to turn the tide of the battle, but they tended to last for hours and if the enemy healer got a chance to stack a couple more on, Kaleek and Dorrik would be in trouble.

The water hit the three moles, knocking the wizard entirely off of their feet and sending them sprawling and stumbling to the edge of the dune before they tripped and began sliding down the sandy incline.

As for the other two stallesp, it knocked the healer’s hands out of position enough to disrupt their curse, but the spell did little more than knock the psi initiate back a step. Apparently that first ability had been some manner of body reinforcement.

Ego Shard,” the mole snarled. Kat tried to dodge, but her left foot sunk into the sand just as the bolt of violet energy slammed into her.

Her vision flashed purple and blurred. For a brief moment the entire tower was silent and blanketed in a lavender fog.

Then, on instinct, Kat threw herself to the sand as a massive claw passed through where her chest had just been, the stallesp psi initiate having closed the distance between them in a fraction of a second.

“Hold still, girlie.” The alien’s voice was a combination of a bass tone, almost a foghorn, with a reedy whistling voice warbling the words over the top. “I’ll make this quick if you stop this nonsense.”

The sand hit her chest and face, a red warning indicator in the corner of her vision indicating damage. Kat wasn’t sure if it had started flashing when she’d taken the Ego Shard to the chest, or if the fall did it, but she didn’t have time to care.

Her response came in the form of casting Levitation on the stallesp even as she grabbed its ankle and yanked it toward her.

It gave a startled squawk,and began falling in slow motion, giving Kat just enough time to scramble to her feet and throw the alien as hard as she could, her hands still wrapped around its leg.

Even with the spell, the stallesp still weighed a fair amount, but her newly enhanced strength was up to the task, flinging it far enough that there would be no way for it to avoid a tumble of its own down the dune.

She cut the spell at the apex of its arc through the air, drawing another throwing dagger and turning to the healer just in time to feel a golden glow surround her. Suddenly, it felt like she was under the influence of Gravity’s Grasp. Every step was duller, heavier. Even the colors seemed less bright.

With a grunt, she threw the knife in her hand. Frantically, the stallesp healer brought up a claw to block. A clang and a flash of sparks later and the blade hit the sand at the alien’s feet.

It was some small comfort to Kat that the alien looked just as surprised as her to see that it had actually successfully blocked the throw. Either it was bad luck, or Kaleek was entirely on point with his intense distaste toward healers that specialized in curses.

Either way, Kat activated Cat Step once again, gathering her mana as she charged the slowly backpedaling alien. Before the healer could gather enough mana for another curse, Kat beat them to the punch, shielding her face just as she cast Dazzle and cut to the side.

Even through her eyelids, the flashes of light generated huge bursts of orange and purple. The false ‘daytime sun’ of the desert level halved the effectiveness of the spell, but it was enough.

Kat’s knife slipped under the alien’s arm, tearing into the side of its chest as the alien clawed at its face. It stepped backward, squealing as cyan blood leaked from the wound only for Kat to follow, stabbing it in the chest twice before stumbling backward, the curse and damp sand robbing her of her usual grace.

The stallesp raised a claw, panic in its beady eyes as it began to recite the words to Cure Wounds I.

Kat slid forward, her kick connecting with its lower thigh rather than the knee she was aiming for. Still, it was enough to startle the alien long enough for her to stab it again, this time her heavy combat knife cutting its forearm open.

Then, her opponent tripped, obviously not used to the rigors of frontline combat as the being's legs got tangled up with each other and it tumbled backwards.

Kat pounced, noting her stamina dropping under half as she activated Penetrate just in time to punch her dagger through the alien’s forehead. It shuddered once before going still. A moment later she felt her strength return as the creature’s death broke the curse.

She pulled herself to her feet, yanking the knife from her opponent’s skull. A quick glance revealed that the wizard from the beginning of the fight was now standing at the bottom of the dune, eyes glowing slightly as they stared up at her, casting some sort of spell.

With a quick wave, she turned and scurried down the other side of the dune, breaking line of sight with the alien. Although it would still be able to cast the spell, it was very hard to hit a target you couldn’t see.

A moment later, an explosion shoved Kat forward a step as an evocation spell detonated at the top of the dune behind her. For a second, she frantically tried to regain her footing as she stumbled down the sandy incline toward where Kaleek fought the two remaining humans.

Then she caught herself just as Dorrik finished off the psi initiate she’d sent sailing toward her two companions, one blade severing the mole person’s arm while the other ran it through entirely.

Kat began casting another spell as she jogged toward Kaleek and the humans. He was holding his own, but the big otter bled from a sword wound down his side and a deep spear wound in his thigh. Even as she watched, the spear wielder shifted into Kaleek’s blind spot and brought his weapon back for another strike.

She shifted her spell, encasing the human’s head in the area of effect of Dehydrate. It wasn’t nearly as powerful of a spell as Gravity Spike, but in the dry desert air, there wasn’t much moisture for it to attack, and Kat almost winced as the man dropped his weapon and clutched his eyes, almost certainly blinded by the spell.

Kaleek took advantage of the distraction to surge forward, slamming the other human’s sword aside before his own blade glowed red and reversed course with impossible quickness, taking the person’s head.

Less than a breath later, he pirouetted and slashed his blinded opponent’s stomach open, hip to hip.

Then, Kaleek stumbled, falling to one knee with his sword planted point first in the sand.

“Heal, please,” he croaked, eyes still on the living but disemboweled human in front of him.

“Watch out for the arcane caster,” she shouted at Dorrik as she ran over to him, “I only knocked them down. I don’t don’t know if they’ve taken any damage yet and I’m about to be occupied.”

Dorrik simply nodded at Kat, before turning their gaze to the ridge where the entire attack originated.

Kat didn’t have time to look back, instead mumbling the words to Cure Wounds I as she grabbed Kaleek by the shoulders and forced him to lay down. The spear wound in his thigh was deeper than expected, bright red arterial blood bubbling steadily out of it.

She put her hands over the injury, trying to ignore the sticky warmth under them as the spell took hold and they began to glow gold. In the corner of her vision, she watched her already partially depleted mana reserves tick down.

Finally, when she was down to only seven mana remaining, blood stopped actively flowing from the wound. Kaleek grabbed her by the shoulder, smiling tightly at her before he indicated the dune where she’d been fighting earlier with his eyes.

Kat followed his gaze, frowning as she saw the sole remaining stallesp standing there, far enough away that neither side could really attack each other.

She stood up, reaching for a knife on her bandoleer and taking a stride forward to join Dorrik as the big lizard glared at the alien.

The stallesp turned from them and began jogging away. Kat stepped forward, but Dorrik put out a hand to stop her.

“Enough,” they shook their head. “I doubt we will be able to catch them with Kaleek’s injury, and even if we do, they’ll be able to see us coming. Arcane magic is slow to cast, but from a distance and with clear lines of sight, it has the potential to cripple or kill one of us if we aren’t careful.”

Almost as if sensing that the battle was over, a dialogue box popped into Kat’s vision.

 

You have reached Level 9 in the skill Knife I, you have received the following reward:

+3.3% speed and damage with knives (total +26.4%).

 

“But we just can’t let them get away after what they did to Kaleek,” she protested, turning a worried glance at where the otter was breathing heavily on his back, covered in dry blood as he baked in the false sun.

“It is sufficient, Miss Kat,” Dorrik shook their head once more. “We will need your mana to finish healing Kaleek, and after this surprise I do not think it is a good idea for any of us to venture off alone.”

“You did a very good job with your portion of the fight,” they smiled gently at her, “You managed to kill their healer first. Always a good strategy in large engagements.”

“A target of opportunity,” she sighed, relaxing her grip on the throwing knife slightly. “The healer couldn’t defend themselves properly and it didn’t seem like a good idea to let them rain curses on the two of you from afar.”

“Good,” Dorrik nodded. “Now our job is to make it back to town, where we can report to my clan that some of the humans and the stallesp are cooperating. Otherwise, my only other option is via courier, and my physical form is currently… in a remote location. That would likely take weeks.”

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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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