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A note from Cocop (Cale Plamann)

Thanks for reading.

Gasp!  I appear to have fallen behind on top web fiction!  Alas, I come before you once more asking for your support (in the form of clicks that cost you nothing but the time to fill out a captcha).

Dorrik slammed their shoulder into the frozen Iron Automaton, sending the whirring golem into the dungeon wall with enough force that two of its eight limbs were torn from its body. The remainder were bent beyond repair, unable to support the creature’s weight as it tried to lift itself from the gleaming steel floor only to collapse into a pile of scrap.

Kat glanced at Kaleek with worry as their friend kicked the pile of metal, sending it clattering into the wall once again. The otter just shrugged helplessly.

“You know you have swords, right?” Kat asked. Behind her another five of the Iron Automatons lay on the ground limbs torn off and their seeing gems dim. “I’ve heard from reliable sources that swords are more effective in a fight than body slamming metal opponents until they can’t get up again.”

“It’s me,” Kaleek supplied helpfully. “I’m reliable sources.”

“Sorry,” Dorrik replied with a grimace, shaking their leg to try and dislodge it from the automaton’s limbs. “I have a lot of feelings I need to work out, and this dungeon’s denizens can take a satisfying amount of abuse.”

“Are you sure you don’t just want to talk about it?” Kat asked hopefully as she cast Cure Wounds I on the lokkel. “It would probably save me a lot of mana.”

“I’m not sure crying like a whelp over past grievances wouldn’t change much.” Dorrik held still only long enough for the golden energy to heal the cuts and blemishes to their scales. “The Galactic Consensus performed an inquiry into the death of my clutchmates and the other innocents on the passenger liner. The official cause of death was determined to be sabotage or gross negligence, perpetrator unknown. Of course, everyone knew the stallesp were behind it. They even had the temerity to try and grab some of the trade routes allocated to Clan Ahn with their grubby little claws claiming that the ‘accident’ proved that we couldn’t maintain our shipping lanes. It took everything I had to not use a pulser on their ambassador then and there.”

“Pulser?” Kat raised an eyebrow, looking from Dorrik to Kaleek.

“Modern weaponry,” Kaleek responded. “They look like a metal rod. I don’t understand the specifics behind it, but you don’t want it pointing at you when it goes off. Modern armor will take one to two shots, but it’ll turn anything from your planet into a superheated plume of plasma.”

“Not nearly as satisfying as ripping something apart with a sword.” Dorrik opened the gleaming circular door to exit the room. “There’s something about the bulge of muscle, pull of sinew and the thud of metal hitting an enemy’s flesh that’s viscerally appealing in the way that an electric whine and an explosion can’t match.”

Kat shot a worried glance at Kaleek. The otter’s whiskers twitched uncertainly.

Dorrik stepped through the archway, and Kat was reacting almost before she heard the click. The Pseudopod she’d kept active, a tentacle of water curled about her waist, leapt forward, grabbing Dorrik and pulling them back a step.

The lokkel blinked dumbly at the two dozen spikes that had sprouted from the walls. For a second, they filled the hallway, a deadly lattice of glittering steel occupying the space formerly occupied by Dorrik’s torso from the top of their waist to the bridge of their muzzle. Soundlessly, each of the metal points slipped back into the hidden slots they had sprung from.

“Okay.” Kat chuckled nervously. “We’re going to stop for a second and everyone is going to take a deep breath. Dorrik, this isn’t like you and you know it. Usually it’s your job to stop me from making a mistake or Kaleek from doing something deliberately stupid. I understand that you’re angry, but you’re letting it get the better of you.”

The big lizard closed their eyes and shook their head, a short violent motion from side to side. When they opened them again, Kat could see a little more clarity, but still enough rage and grief to make her worried.

“I don’t think you understand, MIss Kat.” They took a deep, shuddering breath, crest fluttering wildly. “Deep down, this is who I am. I was a studious youth before the death of my clutchmates, but their murder changed something inside me.”

“I realized then and there that two or three levels a year wasn’t going to cut it.” Dorrik’s voice was solemn as they recited their past. “I would need to be powerful like Eidrass. A strong enough player in the games of diplomacy that I could simply do as I willed and dare someone to stop me. Only then could I shake the sallesp’s warrens until they gave me the answers I needed.”

“I am not calm.” They shook their head, chuckling ruefully. “Far from it. Each day as the suns rise over my training retreat I am filled with boundless rage. Then, I bottle that rage up so that I may use it as motivation to fuel me through my rigorous training routine. My demeanor is sedate because blind anger serves no purpose. I put it aside. I let it grow and fester knowing that one day, I will let it out on those that truly deserve it.”

“That…” Kat’s tongue tripped over itself as she tried to find the words. “That sounds profoundly unhealthy. I can understand revenge. Hell, I want to be part of your revenge.”

She caught herself. It was true. Every relationship in her life outside of her immediate family required a careful balancing act. From humoring Jasper to working closely with someone she trusted like Xander, Kat needed to watch every word she said in order to avoid betrayal. Even her friendships required a quick bout of mental calculus to ensure that the person she was talking with would not become a liability or potential antagonist at some later date.

Despite all of that, she wanted to help Dorrik. Their goals were lofty to the point of foolishness, but that hardly mattered in the face of the raw pain wracking the lokkel’s muzzle. Before anything else, Dorrik was her friend, and they needed her help.

“I can think of about six people in the entire galaxy that I would risk myself like that for.” Kat pointed at the big lizard. “You, Kaleek, my mom, my sister, Xander and Whippoorwill.”

“But.” Kat stressed the word. “We can’t hunt down the moles responsible if we get angry and arrogant and die in here. You’re smarter than me Dorrik, we both know that. That means you’re definitely smarter than this.”

“I hate to pile on.” Kaleek clapped a fuzzy hand on Dorrik’s shoulder, “but I think the girl is onto something. Not using a sword on an enemy is dumb. Charging down a hallway without checking it out despite us having an intelligence report that warned of occasional traps? My baby nephew knows not to do that and he hasn’t even opened his eyes yet.”

Dorrik closed their eyes once again. They took a deep breath and then another, their chest rising and falling steadily to an unheard rhythm.

“Thank you,” Dorrik replied, crest fluttering sedately above their head. “I will do my best to act more rationally.”

“At very minimum I will begin using my swords again.” They smiled weakly, “I can certainly agree that discontinuing their use was more than a bit inadvisable on my part.”

“Great!” Kaleek shook the lokkel cheerfully. “Now unless one of you has learned how to disarm a self-resetting trap in the last twenty minutes, I think it’s about time that we crawl under some razor sharp spikes.”

The otter led the way, shimmying under the metal spears on his stomach. Kat followed, checking the hallway for follow up traps as Dorrik barely worked their massive frame beneath the metallic thresher.

Finding none, they walked unmolested to the door for the boss chamber. As Kat was reaching for the door’s knob, some sixth sense stopped her. Instead, she peered closer.

Rather than the uniform metal she’d expected, the doorknob had any number of narrow slits in it, barely visible even on a close inspection. She stepped back and poked it with her knife.

Immediately, dozens of whisper-thin blades blossomed from the doorknob, turning it into a beautifully but deadly flower made of razors and poison.

She frowned as the blades retracted back into the door. Obviously there was some sort of mechanism that powered the trap, but Kat didn’t know the first thing about identifying or disarming it. Worse, it wasn’t like the spikes in the hallway that they could bypass. After all, it was fairly hard to open a door without using the knob.

“Allow me.” Dorrik’s claw tapped her on the shoulder.

The massive lizard glowed purple for a moment before they lunged forward, planting their shoulder in the door and leaving a massive dent in the metal door. They staggered back, a dumb grin on their face.

Before Kat could stop Dorrik, they repeated the process with a grunt, throwing themselves at the door. This time, it screeched in protest, but the weight of the stampeding lokkel ripped it off of its hinges, toppling it into the next room with Dorrik just behind it.

The big lizard flopped forward, their momentum pulling them past the threshold and into the boss chamber. They stumbled immediately, tripping the doorframe and onto the metal floor floor beyond.

Dorrik tried to catch themselves, claws digging furrows into the steel as the ground lurched under them. Out of the corner of her eye, Kat noticed that the entire room was filled with metal discs, each of them spinning at a different speed.

She could worry about that later. For now, her friend was off-balance, wobbling toward the edge of his platform as the disc spun incessantly.

Kat’s Pseodopod grabbed Dorrik by the tail, pulling her off her feet as the lokkel stumbled clumsily across a man-sized rotating disc of metal, all four of their arms pinwheeling in an attempt to regain their balance.

Mana flowed through her, casting Levitation on Dorrik just in time to stop them from falling off of the spinning plate entirely.

Dorrik took an unsteady step backward, heaving a sigh of relief. Kat hopped on to the plate with them, surveying the room and frowning.

They were in a massive chamber, easily big enough to moor the Marka in a dozen times over. At the far end of the room, the dungeon altar stood on an unassuming stone pedestal. Everything else was made of steel. Brightly polished and almost blinding in the magical light..

Beneath her feet, the disc she was on whirred and rotated. At its edges she could make out the large square teeth of a gear as it spun in time with another metal circle.

The room didn’t have a proper floor. Maybe somewhere far beneath them there was a ‘ground’ of stone, but if it existed, it was so far down that Kat couldn’t see it. Rather than steady footing, the room was populated by islands made of spinning gears, all moving at different speeds.

Some of the larger gears moved slowly enough that a person on them would hardly notice. Mid-sized cogs like the one that Kat was standing on with Dorrik made a full rotation once every two to three seconds, enough to be disorienting but not crippling if you were looking for it.

The real problem were the numerous smaller gears, barely the size of a dinner table, they spun incredibly fast in order to keep up with the rest of the clockwork. One errant step and Kat could easily end up with her legs moving away from each other at dramatically different speeds.

Of course a missed step that landed in the gears’ teeth could easily result in a crushed extremity. Kat didn’t doubt that dozens of avatars had met their fate losing a foot, crushed under the inexorable grind of metal, before falling into the endless depths below.

The ground shook under her as Kaleek jumped onto the gear next to them. He looked around the room and grinned.

“Anyone spot the boss yet?” He asked cheekily. “I vote we check the lake.”

Kat rolled her eyes, letting Pseudopod and her previous iteration of Levitation lapse and before casting Levitation on herself once again and jumping to a neighboring cog.

“I’m sure it will make itself known in due time,” she quipped back. “It’s spent all of this time waiting for us, it would hardly be appropriate for us to spoil its grand entrance.”

Click. The sound echoed throughout the room, somehow clearly audible over the quiet cacophony of the metal gears grinding against each other.

Click. Click. Each bass note struck Kat with the force of a drum beat, rattling her bones and resonating with the air in her chest.

Click. Click. Click. Kat felt her vision blur slightly as the sound washed over her. Underneath her feet the cog began to spin faster, forcing her to change her position so that she was still looking in the direction of the altar.

Click. Click. Click. Click. A massive metal limb, as smooth as quicksilver, snaked up from the depths of the room, curving sinuously around the stone pillar that the altar stood on.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Bile rose in Kat’s throat. The combination of the bass notes and the steadily increasing speed of the clockwork she was standing on playing hell with her balance.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. The end of the limb hardened into a rectangular tooth and the metal tentacle darted downward, inserting itself between the teeth of one of the tiny gears.

The cog caught hold of the thick metal rope, its steadily turning teeth locking onto the metal and pulling it. The metal limb spooled into a spiral above the gear, the limb traveling in rapid circles around the top of the small metal disc as it interlocked with and was powered by its companions.

Kat noticed the rectangular prong at the tip of the limb pulsing and changing shape slightly to accommodate the tight space between the gear and its neighbors as the limb’s owner was dragged upward, like an anchor being winched up out of the depths. Seconds later, the dungeon boss was hoisted into her line of vision by the rapidly spinning gears.

It was big, but not nearly as big as most of the boss monsters they’d had to fight. Kat would put the size and bulk of its oval core right around that of the genetically engineered cattle she’d worked on at Ike Holdings.

The mad collection of limbs sprouting from that core was a different story. The monster had four of the metal cables, each the size of her thigh, each resembling a prehensile rope ending in a manhole-sized chunk of metal that could be shaped seemingly at will. Already, three more of the tentacles had converted their tips into the same metal square it had used on the gear to pull itself up and into the chamber.

The creature had two scythe blades that swept out like the jaws of a beetle from its front. Perhaps most worryingly, the final tentacle had hardened its tip into a barbed point and the rest of the limb had coiled like a spring under the monster’s main body.

Kat glanced at the rest of her party uncertainly, knife in hand and ready to spring into action as the creature let the centrifugal force of the gear whip it across the room.

Then, the other three limbs found homes amongst the whirring gears and the monster stabilized somewhat. Each extremity would spool and yank on the creature’s core, pulling it in the tentacle’s direction.

Once the Clicking Horror had established itself, a metal oval suspended in the air due to the tension of the four tentacles pulling at its core, the limbs began to dance. They would slip out of their gears for a moment, reducing the pull on the monster’s body from their direction enough to send it whipping away, only to re-insert themselves a moment later.

Kat frowned grimly as the dungeon boss’ main body began to see-saw back and forth between each of its limbs, the rotational forces pulling it in unpredictable directions.

With an audible ‘thunk’ the first tentacle to surface pulled itself from its gear and darted in between another pair of the spinning cogs, changing the wild swaying of the monster’s core slightly.

It reared back, chattering wildly from a mouth lined with literal razors that appeared in the lower third of its body, just behind the scythe blades, and launched the spear tentacle across the room at Kaleek.

One second, the cord of prehensile metal was wound tight beneath the monster’s core, and the next it was frozen, just in front of the surprised otter, glittering with purple energy as Arrest Momentum held it in place.

Despite being taken unawares, Kaleek reacting decisively, the blade of his greatsword flashing red as he activated some skill and brought the weapon down with deceptive swiftness on the frozen tentacle.

It bent.

The monster clearly saw the attack coming, and jerked its harpoon downward to dissipate the force of Kaleek’s sword. The blade hit the limb, just without the relative speed it needed to deliver a killing blow.

The slash still inflicted damage, sparks flew everywhere and there was more than a little silver liquid that sprayed all over the surrounding gears, but at the end of the exchange, the tentacle was returning to the creature’s main body, battered but still functional.

Click. The monster’s core pulsed in time with the note. Beneath their feet, the gears began to whirr slightly faster.

Kat’s eyes widened.

“We need to bring this thing down now!” She shouted, jumping to a larger and slower moving plate of metal. “If it keeps speeding things up, it’s going to spin us right into the abyss!”

Ego Shards!” Dorrik replied, using an upgraded version of the Psi ability as they leapt to their own gear, daggers of purple light flying across the room. Only one hit the chaotically swerving monster core, but that was enough to cause the entire creature to shudder.

Click. Click. Her knees weakened slightly as the waves of sound washed over her, attacking her inner ears and throwing off her balance.

Kat frowned, eyes following its wildly swinging as it raced around the room, latching on to a new set of gears. Even a foe dodging normally would be enough to make Gravity Spike an uncertain proposition. Right now, it would just be a waste of mana.

She gathered her magic inside herself, focusing her attention instead on the array of lightly glowing gems that dotted the front of the Clicking Horror. If it was anything like the smaller Iron Automatons, those would be what served it as eyes.

“Eyes closed!” Kat shouted, screwing her eyelids shut as he rearranged her feet to counteract the slow turn of the gear she was standing on.

Dazzle flashed into existence, a riot of lights and colors erupting in a cone aimed in the monster’s general direction.

Kat opened her eyes, blinking away the afterimage of the spell. She wasn’t sure if the spell had partially missed the Clicking Horror or if the sight gems embedded in its surface just weren’t as susceptible to bright lights as organic eyes, but other than a slight wobble, its core seemed unaffected.

The tentacles on the other hand, were a different story. A leg that had been in the air, seeking another gear to lodge itself in, missed its target. The square bit passed through the teeth of the gear only for the rapid turn of the smaller metal disc to grab the rope-like body of the limb, pulling it forward into the hungry maw of another gear.

With a deafening shriek of metal on metal, the metal tentacle was crushed. Although the rest of the quicksilver tendril was malleable, only the bit at the front could deform enough to survive being wedged between the interlocking discs.

The creature’s body shuddered and listed to the side as it struggled to rebalance itself atop its three remaining tentacles, the injured limb too injured to support its weight.

Click. Click. Click. Kat’s vision grew fuzzy, and she fell to her hands and knees.

Acting on instinct, she rolled to the side just in time to hear another scream of metal on metal. The harpoon head of the final tentacle bounced off the steel gear beneath her in a shower of sparks.

Arrest Momentum,” Dorrik’s voice shouted out from somewhere else in the room, but Kat was too busy scrambling to the side as the tentacle in front of her changed from a spear to an axehead before slashing at her throat.

Compared to its previous speed, the axe was almost sedate, moving at merely human velocities. Even on her hands and knees, Kat was able to partially dodge it, bringing up her knife in time to deflect the limb in another shower of sparks.

Then, rather than more clicking, the monster chattered angrily, withdrawing its weapon. Kat woozily regained her feet, a smile on her face.

It appeared that Dorrik and Kaleek had taken advantage of the distraction she’d provided. Kaleek stood over the remains of one of the monster’s legs, whooping in triumph as the bottom portion of the limb still sparkled purple with Psi energy, lodged between two of the gears.

That was one way to deal with a foe that could change its shape. Wait for it to pin itself, and then freeze it in place long enough for your fighter to land a decisive blow.

The Clicking Horror slammed unceremoniously onto one of the larger gears, spinning slowly as it withdrew both of its remaining tentacles to itself, the bits on their end changing to sword blades as it prepared to defend itself.

Kat reoriented herself to face it, the smile growing on her face as she began pouring mana into Gravity Spike. The slow but powerful spell charged as she focused on the absolute center of the monster’s body, enjoying the luxury of targeting a pinned foe. After all, an immobile target was her favorite kind of target.

Dorrik and Kaleek charged it, their swords batting aside the metal tentacles as they struggled against the uncertain and spinning footing to make it close enough to contest with the massive scythe limbs on the front of the Horror.

They wouldn’t need to. Gravity Spike crushed the monster’s armor inward, crumpling the shell of steel like a soda can. As the pressure mounted, the metal it used to protect itself began to shatter and tear, transforming into an array of spikes and blades that lacerated whatever passed for the monster’s innards as the spell pushed them together.

It shuddered once, and then the light in its sight gems faded. Around the chamber, the clockwork slowed as the rotation of the gears they were standing on began to grind to a halt.

Kaleek jumped heavily onto the disc next to her, no longer bothering to burn stamina to lessen the weight of his armor.

“Well,” he said cheerfully. “That was fun. I think we were starting to get a bit complacent with the difficulty level of the dungeons on the third floor. I suppose that thing is a good reminder that the Tower ramps up the challenge with each level you ascend.”

“Either that or your intelligence report was lacking,” Dorrik shouted back sourly. “That foe would have been an easy target with area of effect spells. Low hit points, high armor, high mobility. All we would have needed is an ability that could bypass the metal and attack a wide area, and the battle would have been over in seconds.”

“Lightning for example,” the lokkel continued, only to pause and put a claw to their muzzle pensively. “No, that might not have done the trick. The Clicking Horror’s armor might have functioned as a faraday cage and prevented the attack from dealing damage. On the other hand, fire could do the trick. The only question is getting enough of it to heat the monster’s entire body-”

“Good to have you back.” Kat smiled at him in relief. “I prefer overly academic lectures to mindless rage any day of the week.”

Dorrik stopped, taken aback for a moment before displaying their collection of sharp white teeth with a smile of their own.

“Then I shall endeavor to find new topics to lecture the two of you upon,” Dorrik replied. “I’m sure that knowing more about the habits and ecological impacts of the fourth floor’s living reefs could benefit the two of you greatly.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Kaleek muttered. “Look, it’s about time we all wake up. Kat, you go first and use the altar. Dorrik and I will follow in a bit. It’s a shame that we won’t be able to make it back to town before sun up. If we could sell the drops from here, it would go a long way toward defraying the cost of buying the Marka.”

Kat hopped from one still gear to another, her increased agility and reactions making what should have been harrowing life or death jumps a trivial matter. Finally, she placed her hand on the altar and let the rainbow light consume her.

Congratulations, Adventurer!


You have completed the Wood Tier Level Four Dungeon, Whirring Cogs.



Three of Three party members surviving. Good Job!


Assigning awards:


Perk: Sensory Dampening

 

The standard dungeon award screen came alongside another, almost as welcome notification from the Tower.

 

You have reached Level 7 in the skill Light I, please select a first tier spell.


Dazzle

Shadow

Laser

Mirage

Highlight

Eagle Eye

 

She appeared on the top of the small volcanic island, stepping carefully away from the dungeon portal and the bubbling lava of the island’s caldera before making her selection and pulling up her status.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

4

91 Marks

HP

31

Dodge

Poor

MP

45

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

32

Strength

4

Agility

7

Fortitude

3

Endurance

4

Mind

6

Reaction

6

Charisma

4

Spirit

4

Spells Known

Gravity’s Grasp

Levitation

Pseudopod

Dehydrate

Dazzle

Shadow

Water Jet

Gravity Spike

Mirage

Skills Known

Knife I - 10, 9%

Gravity I - 8, 44%

Water I - 9, 17%

Cat Step - 8, 14%

Light I - 7, 1%

Cure Wounds I, 7, 91%

Penetrate

Perks

Nightvision

Leaping

Sensory Dampening

 

Quickly selecting Sensory Dampening, Kat nodded along as she read its description. The perk let her use her reaction attribute to automatically cut off her sight or hearing in response to an ability like Dazzle or a flashbang grenade. Hardly anything world shaking, but certainly a useful ability given how often she used Dazzle to disorient enemies.

Kat nodded to herself as Kaleek materialized behind her. She was as ready as she was going to get for the raid on Beloit, but Kat doubted that it would be enough. All she could do was hope is that Davis could provide enough help to make up the difference.

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About the author

Cocop (Cale Plamann)

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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