Milly and Rowen made their way cautiously through the streets, taking the time to hide whenever a group of black assassins moved by. The red strings were starting to become thicker now, and more common along the ground. Thankfully, none of the strings had tried to attach themselves to either one of them yet, even when stepped on or touched.
Rowen couldn’t help but wonder about the strings.
“Mother Claire, what are these things?” he asked through the mental connection, “Why am I the only one that can see them?”
Claire seemed to hesitate before she replied to him.
“Those are cords of mana Rowen. You can see them for two reasons: as a dungeon monster you share Doc’s ability to see mana and as a future necromancer you’ll use a similar technique to control your undead.”
“But I’m not a necromancer yet,” Rowen argued, “I barely know how to cast magic, and my undead half is in the dungeon.”
“As I said, Doc’s ability is what is helping you unlock those eyes of yours. If you were a real necromancer, you’d be holding that skull with a little more respect,” Claire pointed out.
“The skull? What do you . . .” Rowen was awakened from his talk by Milly tugging on his arm.
“Rowen, did you hear me?” she whispered to him.
“No, sorry,” he apologized, “I was thinking about the red strings. What’s happening?”
Milly pointed, “Over there; that building is really suspicious. There are a lot of black robed people exiting from it, like 5 or 7. My daggers are tingling more the closer we get to it.”
“Eventually, you’ll need to explain to me why you have these magic daggers,” Rowen pressed.
“Fine, whatever,” Milly caved, “but we need to hurry. The magic charge fades every time I use them for something. They’ll be worthless if they become depleted.”
The after mentioned house stood at the opposite corner of a four-way road. There was no cover along the streets, which meant if they weren’t careful the two of them would easily be spotted.
“So what’s the plan,” Milly asked eagerly.
“I thought you’d come up with it,” Rowen admitted.
“What? You were the one who was all ‘I’ll protect my people’ and ‘It’s my responsibility’; how do you not have a plan for this? Is your pride the only impressive thing about you?” Milly retorted.
Rowen cursed under his breath, “Hey, I’m doing the best I can here. We’re under-staffed, out-numbered, have no credible tactical information, and our enemies all have magic. It’s not like I can see through walls.”
Still, Rowen turned from Milly as he rubbed his chin and surveyed the building. It was normal looking two floored structure with a single door and windows at equal intervals. There was no sign indicating that it was a store, but neither was there a plaque to show a family name for a house.
“There are less black cloaks coming out now,” Rowen observed, “Maybe the prisoners they are using are running out.”
“Why do you think there are prisoners?” Millay asked, “What if they’re just forces smuggled in from somewhere else. I doubt that whatever is making them took the time to catch over 100 citizens here; someone would have noticed.”
An explosion drew their attention down one of the roads. The door to the hideout flew open as what appeared to be the rest of the enemies ran out.
Milly raised her had to her forehead and squinted, “I think those are adventurers fighting. They must be aware of this place too.”
“Yeah, but they’re too busy fighting their way through those black cloaks,” Rowen pointed out, “Still, they cleared the way for us, so let’s hurry in.”
The two snuck across the road and entered the open door. Inside, they found a normal looking house.
“All those black-shirts must have come from somewhere,” Rowen muttered as he looked around the foyer.
“Rowen, over here!” Milly called from the next room over, “I found a trapdoor!”
Upon entering the adjacent room, Rowen saw the large trapdoor that had previously been hidden by a carpet and table. The two items had been haphazardly thrown aside by Milly.
“How’d you know to look there?” he asked her.
“I do the same thing with my secret money stash,” Milly winked at him, “It’s for my future adventuring equipment.”
The two looked down the trapdoor. A pair of parallel steps led down into a dark corridor beneath the ground.
“All the strings are coming from here,” Rowen reported, a bit nauseated, “It’s disgusting; they all pulsing as if they are alive.”
Milly summoned a light-ball, and the two descended into the depths.
Sometime later, Milly’s scream echoed from the trapdoor, followed by a roar of unimaginable anger.
Doc sighed forlornly as he watched a slime roll back and forth across the floor.
“All the adventurers left Claire; if I can’t help then there is nothing to do now,” he complained.
Claire shook her head, “No Doc, we don’t get involved in the fights of our prey. We can’t risk exposure of that kind, nor would it be good to set that kind of precedent.”
“Um, if we do it then that means other dungeons can do that too,” Claire explained, “That kind of thing.”
“Oh,” Doc turned his attention to the scenes playing on the crystal, “Hey Claire, why did you lie to Rowen?”
“About what?” Claire asked.
“Why he can see the lines. You explained to me earlier that as a human he can’t share in my powers; only as a monster would he be able to because he needs a core.”
“I didn’t want him to know the real reason yet,” Claire turned sad, “Anyone with a dungeon connection can see the workings of that type of magic. That magic, is one of our greatest regrets.”
“What do you mean, ‘our’?” Doc asked.
“Both dungeon and dungeon pixie,” Claire frowned, “Long ago, one of our kind made friends with a mage. All three of them wanted to become stronger, so they made a spell together. This spell, it was originally created to allow a human to cast magic like a dungeon.”
“Humans don’t have cores,” Doc reminded her.
“That’s right; the human couldn’t control the spell once he cast it. In his panic, he summoned a demon more adept at controlling magic then he could. It saved him, but at a terrible cost.”
She pointed, “That magic, known as corruption, it is merely corrupted dungeon magic cast by those who can’t control it. Like a normal corrupted dungeon, a corruption spell infects control over the surroundings. The dungeon and dungeon pixie who helped create the spell were destroyed, as were every other dungeon in that country. Even to this day, any dungeon found there is obliterated before it can mature. That is one of the reasons why dungeons are not encouraged to make friends with sentients.”
Doc thought to himself for a moment, “So, could that be counted as an invasion by an enemy dungeon?”
“No, because it’s cast by a member of the sentient races, not another dungeon. You can’t . . .”
Claire paused as the dungeon vibrated. She watched as one of the houses in the town exploded out, revealing large red tentacles that screamed in the fading twilight.
“That’s a bad sign for the adventurers and towns-people,” she observed, “I guess we might have to move soon . . . Doc?”
Claire turned when she didn’t hear a response from Doc. She was created by a very large and abnormal level of inferno slimes in the room, and more were being made.
“ . . .Demmmooon . . .” Doc moaned slowly through their mental bond.
Claire twitched as she began to freak, “No Doc, not again! Why does this only happen to you? Anadine, Girls, hurry and help me stop him!”
“Jonas, didn’t I tell you not to use fire?” Fiora screamed at him as she got up from covering the prince, “These puppet bastards explode!”
“Sorry,” Jonas called out as he used a staff to knock the arriving assassins, “Fire magic is my forte; I use it without thinking in bad situations.”
“Why couldn’t you have been an earth mage or a water mage?” Nat groaned as she hobbled to her feet to help him block the black-coated attackers, “Either one would be so much more useful for not killing these people. You could be helping Gran.”
Gran, who was sweating as he cast nature magic to bind up all the fallen assassins, sighed in response.
Fiora helped Prince James to his feet before turning to assist in the fight.
“Thanks for the help,” James offered.
“It’s my job,” Fiora responded, “Please continue to heal us; we are almost there.”
Gran, finished with the sealing spell, pointed down the road, “There, that last building at the corner is the location of the source.”
Alfred, who had landed on his back, brushed off his clothes, “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s hurry and stop this mess!”
Fiora frowned at the royal adviser, who hadn’t helped at all in this battle.
“Can’t make it,” Jonas alerted the group, “The explosion alerted all the puppets in the area. I can see them running this way.”
“Take point around the Prince!” Fiora ordered, “Don’t let them get through; and for goddess’s sake Jonas keep a lid on your fire!”
The swarm of assassins slammed into their group like a wave, with the three leading adventurers doing their best to knock enemies to the ground while Gran stopped their movements with plants and dirt.
“We’re almost done, keep it up!” Fiora announced as she noticed the lessening herd of black-cloaks. All of a sudden, the remaining puppets collapsed, dead. Even the sealed puppets passed away without a single wound. The group stared in shock as the black outfits faded away, revealing the people beneath.
Alfred gasped, “I recognize a few of these people! Adventurers, guards, and criminals from Duren; a few of these your highness sentenced to death and some of these people have been reported missing.”
“Looks like they’ve been busy for some time then,” Fiora observed as she kicked one of the bodies over. Evidence of torture and pain infliction was apparent on the back.
Gran took a closer look, “We’re in luck; if these people required so much pain, then the corruption spell isn’t perfect. Most of the enemies we’ve seen have been controlled by the huge resentment created by torture; which means the spell can’t hook into anyone without a large amount of darkness in their heart. The citizens of the town affected can be saved.”
“Why are they dead?” Prince James asked curiously.
“The mana being injected into their bodies was forcefully cut; after being tortured for so long, they were only able to stay alive through the constant flow of magic,” the elf reported.
“Why . . .” before he could ask the question, the building on the corner exploded as huge red tentacles surged into the sky. Two small figures were fleeing from the tentacles toward the adventurer group.
Fiora’s eyes widened, “What is that?”
When Milly and Rowen entered the underground passage, the first thing they noticed was the smell. It was a terrible stink; one of decay and sulfur. Milly shuddered as she moved closer to Rowen.
“It smells so wrong,” she whispered to him.
Rowen nodded, but the two kept walking forward. At the end of the passage was a single door. Under the light of Milly’s light-ball, Rowen opened the door.
Inside was a large, round room filled with tables surrounding a circular depression on the floor. A lump of pink flesh quivered there, and all the red strings originated form it.
“I’m guessing that thing is the source of the magic?” Milly guessed.
“Yeah,” Rowen nodded. He tried to connect to Claire, but for some reason was unable to. Before he could investigate why, his eyes caught sight of Milly walking toward the lump.
Before he could stop her, Milly poked the mound with a dagger.
A face popped out of the flesh right in front of her, and she screamed. The race roared at her angrily in response. Rowen pulled Milly back before a fleshy tentacle could slam into her.
“It’s a person!” Milly declared in shock.
The face glared at her, “You dagger, it hurts us . . . Need to eliminate.” Fleshy tentacles began to form on either side of it.
“Wait, tell us your name!” Rowen called out. Milly gave him a confused look.
The face also gave him a confused look, the tentacles lowering. “Why?” it asked him.
Rowen grinned inwardly, his suspicions confirmed. “A being as a noble as you should have a name to be proud of. Why not tell it to us unworthy beings before you deliver unto us your judgement.” Rowen patted himself on the back for speaking in such a noble manner.
The face seemed to grow more distinct as a proud expression appeared on its face, “I am Lord Rotch of the Howel Family! I am a proud lord and future king. Behold my splender!”
“King of where?” Rowen pressed.
“All of Nehatra; they promised me and granted me power, enough power to make everyone listen to me!” Lord Rotch answered.
“Who would be so worthy to grant one as a great as you more power?” Rowen continued to flatter the would-be-king.
“The priestesses of the Empire! They came to me in my time of despair and lifted me up from my grief. . . they . . . told me my son died . . . from enemies . . .” Rotch’s face fell into a state of confusion, his face becoming less distinct. It was as if his mind was no longer all there.
“Rowen, I don’t know where to aim,” Milly whispered to him, “His body is all strange; I can’t see any vitals.”
“I’m not sure we can kill him,” Rowen whispered back, “He looks like ball of mana and magic; I think he can regenerate.”
“Whispering over there . . . always whispering,” Lord Rotch’s voice began to rise in volume, “I bet you’re a schemer, but I know better. Oh yes, I know what you are up to.” He began to rant now, more to himself than them, “Those two succubi sisters, they’re schemers too. They don’t realize I’m already a step ahead of them, oh yes. I’m going to attack the dungeon, make it mine, and grow stronger. I’ll make it just like me.”
Rowen’s mind flashed to Doc, Claire, Anadine, and TheTwins.
“Over my dead body,” he yelled at Lord Rotch.
“Yes, that’s generally the plan,” Lord Rotch admitted, “Why are you so concerned . . . . . . . .”
The face slackened, and any of Lord Rotch’s features vanished into an expressionless mask. From the mound, demonic wings and other features began to burst out, mouths opening as hateful screams echoed around the room.
“YOU’RE FROM THE DUNGEON!” The voice screamed, “YOU KILLED MY SON! ARRGGGHH!”
“Run,” Rowen commanded, and the two of them fled the room and slammed the door behind them. The screams continued as they fled down the passage, and Rowen watched as every red string retreated toward the source. As the two cleared the trapdoor, fleshy tentacles burst out from behind them. The tentacles destroyed the house and turned dark red in the sunlight.
“HATE, HATE, HATE!” The voice continued to scream, “EVERYTHING DIE!”
Rowen and Milly ran as fast as they could, escaping down the road toward a group of adventurers.