Shadow Walker - Silver
Slinking through the realm of shadows, these devils stalk their prey, attacking in coordination with their pack. These devils walk on four limbs, two additional bladed appendages made for scything stem from their upper backs above their shoulder blades. Their claws are infused with Essence, their tails are pointed and used for powerful piercing attacks, and venom drips from their incredibly sharp teeth.
Red stood over Roland, barely managing to hold back one of the three shadow-formed devils that ambushed, his eyes filled with burning brimstone at the cowardly attack.
“Any time now!” Red shouted back toward the priest. Hendricks was similarly engaged with one of the beasts.
Arnold slashed at the one Red fended off while Maye and Lana teamed up to fend off another. The priests were working in overdrive, doing their best to stabilize two of the mages and an archer that the Shadow Walkers pounced on in their initial attack.
The difference in power was noticeable, the trainees' weapons failing to find purchase against the shadowy limbs. Despite being wounded, Roland still condensed Essence and launched attacks to aid Red and Arnold.
Mira hovered nearby, glaring at the Shadow Walker, but she didn’t move to attack it, staying vigilant in her lookout for the Devil Lord.
Red groaned as he tried to keep hold of the scything appendages, barely dodging the powerful piercing tail. It started lurching away powerfully, and he started to slip as the Shadow Walker repeatedly wrenching its scything limbs from his hold.
It crouched and hissed in triumph, but he didn’t hesitate to take an opportunity when it was presented. He stabbed forward into its wide-open shadowy maw. He found purchase on the soft flesh within, pressing the attack further. He tilted his blade and drove it deep into its skull, shadowy black blood oozing from the deep wound.
Simultaneously, Arnold lunged forward and stabbed forward into the soft eye tissue, driving the blade deep into the unprotected socket. The devil tried to resist, putting up a final struggle as it let out a reverberating deathrattle, but it had been mortally wounded in its moment of goading.
As it collapsed forward bodily, Red and Arnold freed their weapons from its skull, quickly turning to provide support to Maye and Lana. Hendricks easily managed to keep the one he intercepted locked in combat without any chance of escape, his title as Battlemaster not just for show.
With the help of the still-standing mage, archer, and reinforcements from Red and Arnold, the second Shadow Walker was quickly slain. While they slew the second, Roland recovered and aided Hendricks. They slew the third and final Shadow Walker.
The priest that healed Roland rushed over to aid the others, barely managing to keep them stable. Their wounds were far worse, as Red had given Roland a split second heads up, barely managing to dodge a lethal wound. One of the mages was rushed to the portal and sent out of the dungeon, their wounds too severe to allow them to continue.
Red glared down at the Silver devils, pissed that he’d almost lost his wielder. He sank his blade deep into their guts, allowing his blade to drink up their lifeblood. He had done this by instinct, but he realized that the lifeblood his blade absorbed was limited in quantity, but it usually had a higher quality. Not a big difference, but it was more than nothing.
Roland, do you have any of those burning sticks? Red asked, hopeful.
The Heir reached into his pocket and pulled two of the cylindrical sticks from the square paper storage box, offering him one.
“Only because you saved me back there,” Roland stated, his hands shakily pulling the silver cube that created a flame. “Let’s walk a bit farther from the others.”
Red took the stick and silver cube and lit the end of the stick, sucking in a deep breath of the burning smoke, and then handed the cube back to the Heir. “That was stressful. They fought dishonorably using cowards’ tactics, just like Rathor and his people.”
Red stared at Roland, an uncomfortable feeling deep in his stomach. It felt like he’d ate a rock - or what he imagined it felt like to eat a rock - and he couldn’t shake it. Sucking another deep breath of the smoke, he exhaled through his nose, “You almost died.”
“But I didn’t,” Roland said, exhaling his own smokey breath. He rested his hand against Red’s shoulder, “That’s all thanks to you.”
Red looked over his shoulder, “As much as I want to be reassured by that, I’m also the reason you’re here; the reason you haven’t told Mira about the dungeon’s focus. If you die in here, I might as well forfeit my own existence. Your father and Mira would see to it, so maybe -”
“No,” Roland cut Red off. “We keep going, and that is my choice.”
They stamped out the remains of their burning sticks and regrouped - the loss of an archer and mage noticed by the gaps in the formation.
As they continued on, they were assaulted by the Shadow Walkers, but never did they come in more than groups of four. At this point, Hendricks had to actively fight with the Trainees. Their ambushing tactics left little way to engage before the Shadow Walkers made a move themselves, and when they did, they were always targeting someone’s undefended backside and vitals.
Roland could single-handedly fend off one of the Shadow Walkers now that he knew they were coming. Now that Red knew what to look for, there was a much greater reaction time available, and the Heir’s magic was very effective in controlling the Shadow Walkers and creating vulnerabilities.
The devils had a soft underbelly that tore open quite easily, and Roland’s magic had a great way of making use of this mortal vulnerability. The Essence flowed into them in abundance as they proceeded through the second layer of the dungeon.
Roland, how do you humans enhance yourself with Essence? From what Mira said, the process should be similar to how I do it.
Yes, it should be, the Heir quickly responded.
Should we take time to let everyone upgrade themselves before we continue? I know I could use it, and if I can, I’m sure you can, too.
Roland nodded, holding his hand up to signal a halt. “Before we continue, we’re going to take an upgrade break. Warriors, Durability. Mages, Arcana. Archers, Power. Priests, Holy. If you hit Silver, let somebody know, but don’t waste any time in channeling your Essence into your secondary focus.”
Holy? Red asked curiously.
Yes, priests are slightly different, and they’re the only people that can use protection and healing magics. Instead of Arcana, they have access to Holy, though it doesn’t correspond with religion or gods in any direct way.
Strange, Red said before turning his attention into his internal palace.
Standing from the palatial throne, he gawked at the abundance of Essence pooled inside the fountain. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on siphoning it into his quarter-full Durability. With a bit more focus, he could increase the speed of the process, but he imagined raising his Attunement would also help.
Similar to Power before it, the liquid spilled over and condensed around the cosmic orb, shrinking it. He would raise his Attunement to Silver as well, but then he would primarily focus on his Power and Durability. As useful as the third orb was, it paled in comparison to the combat-related attributes in his mind.
If he was stronger in combat, he could slay more things and would be a better weapon for Roland. Since that was the case, he didn’t want to focus too much on the third attribute after getting it to Silver.
When he’d newly awakened, he’d siphoned his Essence into them all evenly, so Attunement was already a quarter full. With his remaining Essence, he pushed it up to three-quarters but didn’t have any left in the fountain to bridge that last bit to Silver.
Shrugging, he returned to the dais. Observing, he saw a new skill awaiting him.
Red Braveheart | Weapon Spirit | E++
Power - Silver | Durability - Silver | Attunement - Bronze
Once a simple sword, this blade has soaked up the lifeblood and Essence of countless soldiers. Tempered in great battlefields, dyed red from the lifeblood it has consumed, this spirit seeks a wielder to match its bloodlust and desire for further tempering. It’s still young, but its potential is boundless.
This spirit has taken on the surname of its first master in honor of his ferocity in battle and overwhelming might when faced against unfavorable odds. A deep adoration is seeded within the spirit. This blade wishes to be a blade worthy of its first master’s surname and will prove itself no matter the hurdles it must overcome.
To drink the blood of my enemies and prove myself worthy of my first master’s name, these are my only desires.
Innate: Two Forms
Power: Bloodred Blitz
“Hemoplague?” he rhetorically asked. Intuiting the skill, he realized just how good it could be.
Hemoplague - Passive: Wounding an enemy will cause their wounds to bleed profusely. Attacks against any affected enemy will absorb and store this lifeblood, converting it to raw Essence. This effect applies to all copies of Bloodred Blitz.
Not much of the text had changed, but the dais itself had. It had silver rivulets of blood that decorated the sides, shining brightly with the slowly filling pool below. Roland’s Essence trickled in, but it was nothing to scoff at.
“I wonder how Roland’s doing.”
Returning his consciousness to the world around him, Red quickly took human form and approached the already-standing Arnold while he waited for Roland to complete his own upgrade.
Red was excited to tell the Heir of his new skill, but he didn’t want to interrupt.
Gripping Arnold’s forearm, Red pat the man on the shoulder. “You did well out there. Not sure I could’ve taken down the Shadow Walker if you didn’t help, and I never got to say thanks, so,” he moved a lock of the pesky red hair out of his eyes and flashed a bright smile, “thanks, man.”
“I’m just glad Royal Heir Roland is okay,” Arnold said, looking away sheepishly as he ran his hand through his hair. “After the first attack, things have got significantly easier despite losing Arden and -”
“Hey,” Red pat Arnold’s shoulder, “it’s not your fault.”
“I can’t help feeling like it is, though. I know it’s dumb -”
“It’s not dumb,” Red denied, cutting Arnold off. He felt weird providing emotional support since he didn’t really feel the same way they did, but he could at least act like he knew what he was doing. “I feel a deep sense of loss for my first master, and I never even got to meet him in life.”
“You must think highly of him then,” Arnold muttered.
“He was a great warrior - Battlemaster Hendricks’ brother, actually.”
Arnold raised a brow, “The Lord Vaughn?” Red nodded, beaming with pride that his first master was acknowledged for his might. “His loss was tragic. The first week of training was worse than a visit to Halla’s Maw, I swear.”
Arnold paused, turning to look around as Maye and Lana rose nearby. He sighed deeply, “You know, I haven’t told this to anybody else, but -” He breathed in deeply to calm himself, release a quick breathe to ease the tension. “When I first got summoned for the draft, I spent a week comforting my mother as she cried herself to sleep every night. My father?” He scoffed, wiping away a tear.
“He could hardly look at me and drank every night. I -” Arnold sniffed, rubbing away moisture from his eyes again. “Every time he saw me, it was like he saw a ghost. To him, I was already dead and gone.”
Rubbing his hand through his hair, Red looked toward Roland in the hope the youth would wake from his inner palace soon. I’m not cut out for this emotional stuff!
But, despite what he thought, he gripped Arnold’s forearm again, “I’m glad to have you here by my side. I don’t know if that counts for anything, but I truly mean it.”
Arnold nodded, rubbing away more moisture, “It does. Even with Kane’s death, we’ve all grown. That’s all because of you.”
“I can’t take full credit for this. Battlemaster Hendricks, Roland, Mira -”
“None of them would’ve done anything if you didn’t convince them,” Arnold said with absolute conviction. “Battlemaster Hendricks gave up before we ever got there, and he has still yet to properly grieve for the loss of his brother. We all see how he hurts, and all of us are afraid to speak up.”
Red crossed his arms, leaning his head. “After this, you should try and talk to him. He’s not a bad guy.”
Arnold’s eyes widened, “N - no way. I doubt he cares what I have to say, and our stations are like the earth and the sun.”
“That’ll stay true until you make an attempt to be more than a trainee,” Red said, tilting his head toward the battlemaster that paced about wearily.
Even though he was still uncertain, Arnold nodded. “He’s just like any of you, Arnold, and wouldn’t you want company in times of grief?”
Arnold stared back at Red, and Red stared back, tilting his head in the direction of Hendricks. “We talked, right? I helped you feel a bit better, listened. I’m sure that’s all he needs.”
Arnold nervously looked at Maye and Lana, then back at Red, then at Hendricks. “But, what if -”
Red planted his hand on the man’s back and shoved him in Hendrick's direction, “Battlemaster, Arnold wants to talk to you about something!”
Scowling back at Red, Arnold plastered a smile onto his face as he bowed before Hendricks.
Turning his focus back towards Roland, Red sat next to the Heir and waited.
As soon as Roland returned, Red squinted at him. “What took so long?”
“What do you mean?” Roland asked, confused.
“I finished in a few minutes, but everyone is waiting on you,” Red said, waving his hand toward the assembled procession. “So, what took so long?”
“If you must know, I had several things I needed to do within my inner palace. I pushed through Silver in Power and started condensing my Essence as I siphoned it into my Arcana. I want to hit Gold some time within the next year, so I have to constantly be focused on it. It takes far longer than pushing from Bronze to Silver does. But -” he paused, staring back at Red.
You’re already Silver! How is that possible?
Red shrugged, “You didn’t finish answering my question.”
Roland rolled his eyes, glaring at the weapon spirit. “I had to select new skills and upgrade others. It takes some time to figure out how I want to progress.”
“Interesting,” Red nodded sagely, though internally, he was preparing to gush about Hemoplague.
You’re excited. Did getting Durability to Silver award you with something good?
Very, Red quickly responded with a full-faced smile, explaining the skill as fast as he could while remaining coherent.
Hemoplague is - have I mentioned I’m grateful I don’t have to fight you?
Not enough, obviously, Red haughtily replied, though his tone was playful.
Mira walked up to Roland, clearing her throat to gain his attention. Her hand rested on her hip and raised her brow, “Are you ready?”
Red and Roland made eye contact, both clearly excited about testing the new skill. Nodding in unison, Mira beckoned them forward.