The cavernous walls of the dungeon expanded as Jenn walked deeper into the first layer, their width now enough to allow a group of four to walk side by side. Jenn had thought it was a little backwards, how the ambient glow of the dungeon walls dimmed as the ambient mana levels rose in the inner layers. As if having less light wasn't bad enough, the denser mana also allowed higher tier monsters to thrive, driving the simpler creatures outside.
A lot different from the frenzy of mana it turned into during the dungeon Break the first time around.
Jennifer kept her mana pulses active, keeping an eye out for any creatures hoping to make an easy meal out of them. The two of them had easily managed to make their way through the outer layers so far, but Jennifer knew the actual challenge would start from this point onwards.
Would’ve been easier if I had more combat oriented skills. But then, Enchanters don’t normally get those I suppose.
Jennifer’s eyes drifted over to Livian. The older boy had started to lose his initial nervousness as they’d made their way further into the dungeon. A small device now rested in his hand which he fed a consistent supply of mana to. Presumably what he was using to detect the light spirit.
“Do you have anything yet?” she asked Livian as the older boy stopped fiddling with his device to adjust his armor straps.
“I’m looking. I think there’s something nearby but I’m not catching any mana imprints that’re strong enough yet,” Livian replied with a frown as he returned to messing around with his device, his armor forgotten.
“Are you sure the device is working?” Jennifer asked, surprised by Livian’s blank stare.
“Yes,” he replied, not expanding any further on the topic.
Oh that was a bad way of asking, wasn't it? I hit a nerve for sure. Well, I guess that’d be like a customer asking me if my enchantment was broken after I'd crafted it for them. Not that I’d be offended if someone asked that… Well, maybe a little bit if it was something simple, like strengthening.
Jennifer walked ahead with Livian in silence while debating whether she should say something to the boy. She was spared from making small talk as her mana pulse returned a moving object in the ground. A moving object making its way towards them.
“Up ahead, a few feet away in the ground!” Jennifer shouted to Livian as she conjured a pair of mana bolts, immediately shooting them at the ground.
Light beams followed behind her own attack, hitting the moving creature from above as it rose. Red pincers poked through the ground as a massive Veripede made its way out, blocking the path forward. The beast was red, with dark spots covering it’s chitinous body as it clicked at them. It’s mandibles dripped with dark acid that slid down in fat globules and it’s legs scuttled as it pulled itself free of the ground. The many legged monstrosity turned it’s dark eyes towards the two of them then let out a sharp screech as it shot across the broken dungeon floor.
By Elphion’s unholy name, that’s a large one.
Jennifer quickly used Agile wind to jump away from the beast, a cluster of glass-tinged mana bolts striking the monster head on. Livian fumbled for a second as he retreated alongside her, beams of light shooting at the creature as it continued to dash towards them.
“Stay back, Livian!” Jennifer shouted, a pulse of glass mana pouring through her. Twin Blades of glass formed above her hand as the wind howled at Jennifer’s ears. She shot the Glass Blades at the centipede, her head snapping towards Livian in surprise as she felt him charging his light beam. The cube floated in front of Livian’s hands as a charged beam collided with her spell. Jennifer felt the two spell matrices colliding into one other, links and threads of mana snapping across both. Within a moment, the spells collapsed into one another, two large blades of light hitting the centipede head on. The creature screeched as it’s chitin cracked, green blood pouring out.
Jennifer stopped her retreat, watching the twitching insect as its insides leaked from its cracked shell. Another beam of light hit the beast, vapourizing it’s insides while tearing the monster’s long body into two.
“Thanks,” she said, turning towards Livian, and the boy returned a slight smile. A soft beep chimed making Jennifer jump as she prepared for another monster.
“It’s the device,” Livian said, as he pulled out the cubic box. “It’s detected a spirit nearby. A bunch of them. This may be our chance Jennifer, let’s hurry.”
Livian rushed ahead and Jennifer ran behind him as they left the corpse to slowly degrade to be reabsorbed by the dungeon walls. The cavernous walls around them slowly began to turn crystalline, strange plants made of transparent glowing crystals covered the caverns around them as the walls started to widen, expanding into a wide open expanse dominated by the crystalline plants.
“I never knew something so beautiful was in the first layer…” Jennifer muttered as she stared at the bizarre landscape in front of her. The bright crystal filled area was filled to the brim with light affinity mana, rays of rainbow colored light refracting off the crystals to form a dazzling sight. The affinity itself was so strong that it tinged the mana to have a different sensation as it tingled her nose. A large crystalline tree stood at it’s centre. A bright blue light at the heart of the crystalline grove, more than a dozen fruit, blue orbs of light hanging from its branches.
“It’s an affinity biome. They’re rare outside, but in dungeons you can find quite a few of them,” Livian replied, putting away his cube as he stood next to Jennifer. “This one is still quite a bit larger than I’d expected it to be. There’s... a lot of monsters here. We need to be careful not to agitate them all at once. A stampede of light affinity creatures chasing us is the last thing we need.”
Jennifer nodded, as she focused on her core. A paper thin boundary of affinity mana coated her at all times since she'd formed her core. The beginnings of an aura. She couldn’t do anything with it, not at her strength. But it would still be noticeable by any sufficiently sensitive creature. With an exertion of her will, she withdrew the boundary inside her body, keeping a tight focus to prevent it from restoring itself.
“I’m going to set down a bait to try to trap the creature. All you need to do is keep an eye out, as I form a pact with it.” Livian didn't wait for her to respond before pulling items out of his cloak.
Jennifer nodded as Livian got to work. He set down a small cube on the ground, taking out a scroll from his pocket that he set next to him carefully. A slight application of mana had the cube glow, its runes dancing across the surface. Livian took a small shining mana core, setting it onto the cube. He held it there, remaining motionless as the runes transferred from the cube to the core.
The process took a few repetitions with multiple runes being engraved on the core until he'd imprinted a thick jumble of spell matrices onto it. Jennifer watched him work, keeping her mana pulses weak and focused, only actively searching for monsters trying to enter from the side of the passage that led to the crystal forest.
In a few minutes, the core had been prepared and Livian set the completed, now extremely complex, mana orb near the scroll. The next step that followed was even more complicated and Jennifer had to strain her senses to get a good grasp of what was going on. A spell circle formed of pure light floated around Livian’s hands, the scroll on the ground mimicking the spell circle as the two resonated with mana. Jennifer was worried that the resonance would attract the attention of the light attuned creatures nearby, but all she noticed were blurs of light zipping around through the various crystals, paying little to no attention to his work on this end of the cavern.
“I’m going to start now. Try to stay back, or else it might scare away whatever comes in to take a look,” Livian whispered in a quiet voice as he crouched. Jennifer took a few steps away as she placed herself out of sight. Mostly. She wasn't going to let him completely out of her sight until they left the dungeon. The boy set the orb in the field of crystalline plants, and moved back, placing his feet around the crystals on the floor, making sure not to step on any that might crack and create a disturbance. A few moments later, he joined Jennifer near the entrance, and they began the wait.
A few minutes passed, none of the creatures moving close to the bait. Jennifer turned to Livian with a questioning look.
Did he mess up somehow?
She didn’t ask the question, seeing the frown on his face as they continued to wait for a while longer. After around half an hour of standing quietly, something finally shifted through the crystalline fields in front of them. A small red bird, with a fluffy chest plume of golden light and wings of crystalline growths flew through the area as it examined the bait.
Jennifer elbowed Livian, quietly pointing him towards the bird. The boy’s eyes brightened upon seeing the creature. A smile decorated his face as his eyes shone, reflecting the light filled biome in front of them and Jennifer felt a smile rise on her face as well.
They watched patiently, as the bird slowly pecked at the mana core a few times before it grabbed the whole thing in its beak and swallowed it in one go.
A moment later, a spell circle formed beneath the bird, as the creature froze in place. Livian let out a whoop of excitement as he rushed ahead, muttering some kind of chant as his mana flexed, extending forward towards the creature. Jennifer took out her knife, keeping a few mana bolts ready as she followed behind Livian, maintaining her distance so she didn't disturb his spell.
A few minutes of spell-crafting later, Jennifer sensed a pulse of light mana and a thin bond solidified, joining Livian to the bird.
Quite similar to mine and Xar’s bond. Just much weaker.
The bird flew towards Livian, settling on his shoulders as the boy gently pet the critter. Jennifer smiled at his success as the Light mage returned a smile of his own.
“I’m glad you got a nice little partner there, what will you call it?” she said, eyeing the bird as it preened it’s feathers. Its eyes met hers with little semblance of intelligence, although she was sure if Livian continued to grow then the creature would become far more intelligent.
“I’m not sure of the name yet. I’ll think of something suitable. Also, thank you, Jennifer. I wouldn’t have been able to come this far without your help. If you have anything you want, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll help anyway I can,” Livian said, as he let the bird sit on his hand.
“Can you dematerialise it? Since it’s Light affinity and all?” Jennifer asked as she looked at the small bird.
“Not yet, it’s still Tier 1. I’ll be able to do that once it grows to Tier 2. But for that I’ll need to be Tier 3 or higher myself, so it’ll be a while,” Livian replied, stroking the bird again.
Jennifer hummed to herself, before she turned around. “We should move out, best not to stay for too long.”
“Actually, I’m tempted to check out the tree. I’m sensing a really strong light and some kind of compound affinity from there and…” Livian’s voice died down at Jennifer’s glare.
“There’s a bunch of creatures living there. I doubt they’ll let you ransack their home. Don’t be too greedy, Livian. Adventurers die when they get too greedy,” Jennifer said in a steely voice.
“Isn’t their whole purpose treasure hunting and being greedy?” Livian asked in a quiet voice.
“Yes, but- anyways we should go!” Jennifer said, cutting the conversation short. Livian started to reply but his words were cut off as a large screech echoed through the cavern. Jennifer sensed panic course through the nearby critters as they scattered, the bird on Livian’s hand flapping its wings in panic as well.
Foreboding filled Jennifer’s chest as she turned around, her mana pulse returning a strong magical feedback. With a slight tremor, a large blue lizard forced its way into the area, chitinous monster remains hanging from it’s massive jaws as it bit through the armored carapace they'd left behind, green blood smeared down its elongated serpent-like face. Large crystals covered it’s back, growing as blue lightning crackled between them, sending sparks running through its scaled body.
Shit, we should’ve cleaned up the Veripede corpse.
“Run!” Jennifer shouted and both of them bolted towards the other end of the cavern. The beast roared behind them, it’s heavy feet crushing the crystalline plants beneath it as it charged after them.
Jennifer prepared a wind blade, barely taking the time for the spell matrix to form before shooting it behind her at the beast as she continued to dash ahead. With a push on her mana range, she extended her Agile Wind spell to Livian, grabbing his arm as he stumbled at the sudden increase in speed as they ran ahead.
Lightning strikes shot towards the duo, leaving dark steaming gouges on the floor of the crystal forest behind them as the beast roared. Jennifer sensed its charge from another mana pulse. In a panic, she loosened her control on her Agile Wind spell, letting the wind blast her and Livian away from its lunge towards the tree near the center.
A large blue lightning bolt shot towards the two of them, and Jennifer felt her body lock in place at the sudden attack. A shield of white light formed in front of the two of them deflecting the lightning strike as Jennifer caught her bearing once more.
“The tree! We can climb it and attack from above!” Jennifer screamed through the howling winds of her renewed spell, launching another pair of mana bolts at the beast.
The pair rushed towards the tree, climbing on with the help of Jennifer’s Agile wind as they shot themselves up in the air, before grabbing onto the lower hanging branches.
Below, the lizard monster stood on its back legs as it tried to claw them from their new perch. Bolts of lightning shot towards them but Livians’ shield deflected most of them, the rest of the attacks absorbed by the tree itself.
Jennifer sat on a particularly thick branch, her heart pounding in her ears as she watched the beast roaring down below. She turned towards Livian, a similarly wide eyed expression on his face, his cheeks red from their mad sprint.
“How do we... escape?” Jennifer asked out loud as she turned back to see the monster snapping its jaws at them, rows of sharp teeth lining the insides of it.
“I… I don’t know,” Livian said unhelpfully. “Wait for it to go away?” the boy added a moment later. Jennifer looked back down at the growling monster before turning back towards Livian.
“I don’t see much of a choice,” Jennifer replied. A yelp tore itself out of her mouth as the branch she sat on shook. She looked down to see the beast walking back a few steps before it rammed head first into the tree once more.
“Stop that!” Jennifer screamed, weaving a Glass blade that she shot towards the creature. The monster roared once more as the spell hit, alongside a ball of light that spread over it’s skin causing only mild burns. A powerful pulse of mana formed on the creature’s back, it’s crystals glowing with a bright blue light as lightning formed in it’s mouth. The beast opened its jaws, an orb of blue forming. The orb crackled and sizzled for a solid three seconds before it shot it towards the tree.
A massive beam of lightning hit the tree at its center and Jennifer felt a tingle pass through her skin as the entire tree shook. Then with another thump, she felt the tree leaning, a crack running through its trunk as strong blue light poured out.
Jennifer tried to grab on to the branches as the tree continued to crack, the light at its centre glowing a bright white as Jennifer felt an immense amount of mana pulse out.
“[Lunestone: Guard]!” she shouted, and saw another shield form above both of them. A large explosion of mana went through the area, the core of the tree cracking as it poured torrents of light affinity mana through the cavern. The ground cracked, mana pulses travelling through the soil before the entire section started to collapse.
Jennifer screamed as the very ground sank, dragging the beast and the tree down into an abyss of darkness as they dropped deeper inside the belly of the dungeon.
And Jenn and Livian plummeted down with them.